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
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).
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 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.
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
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 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.