China Vacation: 10 Things To Know Before You Take Off

You’ve booked your ticket, made your hotel reservations and you’re ready to enjoy the glorious combination of unspoiled natural beauty, lively cities, and cultural history that await the fortunate travelers to China. However, before packing your suitcase and jetting off to this exotic and mysterious country, there are a few things that you should know to ensure a smooth vacation. Here are the 10 things you should know before taking off for your China vacation:

10. Currency

In China, the currency used is the Yuan Renminbi which is symbolized as ¥ and more commonly called yuan. one yuan is equal to approximately $0.16 USD, or the inverse, $1 USD is equal to 6.36 yuan. You may also hear locals refer to a yuan as a ‘kuai’ which is a nickname but still refers to a dollar. While you may hear all these terms used when talking about money, rest assured because Renminbi, Yuan and Kuai all mean the same thing, referring to the Chinese dollar.

Chinese Yuan

9. Power Conversion

Throughout China, the standard outlet used is 220 volts, though some four and five-star hotel properties are wired with the 110-volt outlets common throughout North America. Either way, it is a good idea to purchase a power converter so that you can use your own electronics like chargers and personal appliances during your vacation.

220 Volt outlet

8. Tipping

A common question for travelers is “when should I tip?” and the answer depends on the establishment. If you receive good service in a westernized place like a hotel, it is common and much appreciated to tip waiters, room service staff, bellhops, maids and tour guides/drivers. You are not expected to tip local taxi drivers or staff at Chinese restaurants (those not geared for westerners) and it should be mentioned that Hong Kong and Macau because of their westernization generally follow the same tipping practices as in North America.

tipping

7. Visa Requirements

With a few specific exemptions, most travelers to China will need to obtain a visa prior to their scheduled vacation. It is recommended that travelers apply for the visa at least 1 month before their departure to ensure it is processed in time. The cost of the visa depends on a few factors including what country you are from and the processing time required for your application. It’s best to do your homework on visas for China well in advance of your trip.

Chinese Visa

6. Departure Tax

Like many countries, China charges a departure tax when leaving the country by air. Thankfully this fee of 90 yuan or approximately $16 USD, is included in your air fare at the time of booking so no need to worry about saving some cash for your departure, it’s already taken care of!

Beijing Airport

5. The Internet is Restricted

The Chinese government restricts the use of the internet in this country so you may find that some of your regularly visited websites are blocked. It’s a good idea to do some research before you go, especially if you’re planning on doing any work while traveling. There are ways around the restrictions however, and many Chinese people are very tech savvy and well educated on internet use, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

google china

4. Don’t Learn ‘Chinese’

You won’t get very far. That’s because there is no unified language known as Chinese, instead Chinese people speak a number of different dialects depending on where they are from. If you do want to learn a few key phrases to help your communication, Mandarin and Cantonese are the 2 most popular dialects used in china.

Photo by: Youtube/Howcast
Photo by: Youtube/Howcast

3. Squat Toilets Are Real

There’s a good chance you’ll encounter a squat toilet at some point on your vacation, especially out in public places or attractions. Don’t worry, they’re much easier to use than they seem and they’re actually more sanitary than seated toilets since there’s no contact. Just remember to carry your own toilet paper while you’re out sightseeing.

Squat toilet China

2. Burping is Not Rude

It’s actually a sign of contentment after eating a meal, so if you feel the need to burp, there’s no need hold it in or act embarrassed if one happens to slip out. It’s also socially acceptable to stare as it means that you’re genuinely interested in the person and what they are doing. So if you’re being stared at, don’t assume it’s just because you’re a tourist!

covering mouth

1.  Chicken Balls?

If you go to China with dreams of chicken balls and sweet and sour pork, you’re going to be in for a surprise and whether it’s a good or bad one will all depend on your perspective. The deep-fried, covered in glowing sauce kind of Chinese food we know of in North America is not what they really eat in China. Instead you’ll find many healthier vegetable and meat dishes prepared simply but none the less delicious.

Yum Cha

UNESCO’S 15 Most Beautifully Designed Cities In The World

Designations from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are much sought after by cities around the world. Its best known one is the World Heritage Site that calls on signatories to protect and preserve important monuments from a small church to a vast jungle. Less well known but still dandy for planning itineraries is the Creative Cities Network in which cities receive a special designation if it can prove its creative specialty is unique of important cultural and economic significance and is sustainable. One of the most intriguing is Design. UNESCO has identified 15 Cities of Design that “(place) creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans.” It is about not just the urban space but the things that fill space that, to meet UNESCO criteria must enhance the quality of life for people and be environmentally sustainable. And of course make a whole bunch of seriously cool stuff. Here are, in UNESCO’s estimation the 15 most aesthetically pleasing and innovative Cities of Design.

15. Montréal, Canada

The genius of some of the world’s great architects dot the Montreal skyline despite the civic edict that no building exceeds the height of Mont Royal under whose slopes the city was founded in 1642. I.M Pei’s Place Ville Marie still dominates the downtown more than 50 years after its debut. Other stellar works include Mies van der Rohe’s Westmount Square, Buckminster Fuller’s stunning Geodesic Dome and Moshe Sadie’s Habitat, the latter two built for the 1967 World’s Fair has found new life. Old Montreal by the Old Port is a treasure of preserved 19th century buildings on cobblestone streets. It is the home of the Canadian Centre for Architecture as well as the UNESCO Chair in Landscape and Environmental Design at l’ Université de Montréal. UNESCO calls Montreal “The City of Designers” with 25,000 people in design development in one of the most stylish cities in North America.

Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com
Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com

14. Buenos Aires, Argentina

For architecture fans and design geeks, Buenos Aires is already heaven. One of its iconic historic buildings, Palacio Barolo is an homage to the Dante’s 15th century masterpiece, The Divine Comedy with the Hell, the ground floor with flame images on the walls, to the mid-level office space, called Purgatory and the upper floors with their fantastic views of the great city being ‘Paradise.” It has a stable of great works on its skyline built in a jumble of Old World Styles from Renaissance to Art Deco. The Planetarium and Women’s Bridge continue the creative tradition into the 21st century. UNESCO notes with praise the use of government incentives to grow the design industry which now accounts for almost a tenth of the giant city’s Gross Domestic Product and “contributes to turning Buenos Aires into a benchmark of design in Latin America: while fostering inclusive and sustainable development.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

13. Curitiba, Brazil

This city of 3 million people in southern Brazil is at the forefront of sustainable urban development in the world. Already a cultural and design center, UNESCO singles out the city’s innovation for “Recognizing design as an agent for urban transformation.” In this context the term “design” goes beyond buildings in post-modern, futuristic shapes to the materials used to make them. The sustainable city mission was begun by architect and three-term, Curitiba Mayor Jaime Lerner and inspired similar initiatives across the country. Lerner combined an overhaul of mass transit and garbage collection with the promotion of alternative building materials to streamline costs and provide affordable housing. An, NGO (Nongovernmental Organization) Curadores da Terra or Keepers of the earth has developed a process that turns the environmental plague of plastic bottles into a popular, inexpensive building material.

Curitiba, Brazil

12. Bilbao, Spain

What leaps to mind at the Mention of Bilbao, is the beautiful jumble that is the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry, one of the most famous and renowned pieces of architecture since it opened in 1997. In fact the whole process of reclaiming former heavily industrial urban areas that are in decline or abandoned has come to be called “The Guggenheim Effect, the great Museum reclaimed a derelict section of the old port for a sustainable addition to the city’s tourism infrastructure. The policy continues with the Alhondiga, a beautiful wine warehouse from 1909 on the verge of demolition but rescued and turned into a multi use cultural facility in 2010. Bilbao’s approach using design and technology to transition from an old industrial economy to a modern service economy is the model UNESCO wants more cities to follow, the creation of “major cultural facilities contributing to the economy in terms of wealth creation, employment and social well-being.

Migel / Shutterstock.com
Migel / Shutterstock.com

11. Turin, Italy

Italy has been at the forefront of global design since they built the Roman Senate in 753 BCE. Turin has been called the Detroit of Italy, the home of great automotive brands like Fiat and Alfa Romeo. And like its American counterpart it experienced economic crisis and depopulation in the 1980’s. Still with about the same GDP as the country of Croatia, Turin has used its accumulated wealth  expertise and world class schools to move upstream into more sustainable, knowledge based industries, most notably aerospace. Several of the International Space Station modules were designed here. The greatest symbol of the city’s rejuvenation and transition is the fabulous Lingotto Fiere, which remains futurists despite being nearly a century old. Even Le Corbusier the great French architect raved about it. The old Fiat plant opened in 1922, but then became outmoded in the seventies and eventually closed in the 80’s. It reopened as a multi-use complex, including a hotels, concert halls art gallery shopping mall and a campus for the world renowned Polytechnic University of Turin.

Turin, Italy

10. Graz, Austria

Graz is already home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Eggenberg Castle is a grand historical work in the Baroque style. The Old Town is an impeccably preserved wealth of centuries of buildings in wide range of architectural styles. But the small city of 300,000 isn’t resting on those fortunate laurels of the distant past. UNESCO’s website is prone to thick bureaucratic gibberish, but the spirit of the initiative comes through in statements like noting a fashion festival “is committed to cultural exchange on the textile level.” It’s just an example of the injection of sustainability into everyday goods that is providing the basis of The Next Economy in First World places that can afford to lead the way. Consider it the next Industrial Revolution. The Creative Sector in Graz has almost 5,000 companies, mostly small and medium size that generate about $700,000,000 in additional revenue allowing the city to commission innovative, iconic works of architecture that goes beyond fancy buildings for the sake of being fancy to making intelligent design that “and values both the aesthetic component of design as well as its ability to make daily life more livable.”

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

9. Berlin, Germany

Berlin has been one of the creative centers of the world for centuries and is now becoming leader in Design with some 2,400 companies been over $400,000,000 in annual revenue. Its International Center for Design is focused on what it believes is the way of the future: “Environmentally-conscious design is thus the key to a sustainable society.” At its heart is the emerging consumer behaviour called LOHAS “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability” as individuals seek out healthier lifestyle and environmentally sensitive choices. They have become a world leader in ‘eco-design…to optimize energy efficiency, to minimize pollution emission and waste production.” There are 5000 Design students in the city’s elite schools. Berlindesign.net acts as an independent, fair trade platform for hundreds of independent Berlin designers from fashion to furniture to food. It’s all based on a highly innovative business plan called the “Triple Bottom Line,” in which design marketing and pricing reflect not just profit margins but ecological, economic and social concerns as well.

Berline Germany, Spree River

8. Helsinki, Finland

Design is embedded in the Finnish soul. Or as the Guardian wrote “Design is to Helsinki as literature is to Dublin and samba is to Rio.” Scandinavia in general is known for its modernist, minimalist furniture but Finland itself with a population of 5.5 million has given the world two of its greatest architects, Eero Saarinen and Alvar Aalto. The Finnish capital is an architectural garden of delights. Volumes have been written about the Finns creativity but UNESCO pointed to two things in particular that propelled Helsinki to 2012’s World City of Design status. One, Design is a government priority. The Finnish Innovation Fund stimulates the sector to design solutions to a wide variety of public policy issues from sustainability to education. It especially notes the inclusion of passengers in the process of designing the seats on the transit system.

Helsinki, Finland

7. Dundee, Scotland

A charter member of the global Rust Belt of once vibrant juggernauts of heavy industry, Dundee was made the United Kingdom’s first Creative City of Design. It is a case study in urban reinvention in knowledge based economic sectors and an example of just how broad the discipline of design has become. The booming shipbuilding and textile industries have given way to biotechnology and digital media. Dundee is home to one of the largest teaching hospitals in the world as well as the company that produced the hugely popular video game called Grand Theft Auto. The city is spending 1.5 billion dollars on revitalizing its waterfront, including a striking  Museum Of Design with the goal of making the city an international design center, creatively financed by government and private sector funding.

Dundee, Scotland

6. Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen’s skyline shimmers with stunning, cutting edge architectural design as befits to an emerging innovative powerhouse of 11 million people. The Stock Exchange, the Asian Cairns and the Oct Museum push the design envelope. In southern China close to Hong Kong, design is a multi-billion dollar business employing 100,000 people. A generation of Chinese designers were trained here and excel in a wide spectrum of disciplines, women’s fashion being the most notable but that includes crafts, jewelry and toys. The city has moved upstream into creative, knowledge-based sectors, finance primarily among them as integration with the wealth creation machine that is Hong Kong.

Shenzhen, China

5. Shanghai, China

The Shanghai Design Show is Asia’s biggest and most important attracting the world designing elite, from Jaguar to Nike to Cognac giant Martell. A truly international city home to 25 million people faces enormous challenges in sustainable development. But it has a huge creative sector to meet those challenges and develop sectors that add about $40 billion to the city’s GDP. UNESCO notes that the city was the Chinese leader in creative sectors such as film and music. It takes one look at Shanghai’s dynamic skyline to grasp the tremendous creative power the city is harnessing under the aegis of the Municipal Commission of Economy and Technology. Shanghai’s Creative Cites page boasts 87 Creative Clusters, over 4,000 innovative design-related agencies and institutions, 283 art institutions, 239 art and cultural community centers, 100 museums, 25 libraries and 743 archive institutions. It is perhaps Exhibit A of a city growing its economy by investing in Design.

Top Cities 2013 - Shanghai

4. Kobe, Japan

There is a 21st century about the Kobe skyline partly because of its innovative nature and sadly, from a major rebuild after the catastrophic earthquake in 1995. But in one form or another the city has been adept at self-reinvention through history. As an open port it has absorbed the influence of many cultures and has long been regarded as a cosmopolitan city. There is an old saying that says, “If you can’t go to Paris go to Kobe.” Like the French city to which it’s compared, Kobe is a fashion design center. Kobe Biennale is a major annual art and design event that aims to use the twin disciplines “not only to promote the arts, but also to contribute to the enrichment and environment of Kobe.” In 2015 a number eclectic competitions were held for Art-in-a Box, using old containers as a kind of urban canvas; creative toys, ceramic art, comic illustration and ‘green’ art.

Kobe, Japan

3. Nagoya, Japan

One of the rare cities that has managed to retain its blue collar and artistic pedigrees. It is home to major Toyota and Mitsubishi auto plants as well as traditional Japanese theater, cuisine and craft work dating back to medieval times. All under the magnificent watch of the fabulous 17th century Nagoya Castle. Even the modern manufacturing systems are based on the old Japanese principle of Monozukuri which Toyota defines as “manufacturing which is in harmony with nature and that is value adding for the society… the older sister of sustainable manufacturing.” Also unlike many others on the list, Nagoya can claim a design specialty. An army of engineers advance robot technology as well as a sector that discovers and designs new materials. UNESCO lauds its combination of tradition and the philosophy of Humanism with advanced technology.

Nagoya, Japan

2. Seoul, South Korea

The economy of South Korea is an aggressively powerful export machine barging into giant-dominated sectors like cars and cellphones. Seoul, the dynamic capital, is home to three-quarters of the country’s designers. Seoul’s design sector is heavy on IT related products now honing fashion and digital home appliance design. City government policy acts as a facilitator linking design companies with its thriving industrial base. Dongdaemun Design Plaza is like a modern Silicon Valley of design and creative expertise that not only serves as an incubator for innovation, but transformed one of the city’s oldest, most historic districts.

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

1. Beijing, China

Far and away the most controversial and debatable of UNESCO’s designations is Beijing, China. However, UNESCO notes the city’s 3000 years rich with history. The architecture and design of the venues for the 2008 Olympics were spectacular but remain underused and unable to be integrated into the city fabric. Meanwhile the brutally bulldozing of the city’s legendary hutongs or traditional neighborhoods of narrow alleys have been documented in books and documentaries. UNESCO cites the huge number of museums and creativity clusters “bearing in mind their relevance for sustainable development.”

Beijing, China

The 10 Most Popular Destination Cities in Asia/Pacific for 2015

Tourism to the Asia/Pacific region has been on the rise for a while now, as travel becomes increasingly affordable to more people, businesses expand into new countries and cities and as young people become increasingly infatuated with exploring. And why not? With a host of colorful cities, storied history and amazing sightseeing, Asia/Pacific destinations deserve to be on your travel itinerary. Not sure which city to visit first (or next)? Take a look at 2015’s most popular destination cities in the region to help get you started on your next trip.

10. Osaka, Japan

Although less frequented than Tokyo on the travel circuit, Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city, with nearly 19 million inhabitants, and has long been an important center in the country. In fact, Osaka was even declared the capital city during the 8th and 9th centuries. In the Edo years, Osaka maintained its economic importance as a major center of the rice trade. A booming economy led to a burgeoning cultural scene, something that continued to develop during the 19th century as Osaka modernized. Today, Osaka has many attractions that can give Tokyo a run for its money—from amusement parks to kabuki theater, from cuisine to historical monuments, Osaka is a destination that offers a little something for everyone, so it’s little wonder more than 4.5 million people will have visited in 2015. Stop by Shitenno-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, or the landmark Osaka Castle.

Osaka, Japan

9. Mumbai, India

Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is the most populous city in India. It’s also the most popular city for travelers to visit—nearly five million of them in 2015—which is little surprise as Mumbai is the economic and entertainment capital of India. Mumbai’s cityscape is also impressive, with an eclectic mix of architectural styles documenting the city’s long history. Mumbai has the second-largest number of Art Deco buildings in the world, and skyscrapers now form a major portion of the city’s panorama. Mumbai is the birthplace of Indian cinema and hosts a large number of film festivals; Bollywood and Marathi films can be seen at many cinemas. Mumbai is also home to a well-funded contemporary art movement and has several art museums and galleries. The city functions as a major cultural center and hosts plenty of festivals throughout the year, with Christian, Hindu and Muslim traditions all represented.

Mumbai India

8. Shanghai, China

Perhaps more iconic than even the capital city of Beijing, Shanghai is, for many people, the representative city of China, which is how it attracts nearly six million visitors every year. The largest Chinese city and, in fact, the largest city in the world by some counts, Shanghai originally developed as a major center thanks to its strategic position at the mouth of the Yangtze River. It became an important hub during the colonial period, which helped bolster its international reputation. Today, Shanghai is the economic center of China, with major industrial, commercial and financial sectors operating there. Shanghai has long been multicultural, which is demonstrated by its mix of architectural styles, its religious heritage and even in the history of its most famous garment, the cheongsam. Shanghai is also an important hub for sports, being home to several professional soccer teams and the annual Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix.

Top Cities 2013 - Shanghai

7. Taipei, Taiwan

As the center of Taiwan, Taipei is an important hub for economic, political and cultural activity, which is probably why more than 6.5 million people will visit the city in 2015. Taipei boasts many architectural and cultural landmarks, including museums, temples and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Taipei is also remarked for its geography, as it lies on an ancient lakebed between 2 small rivers; the nearby natural hot springs are world-renowned. Taipei also hosts many major festivals, such as the New Year’s Lantern Festival, a Dragon Boat Festival and the mid-autumn Moon Festival. The city is home to Taipei 101, a supertall skyscraper that was the tallest building in the world until 2010. Ximending has become famous for its shopping and entertainment. The city is also famed for its many night markets, street markets that operate during the evening, which are popular with citizens and tourists alike.

Taipei 101, Taiwan

6. Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s capital city is one of those destinations that “has it all”. Whether you’re looking for new and exciting fashion, interested in taking in traditional kabuki and noh plays, want to go shopping or just want to eat the freshest sushi in the world, Tokyo is your one-stop shopping destination. Tokyo is a sprawling city with many museums, temples, historic buildings and, yes, districts dedicated to nightlife, fashion subcultures and electronics. Climb Tokyo Skytree to get a new perspective on the urban sprawl or head out of town to climb Mount Fuji. Visit the castle, where the emperor and his family reside, or take a trip to Akihabara to check out the latest in electronics. After a long day, hit up Shibuya and Roppongi for a taste of trendy Tokyo nightlife. No wonder more than eight million people will stop off in this city in 2015.

Tokyo

5. Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong’s deep natural harbor and turbulent history saw it remain a British colony until near the end of the 20th century. In 1997, the city became an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. Before that, however, Hong Kong had developed into a global metropolis, functioning as a center for trade and finance from the 1970s on. Today, more than 8.5 million people visit the city each year. Hong Kong has been described as the point where East meets West, with modernization and Western influences blending easily with traditions like feng shui and dim sum. The city is also a hub for the entertainment industry, producing many popular kung-fu action films. It’s renowned for beaches along its rugged coastline and with Mount Kowloon nearby with its extensive network of trails and steep terrain, which is popular among hikers. The city’s skyline contains the most skyscrapers in the world.

Top Cities 2013 - Hong Kong

4. Seoul, South Korea

Seoul will have received more than 10 million visitors in 2015, which make the city the world’s 10th most visited destination. As South Korea’s most populous and capital city, Seoul is the financial, cultural and political heart of the country. Seoul has been a capital city since the 14th century, and so it has a lengthy roster of historically important buildings and UNESCO World Heritages sites, including palaces and temples, as well as the remains of neolithic settlements. Seoul also has many museums and parks which form an important part of the cityscape. Two old residential districts are now preserved as museums to showcase traditional Korean culture and lifeways, including hanok houses. The Kimchi Field Museum is dedicated to traditional Korean cuisine. Seoul is also renowned for its modern architecture and was named World Design Capital in 2010.

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

3. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The capital of Malaysia will attract more than 11 million international visitors in 2015; in fact, the city has received at least that many visitors since 2012 and tourism growth shows no signs of slowing down. Tourism and shopping are major drivers of the Malaysian economy and nowhere is that more evident than Kuala Lumpur. Major attractions include the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world, the National Palace and the Jamek Mosque. Petaling Street and Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is another notable destination for tourists, as well as the annual Thaipusam procession to Batu Caves, a major cultural festival that attracts many visitors each year. The city is a hub for entertainment, art and events, including sports and music festivals. Greenspace is also important in the city, with many parks offering recreational opportunities. The Cultural Crafts Complex demonstrates the traditional processes for textile, ceramic and metal crafting.

Top Cities 2013 - Kuala Lumpur

2. Singapore, Malaysia

With nearly 12 million international visitors set to touch down in 2015, there’s definitely more to Singapore than the infamous Singapore Sling. Singapore is not only a city, it’s a city-state—meaning it’s also its own sovereign nation. Singapore is a global city, with an important financial sector and a busy shipping port. Cuisine is one of the country’s major attractions, with dining said to be a national pastime. Singapore’s multiethnic mix has led to a unique fusion of Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisines—like the Peranakan style of cooking, which blends Chinese and Malay gourmets. Of course, the multicultural tendencies of the country have also led to mixed styles of architecture and religious celebrations in the city-state. Singapore has also earned a reputation for luxury, with gambling and casinos becoming an increasing part of the tourist economy in the last decade.

Singapore city

1. Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand’s capital city is on-track to receive over 18 million foreign tourists in 2015, and it’s not hard to see what makes Bangkok so popular. With a mix of historical sites and buildings, shopping and dining and a dynamic nightlife, Bangkok offers something for everyone to see and do. Another major driver of Bangkok tourism is sex tourism—so much so that Bangkok has been nicknamed the “Sin City of Asia”. Among the notable sites in the city are Wat Phra Kaew, a Buddhist temple in the Grand Palace, and Jim Thompson House, an exemplar of Thai architecture. The city’s National Gallery showcases the development of Thai art. As the seat of the Thai government and the royal family, Bangkok is also a hub for the celebration of major festivals and holidays, such as the annual Songkran celebrations every April.

Top Cities 2013 - Bangkok

10 Most Expensive Cities To Move To In The World

There are so many ingenious ways to measure the cost of living in places around the world. So if you’re thinking of heading off to a treasured locale in some far off land, you absolutely want to check this list. Six of the top ten culprits on The Domestic Budget from Hell list are from either China or Switzerland. The cost of living can rise or fall on the arcane machinations of currency values, population growth or plain old corruption. Some cultures have never got the hang of retail and their screwed-up distribution systems lead to classic horror stories like the legendary $40 cantaloupe of Tokyo. Here’s where it gets really interesting. Most of the insanely expensive cities that have dominated these lists in recent years have fallen off, Tokyo among them along with New York, London and Moscow making way for a whole new batch of prohibitively expensive destinations. So hold on to your wallet and take the tour, free of charge.

10. N’Djamena, Chad

Simply put Chad is a basket case sitting atop an ocean of recently discovered oil and N’Djamena is the capital. Mercer sums up the problems this way: “The main driver behind this is the difficulty finding good, secure accommodation for expatriates. “So the limited supply of acceptable accommodation is very expensive. The cost of imported international goods is also high.” Plain English translation:Chad is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. At least half the estimated $10 USD billion in earnings has been skimmed off for military hardware and embezzlement. The country also borders on war-stricken Syria and Sudan and the U.S. State Department counsels Americans to avoid border zones where the dreaded Boko Haram are a real threat. The average annual wage is $750. Average life expectancy is 51. Chronic drought devastates crops and there’s no real infrastructure to cut through the corruption. So with a full plate like that, Chad hasn’t got around to building condos, heath clubs and sushi bars for the oil workers that have flocked there. Cheap it is not. But it dropped from the number two slot last year, so maybe there’s progress.

Photo by: afcone via Flickr
Photo by: afcone via Flickr

9. Bern, Switzerland

When thinking about expensive cities mammoth urban monster is the image that comes to mind. Bern is a lovely city, a bucolic town of maybe 150,000 people. It is the capital with an Old Town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. But, pricier than Tokyo and London? Well start with a tight housing market. Then add the Capitol Factor with civil servants making very decent money. The biggest culprit has nothing to do with Bern at all. In fact it has more to do with Greece and the panic its long running death spiral in the European Union has caused. When it looked like Greece might default on EU loans, nervous investors dumped their Euros and bought Swiss Francs as a safe haven for their money bags causing it to zoom in value. Suddenly expats had to spend way more of their own currency to buy the francs they needed. As a result everything in Switzerland got more expensive without prices in stores actually being marked up.

Bern Switzerland

8. Seoul, South Korea

Now this is more like it. A city of ten million at the head of the massive industrial juggernaut that is South Korea. Seoul begins the Asian onslaught. A nice apartment costs about two grand, not way out of line. But groceries and clothing are the silent killers, twice the level in the U.S. A decade ago Seoul was barely making the Top 50, now it’s Top 10 again largely because of international currency turbulence. The Korean Won has jumped 36% against the Japanese yen and 15% against the weakening Euro. Here’s how currency changes become price increases. That $2000 USD apartment to a Canadian with a weaker currency costs $2527 CAD. Ouch, eh?

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

7. Beijing, China

The expense of living in Beijing is giving whole new meaning to the expression “Forbidden City.” A three-bedroom apartment downtown can be north of US$4000. Office space is pricier than Manhattan. Eating Western food even at home is prohibitive. Tuition for schools starts at $25000 USD. Coffee has broken the $6 barrier. The rise in value of the Chinese yuan is propelling several growing Chinese cities up the expensive charts with bullets. Shenyang, a city of 8 million, 700 km northeast of Beijing jumped 33 rungs to 21st. Qingdao, home of the famous beer, jumped 24 to 25th.On the other hand cigarettes are 3 bucks a pack, making it hard on would be quitters.

Beijing, China

6. Shanghai, China

Two hints this place will cost you. 1) There are more than 17 million people. 2) Even after the sell off the Shanghai stock market is up 89% over last year. So the place is sloshing around in people and money as incomes rise and a middle class emerges to compete with expats for scarcer and scarcer housing. Even now, a real estate website offers a tiny 2-bedroom apartment in what they “The Other Areas” for $2200 USD a month. Anything imported is hideously expensive. Levi 501’s are $116.50, a package of diapers is $32.00, and breakfast cereal is eight bucks a box. All this on top of the inflation from the rising value of the currency and it will be a pretty penny to live in the shadow of the iconic skyline. Except for Canadians who don’t have pennies anymore.

toiletroom / Shutterstock.com
toiletroom / Shutterstock.com

5. Geneva, Switzerland

The Swiss sticker shock continues in the Club Sandwich Index champ. Geneva is home to a number of United Nations organizations so there are a lot of professionals with commensurate salaries. There is an economic axiom that cities with high incomes tend to have higher prices. Hence the $7 toothpaste of Geneva. For some reason the cost of appliances in Genève is notorious. Expats scratch their heads at the basic microwaves costing $60 at Walmart while in Geneva they cost $300. The population is less than 200,000, but since the Swiss prefer to rent rather than own due to prohibitive ownership costs, there is a dire shortage of places to live. A three bedroom in the city is around $4000 USD. Chicken is $14 a pound, those Levis are $140, and the Big Mac is $15. It all adds up. At least it ranks lowest for wine with an average bottle costing $8.69. You’ll need it.

Geneva Switzerland

4. Singapore City, Singapore

In most western jurisdictions drinking and driving is criminal offense with serious consequences. Singapore follows the-time honored economic principal that if you want to discourage certain behaviors, tax the hell out of them. As for the drinking part a delightful website called Living in Sin says drinkable wine starts at $18 USD. A loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, a pack of cigarettes together costs $39.11 and that’s not even counting restaurant markups. Sometimes you can get cheaper at a 7/11. Another city with a strong currency and financial center. A 900 square foot apartment runs $4900 a month. The BBC rates it the most expensive place to buy clothes and basic groceries are 11% higher than New York. But the pain really kicks in when it comes to cars. More for traffic than environmental reasons, Singapore discourages the use of them by making their use crazy pricey. That BMW that cost $34,000 back home in Minneapolis needs a Certificate of Entitlement which after fees, taxes and plates costs an estimated $238,000. And honestly, how can you be a self-respecting financial mover and shaker without one?

Singapore city

3. Zurich, Switzerland

Being more expensive than Singapore is no easy task, but Zurich has done it. It’s become one of those places where price tags just bring tears to your eyes. Yet there are less than 400,000 people. The average movie ticket is priced at being over $21 while haircuts are $50. That ubiquitous pair of Levis a staggering $156. A two bedroom apartment is $4100 plus. Even the wine is almost triple the price in Geneva. Food in Switzerland is said to be 45% more expensive than the rest of Western Europe. Wait there’s more. As in Geneva a microwave sets you back $329. There are people in the Ozarks who can manage to source appliances and get them on retail shelves for less than $100. It would be classified as insane in any of Switzerland’s official languages if it weren’t for the fact it still has a ways to go to catch #2 on the list.

Zurich Switzerland

2. Hong Kong, China

The Mong Kok neighborhood on Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula is by many measurements the most crowded place on earth with a population density of around 300,000 people per square mile. Manhattan’s corresponding figure is a mere 66,771. Though now repatriated to China it remains a huge global financial hub. Add a currency that’s pegged to the surging U.S. greenback. Put the three together and affordable housing becomes a distant memory while a cup of coffee has reached $11. An unfurnished two bedroom flat is about $6400 a month. As the Wall Street Journal headline said “In Hong Kong, the Apartments Are Fit for a Mosquito.” The Savills Live-Work Index puts the per employee cost to companies for home and office space to $123,000. That’s not counting paying them. Everything has to be imported pushing costs higher. The question is how do non-bankers get by?

Top Cities 2013 - Hong Kong

1. Luanda, Angola

The seemingly unlikely heavyweight wallet muncher is this African seaport and oil hub. Angola has become the second largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa so foreign workers are flocking in. Most of the city’s population of five million lives in destitution on about five dollars a day, but big oil attracts expats with lots of money and expensive tastes. After a lengthy civil war, decent housing is scarce and a decent place costs almost $7000 a month. Anything imported is ridiculous. Think those jeans were expensive in Zurich? They’re $250 here. Food is double the New York price. Transparency International ranks Angola as the 14th most corrupt country in the world. Seems officials have lost track of five billion in oil money over the last decade down their pants somewhere. But hey, Marlboro are a buck ninety a pack.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

The 15 Coolest New Tourist Attractions for 2015

The year of 2015 is promising to take monumental steps forward in technology, science and innovation and tourist attractions are benefitting from this trend. With more people traveling than ever before, older attractions are reinventing themselves and offering visitors new exhilarating experiences. From the new floor in the iconic Eiffel Tower to a bicycle path turned glow-in-the-dark; tourism imagination is at its fullest. Besides the revamped tourist attractions are a number of fabulous brand new attractions including state of the art museums focused on helping our planet, sustainable distilleries and skyscrapers and cable cars that can whisk visitors up mountains at lightning speed. From an ice tunnel in a large glacier to what feels like the top of the world in New York City; visitors around the world have no shortage of epic and cool new tourist attractions to explore. Join us in discovering the top 15 coolest new tourist attractions in 2015.

15. Shanghai Tower -Shanghai, China

Set to be the second tallest tower in the world, the Shanghai Tower could not be left off this list of coolest and most amazing attractions of 2015. Towering over the Huangpu River with 125 stories the shape of the tower is most unique. With a curved façade and a spiraling form the tower provides nine indoor zones for public visitors offering 360 degree views of the city. Each zone is home to its own atrium with gardens, cafes, restaurants and retail space.

Sustainable design is at the heart of the Shanghai Tower and at the center of its design is the second skin that wraps around the building creating the atriums that help reduce the heating and cooling efforts needed for the building. Other features include water conservation practices, wind turbines and extensive landscaping. The tower truly represents the future in the way cities are being created and is redefining the role of skyscrapers in big cities. The building is set to be the second tallest only for a short while as the Ping An Finance Centre in Shenzhen is set to surpass it in 2016. Regardless of whether it is the second, third or tenth tallest building in the world, the Shanghai Tower features unique components and a breathtaking design that can only truly be appreciated in person.

TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com
TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com

14. Eiffel Tower Glass Floor -Paris, France

One of the attractions on our list that has been re-vamped into one of the coolest new attractions of 2015 is the infamous Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. To celebrate the 125th anniversary of Paris the Eiffel Tower went through a 40 million dollar face lift and includes a new museum, solar panels and a dizzying glass floor. The museum tells the story of the history of the museum through seven screens while the solar panels will help produce hot water and energy for the tower.

The main new attraction here and the one that has everyone talking is the glass floor located on the first floor, almost 200 feet above the ground. Visitors will feel as they are literally walking on air as the non-slip coating applied to the see through panels allow people to walk, lay, sit and take “selfies”. If you didn’t think you were scared of heights take a jaunt up to this unique twist on an already iconic tourist attraction and step out onto the glass floor; this addition only makes us want to visit the Eiffel Tower even more.

Eiffel Tower looking up

13. Flyway Taiwan -New Taipei City, Taiwan

One of the most exciting attractions on our list takes place in New Taipei City in Taiwan, amongst the rolling green hills and breathtaking landscapes. Flyway, a company founded by a man from California is set to open in spring of 2015 offering a two hour zip-line canopy tour. With over ten cables to whiz down through the forests and over valleys as well as swings, rope ladders and “free fall” experiences there is no shortage of adrenaline rushing activities.

Located on the eastern edge of Taipei, Taiwan this is not for the faint-hearted. Visitors that have done zip-lining before should think twice about skipping this tourist attraction as the varying landscapes, professional commitment and interesting course offers something very different than the typical jungle zip-line experience. The trend-crazy island of Taiwan is full of beauty, lush green rolling hills and the perfect choice to go flying through the air Tarzan Style at one of the coolest attractions set to open in 2015.

Valley Taipei Taiwan

12. Bombay Sapphire Distillery -Laverstoke, United Kingdom

When one of the most iconic gin brands in the world creates a distillery with a visitor’s center it promises to be amazing and out of this world. Bombay Sapphire has managed to transform a 300 year old paper mill that sits amongst a conservation area with over a thousand years of history into a state-of-the-art sustainable distillery. The renovated Laverstoke Mill showcases the natural beauty and heritage of the site while letting visitors see the unique Vapour Infusion distillation process.

The two giant greenhouses showcase the botanicals that Bombay uses in their gin and are composed of 793 individual pieces of glass. The Dakin Still House lets visitors get up close and personal to the distillation process while the Botanical Dry Room will invigorate your senses and uncover your preferred tastes. The Mill bar is where the tasting happens and all the drinks can be tailored individually depending on your botanical preference.  A combination of incredible history, beautiful glass architecture and some of the best gin in the world makes this our number twelve coolest attraction of 2015. Discover the village of Laverstoke; home to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery.

lev radin / Shutterstock.com
lev radin / Shutterstock.com

11. Whitney Museum of American Art -New York City, USA

The largest column-free museum gallery in New York City is set to open in spring 2015; The Whitney Museum of American Art has packed up its collections and moved to its new location. Situated in the meatpacking district between the High Line and Hudson River in Manhattan the building promises to include approximately 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space. The special exhibit section is set to encompass 18,000 square feet making it the largest column free gallery in NY.

The cantilevered entrance creates a large public space where visitors can see views of the Hudson River, the park, industrial structures and mingle with others that are passionate about art. The education center that is part of the Museum includes classrooms, a 170-seat theater, conservation lab, reading room and black box with adjacent outdoor gallery for performances, film and video. Combined with a retail store and choice of restaurants; the new and improved Whitney Museum of American Art looks to be one of the coolest attractions of 2015.

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com
Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

10. One World Observatory -New York City, USA

The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere is the size of six statue of liberty’s stacked one on top of each other and is set to open in the spring of 2015. The One World Observatory occupies floors 100-102 at One World Trade Center spanning 120,000 square feet. Not only does the observatory offer a spectacular 360 degree view of New York City, surrounding waters and iconic landmarks but offers dining options, a gift store and interactive exhibits.

Visitors will first experience a multimedia gallery of the construction and engineering of this fabulous attraction. They are then whisked upwards 102 floors in just 60 seconds; the fastest elevator ride in the world. The observatory includes the “See-Forever” theater which shows a film celebrating the city of New York. A fun fact about this building; architects and designers built the tower to the specific height of 1,776 feet, to represent the year the US Declaration of Independence was signed. One World Observatory promises to be one of the hottest tourist attractions of 2015 and should be on your list of places to visit.

Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com
Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

9. Sapa Cable Car, Sapa -Vietnam

The world’s longest and highest cable car is set to open in Vietnam in 2015. The three rope cable car system is designed to take people from the foot of Fansipan Mountain to the top in just 15 minutes. In the past only avid hikers could make the two to three day trek to the top. The summit of the mountain is described as the roof of Indochina and offers stunning views across the landscapes below to those who have been unable to view it from the top in previous years.

The sleepy hill station of Sapa will be transformed into a high attraction tourist spot making some residents uneasy about the number of visitors trekking through their culturally diverse environment. Other residents however are looking forward to it; some residents have never been to the top as the trek is too hard while others plan to open restaurants and markets for the visitors. The cable car will be able to carry a maximum of 2,000 people per hour up the mountain with 35 people per car; that is the same amount of people that stood atop the mountain last year, total. The longest and highest cable car is set to open in time for National Day in the fall of 2015 and is certainly going to be a unique attraction.

Hoang Cong Thanh / Shutterstock.com
Hoang Cong Thanh / Shutterstock.com

8. Springfield at Universal Studios Hollywood, -Los Angeles, USA

For anyone who has watched the legendary TV show “The Simpsons”, this new attraction coming to Universal Studios Hollywood is sure to be one of the coolest attractions on the list for you. The town of Springfield is being re-created in Hollywood, modeled after the already popular Simpsons attraction in the Orlando Park. Universal Studios Hollywood is home to the very popular Simpson’s ride which is a medium-level thrill ride with gut busting humor and outstanding displays.

The new attraction promises replica eateries including Krusty Burger, Luigi’s Pizza, Phineas Q. Bufferfat’s 5600 Flavors Ice Cream Parlor, along with Moe’s Tavern and the Duff Brewery. Slide up to the bar at Moe’s Tavern and grab a Duff Beer and make a prank phone call. Or visit the Kwik-E-Mart and indulge in a Squishee frozen drink. Other attractions include Mr. Burn’s mansion and the nuclear power plant. It seems as designers have stuck to the true essence of the show and have worked hard to make the iconic TV show come to life. Whether you spent years watching the show or have only watched one episode this attraction is sure to delight any visitor to the park.

Supannee Hickman / Shutterstock.com
Supannee Hickman / Shutterstock.com

7. TITLIS Rotair -Engelberg, Switzerland

Whether you visit Switzerland in the winter or the summer this brand new attraction is going to be something you want to do. The TITLIS Rotair is one of the world’s only revolving gondolas and it transports visitors to the summit of Mount TITLIS. Passengers load onto the gondola at the middle station located in the town of Engelberg and take a short five minute trip up to 9,926ft; the top of the summit. Passengers are provided with 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape; steep rock faces, snow covered mountain peaks, and deep glacial crevices.

There is no bad place to stand as the gondola does a full rotation up to the top and offers great views from any position. At the top another adventure awaits visitors as the Glacier Cave is free to walk through, as is the adrenaline pumping suspension bridge that is Europe’s highest suspension bridge and offers breathtaking lookouts into the abyss. The Glacier Park is also accessible from the summit and one should try the quick and slippery snow tubes or minibobs that take you down the hill; while a magic carpet waits to pull you back up. A chocolate shop, a watch store and a breathtaking Mountain view; what more could you want?

prosiaczeq / Shutterstock.com
prosiaczeq / Shutterstock.com

6. Langjökull Ice Tunnel in Langjökull Glacier – Iceland

Deep in the heart of the country’s second largest ice cap; Langjökull Glacier near Reykjavik an underground tunnel is being dug for the sole purpose of letting visitors get up close and personal to the ice and educating them on such matters as global warming. Set to open in June 2015 visitors will be privy to exhibitions, information, restaurants and even a small chapel for those wishing to marry in the midst of the dense ice. Make sure to bundle up in this tourist attraction though!

Visitors will get a chance to walk through the tunnel and observe the varying ice levels and colours. From the newer white ice to the colder blue ice visitors will get a better understanding of how the glacier formed. The size; 200-300 metres long at 30 metres below the surface makes it the largest man made ice structure in the world. Lights are installed on the walls of the tunnels and numerous nooks and dens will house information about the glacier and global warming. Guided tours will be available and will require a short trip aboard an 8-wheel truck across the glacier to reach the entrance to the tunnel. Discovering the layers of ice, finding out how they formed and witnessing a truly spectacular man-made creation is what awaits you at Langjökull Ice Tunnel.

Langjökull Ice Tunnel Iceland

5. Starry Night Bicycle Path -Nuenen, Netherlands

One of the most unique tourist attractions created for this year is located in Nuenen, Netherlands. Dutch designer Daan Roosegaard has created a glow-in-the-dark bike path with swirls of patterned lights that are based on Vincent van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. The pattered lights look remarkably like the falling stars in the painting. This kilometer long stretch was made in tribute to the artist who passed away 125 years ago. Van Gogh was born and raised in the Dutch County of Brabant and spent a couple years working and living in the city of Nuenen.

The glowing path is created with a combination of special paint that gathers light through the day and LED lights that charge throughout the day from a solar panel. The result is a breathtaking display that is entirely self-sufficient and remarkably poetic.  The path is part of the 335-kilometer Van Gogh Cycle Route that is free to use and open to the public all year round. Discover this beautiful piece of art that pays tribute to the great artist while you wander the breathtaking country of the Netherlands.

Photo by: Ferdinand van Oostrom
Photo by: Ferdinand van Oostrom

4. BioMuseo -Panama City, Panama

The BioMuseo or the The Biodiversity Museum: Panama Bridge of Life as it’s actually called is located in Panama City, Panama and is number four on the list of the coolest attractions of 2015. The museum was designed by Frank Gehry, world-renowned architect whose works have been cited as the most important works of contemporary architecture of our time. The building is brilliantly colored with each panel painted a different color and overlooks the Pacific Ocean at the front and the entrance to the canal from the back.

Inside visitors will find a plethora of exhibits to explore. Keep in mind that as of January 2015 the museum was open but still not fully completed. An overview of the biodiversity of Panama starts you off and there is an audio guide available in Spanish and English to guide you along. The movie theater boasts screens on the floor, ceiling and three sides taking you into the rainforest and nature. Visitors should look forward to the aquariums that are set to open in 2015 and will offer a look at the difference in the Pacific and Caribbean Oceans. A beautiful piece of architecture loaded with education on Panama this is one spot you shouldn’t miss out on.

Photo by: BioMuseo Panama
Photo by: BioMuseo Panama

3. The Yellow Submarine -Península Valdés, Argentina

One of the newest and coolest attractions of 2015 has taken an older attraction and turned it into something new and exciting. Whale Watching is a popular activity for tourists to do in certain parts of the world but there is often the complaint that only the backs of the whales can be spotted as they breach up for air. Lucky visitors will watch as the spectacular mammals jump and play but this is rare and unseen most times. A company in Argentina has solved this problem and taken whale watching to a new level with a chance for visitors to go underwater.

Yellow Submarine is the first company to build a semi-submarine specifically designed for watching whales and sea lions. The submarine offers visitors the chance to walk around on the outdoor upper deck or go down to the underwater lower viewing area. Watch as the whales and sea lions glide right past the viewing windows and feel as if you are truly diving amongst them. You will want to head here from September-December for the high season where the whales are in abundance. As you watch the enormous majestic whales glide right beside you it will be easy to understand why this attraction made our top 15 list.

Photo by: Yellow Submarine
Photo by: Yellow Submarine

2. Museum of Tomorrow -Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazil’s “Marvelous Port” program is revitalizing Rio’s urban waterfront district and at the forefront of this project is the Museum of Tomorrow. The museum’s focus is on science and the sustainable and ecological future of our planet. Set on the highly prominent Pier Maua, the gleaming white sculptural structure extends 300 m into the sea and is surrounded by water on three sides. A recreation area, park and 5-and-a-half acres of gardens along with pools of recycled rainwater also surround the building.

The roof is made with huge steel structures shaped like wings that help control the climate and act as solar panels. This sustainable museum has a floor space of over 5,000 square meters with four main areas of exhibits, interactive games, and projection screens. The idea behind the museum is to connect science with everyday life and to recognize that we must be proactive in environmental practices. This breathtaking piece of architecture promises to dominate the downtown waterfront while offering a unique look at our planet and the history of humankind in regards to it. Just in time for the 2016 Olympics, this museum is a treat for the eyes and mind.

Photo by: Museum of Tomorrow
Photo by: Museum of Tomorrow

1. Markthal -Rotterdam, Netherlands

The first covered market hall in the Netherlands has opened after five years of construction and promises to be something unique and special. Starting with the design, the building is a massive arch that was designed by Dutch architects MVRDV. It houses a public market with 96 fresh produce stalls, 20 hospitality and retail units and 228 apartments. The breathtaking building holds the biggest piece of artwork in the Netherlands inside of its arches; a colorful mural consisting of oversized images of the produce one will find inside, flowers and insects.

The motto of Markthal is “work, live, shop and enjoy it” and it certainly offers visitors the chance to do all of that. From well-known bakeries to local producers to a cookery school this extraordinary piece of art and retail space is truly one-of-a-kind. A staircase in the center of the market offers visitors the chance to learn about the history of food and witness the artifacts that were found during the excavation of the site. Open 7 days a week with over 1,200 underground parking spots anyone is welcome to enjoy this space at anytime. The quality and uniqueness of the design coupled with the endless amounts of choice for food, drink and shopping makes this our number one coolest destination of 2015.

Gerard Koudenburg / Shutterstock.com
Gerard Koudenburg / Shutterstock.com

Top 15 Global Destination Cities For 2013

Travelers looking to travel oftentimes look beyond their own country’s borders when planning their trips. According to the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index for 2013, there are 15 cities that stand out for travelers. Seven cities on the list are located in Asia, six are European cities, and one is North American. Istanbul, Turkey, the No. 6 city on the list, strides the Europe-Asia border.

15. Amsterdam, Netherlands 

Amsterdam is the capital of and the largest city in the Netherlands. It is known to cater to all tastes as those who want to relax in an old European city are just as fulfilled as those who want to embark on a night of serious partying.

Top Cities 2013 - Amsterdam

14. Shanghai, China

Shanghai is the largest city in the world at 18 million people. Its status as a tourist destination has taken off the past 20 years. Visitors will be able to get around easily on its subway system, the longest in the world at 260 miles.

Top Cities 2013 - Shanghai

13. Rome, Italy

Rome is one of the most historic cities of the world as it was the center of the Roman Empire. Travelers enjoy coming to the City of Seven Hills to visit the Vatican City, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum.

Top Cities 2013 - Rome

12. Milan, Italy 

Milan, Italy’s second-largest city, is located in the north of the country. It is a destination for those looking to enjoy some football, shopping, the performing arts and nightlife. Fashion aficionados will especially enjoy visiting Milan.

Top Cities 2013 - Milan

11. Seoul, South Korea

Seoul is one of East Asia’s cultural highlights. The city’s Five Grand Palaces are impressive. Hikers enjoy trips to the mountains around Seoul. Fans of the hit song, “Gangnam Style,” can visit the Gangnam District.

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

10. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is the center of Catalonia, a nationality in Spain’s northeast corner. The city still feels the effects of having hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics, including an influx in tourism. The Picasso Museum is a strong attraction for art enthusiasts.

Top Cities 2013 - Barcelona

9. Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong is a city of dualities with its history as a British colony and its current status as a Special Administration Region of China. It is highly dense as 7 million people live within its 426 square miles. Victoria Peak is a pleasant scenic escape, however.

Top Cities 2013 - Hong Kong

8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

Malaysia’s capital city offers travelers some of the best bang for their buck of any city on this list. The city has 66 shopping malls, allowing visitors plenty of options to buy items to bring home. The night life is quite vibrant here as well.

Top Cities 2013 - Kuala Lumpur

7. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is one of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates. It is conveniently located just five hours flying time from much of Europe. It is known as one of the most liberal cities in the Middle East.

Top Cities 2013 - Dubai

6. Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is a city of two continents as the city’s bridges connect the European and Asian sections of the city. It is one of just four transcontinental cities in the world. The historic and religious sights of the city are numerous and impressive.

Top Cities 2013 - Istanbul

5. New York, United States

New York is the largest city in the United States, and it is a multi-cultural melting pot. Some of its sights include the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. The offerings in the Theatre District are world class.

Top Cities 2013 - New York

4. Singapore

Singapore is an island city-state located just south of Malaysia. Visitors enjoy a multi-cultural atmosphere as influences exist from China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. It is the second most densely populated country in the world behind Monaco.

Top Cities 2013 - Singapore

3. Paris, France

The sights of Paris are known throughout the world. The most iconic one has to be the Eiffel Tower. The City of Light is also home to the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame cathedral. The Louvre is one of the world’s most renowned museums.

Top Cities 2013 - Paris

2. London, England

London is the capital of England and of the United Kingdom, and its core dates to medieval times. Its sights include Hyde Park, the British Museum and Buckingham Palace. Some of the world’s best soccer is played within its city limits.

Top Cities 2013 - London

1. Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is a destination for travelers from throughout the world. Some of the most popular attractions in this cosmopolitan city include the Grand Palace and the Bangkok National Museum. Muay Thai is the popular local sport.

Top Cities 2013 - Bangkok

10 Best Places to Visit Around Southern China

China is an enormous country that boasts some of the world’s most densely populated cities, unique tribal subcultures and breathtaking landforms. The following places have been chosen for their popularity and ability to inspire their visitors.

1. Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China

As the fourth tallest freestanding structure in the world and the tallest structure in all of China, naturally, tourists come flocking. The tower takes its majestical place at the forefront of Guangzhou’s skyline. The structure rises over 2,000 feet in height. The world’s biggest and highest outdoor observatory looks downward from 1,601 feet.

Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China
GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock.com

2. Zhangjiajie’s Rock Column Forest

Avatar the Movie’s Breathtaking Scenic Backdrop

Were you enthralled by the movie Avatar’s dramatic, breathtaking scenery? The extraordinary news is that the extraterrestrial landscape was not completely computer-generated. These Southern Sky Columns of China’s Hunan province will bring you right back to the magnificent movie itself.

Zhangjiajie's Rock Column Forest

3. Ride the Shanghai MagLev Train, a.k.a. the Shanghai Transrapid

This is one of the world’s only magnetic levitation trains, meaning it is hovers above its tracks without touching due to brilliantly engineered magnets keeping it suspended. The lack of friction creates the smoothest, fastest ride possible and speeds of up to 250 miles per hour.

Shanghai Transrapid

4. The Southern Great Wall of China

While most people know about the Northern Great Wall, being that it is considered one of the seven wonders of the world, very few people are aware that there is a Great Wall to the south as well. Spanning 190 miles, it was built by rulers during the Ming Dynasty for military usage and defense against the Mio people of the south.

Southern Great Wall of China

5. Huangguoshu Falls in Guizhou Province

China’s Largest Waterfall

Crashing downward from 74 meters, this falls possesses incredible momentum that has been described as overwhelming. Rainbows appear on a regular basis. Consider this a wonderful way to see China’s natural beauty at its best. Swimming beneath the fall is breathtaking.

Huangguoshu Falls

6. Suzhou City

One of China’s Most Beautiful Metropolises

Boasting countless bridges, canals and waterways that give the city of Suzhou a quaint air, it is still teeming with activity. Full of gardens and architectural wonders that will make you pull your camera out again and again, Suzhou is just a short distance away from Shanghai.

Suzhou City

7.Dragon Well Tea Garden in Hangzhou, China

Green tea is known throughout the modern world for the potency of its immune-boosting and weight loss properties. Just a sip of the highest quality green tea leaves one feeling noticeably different, the body system instantly cleaner and invigorated. All of the finest green teas come from China. In fact, despite its reputation as the world’s top exporter, China covets the top tier of Dragon Well green tea for sale only within its walls. To purchase some of the best teas in the world, visit the Dragon Well Tea Garden.

Dragon Well Tea Garden
Hung Chung Chih / Shutterstock.com

8. Sanya Coral Reef National Nature Reserve

Despite China’s graver environmental issues, this tropical coral reef is in reasonably good condition, as it is part of a natural reserve to protect the area’s ecology. Here the water is always clear. The reef features gorgeous coral, fish, shrimps, shells, seaweeds and more aquatic beauty.

Sanya Coral Reef National Nature Reserve
Hung Chung Chih / Shutterstock.com

9. Suzhou Silk Factory in Suzhou, China

Here you can attend an extensive, experiential tour that demonstrates every detail of China’s ancient and heralded silk manufacturing sector right from the birth of the silk worms to their eventual cocooning.

Suzhou Silk Factory

10. Guizhou Province, China

Although known as one of the poorest areas of China, the amount of ethnic variation and tribal Chinese subculture here is riveting. The natural scenery is exhilarating. Step away from the big cities, off the beaten path into a China never seen or heard of before!

Natural wonders and exquisite traditions abound in southern China. Consider the above destinations when setting your itinerary. Step off the beaten path and embrace the intimate daily rituals of the Chinese.

Guizhou Province

Top 10 Attractions in Shanghai

It’s the lively cosmopolitan atmosphere alongside the rich and abundant Chinese culture that solidifies Shanghai as the “Paris of the East”. Modern and ancient blend quite naturally among weaving gardens with ancient pagodas and towering skyscrapers. It’s this seamless blend of old world and modern bustle that make Shanghai one of the world’s most beautiful and entertaining cities.

Here are the top 10 attractions to see in Shanghai…

1. Yu Garden & Bazaar

Get lost in the virtual fairytale that is Yu Garden area, a traditional Chinese garden with curved eaves, tile lanes, hidden alleys and the lovely Huxingting Tea House with its charming Blue Willow china pattern.

Yu Garden & Bazaar

2. Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe

Watch in wonder as the world-famous acrobatic troupe wows you with their rolls, balancing tricks, contortions, and juggling feats.  You can catch the two hour show nightly at the renowned Shanghai Center Theater.

Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe

3. The Bund

You won’t want to miss the trendy riverfront boardwalk and the hip Shanghainese (the “see and be seen” Chinese) as you meander down the boardwalk or stop for a cool martini at M’s (named for restaurateur, Michelle Garnaut) amid art deco elegance.

The Bund

4. Fuxing Park

A walk in Fuxing Park, located in the city’s colonial-era French Concession area is never boring. You’ll elegant mansions, stucco-style villas, outdoor wok stations (street food) elderly women and men doing tai chi in pajamas, Chinese opera singers, and end your walk with a tour through the former residence of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China.

Fuxing Park

5. Dongtai Road

Take a fortune -filled look along the shops on Dongtai Road, a seemingly never-ending stretch of antique treasures, art, books, tea pots, and Cultural Revolution memorabilia. You can even pick up a lucky cricket at the plant-and-animal market if you’re itching to enter a winner in a prize match up.

Dongtai Road

6. Shanghai Maglev Train

This scream-tastic, magnetic-levitation train will usher you form China’s international airport at speeds reaching 267-miles-per hour in less than eight minutes! Try buying a case of whiplash for less than 50 yuan anywhere else!

Shanghai Maglev Train

7. Huangpu River Cruise

Enjoy a short, leisurely cruise on the Huangpu River and glimpse Shanghai in all of its glory! You’ll pass the Bund, Jin Mao Tower, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and Huangpu Park during the quick 30 minute trip, or take the 4-hour cruise, which includes dinner under the dazzling Shanghai city scape.

Huangpu River Cruise

8. Shanghai Museum

Discover some of China’s finest artwork at the Shanghai Museum, located on People’s Square. However, keep in mind the size of the space, that’s why we advise multiple trips by section so you can really enjoy the finery.

Shanghai Museum

9. Jade Buddha Temple

The city’s most celebrated temple, carved from a dazzling single slab of white Burmese jade was constructed by the Buddhas and brought to its current resting place in 1881. However, the finery doesn’t end at the statues, which are surrounded by glimmering jewels, ancient carvings, and prized Buddhist paintings and vestiges.

white buddah

10. Dong Tai Road

Dubbed “Antique Street”, Dong Tai Road is an impressive outdoor market, lined with stalls and shops selling everything from Mao memorabilia, dainty porcelain, and brightly painted Chinese masks. Just be sure not to buy until you bargain down the shop keepers.

Antique Street

China’s Top 10 Tours: Best Ways to See the Country

Sweeping mountains dating back to the beginning of time meet buzzing metropolises where the action never ends. China is known for its diversity. Steeped in tradition, religion, culture, and art yet a virtual shopping and night life Mecca, there is something for every traveler in this beautiful country.

Here are the top 10 “must see” tours in China…

Please note: All prices are approximates, in US dollars, and priced per individual.

1. Tour the Yangtze River (starting at $2,500 for a multi-day tour)

The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia, a sweeping waterway that stretches 3,988 miles into the East China Sea, near Shanghai. A boat cruise on the Yangtze River will take you meandering past from the glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Qinghai in the country’s east—across southwest, central and eastern China. It really is one of the best ways to see the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as well as one-third of the country’s population, metropolises, culture, and scenery from the river.

Yangtze River

2. Panda Tour (starting at $2,300 for a multi-day tour)

When you think of China, one of the first symbols that come to mind is the majestic panda. That’s why a panda tour is the ideal way to combine China’s cultural heritage with the country’s natural wonders. Venture into the natural landscape, hiking and exploring China’s countryside and plateau regions in search of the panda bear.

Panda Tour

3. Explore Ancient China (starting at $60 for day tour)

An awe-inspired tour through China’s Shanxi Province will have you discovering the roots and golden age of Chinese civilization—including impressive Buddhist carvings collections, Ming-and-Qing dynasty-inspired architecture, and the famous Terracotta Warriors of Xian.

China Shanxi Province

4. Soak in China’s Cityscape (hop on and off bus tour $48)

One can hardly visit a huge Metropolis like China without experiencing one of the most buzzing urban cities in the world—Shanghai! Watch the Shanghai action unfold at street level, when you blend in with the assortment of locals—elderly woman in pajamas hanging laundry, Prada-clad fashionistas browsing the art galleries, and end the day by grabbing pair of chopsticks and digging in to a traditional Chinese hot pot.

Shanghai

5. Chinese Gardens Tour (starting at $300 for a day tour)

Nothing says romance like a breezy walk through one of Suzhou’s classic Asian gardens.  Escape the hustle and bustle of this jam-packed eastern city with it’s over 4 million population to savor the timeless romance of Suzhou’s rich history—in its sweeping canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens that echo back to the Song Dynasty.

Suzhou gardens

6. Follow the Silk Road (starting at $2,200 for a multi-day tour)

China’s Silk Road tells an important tale of international trade dating back to Han Dynasty in 1877, when ‘the Silk Road’ was dubbed so by German geographer, Ferdinand von Richthofen, to indicate the international silk route and cultural bridge linking China with India, Persia, Arabia, Greek and Rome. The Four Great Inventions of China and religions of the West were introduced into their counterparts. It’s like an authentic choose your own adventure, starting at Chang’an (now Xian) via the Hexi Corridor to Dunhuang, and branching off into a Southern Route, a Central Route, and a Northern Route, extending as far as Pakistan, India, and Rome.

silk road

7. The Mysteries of Lhasa (starting at $2,100 for a multi-day tour)

The holy city of Lhasa is one of the most visited cities in the entire world. People flock to Lhasa either to enjoy the silence and remoteness—or to explore the ancient heritage and mysteries of Tibetan culture and religion. Snuggled between sweeping mountain ranges, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China will unveil the mysteries of Tibetan culture, art, politics, economy, and religion.

Lhasa Tibet

8. Historical Xian (starting at $70 for a day tour)

If being blown away by relics dating back to China’s origin are on your to-do list, then a haunting historical tour of Xian, China should be on your itinerary. You will find the people in Xian warm and accommodating—willing to impart the wisdom and history of their culture—including tales of the Terra-cotta Warriors, the stretching Ming City Wall, the Muslim Quarters, traditional crafts, museums, shops, dance, and theater with hungry tourists.

Terra cotta Warriors Xian

9. Behold Beijing (starting at $3,200 for a multi-day tour)

A trip to China without seeing the Great Wall is a tremendously missed opportunity. Beijing holds a rich history dating back over one thousand years. Dip your toes in the cultural, heritage, and relics of the city when you climb the majestic Great Wall, take in the revered Tiananmmen Square, stand in the lush gardens at Summer Palace, or set your eyes on the prize—Beijing’s Forbidden City—China’s celebrated imperial palace dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

Beijing Great wall

10. The Mountains of Guilin (starting at $65 for a day tour)

The sweeping mountain vistas and lush river banks of Gulin are among the “don’t miss” adventures awaiting eager hikers and explorers in China. Located at the scenic base of the Li River, Guilin’s natural beauty—including rolling green hills, crystal clear waters, unexplored caves, and rocky terrain await with a wealth of teachings about the multiple ethnic minorities that call this fairytale paradise, home.

Mountains of Guilin