Those who fear monkeys beware! Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China is infested with macaques. Admittedly, these monkeys look cute and harmless, and indeed upon seeing them, most tourists are quick to whip out their cameras. But the macaques are aggressive, and not afraid of humans.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (湖南张家界国家森林公园) is my favorite place in China (so far). The park is full of sky-high stone pillars, some of which soar over 1000 meters above the forest floor. Supposedly, these natural formations inspired James Cameron to create the “Hallelujah Floating Mountains” for his movie Avatar. Never one to turn down free publicity, Chinese officials renamed one of the pillars “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” (阿凡达-哈利路亚山).
Tianmen (天门山) is a famous mountain, located near Zhangjiajie City in China's Hunan Province. Before we were allowed to walk on its glass walkway, we had to put red slippers on over our shoes. Unfortunately, I couldn't stretch the tiny slippers over my hiking boots. Two months before this, a similar glass bridge on Yuntai Mountain (云台山) cracked shortly after opening. Officials claimed that even though the glass was cracked, it “will not pose threat to safety.”
If you want to see what life was like in China hundreds of years ago, one of your best options is Pingyao (平遥), in Shanxi province. The village is surrounded by an ancient wall, now located in the center of the modern city of Pingyao. Cars are not allowed in large portions of the ancient village, so you can roam freely, without worrying about getting run over. And while the main street is quite touristy, you only have to walk a few blocks to see life as it was before modern times.
On my first trip to Xi'An (西安), I became enthralled by the Muslim Quarter. The blaring music, blinking lights and steaming food were all intoxicating. On my second trip, there was no way I would miss it.
I recently had the opportunity to photograph the Beijing Bowl Ultimate Frisbee tournament. It was an exciting weekend, with many good teams vying for the coveted championship trophy. Though I haven't played Ultimate in many years, I was still happy to live my past glories by taking pictures of hucks, D's and layouts.
The area around Shanghai and Suzhou, China is famous for its water towns. There are at least eight different villages within a few hours of the cities, each with its own special character. These villages are perhaps the best way to get a glimpse of the old way of life in central China.
Shanghai, population 24 million, is the biggest city in China. By some measurements, it's the biggest city in the world. I've visited Shanghai three times since moving to China, two years ago. The city is all business. The Pudong district, on the far side of the Huangpu River, is full of skyscrapers, including the Shanghai Tower, the second-tallest building in the world. The French Concession has beautiful broad avenues and boutique shops. Even in “old” places such as the Yuyuan gardens, shopping is the name of the game.
The world-famous Great Wall of China sees millions of visitors every year. The vast majority of tourists visit the restored sections, such as Badaling and Mutianyu. However, there are also many long stretches of the Great Wall that receive almost no visitors. During winter, it would be a rare occasion indeed to see another living soul in these parts.
For many visitors, the Forbidden City (紫禁城) is the highlight of China. It was the Imperial Palace of the Chinese emperor from 1420 until 1912. Today, it's known as the “Palace Musuem” (故宫博物院) because it houses a large number of ancient Chinese artifacts. It has 980 rooms, and the buildings exemplify China's ancient architecture. The compound was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. With 14 million annual visitors, it is the most visited museum in the world. Will you be among them?