The Year of the Dragon is one of the most revered years of the Chinese calendar. Of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, the Dragon is the mightiest, symbolizing such character traits as dominance and ambition. Dragons are regarded as divine beasts - the reverse of the malicious monster that Westerners felt necessary to seek and slay. They prefer to live by their own rules and if left on their own, are typically successful. They're driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks.
Many are attracted to Dragons because of their colorful personalities, but deep down, Dragons prefer to be by themselves and are often the most successful when working alone. Dragons are seen as free spirits. They are healthy and incorporate much activity into their lives.
2012 is the year of the Water Dragon. Water calms the Dragon's fearless temperament. Nourishes its fixed element (wood), and allows the Dragon to redirect its enthusiasm to make him more perceptive. In honor of the auspicious Chinese New Year, here's a look at five Chinese destinations fit for a brave and active Dragon.
Lijiang - Yunnan
Lijiang (REUTERS/Jason Lee)
It has been said that Lijiang is the only fairyland left by God on Earth - a mystical land fit for a mythical beast like the Dragon. The UNESCO-protected Old Town of Lijiang is an important heritage site in China, retaining a historic townscape of high quality and authenticity that showcases the great complexity and ingenuity of its inhabitants. Surrounded by snowcapped mountains, serene rivers, and fragrant fields of flowers, downtown Lijiang is a maze of cobbled streets, rickety old wooden buildings, and gushing canals. It's a leisurely escape to stimulate both the mind and spirit.
Kashgar - Xinjiang
Taklimakan Desert (wikimedia commons)
Halfway between Shanghai and Istanbul, Kashgar is literally the end of China's New Frontier and the perfect spot for the free spirited Dragon to be alone. Kashgar's strategic crossroads location along the Silk Road has seen it at the epicenter of cultural conflict and cooperation for over two millennia - but modernity has blown in like a sandstorm. To really get away from it all, consider the three day journey along the southern Silk Road to the Jade Gate, Hotan. Or to get even further from civilization, use Kashgar as a base for exploring the Taklimakan Desert, one of the largest deserts in the world where sand hills can reach a height of nearly 3,000 feet.
Moganshan - Zhejiang
Moganshan (wikimedia commons)
In the early part of the 20th century Moganshan was a popular and exclusive retreat for the Shanghai elite. Virtually abandoned for several decades, the bamboo-strewn hills rising from Zhejiang plane are once again emerging as a popular escape from the hustle and bustle of modern city life. Chinese and foreign visitors alike visit Moganshan for relaxation and hiking along numerous historical and scenic paths, old villas transformed into modern guesthouses, and luxury resorts that help restore the region to its former glory. Moganshan is perfect for the active dragon and a great place to get in touch with the dragon's fixed element: wood.
Yalong Bay - Hainan
Yalong Bay (REUTERS)
Hainan is a tropical island located in the South China Sea, separated from Guandong's Leizhou Peninsula to the north by the shallow and narrow Qiongzhou Strait. Widely regarded as one of the best beaches in China, Yalong Bay is undoubtedly more attractive and less crowded than the other options on the Chinese island of Hainan. Several internationally operated hotels recently opened resorts along this picturesque stretch including Sheraton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, and Ritz-Carlton, making the stay incredibly luxurious. The perfect escape for the Water Dragon, Yalong Bay boasts an unparalleled natural setting of sunshine, fresh air, pristine vegetation, unspoiled hills, sand, and crystal seas.
Hailuogou Glacier Park - Sichuan
Hailuogou Glacier Park (creative commons/blake_lennon)
Dragons can test their strength and fearlessness at Hailuogou, the biggest glacier park in China. The western region of Sichuan is untamed, rarely frequented and resplendent with some of the nation's most spectacular and awe-inspiring natural landscapes. At the foot of the 24,790-foot Mt. Gongga sit the glaciers of Hailuogou, modern marine glaciers that are rarely found at such a low-latitude. The park boasts a world of ice including ice holes, ice lakes, ice mushrooms, ice doors, and ice steps, along with virgin forests, rare animals, and steaming hot springs.