Feel free to arrive in Beijing at any time today as there are no planned activities. The group will meet at 6pm. Please check for a notice from your CEO. Following the meeting, there's an option to eat some delicious Beijing fare at a local restaurant with your new group.
Day 2 we set out early to explore the Forbidden City and its corridors and buildings. We will also stand in the heart of Tiananmen square, and hear the significance of these places to modern day Chinese. Late afternoon there is some free time to explore sites such as the traditional hutongs of Beijing or the Temple of Heaven, a refuge for Chinese retirees, where they practice water calligraphy, tai chi, or walk pet crickets!
Day 3 we travel to the Great Wall. An incredible piece of engineering stretching 6000km westwards along the mountain ridges north of Beijing, originally constructed to protect the Chinese empires from the Mongolian 'barbarians' of the north. We visit the section known as Mutianyu one of the finest preserved Ming Dynasty sections and a little further from Beijing than where most crowds go. Early afternoon we continue from the Great Wall to the Special Commune, a unique rural organic farm based community set up to advocate and empower intellectually challenged individuals to be part of their community and support themselves through work and continual learning. After a long day at the wall take some time to relax and get to know the area before enjoying a welcome dinner with a Chinese song and dance performance by some of the students who live at the facility, one of the ongoing projects designed to provide meaningful employment opportunities. Day 4 we get engaged with the facility helping with some of the local projects that change from season to season but can include assisting in the planting and harvesting of crops, working with one of the cultural projects, assisting in the planning and management of one of the new projects such as a horse riding arena for autistic therapy. The morning of Day 5 is flexible, depending both on your interests and what is happening at the time of your visit, ranging from further involvement in the operations of the programs to a visit to a nearby orphanage, school for migrant children or hike in the surrounding countryside. This afternoon we return to Beijing for our overnight transportation on to the ancient capital of China, Xi'an.
The ancient Tang Dynasty capital holds so many things to explore. Once we arrive, we will we will travel 45 minutes out to the site of the sprawling pits of the Terracotta Warriors. We'll spend a long morning here with our local guide. In the evening, the best way to fuel your stomach is to take a stroll through the Muslim Quarter, munching on nan bread and lamb skewers, dried fruits and roasted walnuts. Delicious! Day 7 there will be time for a trip atop the ancient city walls which enclose the heart of the modern city. You can also tour two of Xi'an's famous landmarks the Drum and Bell Towers today before continuing our voyage on to Chengdu.
This morning we arrive in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province and a chilli-lover’s paradise! This is a vibrant, modern city of almost 12 million people which manages to retain some of its older characteristics and traditions. One of these traditions you can experience for yourself in the form of the 200-year-old Sichuan Opera. The singing, comedy, puppets and incredible 'changing faces' act performed in old halls or courtyard buildings, are a feast for the eyes. For a relaxing afternoon, visit one of Chengdu's parks or temples, scattered with teahouses. You can while away an afternoon sipping tea and watching the locals play chess, cards or mah-jongg. You may even be invited to give it a try yourself. No visit is complete without a meal in a local Sichuan restaurant. The cuisine is spicy, and peppercorns and chillies abound, but often in a surprisingly subtle way. Whether it's hotpot, meat or a vegetable dish, your mouth will water and your taste buds tingle with delight.
The majority of the world’s remaining pandas live in the mountains of Sichuan and on the morning of day 9 we travel some 160 kms (approx. 3 hours) south-west of Chengdu to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve. China has for good reason adopted these playful black and white darlings as their national animal, and has set up Bifengxia to help them survive. Staying in simple accommodation, our volunteer work allows us to see giant pandas up close, but in a relatively natural environment. There are thought to be less than 1000 of these remarkable animals left in the wild, with around 80% in Sichuan and the remainder in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. The centre is designed to provide the ideal breeding environment for the pandas, with 70 pandas having been moved here since the earthquake in 2008. Volunteer duties include gathering bamboo and supplementary foods for these giants and providing a healthy breakfast for them to tuck into as they stretch after a long night’s slumber. Cleaning their areas and enclosures ensures a safe and sanitary environment for the pandas to flourish, and there is occasionally also the chance to help the professional workers gather behavioural data. Most active in the morning there should be plenty of opportunity to see the infants romp in their playground environment, designed to encourage movement and socialization of this fairly solitary creature. Accommodation here is very basic but worth it for this amazing experience.
Arriving in the evening in Shanghai, head out to explore the city's lights and modern allure. Your CEO will take the group on walking tour in downtown Shanghai on day 13. A stroll down the Bund can give a insight into the colonial past of Shanghai as the old European architecture, faces across the river to the modern skyscrapers of the future. A simple fishing village until the arrive of the British, French and other European nations in the mid 1800s, Shanghai's history is surprisingly recent, reflected in both the layout of the city, divided between the old French and International concessions, and also in the architecture where Art Deco sits next to modernity. The presence of so many foreigners made this city a hotbed of culture and politics and it is no surprise that the birthplace of the Communist Party of China can be found deep in the heart of the old French Concession.
You are free to depart anytime today.