Arrive in Beijing at any time. As group members will arrive at different times, there are no arranged activities on Day 1 until our group meeting in the evening at 1800hrs. Please see the notice board in the hotel foyer for details of this meeting.
On Day 2 we travel out of Beijing to explore the Great Wall at Mutianyu. An incredible piece of engineering stretching almost 3000km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect the Chinese empires from the Mongolian 'barbarians' of the north. Day 3 is free for you to explore this vast city. Take time to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City or to shop in the various markets scattered throughout the city. Take a tour of the ancient hutongs (alleyways) in Beijing's old city. Other options include the Summer Palace or a visit to a Tibetan Monastery. In the evening of Day 3 we will board our overnight train to Xi’an (approximately 14 hours).
From our hotel we take an orientation walk pointing out the Bell and Drum Towers and the vibrant Muslim Quarter with its lively market and Great Mosque. In the evening we can enjoy the option of a local dumpling banquet. Central Xi'an is still enclosed by Ming Dynasty walls, which are a great place to view the city. A great option is to rent a bicycle and ride around the city on the top of the wall. Visit one of the parks or squares and watch the locals ballroom dancing or practicing tai chi in the morning. Optionally the Terracotta Warriors, situated a short drive out of town, can be visited. The warriors were re-discovered in 1974, having been buried for over 2000 years. All stand facing east in battle formation (foot soldiers, archers, horses and chariots) to protect the tomb of the emperor Shi Huang Di. Note: There are two ways to get to the Terrcotta Warriors. You can either take a local public bus or your CEO can help anyone interested to hire a private bus. (Both the entrance fee and the transportation are not included.) On the evening of Day 5, we will catch an overnight train to Chengdu (approximately 17hrs).
Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan Province, is a vibrant, modern city of almost 12 million people which still 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. 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 will taste buds tingle with delight. An optional visit to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center allows us to see both giant and lesser 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, and if you visit in the fall you may be able to see the tiny newborn babies. There are other rare species at the centre, including the little-known red panda. (Please note that cost of entrance ticket to Giant Panda Breeding Research Center is not included).
On the morning of Day 7, we will drive 3 hours to Leshan. Leshan is the home of Dafo – the Grand Buddha, who recently celebrated his 1,200th birthday. The largest stone carved Buddha in the world, we can explore this awesome sight from a number of viewpoints. One option is to board a boat and head out into the Mingjiang River to get an overall view of the statue from afar, and then visit the beautiful forested park. There are numerous carvings and temples to explore before climbing down the path from the serene head to the enormous toes. Don't miss taking a break with a cup of tea at one of the teahouses in the park. A 45-minute drive takes us to Emeishan. Dotted with monasteries and temples, Emeishan is one of the four famous Buddhist mountains of the Middle Kingdom. Although now there are only about 20 active temples, there were once over 100 housing several thousand monks. Various hikes can be arranged, or optional motor transport and cable cars are available for part of the route. (Please note: only Emeishan entry ticket is included, others are not.) Our stay in a monastery is one of the highlights of the trip. Facilities are extremely basic but the experience and views are breathtaking.
On the morning of Day 9 we drive back to Chengdu to catch our flight to Lijiang. The old town of Lijiang is a World Heritage site and home to the Naxi minority. Old men smoking pipes and women in their traditional costumes can be seen throughout the town, as can examples of the Naxi script, a form of pictograph that is little changed after hundreds of years. The best way to spend a day in Lijiang is to get lost in the small pedestrian lanes that meander throughout the town. Every twist and turn reveals picturesque old buildings, local arts and crafts, fast flowing canals and beautiful arched bridges. You can also spend an afternoon resting in a pavilion in the Black Dragon Pool Park, gazing at the reflection of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and listening to the local Naxi music. (Please note: in Lijiang entry to the old town is included; no other entry tickets are included.)
On Day 11, a three hour drive takes us to Tiger Leaping Gorge. In the heart of Yunnan province, the fast-flowing Yangtze has cut a dramatic gorge so narrow in places that legend has it a tiger once escaped capture by jumping across it. Reputed to be one of the deepest gorges in the world, we allow two days to explore this magnificent landscape. We’re sure you’ll agree that this area rivals the better-known Three Gorges as the most spectacular scenery along the Yangtze River. There are two routes through the gorge, the ‘high road’ and the ‘low road’. We take the high road as it is inaccessible to vehicles and enables us to pass through local villages along the way, although the exact details of the hike may vary according to local conditions. Weather conditions in the gorge vary considerably throughout the year. The rainy season is primarily over the summer but it can rain at any time of year. At such times it may be dangerous to trek certain sections of the gorge due to rock falls. Before you arrive at the gorge your CEO will have enquired about the prevailing conditions and will have decided the best way to complete the trek and the most suitable guesthouses to use along the way. The maximum length of the trek in optimum conditions is 24km from the entrance of the gorge in Qiaotou. Under these conditions, you would walk 13.4km on the first day and the remaining on the second day. The first day is hard walking on a combination of a new dirt road and smaller farmers' trails. It includes an ascent up the '28 bends', where the path twists and turns, climbing steeply, until you come out at the top of the path (not the top of the gorge – that is still several hundred metres above you!). It is hard work but the views from the top are absolutely incredible and make the slog worthwhile! You can also see where the tiger reputedly jumped across the gorge, a mythical occurrence from which the gorge derives its name. The second day is easy walking, you will enjoy a breathtaking view of the Jade Dragon mountain and waterfalls along the way. Please note that under normal weather conditions we return to Lijiang at the end of the second day to overnight back in the old town. This allows for an earlier arrival in Dali on Day 13. In less optimum conditions, for example when it has been raining heavily, it may not be possible to complete the full hike. Your CEO will decide the best route to take within the gorge to maximise your enjoyment and ensure that you see the most spectacular sections whilst taking into account any safety issues. Whilst no previous experience is required to make the trek through the gorge, it is important that you are fit before starting. You should be prepared for more than just an afternoon stroll as the trek can be hard work, particularly in the summer. We recommend that you bring light hiking boots with ankle support. (Please note: Tiger Leaping Gorge entry ticket is included)
The ancient, walled town of Dali nestles snuggly between the towering Cangshan Mountains and beautiful Erhai Lake and is perhaps most famous for the stunning "Three Pagodas". The town is small enough to explore on foot, but a bicycle or bus ride can take you out to some of the smaller villages of the local Bai minority group, or to visit the colourful Shaping markets where women in traditional dress sell their handicrafts. You can stop and explore the markets or ancient courtyard houses, which now serve as small communities with several families living around one courtyard. The countryside around Dali is incredibly fertile and the fields are always dotted with farmers ploughing, sowing or threshing. You may also want to take a boat trip to enjoy the beautiful scenery and visit some of the temples and villages on islands in the lake. There is also a lift up Cangshan opening up opportunity for some great day hiking with stunning views. (Please note: No entry tickets are included in Dali).
We continue on to Kunming (approximately a 5hr drive), the capital of Yunnan province, located in Southwest China. Enjoy an included city tour starting with a trip on a public bus to the local flower and bird market. You'll find several locals shopping for house pets. Birds are among the most popular item with crickets on offer too! Continue through the flower market taking in the scents and vibrant colours. Next up is a trip to the Green Lake Park. Wander through the park and observe groups of locals singing, dancing and doing tai chi. The perfect place to spend the afternoon interacting and relaxing.
Often remembered as the highlight of a trip to China, Yangshuo has some of the most spectacular scenery, vibrant countryside and relaxed atmospheres in the country. You can hop onto a bicycle and head off the beaten track for a ride into the countryside, which is like cycling through a traditional Chinese painting. Mountains, rivers, bamboo, rice paddies and water buffalo - there’s something new at every turn. After all that exercise you may want to try your hand at some Chinese arts. Here, you can have a lesson with a local expert in calligraphy, watercolour painting, cooking, tai chi, kung fu or even try and learn a little of the Chinese language. Then in the evening it’s time to relax for a meal or a drink in one of the many cafés that line famous West Street. Enjoy an included river cruise on the Li River. Embark from Fuli town, taking in views of the mountainous landscape as you cruise for around two hours down this scenic river. One of the many options in Yangshuo, the Liu San Jie show is a one hour show directed by Zhang Yimou, director of many famous Chinese movies including 'Hero' and 'House of Flying Daggers', and also responsible for the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. It tells the story of the 'Third Sister Liu' who was renowned for her lyrical singing. She lived in nearby Liuzhou, before she travelled on a bamboo raft to Yangshuo, where she fell in love and settled. The performance showcases the ethnic diversity of the region, incorporating over 500 singers and dancers, many of whom are local farmers. They perform on and around the beautiful Li River against the backdrop of the incredibly illuminated karst mountains. The Liu San Jie show takes place at 8pm most nights (except when the river is in flood) at the confluence of the Li and Yulong rivers on the outskirts of Yangshuo. There is also the option to take a cooking class in Yangshuo. This activity is highly recommended for those who are interested in learning how to prepare some of the fantastic food you get to sample in China. The classes employ a 'hands-on' approach to teaching, where you are provided with your own wok and gas burner and all necessary ingredients. The skilled and friendly teachers are Chinese with very good English skills. After the cooking class you can sit down and enjoy the delicious dishes you have prepared. Morning and afternoon classes are available. (Please note: no entry tickets are included in Yangshuo) In the afternoon of Day 19 we head to the train station to board our overnight train to Hong Kong (approximately 13 hrs).
After an early arrival in Shenzen we cross the border and catch the metro into the heart of Hong Kong. Prepare for the extreme change of pace as you enjoy your last night in the most dynamic city in Asia. If it's your first time in Hong Kong consider spending more time here after your trip. You can explore Stanley Park, shop, eat in one of the many night markets, go up to Victoria Peak or take a harbour cruise for incredible views. (Please note: no entry tickets are included in Hong Kong).
Depart your hotel at anytime before check out.