Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Visiting Hidden Secrets in the "Big Three"

Yes, all the major attractions in the three major tourist cities will not be missed by any tour itinerary, yet it’s the hidden treasures that make a trip stand out and memorable.  Here are some – very personal – suggestions of places to see and things to do in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai.

Get up early and join the locals in one of the many parks, preferably the Temple of Heaven Park. Here you can practice T’ai Chi or improve your Swordplay, enjoy Ballroom Dancing or the unique voices of Peking Opera. Admire the work of the calligraphy artists whose “water” work quickly disappears.

Aside from Peking opera, Peking duck is well-known to every visitor, and one of the best places to try is the more than 150 year-old Quan Ju De chain. Here, more than 2 million ducks are served in 400 different ways to over 5 million customers, - every year!!! One of the 8 Beijing restaurants will certainly be near your hotel.

Do you like antiques? A must-see is China’s largest antique market called Pan Jia Yuan, and you can easily spend days here walking from stall to stall and admiring everything from jade to Tibetan rugs, coins, jewelry, statues, silk, and porcelain to communist memorabilia. Don’t expect items to be genuine, just figure out what you are willing to pay for something and negotiate away.

If you do one side trip from Xi’an, go 75 miles outside the city to the Huashan Mountain. This mountain with five peaks is one of the five sacred mountains in China, famous for wonderful views, narrow paths and very steep steps. The mountain also hosts several important Taoist temples. You should only take the cable car to the North Peak (over 4,500 feet high), the trails are extremely narrow and dangerous.

The Forest of Stone Steles or Beilin Museum in the city of Xi’an was first known as Confucius Temple and houses 7 halls with more than 3,000 steles dating back as far as 745AD. It is the largest collection in China and one of the most important in the world showing exhibits from several periods from the Han to the Qing Dynasty.

Xi’an is known for its excellent Shaanxi cuisine, and one of the local specialties is Yang Rou Pao Mo (wheat flour bread is broken into small pieces and added to a bowl of mutton stock). For Westerners the must-do is to visit at least one of the many Dumpling (Jiao Zi) restaurants. Be adventurous and try dumplings steamed, boiled, pan-fried, deep-fried, and roasted, filled with local delicacies like pork, mutton, or beef accompanied by vegetables. CST recommends De Fa Chang and Wang Jia restaurants. Bon appétit.

A fascinating side trip while in this vibrant city is to visit Zhu Jia Jiao Ancient Town. The town is the best-preserved of several river or water towns in Shanghai's suburbs. Taking a stroll along the main street, Bei Dajie, and crossing some of 36 stone bridges will take you back to a slower-paced life. Zhu Jia Jiao was founded over 1700 years ago during the Yuan Dynasty. CST recommends to take a canal gondola (seats up to 6), preferably the long-distance cruise.

Xin Tian Di is a part of Shanghai that demonstrates successful restoration of a historic area, something very unique in Asia, and an interesting contrast to the hyper-modern skyline of Pudong. This dining, shopping, and entertainment is for pedestrians only; enjoy a walk through the reconstituted shikumen (stone gate) houses and narrow alleys, sit down at a café and enjoy some people watching.

Tastes of Shanghai - While some claim Shanghai does not have its own typical cuisine, we wholeheartedly disagree. Just try one of the many “drunken” dishes, usually seafood or chicken rich in spirits and cooked or steamed quickly. Or order a dish prepared in the “red cooking” style. Something you find plentiful in Shanghai versus other Chinese cuisines is delicious desserts.Make time for Lu Bo Lang or one of the oldest restaurants in town, Lao Zhang Xing. Your hotel will happily provide the addresses for you.


More flights between US and China – United Airlines announced operation of daily non-stop flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai effective May 20, 2011. The new service will lead to a total of 9 daily flights between the two countries, linking Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong with San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and soon, Los Angeles.

Record 116 events in Beijing  - The China National Convention Center (CNCC) held a record 116 events in January 2011, doubling the number held the previous year. 2010, the first full year of operation, the CNCC was the venue for almost 700 events attended by more than 700,000 people including 68 international exhibitions and conferences counting almost 200,000 attendees.

Beijing Airport now No. 2 – According to passenger traffic in 2010, Beijing Capital Airport overtook London’s Heathrow Airport as the world’s second busiest airport in the world. With growth of 13 per cent, Beijing now ranks second only to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport. And Condé Nast Traveler magazine named Beijing Airport the World’s Best Airport in 2009.