The quintessential image of China is the imposing Great Wall – walk through history on an original section. Like everything it does, China’s ancient history is on an epic scale – get a sense of it when you come face-to-face with arrays of Terracotta Warriors. Also enjoy a deliciously home cooked meal while listening to the stories of our host who has lived through witnessed the changes brought about by this epic excavation.. Learn about the endangered (and adorable) giant pandas’ struggle for survival, and get up close to these unique creatures in Chengdu.. Step back in time with a boat trip through the painterly scenery of the Yangzi River, which meanders through the dramatic Three Gorges.
This trip weaves together China’s most famous icons. Walk an original section of the great wall and revel in the big show of Beijing. A city within a city of incredible scale and detail awaits, as well as serenely set palaces of sublime beauty and construction, and the full panoply of China’s people. A short high speed train ride away, in Xian, the famous Terracotta Warriors fascinate for their evocative detail, while a walk of the wider city finds us deep in the rarely seen exotica of the Muslim Quarter. The narrow streets, colourful markets and quiet mosques are surviving remnants of Silk Road caravan days. In Chengdu, observe the unique giant pandas in their struggle for survival. Relax on a Yangzi River cruise through the beautiful mountains above the Three Gorges dam, passing by picturesque rural villages still reliant on China’s most vibrant waterway. Travel to Yangshuo where the karst hills stand in the mist of Li River, serene and beatiful landscape immortalised by so many painters in generations. Shanghai’s bright lights, fevered trade and frenetic pace provide a glimpse into modern China and the dazzling global future and a palm sweating acrobatic show await for us here.
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing has mostly shed its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places that give an insight into the nation's ancient past. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm, where your insurance and next of kin details will be collected. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where the meeting will take place. Any free time today in Beijing is at your leisure, so you can start exploring this vast city.
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.
You will depart Beijing on a fast train to Xi'an today. The high-speed G train takes approximately 6 hours to travel the 1200 kilometres to Beijing. Use the time to brush up on all the things to see and do in this ancient capital of China with a 2000 - year history. 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 is free for you to uncover what was once the start of the ancient trading route of the Silk Road. The history means Xi’an has a mixture of cultures, especially found in its food options, ranging from delicious Muslim fare to great little dumplings in Chinese restaurants. You can easily spend the day wandering the narrow streets where you will find 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. You might learn about Chinese dynasties in the Shaanxi history museum, climb up the Little Wild Goose Pagoda or walk along the top of the city walls – the most complete in China, running over 13 kilometres around the city. For dinner, perhaps try one of the city’s signature dishes, Yyang rou pao mo – bread and mutton soup.
Today you’ll journey out in to the countryside surrounding Xi’an 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 by farmers digging a well in 1976 after being buried for 2,000 years. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots (once all individually painted) were commissioned by the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Archaeologists have located around 600 different pits, but most have still not undergone the painstaking process of excavation. Three main pits are open for you to view, where over 6,000 warriors (and only 1000 excavated) – each individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expressions – stand in battle formation. For lunch we’ll visit a local family restaurant, the owner of which has experienced firsthand of the changes brought about by the excavation of Terracotta Warriors. Listen to their stories, while trying the simple yet delicious home cooked food and learn about the fast development of China through their life changes. After lunch, we’ll continue our day to visit Hangyangling Mausoleum. Built between 153 to 126 BC, Hangyangling Mausoleum serves as another manifestation of the rich history of ancient China. Return to Xi'an for the night.
Sichuan Province is famous for two things – giant pandas and spicy food. You’ll get the opportunity to experience both during your time here. Take a roughly 3-hour high speed train to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. You have a free afternoon and evening to explore the city. Perhaps begin with Tianfu Square. Overlooked by a large statue of Chairman Mao, the square has a fountain that bursts with an elaborate water show throughout the day, and is a great base from which to explore the many interesting temples nearby. If you want to unwind, Renmin Park (People's Park) is a relaxing spot to spend a few hours, with interesting tea-houses and areas full of locals exercising, singing, playing mahjong or relaxing in their bamboo chairs drinking tea. In the evening, ask your leader for a restaurant recommendation or strike out on you own – the spicy cuisine is generally considered to be the best in China. In such a food-loving country, this is no mean feat.
Visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base and witness the conservation efforts being made to save this endearing endangered species. There are only around 1000 pandas left in the world and 80% of them are found in the mountains in Sichuan Province. The facility was set up 30 years ago, and there are more than 80 giant and red pandas living at the base. The pandas have over 600 acres of parkland to live in, and you can get up close and learn more about these majestic creatures. Watch them play, eat bamboo and climb the trees. If you’re lucky (and visiting between July and September) you might even get to see newborns taking their first steps in the nursery. Return to Chengdu for some free time this evening – maybe try the local teahouses, sample spicy Sichuan hotpot, or witness the amazing Sichuan Opera.
Yangzi River Cruise
Today, make a 2-hour journey to Chongqing by train, then board a boat for a trip along one the world’s greatest rivers, the Yanzgi. For the next three days and nights you’ll cruise down the 6300-kilometre-long Yangzi (also known locally as the Chang Jiang), the world's third longest waterway. It winds deep into the heart of the province of Qinghai, to the north of Tibet, and flows relentlessly eastwards until it empties into the East China Sea near Shanghai. Effectively dividing the country into north and south, the river not only supplies the rural heart of China, but has also spawned many industries reliant upon its power. The Yangzi has also inspired numerous poets, writers and travellers over the centuries. You will travel along one of the most picturesque sections, through the renowned Three Gorges. The dramatic 'Sanxia', as they are known in Chinese, stretch for 200 kilometres and vary from 100 metres to 300 metres in width.
Your Yangzi boat trip will end in the relatively small city of Yichang. Here you’ll enjoy a tour of the engineering feat that is the Three Gorges Dam. The world’s largest hydroelectric project, the dam generates power and prevents the major flooding that had long threatened the people of the area (though the impact on displaced people and archaeological sites should not be ignored). Afterwards you'll ride on the fast train to the capital of Hubei province, Wuhan, an important city in ancient and modern history of China and one of the first colonies along the Yangtze River. Spend some free time in the later afternoon and evening explore this vibrant city.
In the morning, take your last bullet train ride to the picturesque Guilin (approx. 5hrs), then transfer to Yangshuo (approx. 1.5 hrs), where lush karst mountains sprout like verdant domes around the meandering waters of the Li River. The countryside around Yangshuo is immortalized in many traditional Chinese paintings and it’s easy to see why. Get acquainted with the picturesque town on a walking tour with your leader, darting up and down laneways and narrow streets. Perhaps relax at a cafe and enjoy a famous local Liquan Beer and watch the world go by.
Today you’ll follow Chinese food from market to table, starting your day at a vibrant produce market. Shop with the locals and get familiar with the colourful the regional produce. Later, put your new knowledge to use during a class at the Yangshuo Cooking School. Learn to craft traditional Chinese dishes that require little specialty equipment and feature ingredients accessible in the rest of the world. You’ll be able to wow friends and family back home with these tasty dishes. The evening free for you to do as you wish. Every night in Yangshuo, an unforgettable spectacle takes place along the southern part of the Li River. The Liu San Jei Impression is a light show and performance piece designed by Beijing Olympics director Zhang Yi Mou. Lights dance on the water and hundreds of locals perform under the watchful eye of glowing karst mountains, lit up by spotlights. Tickets vary in price, and can be purchased ahead of time or on the day.
Begin the day by focusing your body and mind with a tai chi class, then you are free to explore Yangshuo at your own pace. Perhaps hire a bike and cycle outside of town into the countryside, where postcard worthy scenes lie around every bend. Riding upstream next to the Li River will take you to the elegant arch of the Dragon Bridge in about 2 hours. Or maybe you would prefer to climb to Moon Hill, a limestone pinnacle with a crescent-shaped hole. For something a little less energetic you could simply sit back, relax and watch local fishermen come and go on small wooden rafts.