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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.
Day 1: Kunming
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.
Day 2: Dali
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.
Day 3: Xizhou/Dali
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.
Day 4: Shaxi
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.
Day 5: Shaxi
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).
Day 6: 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!
Day 7: Shangrila
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.
Day 8: Shangrila
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.
Day 9: Kunming
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.
Day 10: Beijing
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.
Day 11: Beijing
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.
Day 12: Beijing
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.
Day 13: Xi'an
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.
Day 14: Xi'an
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.
Day 15: Chengdu
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.
Day 16: Chengdu
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.
Day 17-19: 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.
Day 20: Yichang/Wuhan
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.
Day 21: Yangshuo
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.
Day 22: Yangshuo
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.
Day 23: Yangshuo
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.
Day 24: Shanghai
Say goodbye to Yangshuo and get ready for the neon lit Shanghai. Transfer to Guilin airport and fly to Shanghai, arriving by mid-afternoon. Perhaps get a taste of Shanghai’s eclectic food scene, which draws influences from far beyond China’s walls. Ask your leader for suggestions on where to begin. This evening you’ll witness the impressive antics of the famous Shanghai Acrobats during a colourful and athletic performance.
Day 25: Shanghai
Shanghai by morning is bustling with street vendors and workers making their morning commute, and today you’ll weave among them in an early walking tour of the city. Begin with the pride of Shanghai – the Bund. On one side of this waterfront strip you’ll see gothic, baroque and neoclassical architecture dating as far back as 1897. These historic buildings sit in wonderful contrast to the uber modern high rises and sleek office buildings that lie across the water. Then, visit Yuyuan Bazaar, where you will be left to your own devices. Those feeling a little overwhelmed by the chaos may wish to pay a small fee to visit the classical garden of Yuyuan and sit by one of the many ponds. Or perhaps examine the many bronze and ceramic pieces in the Shanghai Museum.
Day 26: Shanghai
The tour will come to an end today after breakfast. If you have time, there's plenty more to see in Shanghai. Why explore the so-called 'Sin City of China' in a Shanghai Nights & Lights tour with Urban Adventures?
- Dali - Ancient Town walking tour
- Xizhou - Cheese making
- Xizhou - Home-cooked Bai lunch
- Shibaoshan - Hike to Shizong Temple
- Tiger Leaping Gorge - Guided trek
- Shangrila - Sumtseling Monastery
- Xiao Zhongdian - Tibetan family visit
- Beijing - Temple of Heaven Park
- Beijing - Forbidden City
- Beijing - Mutianyu Great Wall
- Beijing - Summer Palace
- Xi'an - Muslim Quarter walking tour
- Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors
- Xi'an - Hanyangling Mausoleum
- Xi'an - Home-cooked lunch
- Chengdu - Tea Tasting
- Chengdu - People's Park & Tianfu Square
- Chengdu - Giant Panda Breeding Research Base
- Yichang - Three Gorges Dam Project
- Yangshuo - Cooking School & Market Tour
- Yangshuo - Tai Chi/Kung Fu class
- Shanghai - Acrobat Show
- Shanghai - Walking tour
24 Breakfast(s) Included
6 Lunch(es) Included
3 Dinner(s) Included
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