Previously I wrote about the top 5 natural wonders I encountered in China. Now I’d like to take a look at what I consider to be the top 5 man-made structures I had the opportunity to see in China.
1. The Great Wall of China (长城)
You can’t mention visiting China without talking The Great Wall. This stone, engineering marvel rising up towering peaks and plummeting down into river valleys. We had the chance to visit the Wall in two very different environments. The first time, in Beijing, we traveled to a little visited, perhaps even officially closed section of the wall, where we had it all to ourselves. Part of the wall there was rebuilt, but another section was wild and overtaken with brush. It was an interesting contrast. Our second visit was at the western end of The Great Wall where the first beacon is located in Jiayuguan. This section of the wall was built not with bricks, but with rammed earth in the middle of this desert landscape.
2. The Terracotta Army (兵马俑)
The army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, buried in the area around Xi’an is an awe-inspiring sight. You can visit tomb upon tomb of these life-sized warriors all lined up for battle in the afterlife with chariots and horses. The main viewing chamber is massive and is often crowded for good reason. In a few places they have a few soldiers that you can get close to and there you can see the scale of the figures and the fine detail of the craftsmanship. The work spent on these are amazing considering they were just going to be buried. While in the area Xi’an has so much to offer in addition to these warriors, such as the city wall and the Muslim Quarter.
3. The Forbidden City (紫禁城)
I was torn with this decision on which other building from Beijing I wanted to add. The Temple of Heaven is one of my favorite places we visited in Beijing with its round structure on top of a hill. On the other hand, the Summer Palace is a phenomenal complex of buildings and gardens as well. But in the end I have to give a tip of the cap to home of Emperors of China from 1420-1912. An ancient structure that is now surrounded by one of the most populous cities in the world. On our trip we had to brave some terrible air pollution, but the majesty and intricacies of the palace are epic. Just room after room of ornate furniture and stone work. Ancient gardens and stone carvings. You could never hope to take it all in a single trip.
4. Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery (松赞林寺)
Shangri-La, and Yunnan in general, was one of my favorite places in China. The relaxing atmosphere of the old city and its winding narrow alleys were a joy to explore. Unfortunately, the city suffered a catastrophic fire in 2014 and parts of the city were still rebuilding when we visited in 2015, but the charm of all the wooden buildings is still a sight to behold. The gem of Shangri-La, besides all of the wonderful nature surrounding the city, is the Monastery. Like most holy places it is set up on high, overlooking a lake and eventually, if you strain your eyes, down into the city itself. The monastery consists of an overabundance of halls filled with unique paintings and sculptures. You have to work to visit them though, as I mentioned the holy place is on high and you have to climb over 100 steps from the entrance to reach the main halls.
5. Xitang Water Town (西塘)
China has an ample supply of water towns to choose from and I’m sure they’re all equally amazing. I chose this one because it’s the only one we visited. Xitang was our choice because it was a little out of the way from the normal tourist laden water towns nearer to Shanghai and since we were planning to visit Hangzhou after leaving Shanghai, Xitang was on the way. It’s an incredible town crisscrossed by rivers with the water butting up against the pathways leading around the village. Ancient stone bridges lead over the water and covered walkways along the water’s edge are some of the main draws. It was certainly a unique experience for us and we enjoyed taking pictures of the way water and architecture fit together.