This is a comprehensive journey through China, taking in the splendours of the south, including colourful Yunnan Province and the fabled hills around Guilin and Yangshuo, as well as the historical and natural icons of the north.
Beginning in Kunming and continuing to Dali and Lijiang, home to a wide array of ethnic minority people, we explore ancient historic towns and enjoy sweeping panoramic views. Tiger Leaping Gorge is the perfect place for a memorable walk in spectacular surroundings. Flying east to Guilin and Yangshuo we encounter more magical scenery, with picturesque villages set against a backdrop of jagged limestone hills. We experience a bicycle ride through stunning landscapes near Guilin, view giant pandas in Chengdu, see the world’s largest Buddha statue in Leshan, witness amazing Buddhist sculptures in caves in Dazu, visit the fabled Terracotta Warriors in Xian and enjoy a comfortable cruise on the fabled Yangtze River, surrounded by dramatic gorges. We also have the opportunity to dine on the famous hot and spicy cuisine of Sichuan. The final highlights are visits to vibrant Shanghai and the capital, Beijing - home to the renowned Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, not to mention the Great Wall of China.
Day 1 - Kunming
On arrival in Kunming you are transferred to your hotel, located right in the middle of town. You meet your tour leader and other group members at a pre-tour briefing, then head out for an optional group dinner. Local specialities are a highlight, with dishes such as ‘across-the-bridge' noodles and other similarly intriguing Yunnanese fare.
Day 2 - Dali
Kunming is a vibrant and bustling city with a flourishing Muslim area, exciting markets, interesting temples and a strong ethnic minority influence. A half-day walking tour takes us to the more interesting parts of the city, including watching the locals practising taichi in the morning, in People’s Square, and meandering through the Flower and Bird Market, where you are free to wander around and make your own discoveries. Departing Kunming, we catch an afternoon bus to Dali.
Lan Lin Ge Hotel or similar
Day 3 - Dali
Dali is one of the favourite places for travellers in China. Resting near the banks of Er Hai Lake with the Cang Shan mountain range forming an impressive backdrop, the town’s cobblestone streets, ancient stone houses and laid-back charm make it a wonderful place to relax. Dali is home to the proud Bai people, a traditional minority tribe renowned throughout China for their craftsmanship. There is much to explore in our two free days in Dali. There is a chance to go boating on Er Hai Lake and travel across to the village of Wase, or spend a day catching a chairlift up and hiking in the mountains behind Dali (stopping at the occasional monastery along the way). We can also cycle to nearby villages or just stroll around town. Several small stone hamlets lie close to Dali and make for a highly rewarding half-day trip by bicycle or local bus.
Lan Lin Ge Hotel or similar
Day 4-5 - Lijiang
After a free morning in Dali, a spectacular local bus journey through rambling Bai and Yi hamlets, beneath towering mountains and over lush alpine passes, takes us to Lijiang, former capital of the famed Naxi Kingdom. The Old Town is a maze of cobblestone streets, narrow canals and decorative wooden houses, a wonderful place to wander around and imagine being in a bygone era. A walk up to the Wangu Pagoda on Lion Hill offers an impressive view of the rooftops of the Old Town. Our accommodation is located right in the middle of the Old Town and set up like a local Naxi house, but the rooms contain all facilities that one would expect at home! In the evening, you can witness a performance of the local Naxi orchestra (optional), a unique and entertaining musical experience (please check schedules in Lijiang to see if the show is on during your visit). We may need to repack our luggage in preparation for the trek. Extra luggage can be stored in the vehicle, but remember to pack all your valuables to carry into Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Sanhe Naxi Hotel or similar
Day 6-7 - Tiger Leaping Gorge
Another breath-taking journey on our private mini-bus takes us past the upper reaches of the Yangtze River to one of the world's deepest gorges and China’s most spectacular natural scenery. Part of the Yangtze River (known here as the Jinsha River) thunders through Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is in turn framed by 5000-metre-high mountains. In the gorge, a sheer cliff face rises from the raging torrents. A memorable walk in the gorge is a wonderful way to take in its awesome beauty, passing local villages such as enchanting Ben Di Wan. The facilities in the village accommodation are extremely basic, as we are visiting a remote area frequented only by adventurous travellers. Please note that this walk is geared towards travellers who like to enjoy some physical activity, but it is not an extreme trek for advanced mountain walkers. The walk can be quite challenging for some people, depending on weather conditions, and good footwear, preferably hiking boots, is essential. It is necessary to bring warm clothing, especially for the evenings, and, in general, for the cooler months. The degree of difficulty on the particular trail that we take will vary greatly, depending on the time of year. Our tour leader may not be able to advise us of the actual trekking itinerary until the last minute.
Tina’s Guest House or similar
Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 8-9 - Zhongdian
After completing a morning walk, we reunite with our mini-bus and drive to Zhongdian, a town set on a high plateau with a distinctly Tibetan feel. Home to a range of minority groups from western China, it encapsulates much of the region's fascinating qualities. Yaks are seen grazing on vast alpine plains and the farmhouses are built in a distinctive local style. Due to Zhongdian’s high altitude (3200 metres), it is advisable to bring warm clothing. (Please note that sometimes due to bad road conditions caused by poor weather, it may not be possible to travel to Zhongdian. If that is the case, additional time will be spent in Lijiang.) The highlight of Zhongdian is a visit to the Songzanlin Monastery, restored since the ravages of the Cultural Revolution and once again a place of homage for Tibetan Lamaism. We also visit a Tibetan family and gain an understanding of their unique way of life.
Shangri-La Olive Noah Inn or similar
Day 10 - Kunming
After a flight from Zhongdian to Kunming we have a free afternoon to wander around and further explore Yunnan's capital. The thousand-year-old Yuantong Temple is city’s largest Buddhist complex, whilst to the south are two small pagodas dating from the Tang Dynasty.
Haikun Hotel or similar
Day 11-12 - Yangshuo
After flying to Guilin we continue our journey by bus to Yangshuo, a village a few hours’ drive away and nestled amongst the imposing limestone karst formations that have inspired poets and painters for centuries. This small town is a haven for backpackers and here, we stay in a pleasant local hotel. Yangshuo offers a relaxed and intimate atmosphere and is an excellent place to explore by bicycle. We join one of our local friends and spend a few hours riding amongst the wonderful scenery in the surrounding countryside, including Moon Hill, and meeting some of the inhabitants of the nearby villages. After finishing our bike ride we enjoy a home cooked lunch in our friend’s family home. A boat trip on the Li River to the surrounding market town of Fuli is another option to consider in your free time. This is also one of the better places for souvenir shopping, so make the most of it!
Li River Hotel or similar
Day 13-15 - Chengdu - Leshan
We catch a flight to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. Sichuan is known for its hot, spicy dishes, considered by the Chinese as the best cuisine within China. In such a food-loving country, that is no mean achievement. A history of trade built on ‘cottage industry’ handicrafts has had a major influence on the development of Chengdu. Recent changes in the regulations in China have seen a revival of this tradition of private industry, and, at almost every turn, you see signs of a thriving market. There is free time to explore the city. There is a large statue of Chairman Mao in the middle of the city and the tranquil Renmin Park is well worth a visit, with its beautiful gardens and interesting teahouses. On a day trip, we travel to Leshan, where we see the world’s largest Buddha, carved into the hillside near the confluence of the Dadu and Min Rivers. A seated figure (as opposed to the ‘standing’ or ‘reclining’ Buddha images found elsewhere), it is a staggering 71 metres high. It is over 1000 years old and took almost 100 years to build. It is not only impressive at close quarters, but can be viewed on a boat from a distance in order to gain a different perspective. One morning we also visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base situated near the city. The giant panda is one of the world’s most endangered species and has become an icon for conservation movements everywhere. It is still found in parts of the Sichuan province, but is very difficult to spot in the wild. In the afternoon we board our train to the city of Chongqing where we spend the night.
Chengdu Garden City Hotel or similar
Day 16 - Dazu - Yangtze River Cruise
This morning we travel by bus to Dazu County, where we visit the remarkable Baoding Shan (Treasured Summit Hill). Here are a series of Buddhist sculptures created between 1179 and 1249. These amazing works of art were created by mystic monks and incorporate many of the natural features of the surrounding hillside. The highlight is a 31-metre long Reclining Buddha. We return to Chongqing where we board our boat to commence a cruise on one of the great rivers of the world. Before boarding, you may wish to purchase some small snacks to take with you on the boat.
Day 17-18 - Yangtze River Cruise
At 6300 kilometres, the Yangtze (also known locally as the Chiangjiang River) is the world’s third longest waterway. It rises deep in 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 Yangtze has also inspired poets, writers and travellers over the centuries. We travel along one of the most picturesque sections, through the renowned Three Gorges. The ‘Sanxia’, as they are known in Chinese, stretch for 200 kilometres and vary from 100 metres to 300 metres in width. We enjoy our cruise on a tourist-class boat between Chongqing and Yichang. This is a much more comfortable way to travel than on the local boats that ply the same route, and offers a fascinating insight into life along the river. We spend three nights on board and sleep in twin share cabins with private facilities in accommodation similar to a small hotel room. Bedding and sheets are provided, as are all meals throughout the cruise. Please note that all rooms on the Yangtze cruise are on a twin share basis. If you are not already sharing a room with someone from your group, you may be required to share with someone (of the same gender) from outside your group. This could be a member of another tour group or a local person. If you have paid a single supplement, please note that this does not cover the cruise.
Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 19 - Yichang - Xian
After disembarking from our boat, we are transferred to the airport to catch a flight to Xian. Depending on the flight schedule, which is constantly changing, we may have to travel to the larger city of Wuhan before flying to Xian. We enjoy an evening at leisure on arrival in beautiful Xian.
City Hotel or similar
Day 20-22 - Xian
Capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China, Xian is a wonderful place to explore. Food options are excellent here, ranging from delicious Muslim fare to great little dumplings in Chinese cafes. Widely regarded as the first capital of a united China in 221 BC, the city is rich in history. A half-day tour to the renowned Terracotta Warriors introduces us to these entombed statues, considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century. Over 6000 of them were individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expression. They are standing in battle formation, facing east in order to protect the tomb of China's first emperor, the great Qin Shihuang. Peasants digging a well only discovered the underground vault, which was home to this army for two millennia, in 1974. Xian also has a wonderful Muslim Quarter. A free day can easily be spent wandering the narrow streets where we 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. We depart Xian on the overnight train bound for Beijing, travelling in ‘soft-class’, four-berth compartments.
City Hotel or similar
Day 23-25 - Beijing
Beijing offers endless opportunities for exploration. The enormous Forbidden City, built more than 500 years ago and off limits to commoners for almost all that time, is a truly amazing place. Its size might surprise you (it is huge!), but what makes it fascinating is that every square metre is interesting, ranging from intricately carved walkways to colourful, painted ceilings. The Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace are other fine examples of extraordinary workmanship. You will visit one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. There is also ample free time in the itinerary, allowing you to make your own discoveries. Our hotel is located in the south of the city and a walk in any direction will unveil all sorts of wonderful surprises. There are good shopping opportunities at the various markets around the city, such as the centrally located Dashilan Market. In the evening, you have the chance to enjoy a performance of the unique Beijing Opera (optional).
Dong Fang Hotel or similar
Day 26 - Beijing
The tour ends after breakfast. A transfer to the airport is not included, however your tour leader will be on hand to advise you as to the options available.