For years, I daydreamed about scaling the Great Wall of China and visiting the remarkable Terracotta Army excavation site. That dream finally came to fruition once I completed my 12-day "Focus of China" tour. It was everything I had hoped it would be with the exception of my geriatric knees, which thwarted my Great Wall climbing efforts. No biggie. My aging joints can no longer handle steep inclines, but I persevered (mounted the cable car, then trekked through a small section of this World Wonder) despite the physical limitations.
Setbacks aside, I can't stop beaming after returning from one of my best trips ever. China has now catapulted to #2 on my top 5 countries list. My current passport holds well over 90 stamps, so I didn't make this recent designation lightly. Can you guess which country holds the #1 spot? I suspect that China may soon overtake Italy as my favorite since I experienced multiple wow moments via bus, train, and boat. Yup, still gushing.
There were so many noteworthy events that I brainstormed ways to distill 12 days of action-packed cultural activity into a single blog wrap-up. It's impossible to do so in one fell swoop unless I write page after page of historical tidbits and suggestions. If this recap turned into a novel, I would likely lose my audience, so I will spare you the lengthy play by play.
Instead, I chose a handful of photo highlights to illustrate China's fascinating culture and
landscape. I am an amateur photographer at best, but I believe these fifteen snapshots
successfully captured my newfound love affair with this colorful country. #IheartChina
Temple of Heaven - Beijing
I was instantly drawn to this multi-tiered structure, which pays homage to heaven and earth throughout the entire circumference. Emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties visited this Hall of Prayer (made entirely out of wood) twice a year to request bountiful harvests. Did you notice any nails connecting the numerous panels? Trick question since there are none.
Forbidden City - Beijing
I have a fascination with doors, especially those with embellishments such as these golden knobs protruding from a towering imperial gate. I could have featured intricate buildings or imperial sculptures, but felt these gates best represent the Forbidden City's namesake since all were forbidden to enter or exit through them without the Emperor's permission.
The Great Wall - Beijing
There are 1.4 billion people currently living in China, and our tour guide joked that all of them would be at Badaling, the most highly-trafficked (and best preserved) section of this 21,600 km wall. These 2 shots took my breath away as much as the steep ascent did. Worth every knee-buckling step to capture this once in a lifetime moment.
Summer Palace - Beijing
UNESCO World Heritage dubbed the Summer Palace as "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape and garden design." Our tour group traversed just a small fraction of this vast recreational park consisting of halls, bridges, pavilions, gardens, and lakes.
Photo selection includes the Tower of Buddhist Incense nestled atop Longevity Hill and one of the many bridges along the entire 2.9 square kilometer plot.
Terracotta Warriors - X'ian
My jaw instantly dropped as I entered Pit #1, which housed roughly 6,000 life-sized Terracotta soldiers that were originally buried with China's first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. I traveled thousands of miles from San Francisco and took a 4.5 hour bullet train from Beijing to see what I would arguably call the greatest archaeological discovery of all time.
The Yangtze River
Cruising down the 3rd largest river in the world was a trip-defining moment. For 3 days, we meandered down the picturesque Yangtze on board the Sinorama Gold 8, one of China's 5-star fleets. Imagine waking up to gorgeous terrain from either my personal balcony or any one of our disembarkation points. From bridges to gorges, these four photos capture Asia's stunning topography.
Tribe of the Three Gorges
It was a spectacular experience photographing the most unsullied spot along the entire Yangtze River. Located within the Xiling Gorge, the Tribe of the Three Gorges features caves, waterfalls, monkeys, fishing boats, and most importantly, a local tribe representing the ancient Ba and Chu cultures.
The first 2 photos showcase the Tujia people, where one native plays the flute and the other waits to be courted.
Han Show - Wuhan
Dubbed the "Best Show in Asia", the Han Show is replete with death-defying acrobatics and true artistic showmanship.
Han is an unexpected treat since it trumps all theatrical performances (Cirque du Soleil included) I have personally seen in my lifetime. It's a spectacular exhibition from a sight, sound, and motion perspective, especially scenes involving a massive diving pool.
Here's a brief 7-second preview of what to expect during the hour long exhibition.
Someone recently told me that my "love for travel and photography come through in each of my photos". With that in mind, I let my China snapshots speak for themselves in lieu of a lengthy trip summary.
As mentioned above, China is one of my top travel destinations of all time. Securing a 10-year tourist visa was a wise choice since I will likely book multiple trips to other parts of China, including Shanghai. If future visits were as exceptional as this one, China will definitely overtake Italy for that #1 spot.
This blog would not be complete without a special call out to my highly knowledgable tour guide, Adam Hu, and Sinorama Holidays*. I'm not a tour group aficionado, but this is one of those rare exceptions, where I highly recommend using them for your upcoming China trip. If you don't want to worry about trip details (e.g. meals, hotel bookings, show/site tickets), then
click here to view my fabulous itinerary, which included visits to Tiananmen Square,
Shibaozhai Pagoda, Chonging, Jingzhou, and Panda Sanctuary.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”