The Northeast

Even if the Chinese no longer believe civilization ends at the Great Wall, most tourists still do. The frigid lands to the northeast, once known as Tar-tary or Manchuria, represent one of the least-visited and most challenging regions in China, and its last great travel frontier.

Despite industrialization, the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Hëilongjiâng, and the northern section of Inner Mongolia, still claim China's largest natural forest, its most pristine grasslands, and one of its most celebrated lakes (Tian Chi).

While there's much talk of getting to the Three Gorges on the Yangzï River before the area's partial disappearance, the real urgency is to see what little of the old Beijing is left before preparations for the 2008 Olympics deliver the final coup de grâce to what remains of its ancient housing and original Ming dynasty street plan. Whole city blocks can vanish at once, not gradually drowned over a period of years, but felled in the space of a few days, sometimes taking ancient, long-forgotten temples with them (although some of these are occasionally restored and reopened to public view).

But while Beijing suffers from being communism's showpiece for the outside world and victim of ersatz modernization, it still has far more to offer than several other Chinese cities put together, including some of

What makes the region unique, however, are the architectural remnants of the last 350 years—early Qing palaces and tombs, incongruous Russian cupolas, and eerie structures left over from Japan's wartime occupation.

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