China & Tibet travel with experts recommended by Frommer’s!
Beijing – Xian – Guilin – Chengdu – Lhasa – Gyantse – Shigatse – Lhasa – Chongqing – Yangtze Cruise – Wuhan – Suzhou – Shanghai
Explore China in depth with expert guides hand picked by the owners of Laurus Travel! This trip has 5 days in Tibet and 3 days on a Yangtze cruise. Highlights include the Great Wall at Mutianyu (with cable car), the Terracotta Army, Chengdu Giant Panda Research Center, and a day cruise on picturesque Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo.
Please note that the tour is suitable only for travellers who are perfectly fit without any medical condition that may be complicated due to high altitudes. The highest point during the tour is 4,800 metres or 15,744 feet above sea level.
- 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.
- Exclusive amenities during Yangtze cruise.
- Quality meals at non-tourist restaurants.
- Free Wi-Fi in all hotels.
- Unlimited supply of bottled water.
- Beijing to Xian by new bullet train.
- Peking roast duck at a top rated restaurant.
- Visits to side 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.
- Peking opera show in Beijing
- Face Mask Changing performance in Chengdu
- Princess Wencheng stage performance in Lhasa
- Jewish heritage tour in Shanghai
Meal Code: B = breakfast / L = lunch / D = dinner
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Day 1/Thu: Departing Home City
Your China vacation 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)
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. 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 – Lhasa (B/L)
Free morning to rest up. We board noon flight for Lhasa and upon arrival spend the rest of the day relaxing and getting acclimatized to the high altitudes.
Day 15/Thu: Lhasa (B/L)
Situated in a wide, mountain-fringed valley on the north bank of the Kyichu River, Lhasa (elevation 3700m) is a rapidly expanding city with a population of over 540,000. An important settlement for well over a thousand years, Lhasa was originally called Rasa, but was renamed by King Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century when he moved his capital here from the Yarlung Valley. Following the collapse of the Yarlung dynasty two centuries later, power dispersed among local chieftains and the city lost its pre-eminence. It was not until the seventeenth century, with the installation of the Fifth Dalai Lama as ruler by the Mongolian emperor, Gushri Khan, that Lhasa once again became the seat of government.
Morning visit to the Dalai Lama’s summer residence Norbulinka. This afternoon we tour grand Sera Monastery, where lively debates held Monday to Saturday from 3 to 5 pm between resident monks often draw a large audience.
Day 16/Fri: Lhasa (B/L)
This morning we visit the Potala Palace. This was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. It is now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. The 5th Dalai Lama started its construction in 1645 after one of his spiritual advisers pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government, situated as it is between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa. The palace sits on the site of an earlier fortress built by King Songtsen Gampo. The main building measures 360 metres east-west and 140 metres north-south. Thickness of the exterior granite walls varies between 2 and 5 metres.
Afternoon sightseeing at Jokhang Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist buildings in Tibet and a remarkable combination of Tibetan, Indian, Nepalese and Han Chinese architectural styles. No visit to Jokhang Temple is complete without checking out the Barkor Street bazaar outside the temple.
Day 17/Sat: Lhasa – Gyantse – Shigatse (B/L/D)
Following breakfast, we drive along the Southern Route to Gyantse (265km). Highlights of the scenic drive include Kambaba Pass (4700 metres/15416 feet above sea level) and the holy lake Yamdrok Yumtso. Every summer throngs of Tibetan pilgrims come to the lake to pray for blessings by the lake fairy. Afternoon sightseeing in Gyantse takes in the Fortress of Gyantse Dzong and Pelkhor Choede. We continue on to Shigatse (90km) in late afternoon arriving at the second largest city in Tibet around dinnertime.
Day 18/Sun: Shigatse – Lhasa (B/L)
This morning we visit Tashilunpo Monastery, the religious and administrative headquarters of the Panchen Lama – paramount leader of the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Return to Lhasa via better paved Northern Route (295km). Vast pastureland, barren mountain slopes, snow-capped peaks, blue skies, white clouds, scanty population, and ubiquitous prayer flags – these images combine to conjure a sense of solitude and mystery.
Day 19/Mon: Lhasa – Chongqing (B/L/D)
Spend the morning relaxing or exploring the ancient Tibetan capital on your own. We fly to Chongqing in mid-afternoon and board Victoria Cruises’ Jenna (the newest among the U.S. cruise operator’s fleet of seven) after a delicious dinner of Sichuan cuisine. Please note that depending on flight availability we may need to leave Lhasa in the morning; in that case, sightseeing will be arranged in Chongqing.
Day 20/Tue: 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 Shibaozhai or Shibao Pagoda – an impressive wooden pagoda built on a cliff overlooking the Yangtze.
Day 21/Wed: Yangtze Cruise (B/L/D)
Admire nature’s grandeur while sailing through spectacular Wu Gorge (45km) and Qutang Gorge (8km). Later this morning we navigate Small Gorge Goddess Stream (also called Shennv Stream) on a small vessel. A tributary of the Yangtze River, this beautiful stream in many places is the color of jade and is overshadowed by mountains on either side.
Day 22/Thu: 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 around noon and travel to Wuhan by high-speed train (2 hours). Due to time constraint, we may not have time for a proper lunch; in that case, a lunch box would be provided for you to carry onto the train.
Day 23/Fri: Wuhan – Shanghai (B/L/D)
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 along scenic East Lake nearby.
We board the high-speed train G600 (15:01/19:13) for Shanghai after lunch.
Day 24/Sat: Shanghai (B/L)
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. The skyline of the glitzy buildings across the river in Pudong looks better in late afternoon and certainly works better for your camera!
Day 25/Sun: Shanghai – Suzhou – Shanghai (B/L/D)
Enjoy a full-day excursion to Suzhou today. We must leave the hotel no later than 7:00 AM so that we can return to Shanghai early and avoid being caught up in heavy traffic on the way back.
Eighty kilometers to the northwest of Shanghai, ancient Suzhou is 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 schedule today takes in historic Tiger Hill, Humble Administrator’s Garden and a short cruise on the Grand Canal. If time permits, we’ll stop by the silk spinning mill before returning to Shanghai.
Tiger Hill has been a popular tourist destination for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, as is evident from the poetry and calligraphy carved into the rocks on the hill. The hill is so named because it is said to look like a crouching tiger. Another legend states that a white tiger appeared on the hill to guard it following the burial of King Helu. The highlight here is the brick pagoda constructed between 959 and 961 AD as part of Yun Yan Buddhist temple. Because of its unintended tilt to one side (2.34 meters off towards northeast), the pagoda is also called by some China’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, except this one is 200 years older than the bell tower in Italy.
The traditional Humble Administrator’s Garden is a masterpiece listed by the UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site with a style in sharp contrast with the Yu Garden of Shanghai.
Day 26/Mon: Shanghai – Home City (B)
Your China plus Tibet travel ends this morning. Transfer to the airport 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|
|Shigatse||1||Jiumuyamei or similar||first class (best available)|
|Yangtze Cruise||3||Victoria Cruises (Jenna)||first class|
|Wuhan||1||Hyatt Regency Optics Valley||luxury|
|Shanghai||4||Sheraton Shanghai Hongkou||luxury|
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