Explore the memorable limestone karst scenery of Yangshuo, immortalised in countless traditional Chinese paintings. Spend the night in a guesthouse in the lovingly restored town of Shaxi, visit the dizzying Friday Market and be transported back to when it was a significant stop on the Tea Horse Trail. Enjoy two days to hike around the dramatic scenery of Tiger Leaping Gorge. Wander through a Tibetan village in the dreamy Shangrila pasture lands. Learn about Tibetan culture over a steaming cup of yak butter tea.
Take a journey into a land overflowing with ancient history, myth and legend but heading fast into the modern world. Step back in time with the painterly scenery of the Yunnan provinces, where the Yangtze River crash through the spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge and travel to the mythed Shangrila, meander through the peaceful pasture dotted with Tibetan villages and join the pilgrims in the sacred Sumtseling Monastery. Wake up from the misty dreams of Yunnan and delve into the journey from historical Beijing to neon lit Shanghai. Experience wonders both manmade and natural, see the imperial highlights of Beijing and the enigmatic faces of the Terracotta Warriors, the engendered pandas of Chengdu and the serene surrounds of the Three Gorges and the beauty of endless stretches of the Great Wall set in rolling hills. Spend time with locals as you cook Chinese dishes, learn Tai Chi, stroll through minority tribe towns, and absorb the culture in a central square or at a local show. Take memorable hikes through rural landscapes with stunning views of ancient villages and temples, before heading north-east to Shanghai, where the bright lights, fevered trade and frenetic pace provide a glimpse into the dazzling global future of China.
Breakfast Included: 24 Lunches Included: 6 Dinner Included: 3
Known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ for its year-round temperate climate, Kunming is an increasingly modern city, but it still holds pockets of old-world charm in a relaxed atmosphere. You’ll need to attend a welcome meeting at 6 pm at the hotel. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please have these on hand. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you do arrive early enough to explore, maybe delve into local culture at the ancient temples and intriguing museums dotted around the area – the Buddhist Yuantong Temple dates back 1,200 years and you will uniquely enter the complex from above and descend into the elegant garden and halls.
Depart Kunming by private bus and prepare for the adventure ahead as you travel through the countryside to Dali. Kunming to Dali is 340 kilometres and the drive will take about 5 hours. You’ll travel through the foothills of the Himalayas, driving through the mountains (some tunnels are kilometres long!) that it used to take weeks to pass. Stretch your legs on an orientation walk with your leader, then explore in the afternoon as you’d like. Dali is a favourite among travellers in China, a place where you can soak up the fresh mountain air and observe relics from the past. The town is overflowing with places to eat and drink, so you will not have trouble finding a good meal this evening. The Ancient Town, a beautifully preserved and rebuilt part of the city with lantern-lit cafes, cobblestone streets and ancient stone houses is a great place to start.
Today you’ll travel 1 hour to the nearby town of Xizhou, an authentic town of the Bai – a group renowned throughout the country for their craftsmanship. Be guided around this photogenic town filled with Bai architecture, characterised by ornate gateways with elegant detailing. The town was long ago a stop on the tea horse trail, home to wealthy merchants, officials and scholars, and during World War II, many of China’s universities decamped to this remote part of Yunnan to continue their studies. Wander around this unique town and don’t forget to try the local treat 'xi zhou ba ba' – a warm baked cake filled with savoury or sweet filling. For lunch you'll enjoy a unique experience when you visit a local family. You'll try cheese making with them and have a meal together. Return to Dali for the night.
Travel to Shaxi from Dali today (approximately 4 hours). Unlike many other ancient towns in Yunnan, Shaxi has been restored rather than rebuilt, and decades of laying off the main highways mean it hasn’t seen the rapid development places like Lijiang and Dali have. Here you can still find the Yi and Bai ethnic minorities living traditional lives in farmhouses lining the country roads. You’ll see cobblestone streets, original walled town gates and a market square that prove that Shaxi was once an important stop on the old Tea Horse Trail. After you've settled in, take a leisurely walk around the town.
Today you’ll join a local guide to visit Shibaoshan and Shizong Temple, perhaps taking a picnic lunch with you to make the most of the beautiful danxia landscape along the way. The beautiful multi-coloured rocks are formed by millions of years of sandstone and mineral deposits, creating a rainbow effect that must be seen to be believed. The hike takes around 1.5 hours, reaches around 2,400 metres above sea level and is accessible to all travellers with a reasonable level of fitness. For those travellers who wish to sit out this activity there is the option to stay in Shaxi for the day instead. In the evening, take the opportunity to mix with the locals on the town square, where it's not rare to see impromptu dancing, singing and games happen (feel free to join in or just observe).
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Travel to Tiger Leaping Gorge by private bus (approx. 2 hrs). Part of the Yangzi River (known here as the Jinsha River) thunders through Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is in turn framed by 5,000-metre-high mountains. A memorable walk in the gorge is a wonderful way to take in its awesome beauty and today you’ll do just that. It’s a predominantly downhill five-kilometre hike that takes around 3 to 4 hours to complete at a relaxed pace, giving you ample time to soak up the sights of one of Asia’s most dramatic and photogenic hiking trails. About 15 kilometres in length, the gorge is named after a legendary tiger that leapt across the gorge to escape the clutches of a hunter. No mean feat considering the canyon’s narrowest point is still a staggering 25 metres wide!
Today you’ll travel to a place so beautiful it was officially renamed Shangrila, a reference to the mythic utopia from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. Before you set off, visit the legendary “stepping stone” the tiger used to escape across the Jinsha river, located at the narrowest point of the gorge. Make the 3-hour drive to Shangrila and feel the modern world fade away as you head higher into the mountains. This charming Tibetan town lies on an altitude around 3,200 metres, so take it easy upon arrival and give yourself some time to acclimatise. Later take a stroll on winding streets past prayer halls and pagodas in Dukezong Ancient Town. A fire tore through the area in 2014, destroying most of the town, but painstaking restoration work continues and the town remains charming. It’s also home to a towering, gilded prayer wheel – the largest in the world.
Learn more about Tibetan Buddhism with a visit the Sumtseling Monastery. Located just outside the city and modelled after the Potala Palace, Sumtseling is the predominant monastery in the region and a popular destination for pilgrims. Constructed in 1681 and subsequently destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the complex was rebuilt in 1981 and the red and gold buildings now house hundreds of monks. Later travel south to Xiao Zhongdian, a village-dotted plain split by a flowing river. Here you will be invited into the home of a local Tibetan to see how they live and have a chat over a cup of yak butter tea. If time permits (and you have the energy), you may be able to visit idyllic Potatso National Park in the afternoon. If the altitude is taking its toll, why not spend the evening relaxing in Shangri-la.
Return to Kunming on a roughly 80-minute flight and transfer to your hotel. If you have enough time, Green Lake Park is a lovely place to while away an hour or two. In the evening, perhaps join your group for a final dinner and toast to new friends and ancient sights.
Today, fly from Kunming to Beijing mid morning and get transferred to your hotel in Beijing. Please note that this is a combination trip so your tour leader and group may change. There will be a briefing about the 2nd part of the trip at 6pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby on exactly where and when to meet.
Make your way to Tiananmen Square in the centre of the city that remains the symbolic centre of Chinese power. Framed by many imposing and iconic buildings such as the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum, it's a place of pilgrimage for many Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation. From here you will enter the enormous scarlet walls of the Forbidden City. Built more than 500 years ago, and until recently off-limits to commoners, explore the great halls and courtyards of this palace complex. Then make your way to the wonderful Temple of Heaven, a sacrificial ceremonial temple of beautiful traditional design, now a lively park fully of locals singing, dancing, doing tai chi or simply enjoying their life - take the chance to join them! Enjoy free time afterwards to further explore Beijing. Maybe check out the famous kung fu show or make your way to the 2008 Olympic Stadiums, dearly nicknamed the Bird's Nest & the Water Cube.
No trip to China would be complete without a visit to the Great Wall. Today you’ll visit one of the best-preserved areas, the Mutianyu section (approximately 2 hours). It used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs, and features guard towers dating back to the Ming dynasty. Take your time strolling along the wall, which snakes through the hills and seemingly endlessly into the distance. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. A great idea is to bring a picnic lunch with you from Beijing to enjoy during one of the rest breaks. This afternoon you’ll visit the Summer Palace back on the way back to Beijing. This is one of the best imperial gardens in China, a summer retreat for the Qing Dynasty. The palace was built on a hill made from the earth excavated by hand to create the surrounding lake, and features stunning artwork of imperial life on The Long Corridor.