The Inexplicable Beauty of Shangri-La Truly Makes it China’s Utopia

Shangri-La is without a doubt China’s utopia. With its magnanimous beauty, there is no question as to why everybody raves about it. China’s success as a study abroad destination has much to do with its fantastic locations and Shangri-La certainly features on top of the list. The timeless beauty of the place makes it an unforgettable destination that people yearn to visit again and again.

The Beauty of Shangri-La

Shangri-La is not a new name. This name became enormously famous as a utopian place in China where immortals lived. This fame has been attributed to British author James Hilton who described the place in his book ‘Lost Horizon’ in 1933. In this book the author described Shangri-La as a mystical valley in the Kunlun Mountains whose residents were cut off from the rest of the world.

But perhaps the image of Shangri-La as a site of preservation of oriental culture and a place impervious to time was best depicted by the Austrian-born American botanist Joseph Rock who visited and stayed in China between late 1920s and early 1930s. Even today the real Shangri-La is synonymous with abundant flora and fauna.

For time immemorial, Shangri-La has been declared as the Grand Garden on the Mountains. Long back in the past, it also served as a crucial transit stop for the well-known Old Tea-Horse Caravan Road located in Southwest China. However, currently Shangri-La has achieved global recognition for its pristine and natural beauty rather than anything else.

Located in a geographical triangle formed by Yunnan, Tibet and Sichuan, Shangri-La has a magnetic appeal for students and visitors alike. People who are in China for either Chinese language programs or gap years programs inevitably never miss out to visit this enigmatic place. The county site is about 410 miles away from Kunming, which is Yunnan’s provincial capital. For those interested, one can travel to Diqing from Kunming which takes roughly 50 minutes by flight. Additionally, buses from Dali and Lijiang are also chosen as transportation to reach Shangri-La. Lijiang and Dali themselves are very pleasant and historically rich locations to visit.

More than thirteen ethnic minority groups are present in Shangri-La, which include Tibetan, Hui, Han, Lisu, Yi, Naxi and Bai. They follow a variety of religious beliefs which range from Tibetan Buddhism, Catholicism to Protestantism and several others. While practicing these many religions, people from these multitudes of ethnic groups have still been successful in living peacefully with each other throughout the years.

Considering its beauty and uniqueness, Shangri-la is automatically listed as one of China’s eight most popular tourist spots. With the passing of years, Shangri-La is gaining more and more recognition and is attracting people from all over the world. Of all the popular spots in this region, most important landmarks are Bi Ta Hai Lake, Whitewater Terraces, Meili Snow Mountian Gui Hui Monastery, and Napa Hai Lake.

 

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Vietnam: the Haven for History, Cuisine and Travel

Traveling in Vietnam with Minds AbroadVietnam has been a popular destination for students visiting China for a good few years now. The primary reasons for this are the accessibility and history. The country has turned over a new leaf with the turn of the century. It has become one of the most visited destinations in Asia due to a variety of reasons. When in Vietnam, one can also easily access Laos and Cambodia.

Traveling in Vietnam

Historically, Vietnam has been associated with resilience. This is a country that has always fought off many invaders and has emerged independent. Though the world remembers it as a site of the Vietnam War (American War for the Vietnamese), what people do not know is that before that there were numerous attempts to occupy the country by the Japanese, the Chinese and even the French. The French colonization has left a huge impression on the country’s culture, particularly its cuisine. Even though French cuisine is radically different from the Vietnamese cuisine, the latter does carry features of the former in many discernible forms. Tourists love the delicious local food that is usually found in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s proximity to China and its history has made it an important destination both for travelers as well as students of study abroad programs. Even though the nation is governed by one-party authoritarian regime, it has introduced select features of capitalism to give boost to its economy. Naturally the inflow of students traveling to Asia for Chinese language programs and gap year jobs has increased considerably. The facilities available for those visiting the country are abundant and no one feels out of place while living or visiting there.

If one wants to explore the country, he or she can divide it into three distinct regions which include the north, the central and the south. The capital Ho Chi Minh City is in the south. Weather wise all of them are similar in almost all aspects. One should expect a lot of rain during the months between September and February in the central part of the country; traveling in that area should be avoided because of heavy rains, strong winds and sea swells. During this time, the southern part of the country is most accessible because of the cool and dry weather.

While in the country, students can get around on motor bikes, cycles or rented cars. However surprisingly, renting a car in Vietnam does not only entail renting the car–the driver comes with it. One cannot drive cars around independently. However there is a signature vehicle in Vietnam which would certainly appeal to a younger age group; it is called ‘cyclo’ and it is a vehicle where the driver sits in the rear while passengers sit in the front. It is a manually driven utility with components of a bicycle.

It must be pointed out that Ho Chi Minh City comprises of a sizable Chinese community apart from the native Vietnamese population. This is owing to the vicinity to China. From Vietnam, Laos, China and Cambodia are easily accessible and people often go on tours to all of these places as well.

While the historical destination for almost all students on gap year programs is Ho Chi Minh City, one can also go to many other destinations like Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.

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Xishuangbanna: the Tropical Delight of China

Xishuangbanna is the gateway to Southeast Asia in China. However this prefecture is not just a part of the route. It is also the home of the Dai Community, and hence an important destination for those who wish to learn more about the Chinese culture and way of life. The warm climate and abundant rainfall have led to the rich biodiversity that has made this region one of the most beautiful places to visit in the country. The Dai community has also been able to preserve its culture over the centuries.

The Natural Beauty of Xishuangbanna is Worth Exploration

Xishuangbanna is an autonomous prefecture in Yunnan Province of China. This is one of the oldest sites in the province which is known for its pleasant tropical climate and ethnic concentration. Naturally it has become an important destination of study abroad programs in China.

It is vital for a gap year program or a Chinese language program to incorporate those places in China which not only reflect the modern life that the citizens have embraced but also the deep rooted culture which is poignant and pervasive throughout the country. For example, the modern city of Beijing has been separated from the old Beijing City and, despite being right next to each other, one can clearly see the difference in the lifestyles led by people in these two vastly different regions. The hustle and bustle of modern Beijing and the baroque lifestyle of the old city magically coexist side by side. Likewise, there are entire townships which though having embraced modern culture and the fast-paced life, they preserve their cultural practices and way of living through it all. Such destinations prove to be a great source of learning for students who want to learn Mandarin and also understand the Chinese culture.

Xishuangbanna is one of such destinations. It is located at a lesser height than the rest of the Yunnan Province and hence it features relatively warmer weather with tropical features. Its location also offers one strategic benefit to those who have come on China tour. These individuals can easily travel to neighboring Asian countries of Myanmar and Laos, the former lying to the west and the latter lying towards the east of the prefecture. But this is not all. Xishuangbanna is home to the Dai people and the official name of the prefecture is Dai Minority People’s Autonomous Prefecture. The name Xishuangbanna in turn can be translated to “Twelve Thousand Rice Fields”, which is indicative of the traditional work that the Dai community has been involved in for centuries.

The prefecture is marked by two seasons. There is the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season starts in May and ends in October. The dry season starts in November and continues till April. Those interested in learning Chinese and going on China travel can visit anytime of the year. The abundant rainfall and warm climate has created diverse flora and fauna. The rich biodiversity has allowed preservation of forests and the few elephants remaining in China are found here. This region also produces the landmark tea of the country. There are six mountains called the Tea Mountains where among others, the highly regarded Pu-erh tea is also produced. The dominant religion here is Theravada Buddhism and the region is flanked by several temples and pagodas. One can also see the traditions and customs as being an integral part of the daily life of people living here.

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Kunming: the Beautiful Spring City with Excellent Travel Opportunities

While visiting China for study abroad programs or volunteering tour, one must visit Kunming, the spring city. It is the capital of Yunnan Province which is home to 26 out of 52 ethnic minorities in the country. Also Kunming lies at a central location from where one can visit all places of cultural importance and natural beauty with ease. Naturally the city becomes an ideal destination for studying abroad as well as travel.

Places of Interest in Kunming

A properly conducted study abroad program provides students with a comprehensive insight into the country they have visited. The objective of these programs is to put the students out of their comfort zone, explore, learn and put their existing knowledge to use. Where gap year programs based in China and India are concerned, this holds particularly true. This is because both these nations are developing and do not offer the same amenities as the developed western nations. Also there are comprehensive cultural differences which make the interaction of a foreigner with the locals even more interesting.

To ensure that one gets to know more about the country he or she is visiting, traveling has become an integral part of all such study abroad programs. It is said that one gets to know one’s true potential when they are traveling. It is a time when one undergoes a lot of change emotionally. One gets to interact, push himself or herself physically and mentally and gets to work with people from a variety of backgrounds. All these factors help advance one’s communication skills along with intrinsic development in personality.

While in choosing a destination for Chinese language programs or volunteering, Yunnan Province is considered to be an ideal destination. It is not only the climate that is a major factor; Yunnan has many travel destinations which depict the lifestyle of Chinese people and gives a comprehensive insight into the Chinese way of life. The capital city of Kunming is the hub of these destinations. From here, almost all the important landmarks in Yunnan are within easy reach.

One such is the Stone Forest with its breathtaking natural splendor. 270 million years in the making, the Stone Forest is without any vegetation and comprises of jagged stones rising beside each other over an area of 135 sq. miles.

Another great place to visit is the Western Hills which rise around Dianchi Lake. The flora and fauna of these hills has been preserved. Nestled in these hills also lies the Dragon Gate. This is a temple which took fifty-four years to build and still stands tall. One can see elegant work of architecture in this temple which stands at a height of almost 2500 feet above sea level.

In the northeast of Kunming lies Mingfeng Hill where Golden Temple was built in the 16th Century. Built by the Ming Dynasty, it also has the Taihe Palace in its vicinity. Inside the temple are girders, statues, screens and decorations made entirely of copper which together weigh almost 20 tons. This makes this temple the biggest copper temple in China. It is a place that offers a unique insight into the architecture and metalwork done by the Ming and the Qing Dynasties.

Other attractions include Green Lake Park and Daguan Park.

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Historically Rich Lijiang is a Not-to-be-Missed Part of China

Beautiful Lijiang

Lijiang is a small town in Yunnan Province which has a history of almost 800 years. It is built at a spot where the Jade River divides into three sections. The Ancient Town of Lijiang was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1997 and the place houses a remarkable plethora of history, landscapes and culture. It is known for its quiet tranquility and of late it has become one of the most popular tourist spots in the country as well.

Exploring Lijiang

If you have opted for Chinese language programs or gap year jobs in Yunnan Province of China, you will get the opportunity to see some of the oldest places in the country. Yunnan has temperate climatic conditions which make it the ideal destination for all forms of study abroad and gap year programs. One can visit the province anytime of the year and there are no temperature extremities of the kind that are encountered in Beijing or Shanghai during summers.

Close to the capital city of Kunming is the small city of Lijiang which has attracted a lot of tourists visiting China. Lijiang City has an 800-year-old history; this town was built between 1127 and 1279 during the end of the reign of the Song Dynasty in South China. The period also coincided with the beginning of the reign of the Yuan Dynasty. Lijiang was the stopover of traders from Tibet who traded horses for tea in that region.

Lijiang was founded at the place where the Jade River parts into three rivers. The town was built in such a manner that the three rivers coursed through it and the complex water system that developed has been compared to the canal system of Venice. The river gets divided into streams which get further subdivided in such a manner that they flow through courtyards and side alleys of the houses. This water system has been hailed as an exclusive method for daily use of water as well as for water storage. Students studying architecture marvel at this 800year-old system.

Students learning Mandarin in Yunnan take time out of their study schedule, and visit Lijiang. The town offers them the history and complete oversight of the ancient Chinese culture which has remained preserved here. The town came to the world’s attention  in 1996 because of an earthquake that had hit the region. But since then the residents have recovered and transformed the town into one of the most popular tourist spots in the country.

Studying abroad is not complete without a comprehensive cultural immersion program. This is why Lijiang becomes an important destination for all those who have opted for Chinese language programs. The old town of the city has been maintained, and, while visiting it, one goes back in time. There is a bonfire every evening at the Central Plaza where foreigners frequently gather. Another feature is the Mu Palace which was built by the Mu Clan when it ruled over the Naxi for 400 years. There is also the beautiful and scenic Black Dragon Pool from which one can take beautiful pictures of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. This mountain rises almost to a height of 5,600 meters.

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