The best way to kick off your Asian travels is in China’s progressive and even tragically hip capital city of Beijing. Traditional relics like the Tiananmen gate stand juxtaposed against the imposing modernist architecture of recent history, most notably in the Dashanzi Art District. The People’s Republic of China has its financial industries mainly in Shanghai and Hong Kong, but Beijing remains the nation’s true cultural and political center.
Orange County Meets Ming Dynasty in Beijing
When many travelers think of Beijing, they imagine the dictatorial atmosphere of Mao Zedong or television images of protesting citizens; however, Beijing has a tremendous history beginning as early as the 1st century BCE and has persevered through Kublai Kahn’s Mongols, Japanese invasion, and the Communist Civil War victory in 1949.
The Forbidden City is a fascinating journey through 500 years of Imperial secrecy. The head of the state no longer resides here and the beautiful buildings and breathtaking gardens are open to the public year-round. The entrance to the Forbidden City is the infamous Tiananmen Square and gate, protected by four formidable marble lions. Nearby, the Temple of Heaven is another sublime representation of an era of dynasties and royal architecture. With airfare to Beijing, you also have the extra opportunity to see the Great Wall of China, which is only one and a half hours away by bus.
Although there are hundreds of historical sites in Beijing, the rapidly sprawling metropolis is also overflowing with contemporary wonders and luxuries. The National Zoo houses the largest inland aquarium in the world as well as China’s famous pandas. Next to the Imperial Palace, the Wan Fung Art Gallery provides insight into the artistic transition from regal and traditional to cutting edge contemporary. Most interestingly, the suburban sprawl has witnessed the creation of a $60 million American-inspired community called Orange County, complete with town homes and tract housing.
Chinese Cultural Centrifuge in Beijing
Experience two cultural traditions in one at the Laoshe Tea House where you will be both charmed by Chinese opera and soothed by a variety of traditional teas. For world-class shopping in Beijing, visit Wangfujing, or you can find your way into the many enchanting smaller districts for traditional Chinese shops and boutiques. Beijing is also home to several notable temples like the Miaoying, and even a mosque that was built in 996.
With such dynamic experiences to offer and the immaculate preservation of its past, Beijing is truly an international city and there’s no wonder the cosmopolis has been chosen for the Olympics. Get your airfare to Beijing now or wait for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.