The Treasures of China
China is an amazing country to visit, and whether you are fascinated by local culture, or live for adventure thrills, there is somewhere and something in this beautiful and diverse nation to suit everyone. I have recently experienced this diversity on my recent trip, during which I visited many stunning locations.
Shanghai is a city that, after just one visit, has surprisingly become a love of mine. Its wide, clean streets provide a feeling of comfort and spaciousness, not at all alluding to the fact that the immediate inner city population is larger than that of Australia.
There is so much that you can do here, especially due to the convenient, easy to navigate subway system that connects even intercity.
The Shanghai Tower makes a beautiful backdrop from the other side of the water, however due to crowds I do not recommend going up into the tower without tickets even in the low season. Instead, time is best spent exploring the old and different 'quartered' areas of Shanghai, which include suburbs of European architecture. I was lucky enough to stay in the Mansion Hotel in the French Quarter of Shanghai. This hotel is surrounded by both boutique and popular stores, and contains many parks and grassed areas where it seems there is constant dancing.
Even more excitingly, Shanghai now has a Disneyland, which although crowded, is an easy subway ride away. I found fun and enjoyable enough for a day of amusement, however families should be warned: the line are always long. Shanghai Disney Rating: 3/5 Stars.
Unfortunately, of all the cities in China that I have visited, this is my least favourite due to the fact that even though it was very clean, in comparison to the levels of comfort that I felt in other cities it was not the best.(The Dessert bars that I visited in Xian were absolutely incredible as a side note.) However, this is a very insignificant point, as Xian held the most exciting piece of history that I have ever visited, the Terracotta Warriors.
Thankfully, I went on a day that was 'quiet', which meant that although i did not have to queue for long to get into the venue (there were lines that looked like they could take multiple hours), it was reasonably busy in the centre. Make sure you are careful in the museum section of the venue as it is kept very dark to protect the statues, and is apparently prime pick-pocketing area. Now, with all the negatives out of the way: WOW. The Terracotta Warriors, and the sheer amount of them was overwhelming. It was amazing being so close to such ancient works of art and respect. I could have stared at them for hours and hours, they were all so engaging and unique. The size of the area is much bigger than anyone could easily comprehend, and I definitely recommend booking an English tour prior to entry to ensure that you learn as much history as possible. Located near the Terracotta Warriors are also the famous Hot Springs. This ancient site was a place of bathing and relaxation for the Emperor and his concubines long ago, The waters contain many minerals, and large jade stones decorate the bottom of many pools due to their healing and skin softening properties. After a long drive, it is a charming place to visit in Xian, and really gives you an understanding of how advanced ancient Chinese society was.
There is a saying:
"Go to Shanghai and you will find a 100-year-old China; go to Beijing and you will find a 1000-year-old China; go to Xian and then you will find a 3000-year-old China."
This small city was wonderful to explore. It incorporated new movie theatres and arcades, nestling them into the old, traditonal Chinese Style Buildings around the town seamlessly. Small, intimate looking homes opened up inside to stunning boutique stores, tailors and bars. Outside, the restaurants and the tall, ancient bridge above the river splitting the town made for wonderful photoshoot locations.
However, it was the mountains that I came for, and the mountains that I got. Kind of. The whole trip up to the top peak was wonderful, watching the mountains and thick forest below go by. The mountains are made of a unique form of pink granite, meaning that up close, the rocks on the mountain are coloured bright salmon and despite a high altitude, they leave the soil so fertile that trees grow even on the peaks.
The trip upwards to these peaks took around 15 minutes by cable car after around an hour drive. However, once we got up to the mountains that looked so beautiful and clear from below, we couldn't see anything off the side. I learnt that there is a permanent fog that clear very rarely, and therefore the day walking around the mountain tops and hiking up and down countless stairs was tiring, and didn't provide the breathtaking views promised. Although walking through the mountains is a must do in the area, I only recommend it for the very physically fit, as the views are not always there to make the trek worth it.
A unique opportunity is the hotel that resides on the mountaintop - incredibly strong men, built like oxen, trudge supplies up to the building every day to provide necessities to the hotel's spa and famous restaurant. Many will book into the hotel and stay until there is a clear day so that they may behold the joy of the view when the sun is shining and avoid the queues that will form below on such a day. This is a very popular location, and therefore it is recommended that bookings are made many months in advance.
In Hangzhou I was content to simply walk around. The slow-pace of the old town was perfect for relaxation at the end of a long trip. The man-made lake was the centre of this 'old town' in Hangzhou, and at night was lit up with fairy lights strung across the trees that shaded walkways. Boutique stores and art galleries lined the streets of Hangzhou, and it was wonderful to let yourself wander into small restaurants for a delicacy, or small water gardens to feed the abundant koi fish. There are plenty of temples and markets to see in Hangzhou, and if you truly get bored with the historical beauty of the old town, there is a completely updated modern city, area with a mall and cinema in the modern city.
Hangzhou is, in my opinion, rightly named the most beautiful city in China.