Visiting China: Maps and Notes

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  • Generally all over China, museums are closed on mondays (2023)
  • 2018 Visiting Hutong: take the subway to Nanluoguxiang. Walk up the crowded pedestrial street and explore the alleys right and left up to the Drum and Bell towers (and Lama monastery). To vist the Drum and Bell tower: combined ticket of Y30.
  • 2016 Hutong used to be the best and cheapest place to find a cheap hotel. Much of old Hutong has been bulldozed to turn it into a modern shopping district, and many guesthouses now have signs only in Chinese and don't accept foreigners. There are only a handful of accommodation available to the limited-budget backpaker. Very few guesthouses are left south of Qianmen: Qianmen Hostel on Meishi St, Leo Hostel in one of the alleys to the right (if you are coming from Qianmen) and further down (past the King Joy hotel) the Courtyard Hostel in one of the alleys to the left. Most hotels that only have the sign in Chinese do not give rooms to foreigners. Hutong has several hostels, notably the East Sacred Hotel in an alley, not easy to find,
  • 2016 For the 798 Art Zone in Dashanzi/Chaoyang district, take bus 403, 593, 851 or 854 to Dashanzi Lukou Dong Station or take metro line 14 to Wangjing South (B2 Exit)
  • 2016: Indian restaurant next to Greentree Hotel and Home Inn on West Zhanchunyuan Rd, 500 meters from Wudaokou subway station (Tsinghua Univ area)
  • 2016 To the Ming tombs (Shisan Ling): take the subway to Jishuitan and walk 400 meters to Deshengmen. Look for the bus 872 (10 yuan) to Chang Ling. Chang Ling is the last stop of the bus. Entrance fee: Y50. From Chang Ling take bus 314 to Ding Ling (5 minutes, 2 yuan, no change on local buses). Entrance fee: Y65.
  • 2016 To Chengde: take the subway to Sihui and then walk to the bus station. It is not trivial to find the ticket counter. 85Y to Chengde. Four hours. Most buses drop you off at the Chengde train station. This is 8-10 kms from the main sights. Luckily, taxis are cheap in Chengde. Alas, the entrance tickets are extremely expensive. The ticket to the sprawling palace gardens (Bishu Shanzhuang) costs Y145 (reached by taxi in 15 minutes, Y30). The main attraction here is the Yongyousi pagoda that most tourists miss because it is located beyond the lake. The nearby exit (not the main exit) is the most efficient way to move on to Puning temple (reached by taxi in 5 minutes, Y7, entrance fee Y80). Another taxi (Y10) takes you to Putuozongcheng temple and nearby Sumeru temple (free shuttle between the two, Y80 the combined entrance fee).
  • 2016 Jinshan Ling/ Great Wall: take a bus from Sihui bus station to Chengde (Y85) and ask to get off at Jinshan Ling. The bus drops you off at a service station on the highway. Don't panic and walk following the sign Jinshan Ling. In less than 1 km you reach the first restaurant/hotel (150Y for a private room). The gate is a further 2 kms down the road. Y65 to hike the Great Wall. Lots of steps (1400) take you to the Great Wall. If you turn left, you can see only four watchtower: the wall collapsed beyond that point. If you turn right, you can hike all the way to the Zhuandyo Pass, which is near the other gate. A free shuttle (not widely advertised because it is printed only in Chinese in the back of the brochure) can take you back to the highway to catch a bus to Beijing or Chengde (still Y85 unless you are lucky and get on one of the local buses that for Y32 drop you off at a different subway station).

  • 2016 Near Xi'an: Banpo Museum (6,000 year old neolithic site) can be easily reached by subway and a 500 meter walk. Y65.
  • Xi'an (2018). The bus to the terracotta warriors (Qinling) leaves from the train station and is marked both 306 and 5. The entrance ticket is Y120. The ticket includes a free shuttle to the emperor's mausoleum but there is absolutely nothing to see there. It seems that the only reason to offer the free shuttle is that the free shuttle leaves from the other side of the shopping area, i.e. you need to walk through about 2 kms of shops. Downtown the Xi'an museum is free but Y300 to see the wall paintings (two subway stops south of the center).
  • Near Xi'an are (2018): Hanling (Han tomb with terracotta figurines), Qianling (two imperial tombs with wall paintings), Zhaoling (the most difficult to reach, also the largest mausoleum in the world, bus to Yuanjiacun from Xi'an north bus station plus a 10-km taxi ride). Hanling and Qianling are often combined in a day tour with Famen temple, a giant futuristic complex that contains a sci-fi sculpture in the middle and an ancient stone pagoda (the only thing resembling a Buddhist building). Beware that to get out of Famen temple you MUST walk through an endless maze of shops. Basically the whole giant structure has been built to make consumers spend in the shops. All of these attractions cost about Y100-120.
  • Xi'an (2018): Maijishan Grottoes (at an altitude of 1,742 meter) are located 30 km south of Tianshui City, two hours by high-speed train from Xian North Railway Station. Once at Tianshui South Railway Station, take the express bus to Tianshui Maijishan Grottoes. (If you are already downtown Tianshui, go to the old railway station and take bus 34, the shuttle bus going to Maijishan Grottoes, a one hour ride). There is an electric vehicle to cover the last 3 kms to the base of the mountain. As usual, the Chinese force you to walk 500 meters through food stalls and souvenir shops before reaching the entrance (very annoying). There are 221 grottoes, with over 7,000 statues and 10,000 square meters of murals, carved in the cliffs of the hill. The caves are reachable via cat-walks and spiral stairways.
  • 2016 Hua Shan is a ridiculously expensive proposition, even if you manage to avoid all the scams. The bus from Xi'an to Hua Shan leaves from the big parking lot behind the train station. You will be approached by all sorts of people offering tourist buses for twice the regular price, which is Y35. If you manage to reach the regular bus, the ride takes 2 hours. If anyone suggested to you to take the train, remember that first you need to get to the north train station (i.e. crossing the whole metropolis) and that the train station in Hua Shan village is 10 kms from town: it won't be any faster, just more complicated. Once in the village, the bus drops you off 500 meters from the main entrance. That's where the bad news begin. The entrance ticket is an outrageous Y180 ($30) and does NOT include everybody's favorite (the Sky Plank, advertised as the most dangerous hike in the world), which costs an extra Y39. There are five peaks. Most people hike the North Peak first, then the West, then the East and finally the highest, the South. The Sky Plank is at the South Peak (you can also take a shortcut from the West straight to the South). You must leave your backpack and any loose items before being roped down the planks, and that's where you have to pay Y30. If you have done all the peaks, most likely you are running out of time and walk to take the cableway down. Go to the West Peak and pay Y140 ($25!) This will take you down in a few minutes, but in the middle of nowhere. There are buses waiting for you: Y40! The bus will get you downtown but not where you want to go. You can walk 1km or take a taxi to the bus station for Xi'An (roughly the same place where you arrived). The excursion to Hua Shan may cost you more than 3 days in Xi'an. It took me 2.5 hours to climb the north peak from the bottom (there are several temples before the ticket office). Note that sometimes there is a long line to get on the planks,

  • To visit the Vanke Center building near Shenzhen: take the subway to YiJing and then take bus 6 to Dameisha (5Y)
  • To visit the OCT art district in Shenzhen: there is an OCT subway station, but Qiaochen also works.
  • Beware of the many "museums". Most of them are simple galleries. And many of them simply don't exist. If you search the web, you'll find many "Shenzhen museums", but for example the "Jupiter Museum of Art" is a small gallery and Zhizheng Art Museum (which one website calls "the largest private museum in Shenzhen") does not exist (if you follow the address you'll get to the fifth floor of the St Regis hotel, where nobody knows about an art museum). The old art museum in East Lake Park may or may not exist. It's a long and ardous journey to get there and it's a small museum, so i didn't want to check. The new art museum (pretty big) is next to the Hongshan metro station and was inaugurated in 2023. That's the only real art museum of Shenzhen. Nobody at the new art museum was able to tell me if the old art museum still exists.
  • Shenzhen to Hong Kong (2016): take metro line 1 to Luohu/ Lo Wu metro station, cross the border (passport control etc, you need to have a visa to reenter China) and then walk to the railway station for Kowloon Tong. Hong Kong uses a different currency so you need to change money. If you land in Hong Kong and want to go straight to Shenzhen. Change some money into HK$ and Chinese RMB. Follow the signs to Mainland Transport. Buy tickets to Huanggang, HK$150 (2018). The seven seat vans leave when they are full. 35 minutes to the Hong Kong immigration building. Get on the van again for the Chinese immigration Building. Ignore the thugs shouting "taxi" at you, and cross the footbridge to Shenzhen. Take the Shenzhen subway to your destination.

  • 2019 Mausoleum of Nanyue King (subway station Yuexiu Park just south of the Railway Station, entrance 10Y)
  • 2019 Hotel near the main railway station square (a colossal square that at night is crowded with all the poor passengers sleeping under the stars): Guangzhou Southern Airlines Pearl Business Hotel (No.181, Huanshixi Road)
  • 2019 The bus to the Guangzhou airport (Y18) departs around from the China Southern Airlines building 100 meters from the giant railway station square.
  • There are two temples near the Ximenkou subway station: Quandxi Si and Liurong Si. Then there is Yuexiu Park whose main attraction is the Zhenhai tower. The old European district Shamian Island (Huangsha subway station) is quite disappointing.
  • Fosham's Zumiao temple is a + great Daoist temple Zumiao (subway to Xilang, then connect to the GS and get off at Zumiao 7Y for the trip, 20Y for the ticket)

Hong Kong
  • 2008. Hong Kong is expensive by the standards of Southeast Asia. The cheapest room with private bathroom is $15, and a meal is easily as expensive as in the USA. Most tourists stay in Kowloon. There is a famous Chungking Mansion on Nathan Road (near Peking 1 and the Space Museum, Tsim Sha Tsui station exit E), which is 15 storeys of guesthouses for foreigners. The moment you walk into the hall owners of the various guesthouses approach you and invite you to check out their rooms. Most of them seem to be Muslim Indians. Across the street is the infamous CTS (Chinese Tourist Services) that issues visa to China. Two right turns away there is the East Tsim Sha Tsu subway station. The ferry to Hong Kong Island is walking distance (and one of the few things that is really cheap). You can take the ferry to go to Central and then return with the ferry from the Convention Center, thus exploring Hong Kong Island from west to east. The Northern part of Hong Kong Island is as amazing as Manhattan, and maybe even more because it is built on such a steep slope. Some of the tallest buildings in the world are located here, although the tallest for Hong Kong is being built in Kowloon (the new International Commerce Center, very visible from Hong Kong Island). This jungle of concrete is pedestrian-friendly though. There are pedestrian overpasses for just about everything. And in the middle of the concrete jungle there are parks (such as Hong Kong Park and the Botanic Gardens).

  • Hangzhou East train station to Airport (2023): Airport Bus, 40 minutes, RMB20, first bus: 07:30AM, last bus: 08:30PM; Line 1 of subway, 1 hour 24 minutes, RMB8 per person, terminal 3.
  • 2023 The subway Line 1 connects the airport with East train station and West Lake locations like Longxiangqiao. Hangzhou has 19 subway lines. Museums are free.
  • 2023 To Lingyin temple: subway to Longxiangqiao (4 yuan) + Bus 7 (2 yuan). Lingyin temple: 45 yuan plus 30 yuan (halfprice if over 65).
  • 2023 Veggie restaurant: 607 Zhongshan Bei (North) Road, tucked into an alley 200 meters from the Westlake Culture Square subway station exit C.
  • 2023 A suggested tour of Hangzhou starting from East railway station (Hangzhoudong): take Line 4 to Civic Center and walk 1km to Life Plaza and Intercontinental Hotel and Balcony, all connected; back to Civic Center take Line 7 from to Wushan Square and walk 500 meters to Hefang st. On the way there is the lower entrance to the Hangzhou Museum that also has an exit on hill. Exit from the hill and turn left and walk down to medieval Hefang Lu (road), or exit again from the lower entrance and return to Wushan Square and turn right to Hefang Lu. Then walk 1km in the opposite direction to the West Lake. Then 2 kms south (left) to the famous pagoda Leifeng. Take line 1 to Wulin Square. Take line 1 to Longxiangqiao and explore the street with Apple store and Vuiton to West Lake. Line 5 to visit the Grand Canal area south of Gongchen bridge.
  • 2023 There is a bus to Pudong airport ($20) from the East Square of Hangzhoudong station (follow signs for long-distance bus station before you enter the station).
  • 2018 Hangzhou is mostly famous for its West Lake, which the Chinese know from lots of literary references, but it's not much of a lake for a foreigner, and for the Lingyin temple, which is yet another heavily restored temple but certainly impressive (9 kms from West Lake, bus Y2 or K7 from central railway station). Modern architecture: West Lake Cultural Square, and especially the Life Plaza (Jiangjin Rd or Citizen Center stations on line 4). Remnants of imperial Hangzhou can be seen around Hefang St: take exit D of Ding'an station, walk 200 m, turn right into the first st (Houshi), which will eventually intersect Hefang St (pedestrian area) and then Anrong Alley (under the hill). If you go right on Hefang you get to Wushan Sq. If you go left you get to Nansongyu St (which means "Southern Song Imperial Street"). Both are pedestrian areas and very commercial. The Drum Tower is nearby. Next to it there's a staircase that takes to the top of the hill with a series of temples and then descends to Wushan Sq, which is the western end of Hefang St. You can also reach Wushan Sq by line 7 from Citizen Center. Near Wushan Sq is the Hangzhou Museum (which also has an entrance on top of the hill). From Wushan Square you can walk to the West Lake and then 2 kms south to Liuhe Pagoda.
  • The Grand Canal is best seen at the Qiaoxi historical area that starts from Gongchen Bridge (bus 79, 98 and 128 or, better, water taxi from Wulinmen Pier which can be reached by Line 1 to Wulin Square). As you walk downstream, the pedestrian alley stops and you have to by pass a 700-meter tenement, but then it resumes. On the right a branch of the Grand Canal called Xiaohe ("small river") is flaked by another pedestrian area, Xiaohe Alley (not the big Xiaohe Rd). At the end of this alley make a U-turn and proceed back to the Grand Canal. Cross the Grand Canal on the Daguan bridge and continue downstream to the Dadou historic area. This is another reconstructed "ancient" area that ends at the Xiangji temple and the big square in front of it. To get to these places along the Grand Canal you can take the water bus from Wulinmen to Gongchen, or take bus 151.
  • Line 5 has two stops: The Grand Canal and East Gongchen Bridge (Line 5 connecets with Line 1 at Datieguan). To get to Gongchen bridge: 1. there is a water bus (Y3 in 2023) from Wulinmen pier that takes 20 minutes and runs approximately once every 30 minutes. Wulinmen pier is better reached from West Lake Cultural Square metro station: cross the bridge towards Wulin Sq and it will on your left (if you try to get there from Wulin Square, you'll walk a lot longer). Make sure you get on the right ferry (there are two directions) and Gongchen bridge will be the second stop. The water bus leaves you on the east side of the Grand Canal, near the Grand Canal museum (closed on mondays) so to explore the old alleys you have to cross the Gongchen bridge. 2. or take the metro line 5 to East Gongchen Bridge station. Take exit B, cross the street and walk straight for about 1km until you hit the Grand Canal.

  • 2015 There are two main areas for backpackers: around Hupao Rd south of the West Lake, and east of the West Lake between Xihu St and Hefang St. Eastern shore: Wushanyi at 22 Mid Zhongshan St (; Hofang at 67 Dajing Lane near He Fang St (; Hangzhou International Youth Hostel at 101-3 Nanshan Rd (571 87918948); Mingtown at 101 Nanshan Rd (571-28069669/; Bokai at 32 Qingnian Rd (571 8703 0188/ no email); Inlake at 5 Lv Yang Road near Nan Shan Road (571 8682 6700/ Hupao Rd: Daisy at 65 SiYanJing (571-88828537/; Touran at 3 SiYanJing (no email); Fiona's at 12 Xia Manjuelong Rd right next to Manjuelong Village and 200 meters from the shiwudong bus station (571-87988771/ no email); Youth House@Rains of Osmanthus at 184 Xia Manjuelong near Fiona's (no email). And finally northwest of the West Lake: Lotus International Youth Hostel/ 174 Shuguang Road south of Shuguang road/ 571-85831772/
  • Vegetarian restaurants in Hangzhou: Green Eats (99 Jiefang Road, 2nd floor, from the WanAn Bridge metro station of Line 5 - three stops from Datieguan station if you are coming on Line 1 - take Exit D and turn right into the street and walk about 300 meters to Jiefang Rd, then cross the road and continue on Jiefang Rd for two blocks. Across the street there's the Zhejiang Second Hospital); Baidingxingshe in Canal World (Gongshu district, north of West Lake);
  • Grand Canal Museum: east Gongchen Bridge metro station of Line 5 and you are on Quzhou St. Walk on Quzhou St to the end. Turn right for 50 meters then you'll see a huge square on your left. That's where the museum is and at the end of the square is the bridge,
  • Near Hangzhou (2015): Liangzhu Museum (40 kms from Hangzhou) is located in Meiizhou Park at 1 Meilizhou Road about 400 metres south of Liangbo Road (closed on mondays, 0571 8877 3875 - Bus 372 from north bus station, 348 from Wu Lin north gate); Tangqi ancient town (metro to Linping and then bus 319 from Linping North Railway Station, 342 from Da Guan North)
  • Putuoshan (2018): There's a 100 yuan bus from Hangzhou or Shanghai (4 hours) + 18 yuan taxi to the ferry landing + 28 yuan ferry (20 minutes), so total count on five hours to get to the island. There are a lot of guesthouses, and someone usually waits at the ferry landing with brochures to show their rooms to tourists. The entrance ticket is 160 yuan. IMHO not worth it at all. This mountain does not compare with Emeishan, Huashan and Wutaishan.

  • 2016 Near Taiyuan: Pingyao is just 30 minutes by train from Taiyuan. There is a 130 yuan ticket that covers all attractions. Most of the famous ones are located in a range of 1km from the northern and eastern gates. The city is notoriously very polluted, so good luck with your photography.

  • Datong (2018). If you come by train from Xi'an, you need to change in Taiyuan, and beware that the trains leave from different stations (about 20 minutes by taxi). To get to the Yungang caves take bus 603 from the train station. If you want to stay near the caves, get off one stop before the terminus, at the village.
  • Shaanxi province is home to two of the most impressive Chinese monuments: Yungang caves (bus 603 from Datong's train station) and the Xuankung temple. Beware that entrance to Xuankung temple in peak season is limited: the temple can't hold more than 40-50 people at a time. Yungang cave 6 is possibly the masterpiece of Chinese sculpture.

Wutai Shan
  • 2016 The train to Wutai Shan stops at Shahe, about 50 kms from Wutai Shan. There are many hotels at the train/bus station and walking distance from it. There are frequent nuses to Wutai Shan and plenty of taxis willing to drive you there. Hotels are cheap. The bus ride is 25 yuan. When you arrive at Wutai Shan, you must buy the 120 yuan ticket, which is valkd for all temples (except that some tekples add little charged). There are aggressive sellers of Buddhist souvenirs everywhere, asking for 5 or 10 times the real price. The mpst fampus tekples are walking distande from the bus terminal. Again, there are many hotels right at the bus terminal. Abojt 800 meters away there is a vegetarian restaurant that is becoming famous with foreigners.

  • 2019 Bus 401 goes to Yellow Crane Tower (Huang He Lou), East Lake (Dong Hu), Heptachord Terrace (Gu Jin Tai) and Guiyuan Temple (Guiyuan Si). Huang He Lou/ Yellow Crane Tower: metro line 4 to Fuxing Rd - open 8:00 - 17:00. Hubu Alley is near the tower. Guiyuan Temple is on Cuiwei Rd in Hanyang district - metro line 4/ Line 6 to Zhongjiacun - open 8:30 - 17:00. Nearby is the Stone Museum (61 Cuiwei Rd in Hanyang District). Guqin Tai/ Heptachord Terrace: metro line 6 to Qintai exit A. Baotong Temple: 549 Wuluo Rd south of Hong Shan in Wuchang District - metro line 2 to Baotong Temple or bus 401. Mo Shan in Dong Hu/ East Lake: metro line 2 to Guangbutun and then bus 401 to Lumolu Moshan - open 7:30 - 17:30. The Phoenix Towers (1km tall towers) were proposed in 2014 but never built (as of 2019).

Henan province
  • Near Denfgend: From Dengfeng you can easily visit Songyue temple and Zhongyue temple but you'll probably need to rent a taxi. Entrance tickets (2016): Shaolin 100y, Songyue 50y, Zhongyue 30y. Shaolin temple is not worth the price but it is very famous. The lone pagoda at Songyue (one of the oldest in the world) is the highlight of this region, but overpriced since there is only one building to visit, the Songyue pagoda.

  • A day tour of Chongqing (2018). Take a taxi to Jazhou Rd subway station. Take line 3 to Hongquihegou and then Line 6 to Grand Theater. Visit the Science and Technology Museum and Opera House (green building). Walk on Qiansimen Bridge to Hongya Cave (great views on the bridge!) (Notice Moshe Safdie's curved skyscrapers to the left of the bridge). Visit Hongya Cave (buildings in ancient style, but it's just a shopping mall). Walk to Guotai Arts Centre (red building). Walk to Linjiangmen Station of subway line 2 . Take line 2 to Zengjiayan station. Walk to Three gorges Museum. Walk to Great Hall of People (across the square). Take line 2 to Liziba station, the most famous station of the monorail. Walk down 6 floors to the street, cross the street and turn left to the picture spot. Take line 2 to Fotuguan station. Walk 500 meters to Flying Tigers Museum, better known locally as General Stilwell Museum (the only museum in China named after a foreigner!) Very nice museum about the US soldiers who fought the Japanese in China. Take line 2 to Daping and then line 1 to Jiaochangkou station or just take line 2 to Linjiangmen Station. Walk to Times Square (pedestrian area) where all the tallest skyscrapers are (WFC, IFC, Pingan, etc). A little far but this is my favorite: get a taxi to 501 Art Gallery and walk the longest mural in China, that ends one km down the street at the old Huangjueping Railway Hospital (Huangjueping Graffiti Street). How to get there: bus 233, 441, 823, 223.
  • Dazu, China. Dazu is mainly famous for the Buddist caves (Baodingshan and Beishan), one of the four great ones (with Datong, Luoyang and Dunhuang). Definitely worth it. As usual, everything has been restored recently because it was destroyed during the "Cultural Revolution". Also, Dazu is a nice town. It was refreshing to finally be in a place with no MacDonald's that still feels a bit like old China. The people are super-friendly and super-honest. Dazu is the best advertisement for China.

  • Jiangsu (2018): To visit the watertowns of Jiangsu: from Suzhou bus to Tongli (50 minutes, 1 yuan); from Tongli bus to Zhouzhuang (20 minutes); from Zhouzhuang bus to Suzhou (one hour). Beware that these water towns are simply bazaars (shopping malls) and the entrance tickets are expensive (100Y in 2016).

Yunnan province
  • Yunnan (2019). Stone Forest (Shi Lin): about 1h15' by bus from Kunming (34 yuan), Y175 entrance ticket plus shuttle or walk 3 kms. Beware (scam alert) that it's a family park, a sort of Disneyland where the "stone trees" have been dynamyted to create walking paths and stairs. Dali: ancient town (18 kms from bus and train stations) is simply a shopping mall with absolutely nothing older than ten years (scam alert). Lijiang: the ancient town is a little more authentic than in Dali, although similarly rebuilt in recent times. The side near the water wheels going up the hill is littered with hundreds of guesthouses ($5-20) and this is the most spectacular part. Further away it becomes the typical chinese themed shopping mall

  • Macau (2019): The only thing worth seeing in Macau is the Grand Lisbon. St Paul would be demolished anywhere else in the world. The "colonial" architecture of downtown has nothing even remotely reminiscent of Portugal. It takes about 30 minutes to walk all of downtown.

  • Hainan (2019): Nanshan Park is an overpriced amusement park (150Y in 2017)

Yellow Mountains
  • Huangshan/ Yellow Mountains (2018). The nearest train station is located at Huangshan Center, one hour away by bus from Tangkou. The train goes directly to Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai (8 hours). But several sightseeing companies offer a combination of bus ride to Tangkou, hotel in Tangkou and entrance ticket (230 RMB) that is hard to beat. There are also regular buses to Tangkou that generally leave you near the gate to the shuttle bus. That area has many restaurants and hotels. The visible one is Chengjin Hotel, but one street behind it there is Jiang Nan Meijing Hotel which is much cheaper ($20 for two people). The gate by the Chengjin Hotel opens at 6am. Walk up the street and buy the ticket for the shuttle bus (20 RMB) that will take you to the park entrance (less than 15 minutes). There are countless hotels along this route. Once you purchase the entrance ticket (230 RMB), take the bus to Ciguang Ge/ Mercy Light Pavilion. There are two routes to the top from Tangkou. The western route is twice longer than the eastern route (15 kms instead of 7.5 kms) but also twice more interesting. Both have cable cars for those who don't care about hiking (90 RMB). To hike the western route, walk back on the paved road for about 1.5 km and you'll find the big sign for hikers. The stairs (on the left handside) are very visible. You start in a mosquito-infested jungle but soon emerge above the trees and most of the hike is in the sun. All the trails are paved. You can buy drinks on every trail. There are at least three hotels at the top. Attractions along the western route: Mercy Light Pavilion, Celestial Capital Peak, Greeting-guest Pine, Bright Top, the Flying-over Rock, and the Cloud-dispelling Pavilion. The pine is the iconic picture for Chinese tourists, but you'll probably not even notice it. The best view is from Lotus Peak. Capital Peak is the highest and toughest climb: you can get there from a fork along the hike, past Mercy Light Pavilion, or from the cable-car station (a much steeper climb). If you have time, you can continue the West Sea Grand Canyon loop that descends to the bottom and then loops back to Tianhai Hotel (at the bottom you can take the monorail to return to Tianhai Hotel and save a few hours of hiking). There are three different cable-car routes. For the western route, use the Yuping cable car that descends to Mercy Light Pavilion. Walk up and take the cable car down. Like most "parks" in China, there is no wilderness and no wildlife left: everything has been paved and constructed (more than 60,000 granite steps besides three cable cars and one monorail, and hundreds of food/drink shops), and all animals have either been killed or scared away. Many trails are closed in winter due to ice/snow. There are traditional villages around the mountain: Hong Cun (40 minutes from Tangkou) and Xidi (20 minutes from Hong Cun), plus Tunxi in Huangshan city. As usual in 2018 China, they are giant shopping centers. Each building is a shot, a restaurant or a hotel. Chinese marvel at the white facades and black roofs but foreigners are unlikely to be much impressed. Xidi is perhaps the most photogenic. Each costs 104 RMB. You are basically paying 104 RMB for the privilege of shopping and eating inside. By comparison, hundreds of European villages are prettier than these and they don't charge to walk around!
  • Jiuhua (2019): To visit the holy mountain Jiuhua, take the bus to Chizhou, then another bus to the foot of Jiuhuashan, known as Jiuhuajie. The bus from Hangzhou to Chizhou takes 5-6 hours and costs 124 RMB = $20. The bus to Jiuhuajie costs 30 RMB and takes 30-40 minutes. Entrance ticket is 160 yuan = $27. This is one of the four holy Buddhist mountains, but probably the least interesting for non-Buddhists. All the temples spread around the mountain are dedicated to the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, Dizang in Chinese. The temples are brand new (some are still under construction). The place is not geared up for international tourism: there are virtually no signs in English around town, except for the signs to the various temples. I was the only non-Chinese in town, despite the fact that the town gets very crowded. There are few hotels in Jinhuajie itself (the tourist area at the foot of the mountain) and they tend to be expensive ($50 and up). Jiuhuajie is becoming a shopping mall, hardly a spiritual atmosphere (even difficult to find vegetarian food in a town that in theory serves Buddhist pilgrims). You are better off sleeping in Chizou itself (Chizou Qingyang) near the bus station, where there is a wider range of hotels and restaurants at affordable prices (but still nothing cheaper than 150 RMB = $25). Things to see (in order of preference): Incarnation (or Sacred Remains) Hall, Huacheng temple (advertised as very old but actually totally new), the main Dizang temple in town, Qiyang temple, Tiantai (or Heavenly Terrace) temple, and Baisui (or Longevity or 100 Years) temple. The first four are right into town, within a 1km radius of each other. The Longevity temple is reched via 1,400 steps and there's a cable car. To get to Tiantaishan, take a bus near Qiyang temple and then find the 6,000 steps to the top: there is a shortcut through the woods that starts from the cable car station, otherwise you have to walk down about 1 km to the official beginning of the staircase and walk through all the souvenir and food stalls. Most Chinese take the cable car to the top. The 6,000 steps are fairly steep and take at least 1.5 hours. There is also a 99 meter statue of Dizang in Chizou proper, at the end of the shopping street (very visible). Alas, to get to the statue you have to go through a horrible gigantic building that looks like a communist monument of the 1930s.

  • Scam alert: no photography allowed in Taipei's National Museum

  • Mt Kailash area
  • 2019 China considers Tibet one of its regions, but you cannot travel to Tibet with the Chinese visa: you need a special visa (that most travel agency can easily obtain IF you book a tour with them). As of 2019, any foreign traveler to Tibet needs: the regualr Chinese visa (not difficult to obtain in your own country or any neighboring countries), the Tibet Tourism Bureau Permit (TTB), which typically only a Chinese tour operator can get for you, the Alien Travel Permit (PSB) for traveling around Tibet outside of the main tourist places, and even a Military Permit if your itinerary enters one of the military areas. All of this is virtually impossible unless you use a Chinese tour operator. Overland travel from inside China to Tibet is mostly forbidden to foreigners, unless you are taking the train. Note that permits don't cost anything: tour agencies charge money simply because you need the permit, but the state itself does not charge any money for the permit.
  • Lhasa has become a typical Chinese city and has the same problem of many overcrowded city in developing countries: nonstop traffic and cars everywhere. The old town around the Jokhang temple has become a huge shopping center, although the endless procession of traditional Tibetans walking around the temple is still impressive. Tibet was and still is a very polluted place, with tons of plastic garbage everywhere, even in the most remote mountains. Toilets are still the dirtiest in the world. All the main monasteries are run by monks who are simply employees of the Chinese government, and you are more likely to see them counting money than praying Buddha. All (all) travel agencies are owned by the Chinese government, directly or indirectly. Some are better than others to publicize themselves as "based in Tibet", "authentic Tibetan", etc. You cannot travel independently, no matter what your friend told you. All foreigners need a permit to visit Tibet, that permit now takes 10-12 days to be approved (it used to take 2 days) and that permit is issued only if you join a tour with a travel agency. The price is, of course, ten times the real cost. I traveled with a Chinese citizen so i could compare the prices. All monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution: what you see are recent reconstructions. Since there were no detailed descriptions of the buildings, very few reconstructions are faithful to the original. The only major building that was not destroyed is the Potala, whose exterior is exactly like it was before Mao. My favorite monasteries are Gyantse and Samye, followed by Ganden and Shigatze. The best thing in Shigatze is actually not the monastery itself but the walk around it, that takes you to the hill behind it. If you are into Buddhism, Reting has a reputation as being a very holy place. The Norbulingka (Dalai Lama's summer palace) is not worth your time, despite being a World Heritage Site.
  • Tibet practicalities (2016). Assuming that you manage to get rid of your travel agency's tour, there is a train to Shigatze: 5 hours by car and 3 hours by train. But travel agencies take you also to Gyantse, which is worth as much if not more than Shigatze. A car ride to Samye takes 3 hours and a superfast highway is being built. Visiting the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, the holiest site in Tibet, is a horrible experience because you will be escorted with thousands of other tourists by dozens of tour guides, everybody shouting at the same time, during the hours when the temple is closed to prayers. When you arrive in Lhasa, you can take a taxi or a rickshaw to any place in Lhasa and near Lhasa (e.g. Drepung, Sera, Potala, Norbulingka, Jokhang...). Technically speaking, Ganden and Reting (which is located further away on the same road) require a permit, but taxi drivers know a way to avoid the police checkpoint and you can try your luck. Buses leave from the bus station when full and are extremely cheap. Again, you can only travel to Lhasa neighborhoods. Make sure about pick-up and drop-off at the airport because agencies tend to combine groups, which means that you may have to wait 5 hours at the airport for the last flight before they take you to your hotel or take a taxi (200 yuan), and viceversa they might tell you to wake up at 5am for a 5pm flight because they want to drive their bus only once to the airport. The airport is about one hour from downtown.
  • Tibet and Xinjang in 2008

Sichuan province
  • 2008 Chengdu, Sichuan, China. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan and the third largest city of China (ten million people). There are a Buddhist temple and a Daoist temple that have been recently restored. In the 1960s the Cultural Revolution destroyed these temples. Now the same party rebuilt them in a Disneyland kind of way: faithful to the original but totally artificial. Each temple comes with a shopping area along a street that is a recreation of a traditional Chinese city of the Tang era. Honestly, the streets leading to the temples are more spectacular than the temples themselves. Manjushri Monastery (Wenshu Yuan) is a typical Buddhist temple with some authentic (Tang-era) items. Qingyang Gong is a Daoist temple surrounded by a park (the restored street, Qintai Rd, is on the other side of the park). Both temples have famous vegetarian restaurants and large tea houses. Chengdu is famous for spicy Sichuan cuisine and for teahouses. They recommended the "bamboo leaf green tea"). Many elderly men sit at the tea house for hours. One wonders if they were part of the units that carried out the orders of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, and what they think of the capitalist revolution of the 2000s.
  • 2008 Leshan, Sichuan, China. Leshan (which should really be spelled Loshan) is now connected by fast highway with Chengdu. In just two hours is was on the site of the Da Fo, the colossal Buddha statue overlooking the river. You walk up steep stairs and at the top you realize that you are right on the head of Buddha. Stairs lead you to the feet of Buddha. Then a path leads to a pretty bridge and another set of steep steps lead to Wu You temple, another well-restored Buddhist monument that was destroyed by the Cultural Revolution. The unusual feature for me was the hall of the arhats (those who have attained nirvana): there are lifesize sculptures of monks, each in a natural attitude. And they are literally one thousand. Then you walk back down the steps to the bridge and exit to an unpaved road. It takes about half an hour to reach the paved road and the bus stop.
  • 2008 Emeishan, Sichuan, China. It is one of the four holy Buddhist mountains of China. Alas, it's a vastly overrated overpriced tourist trap. There is little to see between one temple and the next one. Mostly, there are restaurants and souvenir shops. Even the steps of the epic climb are brand new concrete steps. Everything has been restored recently. At the top the Jinding (summit temple) is a complete fabrication. The three original temples (the silver, copper and gold temples) disappeared in a fire in the 1970s. Now there is a colossal statue in the middle of a square, built in 2002, and three facsimiles of the original temples. There is only one temple that is really worth seeing: Wanian Si, which also happens to be the oldest, with a colossal statue of Puxian of the 9th century. The Qingyii Ge is a mediocre pavilion but set in a charming natural setting. When you climb Taishan (another holy Buddhist mountain), you learn a lot about Chinese religion. Climbing Emeishan you learn a lot about Chinese capitalism.

  • 2008 Shanghai is a bit messy and polluted but it's clearly becoming a new Tokyo. Use the subway to reach the neighborhood and then motorcycle taxis to reach the destination. Motorcycles are much faster and cheaper than taxis in this kind of traffic. There a few more annoyances than in Sichuan. For example, you can't walk five minutes without being offered a girl, a watch or a dvd. Old Shanghai has all but disappeared. The Longhua temple (1oth century) is only notable for the pagoda outside, theoretically the oldest building in the city (but everything in China has been restored countless times, especially after the cultural revolution). The Yufo temple is notable for a jade Buddha (actually jade-looking marble) of 1918 but no photos are allowed. The Yu Yuan bazaar is the local Disneyland. East Nanjing Rd from People Square to the Bund is a huge pedestrian area. The Bund is just the riverside walk, and the best place to take photos of the Pudong skyline. So the main reason to visit Shanghai is modern architecture, but only a handful are truly interesting and two are among the tallest in the world. They are mainly located in two areas: Pudong (across the river from the Bund) and People Square (where all subway lines meet). The highlight of People Square is Tomorrow Square. Many buildings have the name of squares (eg Union Sq, Time Sq, etc). The highlights of Pudong are Jim Mao (421m high, that used to be the tallest) and the World Financial Center (492m, the new record holder). The magnetic levitation train to the airport reaches 430 km/h and covers the distance in seven minutes is the fastest train on Earth.
  • Vegetarian restqaurants: Jade Buddha Temple (170 Anyuan Rd, Shanghai enter at #1017 Jiangning road - MRT station Changshou Rd of line 7 and 13 - take exit 4, turn right on Changhshou, then turn right on Jiangning); a restaurant also in Yuyuan Garden (Yuyuan Garden metro station on Line 10 and Line 14); Songyuelou (23 Bailin Rd, Chenghuang Temple, Shanghai); Jian Dan chain (537 Anyuan Rd at Changde Rd near Jade Buddha Temple); Jian Dan chain ( 999 Huaihai Middle Rd, Shanghai, 5th floor of the IAPM Shopping Centre);
  • Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi and Nanjing are not far from Shanghai.

  • Nanjng, China, a historical capital of China, just two hours by fast train from Shanghai. For a foreigner the city is quite disappointing. The historic sites in the city (such as the Ming gates) are shops and offices. The main attractions are on a hill about one hour from the train station. For the Chinese the big attraction is the mausoleum of Sun Yat Sen, the founder of the Chinese republic. But the mausoleum is a rather mediocre structure (despite its colossal size), a poor imitation of a Ming tomb. The Linggu Si would be a Ming-era temple if anything was left. It is a hodgepodge of restorations that started a century ago and are still going on. It is an obvious case of how the Chinese are restoring things too hastily, cheaplyand erratically. The Ming tomb is the tomb of the first emperor of the Ming dynasty, and this tomb served as a model for all subsequent imperial tombs. Alas, virtually nothing is left of the original. The most interesting item is the map at the entrance that shows the original layout (that looks like a miniature version of Beijing's Forbidden City). The main building is still being restored in 2008, and you can see for yourself what kind of material and labor are being employed.
  • Changzhou (2018): China Dinosaur Park is a vast and expensive amusement park for children with a small museum that contains a dozen dinosaurs; Tianning Temple is a tourist attraction that (contrary to the way it is advertised) has no Tang-dynasty temple (long destroyed) but simply a pagoda built in 2003 (however, the pagoda contains excellent modern religious sculptures); Yancheng Ruins is another vast and expensive amusement park (next to the zoo) that contains no ruins (contrary to the way it is advertised) but has a small archeological museum (Yancheng was the site of a city in 770 BC-476 BC, but absolutely nothing remains of it).

Hunan province
  • Zhangjiajie glass bridge: 45-minute bus ride from Wulingyuan but - scam alert - you cannot take a backpack on the bridge and the lockers only accept payment with Chinese smartphones and the ticket is $25 and only 800 people allowed on the bridge at a time, which means you may have to wait the whole day for your time slot

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