Tag Archives: travel

A Journey Across Continents: The London to Yiwu Train

News and Travel Editor

Today marks the end of a historic 7,500 mile freight train journey from London, UK, to Yiwu, China. Carrying everything from pharmaceuticals to milk powder and soft drinks, it’s the first ever journey on this route and marks a significant moment for trading relations between the UK, Europe and China. But its not been without difficulty – the train has ventured through 9 countries, from freezing Russian wilderness to the mild climate of China’s eastern coast. This blog visits some of the highlights along its route and looks at why this train journey is so important.

This is the first ever direct cargo train carrying British goods from the UK to China. This may seem like a modern innovation, but the train is actually reviving the 2,000 year-old Silk Road, an ancient link between the east and west. As well as contributing to the recent Chinese initiative of the New Silk Road, transporting goods to China from the UK via freight train is twice as fast as transporting them by sea and the costs are tiny compared to transporting by air. This is a time and cost effective solution, not to mention it passes through 7,500 miles of glorious scenery.

Cosmopolitan Western Europe

After leaving London Gateway, the train passes through the bright lights of Western Europe, from Paris and Brussels to Duisberg and Warsaw. This sounds like a great opportunity for a whirlwind tour of Europe, aboard one of the most important freight trains in the world today.

The Freezing Russian Winter

Just as you’ve got used to the mild climate of western Europe, the train was fully immersed in the gloriously tropical  -40°C winters of the Russian wilderness. Beautiful it may be, there’s no doubt the train driver need their winter woolies.

The Plains of Kazakhstan and Xinjiang

Here, the journey becomes even more beautiful. The train has journeyed through thousands of miles of beautiful plains of grassland, mountains and deserts. Where do we sign up to be the driver again?

Yiwu: The Final Destination

After 7,500 miles, the train has travelled through virtually every landscape and climate imaginable, and has finally arrived in Yiwu, one of China’s manufacturing and international trading centres. We can expect the train to make many more trips over the next few years, with other Silk Road trains making the trip up to 500 times each year! Judging from the photos of highlights along the route, one thing is for certain: whoever gets the job of driving the train halfway across the world is the luckiest person in the world.

 

 

The Lifeblood of the Chinese People: The Grand Canal

News and Travel Editor

The Grand Canal is quite possibly one of the most impressive man-made constructions on earth. It’s 1,400 years old and throughout that time, not only has it been one of China’s most popular tourist attractions, but it continues to be the lifeblood for many of the people transporting precious goods from north to south.

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As a workplace

The ‘Canal People‘, also known as the ‘Chuanmin’ call the canal their home, staying on their barge for as many as 350 days of the year. One lady is reported to have given birth to two twins on her barge – understandable given she only has 15 days on dry land!  For her, the job is more about making memories than money from working on the canal.

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If farmers rely on the weather for a good harvest, then the canal people rely on economics. Although the chuanmin rarely have to worry about a lack of rainfall, they often have to keep track of the price of their goods. They transport anything from oil and coal to rice and other foods.
It’s a challenging and unpredictable way of life, but one that the chuanmin of the Grand Canal seem to cherish and thrive on.

As a tourist attraction

Do you see yourself as something of an athlete or sportsperson? If so, cycling along the Grand Canal might just be for you. Although the journey will most likely take a hefty 20-25 days, some of the sites you will encounter along the way will be second to none. It’s described as one of the best cycle routes in China, and the 1,700km journey should definitely be on your cycling bucket list (if you have one!)

Since 2014, the Grand Canal has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Many canal people including Zhu Bingren, a co-writer of the proposal to UNESCO, wanted to determine the Canal’s place in history and to ensure future generations understood and looked after what has been one of China’s most important waterways. Today, the Grand Canal continues to be vital to the Chinese economy.

Join us at China Icons as we explore China’s waterways, including China’s Grand Canal, from a very special perspective. Our unique drone footage allows you to soar over some of the most impressive natural and man-made features in China. Experience the mighty roar of the Yangtze and the pure tranquillity of the Xun River at the Longsheng Rice Terraces.

 

Have you visited any of the other World Heritage Sites in China? Or do you plan on visiting the Grand Canal anytime soon? Let us know in the comments below!

Join us next week for celebrations as the first ever London-Yiwu train arrives at its destination after 18 day, 7,500 mile journey.

China’s Top 10 Adrenaline-Fuelled Atrractions

News and Travel Editor

It’s the travellers’ rite of passage – experiencing unforgettable, thrill seeking experiences on your gap year or travels abroad.

If you are after a nail biting, vertigo-inducing, unforgettable experience on your next trip to China, this top 10 list is of jaw dropping, adrenaline-rush activities is handpicked by China Icons for you.

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In at No 10: Lehe Ledu Wildlife Zoo, Chongqing

This unique zoo has created waves in the animal rights kingdom and has masses of international press coverage. Taking inspiration from cage diving with sharks, they switch the traditional idea of a zoo on its head, with humans being the ones put in cages. Entering the land of the lions and tigers, visitors are able to feed the animals through gaps in the fence. Personally, I would prefer there to be NO GAPS, when it comes between me and a hungry predator.  Not for the faint hearted.

No 9: Cliff swing at Wansheng Ordovician Theme Park, Chongqing

It’s a swing with a difference – a 300m/1000ft cliff top drop under your favourite childhood playground ride.    You’d be forgiven for forgetting to enjoy the stunning backdrop of southern Chongqing during this ride.

No 8: Glass Bridge, Mount Langya, Hebei

China’s latest glass bridge 450 metres high above a rocky gorge provides tourists with an insane 360 degree view of Mount Langya and the surrounding forest conservation area.. A glass path hovering above the rocky valley leads you up on to the circular deck, where you can enjoy the panorama views (if you are brave enough!).

No 7: Mount Hua Shan, Shaanxi

This cliff climbing adventure will have you gripping the mountain face as you tiptoe across wooden planks seemingly held together with giant staples. It’s been called world’s most dangerous hike, but the views and cup of tea at the top of the mountain’s southern peak are worth the ‘hike’.

No 6: Jinmao Tower Skywalk, Shanghai

Ever dreamed about walking in the sky? This Shanghai attraction has got you covered. At the top of this 88-story tower (the third tallest building in China), you can take a casual wander in the open air and enjoy the views of the lively city below. And of course it has a glass-bottom to complete the illusions that you are airborne.

No 5: Dinoconda, Jiangsu

For all you roller coaster veterans, it will come as no surprise to include the world’s fastest 4th dimensional roller coaster at this infamous dinosaur-themed park.  Get ready to ROAR as you travel at a mighty 80mph, thrown and rotated in the air by a dino-monster.

No 4: Bungee Jumping at the AJ Hackett Macau Tower, Macau

This bungee jump is the world’s highest, jumping from 233m high and has revolutionised safety equipment for bungee jumping.  Prepare to feel like a giant bird swooping down to earth as you freefall until just 30 metres from earth.

No 3: Cable Car Tianmen Shan (Heaven’s Gate Mountain), Hunan

Connecting China’s scenic town of Zhangjiajie and Tianmen, the world’s longest cable car takes a total of 28 minutes from start to end. What could be an immensely enjoyable journey, could also be someone’s introduction to acrophobia as it gets as steep as 38 degrees and ascends and descends a total of 1,279 meters.

No 2: Coiling Dragon Cliff Walkway, Hunan 

Complementing the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge at No 1, this 1.6 metre wide glass path coils around the Tianmen Mountain and hangs over a sheer drop . It’s not for the faint hearted, but would you really want to miss out

No 1: Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, Hunan

At 430 metres long and 300 metres above ground, this is the world’s longest and highest glass bridge. Don’t even consider it if you are scared of heights, but if you can hold yourself together till you get to the other side, you are promised some spectacular views

Go on, what have we missed?  China and its attractions are ever changing so help us keep up to date by adding your opinions in the comments.

Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei: The Electronic Megamarket.

News and Travel Editor

Welcome to Huaqiangbei: The world’s biggest electronics market. Booths are crammed in over 10 floors and each one represents a factory close by. From smartphones and drones to circuit boards and security systems, if it’s electronic, I can guarantee you’ll be able to find it here. If you can’t find the finished product, don’t worry, there are so many components on sale, you’ll be able to make it from scratch.

It’s not the usual scenic attraction we might talk about on China Icons so why visit? Huaqiangbei is renowned for its vast range of products as well its speed and efficiency in producing them. Plus we were in town with a shopping list – a drone and some circuit boards. This is both geek heaven and the place to stock up on all the gadgets you wish you had.

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Its location in Shenzhen, rather than Beijing or Shanghai, reveals something fascinating about the modern history of China. Until 1979, Shenzhen was nothing more than a sleepy fishing port with a population of around 30,000. That year, Shenzhen became a ‘Special Economic Zone’, becoming China’s first experiment in capitalism. ‘SEZs’ were the brainchild of Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader at the time, who wanted to cement China’s place as a global economic powerhouse. They were designed to encourage foreign investment and this meant that zones such as Shenzhen would have different trade and business laws compared to the rest of the country.

Fast forward to today and the population has leaped to 10-15 million (the exact figure is unknown because of the shifting patterns of migrant workers), a larger population than London, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, New York and Washington D.C.. Economically, Shenzhen has undeniably flourished, with its GDP growing from 1.96 million RMB in 1979 to 1.95 trillion RMB today.

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This immense growth and rapid expansion turned Shenzhen into a haven for hardware and electronic startups. Huaqiangbei is simply one of Shenzhen’s most prominent examples of this.

Some of the famous ‘startups’ that call Shenzhen home include world-renowned drone-makers, DJI; BYD, famous for electric cars and having the world’s largest electric bus fleet; telecom giants, Huawei; and the owners of WeChat, Tencent, now worth over $200 billion. Many of these companies were founded in the 1990s during Shenzhen’s economic boom. DJI’s story is more impressive still. Founded in 2006, DJI have snapped up around 70% of the drone market, way ahead of the nearest rival, French firm Parrot.

The next big company to come out of China and dominate the international market may well come out of one of the tiny stalls in the vast Huaqiangbei electronic markets.

So what can you expect to see? Each floor has its own dedicated speciality, from motors, batteries and circits on one floor, to smart phones, drones, TVs, security systems and laptops on the others.

But you’ll still find a bit of everything on each floor. The challenge is giving yourself enough time to look round to make sure you get the best deal.

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So how did I get on? Sadly I didn’t follow my own advice and purchased a mini-drone far too early for 350 RMB ($50). I found a similar one later for just over half the price at 180 RMB ($25). A great reminder that there’s always room for a bit of bargaining and negotiation. If you play your cards right, buying here will almost certainly be worth your while. The custom-made circuit boards we were after were delivered the next day for half the price we would have expected to pay outside of China.

Make no mistake, Shenzhen continues to grow. The city is covered in building sites and there are plans to make Shenzhen one of the greenest cities on earth.

Fancy knowing more about Shenzhen’s history and how it is competing with the likes of Silicon Valley? The documentary visits some of the city’s startups and takes you through the electronics market, showcasing exactly what you can buy there.

 

Living the Dream in China: A New Year’s Resolution

News and Travel Editor

Happy 2017!  As we fast approach the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rooster, it’s the perfect time to reflect back on the past year, as well as think of a couple of those dreaded New Year Resolutions…

Fear not! Here at China Icons, we can think of one that’s a bit more exciting than heading to the gym everyday for a week before giving up until next year. If your resolutions include travelling or even relocating, there’s never been a better time to make China a part of your itinerary.

Whether you want to go to China to teach, be an entrepreneur, study at a Chinese university, or simply travel, China has it all. It’s a country where the ancient and the modern coalesce  The most popular destinations for many travellers include Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, where old traditions and fast-paced modern life intertwine perfectly. This is probably why it’s estimated that 600,000 foreigners currently live in China, as well as having 328,000 foreign students in 2012.

We have the perfect insight into travellers who have followed their dream in China, with many opting to permanently settle there. Many  of our China Icons videos explore the stories of these people, from Pol, a Turkish Games Designer, to Lee, a Television Presenter and Writer. We want to share the very best with you and to hopefully give you some inspiration on how you can follow your dream in China.

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A Games Designer in China

Turkish Games Designer, Pol, based himself in Guangzhou at the heart of the gaming development community. Go behind the scenes with Pol and find out more about what you can get up to in Guangzhou when the sun goes down.

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Lee’s Life in Beijing

Lee is a British Television Presenter and Writer and moved to Beijing when he was 26 years old. Lee explains how he started his own TV series analysing film reviews.

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Marion’s Life in Tibet

Now we head away from the big cities with Marion, who moved to Tibet from France and trained herself to become a mountain climber and even had the chance to take on the awe-inspiring Mt. Everest. Marion explains what attracted her to Tibet’s fascinating landscape and culture.

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Stunning embroidery of China’s Miao People

Fiona is an Australian ER Doctor, but moved to China to become a food writer and photo blogger. Watch below to find out more about Fiona’s journey to visit the Miao People and their amazing traditions.

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War Horse Theatre Director Alex Sims

War Horse has become a worldwide phenomenon and British Theatre Director, Alex Sims, has taken it to China. Go behind the scenes of the National Theatre of China and one of the biggest theatre productions in the world.

 

Do you fancy your hand in any of these professions? Are you travelling to China this year and have these videos persuaded you to maybe stay a little longer? Let us know in the comments below!

Check in next week for an insight into this year’s, world famous, Harbin Ice Festival and take a look at some of the stunning sculptures making an appearance this year.

Hong Kong – the city of record breakers

News and Travel Editor

Hong Kong always takes our breath away and is a favourite winter destination.

But don’t just take our word for it! Here are some record breaking reasons why you need to plan a trip to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s skyline is staggering, with more skyscrapers than any other city on the planet. More people live and work above the 14th floor here than in any other city in the world!

To get around, you have the biggest double decker tram fleet at your disposal…. Plus more Rolls Royces per person than any other city. Although you might need to seek alternative transport to reach Hong Kong’s 200 plus islands…!

When you’ve recovered from all that island hopping, marvel at the biggest nightly show of light and sound in the ‘Symphony of Lights’ at Victoria Harbour.

Want more tips on things to do in Hong Kong?
Callum’s 72 hour selfie has you sorted

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China’s Oldest Resident: The Ginkgo Tree

News and Travel Editor

Fall is my favourite season of the year, with darker, cosier evenings and the changing colours in the trees. But have you heard of the Ginkgo Biloba Tree? It’s famous in China for being one of the oldest living tree species and shedding its brilliantly golden leaves at the start of Fall (also known as autumn in other parts of the world!).

There are both ‘male’ and ‘female’ trees, with the female producing a strange, whiffy, fruit which is often described as smelling like ‘rancid butter’. Remember to take your nose pegs if you’re planning on visiting your local Ginkgo tree anytime soon…

The fruit can actually pose a massive problem in cities with people regularly slipping on it after it has fallen from the tree, resulting in male only trees being used in urban areas.

Nonetheless, the Gingko Biloba tree is often planted near temples, shrines and castles and can be seen as an object of holy worship as well as being able to ward off evil spirits.

The species is thought to be around 350 million years old, making the tree a symbol of longevity and vitality. Reports of the oldest individual tree are wildly varied, ranging from 1,400 years to 10,000 years!

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Image by CS76.

The leaves of Ginkgo trees are used for herbal medicine and are said to have a range of medicinal qualities including being able to improve blood circulation and relieve Alzheimer’s. It’s also a hugely popular drug in France and Germany, accounting for 1.5% of their total prescription sales!

The Ginkgo tree is known also to be exceptionally hardy and able to withstand disastrous events. Some trees in China show signs of lightning damage but continue to grow and blossom out of disfigured trunks.

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Image by travel oriented. CC Attribution 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode).

So there you have it, the Ginkgo tree is more than just a pretty sight. Choosing to ignore its pungent fruit, the tree is also an allegedly effective healer and keep away unwanted spirits (perfect, just in time for Halloween!).

Fancy a spot of ‘leaf peeping’ yourself? Here are our favourite places to go!

Dajue Temple, Beijing.
The Ginkgo tree here is reportedly 1,000 years old and is easily accessible in the suburbs of Beijing. There are 3 other Ginkgo trees at the temple, the tallest being 30 metres, with a diameter of 7 to 8 metres.

Stone Buddha Temple, Beijing.
This Ginkgo was planted in the Tang Dynasty, 1,200 years ago! This tree is female and produces fruit every autumn. You have been warned…

Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple, Xi’an, Shanxi Province.
This tree was also planted during the Tang dynasty and is on the national protection list of trees. Monks at the temple often meditate amongst the fallen leaves.