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China boasts sights from Wall to pandascomment (0)

June 5, 2008

By Manda Gibson

As host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, China is preparing for the August event by making the country more easily accessible to tourists — including adding new terminals at the Beijing Capital International Airport and at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. Take advantage of the recent changes, and start planning your trip now. Ask yourself these questions if you’re contemplating a visit to China.

What do you need to know before you plan a trip? Two must-haves are a valid passport and visa. You can get your visa from Chinese embassies and consulates; you might also consider using a travel agent or a business that specializes in passport and visa services to help you obtain your visa.

Once you arrive in China, you’ll need money, of course. Some major establishments will take credit cards, but don’t count on it. You’ll mostly be dealing in cash.

You can take U.S. dollars (in cash or travelers cheques) with you and exchange them when you’re there at banks and major hotels. Or if you’ll be traveling in larger cities, take your ATM card and withdraw cash as you need it.

Do you want to go on your own or with a tour group? Despite the language barrier and challenging conditions in some areas, traveling on your own is very feasible, provided you pack your sense of adventure.

Independent travel gives you the freedom to explore and even to change your itinerary as you go. If the thought of traveling without a guide, though, leaves you feeling intimidated or exhausted, countless tour options are available. Call your travel agent, do a quick Internet search or check out some of the Web sites at the end of this article to see available options.

What do you want to see? Most travelers have only a brief amount of time to spend in China. If this is your case, plan your itinerary to include some of these highlights:

- Beijing: Visit the ancient cluster of buildings that make up the Forbidden City, named such because it was off limits to all but royalty for 500 years. You can also see Tiananmen Square, perhaps best known for the infamous 1989 massacre where hundreds of protesting civilians were killed in a military operation. The Great Wall stretches for thousands of miles through China, but parts of it are easily accessible by a day trip from Beijing. You can choose from an restored area that even includes a Starbucks to less traveled, unrestored portions that satisfy a thirst for adventure.

- Chengdu: The capital of the Sichuan province has long been a fun stop for people traveling with children, as it is the home of the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center and Giant Panda Museum. The center cares for pandas, which are native to the area, and other endangered wild animals.

But the Sichuan province has suffered recently due to a massive 7.9-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 55,000 people and crippled the region. The epicenter of the tremblor was about 60 miles from Chengdu, and the quake snapped water lines and swayed buildings in the city. The extent of the damage is still being assessed.

- Shanghai: With a population of 17 million, Shanghai is a vivid example of China’s rapid cultural change. While it doesn’t have the history of Beijing, it is a modern, cosmopolitan city with great restaurants and shopping.

- Xi’an: It’s best known for what’s a short drive outside the city — the Terra cotta Army, made up of 2,000-year-old terra cotta figures that stand in a rectangular battle array, guarding the tomb of Qin Shihuang, one of China’s ancient leaders. Six thousand warriors and horses have been unearthed since the 1974 discovery, but many people believe other sculptures are still buried.

- Yangshuo: For the traveler looking to get away from China’s big cities, Yangshuo has become a popular place to go. It’s known for the peaceful Li River and a formation of karst mountain peaks, nicknamed gumdrop mountains for their unusual shape. With plenty of flat roads and quiet villages, Yangshuo and the surrounding areas are great for spending days exploring by bike or on foot.

This is just a taste of China’s highlights. Ready to start planning your China adventure? Get started at these Web sites: http://travel.state.gov, http://frommers.com/destinations/china or http://www.lonelyplanet.com/worldguide/china.

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