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Iconic China

Iconic China

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Published by Joy Xi

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Published by: Joy Xi on Jun 22, 2012
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12 Pfc Das in . . .
IconIc ItInerarIes
Sixthina Series
Some places are perfect 
for the independent traveler. And some, well,aren’t. For our series “Iconic Itineraries,” we’ve picked destinations that are must-sees but whose tourisminfrastructures are so geared to groups that having an authentic experience can seem next to impossible. Not to worry.Working with the world’s leading travel specialists, we’ve created step-by-step trips that let you see the best each placehas to offer—but on your terms. Each of our highly detailed itineraries has been vetted and perfected by a
Condé NastTraveler 
editor, and each can be bought as is with just one phone call or customized at will. So here are:
{
Illsaions b Jams Nol Smih
PROVENCE •TUSCANY •H AWAII C ALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY 
and mo
 
 Watch this space for
Visi 
cntraveler.com/iconictrips
fo h fis fiv in o sis of ms-hav Iconic Iinais:Peru (incldin h Ands, Mach Picch, and h Amazon),ruSSIA(incldin Moscow and S. Psb),egyPt (incldin Caio, Aswan, and Lxo),INDIA(incldin Dlhi, Jaip, and Aa), and SOutHeASt ASIA(incldin thailand, Vinam, Cambodia, and Laos).
th ga Wall, h wold’slons, was bil 2,200  as ao o poc China fom invads. th scion picd is Mian,90 mins fom Bijin (s pa 98).
93
}
 
B Wnd Pin
ClassicChina
 
IconIc ItInerarIes
ClassicChina
Cond´E nast travElEr /
cntraveler.com
Day 1 (Saturday):
Beijing
T
ake it from someone who has navigated China’ssprawling capital by subway, bicycle, taxi, and rick-shaw: By far the most efficient way to sightsee is by carwhen traffic is light—which is over a weekend—with adriver who drops you off at one end of a sight or street andpicks you up at the other, so you needn’t waste time back- tracking. If you land in Beijing on a Friday, you can recoverfrom your transpacific flightwith a good night’s sleep andstart your itinerary at the op- timal time: Saturday morning.Your hotel? For ambience ona budget, try the Hotel CôtéCour SL (86-10-6512-8020;hotelcotecoursl.com; dou-bles, $168–$268), a 14-roomproperty in a traditional court-yard compound once inhabited bydancers and musicians of the imperial court.If you’re up for a splurge, however, consider the ChinaClub Beijing (86-10-6603-8855; thechinaclubbeijing.com; junior suites, $385), an elegant members-only club in anantiques-filled courtyard-style sixteenth-century palace.Only a few elite tour companies—Abercrombie & Kent,for instance—have access to eight impeccable suites thatare furnished with old-fashioned traditional canopy bedsand freestanding tubs.So it’s Saturday morning, you’ve slept through the night(thank you, melatonin), and it’s time to throw yourself into the historic center of Beijing, right? Wrong. On Saturdaymornings, the Forbidden City—the imperial palace com-pound that was off-limits to the masses for 500 years—iscrammed with domestic-Chinese tour groups, each groupwearing matching baseball caps and scurrying after theirflag-waving leader. They tend to diminish the majesty of theMing dynasty courtyards that served as the seat of govern-ment until the last emperor abdicated at the start of the twentieth century.
So save the Forbidden City for thisafternoon, once the crowds have thinned, and headinstead to the Capital Museum, which at 9
a
.
m
.will be virtually empty.
The Capital Museum(86-10-6337-0491; capitalmuseum.org.cn) is a brand-new airy architecturalknockout filled with innova- tive 3-D displays that intro-duce you to Chinese cus- toms and traditions. Youneed only 90 minutes thereand to visit only two floors.On the second floor is a time line that tells you what was happening in Beijing at the samemoment as key events in Europe and the United States, soyou can put China’s history in context. On the fifth floorare reproductions of Chinese homes and street scenes.Both will magnify your appreciation of everything elseyou’ll see in Beijing.Now that you can envision how locals have lived for cen- turies in Beijing’s traditional residential alleyways—called
hutongs
 —you are ready to explore them yourself. Haveyour car drop you off at Liulichang Street—a boulevard of antiques and curio shops south of Tiananmen Square. Walk 
The Challenge
How do a traveler’s best-laid plans get foiledin China? Let me count the ways. First, there’s the rise of the country’s enormous and newly traveling middle class, which has caused manypreviously charming spots to become overrunwith domestic tourists and overbuilt for themass market. Second, things in China changeovernight—structures go up, neighborhoodsare bulldozed, the government rewrites therules—which means it’s tough to get accuratelogistical information or trustworthy opinionsas to what is worth doing and what’s beenspoiled; guidebooks are out-of-date as soonas they’re published; and advice from anyonewho has not been to the specific destinationson your list within the past few months is notreliable. Third, there’s the pollution, whichwrecks views and curtails your enjoyment of  the big cities that the typical China itinerary isheavy on. Fourth, the Chinese tourism infra-structure inflicts a government-dictatedmass-market agenda that is not very appeal-ing to the sophisticated traveler. Get withinits clutches—as happens on the average tour,including private ones—and you will wasteconsiderable time at ho-hum places, navigat-ing them in a way that is not optimal, with de- tours for forced shopping, meals at generic tourist restaurants, and layers of middlemenextracting as much money as possible fromyou along the way.Sound dreadful? But wait, there’s more. Sayyou’re an independent traveler with limited time who wants to experience a smart comboof China’s highlights as well as its off-the-beaten-path gems. Since a car is vital and foreigners arerarely allowed to rent one, most travel plan-ners will set you up with a private car and driv-er, plus an English-speaking guide, in each of thedestinations on your itinerary. These guideswill make or—if you’ve chosen the wrong trav-el planner—break your trip. Normally, guidesin China are trained to lead you to what thegovernment has determined will interest you,as opposed to what will actually interest you.They are conditioned to be highly inflexible and to pad their pitifully small paychecks with kick-backs from stores (thus the forced shopping)and with gratuities from you (which is why it isnot uncommon to feel emotionally manipulat-ed by them). So where do you find a China travel planner with up-to-date information, re-liable taste, special access, and flexible, custom-er-friendly guides who understand what ispleasing to the eye and authentic rather than a tourist trap, and how do you avoid lines andcrowds and pick the restaurants, shops, and ac- tivities that are worthwhile?
{ }
Man visios o Bijin ak a
hutong 
o b ickshaw in h Ho Hai aa, b hscan fl QuIte tOurISty. Insad, walkhoh h aa na Lilichan S 
[Fig. 1]
In h
hutongs,
o’ll scobbls paiin shos, ocs dlivin podc,and sidns ppain lnch osid (h a of-n no indoo cookin o  plmbin faciliis).
[Fig. 2]
Bin o cama oDa Don roas Dckrsaan so o cancap h chfs a wokin h kichn and o sv slicin p h ma a o abl as if in achooaphd danc.
94
Fo h solion, s pa 100. >>
 
IconIc ItInerarIes
ClassicChina
Cond´E nast travElEr /
cntraveler.com
96
eastward along the pedestrian-only street past the stores that have gotten touristy of late—you can tell from theirperfect paint jobs in preparation for the Olympics—andyou’ll hit a car-free
hutong 
area (note the peeling paint)where you’ll see everyday life being lived
[Fig. 1]
. Afteryou’ve had your fill, drive to lunch at Tian Di Yi Jia (140 NanChi Zi Dajie, Dong Cheng District; 86-10-8511-5556; meals,$25), a courtyard compound within the former Imperial City that has been beautifully decorated with a mix of traditionalChinese furniture and striking contemporary art.Now that it’s about 2
p
.
m
.
, head for the Forbidden City’snorth gate (the rear entrance), and proceed from north tosouth (back to front), since this will mean fewer crowds thanif you entered at Tiananmen Square (forbiddencitychina.com).
Stroll through the Imperial Garden into thecourtyards where theemperor, the empress,their children, and hisconcubines lived.
Don’tmiss the hall where the di-sastrous Dowager EmpressCixi, the power behind the throne for 50 years, sat in-visibly behind a yellow silk screen, whispering com-mands to her young nephew, the emperor.By the time you reach Tiananmen Square your legs will beshot, so return to your hotel for a rest before your Pekingduck dinner at the Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant (22Dongsishitiao; 86-10-5169-0328; meals, $55), Beijing’s bestspot for relatively non-fatty duck 
[Fig. 2]
.
Day 2 (Sunday):
Beijing
L
ocals gather every morning in Tiantan Park, whichsurrounds the Temple of Heaven, but the scene ismost colorful on Sunday mornings
[Fig. 3]
. Don’t miss the temple itself, of course, as it is a paragon of Ming dynasty de-
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[Fig. 3]
 Aiv a tianan Paka 8
 a
.
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 Alhoh h enlish-lanasina and adio ids in h FOrBIDDeN CIty an’ bad, i hlps o hav a hman id navia his 7.8million-sqa-foo compond of 980 bildins
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