Some people are a bit nervous before they take a vacation in China, they want to see the incredible beauty of the country on a China tour but they don't know how to interact with Chinese people. There's no need to worry as you'll discover on a trip to China; the Chinese are incredibly friendly and while English isn't always the language of communication - travel in China is usually very easy. We've put together a quick tip sheet to help you stay in the local good books too:
China has a face culture; that means it's not really done to give excessive compliments and if they are given it's normal for a Chinese person to reply in the opposite. So if you go for a meal with some at a Chinese friend's house during your vacation and say; "Wow! That meal was incredible thank you!" don't be surprised if they say; "Oh no! It was horrible the food was really bad!" And don't be offended if they do, modesty is incredibly important in Chinese society.
2.Use People's Surnames
It can come as a surprise to us informal Westerners to realize that Chinese people are very peculiar about their names. If you are introduced to someone on your China tour you should call them by the surname. To confuse matters someone's given name is always given last name first and first name last. So if you meet a Zhang Min, you should call her Ms. Zhang and not Ms. Min. It's only very, very close family and friends who use a Chinese person's first name.
3.Make a Toast before You Drink
Travel round China for long enough and sooner or later on your trip you will find yourself drinking with Chinese people. China's alcohol culture is also quite formal (though the pace of consumption can be incredible – so this tip is very useful for slowing things down); and you will be expected to make a toast to the host of the night before you take a sip. If people start shouting "ganbei" you're expected to finish the whole glass – if everyone starts doing this it might be best to slip away politely before you drink too much…
4.Always Fight over the Bill
In general the host pays and if that's not applicable the oldest person at the table pays for a meal in China. However, it's customary for everybody to fight over the bill before surrendering the check to the right party. Your vacation will go more smoothly if you appreciate the etiquette and play your part accordingly.
5.Don't Accept "No Thank You" Immediately
If you decide to offer someone something on your China tour; it's expected that they will say no thank you. You should then offer again. A good person should say no once and a good person should make an offer twice. It's important because otherwise your companion may go hungry or thirsty for the sake of manners.
It's a common dilemma during a China vacation; what do I take home for my loved ones that says “I've been on a great China tour!” As you travel round China you'll find plenty of great options such as the beautiful Chinese qi pao (the traditional dress) or perhaps some folk art. What you probably won't want to take back from your China trip is one of these 5 strange souvenirs. They're probably best left behind in China before you travel home.
1. Virgin Tea
If you were to travel to China's Henan province and were to explore a little you would eventually find the Jiuhua Tea plantation. What makes their tea different from any other tea you'll encounter on a China tour is that every leaf is plucked from the bush by the mouth of a Chinese virgin. Really, we're not making this up. In fact not only must the women be virgins but there are stringent set of physical criteria they must pass too. The reason for this strange habit? Locals swear that it gives the tea the same level of purity as the lady who picked it.
2. White People
Actually, you can't technically buy a white person during your China trip but it is perfectly possible to rent them. Chinese people have had very little exposure to the outside world in much of the country. Thus white people are interesting. They are also believed to be good business people and rich. So if a Chinese person wants to launch a business; he or she will often rent a white person for a few days to make their business look special. The lucky white person's work usually involves giving a small speech and handing out business cards. It's very lucrative work.
3. Obama Fried Chicken
Your China vacation will offer plenty of great places to eat but this bizarre copy of KFC has the American president's face on every bucket of chicken. It's meant to be a compliment – Chinese people love President Obama and his brother actually lives in Shenzhen, China – but we wouldn't travel out of our way to eat there.
4. Tinned Air
It's more of a gimmick than a reality but in parts of China where pollution is heavy; there are people who miss the smell of clean country air. Those people can now buy tinned air which is supposedly bottled in the countryside and imported into the city. We're not certain that it would survive the trip home even if you could find it on a shelf. Empty cans may not react well to the pressure changes on a flight.
5. Panda Tea
This isn't so much tea as boiled panda droppings. It's incredibly expensive too and a single kilo cost nearly $80,000. It's made in Sichuan where a local company buys all the panda poop it can get its hands on from the panda sanctuary in Chengdu. They say it's rich in antioxidants but we really don't want to find out if that's true.
China is a great vacation destination. One of the things that China tour groups always comment on is the difference between their culture and Chinese culture. If you travel for any length of time in China you’re bound to come across some weird and wonderful sights and experiences. You may not encounter any of the following during your China trip but that’s not to say you won’t find something equally as fascinating.
1. Walnut Investors and Nut Forgers
China is getting richer as you’ll see during your trip; unfortunately Chinese people don’t really trust their banks. So instead they invest in pretty much anything that can be stored. Walnuts have become a popular form of investment and that’s led to a rise in folks who specialize in counterfeiting walnuts to take advantage of this.
2. Prisoner Body Doubles
We hope that you have no cause to come into contact with China’s legal system during your tour. However, if you did you might come across the latest in prison trends. The wealthy are now believed to hire body doubles to stand trial on their behalf and to serve their time in jail.
3. Pork Banks
There's no shortage of pork on the table anywhere you travel to in China; what you might not know is that the government actually banks pork to protect the nation from inflationary price increases. When the pork supply gets low; the government lets some of its stock onto the market to keep prices low.
4. Divorces to Get More Houses
Everyone in China has the right to buy and sell a single house tax free. If on the other hand they also have a vacation property; they have to pay 20% tax on the sale of the second home. So to avoid tax several Chinese couples have got divorced (and remained together) giving them a house each and no tax to pay.
5. People Hire Assassins to Kill Imaginary Creations
This has to be unique to China. An angry father was so upset by the amount of time his son spent playing World of Warcraft and taking an extended vacation from the world of work; that he paid virtual assassins to kill his son’s in game character.
6. Roads to Nowhere
In Qingdao they built an 8-lane bridge that is the longest in the world. The only problem is that nobody in China wants to take a trip on it and it remains virtually unused despite having cost over $2 billion US dollars to build.
7. Exercise Lanes?
During the chaos on China’s roads during the Spring Festival it’s not uncommon to see people get out of their cars and then do push-ups or sit-ups in the road.
8. Eyes are Shaved
Really, not eyebrow hair but the eyeball itself – a razor is inserted under the lid and used to clean out the eye. It’s a very common practice but one that we don’t recommend. Some things are better left to the professionals.
No trip to China is complete without seeing Shanghai. It's the largest city in both China and the world and it's the pinnacle of a tour of the nation. It's the most cosmopolitan city in the nation and travel here is unlike anywhere else in China. The city has also evolved something of a unique culture and before you vacation in China we've put together a quick guide to Shanghai-culture.
Everywhere you travel in China people speak Mandarin (or Putonghua as it's better known on the mainland). However, as your tour of China progresses you'll soon realize that there are many different dialects of the language. Shanghai-nese as it's known locally is difficult for other Chinese people to master. It's not a different language but pronounciation and local slang make it more difficult to follow than other types of Mandarin. People who live in Shanghai will insist that it's the most proper form of the language but that's more true of Beijing-Mandarin. So don't be surprised if your Chinese phrase book doesn't deliver the goods every time in Shanghai.
Unsurprisingly in a city as big as Shanghai there's a fair amount of diversity and whilst the center of Shanghai is probably the wealthiest part of China, travel a few miles out to the outskirts and you'll soon find those on an economic par with most other parts of the country. What is certainly true is that Shanghai has been exposed to foreign influences for far longer than the rest of China and it's one of the easiest places to strike up a conversation on your vacation. There's less staring at foreigners in Shanghai too because we're much less of a curiosity there.
Etiquette and manners are very important in Shanghai. The locals are amongst the most courteous folk in the nation. So it's important to try and follow some basic rules if your China trip stops in Shanghai:
- Don't criticize anyone instead politely raise a suggestion for an improvement - allowing people to save face is vital in Shanghai
- Don't be afraid to say hello to people – Shanghai people are always impressed by a foreigner who offers a cheery "ni hao"
- No need to bow - they may be formal in Shanghai but there's no need to bow in greeting a handshake is now the accepted norm here
- If offered a business card make sure you take it with both hands and read it for a few seconds before putting it away. Don't write on it or bend it.
- If asked to go out drinking with locals please remember that drinking is serious business in China. If you'd prefer to spend your vacation without a huge hangover it's OK to politely decline any invitations offered.
Other than that, life in Shanghai isn't so different from the rest of the country. You can haggle to your heart's content at the markets and enjoy the tourist sites without worrying about causing offence of any kind. Shanghai's an exciting, vibrant place like nowhere else on earth.
The location of the site was chosen to reflect the place where the war entered China proper; at the Marco Polo Bridge a short-walk away.
You may find that if you mention the Japanese on your China vacation that you get a distinctly frost response from your Chinese hosts. If you’d like to find out more about why relations between Japan and China are so tense during your tour – then you should take a trip to the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against the Japanese in Beijing. China has famously been on the receiving end of some of the worst wartime atrocities in modern history and much of this was at the hands of the Japanese. The museum attempts to document some of these atrocities for better public understanding.
How to Get There
Travel to the museum is easy. It can be found at 101 Chengnei Jie, in the Fengtai District which should be a short taxi journey from most hotels used for China tours in Beijing. You’ll want to give yourself about 3 hours to get the most from the trip as there’s a lot to take in.
About the Museum
One of the best reasons to visit the museum during your China vacation is the building itself which is the Wanping Fortress; an imposing former military building that dominates the local landscape. The grounds are open to the public so feel free to take a tour of them when you’re finished in the museum itself.
The museum opened its doors to the general public back in 1987 but it has been renovated 3 times and been updated several more times in more minor ways. In 2005 the center announced a huge investment which resulted in incredible multi-media displays. Unlike some of the minor museums you might seen on a China trip this one has very good English language support as the Chinese government is very keen for foreign guests to understand what happened.
When you arrive you will be greeted by a huge sculpture standing in the entry hall; this is called “Awaken Lion”. The whole fortress style feel of the museum is designed to convey that China had to resist the Japanese invasion completely. Explore the side halls and find relics and documentary evidence of the atrocities commited during the middle of the last century. The photographic evidence is sometimes extremely graphic and if you have young children on your China tour it might be best if you didn’t take them to the museum.
There’s a particularly moving tribute to China’s army as they beat the Japanese on the Lu Gou Bridge; it includes film, slides and audio displays. You will also find a series of fascinating anti-Japanese posters which would have been displayed throughout China during the war.
The museum is considered by the party to be one of the most important in the nation. It was inaugurated by Deng Xiao Ping and has been visited by almost every leader of the party since. Hu Jin Tao was the last premier to visit.
The location of the site was chosen to reflect the place where the war entered China proper; at the Marco Polo Bridge a short-walk away.
If you're going to visit Beijing as part of your China tour then you might want to attend some of the exciting events that the city has planned this year. If your China vacation is at the right time of year you can enhance your China trip by visiting one of these “one off’ occasions. So before you travel to China you might want to take a glance at our list of forthcoming events in Beijing.
March 9th, 2014 – The Bookworm International Literary Festival
This is a great way to spend a quiet evening on a China trip. The Bookworm Café brings together journalist from China and around the world and organizes lectures and practical workshops for people to try their hand at literary contributions. Some events are held in English and others in Mandarin so please check before you sign up for anything.
April 1st, 2014 – The Beijing International Kite Festival
As you’ll see in parks everywhere on your China tour; kite flying is a big deal in China. This festival begins with one of the best dragon dancing displays in the nation and it’s worth taking some time out from your vacation just for that. Once it’s underway you can see thrilling displays of aerial combat as kite teams compete against each other. There’s also a nice exhibition of kites through the ages as well as historical kite flying technique demonstrations.
July 1st, 2014 – The Beijing Dance Festival
You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy this festival as it runs for nearly 6 weeks. Wherever you travel in the city during that time you’ll be able to see displays of contemporary and classic dance from all around China. It’s best to book tickets for performances as early as possible as many of them are sold out quickly after they are announced.
September 25th, 2014 – China Open Air Tennis Tournament
China’s is home to some of tennis’s rising stars and if you’re keen on tennis this will be a great way to get in touch with some of the local talent. There’s an ATP event held simultaneously and you can also see some of the world’s greatest tennis players on display. If tennis is your cup of tea then this may be one of the best uses of some of your free time on a China tour. It’s worth noting that tickets are in very high demand and if you can book them in advance you should do so to guarantee seats. You can turn up on the day and try and get your hands on returned tickets or those surrendered by early leavers but there’s no guarantee of a seat.
October 16th, 2014 – The Beijing International Marathon
There’s no need for you to do the running on your China vacation; you can watch others doing the work instead. The Beijing International Marathon is one of the world’s most popular marathon events and if you’re passing through Beijing when it’s on – you should be able to get a glimpse of the event fairly easily from anywhere along the route.
If your China tour is going to take in Hong Kong and you want a little adrenalin coursing through your system then you might want to try one of Hong Kong's theme parks. There's a lot of fun to be had on your China vacation at one of these popular attractions. Here's what you need to know before you travel to China so you can choose which destination you'll see on your China trip.
Ocean Park is the small player with the big reputation in Hong Kong. It's a great vacation spot and you'll find over 80 rides and attractions within its grounds. Forbes magazine ranked it as one of the 50 most visited places anywhere in the world (not just China) and it's said to be one of the seven best theme parks on earth.
As you might expect, marine life is one of the key themes of Ocean Park. In fact it's one of China's most successful conservation projects as well as a theme park. The park is split into two zones "The Summit" and "The Waterfront." It's easy to travel between the two using the cable car system provided by the park.
The Summit includes a host of interesting features like the Pacific Pier (a mockup of a sea lion habitat), the Chinese Sturgeon Aquarium (if you're not able to take in a Yangtze River Cruise you can find many of the rare species from the Yangtze here) and Sea Jelly Spectacular (an incredible collection of jellyfish). The biggest roller coaster on the island is here too and if you want to scream your heart out during your China tour – you have to try The Dragon. The Waterfront contains the biggest aquarium in China as well as the Giant Panda Adventure (another must if you're not going to be doing the Yangtze River Cruise and Chengdu) which is home to two giant pandas and red pandas.
The only trouble with a trip to Ocean Park is that you're going to need a long day to see everything here.
Disney World Hong Kong
The big player in town is Disney. If you want to see how American theme parks translate to China this is the place to do it. It's an ultra-compact theme park and you won't need a whole day of your trip to see everything (except in high season when the queues may leave you waiting around a bit).
Just like back home there's a USA Main Street parade, Space Mountain and "It's a Small World". It's easy to get to Disney in Hong Kong too the company built its own stretch of railway which comes off the main MTR network (you can buy tickets for the park when you buy your train tickets).
It's a lot of fun but it's not as much fun as Ocean Park. It's also nothing you won't have seen before if you've visited Disney theme parks elsewhere in the world. We'd recommend that if you want the best value for money you stick to Ocean Park.
One of the highlights of many people's China vacation is a trip to Hong Kong; China's special administrative region. If you'd like to do something a little different on your China tour when it reaches Hong Kong we've put together a list of things you won't normally find tourists doing. China travel can be even more thrilling when you get off the beaten path.
Dig for Clams
If you're a foodie then this might be a great diversion from your China tour. Head to Shui Hau on Lantau and you can rent the tools required and join the locals out on the shores digging for clams. Once you've had your fill of diffing go back to the tool rental store and they'll cook the clams in a traditional Cantonese manner.
Take a Taxi through a Reservoir
If you want a great photo opportunity on your China trip; jump in a taxi and ask them to take you through the Tai Tam reservoir. The road runs right through the middle of this body of water and it's a spectacular sight.
Add the Philippines to Your China Vacation!
While there won't be time on your China tour to travel to the Philippines; the Philippines can come to you instead. Each Sunday if you go to the Central district of Hong Kong all the Filipino workers (mainly domestic helpers) congregate en masse and you can share a few drinks with them or try all the latest Filipino delicacies and the good news is that they're very good value for money as well as very tasty.
Ride an Electric Street Car
It's often forgotten that Hong Kong wasn't always the skyscraper capital of China. If you go to the Yuen Long district you'll be able to see the city as it once was. Jump in an electric street car and check out low-rise Hong Kong.
Try an Elevator based Bar Crawl
Lan Kwai Fong and Wanchai may be the two most famous bar districts in Hong Kong but if you want something a little different try Circle Tower (it's in the Causeway Bay district). It's home to over 20 hostelries and there's one on every single floor. So instead of walking from bar to bar you just jump in an elevator to see them.
Visit a Traditional Barber Shop
Even in mainland China the traditional barber shop is slowly disappearing and being replaced by the modern hair salon. Take a trip to Java Road (in the North Point district) and you'll find the best traditional barbers left in Hong Kong. It's not just a haircut you can get here but you can also have your nostril hairs trimmed, ears waxed and of course a makeover for your beard. Once you're done; go and try the ink noodles at a local restaurant – they're world famous and very, very tasty.
See the World War 2 Barracks
It's a bit of a hike to Mount Davis but it's worth it. You'll find the old British artillery emplacements up on the hill and the view from the top is incredible.
A China trip is not complete without a visit to Hong Kong. China's special administrative region offers a unique blend of British and Chinese culture. Travel on the island is enhanced for many by the ability to distinguish between the China influence and the English influence. So to help you get the most from a China vacation that takes in Hong Kong we've put together a quick guide to local culture.
That Word, It Doesn't Mean what You Think it Means
You'll soon find during your China tour that Hong Kong folk consider themselves to have a separate identity. They refer to themselves as "Hong Kongers" or for short “Honkies”. So when you hear that word on your China vacation it's not aimed at you – it's aimed at themselves.
It's a Family Affair
Hong Kong was the first place in China to try and define the concept of family in law. A “normal” relationship was considered to be someone with a single partner in a heterosexual relationship. Local values may have changed somewhat, as you'll see during your China trip, but this definition is still important as evidence by a Chinese billionaire recently trying to buy a husband for his lesbian daughter.
You'll find that throughout Hong Kong family values are very important and that Cantonese culture places a lot of emphasis on respect for elders particularly.
This is a bone of contention in Hong Kong at the moment. The two languages that are most commonly used in Hong Kong are English and Cantonese. That means communication during your China vacation tends to be easier than in Mainland China. However, there's a concerted effort from Beijing to have Hong Kong switch to Mandarin as its preferred form of Chinese. This isn't making the locals very happy as many see it as a form of cultural destruction.
On the mainland religion is not a particularly big part of life though there's a growing Christian movement in China; the vast majority of folks don't officially practice any religion. Hong Kong is different. You'll see it as you travel round the island in the form of temples and statues. Hong Kong is a Buddhist nation though there's a deep Confucian and Daoist influence on the Buddhism practiced there.
Hong Kong also takes different vacations from the rest of China. While many of the major Chinese festivals are days off in the country so are many of the Western festivals imported by the British. That means you can expect the island to quieten down for Christmas which isn't celebrated widely anywhere else.
Cantonese Opera was inspired by Shanghai Opera but it is now a unique art form that differs from opera on the mainland. If you get a chance during your China trip you should check out Cantonese Opera as it's a wonderful spectacle. The sets and performances tend to reflect the additional levels of investment available in Hong Kong and you'll have a great night out.
If you're taking a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China vacation then your China tour will be passing through Chongqing. Chongqing is one of the largest cities in China and was once the capital, there's actually talk that one day it may be the seat of government as the party regularly proposes moving from Beijing to Chongqing. Unlike many destinations on your China trip, Chongqing is not that well known in the wider world. Today we'd like to introduce you to one of the more interesting parts of the city: Choa Tian Men.
Chao Tian Men, Suspension Bridge
Grab your camera if you decide to head down to Chao Tian Men as the world's longest arch suspension bridge spans the river here. It's a breathtaking sight during the day and it sparkles merrily at night too; it's definitely worth taking a few China vacation photos here. It's nearly 2 kilometers long and there are 6 lanes of traffic passing overhead. You may even get a chance to take some photos from the water as your Yangtze River cruise passes underneath the bridge.
Chao Tian Men, Gate
It might not be readily apparent but Chongqing was once a walled city and there is a small amount of the wall remaining in the Chao Tian Men area. You'll find the Chao Tian Men gate in the North East of the district and it's a short walk from the dock.
Chao Tian Men, Dock
Most Yangtze River Cruises pass through Chao Tian Men dock. It's been in use for hundreds of years as trade travels up and down China's largest river. However, today it's a brand new sparkling tourist mecca and the dock is now known as the “Gate to Heaven”. It's here that you can witness all the ships that use the Yangtze during your China tour. More than a million travelers a year congregate in the central area (described as a “ship shaped square” by the locals).
In the lanes around the dock you'll find plenty of interest. Souvenirs from this part of your China vacation can be haggled over at nearby market stalls. Aim for 25% of the starting price and start at 10% to get the best bargains. You're doing well if you can get the locals below 50% and many visitors won't get them below 75% but if you're patient and cheerful you can get the prices much, much lower.
Chao Tien Men, Cable Car
If you want a spectacular view of the city and the river then jump on a cable car from Cangbei Lu in the Chao Tien Men district and enjoy a slow ride over the water. It's particularly interesting in summer when many Chinese bring their bathing suits and dive off the rocks lining the river for a swim. In Winter, you may see ships being literally dragged out of the water to the dock as the river runs low and the mudflats that are exposed are unnavigable.
When you're on your China vacation you'll have the opportunity to try food from the length and breadth of the country. In Beijing your China tour will afford you plenty of choice and we know that some people prefer organic eating options. It's for those folks that prefer organic and are including Beijing in their China travel plans that we've put together this guide to some of the best organic food options in the capital.
Beijing Organic and Beyond Corporation (OABC)
If you don't want to travel far but you'd like to taste organic options in China, you might want to try OABC. They have an English language website, something you won't find often during your China vacation, which allows you to order organic products for delivery at your hotel.
You can also arrange to take a trip to one of China's organic farms with them but make sure you check with your China tour guide before you book as the farms are a long way out of town and you don't want to miss anything from your itinerary do you?
Beijing Organic Farmer's Market
You'll need to keep an eye on their Facebook page if you want to know where this is being held as it moves regularly. If your trip to Beijing coincides with the market then you may have to travel across the city to find it.
There's fruit, vegetables from all over China at the market. You will also find some rather non-traditional food stuffs including the best cheese made in China (French-style).
Mrs. Shanen's Restaurant
If you'd prefer to go somewhere where all the cooking has already been done. Then the best organic restaurant you can eat in during your China vacation is Mrs. Shanen's. You'll find it in the Shunyi district of the capital.
The eponymous Mrs. Shanen is extremely passionate about organic food. Much of the raw produce for the restaurant is produced on her own organic farm a few miles outside of Beijing. The rest of it is sourced from organic farms across the nation and some even comes from Mongolia!
If you're in a hurry then pop into the bread shop and delicatessen and grab some bread to make a sandwich with. You also want to make sure that you try their peanut butter (unless you have nut allergies) as it's one of the few peanut butters in China that is only made with peanuts. There are no additives used to bulk it up.
However, we do recommend that you take your time and visit Mrs. Shanen's for lunch. They make an organic hamburger there which is to die for; it rivals anything back home in the States and the food is extremely reasonably priced. Wash it down with a glass of milk from Mrs. Shanen's farm and you'll think that you're in heaven.
Organic food is a new thing in China and at the moment it's only really available in Beijing but watch this space as we're certain in a year or two the trend will outgrow the capital.
A Yangtze River cruise lets you appreciate the 3rd largest river in the world and lot of China's natural beauty. A trip down the river can be enhanced by an appreciation of the local legends. As with any folklore you'll encounter during a China tour it may not be entirely factual but it is entertaining. So we've put together some of the best stories for your China vacation.
The Kongling Shoal
This one's certainly true. During your Yangtze River Cruise you will encounter the Kongling Shoal. It is here that you'll see a rock sticking out of the water in the channel. The principle of navigation is simple; you aim for the rock and the current pushes your round it. Thus its nickname is “come to me”.
Unfortunately back in 1900 a German captain on his first China tour didn't know that. When his Chinese navigator tried to steer for the rock; he grabbed the wheel and tried to steer away. His boat took a quick trip to the bottom of the Yangtze. The river trade in China was paralyzed for nine years as a result until the boat's wreckage could be cleared from the channel.
The Silver Nest Shoal
On a tributary of the Yangtze you can find the Yintowan (Silver Nest) and it was rumoured that this was once the most dangerous stretch of river in China. A greedy ship's captain forced a young boy (Yin Long) to pilot his boat here. As the boat passed through the 3 little gorges of the river the captain's silver ware fell from a table. He accused the boy of doing this deliberately. The captain then beat the boy and threw him from the boat.
The boy's distressed tears were heard by a dragon living nearby. The dragon give him a pearl which could be crushed to call for his help. When the boy returned to his boat the boss decided to punish him again and he fled and had to jump in the river. He crushed the pearl and turned into a dragon himself. The boss and his evil henchmen drowned instead at the Silver Nest Shoal. It's the most haunted place you can visit during a Yangtze River cruise.
The Dragon Boat Races of the Yangtze
Dragon boat racing can be seen in many places on a China tour but the origins of the sport are to be found in the Yangtze. If you're lucky enough to see some dragon boat racing during your China vacation the legend goes like this; a man drowned himself in the river. His friends in his village were very distressed about this. One of the friends dreamt of the man, Qu Yuan, and asked his spirit if he was happy.
Qu Yuan said he was happy but that he was still hungry; he asked his friend to drop rice in the river to feed him. When Qu Yuan's friend woke he encouraged all his fellow villagers to do this. But of course, the fish came to eat the rice and he could not be sure that Qu Yuan was getting his food. The solution they came up with was to race boats along the water whilst banging drums to scare off the fish and allow Qu Yuan the time to claim his rice. Thus dragon boat racing was born.
There are times on a China vacation when it's nice to relax with a cold beer. If you're taking a Yangtze River Cruise then your China tour will be passing through the city of Chengdu in Sichuan. Chengdu's one of the expat havens in China. It's a lovely city with a business friendly environment and expats travel from all over the world to make it their home. That makes it one of the best venues to try specialist micro-brewery beers during your China trip.
Paulaner – German Beer at the Kempinski
If you're thinking that Paulaner's a major beer brand; you'd be right. However, in Chengdu it's brewed on the premises of the Kempinski hotel and it's a craft beer in its own right. They have their own brewmaster, Benjamin Erdmann, on site and it's his job to deliver the perfect pint.
You'll find a range of Paulaner beers at the Kempinski and it's worth a trip to get a superb quality beer in China. The venue is nice too; the Kempinski is one of the major vacation spots in town and the Brauhaus doesn't just serve beer – there's live music and great German food too. In our experience a lot of China old hands and locals congregate there most evenings and it's an extremely friendly place to be.
So if you're taking a break from your Yangtze River Cruise in Chengdu be sure to pop in.
Harvest Microbrewery – Various Locations
Harvest is a locally owned and managed microbrewery. It's one of the rarest beers in China so if you see some during your tour; you should snap it up as there's no guarantee that you'll be able to find it again.
It's most commonly found at bars and restaurants celebrating a big occasion; either from Chengdu's history or their own. It's a very tasty brew and best served cold with a few peanuts to further whet your appetite. The owner is very passionate about his beer and he's a bit of a celebrity locally; Chinese beers are often nothing to write home about (or indeed nothing you'd want to try twice) so it's great to have this exception to the rule.
Chengdu Beer – Various Locations
With a cute panda mascot you'd be forgiven for thinking that this must be a Chinese owned operation; in fact it's an expat owned micro-brewery and the beer is brewed using Belgian techniques. For our money it's about the best craft beer in town though it can be a little hard to track down at times too.
Everyone wants to see a panda when their Yangtze River Cruise stops in Chengdu but not everyone can say they've drunk with one. Golden Hans – Gold Hans, Various Locations
Perhaps not the best beer in town but the Golden Hans chain offers very acceptable South American and North American style barbeque food; watch out for the Sichuan spicy sauce that accompanies it. There are four branches of the chain in Chengdu and you can grab a beer in any of them. It's a steal at only 10 RMB ($1.50) for a glass or if you like the taste it's only 20 RMB ($3) for as much as you can drink on the night.
Beer is probably not the best reason to take a vacation in China. There are several decent beers you will encounter during your China trip but by and large there’s still a lot of work to be done before people will travel to China just to try the beer. However, if you’re on a China tour there are beers worth trying and it’s nice to know a little history so that you can fully appreciate what lies below the foamy cool head.
The Chinese have been brewing and drinking beer for a long time. The earliest evidence of beer production in the country is over 9,000 years old! If you could travel back in time 7,000 years or so; you’d find commercial operations brewing beer, wines and spirits in almost every village in China too. Back then the beers would have been made with rice, grapes, hawthorn and probably honey as well. This brewing heritage is very similar to that found in other ancient cultures of them time; such as Mespotamia and Egypt. Which may suggest links between these places back when a vacation in Africa would have required a long arduous journey; it would have been a long haul from China just to share beer recipes.
The Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties would have placed great importance on beer. Their Lao Li beer was used as part of their funereal rites and in religious worship. However, after these dynasties had fallen – beer took a trip down the list of China’s priorities and was barely heard of again until the 19th century. It was following the military tours of France and England in China that beer was re-introduced to the mainland. The Russians, Czechs and Germans began to make in Harbin and later on in Qingdao.
Chinese beer isn’t normally made from the same ingredients used in the West. The exceptions to this tend to be micro-breweries and beers like Tsing Tao which are brewed based on Western methods.
Many of the beers that you can try on your China vacation will be rice based and may also contain sorghum or rye. A few beers use bitter melon to develop the bitter taste rather than hops which are the standard in the West.
You’ll be pleased to learn that formaldehyde is no longer allowed as an additive to Chinese beer. Until 10 years ago it was added to most beers in China to prevent sediment from forming in the beer. So don’t worry about grabbing a beer during your tour; it’s perfectly safe.
Beer in China
Today; the best selling beer in China is Tsing Tao and it’s found all over the nation. The green bottles are for domestic consumption and the rarer orange bottles are export quality. You may also be lucky enough to find Tsing Tao on draft in Northern China. It’s a decent beer based on German brewing methods.
If you want a bit of a challenge during your China vacation then slipping away from your China tour when it reaches Xi’an and heading to Ping Yao might be what you’re looking for. This UNESCO world heritage site is a great reason to take a little travel adventure while you’re in China. So if you fancy a trip further north in China and off the beaten track; here’s what to expect.
What will I find in Ping Yao?
The region itself has been inhabited since the Neolithic era. There’s been a city on the site of Ping Yao since the times of the Western Zhou Dynasty (around 1,000 B.C.) though very little remains of that period.
It was during the time of the Ming Dynasty that the Emperor Hong Wu rebuilt Ping Yao and it continued to develop throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. Now, this is not much different from many other cities in China. What makes Ping Yao special is that it is the best preserved example of a Ming era city.
In China; Ping Yao is a vacation hotspot. The best time to take a trip to the city is in the low season as the crowds can be immense. People flock from all over China, particularly during Spring Festival, to see it and the numbers can reach 3 times the amount of people that the city can comfortably hold.
Begin your tour of the city by following the city walls; Ping Yao has the best preserved walls of any small city in China. Pay special attention to the gates as you travel through them; they are designed to represent part of a turtle’s anatomy (the head, the tail and four legs). The walls are over 10 meters tall and run for nearly 6 kilometers around the perimeter. Stop and take in the view from one of the 70+ watchtowers on the route.
Once you’ve finished a tour of the wall; you might want to jump in a taxi and see the Zhenguo Temple which is one of the finest Buddhist temples in China. In particular you want to see the sculptures inside which is some of the only 10th century Buddhist sculpture that still exists today in China.
Wanfo Hall is incredible and the best sculptures can be found within its walls. The roof is supported by complex bracket arrangements which are unique to this temple.
A little further up the road and you’ll find the Shuangli Temple which is a 6th century Buddhist temple and one of the most imposing temples you’ll see anywhere during your China travel. The temple is notable for its size and the enormous collection of clay statues housed within. These are brightly colored and are strewn liberally around the ten halls and three courtyards of the main temple.
The Bodhisattva carving in the Hall of the Devas is particularly impressive. The Arhat Hall contains a delicately crafted throne and you won’t want to forget your camera when you see it.
Ping Yao may be off the main tourist map but it’s a charming place full of history and life. It’s not too far from Xi’an and could be squeezed into a short one day excursion if time is pressing.
Some folks on a China vacation want a few supernatural thrills as part of their China tour. If your China trip is heading to Shanghai then you might want to travel out to some of these haunted places during your visit. China's remarkable history was bound to reveal a few great ghost stories and we've rounded up the best from the largest city in the country.
Nine Dragon Pillar (Yan'an Lu)
This is a peculiar sight; take a trip down Chengdu Bei Lu and find where it meets Yan'an Lu. You'll see that the overpass for the road is supported by a bizarrely decorated pillar. China's most powerful zodiac sign is the dragon and you'll find a lot of dragons scribed upon the pillar. The rumor is that when building the highway the workers found a long-entombed dragon which wasn't best pleased at being woken from its eternal vacation from the world. A priest was summonsed to soothe the savage beast. In true China style; the only thing that would placate the angry monster was a pretty pillar dedicated to its spirit. So that's what it got.
The priest is said to have keeled over and departed this mortal coil the next day and is rumored to haunt the pillar to this very day.
The Paramount Theatre (218 Yuyuan Lu)
China's version of a prohibition-era speakeasy; the Paramount was frequented by triads, drug dealers and even the occasional member of the entertainment elite. The venue ended up with such a bad reputation that it took a fall from grace. It closed and was renovated in 1990. So why should you travel here for a ghost?
Well, it's said that a young lady-of-the-night once refused the attentions of a visiting soldier. His sense of duty deserted him and he shot her dead. His military tour might have been over for his actions but her afterlife was just beginning. She now dances alone in what was once the main dance hall. It's on the fourth floor. China has more than its fair share of scorned lovers haunting buildings.
It's also said that one of the craftsmen who worked on the renovations fell to his death and his spirit is now hurling objects from windows in vengeance. So don't stand too close to the outside.
The Ruined Building (Nanjing Xi Lu)
You'll know this place as soon as you see it. If this place doesn't creep you out just by looking at it – nothing else on your China vacation has a chance of doing so. It was once a hotel catering to local tour groups. A young waitress working there had the run in from-hell with China's worst boss. He was so angry that she spilled some tea on a client that he imprisoned her in a room for a day to repent her actions. Sadly, he picked the wrong day to do this and a fire burned the place nearly to the ground. She was trapped and perished in the fire. Today; many people report seeing her sad face staring from the shell of the window of the room she died in.