Southwest China adventure – join us and travel in style.
Beijing – Xian – Guilin – Chengdu – Lijiang – Zhongdian (Shangri-La) – Kunming – Suzhou – Shanghai
In addition to China’s must-see cities, the Southwest China adventure trip introduces the visitor to brilliant Jinsha Culture and exotic Yunnan Province (Lijiang, Zhongdian & Kunming). Biologically diverse Yunnan is where 24 of China’s 55 ethnic minorities call home. Many in the West did not notice the stunningly beautiful landscape and intriguing tribal cultures of Yunnan until nearly a century ago when National Geographic published a series of articles and photographs on the area. It is believed that it was those articles and photographs that inspired James Hilton to write his famous novel Lost Horizon.
Please note this tour visits places as high as 12,000 feet above sea level. Travellers sensitive to such high altitudes should seek professional advice before booking this tour.
- Top guides hand-picked by owners of Laurus Travel.
- Small group size – 20 maximum.
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers included.
- No forced shopping stops.
- Quality meals at non-tourist restaurants.
- Unlimited supply of bottled water.
- Free in-room Wi-Fi in most hotels.
- Travel from Beijing to Xian by new bullet train.
- Chinese art and calligraphy class.
- Peking roast duck at a top rated restaurant.
- Visits to side chambers in Forbidden City that most companies leave out.
- Great Wall visit at Mutianyu with cable car.
- Impression Lijiang live performance in Lijiang.
- Day hike to Longji terraced rice fields.
- 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 Home City
Your Southwest China adventure begins with your 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 your guide on arrival in late afternoon and transfer to the hotel. The balance of the day is at leisure.
Day 3/Sat: Beijing (B/L/D)
Capital of China, Beijing is a world-class cultural and educational centre with a population of 21 million (2013), 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 1911.
We begin today with a visit to Tiananmen (tian an men) Square. Located in the heart of Beijing, the square is 880 metres from north to south, and 500 meters from east to west. Said to be the biggest of its kind in the world, Tiananmen Square has the capacity to hold one million people. Tiananmen (Heavenly Gate) Tower sites 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 of China (east). Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and Qianmen (Front Gate) sit in the south of the square. Considered 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.
After lunch we proceed to the Forbidden City. Also known as Palace Museum or Gu Gong in Chinese, the Forbidden City was the place where the emperors of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) 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. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, this is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
We conclude our sightseeing today with a visit to a 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”.
Today we enjoy a delicious dinner at high-end Beijing roast duck restaurant.
Day 4/Sun: Beijing (B/L)
Morning sightseeing takes us to historic Jingshan Park for a panoramic view of the Forbidden City from above. The park to the north of the Forbidden City was part of the imperial palace in the old days, serving the royal families as a convenient site for farming, recreation and ancestor worshipping. The man-made hill (46 meters above ground, 89 meters above sea level) overlooks the Forbidden City and provides a great spot for bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area.
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 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.
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 of its kind in the world, sits right across from the Temple of Heaven. The market is recommended in various guidebooks as a good place to buy fresh water pearls, a market segment dominated by the Chinese. 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 $8.
Day 5/Mon: Beijing (B/L)
Today 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 the undulating mountains, the Great Wall was built to hold off tribal invaders from the north. 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 6/Tue: Beijing – Xian (B/D)
Free morning to relax or explore on your own. We check out the hotel at noon and travel to Xian by the high-speed train. The four-hour-forty-minute rail journey cuts through fertile farmland dotted with villages, providing the visitor an excellent way to enjoy the beautiful landscape. The track we travel on is part of the new 2,298 km high-speed railway connecting Beijing and Guangzhou, the longest high-speed rail line in the world. The Chinese for the past 20 years have been on a building spree expanding the country’s rail network and upgrading existing railways. This new rail service rivals France’s TGV and Japan’s “shinkansen” in terms of speed, comfort, cleanliness and onboard facilities.
Day 7/Wed: Xian (B/L/D)
Eastern terminus of the fabled Silk Road and one of the ancient capitals of China, Xian is home to the world famous Terracotta Army.
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 archeological discoveries of the 20th Century.
After lunch we return to the city for a stroll on the ancient city wall. The wall, declared national treasure by the State Council in 1961 under the premiership of Zhou Enlai, was started in 1370 during the Ming Dynasty, encircling an area of 14 square kilometres. The wall runs 13.7 kilometres long and measures 12 metres in height and 15 to 18 metres in thickness at the base.
Enjoy a delicious buffet dinner in the hotel.
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 (1644-1911). 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 (1644-1911). 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: Xian – Guilin (B/L)
Free morning to explore on your own. We recommend Bell Tower and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. You can reach both by Subway Line 2, which has a stop right next door to our hotel. Bell Tower is 3 stops away (8 minutes). The pagoda is 7 stops away plus a short taxi ride at the other end which costs about 15 Yuan (less than $3).
Late afternoon flight to Guilin. A small city by Chinese standards, 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 10/Sat: 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 and drive back to Guilin. We wrap up the day with a quick tour of the scenic Fubo Hill (63 metres) located 2 km from the hotel.
For dinner, you will find all kinds of restaurants around the centrally located hotel. To avoid hassle and waste of time, please ask your local guide for advice.
Day 11/Sun: Guilin (B/L)
Enjoy a full-day hiking excursion to the terraced rice fields in Longji. Located 80km (2 hours drive) to the northwest 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 (1644-1911), the mountainous fields cover a total area of 66 square kilometres, rising between 300 meters 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 12/Mon: Guilin – Chengdu (B/D)
Morning flight to Chengdu, capital of populous Sichuan Province. The urban area of the municipality houses 14 million with half of that within the city’s nine districts and the remainder in the surrounding regions. Chengdu is one of the most important economic, transportation, and communication centres in Western China and was recently named China’s 4th most livable city by China Daily, the country’s largest English newspaper by circulation. The fertile Chengdu Plain, on which Chengdu is located, is also known as the “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. The city was named “Chengdu” when it was founded more than 2000 years ago, and the name has remained the same till the present day.
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 13/Tue: Chengdu (B/L/D)
Morning sightseeing at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding – a key highlight of your Southwest China adventure. 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 archeological 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 14/Wed: 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 15/Thu: 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 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 16/Fri: 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 meters, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is believed to be the deepest river canyon in the world. (B/L)
Day 17/Sat: 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). The application was approved in late 2001 and the name change went into effect early next year. The name change was nothing but a tourism marketing plot – a rather cynical one in the eyes of many observers.
We spend the morning exploring Pudacuo National Park. Stops include Bita Lake and Shudu Lake surrounded by virgin alpine forests. Pudacuo National Park was designated on June 25, 2007 and 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 18/Sun: 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 19/Mon: Kunming – Shanghai (B/L)
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.
Late afternoon flight to Shanghai.
Day 20/Tue: Shanghai (B/L/D)
Before 1949, Shanghai was widely known in the West as a city of quick riches and paradise of the adventurers. After four decades of anemic growth in a state planned economy, Shanghai is roaring back to recapture its position on the world stage. With a population of 23 million and rapid economic expansion in the last 20 years, Shanghai has again become a leading global city with significant influence in commerce, culture, finance, media, fashion, technology and transport.
Our full-day walking tour begins with a stroll through an old but vibrant neighbourhood near our hotel. We then proceed to the magnificent Shanghai Museum with a huge collection of national treasures collected from around the country.
After lunch, we walk to Yu Garden in the old town centre. The last stop of our schedule is the Bund, a waterfront promenade famous for its landmark neoclassical buildings of European style.
Day 21/Wed: 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.
Day 22/Thu: Shanghai – Home City (B)
Your Southwest China tour ends this morning. Transfer to the airport by Maglev train to board return flight departing in the afternoon. Re-cross the International Date Line and arrive home the same day.
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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|
|Kunming||1||Green Lake Hotel||luxury|
|Shanghai||3||Sheraton Shanghai Hongkou||luxury|
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Southwest China Tour Review on TripAdvisor
“Anyone traveling to China should seriously consider booking with Laurus Travel. Laurus Travel is a small company based in Vancouver, BC. In October, 2013, I went on their tour to Southwest China, which included Shanghai, Chengdu, Lijiang, Zhongdian (also called Shangri-La), Kunming, Guilin, Xi’an, and Beijing. I could not have been happier. The guides were first rate, the hotels were five-star (except for the most charming hotel, in Zhongdian, which has no five-star hotels), and the visits to the various locales were fascinating. The best part to me was that we had as our Laurus representative accompanying us on the trip none other than Julius Yan, who co-owns Laurus with his wife, Heidi. Julius was wonderful to get to know and to talk to about all aspects of China. The Yans want very much for you to have a wonderful time, and Julius was open to making last-minute additions to the tour, including a visit to the just-opened largest-in-the-world shopping mall in Chengdu one participant suggested we go see, and a Chinese tea ceremony with pu-ehr tea in Lijiang. They have also included a high-speed rail trip on one leg of the tour in response to customers’ requests. They even provide a list of books that you might like to read before you go. You won’t find the exact tour I took on their website (www.laurustravel.com) because they have tweaked it slightly in order to give you an even better experience. Laurus took care of everything, including getting my US visa (through an American partner agency). Call me one satisfied traveler!”
Please go to tripadvisor to read Sue D’s report and contact her directly if you have any questions.