Feel free to arrive in Beijing at any time today, as there are no planned activities. The group will meet at 1800hrs. Please check for a notice from your Tour Leader. Following the meeting, there's an option to eat some delicious Beijing delights with your new group.
The Chinese capital, Beijing, is one of the world's most impressive and vibrant cities. Spend a day at the Great Wall, a monumental feat of engineering intended to protect China from the northern barbarians. Visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City as a group before flying to Xi’an. You have the option to visit, during your free time, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, Yonghegong Tibetan Monastery and some of Beijing’s many markets. We take an evening flight to Xi'an on Day 3.
Arrive in Xi'an in the early morning and, after checking into the hotel, take an orientation walk through one of Xi’an’s most fascinating areas – the Muslim Quarter. Tour the lovely and unusual Great Mosque (a wonderfully serene place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city), great souvenir stalls and enjoy some of the best street food in China. The remaining city walls are a great place to watch the sunset or join the locals for ballroom dancing or tai chi in the early morning. This former imperial capital is also homebase for a day trip to the Terracotta Warriors, situated a short drive out of town (approximately 1 hour). The warriors were re-discovered in 1974, having been buried for over 2000 years. All face east in battle formation, complete with horses and chariots to guard the tomb of the emperor Shi Huang Di. In the evening, we board a comfortable overnight sleeper that will ease us into Suzhou early the following morning. (Approx. 12 hrs)
While Shanghai is the modern center of the Yangtse delta, Suzhou was the capital of Wu culture 800 years ago and is one of China's leading historic cities. Developing around the Grand Canal that forged much of China's traditional north-south commerce Suzhou is built around a series of canals inspiring Chinese to consider it the "Venice of the East". Now a modern thriving city Suzhou maintains a traditional core surrounded by a moat and world famous as a UNESCO world heritage site for its traditional Chinese gardens.
In the afternoon of day 6 we arrive in Shanghai and you are free to explore the delights this most modern of Chinese cities has to offer. Day 7 is a free day and you could take a stroll along the Bund, the old Colonial waterfront, or shop on the famous Nanjing Road.
The 48-hour crossing is a good time to relax and refresh for the next section of your journey. Facilities on board are clean and comfortable. (Helpful hint: As it is extremely difficult and time consuming to get Japanese Yen while in China, we highly recommend that passengers bring the equivalent of aprox. 100USD in Japanese Yen with them on the trip for this ferry crossing. While Japanese Yen (cash) is generally preferred as payment for meals, beverages, incidentals, etc.on board, Chinese Yuan is also accepted but at a lower rate. Most ships have laundry machines, so you can do laundry, bring detergent.) The ferry will dock for maintenance the second week of May. Passenger traveling on this week will fly to Osaka.
We arrive this morning to Osaka and head to our hotel. Osaka is Japan’s culinary capital and home to the nation’s funniest and friendliest locals. Osaka is a vibrant, modern city and has many attractions as well as some great shopping. The Kita (North) area is home to some of Japan’s largest shopping centers and underground malls that you could get lost in! Minami (South) is the area to go to for all things food and drink, and has great nightlife. While you are here you can see Osaka Aquarium, Japan’s biggest and best, catch a Bunraku puppetry play, or head to USJ – Japan’s very own Universal Studio theme park.
A morning journey takes us to Mt Koya, a religious centre founded in 816 by the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi. The train ride up the mountain is possibly one of the finest rail journeys in Japan. For the final steep ascent, we switch to a cable car. On the mountain we stay in shukubo (temple lodgings run by monks), eat shojin-ryori (vegetarian meals) and can have the chance to take part in morning prayers, and discover what a monk’s life is really like! Of course there are many fascinating temples to see, and they chance to talk with the monks.
Today we travel by train to Hiroshima, a city marked historically in 1945 with the explosion of the first atomic bomb. Since that time, Hiroshima has become a peace-promoting city hoping for the day when all nuclear weapons are abolished. A walk through the Peace Park, visiting the Monument to the Children, remembering Sadoko and her Thousand Paper Cranes, a moment in front of Gembaku Dome, the frame of the building which was nearly directly under the explosion, and a visit to the Peace Museum are forceful reminders of the power humans hold and the direction we can turn it. We will also take a trip together to Miyajima Island, famed as one of Japan's most scenic spots, where you will have a free afternoon to explore. You will see the famous floating Torii Gate, set out in the bay, which glows extraordinarily at sunset. The island is dotted with shrines and temples, populated by deer and monkeys, and traversed with hiking trails for those who want to get the blood flowing. There are also lanes full of souvenirs and tasty treats. You can visit Miyajima at your own pace.
Continuing on to Kyoto, the former Imperial Capital and home of the country’s most treasured remnants of Japanese imperial life. As the Imperial capital, Kyoto is an essential part of any visit to Japan. Kyoto has some of the most magnificent temples in Japan which date back centuries. There are said to be 2,000 temples, shrines, palaces, museums and traditional gardens in Kyoto. Use your time to wander past huge wooden structures and multi-storied pagodas, all linked with famous walkways and marvel at the huge temples of the Hongan-ji sect or the beautiful Golden Pavilion. Take time out to enjoy the Zen gardens like Ryoan-ji and the Silver Pavilion, take a leisurely stroll down the lovely Philosopher’s path to Nanzen-ji or just walk around Gion and perhaps catch a glimpse of a Geisha going from teahouse to tea house. Discover, for a full day, the Zen gardens, huge wooden temples, pagodas and shrines.
Hakone is the prefect base for a view of Mt Fuji. It is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo. Famous for hot springs, outdoor activities, natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt Fuji, Hakone is one of the most popular destinations among Japanese and international tourists looking for a break from Tokyo. What better way to relax than soaking in one of the town’s many sulphuric hot onsens!
Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is one of the most modern cities in the world. It seems that every person on the streets has the latest version of everything. Ginza, is full of department stores selling the latest fashions, Akihabara is the place to try the latest new gadgets before they become available in the West and Shinjuku is the fast paced nightclub area. However, if you look under the glossy surface, Tokyo is still very traditional. Ladies still wear kimonos around town, people go to temples like Senso-ji to say a few prayers on their way to work and couples get married in their traditional wedding gowns in the beautiful grounds around the Meiji Shrine. In spring, couples, families and friends sit beneath trees sipping sake and admiring the cherry blossoms. You may depart at any time on Day 18.