Photographs from China (2005).

These 13 galleries and one slide-show presentation are the selected photographs from my trip to China in 2005.

For my first visit to China I decided to visit places that represent the very core of the Chinese culture and society; Beijing and the Great Wall, Taishan Mountain, Xi'an and the Army of Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai (and Huangzhou). During that trip I took around 600 pictures - approximately 400 of them you can see in these galleries. I tried to comment on each of the pictures and provide useful information for the future travellers.

The next gallery page (which is not ready yet) will be even more interesting. I will use the material from my second trip to China in April and May of 2007. I took almost 3000 pictures during those 39 days.

The second time I chose very "touristy" places: I flew to Shanghai, continued to Chongqing the same day, visited Dazu near Chonqing, continued to Guiyang and visited Huangguoshu (the biggest waterfall in China) and Longgong Cave. From Guiyang I flew to Kunming and visited the Stone Forest. From there I continued to Guilin (by air) and visited Yangshuo, Guilin and the Terraced Hills near Ping'an village. From Guilin I flew to Wuhan and continued to Wudangshan mountain by train. After five-six days I returned to Wuhan from Wudangshan and continued to Huangshan (by bus) and after Huangshan ended the trip in Shanghai (I took an overnight train to Shanghai).

You can see the preview of the second trip in this slide-show presentation. I put around 80 pictures and some music in it (so the file is around 25Mb).

For more photo and video material check out Bulletin Board. Please post links to interesting (China related) photographs or share your own photo/video material with other travelers. (At the bulletin board you can also find the list of web site where you can upload (for free) your pictures and video files!).

Běijīng 北京 - flight from Vancouver to Beijing

In September of 2005, when I visited China for the first time, I flew from Vancouver (Canada) to Beijing, continued to Taishan (Tai'an) by train, from there took train to Xi'an (to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors), from Xi'an I flew to Shanghai and from Shanghai returned to Vancouver after almost one month in China.

Probably you have noticed I arrived in Beijing and departed from Shanghai - that was possible with Air Canada in 2005. You should consider the same "trick" because you will save time and money if you don't have to return to the same city where you landed.

It is 9-10 hours flight from the Pacific coast of Canada or the US; the ticket was $1075 in 2005.

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Běijīng 北京 - around the city

Beijing means "Northern Capital" (another city in China is called Nanjing which means "Southern Capital" while Tokyo is called Dongjing - "Eastern Capital" in Chinese. There is no word for "Western capital" but it is worth mentioning that West (as a cardinal point) was often associated with the end of life in the Chinese literature ). Before pinyin was adopted as the standard of transliteration in China Beijing was known as Peking.

Beijing is the first city in every China travel-guide book, with a good reason. If you decide to visit China only one time and you don't have more than two weeks on disposal than the most logical choice would be a visit to Beijing. Not only because Beijing is the political and cultural heart of China but also because Beijing is the city where you can see what is left of the Chinese glorious past (like the Forbidden City, for example) mixed with the modern in different stages of the transition. Another reason for the visit to Beijing is the Great Wall of China; if you want to see the Great Wall you will have to fly into Beijing.

Beijing is a huge city; Tian An Men Square is huge, streets are huge, don't be fooled by the map; if it takes 15 minutes to walk from point A to point B in any other city in China it will take 30 minutes in Beijing.

Here is the list of best hostels and guesthouses in Beijing.

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Běijīng 北京 - in the Forbidden City (Zǐjìn Chéng 紫禁城)

Gugong or Imperial Palace is better known as the Forbidden City because 24 emperors (of the Ming and Qing dynasties) during the course of 500 years used to live here while ordinary citizens were not allowed even to come close to the walls of the palace.

This best preserved complex of ancient buildings in China is comprised of eight hundred buildings and nine thousands chambers. The palace's buildings lie on the north-south axis (as practically all other buildings in Beijing).

The foundations of the Forbidden City were laid earlier, during the Mongol dynasty, by Kublai Khan however the plan of the palace buildings was done during the Ming dynasty (most of the buildings were built during the rule of the Emperor Yongle who moved the capital back to Beijing in 1403).

Chinese name for their country is Zhong Guo (Middle Kingdom), Beijing was the centre of that universe and the Forbidden City the very heart of it.

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Běijīng 北京 - in the Forbidden City (Part 2)

When you enter the Forbidden City from the south these are the main points along the way:

The Meridian Gate (Wumen) which was restored in the 17th century and originally was used only by the emperor. Then you will cross the Golden Stream over one of the five marble bridges and reach the Supreme Harmony Gate. Raised above the ground level are the Three Great Halls, which are the heart of the Forbidden city: The Hall of Supreme Harmony (the most important and the largest hall in the palace) with it's Dragon throne where the emperor used to preside, behind is the Hall of Middle Harmony (served as a rehearsal lounge for the Emperor) and the third hall (which doesn't have support pillars) is the Hall of Preserving Harmony which was used for banquets and later for imperial examinations.

The next group of buildings is not as impressive but they were the source of real power in the Forbidden city: the first building is the Palace of Heavenly Purity (the residence of Ming and early Qing emperors), the Hall of Union (the empress's throne room) and Imperial Garden (7000 square meter). The Divine Military Genius Gate is the northern gate of the Forbidden City.

Also check out the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunning Gong) where the emperor and empress traditionally spent their wedding night. This building always attracts a lot of visitors.

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Běijīng 北京 - Temple of Heaven (Tiāntán Gōngyuán 天坛公园)

Temple of Heaven Park is not far from Tian An Men Square; no more than 20-30 min walk.

Temple of Heaven Park is an area of 267 hectares with four gates at each of the four cardinal points. Original purpose of the park was to serve as a huge stage for solemn rites performed by the Emperor (Emperor was called the Son of Heaven, in old China it was common understanding the Emperors get "the mandate" from Heaven). This was the place where the Emperors prayed for good harvests (which would save their subjects from starvation and ensure peace in the empire) and atonements for the sins of the people.

Architecturally, the Temple of Heaven Park was designed with the symbolism of the two geometrical forms in mind: circle (symbolizing the heaven) and square (symbolizing the earth). Traditionally the entrance to the temple was from the south.

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The Great Wall of China (Jīnshānlǐng chángchéng 金山岭长城)

Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is located around 100km northeast of Beijing. It is more than likely that you will be able to sign up for a tour to the Wall at your hostel. Most of the time the admission fee is included in the price of the ticket but it is a good idea to have a couple of hundreds of yuan in cash just in case. Bring some water with you (on the wall you will pay 5-6 time more) and supply of sugary food because you will need all the energy you can get. The stretch of the wall between Jinshanling and Simatai is only around 10km long but remember it's 10km up and down the mountain peaks.

Jinshanling and Simatai are probably the most unspoilt parts of the Great Wall. Even though Simatai has a cable car and a toboggan ride still Simatai is more demanding than Jinshanling. If you are in average shape I would suggest you hike Jinshanling, not Simatai. There is a hotel next to the entrance gate so you can spend a night there which will give you a chance to enjoy the wall for more than 4-5 hours which is the average time that you get if you come with an organize tour.

The Great Wall was one of the most spectacular scenes I have seen in China so far so I decided to make a different kind of slide show for it. I picked around 70 pictures and added some music and created a 9 minutes slide-show that you can play on your computer. The size of the file is around 19Mb.

Běijīng 北京 - leaving the city

I got impression 10 days in Beijing was a minimum to see only the main tourist spots in and around Beijing. I was not able to spend 10 days so I left after 5 days, filled with strong impressions and hope to return one day and see what I was not able to see the first time around.

Beijing has two main train stations: The central Train Station (Beijing Zhan), just south of Dongchang'an Jie (at Chaoyangmen Nanda Jie) and this is where trains from destinations north and east of Beijing arrive. Left luggage office is in the waiting room for foreigners; lockers are around Y10/day depending on size. These are often full so you can also look for the main left-luggage office at the east side of the station (open daily from 5am to midnight, Y5/day).

The second train station is called Xi Zhan (West Train Station) and it serves travellers from the south and west of Beijing. Xi Zhan is ten times the size of Beijing Zhan and it is Asia's largest train terminal and the head of the Beijing-Kowloon rail line(the left-luggage office at Xi Zhan (West Train Station) is on the second floor (Y5/hour). Bus #122 runs between Beijing Zhan and Xi Zhan.

Yes, there is Beijing North (Xizhimen Zhan) and Beijing South (Yongdingmen Zhan) train station, and a few other train station but you are not very likely to use those unless you are using local trains (for example train to the Great Wall at Badaling or Shidu).

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T i Shān 泰山 - arriving in T i’Ān 泰安

Taishan in Shandong Province (Shāndōng 山东, "mountain east") is most revered among the five sacred Daoist mountains in China. In order to get to Taishan you will have to go to Tai'an first. Tai'an is a city of approx. 800 000 people which lies at the foot of Taishan mountain and it has been the gateway to the mountain for the past over 2000 years.

Since the nearest large airport is in Ji'nan (Jǐ’nán 济南) 100km north of Tai'an, chances are you will arrive in Tai'an on the train or bus (there are four long-distance bus stations in Tai'an).

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T i Shān 泰山 - arriving in T i’Ān 泰安 (Part 2)

The first recorded temple on Taishan was built in 351 BC. The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang in the 3rd century BC was one of the first pilgrims who visited this holly mountain. Hundreds of thousands have climbed the mountain after him; by the time of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) more than 200 000 annually made the trek to the top of Tai'shan. Over 500 000 pilgrims come to Tai'an every year at this time (2007).

Some say this is the most climbed mountain in the world. You will witness that for yourself - unceasing stream of pilgrims connects the top of the mountain with the city of Tai'an 24/7 practically every day of the year. Virtually all the pilgrims are the Chinese; very few westerners know about this mountain (2007).

Dai Temple (D i Mi o 岱庙) is the main tourist sight in Tai'an. Dai Temple has traditionally been the starting point for the procession up Taishan, where the emperors made sacrifices to the god of Taishan. The Central (or Eastern) route begins just behind the temple.

If you are not interested in visiting this temple you can go to the beginning of the Eastern Route straight from the train station (just leave any extra luggage at the train station, you will be happy you did it!). You can take bus # 3 from the bus station next to the train station (no more than 100m to the right, when you face the entrance to the train station). Otherwise you can take taxi for Y5-Y10 which will take you to the starting point of either Eastern (Central) Route or Western Route.

Eastern Route (Trail) is busier, paved and used by pilgrims who actually walk/hike their way to the top. Western Route is less popular and it is used by those who would rather take a bus to the Mid-point (Zhong Tian Men, Midway Gate to Heaven) and after that they can either walk to the top or take a cable car.

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T i Shān 泰山 - Climbing Taishan

If you choose Eastern Route (and most people do) your ascent of Taishan will begin from a stone arch called Daizhong Feng, not far from Dai Temple. Further up along Hongmen Lu, past Guandi Temple (Guāndì Mi o, Daoist God of War Temple, Admission free) you will reach the First Gate of Heaven (Yī Tiān Mén), stone arch which marks the official beginning of the Pilgrim's Road (P n Lù).

After that you will pass through a Ming arch where, according to the legend, Confucius began his climb. The next comes the Hongmen Gong (Red Gate Palace) where emperors used to change into more comfortable clothes before they continued the ascent (you will only have to buy your ticket here, there is no need to get changed :).

From here to the top there are over 250 temples and monuments (it's only 8km/5miles long trail) and practically every rock and stream has a poetic name associated with the Chinese history one way or another.

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T i Shān 泰山 - descending the mountain

I stayed three nights at the guesthouse at Midway Gate to Heaven. In 2005 that was the least expensive option, plus I really enjoyed the fresh Taishan air and the sounds coming from Daoist temples and the chatter of the pilgrims passing by. In theory, you can climb Taishan in one day and leave Tai'an the same day in the evening/night. The reality is a bit different. First of all it's hard to get train tickets for the departure the following day from Tai'an so it is very likely you will have to stay in Tai'an or on Taishan at least two days. The next thing is that the first 5km of the Eastern Trail, from the beginning to the Midway Gate to Heaven, can be hiked in haste in just 2-3 hours, however why would you zip by so many interesting spots? It is more than likely you will visit Taishan only once in your lifetime, why not make the most of it...

The second half of the trail (from Midway Gate to Heaven to the summit) is shorter (3km) but much steeper (imagine climbing stairs in a building for 3 hours). If you climb the whole trail from the bottom to the top you will be pretty tired so in my opinion it's better to take some extra time and enjoy the scenery and put less strain on your body.

If you climb Taishan from the bottom up and feel you had enough of hiking for quite some time you can take a cable car back to the Mid-pint and from there take a bus along the Western Trail which will drop you off at the beginning of the Western Trail. From there you can either walk to the city (15-20 minutes to the train station) or take taxi (Y5 in 2005). I was walking the Western Route because I wanted to see the White Dragon Pool and Black Dragon Pool. If you want to see what I saw click on the icon and walk down the mountain with me...

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Xī’ān 西安 - home of the Army of Terracotta Warriors

This city of 7 million people was once in the same rank with Rome and Constantinople. Xi'an is in Shaanxi (Shǎnxī 陕西) province which was the homeland of Zhou (Zhōu 周) people who conquered the Shang (those of you who know the history of the Yi Jing will understand the significance of that event) and also homeland of the Qin which was the first dynasty which ruled over unified China. Word "Chinese" comes from the name of Qin Dynasty. First Chinese emperor was called Qin Shi Huang (that was not his real name) and the capital of Qin Dynasty was in Xiányáng which was near present day Xi'an.

This part of China was the political heart of the country until the 9th century; during Tang and Sui dynasties Xī’ān (at that time known as Chāng’ān) was the capital city. This was the starting point of the Silk Road which connected China with western Asia (and practically with the rest of the world).

Heritage of over two thousand years of Chinese history can be witnessed in and around Xi'an; Army of Terracotta Warriors is probably the most famous tourist attraction however there are many other things and places to see in Xi'an or in the close proximity to the city.

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Xī’ān 西安 - visiting the Army of Terracotta Warriors

For the average westerner Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall and the Forbidden City are probably the only three things that they associate with China, mostly based on the information from the media. Of course there is much more than that but definitely those three sites should be on your itinerary if you decide visit China only once.

Army of Terracotta Warriors (Bīngmǎyǒng, 兵马俑, "soldier(s) horse(s) tomb figurine") is basically the after-life army of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang who started construction of his tomb practically when he was a teenager, in the 3rd century BC. He lived and reigned in Xi'an so he decided that his burial site be in the vicinity of that city too. His tomb is covered with a 38m high grassy mound which is just 30 min away from the hangars where you can see the Army of Terracotta Warriors.

The drought of 1974 forced the local peasants to look for additional supplies of water so they dug a well and discovered what is now known as Pit (or Vault) number one; you can see 6000 (of the 8000 soldiers and horses) in Pit #1. There are two other vaults that you can see (and the forth one which you can not see). Click on the icon above to start your journey through the ages...

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Sh nghǎi 上海 - the 21st century China

If you are interested in Chinese long and rich history - go to Beijing or Xi'an; if you want to see the future of Chinese society, then which could be a better place to visit than Shanghai!

With its population of over 16 million (and growing) Shanghai is a pulsating metropolis that other cities and regions in China look up to.

Ever since it mounted the dragon of newly acquired economic freedoms this maga-city has been changing it face as never before. Unprecedented influx of investments is obvious at every corner. What Shanghai lacks, perhaps, is the environment of a truely international city, where different cultures and ideas intersect and spark creative lights. As it is now (2007), many would describe it as a Sino-tistic giant with more interest in the bottom-line than the world beyond the city gates.

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