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Beijing – Xian – Chengdu – Lijiang – Zhongdian (Shangri-La) – Kunming – Chongqing – Yangtze Cruise – Yichang – Wuhan – Guilin – Shanghai
Combining China’s most popular cities with exotic Yunnan Province and a first-class Yangtze cruise, the well tested itinerary gives you as complete an introduction to China as possible in 26 days. Westerners began to pay attention to Yunnan around a century ago when National Geographic magazine published a series of articles and photographs on the area. It is believed that those articles and photographs inspired James Hilton to write his famous novel Lost Horizon. Visitors to Yunnan today never fail to be awed by its stunningly beautiful landscape, rich biodiversity, and intriguing tribal cultures.
This thrilling vacation tour visits places as high as 3,500m (11,500 feet) above sea level. Travellers with known history of altitude sickness should take precaution before going on the trip.
- Group size limited to 20.
- Expert local guides hand-picked by owners of Laurus Travel.
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers included.
- No forced shopping stops.
- Outside cabin on or above bridge deck for Yangtze cruise.
- Complimentary laundry service (10 items per passenger) during Yangtze cruise.
- Free Wi-Fi on cruise ship and in all hotels.
- Quality meals at non-tourist restaurants.
- Unlimited supply of bottled water during group activities.
- Peking roast duck at a popular restaurant.
- Visits to chambers in Forbidden City that most tour companies pass up.
- Great Wall visit at Mutianyu with cable car.
- Day hike at Longji terraced rice fields.
- Impression Lijiang live outdoor performance in Lijiang.
- Peking opera show in Beijing
- Face Mask Changing performance in Chengdu
- Jewish heritage tour in Shanghai
Meal Code: B = breakfast / L = lunch / D = dinner
Day 1/Thu: Departing for Beijing
Your China vacation starts with transpacific flight departing from a city of your choice. You’ll lose a day upon crossing the International Date Line.
Day 2/Fri: Arrival in Beijing
Welcome to Beijing! Meet the driver on arrival for transfer to the hotel. You’ll have the balance of the day at leisure. The guide will get in touch with you tonight.
Capital of China, Beijing is a world-class cultural and educational centre with a population of 21.7 million (2017), ranking it China’s second largest city behind Shanghai. Beijing is renowned for its opulent palaces, temples, and huge stone walls and gates – treasures that make it the most popular tourist city in China by the number of visitors it receives every year.
Beijing was already a strategically important city in northern China for centuries when Kublai Khan decided to move his capital here from Karakorum in Mongolia. With the collapse of the vast Mongol empire in 1368 AD, Beijing, known as Da Du or Grand Capital at the time, lost its status as the country’s capital but soon regained it when the imperial court of the successive Ming Dynasty moved here from Nanjing. Beijing continued to serve as China’s capital after Manchu tribes dethroned the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 and established the Great Qing Empire (Qing Dynasty), which lasted till 1912.
Day 3/Sat: Beijing (B/L/D)
We begin today with a visit to the Forbidden City. Officially known as the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City was the place where the emperors of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) Dynasties lived and carried out their administration. Construction of the Forbidden City took 14 years (1406-1420) to complete. The complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 hectares or 180 acres. It exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1912 but the royal family was allowed to continue to live in the Forbidden City till 1924, when the last emperor, Pu Yi, was driven out of the imperial palace. One year later the Forbidden City was turned into a museum. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, this is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
After lunch we proceed to the Summer Palace, a well preserved UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The imperial resort was first named Garden of Clear Ripples, which was burnt down by the allied forces of Great Britain and France in 1860 during the Second Opium War (referred to as Arrow War by the British). Reconstruction started 25 years later and was completed in 1895 when the name was changed to Yi He Yuan (Garden of Good Health and Harmony). The design gives prominence to Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, south of the hill. The sprawling complex covers an area of 290 hectares and the buildings inside consist of over 3,000 bays.
Today we enjoy a delicious dinner at a popular Peking Roast Duck restaurant. Peking Roast Duck is a famous Beijing dish prized for the thin and crispy skin with authentic versions serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners.
Day 4/Sun: Beijing (B/L)
After an early breakfast we embark on a full-day excursion to the legendary Great Wall at Mutianyu, 75 km northeast of the city.
Zigzagging over 6,000 kilometres from east to west along the undulating mountains, the Great Wall was built to hold off tribal invaders from the north. As history shows, the Wall failed the Chinese rulers miserably, especially in the case of Kublai Khan who and his men swept across China from the Mongolian steppe, thus the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).
Construction of the earliest sections of the Wall started in the 7th century B.C. A major renovation started with the founding of the Ming Dynasty in 1368 and took 200 years to complete. The wall we see today in Beijing is almost exactly the result of this effort.
Day 5/Mon: Beijing (B/L)
We begin our sightseeing today with a visit to a traditional hutong neighbourhood. Hutong refers to an ancient alleyway with siheyuan or ”4-sided courtyard house” on both sides. The name hutong dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368 A.D.). According to some experts, the word originated from the Mongolian language, in which it is pronounced as hottog and means “well.” In ancient times, people tended to gather and live around wells. So the original meaning of hutong should be “a place where people live around”.
We then visit historic Jingshan Park. The park to the north of the Forbidden City was part of the imperial palace serving the royal families as a convenient site for farming, recreation and ancestor worshipping. The man-made hill (46 metres above ground, 89 metres above sea level) overlooks the Forbidden City and provides a great spot for bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area.
Next up is Tian’anmen Square. Located in the heart of Beijing, the square measures 880 metres from north to south and 500 metres from east to west. Said to be the largest public plaza in the world, Tian’anmen Square has the capacity to hold one million people. The imposing Tian’anmen Tower sits at the north end of the square while the Monument to the People’s Heroes dominates the centre. The square is flanked by The Great Hall of the People (west) and the National Museum (east). Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum and Qianmen (Front Gate) are located in the south of the square. One of the top 16 tourist attractions in Beijing, Tiananmen Square is also the witness of the Chinese people’s great struggles for democracy and personal freedom since 1919.
Afternoon sightseeing at the Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated in southeastern Beijing the Temple of Heaven is China’s largest extant sacrificial temple where, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the emperors conducted the elaborate and most exalted sacrifices addressed to “the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” Construction of the temple started in 1406, during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle, and took 14 years to complete. The temple was expanded under the Qing emperors Qianlong (1736-1796) and Jiaqing (1796-1820). Occupying 2.73 square kilometres (roughly 1,700 by 1,600 metres), the area of the Temple of Heaven is more than twice that of the Forbidden City.
The famous Hongqiao Pearl Market, the largest pearl market in the world, is right across the street from the Temple of Heaven. The market is recommended in numerous guidebooks as a good place to buy fresh water pearls, a market segment dominated by China. If you are interested, please ask the guide to drop you off there. However, you’ll need to get back to the hotel by taxi, which costs about 50 yuan or US$8.
Day 6/Tue: Beijing – Xian (B/D)
Free morning to relax or explore on your own. We travel to Xian by the high-speed train (#G87, 14:00/18:23). The 4-hour-23-minute rail journey through fertile farmland dotted with villages provides the visitor an excellent way to enjoy the beautiful countryside. The track we travel on between Beijing and Zhengzhou is part of the new 2,298km high-speed railway linking Beijing and subtropical Guangzhou and the longest high-speed rail line in the world. In the past 20 years China has been on a building spree expanding the country’s rail network and upgrading existing railways. Its new high-speed rail service rivals France’s TGV and Japan’s “shinkansen” in terms of safety, speed, comfort and punctuality.
Day 7/Wed: Xian (B/L/D)
With a history going back over 3,000 years, Xi’an served as the capital of several ruling dynasties including the Han (206 BC – 220 AD) and the Tang (618 – 907). It is home to the famous Terracotta Army as well as the eastern terminus of the ancient Silk Road – a network of trade routes that connected China proper with regions as far as the Mediterranean beginning in the 2nd Century BC.
Morning visit to the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum. Built on the excavation site, the museum is located 30km east of the city. Designed to follow the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) into eternity, the Terracotta Army represents one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th Century.
After lunch we return to the city for a stroll on the ancient city wall. Declared a national treasure by the State Council in 1961, the wall first built in 1370 encircles an area of 14 square kilometres. It runs 13.7 kilometres long and measures 12 metres in height with a thickness at the base between 15 to 18 metres.
Day 8/Thu: Xian (B/L)
Morning sightseeing begins with Shaanxi Provincial Museum. The modern, well-organized museum was completed in 1992 and traces the history of Xian from prehistory to Qing dynasty (1644-1912). The extensive galleries and exhibitions offer the visitor an excellent introduction to the area that greatly improves understanding of the numerous historical sites in and around the city.
We then visit the ancient grand mosque in the old town centre and the adjacent Muslim bazaar. The mosque was established in the 8th Century but the majority of the complex was constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was further expanded in the Qing Dynasty. Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, this mosque is completely Chinese in its architectural style. It has neither domes nor traditional style minarets.
Day 9/Fri: Xi’an – Chengdu (B/D)
This morning we ride the bullet train (3 hours) to Chengdu, capital of populous Sichuan Province. The ancient city has a population of 14 million with half of that within the urban centre and the remainder in the surrounding districts. A top livable city, Chengdu is one of the most important economic, transportation, and communication hubs in Western China. The fertile Chengdu Plain, on which Chengdu is located, is also known as “Country of Heaven”, a phrase also often translated as “The Land of Abundance”. The discovery of the Jinsha site suggests the area of Chengdu had become the centre of the Bronze Age Sanxingdui culture around the time of the establishment of the state of Shu, prior to its annexation by Qin in 316 BC.
Afternoon schedule includes Wang Jiang Lou Park and a typical local tea house. Wangjianglou means “river-overlooking tower” and the park is so named because of the ancient pagoda-shaped wooden tower onsite. The beautiful little park dotted with verdant bamboo groves has long been a favourite spot among locals for leisure. People in Sichuan enjoy going to tea houses, their equivalent of pubs or neighbourhood coffee shops found in the West, where people, especially retirees, exchange gossips and play chess among other things.
Day 10/Sat: Chengdu (B/L/D)
Morning sightseeing at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The giant panda, unrelated to lesser or red panda, is a bear native to south central China, living in mountainous regions. It is easily recognized by the large, distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the panda’s diet is over 99% bamboo. The giant panda has an insatiable appetite for bamboo. A typical animal eats half the day – a full 12 out of every 24 hours – and relieves itself dozens of times a day. Giant pandas are solitary creatures. They have a highly developed sense of smell that males use to avoid each other and to find females for mating in the spring. After a five-month pregnancy, females give birth to a cub or two, though they cannot care for both twins. The blind infants born white weigh only 5 ounces (142 grams) at birth and cannot crawl until they reach three months of age. The panda is a conservation reliant endangered species. Recent statistics show 239 pandas living in captivity inside China and another 27 outside the country. Estimates of the wild population vary from 1,000 to as high as 3,000. Some reports also show that the number of pandas in the wild is on the rise.
We spend the most of the afternoon at Jinsha Museum built on the excavation site. A significant archaeological discovery in modern China, construction workers chanced upon it in February 2001. The site flourished around 1000 BC and shares similarities in burial objects with the Sanxingdui site located 50 km from Chengdu. Ivory, jade artifacts, bronze objects, gold objects and carved stone objects were found at the site. Unlike the site at Sanxingdui, Jinsha did not have a city wall. Jinsha culture (1200–650 BC) is believed to be a final phase of Sanxingdui culture and represents a relocation of the political center in the ancient Shu Kingdom.
Day 11/Sun: Chengdu – Lijiang (B/L)
Free morning to explore on your own. We fly to Lijiang in the afternoon. Depending on flight availability, we may need to fly to Lijiang in the morning. Lijiang is home to the ethnic Naxi people whose intriguing Dongba religion and unique customs coupled with the region’s enchanting scenery combine to make Lijiang and its vicinity a fascinating place to explore. Joseph Rock, the Austrian-American explorer, geographer, linguist and botanist, spent almost three decades researching this part of China. The old town of Lijiang known as Dayan is protected as a UNESCO-designated World Cultural Heritage Site. We spend the rest of the day at leisure to get acclimatized to the high altitudes.
Day 12/Mon: Lijiang (B/L)
We begin today with an excursion to Yunshanping or Spruce Meadow, an alpine pasture surrounded by virgin forests at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. While there, we’ll attend a live performance called Impression Lijiang. Directed by Zhang Yimou, Wang Chaoge and Fan Yue, Impression Lijiang is a song and dance extravaganza that takes place on location at 3,100 metres above sea level, in a spring-like city in Southwest China. Premiered on July 23, 2006, the hour-long show has been performed on a regular basis averaging over a million spectators per year.
Later today we visit an ancient village on the way back to the city. In the afternoon we enjoy a walking tour of the old town (this may be moved up to the day before depending on flight schedule).
Day 13/Tue: Lijiang – Zhongdian/Shangri-la (B/L)
After breakfast we embark on an overland journey to Zhongdian. The day-long drive covers 200 kilometres of country road snaking through scenic river valleys and high mountains dotted with villages of various ethnic nationalities. The highlight of the drive is a stop at the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the first bend of the Yangtze. The gorge is a 15-kilometre scenic canyon on the Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River. With a maximum depth of 3790 metres, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is believed to be the deepest river canyon in the world. (B/L)
Day 14/Wed: Zhongdian/Shangri-La (B/L)
In the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, the British author, James Hilton, describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Some scholars believe that the Shangri-La story owes a literary debt to Shambhala, a mythical kingdom in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which was sought by Eastern and Western explorers. Because of this remote association, the local authorities in Yunnan applied to the State Council, the Chinese equivalent to the cabinet of a Western federal government, to have their county’s name changed from Zhongdian to Shangri-La (Xiangelila in Chinese pinyin) for the sake of tourism promotion. The application was approved in late 2001 and the name change soon went into effect.
We spend the morning exploring Pudacuo National Park. Stops include Bita Lake and Shudu Lake surrounded by virgin alpine forests. Designated as a national park on June 25, 2007, Pudacuo covers an area of 1,300 square kilometres. It is the first national park in China that meets the standards established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The park contains more than 20 percent of China’s plant species, about one-third of its mammal and bird species and almost 100 endangered species. It is notably home to vulnerable Black-necked cranes, many rare and beautiful orchids, and Himalayan Yew – a coniferous tree whose extracts are a source of the anticancer drug, paclitaxel.
Afternoon sightseeing takes in a Tibetan village, the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery and a local market. Located 5 kilometres from the town of Zhongdian, the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery, also known as Sungtseling, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery first built in 1679. Sitting at 3,380 metres above sea level, it is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan province and is sometimes referred to as Little Potala Palace in reference to the Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
Day 15/Thu: Zhongdian – Kunming (B/L)
The morning flight to Kunming takes less than one hour. Capital of Yunnan Province, Kunming is widely known as the “city of eternal spring” due to its temperate climate year-round. Sitting 1,900 metres above sea level in the middle of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, Kunming became the terminus on the Chinese side of the famous Burma Road and also served as an airbase for the Allied Forces during the Second World War.
Our sightseeing in Kunming includes the historic Western Hill Scenic Area and Huating Temple.
Day 16/Fri: Kunming – Chongqing (B/L/D)
Enjoy an excursion to Stone Forest. Located 126km southeast of Kunming, the Stone Forest is a massive collection of gray limestone pillars created by water erosion. The tall rocks seem to emanate from the ground in the manner of stalagmites, with many looking like trees made of stone.
We fly to Chongqing in late afternoon and board the luxurious Yangtze cruise ship following dinner.
Day 17/Sat: Yangtze Cruise (B/L/D)
At 6,380km the Yangtze is the longest river in China and the third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon. The most impressive section of the Yangtze is the Three Gorges stretching 119 km.
On today’s shore excursion we visit Precious Stone Fortress (shi bao zhai) built atop a hill overlooking the Yangtze. It was so named because the location was once used as a stronghold by a group of uprising peasants in mid-17th century. About one hundred years later a Buddhist temple was built on the hill. Several more decades passed before a staircase covered by a 9-storey wooden pagoda was added. In 1956, 10 years before the catastrophic Cultural Revolution started, the pagoda was expanded to the current 12 stories.
Day 18/Sun: Yangtze Cruise (B/L/D)
Admire nature’s grandeur while sailing through spectacular Wu Gorge (45 km) and Qutang Gorge (8 km). Later this morning we hop on a small vessel to explore Goddess Stream. A tributary of the Yangtze, the emerald coloured stream traverses through narrow gorges walled by soaring cliffs.
Day 19/Mon: Yichang – Wuhan (B/L/D)
Morning visit to the Three Gorges Dam site – the largest hydroelectric dam in the world with a reservoir stretching hundreds of kilometres upstream.
We disembark the ship at noon and travel to Wuhan by high-speed train (2 hours). Due to time constraint, we will not be able to have a proper lunch; instead, a lunch box would be provided for you to carry onto the train.
Day 20/Tue: Wuhan – Guilin (B/L/D)
Wuhan is the capital of Hubei Province and a powerful economic engine in central China. A pivotal hub of transportation, the sprawling city straddles the Yangtze. It became known as Wuhan in 1927 when Wuchang, Hangyang and Hankou were amalgamated. The city contains many beautiful lakes and parks including expansive East Lake.
Our first stop this morning is Hubei Provincial Museum, one of the best of its kind in China. If we are lucky, we may get to watch a live performance by musicians using a set of bronze chime bells replicated from originals made two and half millennia ago. The museum visit is followed by a stroll at scenic East Lake nearby.
After an early lunch we board the high-speed train G435 (13:13/18:27) for Guilin. A small city by Chinese standard, Guilin has long been renowned for its unique scenery. The name Guilin literally means “forest of sweet osmanthus”, owing to the large number of fragrant sweet osmanthus trees in the city.
Day 21/Wed: Guilin (B/L)
We begin today with a five-hour cruise down the Li River. The 83km stretch of the river between Guilin and Yangshuo affords breathtaking scenery as the river snakes through tall karst mountains, gigantic bamboo sprays, and picturesque villages — sights that have inspired countless poets and painters for generations.
We disembark in Yangshuo after lunch on board and drive back to Guilin. We wrap up the day with a quick tour of Fubo Hill (elevation 63 metres) located 2 km from the hotel. Walking back to the hotel along Li River is a perfect way to soak in the beauty of the city.
For dinner, you will find all kinds of restaurants around the centrally located hotel. To avoid hassle and waste of time, please ask your expert local guide for advice.
Day 22/Thu: Guilin (B/L)
Enjoy a full-day hiking excursion to the terraced rice fields in Longji. Located 80 km (2 hours drive) to the north of Guilin, Longji, meaning dragon back, is famous for its terraced rice fields. Because the villages at Longji are in the jurisdiction of Longsheng County, the tourist attraction is often collectively referred to as Longsheng Terraced Fields. The scenery is arguably at its best in early May during transplanting and in late September right before harvest when the fields turn golden.
Built by local farmers of different ethnic groups from Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) to Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the mountainous fields cover a total area of 66 square kilometres, rising between 300 metres and 1,100 metres above sea level.
Optional Tea Farm Visit
If time permits and for a nominal fee we can arrange a late afternoon visit to Guilin Tea Science and Research Institute, subject to a minimum of 6 participants. Founded in 1956, the state-owned institute and its experimental tea farm cover an area of 42 hectares, boasting 250 species of tea plants. The predecessor of the institute was said to be one of the tea suppliers to the imperial court during the Ming Dynasty. The farm sits on fertile soil ideal for tea growing. During harvesting season, the farm employs 150 workers full time to pick tea leaves. Each year the institute produces around 42 tons of organically grown tea of different flavours.
Day 23/Fri: Guilin – Shanghai (B/D)
Morning flight to Shanghai. With a population of 24 million (2015), Shanghai is China’s biggest city. Rapid economic growth in the past 30 years has again turned Shanghai into a leading global city with significant influence in commerce, culture, finance, media, fashion, technology and transport. Today’s visitors to Shanghai are delighted by its futuristic skyline that blends so well with its treasured historical landmarks.
Afternoon sightseeing finds us at Shanghai Museum. This museum is frequently cited by visitors as one of the best of its kind in China with a treasure trove collected from around the country. Please note that extended delay is common for flights from Guilin to Shanghai. If we couldn’t make it to Shanghai on time, the planned sightseeing for this afternoon would be moved to Day 25.
Day 24/Sat: Shanghai (B/L/D)
Our full-day tour begins at Jade Buddha Temple located in an old neighbourhood. This active temple of Mahayana Buddhism was founded in 1882 housing two jade Buddha statues imported from Burma.
We then process to famous waterfront promenade known as the Bund, which is followed by a visit to Yu Garden in the old town centre.
We wrap up the day with a drive through the glitzy financial district of Lujiazui on the opposite side of the Bund across Huangpu River.
Day 25/Sun: Shanghai (B)
Today is a free day to explore on your own. Our recommendations include Jinmao Tower and the popular evening cruise on Huangpu River. We also offer an optional half-day Jewish heritage tour and a full-day tour to Suzhou by high-speed train.
Optional Suzhou Day Tour
After a leisurely breakfast we ride the high-speed train (30-40 minutes) to Suzhou, an ancient city most famous for its gardens, canals and silk industry. In late 13th Century a Venetian named Marco Polo visited Suzhou and he was very impressed by what he saw. He vividly described the prosperous silk making trade and dubbed Suzhou Venice of the East due to the small waterways crisscrossing the city.
Our full-day schedule takes in historic Tiger Hill, Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou Museum (designed by I.M. Pei), North Pagoda and a short canal cruise. We return to Shanghai by high-speed train (30-40 minutes) in early evening.
The all-inclusive price with hot lunch starts from US$135 per person subject to a minimum of 2 participants.
Day 26/Mon: Shanghai – Home City (B)
Your China tour ends this morning. Transfer to the airport any time for return flight. Guests flying back to North America will regain a day upon re-crossing the International Date Line, thus arriving home the same day as departing from Shanghai.
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|Beijing||4||Sheraton Beijing Dongcheng||luxury|
|Xian||3||Sheraton Xian North City||luxury|
|Chengdu||2||Holiday Inn Oriental Plaza||luxury|
|Lijiang||2||Hilton Garden Inn||luxury|
|Yangtze Cruise||3||Century Cruise (Sun)||luxury|
|Wuhan||1||New World Hotel||luxury|
2018 Dates and Prices
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|2019 dates and prices|
* Land Only price does not include international airfare. Please contact us for a fare quote.
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Updated December 11, 2017