Once Forbidden Now a Must-See

On May 14, 2012, in Beijing, Forbidden City, Historical Relics, by Jack Li

In my previous post entitled ‘Jingshan: The Park on the Hill’, I mentioned the fantastic views which can be encountered. If you haven’t already, it is time to experience on of these views at ground level; namely, The Forbidden City (The City). One of, (if not), the most famous tourist attracts, The City’s central location […]

In my previous post entitled ‘Jingshan: The Park on the Hill’, I mentioned the fantastic views which can be encountered. If you haven’t already, it is time to experience on of these views at ground level; namely, The Forbidden City (The City). One of, (if not), the most famous tourist attracts, The City’s central location makes it readily accessible. Either taking Line 1 and getting off at Tiananmen West or East stations or taking Line 2 on the subway to Qianmen Station are both viable option in reaching The City. Whether signing-up for Beijing tours or deciding to travel to Beijing independently, then I insist that The City should be at the top of your ‘things to see & do’ list.

I personally went with a group on a cold March day to The City, whereby it was necessary to wrap-up warm especially with the wide-open, wind-swept spaces in The City. Naturally, entrance to one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country will be busy. Hence, if you get the chance, best to visit on a week day. Due to the enormity of the place, we found it a bit of a mission to actually find the main section of The City. However, once there, this is where, at your discretion, to get a tour guide. Outside, people may pretend to act as guides even if they can speak English, but be warned, only choose a tour guide well inside The City as they will be wearing a professional badge – we learnt this from experience!

In Chinese, The City is known as ‘Gugong’ with its presence embodying the splendour of the country’s past. The City took fourteen years to construct and was completed in 1420 under the Ming Dynasty. I am sure you will be asking yourself ‘What does the “forbidden” part of the name mean?’ Well basically, the general populace were ‘forbidden’ from entering The City with exception from having permission from
the emperor. Serving the reign of twenty-four emperors, having the largest collection of wooden structure in the world, covering 24 hectares and surrounded by a ten meter wall; it is thus understandable why, in 1987, the palace became listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

As a final point, there needs to be emphasis placed on the importance of preserving historic value of The City and questioning commercialisation. At the end of our tour, for instance, our guide showed us a man in a store who is claimed to be a nephew of the last emperor and now is a professional calligrapher. Buying a personalised work from this man would be pricy, but its bespoke production does increase its value. Commercialising The City with modern brands on the other hand, may not necessarily help with preservation efforts. I do enjoy my Starbucks coffee, yet I am pleased with the closure of The City’s very own in 2007, for instance. If anything, The City is a ‘must-see’ simply for its generous architectural grandeur and its rich cultural depictions such as The Palace of Heavenly Purity, which seated the Emperor’s throne and also The Palace of Earthly Tranquillity which housed the Empress. Even the smaller architectural pieces, like profound symbolic figures of the imperial dragon and phoenix and lions to name a few, will leave you in awe  on your China travel to The City.

History Lesson – Great Wall (2/2)

On May 9, 2012, in Beijing, Great Wall, Historical Relics, by Jack Li

There is still more to know about the Great Wall’s history, the one site nobody wants to miss on their Beijing Tours. Read on for further information if you haven’t decided yet which places you want to see on your China Tours. The Great Wall is worth it! Nearly all of the following feudal dynasties […]

There is still more to know about the Great Wall’s history, the one site nobody wants to miss on their Beijing Tours. Read on for further information if you haven’t decided yet which places you want to see on your China Tours. The Great Wall is worth it!

Nearly all of the following feudal dynasties did some construction on the wall, repairing and extending it partly as a defense against invasion from the north. Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 – 589 AD) were a time of civil war and political chaos but art, culture and technology revived nonetheless. During this time some of those smaller dynasties worked on the wall but as a defence against each other and not in a joint effort. The following Sui Dynasty ended the division between the rivaling regimes. To improve the defense system the Great Wall was rebuilt and extended. On the one hand these projects were great accomplishments but on the other hand they were made at the expense of the workforce resulting once again in Chinese history in revolts and rebellions.

The following period was marked by several smaller and less important dynasties and kingdoms developing more or less independently from each other in the northern and southern parts referred to as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. During the followong Tang Dynasty there was no need for the emperors to do construction on the wall to more than a minimal extent due to their superior power over northern nomad neighbors.

After generally serving its purpose for 1500 years the Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan took control over China in 1271 and proclaimed the Yuan Dynasty little later. With the foreign rule the northern border between the Chinese and the Mongolian territory ceased and with it also the necessity to reinforce the Great Wall. In the end famines, natural disasters as well as revolts and rebellions caused by political instability finally ended the domination of the foreign power towards the end of the 14th century. Zhu Yuanzhang, the rebel leader of the Red Turban Rebellion, became the first emperor of the following Ming Dynasty.

The Ming era in China were golden times in Chinese history marked by cultural exchange, political stability, economic prosperity and population growth. During this time enormous construction projects were in the center of attention, the Great Wall, the Grand Canal and the famous Forbidden City in Beijing being the most important ones. To prevent further invasion from the north the Great Wall was extended in a 100 year project. Many of the locations where visitors can see the wall are from these times, for example at Badaling or Mutianyu close to Beijing.

The Manchu took over control of Chinese territory in 1644 and founded the last dynasty in Chinese history, called Qing Dynasty. With this second foreign power in China the Great Wall lost once again its main purpose. Since then only the state has undertaken efforts to restore parts of it and has opened them to the public. The Great Wall is one of the most famous sights in China and a unique symbol of Chinese civilization. For this reason and with some facts about history in mind it’s worth seeing it for anyone going on China Tours.

History Lesson – Great Wall (1/2)

On May 9, 2012, in Beijing, Great Wall, Historical Relics, by Jack Li

The Great Wall is the must see for every visitor coming to Beijing and it is therefore an essential part of most Beijing Tours. By bus it takes between two and three hours from the city center depending on the location you want to go to. There are several ones, some more popular than others […]

The Great Wall is the must see for every visitor coming to Beijing and it is therefore an essential part of most Beijing Tours. By bus it takes between two and three hours from the city center depending on the location you want to go to. There are several ones, some more popular than others where you can see the wall in differently well preserved states. But this feeling you experience when you are there makes up for the wait. So, don’t miss this famous site on your China Tours.

Due to geological conditions Asian and western cultures developed almost independently from each other during long periods in history. Until today many details about Chinese history are unknown to visitors from western countries. Everybody knows about the Great Wall but few people are familiar with its long and interesting history so here is a quick overview.

Construction of the Great Wall began even before China’s first imperial dynasty in belligerent times, known as the Spring and Autumn Period and the following Warring States Period. These periods are part of the Eastern Zhou dynasty which was the last dynasty before the reunification of the territory and the first imperial dynasty.

During this time seven rivaling states fought against each other and built individual walls to defend their territory against the attack of the enemy states. Stamping earth, gravel and stones were the main materials of these walls. After more than 200 years of mightily fights the state called Qin became the most powerful one conquering other states and finally destroying them.

Their king, who became known as Shi Huangdi, founded the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC) and by uniting all seven states he became the first emperor of China. He decided to join the existing walls together and added some more sections as a defense against the northern tribes, Mongolian people being the most feared enemy. When this huge project was finished the wall had a total length of over 5,000 kilometers (about 3,100 miles) in an east to west line and its remainders still mark the historical northern border of China.

After the decline of the comparably short Qin dynasty the Han dynasty was founded (206 BC – 220 AD). It became one of China’s early golden ages, a time when the consolidation of the state lead to cultural, economical and technological glory. During this period the existing walls were reinforced and lengthened. At that point in time the Great Wall reached its longest extension with a total length of more than 8,000 kilometers (about 5,000 miles) including branching walls, tranches and natural barriers such as hills and rivers.

Many parts of this ancient man-made architectural masterpiece created in early times with unimaginable efforts has been a destination for many people interested in architecture, ancient sites and old civilization for numerous years. Many planned tours to the Great Wall even offer pick-up services from your Beijing Hotels so you can get there easily by coach.
Read part two for more history about the Great Wall.

The Olympic Spirit

On April 20, 2012, in Beijing, Modern Architecture, More Places of Interest, by Jack Li

In a few months’ time the 2012 London Olympics will be in motion. To get into the Olympic spirit, why not travel to Beijing and venture to the city’s National Stadium which hosted the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Nowadays, the stadium is a must-see tourist attraction and has some 20,000 visitors stepping through the entrance […]

In a few months’ time the 2012 London Olympics will be in motion. To get into the Olympic spirit, why not travel to Beijing and venture to the city’s National Stadium which hosted the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Nowadays, the stadium is a must-see tourist attraction and has some 20,000 visitors stepping through the entrance daily. For a standard adult ticket, expect to pay 50RMB to enter the stadium. To reach the stadium, visitors can use Line 10 of the subway to Beitucheng and then change to Line 8 to the Olympic Sports Centre Station. There are also many Beijing Tours which cover this attraction, if wanting a more structured visit.

The stadium is an impressive sight both inside and out. It has a seating a capacity of 91,000 people and reaches a height of over 68 meters. The initial construction of the stadium started nearly a decade ago and cost around a whopping 33 million dollars. The ingenious architecture giving the stadium its unofficial name, the ‘Bird’s Nest’ after its appearance, has a characteristically Chinese feel with an influence of the country’s ceramic designs. Whilst the interior of the stadium embraces the country’s favorite color (red), which subsequently gives the place a warm sensation. After issues with incorporating a retractable roof in the initial design of the construction; instead, an inspirational semi-transparent air bubble film has been adopted which simply adds the organic depiction of the place.

Even before entering the Olympic Green (i.e. the surrounding grounds of the stadium); there is a hive of activity. Amongst the mass of tourists you can find many kite-sellers encouraging you to buy –  these kites are a great souvenir kids by the way. Around the Olympic Green there is also the chance to go to the National Aquatics Centre (also called the ‘Water Cube’. Again, this building epitomises Chinese design in that it embodies the Chinese concept of a square earth and circular heaven. There are different admissions fees for the Water Cube depending on the activity (as part of it is now a waterpark for the public). General admission to the Water Cube cost 30RMB.

A trip around the Olympic Green is an excellent way to view one of China’s recent developmental accomplishments. In addition, the grounds provide an enjoyable couple of hours for all the family. One activity, which can be done, for instance, is being able to use a Segway on the Stadium’s track – however, these can be quite expensive. The stadium has an informative exhibition area with a showcase of some of the actual equipment used to facilitate the 2008 Olympic ceremonies (such as displaying the Olympic torch!). Despite the conclusion of the Beijing Olympics, plans are underway to redevelop the area and build a shopping mall and hotel within the Olympic Green. This in turn should attract more tourists to the vicinity and encourage more Beijing flights and demonstrating that the city’s Olympic Spirit is certainly living on. Finally, take a chance to go to the Olympic Green at night and without a shadow of a doubt will be in awe of vibrancy of the place.

 

 

 

Echoes from the Temple

On April 11, 2012, in Beijing, Must-sees, Temples, by Jack Li

Why not indulge your spiritual side for a few hours at the Temple of Heaven (‘tiantan’). The Temple of Heaven (the Temple) claims to possess both the most famous temple (The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests) and the largest heaven worship architectural complex in the world. Initially constructed under the reign of Emperor Yongle […]

Why not indulge your spiritual side for a few hours at the Temple of Heaven (‘tiantan’). The Temple of Heaven (the Temple) claims to possess both the most famous temple (The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests) and the largest heaven worship architectural complex in the world. Initially constructed under the reign of Emperor Yongle (1420), The Temple is most famous for practicing Taoism, but the site has also been used for other ancient beliefs to encourage abundant harvests. These reasons alone should convince any traveller that this place is an obvious stop-off on a Beijing Tours route with some excellent China Hotels nearby.

In days gone by, emperors would enter the Temple from the Forbidden City via the South Gate Street, cross the Heavenly Bridge through the streets and then reach the restricted area of the Temple. Nowadays, anybody can access the complex. The most recognised attractions are the The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (The Hall), The Circular Mound Altar and the Echo Wall. The Hall itself sits on three layers of a white marble altar with the diameter of the bottom layer being 91 metres and The Hall standing at 32 metres high. Around The Hall visitors will have a splendid location to take photos and admire the views over Beijing city. At the back of the Imperial Vault of Heaven is the Echo Wall (or ‘Sound Spreading Wall’). The theory dictates that when people face north and speak towards the wall, the sound waves will echo and spread. The sound is meant to be so clear from one part of the wall to another that it is apparently like speaking on the telephone. If you want to see if this works, then you can visit the Wall and try this out with a friend. Another activity to try is standing on the ‘Heavenly Centre Stone’ on top of The Circular Mound Altar. Here, it is said that people are able to listen to the divine heavens.

Despite being a holy site, visiting the Temple does not have to be a serious affair. This is largely due to the fact that the temple complex encompasses an area of 273 hectares, which in turn also acts as a park for local Beijiners. Amongst other things, the Temple complex provides quite a lively and interactive atmosphere. Upon entering the Temple grounds, for instance, you will be met by avenues of ancient cypress trees. These trees certainly stimulate the imagination as they twist in many directions. One particular tree is called the ‘Wentian Cypress’ and has a branch which points towards the sky which has been interpreted as an interrogation towards the heaven. The relaxed environment around the park is also noticeable by the very fact that locals (and foreigners alike) can be seen playing games together (such as skipping and cards). The park is also a place to buy souvenirs such as shawls from local sellers. When buying tickets at the entrance to the complex, there is the option of purchasing an artistic guide around the Temple of Heaven. The guide costs 10RMB, but it provides a fair amount of information about the place and is also a great souvenir!

Access to the Temple of Heaven can be reached from the park’s East Gate at Tiantan Dongmen Station via subway line 5. In addition, note that there are separate admission fees depending on your china travel visit to the Temple.

A world wonder worth seeing!

On September 5, 2011, in Adventure Trip, Cultural Experience, Great Wall, Must-sees, by Jack Li

    With the Great Wall of China being one of the Seven Wonders of the World, I had very high expectations of my trip to the Muitianyu section. With the help of China Tours, I was able to book a day visit which picked me up directly from my Beijing Hotel and took me the 70km journey to the wall […]

 

 

With the Great Wall of China being one of the Seven Wonders of the World, I had very high expectations of my trip to the Muitianyu section. With the help of China Tours, I was able to book a day visit which picked me up directly from my Beijing Hotel and took me the 70km journey to the wall by airconditioned coach. Muitianyu is considered the most preserved section of the Great Wall of China and is less crammed with tourists compared to Badaling.

 

 

 

 

About the Muitianyu Great Wall

The Mutitianyu Great Wall was first built in the 6th Century AD, making it the oldest part of the Wall. It was later rebuilt in 1569 to which most parts are still in excellent condition, making it the best quality of all the sections of the Great Wall of China. US President Bill Clinton visited this part of the wall in 1998, stating “The Great Wall here is very beautiful, very grand, more beautiful and grander than what I imagined”. So it that is anything to go by, it makes it a must see for Chinese culture enthusiasts.

Getting up and down the Great Wall

You can get up to the wall by either cable car or by walking. If you intend to walk, there a lots of steep stairs to climb which can get very tiring and require several breaks inbetween to take in the views and catch your breath.

The wall itself is 3km long, consisting of 22 watchtowers which you can climb to the top of to get a better view. The wall is surrounded by forests and streams with views of distant mountains.

Once you get up to the top of the wall, you can either walk, take the cable car, or use the novelty toboggan slide down.

 

 

Things worth noting

If you intend on walking up or down the wall, wearing comfortable shoes is a must. The last thing you want is to be preoccupied with plasters whilst trying to enjoy your day.

Bring some spending money. Getting onto the wall requires a small fee (45RMB for adults and 25RMB for students who produce a valid Student ID) and the cable cars and toboggan slide require a little bit more. There are many street stalls selling a wide variety of traditional chinese goods and fruit and is a perfect way to test your haggling technique in preparation for the silk market.

Charge your camera up the night before. On visiting the wall myself, I took around 200 photographs so be prepared to get some beautiful scenic photographs. You can also spot the Chinese men dressed in tradition Chinese armour and get a photograph with them for a small donation.

 

So if you plan on taking a Beijing tour, the Mutitianyu Great Wall is a must see. It is an experience that I will always remember thanks to my excellent photographs, Chinese memorabilia and the blisters on my feet due to my lack of preparation!

A Glance at Tiananmen Square

On September 1, 2010, in Beijing, Must-sees, Tours, by Jack Li

Elegant scenery, wide open spaces and beautiful buildings; Tiananmen Square really does have it all. Situated in the centre of Beijing, one immediately witnesses a land of stillness and tranquillity. Yet as you walk on into the main square one starts to realise the true extent of the exquisite beauty possessed by Tiananmen Square. The […]

Elegant scenery, wide open spaces and beautiful buildings; Tiananmen Square really does have it all. Situated in the centre of Beijing, one immediately witnesses a land of stillness and tranquillity. Yet as you walk on into the main square one starts to realise the true extent of the exquisite beauty possessed by Tiananmen Square. The main square is practically impossible to miss; not only by its breathtaking visual experience, but the 400,000 plus square metre land is the greatest public space on earth. Centrally located in Beijing and symbolically defined as the heart of China, we see a completely different outlook and society to what Beijing once was. Before the square, Beijing was arguably defined as a feudal society, so change was imperative. The capital of socialist China was transformed not only by the square but by the beautiful architecture which surrounds it, ranging from the Great Hall of the People to the Museums of History and the Revolution, all more than worthy of a visit.

The square is typically defined by tourists as a place of pilgrimage. Not only to see the amazing scenery but also to witness a historic and iconic monument, the tomb of Mao. People line up for hundreds of feet every day to see the former chairman, with many paying tribute to him with flowers which can be rented at the entrance on the north side.

Interest stems not only from physically experiencing the tomb, but also in witnessing the sense of awe of the Chinese confronted with their former leader, who is still seen today as the central architect of modern china.

To truly realise why Beijing is acclaimed to have some of the most beautiful land sights in the whole of Asia, Tiananmen Square should be top of your list of things to do in the city. To see this and many other attractions in Beijing at the most competitive rate, please contact the China Travel Depot.

The Summer Palace: An Oasis in Beijing

On September 1, 2010, in Beijing, Must-sees, Summer Palace, by Jack Li

Ten miles North West of bustling central Beijing is a calm oasis known as The Summer Palace. In times past members of the imperial court abandoned the Forbidden City during the quiet summer months in favour of this tranquil escape. The landscaped grounds cover 290 acres with three quarters of the park consisting of water. […]

Ten miles North West of bustling central Beijing is a calm oasis known as The Summer Palace. In times past members of the imperial court abandoned the Forbidden City during the quiet summer months in favour of this tranquil escape.

The landscaped grounds cover 290 acres with three quarters of the park consisting of water. During the 18th century and under the rule of Qing emperor Qianlong, 100,000 labourers were employed to deepen and expand the manmade Kunming Lake. Qianlong reputedly carried out imperial naval drills from a hilltop perch during operations.

The Summer Palace has endured a turbulent history being raided by foreign troops in 1860 and 1900 during periods of unrest and being rescued from disrepair in 1949 following China’s political evolution.

In addition to the aforementioned Kunming Lake, whereby visitors can take to the waters by boat during the summer months, Seventeen Arch Bridge and The Long Corridor compliment the elegant surroundings further and are well worth a visit. In the courtyard by the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity are bronzed statues of animals including the mythical Qilin, a creature who only appeared on earth during periods of harmony. The Summer Palace, an outstanding example of Chinese landscape gardening achieved World Heritage Listed status  during 1998 and is globally acclaimed attracting thousands of visitors through its gates annually.

Aman, a luxury boutique hotel established within the grounds of The Summer Palace has attracted international recognition with listings on the acclaimed Conde Naste Traveller’s 2009/2010 Hot Hotels List and Tatler Magazines 101 Best Spa Hotels . To experience The Summer Palace as a 21st century emperor check into the imperial suite at Aman, rates from $3,800.

For the best rates on tours and accommodation in Beijing contact China Travel Depot .

Vital Statistics:

Summer Palace, 19 Xinjingongmen Road, Haidian, Beijing, PRC, 100091

Aman at Summer Palace, ,1 Gongmenqian Street, Summer Palace, Beijing, PRC 100091

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