Preparing a trip to China is no easy feat. The country is roughly the same size as the United States, and, for many of us, it is a much less familiar place. It stretches from the Himalayas to sprawling coastal cities, from the Gobi Desert to subtropical jungle. Where do you begin?
Explore Shanghai’s historic waterfront, the Bund, with this great new audio walking tour. The tour covers the recently restored “Back Bund” area, as well as providing in-depth background on iconic sights such as the Customs House and Peace Hotel. Make sure to upload it to your mp3 player (it’s free) before your next visit to Shanghai.
A note on the map – use this one and not the one on the BBC website, which is incorrect.
There are lots of opportunities to go hiking in China, but what if you won’t be straying far from Shanghai and need a little downtime after the push and pull of the city’s megacrowds? Well, if you can pencil in two free days, hiking the rolling countryside around Wuyuan County is doable. Here’s how.
With a catchy name like Dragon-Tiger Mountain (龙虎山), you would expect a historical Daoist site like Longhu Shan to be pretty popular. This is, after all, where the nonbeliever Marshal Hong (“you Daoists are always making up stories to make a penny off the common folk”) accidentally set free the 108 demons in the 14th-century classic Outlaws of the Marsh. This is also where the founder of religious Daoism (Zhang Daoling) is said to have attained the Dao in the 2nd century CE. Those are pretty major cultural markers, even if you don’t care a whit about Chinese history.
When I first visited Shanghai 15 years ago, I was not impressed. It was, in fact, my least favorite part of China. As one friend said, aptly summing up the sentiments of many foreign students at the time, “Shanghai can eat my shorts.”
But since then, things have improved exponentially. I sympathize with those who protest the destruction of many old neighborhoods in China, although the loss of old buildings is not nearly as tragic as the loss of a community way of life. But when you compare Shanghai in the mid-1990s – a soulless, gray industrial town – with what it has become today – a city with a heartbeat and a future – there is little doubt that it’s headed in the right direction. That said, as a guidebook author, I can never get over how fast things change…
Thinking about heading to the Expo? You’ve probably heard by now that some of the lines are really, really long. If you want to make the most of your time and avoid the waits, here are ten pavilions you shouldn’t miss. (Sampled on a Wednesday afternoon and Sunday night.) For more Expo tips, click here.
1. Most Monumental In terms of sheer size and grandiosity, China can’t be beat. The building is stunning from any angle, though don’t get your hopes up if you want to go inside. Entry is by special invitation only, handed out to the first couple thousand visitors daily. I was advised to start queuing at 6am if I wanted to get a ticket. Admire it from the outside.
Planning on going to the World Expo in Shanghai? These battle-tested tips will help you avoid sensory overload and make the most of a visit.
Taking your iGadget to China with you? Here are five must-have apps that work offline.
1. Pleco Dictionary (free)
Although having a Chinese-English dictionary on your phone does not seem like it would be much use for non-Mandarin speakers, trust me, this thing is amazing. In Beijing or Shanghai you can get by using only English, but once you’re off in the provinces making pointless hand gestures every five seconds, that’s when Pleco will come in handy. Look up words in English, pinyin (Mandarin transliteration) or by stroke order (I’ve yet to come across a character it doesn’t recognise). For an extra USD14.99 ($11.99 for students) you can get the full-screen handwriting add-on, which can identify and define characters written on the screen. If you’ve ever had a Chinese person try to communicate with you by tracing invisible characters on the palm of his or her hand, you will know just how useful this feature is.
Imagine a four-kilometer section of hiking trail that’s built into a sheer rock face and looks out onto a forest of strange granite spires and a gorgeous canopy sprinkled with white rhododendron blooms. This is only one of the inspiring walks you can do at Sanqing Mountain (三清山), perhaps one of the most underrated national parks in eastern China. It’s underrated not just because of the unique scenery, but also because it is relatively unknown and less crowded than other Chinese mountains.
A taste of Sanqing Shan, in eastern Jiangxi, China. There’s a definite similarity with Huang Shan, although there are far fewer visitors (especially considering that I was there over the weekend), and it has a Taoist legacy. It’s not in the previous Lonely Planet China guide, but I can assure you it will be in the next one!