One of the only unfortunate things about the historical prestige of China is that it is too often defined by a certain wall. You’ve probably heard of it.
Or seen countless images of it. Or even been one of the 10 million people who visit it every single year and fight their way through miles of American tourists with bum bags, screeching kids, and a lack of photographic talent.
But never fear. China is a country where every cruise port has something unforgettable to see- a towering monument, ancient temples, and sacred ground untouched by human feet. The incredible history of this country makes for an intimidating abundance of cultural sites that take a lifetime to explore fully, but mere moments to linger in the memory for years.
Of this unbelievable collection of must-sees, I’ve decided to take an extensive look at the historical sites that you simply can’t afford to miss when you cruise the coastline of China.
That great object which can be seen from space is not so bad either.
The Longhua Temple
Beginning the rundown is one of the finest sights in Shanghai. From the 1st Century AD, the spread of Buddhism made its way across the Silk Road- the famous overland trading route which in its heyday extended 4,000 miles, from the ancient kingdoms of central Europe to North Western China- and came to find solid foundations in Leshan and Chengdu, spreading eastwards to the larger provinces, and eventually the whole of China.
Longhua Temple was constructed during the height of this religious fervour in 242 AD. According to Chinese legend, the then emperor, Sun Quan, obtained the cremated remains of the Buddha and set about building a site he considered grand enough to house them. Anyone who sets foot upon the sacred grounds of the Longhua Pagoda will be tempted to think he definitely succeeded.
The statues of 500 golden Lohan stand in rank and file within the interior of the main temple, guarding the entrance to the main complex. Within the Heavenly King Hall and the Grand Hall of the Great Sage, the statues of Guardians of Buddhist Law and the Four Heavenly Kings adorn the gorgeous interior. Easily reached from the Shanghai Port Terminal, the thrills of modern Shanghai are around every corner, yet this temple is truly special.
Government House Hong Kong
Gliding into the glittering bay of Hong Kong, you would be forgiven for thinking that this former British colonial hub is now worth visiting only for its skyline. And what a skyline. The cityscape of Hong Kong is utterly captivating, a neon-lit cluster of skyscrapers whose illuminations reflect off the water of the bay at night in a vivid display of colours.
But amidst this modern sprawl are fascinating remnants of its intriguing past, none grander than the Government House. Before the re-birth of Hong Kong as a city where glass and metal dominated the skyline, this colonial gem had one of the most sweeping views of the Harbour. It’s strange to think that at a few stories tall, this home to over 25 British governors of Hong Kong was the premier building in the entire city.
Today, you can head from the bay to Upper Albert Road, where the beautifully preserved white facades and gorgeous gardens of the former centre of British Power are nestled among the futuristic towers that have re-defined Hong Kong. It may be smaller than its modern counterparts, but its importance has never diminished.
The Ming Tombs
Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, stumbled upon an intriguing problem during his 22 year reign.
The largest complex of imperial palaces in China, the Forbidden City, had been constructed under his tenure, and his legacy was considered concrete. Yet the question of his final resting place still remained. In a morbid move, Yongle set his architects to construct a Maseouleum he considered worthy of his name, and the Ming Tombs were created.
Carefully built around the principles of Feng Shui, the Ming Tombs rest at the foot of the Jundu Mountains north of Beijing, surrounded by craggy slopes which supposedly ward off bad spirits and evil winds. Only three of the tombs are open to the public, including the mausoleum of Yongle himself, replete with a life size bronze statue that has a serene gaze.
Upon the road leading to the central pavilion, you can tread upon scared ground under grand scrutiny from the visages of 18 pairs of statues. All of these are carved from whole stones, larger than life, and amazingly detailed. If you thought visiting the tombs would be an awe-inspiring excursion, try doing it under the gaze of dragons and phoenixes, who have seen thousands of visitors pass through the red gates over the centuries.
This is just a sample of what you can get to see on a cruise to China. As truly entertaining it would be, the roster of places to visit is truly exhaustive to list here. Each region of China is flourishing with history, from the beginning of the Ancient world, to the formation of modern Civilisation.
And I didn’t even mention the obvious one. The one that everyone knows about. I feel truly proud of myself that I talked about Beijing and didn’t even mention the Great Wall of Chi-.