Central Asia on the Silk Road
Day 1 Beijing
Arrive at any time. Meet your CEO and fellow group members at a welcome meeting around 6pm, followed by an optional 'Beijing Duck' dinner.
Days 2-3 Beijing (2B)
Visit the Great Wall of China. One of the greatest structures ever built by humans, the Great Wall was constructed in stages over 2000 years and stretches 6000 kilometres from the sea to western China. The section we visit is called Mutianyu and is one of the best preserved Ming Dynasty sections reachable from Beijing. At the wall, we'll be able to climb to the top and explore a stretch by foot while taking in views as it winds along the mountain ridges. this section also boasts a cable car and a luge slide. Return to Beijing in late afternoon. Opt to take in a Kung Fu show, Chinese acrobats show or a Chinese opera.
Days 4-5 Xi'an (1B,1L)
Enjoy a guided tour to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. In the afternoon options include shopping, taking a hutong tour or visiting some of the remaining sights in the city- the Summer Palace, Lama Temple, Bell and Drum towers and more. In the evening, take an overnight sleeper train to Xi'An.
Days 6-8 Dunhuang (2B)
Arrive early to Xi'an. After an orientation walk, opt to visit the Silk Road monument, cycle around the city walls, visit the Muslim Quarter for shopping and food, visit the Big Goose Pagoda and more. The centre of Xi'an is enclosed by an enormous city wall – climb the steps to the top and rent a bicycle to ride around the top of this ancient wall. At night, head out to the Muslim Quarter for some of the best street food in China – the spicy beef and lamb kebabs are always a favourite.
Day 9 Turpan
Enjoy a guided tour to see the Terracotta Warriors. In the evening, board a sleeper train for the overnight journey. The Terracotta Warriors, built over 2000 years ago to protect the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, are about 1 hour from town. Over 6000 life-size warriors have been discovered. Spend a half-day exploring this archaeological wonder with a local guide. After, enjoy a traditional lunch in a local farmer's house.
Days 10-11 Kashgar (2B)
Enjoy a guided visit of the famous Mogao Grottoes, filled with Buddha statues. These caves have inspired a whole school of study called Dunhuangology. Enjoy a free afternoon to wander the town centre, shop in the market or visit sights further afield. On Day 7, opt for an early start to visit the unique Mingsha Sand Dunes. Arrive before sunrise to climb the massive dunes and watch the sun come up over the "desert". Take a camel ride through the dunes in the early morning sun.
Day 12 Torugart Pass/Tash Rabat (1B, 1D)
Enjoy a free day to continue exploring the city. Outdoor tables in the centre of town are a great place to grab a beer and some local eats. The local delicacy here is donkey. Cover it in chilis and garlic – tastes like chicken! In the evening, board a sleeper train to Turpan, the first stop in the Xinjiang province. Here, the culture, food and language are quite different from the other Chinese provinces. The Uyghur minority people speak Uyghur, a Turkic language with an arabic script. Food is more similar to Central Asian cuisine and includes rice, kebabs and handmade noodle dishes – the original spaghetti and meatballs brought to Europe along the Silk Road.
Days 13 Kochkor (1B, 1D)
Arrive to the train station and drive by private van to Turpan, the lowest point in Asia. Enjoy a city tour with a local guide and learn about this interesting desert city. Visit the ancient Karez water system and the culture of the Uyghur minority people. Other sights in Turpan include the Emin minaret, the city mosque and the Turpan museum. Outside the city centre are sights like the Jiaohe ruins, Tuyoq, a traditional village, and the Flaming Mountains. Learn what makes this area tick with things like local time versus Beijing time, learning to tie a local headscarf in the distinct Uyghur way and indulge in the all the grapes grown in this region.
Day 14 Karakol (1B)
In the morning take a private van to Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Province. Fly to Kashgar, on the westernmost border of China. Take an orientation walk with your CEO and find a delicious spot for dinner. Day 11 is a Sunday, the best day to visit the ancient Silk Road bazaars in Kashgar. Once an important trading spot on the route, Kashgar is famous for its bazaar. Visit the Animal Bazaar as well and see people bargaining, buying, selling and transporting all different animals. Stand aside and observe the frenzied atmosphere. While the traditional Sunday Bazaar isn't what it once was, you can imagine what it must have been like back in the day. Past the donkey parking lot you'll see traditional fabrics, nuts, spices and normal household goods being sold in the stalls.
Day 15 Cholpon Ata (Lake Issyk-Kul) (1B,1D)
In the morning, drive from the city to the Chinese border. Cross the Chinese side and drive into the mountains to the Torugart Pass (3000m+) and beyond for the Kyrgyz checkpoint. From there, journey to Tash Rabat, a small community of Kyrgyz nomads high in the Tian Shan mountain range. Settle into this idyllic setting. You're surrounded by bright green rolling hillsides, topped with snow. Icy running rivers cut through the area and kids and animals wander through the area. Enjoy a delicious homemade meal with the family and overnight in a yurt (multi-share). The traditional yurt is made with felt and wrapped around a wooden frame with a hole int he top for ventilation. With the fire going, it's warm and cozy and you'll stare up at the ceiling, represented on the Kyrgyz flag.
Days 16-17 Bishkek (2B)
Enjoy the morning in the scenic mountains hiking, visiting the ancient stone building called Tash Rabat, playing with the kids or horseback riding. Drive to Naryn Province for lunch. Continue a typical scenic Kyrgyz drive to Kochkor to visit women at a felt carpet-making workshop. Feel free to chat with the women, learning about their traditional craft. Enjoy a homestay in the community-based tourism (CBT) houses. CBT is an organization that helps families offer their homes to travellers. We may split across a few houses near each other and will all have different experiences at each one. The families provide comfortable places to sleep, varied washing facilities from outhouses to running hot water indoors and tasty meals, but their level of interaction will vary. Keep an eye out for homemade raspberry jam! Approximate distance: 270km Estimated travel time: Full day to reach destination, about 4 hrs drive time
Days 18-19 Tashkent (2B)
Drive to Karakol for a and enjoy time visiting this city. First, visit the Prejevalskiy Museum. With free time in the afternoon, opt to visit the Dunhan Mosque, the local market and an Orthodox church. Approximate distance: 280km Estimated travel time: 4 hrs
Day 20 Khiva (1B)
Drive around the lake and stop in Cholpon Ata for the night. Lake Issyk-Kul (meaning hot water) is an alpine lake that never freezes (it's not really all that warm!). With a free afternoon, explore this Russian resort town. Hang out on the beach with snow-capped mountains in the distance, visit the Cholpon Ata petroglyphs or take a boat tour on the lake. This is one of those town best explored by just wandering around. If you're lucky, you might even find a spot for a traditional 'banya' (Russian bathhouse). Approximate distance: 200km Estimated travel time: 4 hrs (with stops)
Days 21-22 Bukhara (2B)
Travel to the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. On the way stop at the Burana Tower, one of the oldest landmarks in Kyrgyzstan. In Bishkek, enjoy some meals and drinks out in the city, wander the local markets and bargain for tasty snacks, catch a mashrutka (a set-route taxi) and learn how to hop on and off like a local. Visit museums and stock up on souvenirs from the craft stores in the TsUM (mall). On Day 17, opt to go further afield for a hike in Ala Archa National Park (about 40km away). Bishkek feels like a traditional soviet city with a good mix of Russian, Kyrgyz and expat flavour. From the western sports bar to the massive soviet buildings to the local market with Central Asian streetfood, Bishkek is a great city to explore for a couple days. Approximate distance: 280km Estimated travel time: 4 hrs
Days 23-24 Samarkand (2B, 1D)
Fly from Bishkek to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The short flight will allow time to explore the city on an orientation walk on arrival. Enjoy an optional dinner out tonight and maybe find a place to smoke a sheesha and relax. On Day 19, take an included sightseeing tour of the city with a local guide. Take the metro, visit the central markets and sample some prepared food, visit the religious centre and Koran museum and learn about the history of the city in this diverse and open country. Use the afternoon's free time to visit the History Museum and Museum of Applied Arts. Tashkent is a great example of different cultures coming together. Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmen, Kazakhs and Russians all living together, sharing this big, modern city. Keep an eye out for random Lenin statues popping up around town.
Day 25 Tashkent (1B)
Fly to Urgench and continue by private van to Khiva. Khiva is an ancient city surrounded by city walls with ancient gates, palaces, caravanserais and madrassas. It's a museum city you can walk through and learn about how life was lived when the city was founded 2500 years ago. Enjoy a half-day tour around the town. Khiva was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.
Day 26 Tashkent (1B)
Spend a full day driving through the desert to Bukhara, one of the most charming cities in the country. Opt to visit a 500-year-old hammam (bathhouse) and join in like a local. Bukhara is great for shopping and picking up souvenirs- check out the amazing variety of handmade suzanne blankets and pillows. On Day 22, take an included city tour with a local guide to visit the the Samanid Mausoleum, the Ark Citadel and the Minaret Kalyan complex. With free time in the afternoon, visit the carpet museum that was once used by both muslims and jews as a place of worship and visit the jewish area and synagogue. Bukhara has an interesting history. The city has long been a centre of trade, study, religion and culture as an integral stop on the Silk Road. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has a long history of a diverse population including Bukharian Jews, who speak a farsi dialect with the Hebrew alphabet and a large population of farsi-speaking Tajiks. Many mosques and minarets can be seen today, decorated with gorgeous tile work inside and out. Approximate distance: 450km Estimated travel time: 6 hrs