Beijing Layover Tour
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We had an absolutely perfect day with our tour guide - Rogin Luo - who took us for a hike along The Great Wall! Didn't know what to expect and were thrilled to have him as our guide. Very imformative, knowledgable and fun! We go to experience a part of The Great Wall that was unrestored and see all its natural beauty. Got a long history lesson along the way!

After the hike, we all went to lunch at a small place at the bottom of the hill. Located in a house, we ate lunch in the proprietors bedroom! What a hoot! Rogin is the Best of the Best! This tour company delivered for us and we are extremely grateful.

Westborough, Massachusetts
Reviews onTour-Beijing.Com
Chengdu, I Love You
There are many things to do and see in and around the Western Chinese city of Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, but let's start with the pandas, the sole reason many people come to this laid back community.

Hotels can help to arrange anything you want to do, including a visit to the Chengdu Panda Research Base. However, I recommend waking up early to take a cab to the base on your own. When the base opened, I went first to see the red pandas, as they are fed first and up and about earlier than their black and white counterparts. Having come early and alone, it was just me and the pandas. So cute!

Next, I went to see the black and white pandas wake up. Depending on which time of year you visit, the bear cubs will either be tiny babies, or large enough to tumble around beside mama bear in their enclosure. If you want to get up close with the pandas, there is the option to volunteer for a day, and when the pandas are really young, you can pay to hold a bear cub.

The whole of China is in love with pandas, with girls walking around sporting pand as on their shirts, hats, and even the top of their shoes, and visiting them in Chengdu will live up to expectations!

And now, for a more proper introduction to Chengdu. One can get to the city via long overnight train rides from the east, or by flying. Taking the train can be fun, especially if you have time to make stops along the way.

The city has a completely different feel from the fast-paced eastern cities like Beijing or Shanghai. Take the opportunity to slow down and unwind.

See the sites

Around the city there are several sites, such as a large statue of Mao Zedong in the city center overlooking Tianfu Square, and the People's Park. A fun way to see these sites at once is to go for a bike tour. The streets are not as busy as other cities, and gliding around at a leisurely pace while a guide points out the sites makes for a nice morning. At the People's Park my tour dismounted from our bikes and walked around, stopping to watch dancers and singers. Inside the park there is also a railway museum which gives some interesting historical facts about historical movement into the region.

For those who appreciate history and literature, be sure to visit the ancient Thatched Cottage of the famous Chinese poet, Du Fu.

A prominent poet during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), words in his native Chinese tongue, or translated to English, will both charm you. The site has the ancient foundations covered by a roof, but the rest of the structure was lost to time. However, there are replicas built elsewhere on the grounds, and there are also several gardens and a large pagoda to visit. To go first thing in the morning will be the best experience. Elderly locals will be practicing tai chi, and others will have come to purely enjoy their surroundings, with bird cages hung on the trees above them. Walk amidst the chirping, fresh morning, and when you arrive at the pagoda, you might be lucky to catch white-robbed people in rows doing martial arts.

During the day, there are a few prominent temples to choose from. The Wenshu Temple, from the Tang Dynasty, is the most impressive, but also the most visited temple in Chengdu. It contains more than 450 Buddha statues and other relics, and it is also a spot for locals to come and play chess, read or just to hang-out.

After a day of walking around and snapping photos, the place to go at night is Jinli Ancient Street. Across from Jinli there is also the Tibet Quarter where red-robed people from Tibet live and run shops. Jinli Street is part of the old city of Chengdu, and it is fun to walk through the lit corridors and buy some street food or souvenirs. The prices are a bit high in this touristy area, but the architecture sets a nice backdrop for a night out.

For local performances, a must-see is the Sichuan Opera. Most accommodations sell tickets and transportation to see this fiery performance. If you have been to Peking Opera, the garb and face painting in the advertisements may make this genre of opera similar, but it will catch you off-guard. The show is more like a cabaret performance featuring burlesque-type acts, mixed-in with shadow plays and sometimes even magicians. The clothing is colorful, and keep you eyes peeled to catch the every move of their quick face-changing and fire-spitting.


Day trips

One of the best features of visiting Chengdu is the day-trips to be made in the city's surrounding areas. Transportation by bus or train is easy to figure out, and even during summer tourist season it shouldn't be difficult to just show up to the station and get a seat.

To get an old China feel, the town of Pingle is a two-hour bus ride away. A quaint grouping of traditional Sichuan houses have been preserved along the wide and shallow river which runs through it. The town is a great vacation spot for families, and the river has been made into a small oasis with water pumps and ridges to walk or sit along in a bathing suit. There is also the option to ride on a Bamboo Raft, which is especially pleasant when the sun is blistering and you can sit comfortably in the shade of the bamboo.

In the town the tourism efforts are quite impressive. Walking along the small streets, old meeting points, metal smith businesses, clock shops and other locations from ancient times have English and Chinese plaques which tell the story of what used to take place there. The town has been kept well since the West Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), where it was an important stop along the South Sichuan Road and South Silk Road.

The largest stone carved Buddha in the world has peered out from a hillside in Leshan since the Tang Dynasty. A daytrip to the Leshan Buddha provides some great photo opportunities, and the grounds behind the Buddha.

The Buddha's toes are as tall as most people who stand beside it, and winding stairs allow you to take photos from several angles of the massive carving.

There is also a large pagoda at the top of the hill, and at the back of the grounds there are several restaurants where an ancient fishing village once resided.

More serious hikers will enjoy taking an express train out to Qingchengshan Mountain for the day. The pathway is a mix of wooden slabs, rock and natural earth, and near the top there is a temple to rest at which (for a fee) will carve you a specialized medallion to show you made it up there. To take a cable car up or down is also an option, and one of the paths requires a few minutes boat journey. The foliage is fresh and a stream accompanies the path, skipping over rocks, and on a couple of occasions there are steep waterfalls.

Overnight trips in Sichuan Province boast a couple of fantastic options. The first is Emei Mountain and it is one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains in China. If you arrived to Chengdu with a lot of stuff, many hostels and hotels will lock up your bags for you while you go with just enough on your back for the trek. Stay in Buddhist monasteries on the way up and try to time it so that the sun is at the horizon just as you reach the top of the mountain. The first Buddhist temple built in China is at Emei Mountain, dating back to the 1st century.

The entire winding path is 50km, but the way can be eased if you choose by taking cable cars part of the distance.

Majestic mountains

My favorite overnight trip, however, was to Jiuzhaigou (Nine Villages) Valley National Park. I was told ahead of time by a friend that it is the "most beautiful place on earth," and the scenery was still breathtaking.

You can fly to a nearby airport, or take a 10-hour bus journey. The distance is actually not far, but the bus must wind through narrow mountain passes to get to the park. The trip is a shared experience though with other tourists, so the time passes quickly. The bus also will stop in a couple of towns along the way where locals sell their unique designs of jewelry and other wares, and you can partake in genuine Sichuan foods.

The park gates open early in the morning, and be sure to get there as soon as they do so that you have enough time to see everything before closing time in the late afternoon.

Lime stone deposit lakes, a five-colored lake and multiple waterfalls spot the landscape. Located on the edge of the Tibetan Himalayan Plateau, this is China's premier national park. Elevations above sea level range from between 6,529 feet (1,990 meters) to 15,630 feet (4,764 meters). If there is anywhere in China that is perfect to clear your mind and deeply breathe in fresh, clean air, this is it.

Once back in Chengdu, the city is a primary entrance point for travelers looking to enter Tibet, and it also has frequent planes and trains to Chongqing, where there are more pandas, or to Xi'an to next visit the Terracotta Army.

A major destination in the days of the Silk Trade, Chengdu in Sichuan Province is mandatory for all present-day travelers who wish to see the greatest beauty China has to offer.

Global Times | May 14, 2012

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