Beijing – Xian – Dunhuang – Turpan – Urumqi – Kashgar – Chengdu – Yangtze River Cruise – Wuhan – Shanghai – Hong Kong
This exciting grand adventure begins in China’s capital of Beijing and ends in Hong Kong – a dynamic modern metropolis where East meets West. From the eastern terminus of the legendary Silk Road (Xian) to the westernmost tip of China (Kashgar), this exotic journey of discovery following in the footsteps of Marco Polo is nothing short of a cultural extravaganza. Trip highlights are too many to mention but here are a few that should whet everyone’s curiosity: Mogao Grottos, Jiaohe Ruins, Old Town of Kashgar and the scenic drive to Karakul Lake on winding Karakoram Highway.
Please note this trip requires the participants to possess a high level of stamina. Travellers sensitive to high altitudes should be aware that the day excursion to Karakul Lake hits spots as high as 3645 metres (12,000 feet) above sea level.
- Group size limited to 20.
- Expert local guides hand-picked by company owners.
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers included.
- No forced shopping stops.
- Free Wi-Fi in all hotels.
- Quality meals at non-tourist restaurants.
- Unlimited supply of bottled water during group activities.
Meal Code: B = breakfast / L = lunch / D = dinner
Day 1/Thu: Departing for Beijing
Your grand China adventure begins with your international flight to China today. You’ll lose a day upon crossing the International Date Line.
Day 2/Fri: Arrival in 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.
Day 3/Sat: Beijing (B/L/D)
Capital of China, Beijing is a world-class cultural and educational centre with a population of 21.7 million (early 2017), ranking it China’s second biggest 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.
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. 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. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, this is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
Next up is Tian’anmen Square. Located in the heart of Beijing, the square measures 880 metres from north to south and 500 meters 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, Tian’anmen 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, another 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. Recommended by numerous guidebooks for freshwater pearls, Hongqiao teems with domestic and international shoppers. 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.
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. The meat is wrapped in a thin layer of pancake (Chinese tortilla) together with shredded scallion, cucumber, and a sweet and salty sauce made of wheat flour. Condiments may also include pickled garlic and white sugar.
Day 4/Sun: Beijing (B/L)
After an early breakfast we embark on a full-day excursion to the legendary Great Wall at Mutianyu, 75km northeast of the city.
Zigzagging over 6,000 kilometres from east to west along 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 whose cavalrymen 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 – Xi’an (B/L/D)
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”.
Next on our schedule is 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 at the end of 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.
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 is also 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 6/Tue: Xian (B/L)
With a history going back over 3,000 years, Xi’an served as China’s capital of several ruling dynasties including the Han (206 BC – 220 AD) and the Tang (618 – 907). It is home of the famous Terracotta Army and the eastern terminus of the ancient Silk Road – a network of trade routes connecting China proper with regions as far as the Mediterranean beginning in the Second Century BC.
Morning visit to the Terracotta Army. 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 archeological 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 7/Wed: Xian (B/L)
Morning sightseeing begins at 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 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 (1644-1912). Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, this mosque is completely Chinese in architectural style. It has neither domes nor traditional minarets.
Day 8/Thu: Xian – Dunhuang (B/L/D)
Our morning flight to Dunhuang takes 2.5 hours.
Dunhuang, a major link on the ancient Silk Road, is an oasis city once known as Shazhou or ‘City of Sands’. The single biggest attraction of Dunhuang is the nearby Mogao Grottoes, which along with Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang and Yungang Grottoes in Datong, forms the three most famous Chinese grottoes of Buddhist sculptures – all on UNESCO’s list of World Cultural Heritage Sites.
Afternoon sightseeing takes in Dunhuang Museum and a food market.
Please note that the number of direct flights between Xi’an and Dunhuang is very limited and scheduled flights are frequently adjusted every season. It is likely that we may be forced to fly in the afternoon or evening. If so, sightseeing in Xian and Dunhuang will be modified accordingly. We do not take the express train, the fastest available, because that would take over 8 hours.
Day 9/Fri: Dunhuang (B/L)
Morning sightseeing introduces us to the brilliant murals and sculptures inside Mogao Grottos, one of the most celebrated legacies of the Silk Road era. Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art. In the afternoon, we visit the Crescent Moon Lake and Singing Sand Dunes.
Day 10/Sat: Dunhuang – Urumqi (B/D)
Free morning to explore on your own.
Afternoon flight (1 hour 40 minutes) to Urumqi.
Our sightseeing in Urumqi includes Red Hill Park and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum where the famous Tarim Mummies are on display.
Please note that the number of direct flights between Dunhuang and Urumqi is very limited and scheduled flights are frequently adjusted every season. At the moment there is no morning flight available. If we are forced to fly in the evening, sightseeing in Dunhuang and Urumqi will be modified accordingly. The overnight train should be avoided because it is not very comfortable.
Day 11/Sun: Urumqi – Turpan – Urumqi (B/L/D)
Enjoy a day trip to Turpan by high-speed train (1 hour 8 minutes each way).
Situated on the northern route of the Silk Road, Turpan is a fertile oasis where crops and vineyards are irrigated by an underground water canal system called Karez. Ethnic Uyghurs make up 70% of the total population.
Sightseeing in Turpan features Jiaohe Ruins (Yarkhoto, an ancient garrison town), the Karez museum and the Bezeklik Buddhist Caves in the Flaming Mountains.
Day 12/Mon: Urumqi – Kashgar (B/L/D)
Free morning to explore on your own. Noon or early afternoon flight (2 hours) to Kashgar.
Located at the westernmost tip of China, Kashgar, also known as Shufu in the old days, is a vibrant kaleidoscope of Central Asian cultures. An oasis 1200 metres above sea level, Kashgar is a remarkably prosperous and pleasant place, despite remaining, in part, an essentially medieval city.
Day 13/Tue: Kashgar (B/L)
Our morning schedule today includes the Old Town centre, Abakh Hoja Tomb (also known as Fragrant Concubines’s Tomb) and Ida Kah Mosque.
We spend the afternoon visiting a local Uighur family and the extraordinary Sunday Bazaar where half of Central Asia seems to converge. The market now called Central Asia International Grand Bazaar is open every day except for three days during the three-day holiday known as Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice).
Day 14/Wed: Kashgar – Lake Karakul – Urumqi (B/L)
After breakfast we embark on a full-day excursion to Karakul Lake, 198 kilometres southwest of Kashgar.
Accessed via legendary Karakoram Highway leading to Pakistan, the lake, 3,600 metres above sea level, sits on the laps of Muztagh Ata and Kongur, two towering peaks of the Pamir Mountains. The scenery along the way is simply stunning. As we drive higher and higher into the mountains, farmland along the river valley on the edge of the desert gradually gives way to high mountain pastures nibbled by camels and yaks tended by yurt-dwelling Kirgiz and Tajiks.
The Karakoram Highway is the highest paved international road in the world, connecting China’s Xinjiang region with Gilgit-Baltisan region of Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an elevation of 4,693 metres. The highway was built by the government of Pakistan and China. It was started in 1950 and opened to the public in 1979. About 810 Pakistanis and 200 Chinese workers lost their lives during the construction of the highway, mostly in landslide and falls.
We return to Urumqi by evening flight.
Day 15/Thu: Urumqi – Chengdu (B/D)
Morning flight to Chengdu.
Afternoon 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.
Day 16/Fri: Chengdu – Chongqing – Yangtze Cruise (B/L/D)
Free morning to explore on your own.
Afternoon sightseeing following lunch 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.
We ride the bullet train (G2889, 16:10/17:43) to Chongqing where we board the Yangtze cruise ship following after 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 119km.
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 (45km) and Qutang Gorge (8km). 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. This is 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 – Shanghai (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. If we are lucky, we may get to watch a live performance featuring a set of bronze chime bells replicated from originals made two and half millennia ago. The museum visit is followed by a stroll by scenic East Lake nearby if time permits.
After an early lunch we board the high-speed train (G678, 13:35/18:18) for Shanghai.
Day 21/Wed: Shanghai (B/L/D)
With a population of 24 million (2015), Shanghai is China’s biggest city, which delights the visitor with its futuristic skyline and historical landmarks. 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.
We begin our day with a visit to Jade Buddha Temple located in an old neighbourhood. Later on we tour the famous waterfront promenade known as the Bund, and the 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 22/Thu: Shanghai (B)
Free day to explore on your own. We recommend Shanghai Museum and the Urban Planning Exhibition Center nearby. Shanghai Museum, a great place to explore on your own (audio guide available for a fee), is frequently cited by visitors as one of the best of its kind in China with a treasure trove collected from around the country.
Day 23/Fri: Shanghai – Hong Kong (B/D)
Morning flight to Hong Kong.
Afternoon sightseeing in Hong Kong begins with a ferry ride across Victoria Harbour from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central. The heart of Hong Kong’s business district, Central is home to the regional headquarters of many multinational financial services corporations. Consulates general and consulates of many countries are also located in this area, as is the government of Hong Kong.
We then proceed to Victoria Peak. Also known as Mount Austin or The Peak among locals, Victoria Peak is located in the western half of Hong Kong Island with an altitude of 552 meters (1,811 feet). The peak offers sweeping views over Central, Victoria Harbour and the surrounding islands. The Peak Lookout Restaurant, a romantic place for dinner, offers a wide selection of Chinese, Western, Indian, and Southeast Asian dishes.
On our way to Stanley Market, we make a quick stop at Repulse Bay, where private residences owned by Hong Kong’s rich and famous overlook the well maintained golden beaches. We wrap up the day after a visit to Stanley Market – a traditional old open-air market known for bargains.
Day 24/Sat: Hong Kong (B)
Today is set aside for you to explore on your own. Don’t hesitate to ask the expert local guide for advice.
Please note that if we arrived in Hong Kong behind schedule the day before, we’ll finish our planned sightseeing this morning.
Day 25/Sun: Returning Home (B)
Transfer to the airport on your own for return home flight. The transfer is easier than you think and the guide will be glad to explain the details to you. Taxi to the airport costs about $30 USD and is highly recommended for couples and families. The alternative is using the hotel’s free shuttle to get to the Airport Express Train Station in Tsim Sha Tsui and ride the dedicated train to the airport for $90 HKD ($12 USD). The train departs every 10 minutes between 6:00 AM and midnight, reaching the airport in 21 minutes.
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Dates and Prices
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