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Beijing

Beijing, meaning 'Northern Capital' in Mandarin, has been a seat of power for more than 2,000 years, and has been the capital of a unified China for the past 800 years.
Along with Shanghai, Beijing epitomises the incredible rate of China's drive into the 21st Century, but there is also a more traditional side to this thoroughly modern capital. The narrow Hutongs, smoky temples and local markets all hark back to a more gentle age. Beijing now has all the trappings of any modern city; gleaming shopping malls, high-rise apartments, museums and art galleries and masses of fabulous restaurants showcasing the country's incredibly diverse culture and cuisine, yet all walks hand in hand with China's past. China has an incredible wealth of experiences for you to enjoy and discover, and it is well worth spending time here soaking up the local culture and sights of this hiistoric capital. Things to see and do:

Chairman Mao built Tiananmen Square to impress. It is the largest square in the world, surrounded by Government buildings and used for National Day Parade. It was most famously the scene of the 1989 massacre of students during the student revolution. The square is an exceptional place to linger awhile, and for Chinese tourists from all over the country to have their photographs taken. At the southern end of square is Mao's Mausoleum with the real, fake or wax worked body of the Chairman inside - you decide.
 
The Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, is exactly that; a old Royal Residence which had its hey day during the Ming and Qing dynasties Imperial Court. Regardless of Beijing's leap into the 21st Century, the Forbidden City has more or less remained untouched, especially remarkable that it has survived the Cultural Revolution. It is quite staggering in its sheer size and scale, and the fact that despite being the number one tourist attraction in Beijing, just an odd meander to the left or right and you will find yourself in utterly secluded courtyards and dead-end alleyways.
The Wing Emperors built the Summer palace so that members of the imperial court could escape suffocating summers of idleness at the Forbidden City. The refreshing Summer Palace with its grounds, gardens, temples, lakes and bridges is simply incredible, and takes levels of palacial excess to a whole new level. It is a good place to soak up a full afternoon.
 
The 798 Art District is entirely constructed of disunused electronic factories that are now home to the contemporary art scene in Beijing. The many galleries and studios display and sell contemporary chinese art.
 
The old Hutongs of Beijing provide a small insight into how the old neighbourhoods were made up; these alleyways with their hidden courtyard residences are a slice of the past, but are disappearing fast. They are excellent for wandering around and seeing how the locals live here, with small shops, markets and restaurants all clustered within a maze of small alleyways.
 
Lama Temple or Yonghegong, built in the Tibetan Buddhism style, is an excellent example and could well have been transplanted from Lhasa itself. A few red-robed monks still keep this temple alive and hold morning prayers at dawn. Inside the temple there is an excellent statue of Maitreya Buddha, carved from a single piece of sandalwood. 
 
The Great Wall stretches for over 10,000 kms, from the East China Sea to Lop Lake in the far west of China through Inner Mongolia. Although only a third of the wall remains today, it still is an incredible piece of human endeavour that was begun in the 7th Century BC to keep out the raiding barbarians form Mongolia. Beijing has a high concentration of well preserved sections for you to visit, with Badaling being the easiest one and therefore the most touristy ... it even has elevators to whisk you up its heights. The Jinshanling and Mutianyu sections are a little bit further out of town, but they will grant you a more peaceful visit and a chance to experience this incredible piece of engineering in your own time. With the latter sections there will be some steeper climbs as the wall snakes itself over the surrounding hills and countryside, but the views from the wall are superb.
 
Pingyao, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is 
without a doubt one of the best preserved walled cities in China.  Its cobbled streets, with Ming and Qing dynasty buildings, would not look out of place in a period Chinese film. The walled town has many attractions, including period buildings, temples and several examples of courtyard houses now being made into hotels. Pingyao is easily visited on an overnight stop from Beijing, and is an excellent way to experience a little of China's better history.

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