Nature and religion define Tibet, so if you’re interested in viewing sacred sites or beautiful nature, it should be on your list of travel destinations. Tibetans have a distinct culture and religion that sets them apart from the rest of the world. Along with rich history, Tibet has some of China’s most striking natural scenery, including vast grasslands, blue lakes and sky-high mountains.
1.Foreign travel to Tibet used to be restricted.
Tourists were first permitted to visit Tibet in the 1980s. Since then, people have been traveling to Tibet to learn about Buddhism and see the pure nature. The main tourist attractions are the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple , Namtso Lake, Samye Monastery, and Mt. Everest. Some areas remain restricted to tourists.
2.Tibet is considered one of the most secluded regions on earth.
Tibet is the least populated province in China, mostly due to its mountainous and harsh geographical features. The mountain ranges that surround Tibet create a barrier from the rest of the world, leaving some places in Tibet uninhabited. The mountains in Tibet average 22,960 feet high, earning the nickname “Roof of the World”. In Tibet, there are five mountains over 26,240 feet, including the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. Tibet is a great playground for hikers. Also, frequent flights to Lhasa, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and several highways to Tibet have made Tibet easily accessible.
3.Buddism is the foundation of Tibet’s culture and everyday life.
In Tibet, Buddhism is not just a religious belief, it is a way of life. You can see the influence of Buddhism throughout this region. Tibetans view the environment as a place where humans and nature coexist, therefore most of their land is colorful and pure. There are a great amount of sacred sites, such as monasteries, nunneries, and palaces, to explore while in Tibet.
4.47% of the world’s population depends on the flow of fresh water from Tibet.
The Tibetan plateau has the third largest store of water and ice in the world. Tibet is the sources of many of Asia’s rivers. Tibet’s glaciers, rivers, forests, lakes, and wetlands provide key environmental resources to Asia.
5.Tibet is sometimes called the “Sea of Dances and Songs”.
Tibetans love music and dancing. Every night local people get in a circle around a fire and dance the night away. While visiting Tibet, you can participate in a nightly dance while sipping on one of their national drinks, salted butter tea or Tibetan chang. Chang is an alcoholic drink that is made of barley, rice or millet. Tibetans of all ages drink chang at funerals, dinners, and celebrations.
6.Tibetan people believe Lake Yamdrok carries deep spiritual meaning.
Many pilgrims visit the lake prior to making important decisions, they believe the turquoise water of Lake Yamdrok carries deep spiritual meaning. Lake Yamdrok is one of the many beautiful place to visit in Tibet. Clear blue lakes, deep valleys and rivers, snow covered mountains, and green forests can all be found across the region.
We are often asked about where to start when visiting China. It’s a very big, complex country with too much to see, too much to do.It’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as China is indeed vast and multi-layered. So below are lists of the top 5 things to explore for the first time visitor and the return visitor:
For the first time visitor:
1. Imperial China:
China has a rich history of over 5000 years. It boasts an impressive imperial heritage, which must be explored to appreciate the context of the country and civilization. Must-see sites of imperial China include the Forbidden City in Beijing- bastion of power for the last 500 years of imperial rule; and the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an- ancient relics in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of unified China.
2.The Great Wall:
Arguably one of mankind’s greatest architectural feats and undoubtedly one of China’s most iconic symbols. The Wall spans over 13,000 miles and its history is as fascinating as it is long. There is little to no signage on the wall to tell the stories though, so having a good guide is essential for bringing the history of the Wall to life.
There are a number of different sections to choose from depending on interests and fitness levels. Sightseers and families with young children will enjoy strolling along the restored Mutianyu section of the Wall and riding the gondola and toboggan. Hikers will enjoy the vertical treks along unrestored wild Wall sections at Jiankou. All visitors should avoid the Badaling section if possible. It is the section that most tour groups go to and is the most overcrowded and over-commercialized section of the wall.
3. Modern Cities:
The topic of China’s growing middle-class and unprecedented rate of socio-economic transformation is a big one globally. See it for yourself first-hand with a visit to one of China’s major economic centers – Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong, a truly eye-opening experience. Enjoy a drink in a bar on the 87th floor of the Park Hyatt Shanghai in Pudong and soak in the endless sea of skyscrapers and cranes that stretch as far as the eye can see. Taste Michelin star grade Chinese BBQ pork buns at Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. People-watch at the high-end shopping district of Sanlitun in Beijing to witness the spending power of Chinese consumers.
adventure travel China China travel Great Wall travel in China WildChina travel .
4. Daily life:
Witnessing the simple joys of daily life in China is a must-do experience. In between the busy streets lined with skyscrapers and fancy cars, locals find oasis in public parks where they practice taichi, fan dancing, mahjong, opera singing and more. Some parks even have a match-making market where parents of China’s busy young professionals exchange photos and information in hopes of finding the perfect match. Our favorite places to see daily life- Temple of Heaven in Beijing; People’s Park in Shanghai. Morning is the best time to visit.
5. Nature (and pandas!):
Away from the hustle and bustle of China’s big cities, there is plenty of serenity and natural beauty in China’s countryside. The top 2 places to explore:
1.Yangshuo, Guilin. Winding rivers dotted with cormorant fishermen and framed by poetic karst mountains. The inspiration for Chinese poetry and paintings for centuries over.
2.Sichuan. Home of pandas and lush mountains covered with bamboo. Also the birthplace of Taoism.
For the return visitor:
The Han Chinese constitute over 90% of China’s population, but dig deeper and you’ll find that China has the ethnic diversity of Europe in one country. There are 56 different ethnicities living in China, each with their unique identity attributes from language to food to clothing to religion.
Our favorite region to visit for ethnic experiences is Yunnan. Located in the South-West, Yunnan is bordered by Tibet, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. There are 25 different ethnicities found in Yunnan and they make up 38% of the population. There are a number of village homestay opportunities in Yunnan where visitors can get an inside view of the lifestyle of local minority cultures.
2. Culinary exploration:
Spring rolls, sweet & sour pork and kungpao chicken are delicious, but they’re only representative of Cantonese cuisine- 1 of the 8 culinary styles of China. Regional Chinese cuisine has evolved over the years due to a number of different factors. The most obvious factor is of course climate and availability of ingredients. Staples in northern cuisine is wheat-based, so they consume more noodles, pancakes, and bread; while staples in southern cuisine is rice-based so they consume more rice, rice noodles, and rice cakes. Even more fascinating however, is the influence of culture and lifestyle, and Chinese medicine principles. Explore a little further and you’ll discover how and why cuisine is different across China.
China has no official state religion, but religion has played a big part in shaping Chinese history, philosophy and culture. From Stupas in Tibet to Minarets in Xinjiang, Buddhist temples in Henan to Taoist Temples in Sichuan, exploring the footprints of religion throughout different areas of China is fascinating and enlightening.
This historic cross-roads where East meets West harbors many rich stories and relics to explore. Follow the road from Xi’an in the heart of China all the way to Kashgar, China’s westernmost city. Visit the ancient ruins of Jiaohe, a vital node along the Silk Road during its heyday. Experience the buzz of Kashgar’s Sunday market where trade is still thriving today as it has in the past. Explore the singing sand dunes of the Gobi desert on camelback. Sip on wine from some of China’s best vineyards in Xinjiang.
5. Artisan China:
The gardens and watertowns around the Zhejiang region of Hangzhou and Suzhou are classic remnants of artisan architecture and culture from the Tang and Song dynasties – the height of China’s economic and artistic golden age. The beauty of Hangzhou’s West Lake has been inspiration for countless paintings and poems, as well as Marco Polo’s vision of heaven on Earth. Today, Hangzhou and Suzhou are well-developed tourist havens and definitely worth exploring for those with a taste for classic Chinese gardens and Longjing green tea.
November 29th, 2013
WildChina | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Exclusive Access China, On the Road, WildChina Travel Tips
adventure travel China Dai people Manfeilong Stupas travel to Yunnan WildChina travel WildChina Travel Tips Xishuangbanna .
If cold weather is not your thing, head south to the subtropical region of Xishuangbanna.
Nestled in the southernmost tip of Yunnan province, just between neighboring Myanmar and Laos, this region hosts a vibrant intermingling of cultures and landscapes. With average daily highs of 26 degrees Celsius in January, the forests and villages here are immune to the annual chill that is felt in the north. It’s no wonder Xishuangbanna was picked as Travel+Leisure’s 2012 Hottest Travel Destinations.
What better way to spend the winter than in the mountains and rainforests of Southeast Asia?
The winter months are the ideal time to visit this part of the world, as they mark the end of the wet season. Imagine finding your inner naturalist as you walk among the regional flora, keeping an ear out for the song of the elusive black-crested gibbon.
The home of peacocks, wild oxen and various primates, Xishuangbanna is also the only place in China that still has a wild Asian elephant population.
Xishuangbanna’s biodiversity is matched by an equally astounding cultural presence. Of more than a dozen different ethnic groups living here, the most prominent is the Dai population, which makes up nearly a third of the region’s one-million inhabitants.
Dai culture is markedly different from that of other Chinese populations. The language spoken here is more similar to that of the Thai, which draws heavily upon Theravada Buddhism and the indigenous practices that predate it. Both geographically and culturally, this is the one part of China that really belongs to Southeast Asia, and that feeling is impossible to miss.
If you are looking to get a taste of this unique cultural identity, your best bet is to take a trip into one of the many villages that dot this region. Here, you experience life as it has existed for centuries – something that is increasingly precious in a country that is rocketing into the 21st century. Visit the age old Buddhist pagodas, or step into a villager’s home for a cup of tea. This is, after all, the corner of the world where tea originated.
If you’d like more travel ideas or to join WildChina on a trip to China’s subtropical south, see our journey:
Pushing China’s Southern Boundary: Trekking in Xishuangbanna.
On the road in Xishuangbanna: Manfeilong Stupas.
Photo Credit: Chris Horton
November 8th, 2013
WildChina | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Sustainable Travel, WildChina Causes & Partnerships, WildChina Experts, WildChina Explorer Grant
adventure travel China sustainable travel China travel in China WildChina WildChina Explorer Grant WildChina travel WildChina Travel Tips Xishuangbanna Yunnan .
Bill Bleisch has been involved in environmental efforts in China and its neighboring countries for nearly two decades. One perennial focus of his work has been the way in which habitat loss stemming from patterns of resource management, industrial development, and environmental degradation has contributed to the rapidly declining state of wild gibbon populations. Once abundant throughout Southeast Asia, this family of apes has become critically endangered. Unfortunately, while much international attention has been given to other endangered animals, very limited resources have been mobilized in the effort to protect these primates from extinction.
In his efforts to spread awareness about the existence and peril of southern Yunnan’s black-crested gibbon, Bill Bleisch spent time exploring their remaining habitat in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan. In 2012, he received a WildChina Explorer Grant to continue this research in hopes of establishing a trekking route through the Ailaoshan mountain range.
Bleisch on the trail
How did you first become interested in China?
Like many American kids, I was first introduced to China through the food. My mother taught my sister and me to use chopsticks whenever we went to a Chinese restaurant. People in China ask me how I learned to use chopsticks and I explain that my mother taught me. Then I have to explain that she is not Chinese. Later, she took a Chinese cooking class and we used to go to the Oriental market and gawk at all the interesting delicacies. I had a collection of miniature figures from China – a fisherman, a nine-eaved padoda, an arched bridge, two scholars playing weiqi.
Later, when I was about 12, my father and I made a deal that I could stay home from Sunday school at church as long as I spent Sunday morning reading religious texts. I happily agreed. I read the Dao de Qing, the Analects of Confucius, Mencius, the Book of Changes, the Book of Songs,… I took a Chinese course one summer, but it was too difficult.
It was not until I finished graduate school that I had the chance to come to China. I received a grant from the Chinese Adventure Capital Fund, a fund managed by the Durfee Foundation and set up in honour of R. Stanton Avery, the inventor of the stick-on label, who had previously travelled in China in 1929 as a young man. His family wanted others to have the chance that he had had to see China first hand. I came to China in 1987, to survey gibbons in the Ailaoshan and Wuliangshan Nature Reserves.
Scouting a route along the ridge of the Ailaoshan range
What was the goal of your expedition in Yunnan’s Ailaoshan region?
My personal goal for these recent trips sponsored by WildChina, has been to bring something back to the Ailaoshan and its gibbons, 26 years after my first visit. I had the idea that a trekking trail through gibbon habitat could increase public interest and commitment to protecting the gibbons and reconnecting their forest habitat. The idea of a long trail in China came to me while my son and I were hiking the Appalachian Trail, which is a long trail along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. The AT, as it is known, was started by local hiking clubs, but is now a National Scenic Trail managed by the National Park Service. I know that there would be interest in such a trail in China if could be opened. So the goal of the four trips this year was to map out a stretch of trekking trail and start building local support for the idea of a long trail on the Ailao Mountain ridge.
What role does exploration play in spreading awareness about social and environmental issues?
I think exploration, at its best, has always been the key to building awareness of the world beyond our own everyday lives. European explorers brought back the news that China had an advanced civilization in the 13th century. Later, it was the explorers that convinced people that the world was round, not flat. In this century, opening people’s eyes to the environmental and social problems that exist in remote rural areas is one of the best things that exploration can do. That’s why a real explorer must also be a good story teller – either through written word, photographs or film.
Bill and his team blaze a trail through the forest
How would a new trekking trail contribute to the preservation of the black-crested gibbon’s habitat?
I have to tell you that this is controversial. There are those who are dead-set against opening any habit of endangered species to tourism. There is certainly good evidence that noisy tourists inside nature reserves scare wildlife away from heavily used tourist trails. That is why the Ailaoshan National Nature Reserve is still officially closed to tourism. (We work with the Xing Ping Provincial Ailaoshan Nature Reserve for now.) There is another view, however.
Nature reserves need support, both from local people and from the general public. The reserves have a hard time winning that support unless people have first hand experience of benefits. Trekking by well-informed hikers is a gentle form of tourism that can build that support. Just look at the passion with which people fought for the completion of the Pacific Crest Trail and its protection in the USA. Trekking can also provide direct benefits to local people in remote areas, something they do not see from big hotels or scenic hot-spots. Local people can sell food and supplies along the trail, or open a nongjiale-style hostel. Also, in provincial nature reserves, which have little funding, trekkers can serve as the eyes and ears of the nature reserve, reporting illegal hunting or logging that they find inside the reserve. Their very presence can be enough to scare off poachers. And experience in the USA has shown trekkers will fight to have protection extended beyond the boundaries of the nature reserves, many of which are too small and isolated from other natural forest.
But it can do more than that. The trekking movement also taps people’s desire to get bck to our roots, back to basics, back to the wildness. On a trek, you learn very quickly how to get along without many of the luxuries that we take for granted. If you don’t really need it, you don’t carry it. Eventually you ease into a new standard of comfort and start to find joy in the simple beauties along the way. Many even find a kind of spiritual fulfilment on a long trek. Tibetan pilgrims do these long walks regularly, Europeans called it the “pilgrim way,” native Americans called it a spirit walk. Perhaps in this is part of the antidote to the pointless conveyer belt of consumerism that is driving unsustainable development, global climate change, and senseless destruction of wildlife habitat.
The group rests by a cascade
What other efforts are being made to help these primates recover from the brink of extinction?
Many people deserve a great deal of credit for turning things around for primate conservation in China over the last 25 years. The State Forestry Administration and the Yunnan Provincial Forestry Bureau, and especially the staff on the ground – the nature reserve staff and also the poorly paid and poorly equipped forest guards (hulin yuan) – they are often the real heroes in primate conservation now. Field researchers, mainly Chinese scientists, have contributed a great deal. NGOs have also made a big contribution. They all work together now. For example, my friend Professor Jiang Xuelong and his students, with support from the China office of Fauna and Flora International, have worked with the nature reserves in Ailaoshan to carry out a complete census of the gibbons there and develop an action plan for gibbon conservation.
All of these efforts are adding up, but there is still more that needs to be done; to protect and restore the forest habitat, and to rebuild forest connections between isolated groups of gibbons, so they can find suitable mates and pair up to breed. Some of that work must be done outside of nature reserves, and that means that local people and local government must be more involved.
Western black crested gibbon (Photo Credit: Flora and Fauna International)
Have you been involved in any other conservation efforts outside of southwestern China?
WVB: I have had the great good fortune to work in over 25 nature reserves all over China, in Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou, Guangxi, Fujian, Hunan, Hubei, Hainan, Qinghai and Xinjiang. I have also worked in Vietnam, Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Malaysia at one time or another. I have been part of teams for conservation research on the Grey Golden Monkeys in Guizhou and the Tibetan Antelope in Xinjiang, but most of my work has been helping local nature reserve staff to develop their skills and to write their own management plans. That includes helping them to focus on the conservation problems that need the most attention.
What’s next? Do you have any upcoming adventures planned?
There are so many exciting things that need to be done, and I hope I have time for them all.
Right now I am on my way to Luang Namtha in Lao PDR were we have started a project designed to answer the question I posed above – is trekking tourism good for wildlife conservation, or does it just scare the animals away? I think it may help. Lao is a very poor country that cannot afford the kind of patrolling that China has, so tourist guides and trekkers may be the best defence the animals have there. The trekking companies provide payments to the villages, which should be an incentive to keep the forest intact. Most of the trekkers are from Europe or the USA. They are not usually so noisy and they do not ask if they can eat the animals that they see.
I will be back in Yunnan for the official launch of the Ailao Shan Trail in Xing Ping County on November 26 – December 1. Of course I want to hike the complete Ailaoshan Trail as soon as I am given the chance. And I want to see it extended, to Dali in the north, where it can connect with the Ancient Tea Horse Trail, and to the south along the spine of the same ridge, where there is more gibbon habitat, but where much forest needs to be restored. Those are Hani and Lahu minority areas, so very interesting culturally.
I want to be a part of mapping out the trail, and to hike as much as I can. Perhaps eventually the trail and the forest can stretch all the way from Dali to Feng Shui Lin Nature Reserve and the Vietnam border. Then China would have a National Scenic Trail to rival the famous long trails in the USA; the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. I may not live long enough to see the trail completed, but now I am sure it will happen.
Bleisch has been the Chinese program director for Flora and Fauna International, which works to protect some of the most endangered species in the world. He also spent time as the program director of The Bridge Fund, which works to improve the lives of Tibetan communities through their support of various educational, environmental, cultural, and economic initiatives. Now, as program director for the China Exploration and Research Society, he continues to promote the cultural and environmental protection China’s minority regions.
Don’t forget to apply to the 2014 WildChina Explorer Grant for the chance to win $3000 of funding for your own Chinese adventure!
November 8th, 2013
WildChina | Categories: Chinese Culture, Exclusive Access China, Luxury China Travel, On the Road, WildChina Travel Tips
adventure travel China China China in winter China travel shanghai travel in China travel to China WildChina WildChina travel WildChina Travel Tips .
Ring in the New Year… Shanghai style
Looking for an exciting way to bring in the New Year? While thousands of people are huddled like penguins in the streets of Times Square, you could be singing Auld Lang Syne in Shanghai’s historic Bund district. Though the traditional Chinese New Year does not fall on December 31, Shanghai’s vibrant international community comes out in full force to ring in the end of the annum. As one of the fastest growing cultural and financial centers in the world, Shanghai has cultivated an amazing nightlife. The only challenge this presents is choosing from the multitude of options. Join the party at one of Shanghai’s world-class nightclubs or watch the fireworks and laser show over Pudong’s iconic skyline… depending on where you end up, you could do both at once.
If you are looking for a more traditional way to “ring in the New Year”, make your way to the Longhua Temple located in the city’s southwest. Every year, to celebrate both Western and Chinese New Year, Shanghai’s natives come to the 1,800 year old temple to ring the 3,3000kg Buddhist Bell. Only the first 108 people to make reservations for the event will have a chance to ring the bell though, so plan ahead if you’re set on it. Otherwise, come for the folk performances, fireworks, and lion dances that make this event so spectacular.
Shanghai’s Celebrated Yu Garden
If you are in town for the Chinese New Year there are many ways to join the festivities. Fill up on some traditional holiday dumplings and tangyuan, which are said to bring wealth and prosperity into one’s life, or pay a visit to the 600 year old City God Temple near Yu Garden, where locals come to pay for a successful new year. Just be sure not to miss the Chinese lantern festival, which falls on February 14th this year, and is marked by colorful parades and astounding light shows, both traditional and modern. One of the best places to get a sense of traditional techniques and festivities is the Yu Yuan Old Town Bazaar, where conventional lanterns dominate the celebrations.
If you’re interested in a making a winter escape to Shanghai, click here to find out about WildChina’s winter tour of this world-class city.