Things to Do in Eastern China
For a genuine experience that not only show you the history of China, but also showcase its beauty, try a visit to China’s great ancient water town known as Zhujiajiao. Formed over 1,700 years ago, this wonderful canal laden town that was once an important trading hub, has seen the days of both the Yuan, Qing and Ming dynasties, and has flourished today as a an up-and-coming bohemia of Asia.
In order to truly have an understanding of this beautiful place, one must visit the towns many bridges and canals. The Fangsheng Bridge is the biggest around, wonderfully engraved with eight dragons coiling around a shining pearl. Once you’ve done that, take a boat ride on the canal gondola, where you will experience wonderful views of this historic and well-preserved town. You can also take longer boat rides lakeside, experiencing the town from a different angle and perspective.
Also known as the “Temple of the Souls’ Retreat,” Lingyin Temple is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in all of China. The temple was founded in 328 by the Indian monk Hui Li and it is said that he sought out this spot for the solace that is found in this corner of the Wuling Mountains. His ashes are now buried in a stone pagoda at the temple and he also bestowed an adjacent limestone peak with the name of Feilai Feng, a term which loosely translates to “peak flown from afar.” So similar was the mountain to those found back in his native India, Hui Li is said to have concluded that the only logical explanation was that the mountain had transported itself overnight from India to the outskirts of Hangzhou.
Modern day visitors to Lingyin Temple will enjoy ambling among the picturesque grottos and examining the hundreds of intricate Buddhist carvings.
The Bund (or Waitan) is the grand center of Colonial architecture in Shanghai. The former International Settlement runs along the waterfront of the Huangpu River, facing the Pudong district ('Bund' is a word of Indian derivation meaning 'embankment'). Loosely known as the "museum of international architecture," the Bund attracts visitors who are interested in the artsy side of Shanghai.
When foreign powers entered Shanghai after the Opium Wars of the 19th century, the Bund existed as a towpath. It quickly became the center of Shanghai as Western traders built banks, trading houses and consulates along its length, and has been synonymous with Shanghai's east-meets-west glamor ever since. Today the Bund faces the new wave of trading development - the vast towers of Jin Mao, the World Finance Center and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the financial district of Pudong.
More Things to Do in Eastern China
Of all of the wonders of Ancient China only two are believed to be visible from space: The Great Wall and The Grand Canal. While the Great Wall doesn’t run anywhere close to Hangzhou, the southern terminus of China’s other wonder of engineering, the Grand Canal, can still be found in the city today.
Commissioned during the Sui Dynasty as a way to connect the Haihe, Yellow, Huaihe, Yangtze and Qiantang rivers, the Grand Canal at one point stretched for over 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) and earned the title of longest canal or artificial river in the entire world. Once running from Hangzhou all the way to Beijing, various sections of the canal have fallen into disrepair and are no longer navigable. Nevertheless, visitors to the southern sections around Hangzhou are still able to book a cruise boat on the historic trade route for a view of traditional waterfront villages and a chance to learn the history of the greatest supply conduit in all of Ancient China.
Shanghai’s Old French Concession, an area once leased to the French in the Luwan and Xuhui districts of the city, is a reminder of an older Shanghai. The visitor-friendly area is packed full of beautiful colonial mansions and hotels dating back to the first three decades of the twentieth century. The French took control of the area in 1849, but it wasn’t until the 1920s when the neighborhood reached its peak of popularity as one of Shanghai’s most elite neighborhoods.
When you walk through the heart of the area on the tree-lined streets between Julu Road and Huaihai Road, you’ll find a collection of nicer restaurants and boutique shops occupying the surviving historic structures alongside Shanghai locals going about their day to day life. The French Concession is a good place to grab some food as there are so many choices; you’ll find almost everything here from Indian to French, Spanish and Thai food.
Xin Tian Di (Xintiandi) is a sleekly restored area of Shanghai, where the more successful of the city's young come to play. It's also a popular strolling area for tourists, who like to check out the 19th century architecture.
The district abounds in shikumen, stone houses that were a popular residential form in the late 19th century and early 20th century city. When the districts that contained these houses were being razed, developers stepped in to save and restore this area. Today the shikumen house galleries, bookshops, antique stores, upmarket boutiques, bars and restaurants. It's particularly ironic that this Westernized playground should be cheek-by-jowl with the Site of the First Conference of the Communist Party of China.
The Huangpu River, extending over 71 miles (113 kilometers), flows through the middle of Shanghai’s, dividing the city into two parts – Pudong to the east and Puxi to the west. The port where the river empties into the East China Sea has now become the largest port in China and in 2012 became the world’s busiest container port.
Walking along the Huangpu River juxtaposes the colonial buildings of Old Shanghai with the towering, ultramodern skyscrapers that now dominate the skyline. While it’s possible to experience the Huangpu River from the banks with a walk along the Bund, the best way to see both sides is on a river cruise.
Most cruises start from the Bund and go upstream before turning south towards the Yangpu bridge. Boats depart throughout the day, but after the sun sets and the buildings to either side of the river light up, the Shanghai skyline becomes even more impressive than usual.
Yufo Si is a working Buddhist community - one of the few in China - but the star attractions of the Jade Buddha Temple are two figures brought to Shanghai by a Burmese monk in the 19th century.
The most impressive is the sitting Buddha, a 1.9 m (6.5 ft) giant encrusted with semi-precious stones. This Buddha is sitting in the pose which captures the moment of his enlightenment by meditation. The other Buddha is smaller and in the attitude of 'happy repose', as he goes peacefully to death. Both Buddhas are carved from white jade. Facing the reclining Buddha is a large copy in stone, brought to the monastery from Singapore. These are the main points of a visit to the temple, but take a look at the halls while you're there, particularly the Grand Hall with its golden 'Gods of the Twenty Heavens'. There's also a restaurant that serves the public, with a simple downstairs and a swankier upstairs.
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower once used to be the highest building in Shanghai, and it's still up there. It's certainly one of the most hyperbolic and striking features of the horizon. Many people hate it; others have developed an odd affection for its bulbous form.
The design aside (it has been compared to the sound of pearls, large and small, dropping onto a jade plate - a conceit borrowed from a poem), the tower has some pretty impressive stats. It's 468 m (1,535 ft) high and the third highest TV tower in the world - the highest in Asia. Only Jin Mao Tower and the World Finance Center dwarf it on Shanghai's horizon.
You can take a ride up the lifts to its observation deck - choose from the reasonable height or the vertigo level.
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