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China travel - attractions

Things to See and Do ••
China travel, activities and attractions

Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) starts on the first day of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in February. Although officially lasting only three days, many people take a week off. Ear plugs are handy at this time to dull the firecracker assaults, and prices of hotel rooms tend to go through the roof. The Lantern Festival isn't a public holiday, but it's big and it's colourful. It falls on the 15th day of the 1st moon (around mid-Feb to mid-March) and marks the end of the new-year celebrations. The famous lion dances occur throughout this period. Tomb Sweeping Day is in April, and sees Chinese families spend the day tending the graves of departed loved ones. Hong Kong hosts one of the liveliest annual Chinese celebrations - the Dragon Boat Festival. Usually held in June, the festival honours the poet Qu Yuan and features races between teams in long ornate canoes. Many Westerners take part in the races, but plenty of practice is needed to get all the paddles working as one.

Special prayers are held at Buddhist and Taoist temples on full-moon and sliver-moon days. Temple and moon-based festivities include Guanyin's Birthday (late March to late April), Mazu's Birthday (May or June), Water-Splashing Festival (13-15 April), Ghost Month (late August to late September), Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (October) and the Birthday of Confucius (28 September).

Beijing
If your visions of Beijing are centred around pods of Maoist revolutionaries in buttoned-down tunics performing t'ai chi in the Square, put them to rest: this city has embarked on a new-millennium roller-coaster ride and it's taking the rest of China with it.

The spinsterish Beijing of old is having a facelift and the cityscape is changing daily. Within the city, however, you'll still find some of China's most stunning sights: the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven Park, the Lama Temple and the Great Wall, to name just a few.

Macau
Macau may be firmly back in China's orbit, but the Portuguese patina on this Sino-Lusitanian Las Vegas makes it a most unusual Asian destination. It has always been overshadowed by its glitzy near-neighbour Hong Kong - which is precisely why it's so attractive.

Macau's dual cultural heritage is a boon for travellers, who can take their pick from traditional Chinese temples, a spectacular ruined cathedral, pastel villas, old forts and islands that once harboured pirates. A slew of musuems will tell you how it all came about.

Shanghai
Although the lights have been out for quite some time, Shanghai once beguiled foreigners with its seductive mix of tradition and sophistication. Now Shanghai is reawakening and dusting off its party shoes for another silken tango with the wider world.

In many ways, Shanghai is a Western invention. The Bund, its riverside area, and Frenchtown are the best places to see the remnants of its decadent colonial past. Move on to temples, gardens, bazaars and the striking architecture of the new Shanghai.

Xi'an
Xi'an was once a major crossroads on the trading routes from eastern China to central Asia, and vied with Rome and later Constantinople for the title of greatest city in the world. Today Xi'an is one of China's major drawcards, largely because of the Army of Terracotta Warriors on the city's eastern outskirts. Uncovered in 1974, over 10,000 figures have been sorted to date. Soldiers, archers (armed with real weapons) and chariots stand in battle formation in underground vaults looking as fierce and war-like as pottery can. Xi'an's other attractions include the old city walls, the Muslim quarter and the Banpo Neolithic Village - a tacky re-creation of the Stone Age. By train, Xi'an is a 16 hour journey from Beijing. If you've got a bit of cash to spare, you can get a flight.

 
     

 

 

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