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Tour of Ancient Towns and Their Cultures

A wooden, brick or stone framework, symmetry, and a harmonious union with surrounding nature: these are the characteristics of ancient Chinese architecture. Today, quite a few foreign sightseers look forward to seeing Chinese traditional and quaint ancient cities with simple and unsophisticated buildings, and hope for an opportunity to experience life, history and culture firsthand there. CITS is busy trying out various itineraries to show tourists original appearance of old towns and major sights with holiday packages.

Recommended Tour Itinerary 1

A Tour by Train: Beijing-Taiyuan-Pingyao (4days/3nights)

Day 1   Leave Beijing by train at 21:14

Day 2   Arrive in Taiyuan at 7:30am. Hotel check-in and breakfast. Leave for Pingyao by bus (2-hour drive), visit Shuanglin Temple, City Wall. After lunch, visit Ming-Qing Street, Courtyard Residences; leave for Taiyuan at 3:00pm, visit Qiao Family’s Compound or Wang’s Grand Courtyard. Stay over night in Taiyuan.

Day 3   After breakfast, visit Jinci Temple; after lunch, visit Double-Pagoda Temple and Chongshan Temple. Some time for leisure; after dinner, leave Taiyuan by train at 21:00.

Day 4   Arrive in Beijing at 7:00am.

B Tour by Bus: Beijing-Taiyuan-Pingyao (3days/2nights)

Day 1    After breakfast, take a 7:30 bus from Beijing to Taiyuan (500km away, about 5-hour drive). Arrive in Taiyuan at noon. After lunch, visit Jinci Temple (20 minutes drive).

Day 2After breakfast, leave for Pingyao by bus (2-hour drive). Visit Shuanglin Temple, City Wall, Ri Sheng Chang Financial House; after lunch, visit Ming-Qing Street, Courtyard Residence; leave for Taiyuan at 3pm. Visit Qiao Family’s Compound. Stay overnight in Taiyuan.

Day 3   After breakfast, visit Double-Pagoda Temple, Chongshan Temple. After lunch, return to Beijing by bus.

Highlights of Visit

Pingyao – Pingyao is about 2-hour drive from Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province. It is a small town in the center of the province. The old section of the town is surrounded by a completely intact city wall and contains scores of well-preserved buildings dating back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The wall, built in 1370 during the Ming Dynasty, is 6.4km in circumference. with 4 main gates and 72 watch towers with battlements. Visitors to Pingyao are amazed by this small ancient town complete with temples, traditional architecture, the city wall, battlements and watchtowers. The town was added to the Unesco’s World Heritage List on December 3,1997. The town was designed in the shape of a tortoise, a traditional symbol of longevity. The southern gate of the town symbolizes the head of the tortoise and the two wells outside the gate its eyes. The northern gate represents its tail and the four gates on the east and west sides represent the legs of the animal.

City wall – The city wall is roughly rectangular in shape, the most well-preserved wall among the ancient historical and cultural cities in China. It is 10 meters high, 5 meters wide and 6.4 kilometers in circumference. There are 72 guard towers with battlements. The Golden Well Tower in the center of the town is the tallest structure in town. It offers a great view of the gray slate roof tops of the courtyard houses. A bird’s eye view of the city, the wall looks like a turtle, hence the name Turtle City.

Jinci Temple – About 25km southwest of Taiyuan, with a bus drive for 20-40 minutes, Jinci Temple is the most famous of all the historical relics in Taiyuan. The columns decorated with dragons in front of the Goddess Hall and the Song-dynasty murals housed in the hall are priceless state treasures. The temple has a famous peony garden where ancient peony plants and clove trees planted in the Ming Dynasty can be seen.

Courtyard Residences – The courtyard residences in Pinyao are elegantly designed with local features. Standing for a long history, the buildings are still perfectly preserved. There are two types of residences – commercial and civilian, which are all well known for their typical representation of China’s traditional residences.

Shuanglin Temple – About 8km southwest of Pingyao County, the Shuanglin temple is a Buddhist temple with a long history. Inside the temple are more than two-thousand painted sculptures of high value, representing Ming and Qing dynasties’best. They serve as a ‘treasure reserve of the oriental painted sculptures’.

Wang’s Grand Courtyard – Situated in Jingsheng Town 12km of Lingshi County Town, Wang’s Grand Courtyard is at the same tourist line as Yungang Grottoes of Datong, Jinci Temple of Taiyuan and Ancient City of Pingyao, with very convenient traffic of railways and highways. It is an example in handing down and inheriting the 5000-year-old Chinese civilization and a peak-usurping masterpriece of Chinese civil residence architecture of Qing Dynasty. The pieces of artistic work of brick carving, stone carving and wood carving can be seen everywhere in Wang’s Grand Courtyard, all of which, as an important component of overall architectural art of the courtyard, are exquisite and excellent to fascinate the visiting people.

Qiao Family Housing Compound – About 54km south of Taiyuan, Qiao Family Compound is accessible by bus, taking only 40-50 minutes. Built in 1755, this well-preserved and exquisite structure used to be the residence of Qiao Zhiyong, a famous businessman during the Qing Dynasty. Covering an area of 8,725 square meters, the Qiao Family Compound includes 6 big courtyards, 19 small courtyards, and 313 rooms. The Qiao family prospered by raising bean sprouts and selling bean curd. During its flourishing periods the family had commercial enterprises and banking ventures in practically every important city and town in China. The merchant and his descendants enjoyed prestige and status for two centuries from the mid-18th century down to the 1940s. Since then, the family’s fortunes declined irreversibly and the family plunged back into poverty during its fifth generation, so the complex was left empty with its owner leaving the hometown abroad. Now it has become the ‘Jin and Shang Culture Museum’, which is reputed as ‘a bright pearl of NOrth China’s residential structure.’

Recommended Tour Itinerary 2

4days/3nights Tour of Huangshan Scenic Area and Ancient Villages

Day 1   Head for Huangshan by plane or train. Tour of Tunxi Old Street, the best-preserved commercial street built 500 years ago with gray tiles and white walls. Shops and stores stand row upon row. All kinds of mountainous treasures, curios and craftwook are available inside the stores.

Day 2   Head for Yixian by coach after breakfast. Whole day sightseeing in Xidi and Hongcun. Both are ancient villages nominated by the UNESCO as the World Heritage of Culture. The history of the villages is over 800 years and more than 200 ancient residential houses have been well preserved since then. It is the best place to realize the life of ordinary people who live in the ancient buildings. And Huizhou houses are a sight worth visiting. Then head for Huangshan Scenic Area by coach.

Day 3    Up the Huangshan Mountain along the Taiping cable-way, the biggest passenger transport cable-way in China and also the longest one in Asia at present. Visit the scenic sports like Cloud-dispelling Pavilion, Magic-and-fascinating Scenic Area, etc.

Day 4    View the Huangshan Sunrise in the early morning. Down the mountain by cable cars after breakfast. Transferred to the city center.

Highlights of Visit

Hongcun Village – Visitors first entering the village at northeaster Yi County of Anhui Province are usually amazed at its picturesque scenery and sophisticated architecture. Nestled in a chain of mountains, the village hardly feels the vibrancy of modern civilization. Hongcun Village is laid out in the shape of an ox, with the higher end of the village – the Leigong Mountain – resembling an ox head. Centuries-old trees in the mountain tower to the sky just like ox horns, villagers claim. And hundreds of well-preserved ancient houses spread from east to west like the body of an ox. The Village has become increasingly well known throughout the country, especially when it was added to the World Cultural Heritage List in 2000. The village now boasts 158 residential houses built about 300 years ago in the Ming and Qing dynasties, Nearly 140 are still in good shape.

Huizhou Houses – Located at the juncture of Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, the Huizhou Basin incorporates the grotesque of Mount Huangshan with the elegance of the Xin’an River. Large numbers of houses spring up around the checkered fields of the basin. Looking in any direction, one could see white-walled, tile-roofed houses in the distance. A Huizhou house has a rectangular courtyard enclosed by walls or buildings. It is usually a two-storied house, but it looks impressive, probably thanks to the effect of its corbie gable. There are very few windows in the walls. The black tiles on the top of the gable provide an ornamental frame, forming a large area of white with a narrow strip of black.

Ancient Street in Tunxi- It is about 1,500m long with two rows of shops and stores on both sides. All the houses were built with bricks and wood in a typical local architectural style; the small black tiles, the horse-head eaves, the white washed walls and slab-stone roads.Ancient Dwelling Houses – In Xidi Village at Yi County, there exist 122 old dwellings built in the 16th century. With their unique architectural style and exquisite craftsmanship, they boast a wonder in Chinese architectural history. You may see hundreds of old houses built in the shape of a buffalo. The design is for the purpose of aesthetics and environmental protection.

Tangyue Archway Complex- It consists of seven archways which started to be built from the 16th century. It is rare to see the archways lining along a 300-meter-long mountainous path. Most impressive one is the Xuguo Archway which is rectangularly erected with 8 stone columns, the only one of such architectural style throughout the country.

Tangmo Village – Located at the foot of Mt. Huangshan and neighboring the Memorial Arch complex, Tangmo Village is surrounded by the undulating mountains, towering peaks, precipitous cliffs and pouring waterfalls. It is unique for its nature, tranquility and serenity. It is also rare in the world to see the thousand-year-old gingko tree, the ancient well, the stone-carving statue in the Ming Dynasty and the precious steles engraved with the handwritings of 18 famous calligraphers. With so many natural scenery, tranquil rural scene and the rich primitive culture, Tangmo Village is named as one of the ten famous scenic spots in Huangshan city.

Recommended Tour Itinerary 3

A 5days/4nights Ancient Water-town Tour of Tongli-Zhouzhuang-Yongzhi (or Zhouzhi)-Wuzhen

Day 1    Arrive in Shanghai. Excursions to Suzhou by coach. Visit Tiger Hill and Garden of Harmony.

Day 2   Excursions to Tongli and Zhouzhuan. Back to Shanghai

Day 3   A 2-hour bus ride to Yongzhi (or Zhouzhi) and Wuzhen.

Day 4   To Hangzhou by bus. Sightseeing tour in Hangzhou.

Day 5   Departure

Tongli – 27km from Suzhou, the town of Tongli has beautiful scenery. Most of the town's buildings are surrounded by water. As a well-preserved town of rivers and lakes, there is a famous place or historical site at every turn. Tourists can either wander in the streets or stand on a bridge, viewing the picturesque civilian houses and appreciating the pure local customs with a sense of returning to nature.

Zhouzhuang- 60km from Shanghai to the east and 40km from Suzhou to the west, Zhouzhuang has a quiet environment of simple and unsophisticated buildings. In the ancient town many small bridges straddle a myriad of rivers and lakes. Houses line the banks of face out onto the street. Smooth and ordered stone roads and row upon row of small buildings and towers rising out of the water make up the charm of the ancient town. Tourists can row through the water lanes of the ancient town in wooden boats and get a taste of life there.

Yongzhi – 25km southeast of Suzhou, is an ancient town of rivers. The town has many scenic spots and historical sites. It is famous for ancient bridges, houses and ginkgo trees. There are 72 stones arch bridges spanning more than 1,000 years, of which 41 remain. Some are multi-arch stone bridges, some one-arch bridges, some wide arch stone bridges and others are simple slab bridges. Among them, there are 5 double-bridges, with two bridges linked at right angles. Houses flanking the streets or overlooking the rivers are all roofed with black tiles, with white washed wall. Rural women in the town dress in traditional costumes, with typical local styles. They have their hair won in a bun or coil, with a scarf wrapped round their heads. They wear pieced-together clothes, with skirts and embroidered shoes.

Zhouzhi- 25km from Suzhou is Zhouzhi, another famous town of rivers and lakes in Jiangsu Province. The town is known for 40 bridges built during the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. Local women dress in blue scarves, garments with buttons on the right-hand sides, and colorful aprons.

Wuzhen – Known as town of bridges, Wuzhen has a history of over 2000 years and a considerable culture of its own. For hundreds of years, the town has been a hub of a network of rivers and canals. The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal passes through it, still carrying people and goods to and fro. Boats are still the most important means of transportation for residents in Wuzhen. People in Wuzhen live a simple life. Many of them make a living by breeding silkworms, they have retained the tradition of buying fruit and vegetables from trade boats from the windows of their waterside houses. UNESCO has listed Wuzhen in the reserve list of World Cultural Heritage Sites.

Xitang – Also known as a town of bridges, Xitang is a waterside town notable for its winding streams, boats, arched bridges and whitewashed old dwellings. There are 122 lanes in Xitang, five of which are more than 100 meters long. The town is divided into new and old parts. The old part, with most of the houses built in the Ming and Qing dynasties, is applying to be listed among the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO together with three other Jiangnan waterside towns. namely Zhouzhuang, Tongli and Wuzhen.

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