We hear about the enormity of China all the time, with its 3.7 million square miles, 1.3 billion people, and 56 ethnic groups speaking 292 dialects. China’s sweeping size and complexity can make it seem mysterious, even daunting, to outsiders. But in a time when its doors are more open than ever to travelers, it would be a shame to miss out on what is arguably the world’s most epic land. Gate 1 strips away the mystery, showing you its more intimate side as we immerse you in the landscapes, neighborhoods, and treasures of which the Chinese people are most proud. From monuments to marketplaces, Gate 1 introduces you to China’s diverse offerings up close.
The staggering Three Gorges of the Yangtze River … lush jade-green bamboo forests … sprawling Imperial Cities with inviting lanes that are 2,000 years old. These are just a few of the wonders in a nation that boasts 48 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most of any country in Asia. A single Gate 1 journey can unveil the myriad ways in which China lives up to its nickname, “The Beautiful Country.”
Past, President, and Future: Three Cities
To gain an understanding of how China’s past, present, and future are interwoven, a good place to begin – or three good places – would be its dominant cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, each of which has its own character and story to tell.
Beijing is monumental, literally. The city is home to 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (just one shy of the number found in all of Egypt), among them some of the world’s greatest treasures. The Forbidden City is forbidden to none these days: after 500 years of turning guests away from the world’s largest palace complex, China now invites all to see the wonders of the stunning 178-acre complex encircled by two miles of fortified wall. Over time, 24 emperors lived in these 90 palaces, composed of 980 buildings and almost 9,000 rooms.
The little sibling to that royal complex is the Summer Palace, built for the hottest months when the Forbidden City complex felt too stifling. A small pond and reservoir were joined, widened, and dredged, yielding a sparkling 540-acre lake big enough for royal navy vessels to run drills upon. The soil from the lake was used to make the adjacent Longevity Hill, a 200-foot slope crowned with palaces, pavilions, temples and gardens. To this day, it remains, as intended, one of Beijing’s loveliest locales, a brilliant collaboration of man, nature and time.
Whereas Beijing calls to mind the glories of the past, Shanghai is decidedly a snapshot of the future. While the city is certainly known for its gems that date back to previous eras – such as the verdant Yuyuan Garden from the Ming Dynasty and the elegant colonial architecture of the Bund – it is Shanghai’s jaw-dropping new skyline that may leave you gasping with awe.
Viewed across the Huangpu River, the Pudong neighborhood boasts a dizzying array of striking, colorful towers. Shanghai Tower, the biggest of the lot, is the second tallest skyscraper on earth. But height is only one way that this metropolis dazzles: the Orient Pearl looks like a stacking toy of ever-smaller glass beads, while the sinuous Financial Center is a modernist masterwork; even the low-slung Ocean Aquarium impresses passers-by with its flamboyant shark-fin wings
Hong Kong knows a thing or two about showing off its skyline, too: more buildings scrape the sky here than in any other city on earth, with more than 270 rising 500 feet or more. Within those glittering towers are some of the world’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, 64 of which have Michelin stars, and bespoke tailors fitting the fashionistas of Asia and beyond. But it is not all city here. Hong Kong means Fragrant Harbor, a reminder that nature – not metropolitan life – still holds the upper hand. More than 70% of Hong Kong is comprised of islands, mountains, parks, and caves. No matter where you are in the city proper, you’re just a tram car away from a daylong hike in a green parkland with ocean views.
Perhaps that blend of natural splendor and cultural richness is what made it so hard for Britain to return control of Hong Kong to China in 1997. And the subject of who will determine the city’s future – Beijing or Hong Kong itself – remains a heated one.
Beyond the Bright Lights: Singular Sensations
Xian was the final stop on the Silk Road and China’s capital for 13 dynasties, including the Ming era, which gave the city its still-standing fortified walls. But the single most powerful draw for visitors is its immobilized army of 8,000 Terra Cotta soldiers and horses. Crafted by hand, this vast military consort attended the final resting place of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Arrayed in neat rows that remained underground from the 3rd century, and recently excavated in 1974, these enigmatic soldiers – each one made distinct by his expression, hairstyle, armor, or footwear – have captured the global imagination, eclipsing the fame of the ruler they were meant to honor.
The stars of Chengdu are less numerous but perhaps even more beloved. The 80 pandas at the Giant Panda Research Center have become envoys for China, a source of pride as well as concern as the worldwide population of wild pandas has fallen to under 2,000. While visitors also absorb the fascinating architecture of Qin Dynasty-era Jinli Street and marvel at the 213-foot stone Buddha in nearby Leshan, it is these endangered ambassadors of the mountains which have become the face not only of Chengdu but of China.
The nation’s life blood is the Yangtze River, the world’s third-longest river. Navigating the east-flowing ribbon of water on a river cruise is the only way to truly experience the legendary, dramatic scenery. As you sail through the three mesmerizing gorges of Xiling, Wu and Qutang, watched over by the fabled Twelve Peaks and fantastic rock formations towering above, you’ll wind past tiny villages, soaring cliffs, verdant groves, and terraced hillsides. It is hard not to fall under the timeless spell of the slow-moving current and the ethereal, embracing landscapes that guide it.
Resting easy in China
No matter which facet of China you’re discovering, you’ll be comfortable and well cared for with the best local accommodations. Gate 1 has chosen four-star hotels in Beijing’s historic West City, Shanghai’s glittering Xujiahui district, and outside the storied city walls of Xian. And our Yangtze River cruise unfolds aboard a five-star cruise ship purpose-built for the river, boasting roomy cabins and impeccable service. That all means you can focus on making discoveries.
Don’t miss out on the vast cornucopia of China’s delights. With Gate 1, the highlights and hidden gems alike await you as you explore the “Beautiful Country” for yourself.
Follow this link to our exciting China Tours. Or call to reserve, 1-800-682-3333!