In part 2 of this China series, we will be looking at those cities and attractions that are not really that well known outside of China. These are places that will make you wonder as to why you have not heard of them before. While there are hundreds of places that could easily make this list, I have chosen 4 places that are well worth adding to your itinerary and easy to get too.
Luoyang, Henan Province
When I mention Luoyang to people, I am generally greeted with blank stares. Luoyang is not a city on many people’s radar but Luoyang is one of the 3 ancient capitals of China. Luoyang was the capital for over 1500 years for 105 emperors and 13 Dynasties. Luoyang also has a very strong connection with Buddhism. Here are some incredible and at times mystical places to visit:
While very few people have heard of Luoyang, a lot of people have heard of Shaolin Temple. Whether it be from movies or from studying martial arts, Shaolin Temple is maybe one of the most well-known temples even if a lot of people didn’t know it actually existed. Constructed around 497AD Shaolin Temple is considered as the birthplace of martial arts. Shaolin Temple is located on the sacred Song Mountain approximately a 90 minute drive from Luoyang. Legend has it that an Indian monk Bodhidharma came across the temple and noticed the poor health and physical state of the monks and introduced boxing as a form of exercise. Kung Fu evolved from here and the Temple has been frequented by Emperors’, Empress’s, worshipers and now tourists.
Shaolin Temple is a Buddhist temple so it is not just all about Kung Fu. Sites to see around the temple are:
- Pagoda Forest – Over 240 tomb pagodas for renowned monks and abbots of the temple.
- First and Second Patriarch Temple – Built to commemorate both the first and second patriarchs of Chan Buddhism in China.
- Ancestral Hall – The Ancestral Hall of Shaolin Temple for the eminent monks.
- South Garden – Originally a big temple but destroyed by fire, the South Garden is now a retreat for senior monks.
Bai Ma Si (White Horse Temple)
White Horse Temple is the first Buddhist temple constructed in China around 68AD under Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty. White Horse Temple is around a 40-minute drive from Luoyang. Compared to a lot of temples in China, White Horse Temple is relatively small but being the fist built in China it is considered the “cradle of Chinese Buddhism”
Walking around the temple you should look out for:
- Front Gate – The tablet hanging from the lintel is actually a relic from the Eastern Han Dynasty.
- Hall of Mahavira – This is the biggest hall in the temple with statues dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
- Heavenly King Hall – The first hall of White Horse Temple
Stretching around 1km and with excavation and carving of the limestone rock starting around the year 493AD in the Northern Wie Dynasty, Longmen Grottoes is one of the finest examples of Buddhist art. With well over 10000 statues of Buddha and other significant Buddhist figures, Longmen Grottoes is one of those places where all you can say is “wow”.
With around 2300 caves the most notable being:
- Guyangdong which is the oldest and largest of the caves.
- Binyang which actually comprises of 3 cave (North, Middle, and South). It is said that more than 800,000 workers worked on these caves over a period of 23 years from the year 500 – 523.
- Fengxian – The largest of the caves on the west hill, this cave was built between 672 and 676 and is also the Worshipping Cave.
When you picture a typical Chinese scenic background of a river winding around limestone cast mountains you are picturing Yangshuo in Guangxi Province. With a history dating back 1400 years, it wasn’t until around the 1980’s when Lonely Planet introduced this place to the world that tourists started visiting. Yangshuo is also home to some of the ethnic minority groups in the region which include Yao, Hui, and Zhuang giving visitors a rich appreciation for food, culture and clothing.
West Street is the oldest street in Yangshuo dating back 1400 years. With its marble paved street you will see beautiful architecture and an endless supply of shops and restaurants.
A Yulong River raft ride is such an enjoyable and relaxing experience. You get to admire and appreciate the natural surrounding as you go past Big Banyan, Moon Hill, Five-Finger Hill, Dragon Pool and Butterfly Spring. Historical sites include the three most famed ancient bridges in Yangshuo: Yulong Bridge; Fuli Bridge; Xiangui Bridge (the oldest single arch bridge in Guangxi). and Jianshan Temple (the biggest one in Guangxi)
Impression Sanjie Liu
The worlds largest natural theatre, you will be treated to an evening of an amazing song and dance show with an even more amazing natural backdrop. This is a must see and gives an insight to the local culture.
Lijiang in the Northern region of Yunnan Province has a history dating back to around 476BC. Lijiang’s Old Village is 2400 metres above sea level and is a great place to unwind and enjoy the beauty and hospitality of the Naxi minority group with the impressive Jade Snow Mountain as a backdrop.
Jade Snow Mountain
Jade Snow Mountain, 40 minutes from Lijiang Old Town, consisting of 13 peaks with the highest altitude of 5600 metres is also the southernmost glacier in the northern Hemisphere. China is not really a place you would think off for skiing but Jade Snow Mountain does have a ski resort. It is fairly new with it first opening around 2008. Jade Snow Mountain is also famous for sightseeing and hiking.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
An hours drive from Lijiang Old Town will get you to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world. With its 18 rapids this gorge is separated into 3 sections. At an altitude of 1800 metres the narrow fast flowing Jingsha River is the first section. A rock which is in the middle of the river’s mouth is where legend has it that a tiger used the rock as a pathway from one side of the gorge to the other giving this place the name Tiger Leaping Gorge. The second section sees the river drop 100 metres as the sound of the raging river intensifies. Whirlpools start to form as massive amounts of water slam into rocks and into the river. The third section and by far the most dangerous sees high waves created by the steeper twists and turns as the river rages through. This is adventure at its greatest.
Harbin is the largest city in the north-eastern region of China and is the birthplace of both the Jin and Qing dynasties. Due to the Chinese Eastern Railway, Harbin, in parts has a very Western/Russian feel to it. This is very evident in places such has Central Street and St. Sophia Cathedral but before I talk about those I want to start with what brings tourists in for all over the globe.
Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival
The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival started in 1985 and runs from January through to March. The origin of the festival stems back to the Qing Dynasty where local peasants and fishermen made ice lanterns to use as jacklights in the Winter months. From there they were put outside their homes or Children used them to play at local festivals.
Nowadays ice sculptors from all over the world come to Harbin to compete ice sculpting competitions. These sculptures need to be seen to believed. With 2000 ice sculptures and over 180000 cubic metres of ice you will be astonished at the sheer size and detail.
Central Street which is also know as ‘Easter Moscow’ first started construction around 1898. Today tourists from within China and abroad come here to appreciate the architecture and history. This 1450 metre long street is lined with around 70 European Style buildings in styles ranging from Baroque through to Renaissance. One of the longest pedestrian streets in Asia, Central Street is full of shops, hotels bars and restaurants.
St. Sophia Cathedral
St. Sophia Cathedral is an Easter Orthodox Church built in 1907. It is also the largest Eastern Orthodox Church in the far east. It was built soon after the arrival of Russian soldiers who had just lost to Japan in the Russo-Japanese war. By 1921, Harbin’s population had grown to 300000, 100000 of which were Russian. The maximum height of this stunning cathedral is an impressive 53.35 metres.
For part 1 of our China special click here http://www.theflyingpandablog.com/china-part-1/
For part 3 of our China special click here http://www.theflyingpandablog.com/china-part-3-the-food-of-china/