China was first placed on my travel wish list in 1969 when I visited Hong Kongs New Territories during Chinas Cultural Revolution. Tourists were not allowed passage across the border and the only view offered was through a barbed highway barrier and from the Little Red Book of Mao Tse-Tung quotations sold by roadside hawkers.
After these many years I finally made my journey into China and traveled with Laurus Travel, a Canadian tour operator that specializes in China and small group adventures. The focus of the trip was Tibet and the Silk Road. Every day of the journey was filled with wonder and making connections with the people and places visited. I am anxious to return and experience more of Chinas diverse culture, landscapes and heritage.
For many, China represents an undiscovered land with an intriguing history, a massive silent population and an exploding economy. It has only been within the past sixteen years that the impact of what is now referred to as the New China has made it the most visited destination in Asia.
The countrys transportation infrastructure is new and what used to take months to travel from one end of the country to the other, is now accomplished via a five-hour flight. As we foreigners discover China for the first time, so are many Chinese citizens. The country is aggressive in its tourism promotion; development of a tourism infrastructure and packaged itineraries are reasonably priced.
Most visitors arrive in China through one of its main gateway cities, Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong. On the drive into the city center you realize that everything is new, modern, clean, streamlined, dramatic, efficient, and there is a lot of it. City populations are counted in the millions and skylines are packed with the striking architectural designs of new high-rise apartment, condominium and office complexes.
These gateways are also shopping meccas. Each offers a mix of high fashion and bargain knock-off shopping options, and there are many traditional craft factories and shops that specialize in items like silk, jade and cloisonné. Visitors quickly learn the knack of bargaining with a smile and that department stores and specialty shops post fixed prices. Each of these cities has several historic and important sites.
One of Chinas premier examples of modernization is quickly regaining its pre-WWII status as the most important business center in East Asia. There remain a few examples of its colonial past, including the buildings along the Bund, the main road fronting the Huangpu River in the old harbor and financial district. In contrast, across the river is the city new economic zone; the city iconic structure, the Orient Pearl TV Tour; and the Jin Mao Building, one of thetallest in the world. The citys Shanghai Museum is considered one of the best in the nation.
This city has more than 1,000 years of imperial history and is the nations spiritual and political center. The must-see attractions include the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, The Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. Groups often enjoy an evening at the Chinese Opera, acrobatic shows or dining at a traditional Peking duck banquet. A short distance from the city is the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs.
Returned to China in 1997, this city has many reminders of its British Colonial times and is an Administrative Region of China. It is a prosperous business and trading center and, although now a bit pricey, is one of the worlds leading shopping destinations. Sightseeing should include a ride on the Star Ferry across Hong Kong harbor and aboard the double-decker tram to the top of Hong Kong Island. There are many museums and points of interest including Lantau Island for a visit and lunch at the Po Lin Monastery.