“I had never considered visiting China until only a few months before I started this trip. But then I read an article about the magnificence of The Forbidden City, Beijing’s greatest palace complex which is filled with the history of the Emperors from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. It stimulated my curiosity and led me to do some further research about the country; as a result, I decided to visit four cities in 12 days last November.”
The first city on my list was Shanghai, and so I started my journey in what is China’s largest city of 24 million people. Located on the Huangpu River where it enters the southern bank of the Yangtze River estuary, Shanghai is a bustling metropolis of skyscrapers. It has well developed modern transport systems which make it very easy to get around.
People said you can’t go to Shanghai without visiting The Bund. The Bund (or Waitan) is an iconic place and, from the 1860s to the 1930s, was the heart of the former international settlement. It runs along the west bank of the Huangpu River across from the skyscrapers of the new city centre. Formerly a fishing village it has become the tourist centre of Shanghai with its dozens of historic buildings, wharves that line the waterfront and the charm of a bustling promenade packed with tourists, locals and street sellers.
Shanghai also has some beautiful Buddhism Temples, and I took the chance to visit the Ji’an Temple and the Jade Buddha Temple.
On my last day in the city, I was feeling relaxed and started my day enjoying some coffee in the largest Starbucks in the world. I walked on into a pedestrian area surrounded by buildings in French colonial style, an area known as the Former French Concession. I finished by day doing some window shopping and trying some street food around the Tianzifang shopping area.
On the fourth day, I took a flight to Xi’an, one of the oldest cities in China. It is located on the eastern side of the silk road and was one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals, a status it held through the Zhou, Chin, Han, Sui and Tang Dynasties. Xi’an was known as Chang’an or the” Eternal City” in ancient times and many of its ancient structures survive to this day including the world’s largest city wall. The city is also home to the world-famous Terracotta Army Museum with its collection of 8,000 life-sized Terracotta Army Statues standing in battle-ready formation that were buried with the Emperor to guard him in the afterlife. The 2,000 year old Army was created in 209 BC by Emperor Qin Chi Huang, the first Emperor of the unified dynasty of Imperial China.
Finally, the day I had looked forward to the most, I took the bullet train to continue my trip to Chengde City, in the Province of Hebei. The reason for my visit was to see the Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort, which includes the Chengde Imperial Summer Palace set in large beautiful gardens. The resort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and occupies 5,640,000 square meters. It was built during the Qing Dynasty as a summer residence and was used by the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors. It took 87 years from 1703 to 1790 to finish all the buildings. The gardens are vast and divided into three areas, the lakes area, the plains area and the hills area. Its many trees, plants, rivers and lakes and its hundreds of pagodas, palaces and temples are all enclosed by a 10,000 metre long wall.
Three days later, I finally arrived in my last city, Beijing, for the last three days of my trip. I started by visiting the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall is the only human-made structure that can be seen from the space. I took a one hour trip from Beijing, choosing Muntianyu as my starting point because it is quieter than the more popular Balading.
I spent the following day visiting The Forbidden City, the reason I had decided to visit the country in the first place. Located in the city centre this palace was the Chinese Imperial Palace for 24 Emperors from 1420 (the Ming Dynasty) to 1912 (the Qing Dynasty). Covering an area of 72 hectares and having an unbelievable 8,700 rooms, this is the largest palace in the world and was declared a World Heritage site in 1987.
This day was to be my last day in Beijing and the end of my journey. The morning felt colder than on previous days, but that didn’t stop me from visiting the Beijing Summer Palace set in the largest and most beautiful garden in China. Autumn was setting in, and I particularly enjoyed the golden colours of the falling leaves along the entrance walkways to the Yonghe Temple and the Temple of Heaven.
My trip to China was a wonderful experience, it gave me so many lifelong memories, and its depth of history taught me so many lessons too. Sitting overlooking a beautiful garden one day, I tried to imagine its beauty in the springtime with all of the trees and flowers in bloom. I smiled and whispered to myself and made a promise that one day I’ll come back to this place but in a different season.