If you are like me, you are already thinking about where you are going to vacation next year. You might consider Europe, South America, Hawaii or even the Caribbean next summer. Or, perhaps even a camping trip in Colorado. Half the fun of travel for me is planning the vacation. There is so much material available on the Internet that detailed planning is possible from your home or office. I also use an experienced travel agent most of the time to book my cruises and tours as well as air travel. I don’t trust myself with these details even now. The travel agent can make suggestions and tell you what to avoid. The travel ads only give you the best of the location. There may be more to tell.
China, Tibet and much of the Far East were not on the American travel lists 30 years ago. However, that has changed and experienced travelers continue to check out new destinations to visit. China became a destination many travelers chose to experience starting 10 years ago.
Almost everyone I know that visited there came home pleased with their travel and recommended it to others. The major cities in China have modernized and many new and deluxe hotels have opened for the pleasure of tourists. Guards with guns are not as prevalent as they were in the 1970s and you feel quite free as you travel from one location to another. The only way to visit China, in my view, is by escorted tour. These are usually well planned and include most of the sights one expects to see when visiting China.
I suggest an organized tour because few signs are in English and most of the population does not speak English. If you have visited China before, perhaps you might consider adding Tibet and the Yangtze River. The best time to experience these areas would be next spring or summer.
Chinese cuisine is very tasty, but be aware Chinese food in China is not too similar to Chinese food in America. If you are on a tour, the tour company will arrange menus that will feature food similar to that found in the U.S.
In the tourist hotels, English will be available in printed matter and at the front desk.
Let’s say you begin your China tour by landing in the capital, Beijing. This is a surprisingly large city that has modernized, but has also retained some of the old China as well. Your sightseeing here will most likely include famous Tiananmen Square where the famous revolt occurred in the late 1980s. It is very large and facing the square are important government buildings. They will not tell you about the revolt. Discussing this is a no-no.
Then, you will be taken to the elegant Summer Palace with the largest imperial garden in the world. The grounds include over 3,000 structures with a variety of pavilions, towers and arched bridges surrounding Lake Kunming. You will be treated to a boat ride if the weather permits. Most tour companies will treat you to a Beijing Duck dinner while you are in the city.
About an hour’s drive from the city is the renowned Great Wall. On the way, you may make a stop to photograph the iconic “Birds Nest” — the Beijing National Stadium, which was host to many events during the 2008 Olympics.
At the Great Wall you can walk along its ramparts as emperors once did. The Great Wall will surprise you with its greatness, strength and distance.
Of course, your tour will stop at the handcraft stores in order that you may purchase items you wish to take home or have mailed home.
Your tour director will probably allow time for you to walk the streets near your hotel to experience the atmosphere, the people and to shop on your own. It’s wise to perhaps take an extra suitcase just for bringing home items you have purchased abroad.
Another day in Beijing might find you exploring the 15th Century Temple of Heaven, renowned for its unique blue dome. And, see the Imperial Ceiling of Heaven, Echo Wall and the Nine-Dragon Cypress, which is more than 500 years old.
Then, take a plane to Xi’an, the former capital of China. This ancient city is also a good location to do some shopping, but the main attraction is the famed Terra-Cotta Legion of Warriors, the Bronze Chariot, buried with the emperor for more than 2,200 years and the Circle Vision Movie. You will also want to see the Xi’an City Wall. This will be a great area for photography.
Then, fly on to Lhasa, capital of Tibet. Not many tourists have visited here to date and you will want to explore the city streets on your own with camera. Movies have been made here and many documentaries, but nothing is as good as actually experiencing the country yourself. Lhasa is situated at an elevation of 12,000 feet and it will take a little time to become accustomed to the altitude.
Here, you will most likely visit Norbulingkha, the Tibetan summer palace, built by the 7th Dalai Lama in the 18th century. You will also tour the Potala Palace, the former living quarters of the Dalai Lama with its 1,000 rooms.
A visit to the famous market place where you can shop for Tibetan items will be a must and then be driven to Al Barkhor Square for a tour of one of Tibet’s holiest shrines. Most tour companies will treat you to a Tibetan dinner one evening while there. You have seen many photographs of the very large and sprawling Potala Palace and you will find it hard to believe you have finally arrived in person to see the area.
Next, will probably be a flight to Chongqing, a mountainside city, to sightsee where neighborhoods rise in tiers along the riverbank above the mighty Yangtze River. Perhaps a visit to the large zoo will be included in your tour to see the giant Pandas before you board a deluxe river boat to begin your memorable cruise.
At Fengdu, an excursion shows the Mingshan Hill’s unique temples with statues of ghosts and devils. Then, you will continue down the powerful Yangtze River to the three Gorges area with mossy cliffs and arriving at Wushan.
Here, you may be transferred to an excursion boat for a trip up the Daning River to view the breathtaking Small Gorges and then via sampan to picturesque mini-gorges of the Ma Du River with its clear, swift water and unusual rock formations.
Now, back to your river boat on the Yangtze and sail on through Wu Gorge, celebrated for its 12 peaks, and on through Ziling Gorge, the last and most scenic gorge and its ship locks.
Another day you will cruise downstream to the Three Gorges Dam at San Dou Ping, the world’s largest hydroelectric project. At Yichang, your tour will disembark and board a flight to Shanghai.
Shanghai is a wondrous city that has vastly changed in the last 35 years. I can remember it in the mid 1970s as a very provincial city that looked as though most buildings were built in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it is mostly modern with skyscrapers all over. There remains part of the city that recalls the past though. These are the districts you will want to walk through to shop and get a feeling of the real Shanghai.
While here you will want to visit the Shanghai Museum, with an audio tour describing the special features of the museums permanent collections.
The Bund is where you can discover the city’s colonial European. You may also wish to drop into a silk store for some purchases. Maybe before you depart your tour will include an astonishing performance of the world-famous Shanghai acrobats. You’ll never forget this show.
There is much more to see and to discuss so we’ll talk soon about a tour to Vietnam and Cambodia. We’ll visit with you next week.