Located in the southeast of China, Jiangxi province spans the banks of the Yangtze river in the north into hillier areas in the south. For the world traveller, this is a perfect place to visit in China, as most foreigners in China visit other, better known provinces. During our visit, this ‘road less travelled’ offered us less of the crowds that are found in the other popular Chinese destinations.
Here we visited ancient villages, climbed mountains, feasted on wonderful cuisine, partook in tea ceremonies and witnessed the once-a-year blooming of the very colorful rapeseed flower fields.
Located to the northeast of Shangrao City, Mount Sanqingshan was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List on July 6th, 2008. Considered a “treasure of the world”, this would prove to be an amazing place to visit on our first day.
The views from the top of the mountain are breathtaking, but to experience them, the trip up the mountain is long, but not overwhelming.
We had to take a gondola to get part of the way up, a ride that provided lovely panoramic views, and that was followed by hours of climbing.
Even though the hiking was on paved steps and paths, and was easy for just about anyone to accomplish, the long walk made our thighs burn with effort and pain. Luckily, we had lunch at a wonderful restaurant. Here we were treated to a spicy douchi (fermented black beans) and tofu (beancurd) stir fry which offered us a delicious and relaxing break from the first trail we did, and gave us energy for the second longer, though less demanding, trail that afternoon.
All around was pure nature, a good thing since China is so populated and land is so over used. An amazing place and great photo ops all round!
Foreign visitors per year: 3.94 million
Languages: official Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese; unofficial Cantonese, Patua
Major industries: gaming, tourism
Unit of currency: Macau pataca (MOP$), Hong Kong dollar (HK$)
Cost index: hotel per night MOP$1500 (US$188), Portuguese dinner for two incl. wine MOP$800 (US$100), taxi from Macau Peninsula to Cotai Strip MOP$150 (US$18.80), ticket to a show MOP$1000 (US$125).
Macau has grown out of its rep as a Las Vegas knock-off and into a mélange of new world glamour and old world grit. With six times more revenue from gaming than Las Vegas, Macau has seen a huge boom in recent years. Nouveau riche mainland Chinese have begun to flock here to enjoy the buzz of China’s gambling hub.
But the casino culture belies Macau’s true charms. Its Portuguese heritage has created a fusion cuisine that combines European, African, Indian and Chinese elements. And where else in the world can you make an incense offering at an ancient Chinese Buddhist temple in the morning, take the world’s highest bungee jump in the afternoon, have a Michelin-starred meal in the evening topped off with a bottle of Portuguese vino, don your finest for a glitzy show and then pull up a plastic stool for some Chinese street food as a midnight snack?
With a spiffy new light rail system connecting the peninsula and islands in the works, as well as major hotel brands like Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott arriving and a slew of new glam casinos under construction, gambling in Macau will become even more tempting. And the completion of the world’s longest sea bridge between Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China means it’ll be easier than ever to get here.
During the A-Ma Festival, celebrate the Taoist goddess who gave Macau its name (`A-Ma gao’ means A-Ma Bay) on 11 May with offerings at her namesake temple and performances of Chinese opera.
As its name would suggest, Macau’s rowdiest to-do is the Drunken Dragon Festival on 20 June, when inebriated fishermen parade through the streets waving wooden dragons.
Stretching for an unbelievable five weeks throughout September and October, teams from around the world descend on Macau for the World Cup of pyrotechnic arts, the Macau International Fireworks Competition.
In November, the Macau Grand Prix sees champion motorcycle and race-car drivers take to the peninsula’s Guia Circuit, culminating in the Formula 3 Grand Prix race.
Exploring the back streets of Macau’s Unesco World Heritage old town – a mix of Portuguese and Chinese architecture found nowhere else on earth. Sampling the delights of Macanese cuisine, which mixes elements of Portuguese, African and Chinese food – think prawn, chorizo and olive-laden ‘Portuguese fried rice’. Thrill-seekers shouldn’t leave without a leap off the world’s highest commercial bungee platform or a cool stroll around the 233-metre-high Skywalk at Macau Tower.
Space-limited Macau is expanding at an incredible rate, with the Cotai Strip landfill having closed the formerly aquatic gap between Taipa and Coloane and more reclaimed land surfacing by the day. Real-estate prices are soaring, but pressure remains on local businesses to maintain Macau’s historic (read: low-rise) architecture. Added to that are ongoing discussions about the democratic process in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the region’s handover from Portuguese to Chinese sovereignty.
Macau is the world’s most densely populated territory, with more than 21,000 people per square kilometre.
At 980,000m2, the Venetian Macau is the world’s largest casino.
According to the CIA, Macau has the second highest life expectancy in the world at 84.41 years.
Code-switching is a common fact of life in Macau. On any visit, you’re likely to hear a local changing seamlessly from Cantonese to Portuguese, English and Mandarin, though you’ll be lucky to hear the local creole, an endangered language known as Pattuá .
With such a mix of influences on its cuisine, the food itself is a reason to visit Macau. Portuguese fried rice, African chicken and charcoal roasted seafood are staple dishes. Another local speciality is the Macanese egg tart – not unlike a Portuguese pastel de nata, but made with less sugar to suit local Chinese tastes. Cantonese cooking is also excellent here, from gourmet dim sum to late night chetomian from street stalls. And the sweet lack of import tax also means a gorgeous bottle of Douro wine is a no-brainer at most meals.
The golden facade of the Grand Lisboa casino, with its surreal pointed leaves designed to look like a lotus flower, dominates Macau’s skyline. And these days, dozens of cranes surround Macau, dredging sand and soil in the middle of the sea to form reclaimed land plots.
STAY: Sign up for a slice of Asian kitsch (fake antiques and gold, topped off with friendly service) by booking into central The Luxe Manor.
DO: While away an afternoon at Yuen Po Street Bird Garden and Flower Market. Here, locals take their caged birds for a walk, stopping to feed them crickets with chopsticks.
EAT: For unbeatable Chinese food, such as chilli lobster and grilled pork ribs with fennel seed, matched only by unbeatable views of the HK skyline, head straight to Hutong.
DRINK: On the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, Ozone declares itself the highest bar in the world. Enjoy the views at sunset, with inventive cocktails such as Dragontini, combining vodka, raspberry, yuzu and basil.
STAY: Marble bathrooms, high-gloss interiors and floor-to-ceiling windows are the hallmarks of swish The Jervois in Sheung Wan.
DO: A Wednesday night at the races at Happy Valley Racecourse is a quintessential HK experience, as much about drinking, eating and enjoying the crowds as it is about the gee-gees.
EAT: Lin Heung is a dim-sum house of the old order, with food, such as lotus paste buns, wheeled around on carts by tunicked waiters.
DRINK: It’s all about the cocktails at moodily-lit Quinary. The Six-Months Barrel-Aged Manhattan and Earl Grey Caviar Martini are the stuff of legend.
Whether you land on the rooftop helipad or glide up in one of the hotel’s Rolls-Royce Phantoms, any arrival here will always involve a delicious sense of theatre. Opened in 1928, and transmogrified in 1994 with the addition of a 30-storey tower, this grandest of Asian dames is a triumphant marriage of old and new.
The 300 rooms and suites were given a vigorous makeover in 2013, shifting the interiors to pared-down Oriental chic while upping the technology. But glorious as the nail dryer, free international-call phone and bedside tablet fluent in 11 languages may be, The Pen’s killer appeal is traditional service. Chief concierge Echo Zhu is a Beijing-born, 21st-century, female Jeeves; sommelier Dheeraj Bhatia is on first-name terms with the cellar’s 1,000-plus labels.
And who could be left unmoved by the pillar-box-hatted pages’ cheery salutations as they swing open the main doors? Otherwise, the spa and Roman-themed pool are inspirational, and the restaurants remain unchanged and as popular as ever – in particular Gaddi’s, where the roasted pigeon breast sets the benchmark for fine French food in this city. A tried and trusted institution? Yes, and thank goodness for that.
For thousands of years, Chinese artists and poets have sought inspiration from Guilin’s stunning scenery. The region’s legendary beauty and unique limestone hills have long made it a popular holiday destination for the Chinese, but international visitors are yet to put Guilin at the top of their must-see list.
A Club Med resort opened here in 2013, providing the perfect base for luxury travellers eager to discover a different side to China than its bustling mega-cities. Set in the countryside fist an hour from Guilin city, the resort sits on 47 very private acres (part of a much larger area dedicated to a national park). Scattered throughout the manicured grounds are more than 100 modern sculptures by leading artists.
Guest rooms are housed in two separate buildings: we were lucky enough to have a suite in the original chateau-style HOMA (Hotel of Modern Art), where each room is unique in layout and interior design. Set within a Zen Garden, it’s supremely luxurious – and easy to imagine it being part of Relais & Châteaux back in the day. The newer, purpose-built Courtyard Hotel offers 284 rooms and is popular with families, however with incredible views of the countryside (and a nightly rate less than HOMA), most loved-up couples would be equally happy there.
It’s hard to imagine the logistics that must go in to the food and beverage offerings at Club Med, Guiln. It’s in the countryside of China yet the buffet restaurant offers an incredible international smorgasbord: we feasted on spicy Sichuan cuisine; pastas and pizzas; spicy Mauritian curries and Korean and Japanese delicacies – and still didn’t have time to taste-test the myriad other dishes. Couples can enjoy a more intimate dining experience in The Lotus restaurant at HOMA, while Mongolian barbecue is served at The Rooftop Restaurant in the main building. Oenophiles will love that wine is included with lunch and dinner, as well as a massive selection of cocktails, spirits, wine and beer.
Bagan – Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar)
Visitors Per Year: Around 2.1 million
Among the plains of central Burma lies ancient Bagan, the remains of a kingdom comprising some 2,000 Buddhist temples. Until recently, visitors were scarce but now the secret’s out…
Front Door: A fee (25,000MMK/£14.44) is charged upon entering the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Most visitors arrive via a short-hop flight at Bagan Nyaung U Airport. From there, the town of Nyaung U is a ten-minute taxi away, but the majority stay in the resorts scattered among the temples of Old Bagan.
Back Door: Stay in Nyaung U for more of a local feel; it’s also not far from the Irrawaddy River, so end your day with a quiet cruise. Rent an E-bike to explore the temples of Old Bagan away from the tours, while hot-air balloon flights are also a good way to skip the crowds. Be sure to book at least a month in advance; it’s also worth paying extra for the smallest (four-person) basket. Bear in mind also that access to the upper levels of temples is now banned in all but five pagodas.
For the most popular temples (Dhammayangyi, Shwesandaw, Ananda), arrive just after sunrise. The tours leave shortly after the sun comes up and the touts are too drowsy to bother you. After, rent an E-bike and head into the plains to discover smaller sites such as the Nandapyinnya, near Minanthu village, which has some of the best-preserved wall paintings in Bagan and is usually empty.
Head down to the jetty in Nyaung U and hire a boat (from 150,000MMK/£9) to take you up the river to a pair of temples (Thetkyamuni and Kondawgyi) not easily accessed by land. Plan this as an afternoon excursion and you can spend the sunset on the Irrawaddy as well.
“Thisawadi (near New Bagan) is a quiet alternative to catch sunrise/sunset. There are several levels on the way up it, but the highest offers the best shots. This is also one of the few temples still open for visitors to ascend, but less popular than the likes of Shwesandaw.”
From the temples of Vietnam to the shiny new towers of China, the cultured frenzy of India to the beaches of Thailand, the jungles of Myanmar to the gleaming shopping malls of Singapore, Asia is a monumental place to experience.
The ability of cruises to take in one destination after another in a far-flung part of the world makes it possible to explore the region in a way that you never could on anything other than a backpacking jaunt. And the contrast between sub-tropical coast and glorious, history-packed interior brings a magic like nowhere else.
A report by cruise industry body CLIA in 2014 said capacity had grown by 20 per cent a year for two years running, with passenger numbers ready to top two million in 2015 as new and larger ships arrived.
“Asia has certainly become the cruise holiday magnet,” says Andy Harmer, Vice President of Operations CLIA, Europe. “It’s not just the prediction that China will become the world’s second largest cruise market in just a few years, but also the fact that more ships are moving east to cater for the growing demand from Western guests, including us Brits.
“And what a choice we have – round trips from Singapore taking in such amazing places as Ko Samui in Thailand, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Penang in Malaysia. And of course let’s not forget Japan and Korea, easily accessible from southern China. The choice of ships is also extensive, from resort style to intimate luxury brands.”
Simone Clark, Managing Director of leading cruise agent Iglu, agrees. “We are seeing a great increase in business to Asia, particularly in Japan and China. People want time to explore so we have put together tailor-made holidays that combine a premium cruise with an immersive land tour taking in such famous landmarks as Xi’an, with its Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, and even with a Yangtze River cruise.”
Iglu’s 31-night Majestic China trip (from £2,849pp, full board, with flights, departing 30 October) combines a 17-night Princess Cruises voyage from Beijing to Singapore with a 12-night tour, including a four-night Yangtze cruise and stays in Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and Chengdu, featuring all the iconic experiences – panda sanctuary visit, Shanghai river cruise and Great Wall tour.
Centred around the Haohe, a grand old moat, Nantong is a lively city dedicated to open spaces, museums and bars. The result is a tourist-friendly destination where it’s easy to while away the hours.
Find out about the area’s history by going to the Nantong Museum: opened in 1905, it contains an array of items that includes displays on everything from kites to abacuses and auditing, all of which point towards Nantong’s reputation for producing the country’s top students. Another site that tells of the city’s traditions is the Blue Printed Calico Museum, dedicated to the local craft of the same name. The distinctive blue and white cotton has been produced here since the 11th century and the blue dye is made from indigo plants, while the pattern is printed onto the fabric using paper cutouts and paste.
The museum also keeps the craft alive by employing students from China’s art schools to create unique contemporary pieces using the method of this ancient practice.
When you’re ready for a break, head 30 miles north to the town of Rugao to see the famous Shuihui Garden. Winding paths and a serene lake reveal centuries-old stone carvings and delicate bonsai trees. Or, just a 30-minute drive from central Nantong is Shigang, a fishing village with a wild, overgrown stretch of water. Take a boat cruise down its length and arrive at houses where fishermen pull up lobsters and water chestnuts, both local delicacies in the region.
On the edge of Nantong lies one of the largest scenic areas in all of Jiangsu: Langshan (Wolf Mountain). At its base is an old house built in 1918, which was the retreat of a wealthy man and local hero named Zhang Jian. Here, you’ll spot a small waterfall, a stone boat and picturesque pagodas inside a leafy garden. Travel up the mountain to discover Guangjiaosi, an elegant Buddhist temple. A wealth of beautiful artwork adorns its walls, while looking outside, you’ll glimpse Nantong’s busy harbour, with ships coming and going along the Yangtze River.
Local specialities: As well as its famous blue calico, Nantong is known for kites, which are designed to make a whistling sound when they are flown
Street snacks: The city’s rice cakes are especially popular at Chinese New Year
Travel: Nantong is just over three hours’ drive from Nanjing, and 11/2 hours from Shanghai, crossing the Yangtze River via the Sutong Bridge
May not be the widest or tallest waterfall in the world, but it is without doubt the most impressive. Not only can you see it, you can hear it (from about a mile away), feel it, smell it, and taste it. Locals call it Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders.”
WHERE IS VICTORIA FALLS?
The waterfall straddles the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. You can access it from either country.Zimbabwe has historically been the more popular entry-point, but its political turmoil and hyperinflation in the 2000s made Zambia preferable.
Today, although Zimbabwe’s longtime and autocratic president, Robert Mugabe, remains in place, the nation’s currency has stabilized, and the safari industry is resurgent.
Tip: At the Zimbabwe airport, make sure you obtain the Uni Visa (currently $50 for nationals from many countries), which serves as a multicountry pass to enter Zambia and Botswana.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
There are national park entrances on both sides of the falls, easily accessible from the towns of Livingstone, in Zambia, and Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe.
If you’ve booked through a safari operator, your guide will simply drive you to the entrance. The per-person fee is $20 on the Zambia side and $30 on the Zimbabwe side.
WHICH SIDE IS BETTER?
Put very briefly: To see the falls, go to Zimbabwe; to feel the falls, go to Zambia. But we recommend seeing it from both sides, and here’s why:
The Zambia side at high flow (February to June) is an exhilaratingly visceral experience. Visitors walking on this side of the narrow gorge can feel the spray.
The Zimbabwe side tends to offer the more picturesque views because the vantages are farther, offering perspective. If you go in the height of the dry season, say, in November, the water volume is at a low point and the falls can feel a little underwhelming.
CAN I DO BOTH SIDES IN A DAY?
Yes! In fact, it’s possible to do both sides in a couple of hours. Make sure you have a multiple-country visa in your passport. You can also just stand on the bridge between the two countries and gaze at the world’s most famous cataract.
I’VE SEEN PHOTOS OF PEOPLE STANDING AT THE EDGE OF THE FALLS. HOW DO I DO THAT, AND IS IT DANGEROUS?
Devil’s Pool is an experience you can have only on the Zambia side and only during the dry season (late August to late December). It involves a boat ride on the Zambezi River to Livingstone Island, from which you can swim in this natural pool at the falls’ edge. Breathe easy: An unseen lip prevents you from going over. Run by a reputable tour operator, Devil’s Pool isn’t a dangerous activity if you follow directions. Avoid unofficial natural pools; people have gone over the edge.
Described by Marco Polo as “the finest and most beautiful city in the world,” Hangzhou still offers a glimpse of old China, although what hasn’t changed over the centuries or been destroyed by revolution is today obscured by the hordes of Chinese and foreign tourists.
But during off-season or a quiet moment at sunrise, the city’s West Lake is still one of the loveliest sights you will find in China. Its mist-shrouded shores are lined with landscaped gardens, pagodas, teahouses, shaded walkways, and classic pavilions with names like Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake. It may be at its most beautiful (and crowded) in July and August, when it’s covered with a mantle of lotus flowers. The ubiquitous willow creates the perfect Chinese vignette, joined by groves of peach blossoms in spring, orange-scented acacia in autumn, and plum in winter.
By hired boat, float up to the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, the stone pagodas on the Island in the Little Ocean or, opposite this, the Island of the Hill of Solitude, whose excellent 150-year-old Louwailou Restaurant is one of many reasons to come ashore.