Experience one of the world’s greatest train journeys – the railway to the roof of the world, crossing incredibly mountainous and remote terrain. Like everything it does, China’s ancient history is on an epic scale – see it first-hand with hours to explore the Great Wall. Get to know Lhasa, from the architectural wonder of the former home of the Dalai Lama to the incredible atmosphere of the Jokhang Temple, the holiest in the Tibetan Buddhist world. Every drive in Tibet seems more stunning that the last. Climb phenomenal passes, twist up thrilling peaks, and take in incredible views of skies and lakes, where the only way to tell their perfect blue apart is the towering mountains that separate them
Satisfy your curiosity for this ancient kingdom on this epic journey from the modern and hip Shanghai to spritual Lhasa, from the ancient wonder of Terracotta Warrior and Great Wall to the majestic Qomalangma (Mt Everest). Traverse the invincible Tibet Plateau on an epic train journey to Lhasa and join Tibetan pilgrims on their spiritual quest. Lose yourself in the mesmerizing chanting, conquer heights over mountain passes, share laughs and life with hospitable locals and finish this epic with tea, mahjong, hotpot and pandas in Chengdu.
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. Blending 21st-century architecture with old-world character, Shanghai pulses with the beat of new China. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6 pm this evening. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. Settle into your hotel and then get a feel for this vibrant city – Shanghai’s bright lights, fevered trade and frenetic pace provide a glimpse into the dazzling global future of the country. Your evening is free for your first exploration of the city – perhaps get a taste of Shanghai’s eclectic food scene, which draws influence from far beyond China’s walls.
Notes: As we only have one full day in Shanghai as part of the trip, we highly recommend arriving a few days earlier to make the most of your time here. Those who arrive early could visit the Propaganda Museum for a fascinating look at China's revolutionary past, get a bird's eye view of the city from the Pearl Tower's observation decks, wander the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar, barter in markets, stroll through modern Pudong or scope out the city’s buzzing nightlife at a local bar. Check out our range of Urban Adventures for the insider's take on exploring the city.
Today join your leader for a walking tour that will take you to historical Shanghai. At the Bund you can get a taste of 1920s Shanghai; its spectacular array of art deco style buildings, formerly belonging to Western banks, line what was once the most important financial street in Asia. Wander the narrow winding lanes (nongtangs) of old Shanghai, where you can get a real glimpse into the locals’ daily life. Explore the European-influenced French Concession, the area of Shanghai once designated for the French, consisting of today's Luwan and Xuhui Districts. Luwan's Huaihai Road is a busy shopping street and is home to both Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang, extremely popular shopping and dining spots for visitors. The area's tree-lined avenues and their many Tudor mansions still retain an air of the 'Paris of the East'. This evening you’ll witness the impressive feats of the famous Shanghai acrobats.
Xitang - Overnight train
Get a taste of traditional China on a day trip to an ornate water town. Drive approximately 2 hours by private transport out to Xitang, a town full of picturesque architecture and views. Wander through the small streets and across the bridges that criss-cross the town. Chill out by the canals, sip steaming cups of tea at a local teahouse or learn about local history at one of the many museums. Get lost among the maze of peaceful cobblestone streets lined with village buildings – it’s a welcome break from the bustle of modern Shanghai. While here, gliding along the waterways in a gondola is the ideal way to enjoy a real water town experience. Return to Shanghai and then board an overnight hard sleeper train bound to Xi'an (approximately 15 hours).
Train travel in China may not be entirely luxurious but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the country and its people, as it's the main form of transport for locals. We use hard sleeper class trains for most of our overnight train journeys. These are not as rough as they sound – compartments are open-plan, clean, with padded three-tiered berths (6 to a compartment). Wherever possible, we will group our travellers together, but this will depend on group size and ticket availability. Sheets, pillows and a blanket are provided. Some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Safe, hot drinking water is always available. It is a good idea to bring a mug, spoon, knife and fork if you will be preparing your own hot drinks or food on the train (as these are not provided in cabins). Basic bathroom facilities with toilets and washbasins are situated at the end of each carriage. As toilet paper isn't always available, it's best to bring an emergency supply. Keep in mind general train cleanliness may not be to the same standards you are accustomed to. Food is available on the train, but it's a good idea to stock up on snacks for the trip. An optional upgrade from a hard sleeper to a soft sleeper berth (4 travellers per compartment with a lockable door) may be available for some overnight train journeys on this trip. Please contact us for booking and more details.
Arrive in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China. Once the imperial centre of China for 2,000 years, Xi'an is now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites and is a great place to explore. Today you’ll join your leader on a short walking tour to uncover what was once the start of the ancient trading route of the Silk Road. Perhaps visit the Bell & Drum Towers, the former built (according to legend) to restrain the dragons that were causing earthquakes, the latter is (unsurprisingly) full of drums, once used to mark time and warn in emergencies. The city also has a wonderful Muslim Quarter, and you’ll wander the narrow streets of quaint shops, lively markets, groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in cafes, and the Great Mosque, one of the most important in China. See the City Walls and Gates, the most complete in China, running over 13 kilometres around the city. Xi’an’s Silk Road history means it has an exciting mixture of cultures, especially found in its food options, ranging from delicious Muslim fare to great little dumplings in Chinese restaurants. Perhaps visit the night markets and try many of the tantalising local specialties such as pao mo (lamb broth that you break flat bread into), hand pulled noodles, hot pot and barbecue.
Today you’ll journey out in to the countryside surrounding Xi’an (approximately 2 hours) and visit what is undoubtedly one of the man-made wonders of the world – the Terracotta Warriors. You’ll learn all about this incredible archaeological find, discovered after being buried for 2,000 years by farmers digging a well in 1976. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots (and originally individually painted) were commissioned by the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Three main pits are open for you to view, where over 1,000 warriors are displayed – each individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expressions – stand in battle formation. The scale is incredibly impressive. Afterwards you'll enjoy lunch with a local family, before visiting our friends at Xi'an Huiling (meaning 'wise spirit') – a special Intrepid-supported project for young people with intellectual and learning disabilities. Here you'll enjoy a performance of singing and dancing by the students (don't be surprised if you're asked to join in) and have a chance to see their artwork and handicrafts. Return to Xi’an for you final evening in the city.
Today is a big day of travelling so grab some snacks for the journey. Transfer to the railway station and then board the high-speed train (approximately 6 hours) to Beijing. Watch the landscape change from farmland and villages to industrialised cities and urban sprawl. On arrival in Beijing meet your private vehicle to drive out into the countryside to a section of the Great Wall (approximately 2 hours) where you’ll spend the night in a family run village guesthouse. Dinner is included here - a great chance to sample local produce and delicious home style cooking.
Great Wall - Beijing
This morning you’ll visit a section of the Great Wall and spend some time exploring, taking photos and learning the history of this mighty site (and sight). An incredible piece of engineering, the wall stretches 6,000 km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from the 'barbarians' of the north and even though it failed in this purpose, it's still without a doubt one of the country's most remarkable achievements and an iconic destination. You’ll often feel like you have the whole wall to yourself as you take your time strolling along the wall, which snakes through the hills almost endlessly into the distance. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. You’ll then journey back to Beijing (approximately 2 hours) – your last stop on your journey. The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places to go that will give you a great insight into the nation's ancient past as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture.
Today you will make our way to the centre of the city – Tian'anmen Square (travelling by metro and local bus). Perhaps most famous outside of the country for the 1989 massacre (and the iconic picture of a single man standing up to a tank), this square – supposedly the largest down town square in the world – is the symbolic centre of Chinese power. Framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum, and with elaborate flag raising and lowering ceremonies at dawn and dusk, it's a place of pilgrimage for the Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation. From here you will enter the enormous Forbidden City. Built more than 500 years ago and off limits to commoners for almost all that time, its a truly amazing place. Despite the transformation of the city around it, the Forbidden City thankfully looks much like it always has. As you explore the great halls and courtyards you’ll be able appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Beijing is vast and overflowing with sights – with your hotel located centrally, a walk in any direction will unveil all sorts of wonderful surprises.
Today you'll have another free day to explore Beijing until 6pm for the group briefing for your journey to Tibet.
Great Wall - Train to the Roof of the World
No trip to China would be complete without a visit to the Great Wall. Today you’ll take an early morning visit to one of the best-preserved areas featuring guard towers dating back to the Ming dynasty - , the Mutianyu section (approximately 2 hours). An incredible piece of engineering, the wall stretches 6000 km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from the 'barbarians' of the north and even though it failed in this purpose, it is still without a doubt one of the country's most remarkable achievements. It's a 30-minute climb up some steep steps to the wall itself, but it’s well worth the effort. You will need good walking shoes for this. There’s also the option of taking a chair lift or cable car to the top and back if you’re after a more leisurely experience. Head back into the city in the afternoon, then this evening transfer to the Beijing West railway station (one of the biggest and busiest in the world!) to board the train to Lhasa (approximately 45 hours). This first night you'll pass through provincial towns, through Xi'an, and then directly into the mountains, sometimes through tunnels that can last for minutes at a time!
Train to the Roof of the World
The train to Lhasa is one of China's greatest recent engineering feats. It’s the highest railway in the world, traversing some incredibly mountainous and remote terrain. The journey takes you through the major cities of Xi'an, Lanzhou and Xining, and across the Qinghai Plateau before arriving in Lhasa. Luxuriate in the feeling of accomplishment without having to do anything – go to bed and wake up 1000 kilometres away. Stop briefly in Lanzhou, the crossroads of journeys along the Silk Road and the Tibet-Qinghai plateau, and head on past the immense city of Xining. On this second night you’ll climb in altitude and your breath with likely be taken away by the landscape outside the windows – snow-dappled black cliffs and mountain peaks illuminated by the moonlight.
The train will travel through a wide brown grassland complemented by terracotta foothills, with a speckling of grazing yaks, sheep and goats and the occasional punctuation of lakes and streams. This same landscape, only sparsely populated by clusters of brick village houses, treeless and vast, will accompany you nearly all the way to Lhasa, where you’ll arrive some time after lunch. The colourful and historic holy city of Lhasa is situated in a small valley, and for hundreds of years it was a mysterious place, virtually unknown to the outside world. Even the most adventurous and hardy of explorers rarely reached the city without being turned away, either by the treacherous terrain or the fierce warrior monks that protected Tibetan territory from intruders. While now welcoming tourists and much modernized, Lhasa remains an intriguing city with a deeply fascinating culture, sights and stories. Check in to your hotel and begin to get acclimatised with a free night tonight.