East Asia grand tour combining the best of Japan, South Korea and China
Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Hakone – Kanazawa – Takayama – Shirakawa-go – Kyoto – Nara – Osaka – Busan – Gyeongju – Seoul – Beijing – Xi’an – Shanghai
This grand tour of East Asia combines the best of Japan, South Korea and China. Conducted by an experienced tour leader and expert local guides, the masterfully crafted tour itinerary gives you a deep insight into the three powerhouses of Asia.
- Expert local guides.
- Experienced tour leader.
- Small group size – 20 maximum.
- Premium accommodations.
- Quality and authentic local cuisine.
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers included.
- No forced shopping stops of any kind.
Meal Code: B = breakfast / L = lunch / D = dinner
Day 1/Thu: Departing Home City
We depart from a city of our choice and lose a day upon crossing the International Date Line.
Day 2/Fri: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Tokyo!
If you arrive via Narita Airport, please make your way to the hotel on your own by Airport Limousine Bus (3,100 Japanese Yen per adult, about 30 US dollars) or JR N’EX Airport Express Train (3,020 Yen in Ordinary Class). If you take the train, you’ll need a taxi upon arrival at Tokyo Station and the cab fare to the hotel is approximately 1,500 Yen or 15 US dollars.
The transfer cost for guests arriving via Haneda Airport is much lower. We’ll provide details in the final update before the trip.
All local payments much be made in Japanese Yen only. You can use a debit card to get local currency from ATMs located throughout the arrival hall or buy Yen from a bank operated currency exchange outlets – we advise against buying from other currency dealers. You may also use a credit card to pay for the train or limousine ticket.
You’ll join the group at the hotel after checking in under your own name.
Day 3/Sat: Tokyo (B/L/D)
Tokyo, literally meaning Eastern Capital and officially known as Tokyo Metropolis, is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan and one of the most populous mega-cities in the world with 13.5 million living in the prefecture and close to 38 million in the Tokyo-Yokohama region. Formerly known as Edo, the city has been the de facto seat of government since 1603 when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made the city his headquarter – Shoguns, although appointed by the emperor, were the de facto rulers of Japan during the shogunate period from 1192 to 1867. The city was renamed Tokyo after Emperor Meiji moved his seat here from Kyoto in 1868. Covering an area of 2, 188 square kilometres, Tokyo Metropolis was formed in 1943 from the merger of the former Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo.
Our full-day sightseeing begins with a stroll through the plaza outside the Imperial Palace (the palace itself is not open to tourists). This is followed by a visit to tranquil Meiji Jingu – a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife.
We then drive through ritzy Ginza shopping district on our way to Nakamise-Dori in Asakusa. Nakamise-Dori is a vibrant promenade lined with food stands and souvenir shops. The street connects the famous Asakusa sightseeing spots of Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) and Asakusa Kannon Temple (also known as Senso-ji Temple), the oldest temple in Tokyo dating back to 628 AD.
We spend the rest of the day exploring the history of Tokyo at Edo-Tokyo Museum. The main features of the permanent exhibitions are the life-size replica of the Nihonbashi bridge, the Nakamuraza theatre and scale models of towns and buildings from the Edo, Meiji and Showa periods.
If time allows, we will also go up to Tokyo Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Enjoy a full-course Japanese style welcome dinner.
Day 4/Sun: Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Hakone – Tokyo (B/L)
Full day excursion to Mt Fuji and Hakone by coach. Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain (3,776 m) in Japan, is a two-hour drive from Tokyo. We first stop by the Fuji Visitor Center to learn about current weather conditions as well as the history, formation and ecology of Mt. Fuji through exhibits and films. We then proceed to Mt Fuji’s 5th Station sitting at 2300 metres above sea level.
After lunch, we enjoy a 15-minute cruise on Lake Ashi. This is followed by a breathtaking ride of the Hakone Ropeway, which, on a clear day, offers stunning views of Mt. Fuji and surrounding mountain slopes dotted with lakes. Tour the Owakudani Geothermal Valley before returning to Tokyo.
Day 5/Mon: Tokyo – Kanazawa (B/D)
Free morning to explore on your own. Feel free to ask your guide the day before for recommendations.
This afternoon we ride the bullet train to Kanazawa. The 2.5-hour journey is a perfect way to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Japan. On arrival, we walk across the station to our centrally located hotel. In Japan, a train station is generally located in the heart of a city.
Kanazawa is a jewel of Japanese tourism often bypassed by foreign tourists due to its relatively remote location. However, Japanese themselves come here in droves. Travellers visiting here are richly rewarded with a best preserved Edo-period city where the Samurai, merchants, Geisha and the Daimyo (lords) all left their marks. Kanazawa is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art. Its cuisine is famous throughout Japan.
Day 6/Tue: Kanazawa (B/L)
Morning sightseeing begins at Kenroku-en Garden. One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan (Koraku-en in Okayama and Kairaku-en in Mito being the other two), Kenroku-en was developed from the 1620s to the 1840s by the Maeda clan, the daimyo who ruled the former Kaga Domain. Kenroku-en means “garden which combines six characteristics” – the six aspects considered important in the notion of an ideal garden: spaciousness, serenity, venerability, scenic views, subtle design, and coolness.
From the garden we walk across the road to Kanazawa Castle, to which Kenroku-en Garden used to be part of. The restored castle was first built in 1580 for Maeda Toshiie, the fourth son of a minor samurai family who entered the service of a powerful daimyo at the age of 15 and quickly rose through the ranks. The castle was reconstructed multiple times mostly due to fire damages. The last time the castle was destroyed by fire was in 1881. The Hishi Yagura turret, Gojikken Nagaya warehouse, and Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura turret were faithfully restored in 2001 to their 1809 form, using traditional construction methods. Today’s pillars are Japanese Hinoki Cypress with massive American cypress as ceiling beams. The castle’s distinctive, whitish roof tiles are made of lead.
We then proceed to our sushi making class for a session filled with fun and laughter. You’ll have to be careful with what you make because that will become your own lunch! Sushi is a native to Japan and consists of cooked rice mixed with a small amount of vinegar and combined with ingredients such as raw seafood, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits. Ingredients and forms of sushi presentation vary widely but rice is always part of it. Raw seafood served without rice is called sashimi.
Our first stop after lunch is Nomura Samurai Residence located in a historical preservation area where people actually live and go about their daily lives. A highlight of the restored house is the small but supremely exquisite traditional garden.
Afterwards, we visit a preserved district called Higashi Chaya Street. Higashi and chaya respectively mean eastern and tea house. During the Edo Period, chaya were found in designated entertainment districts where geisha entertained male patrons with dance and music. Today, like Kyoto’s Gion district, Higashi Chaya Street is a popular attraction with almost all of the businesses here serving the needs of tourists (souvenirs, refreshments etc).
Day 7/Wed: Kanazawa – Takayama – Shirakawa-go – Kanazawa (B/L)
Today we embark on a full-day excursion by coach to Takayama and Shirakawa-go.
Famous for its inns, sake breweries, food festivals and local folk art, Takayama, 118 km southeast of Kanazawa, is a delightful town nestled among the Japanese Alps. Our sightseeing takes in an open-air market, Sanno-machi Historic District and a sake brewery.
We return to Kanazawa in the afternoon and visit Shirakawa-go en route. Sitting at 400 meters above sea level, Shirakawa-go is part of the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama – a World Heritage Site inscribed by UNESCO in 1995. Located in a mountainous region that was cut off from the rest of the world for a long period of time, these villages with their Gassho-style houses subsisted on the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. The Gassho-style large houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs here are the only examples of their kind in Japan.
Day 8/Thu: Kanazawa – Kyoto (B/L/D)
After breakfast, we walk across the street to the train station and board the high-speed train (2.5 hours) to Kyoto.
Afternoon sightseeing in Kyoto starts at Kiyomizu Temple, whose massive veranda provides stunning views of the city; the temple represents the best of classical Japanese garden making.
We then spend the rest of the day exploring Gion Preserved District where we’ll attend a live performance incorporating traditional Japanese tea ceremony and Kyo-mai dance.
Day 9/Fri: Kyoto (B/L)
Nicknamed City of Ten Thousand Shrines, Kyoto (literally: capital city) served as Japan’s capital for more than one thousand years before the imperial court moved to Tokyo in 1868 AD, at the beginning of Meiji Restoration (1868 to 1912 – a historical period responsible for the emergence of Japan as a modernized nation in the early 20th century). Kyoto is a scaled replica of China’s Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), Chinese capital during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). With a population of 1.5 million, Kyoto forms a major part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area.
We begin this morning with an excursion to Arashiyama (Storm Mountain), a nationally-designated Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. Sites to visit here include the Togetsukyo Bridge and the Bamboo Forest.
Afternoon schedule takes in Ryoanji Temple and Kinkakuji Temple. Ryoanji literally means temple of dragon at peace. The garden inside is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui or dry landscape, a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design generally featuring distinctive larger rock formations arranged amidst a sweep of smooth pebbles raked into linear patterns that facilitate meditation. The temple and its gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kinkaku-ji, meaning Temple of Golden Pavilion, is a Zen Buddhist temple and one of the 17 locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. The official name of the temple is actually Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple) but is widely known as Golden Pavilion Temple because of the three-story building on the grounds of the temple. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf.
Day 10/Sat: Kyoto (B)
Day 11/Sun: Kyoto – Nara – Osaka (B/L/D)
After breakfast we drive to Nara where we visit Nara Park (where 1,200 wild sika deer roam free) and Todai-ji Temple (Great Image Buddha). Nara is the capital city of Nara Prefecture and a former capital of Japan (710-794). With a population of roughly 370,000 and an area of 280 square kilometers, the city occupies the northern part of Nara Prefecture. Eight temples, shrines and ruins together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest collectively form “the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After lunch we continue on to Osaka. Situated at the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay, Osaka is Japan’s third largest city by population after Tokyo and Yokohama, and serves as a major economic hub. Osaka was once known as the “nation’s kitchen” because of its role as Japan’s rice trading centre during the Edo period. Our schedule in Osaka includes Osaka Castle and a short river cruise through the busy Dotonbori District.
Day 12/Mon: Osaka (B)
Free day to explore on your own. If enough guests show interest, we may offer an optional day tour to Hiroshima by bullet train.
Day 13/Tue: Osaka – Busan (B/D)
Transfer to Kansai Airport or Osaka Itami International airport for mid-day flight to Busan (1hr 30min). Meet the local guide and transfer to the hotel.
Busan is Korea’s second largest city. Bursting with mountains and beaches, hot springs and seafood, South Korea’s second-largest city is a rollicking port town with tonnes to offer. Later today we visit the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, a seaside Buddhist temple built in 1376.
Tonight we enjoy a delicious Korean seafood hotpot dinner.
Day 14/Wed: Busan (B/L)
Today we visit the bustling Jagalchi fish market, Gujesijang market and Yongdusan Park.
Day 15/Thu – Busan – Gyeongju (B/L)
Following breakfast we drive 100 kilometres northeast to Gyeongju. After dropping off bags at the hotel, we driver another 16km northbound to Yangdong Folk Village – a UNESCO World Heritage site from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897).
Day 16/Fri: Gyeongju (B/L)
Gyeongju is a city on South Korea’s southeast coast. It was the capital of the 1,000-year-long Silla dynasty and is known for its extensive historical remains. The 8th-century Bulguksa Temple features twin stone pagodas, a series of wooden staircases and a large bronze Buddha. Nearby, Seokguram Grotto houses a towering seated Buddha and offers panoramic views of the sun rising over the Sea of Japan.
We spend the afternoon exploring Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple – both inscribed as UNESCO Heritage Sites in 1995.
Day 17/Sat: Gyeongju – Seoul (B/L)
We travel to Seoul by express train (2 hours, 300 km) this morning. Capital of South Korea, Seoul is a huge metropolis where modern skyscrapers, high-tech subways and pop culture meet Buddhist temples, palaces and street markets. Notable attractions include futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a convention hall with curving architecture and a rooftop park; Gyeongbokgung Palace, which once had more than 7,000 rooms; and Jogyesa Temple, site of ancient locust and pine trees.
Our sightseeing after lunch includes Gyengbokgung Palace, Myeong-dong district (fashion, market, churches) and N Seoul Tower.
Day 18/Sun: Seoul – DMZ – Seoul (B/L/D)
Today we go on a full-day excursion to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) and the Joint Security Area (JSA) within the village of Panmunjom. The DMZ divides North Korea and South Korea and is one of the last remnants of the Cold War. The DMZ runs across the Korean Peninsula and roughly follows the 38th parallel north (popular name given to latitude 38° N) on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. With over a million soldiers on watch each day, this stretch of land measuring 250 kilometres (160 miles) long and about 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) wide is the most fortified border in the world. Our itinerary also includes Freedom Bridge and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel and observing life on the other side from the Dora Observatory.
Day 19/Mon: Seoul – Beijing (B/D)
Free morning to explore on your own. We fly to Beijing (2.5 hours) in late afternoon.
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 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.
Day 20/Tue: Beijing (B/L)
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.
We wrap up the day with a tour of 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 21/Wed: Beijing (B/L/D)
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.
Tonight we enjoy a delicious dinner featuring the famous Peking Roast Duck restaurant.
Day 22/Thu: 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”.
We then visit historic 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.
After lunch we ride the high-speed train (#G87, 14:00/18:23) to Xi’an. 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 and punctuality.
Day 23/Fri: 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 24/Sat: Xian – Shanghai (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.
The late afternoon flight to Shanghai takes two and half hours.
Day 25/Sun: Shanghai (B/L/D)
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.
This morning we visit the famous waterfront promenade known as the Bund which is followed by Shanghai Museum. After lunch we tour Yu Garden located at the old town centre. We then drive through the glitzy financial district of Lujiazui.
Day 26/Mon: Shanghai – Home City (B)
Your grand East Asia adventure 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.
Contact us for printer-friendly PDF version of the itinerary
|Tokyo||3||Grand Palace Hotel||first class|
|Kanazawa||3||Hotel Nikko Kanazawa||first class|
|Kyoto||3||Hotel Nikko Princess Kyoto||first class|
|Osaka||2||Hotel Nikko Osaka||first class|
|Busan||2||Lotte Hotel Busan||luxury|
|Gyeongju||2||Hyundai Hotel Gyeongju||luxury|
|Seoul||2||Lotte Hotel Seoul||luxury|
|Xi’an||2||Sheraton North City||luxury|
2019 Dates and Prices
* A big discount on single supplement may be available subject to certain conditions. Contact us for details.
|What the tour price includes:
||What the tour price excludes:
* Tourists from Western countries do not need visa to enter Japan and South Korea.
See Terms & Conditions for more information.
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A passport with at least two (2) blank visa page and six (6) months validity at the end of the tour is required.
Tourist visa is required for China but not for Japan and South Korea.
You are not required of any inoculation certificate to enter any of the countries. However, we do suggest you visit your family physician or a travel medicine clinic to determine what precautions you should take. We recommend inoculation shots for hepatitis A and suggest that you check out advice provided by the US CDC and Health Canada.
Tap water in Japan and South Korea is potable but not in China. If you have no problem eating sashimi or sushi containing raw fish back home, then you should be doing fine eating in Japan. When you travel to another country, stomach upset may be an issue even though the food is clean and cooked. This is because your stomach is still adapting to the ingredients or minerals in the local food.
Always carry a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer containing more than 60% of alcohol, no matter where you go.
Travel by Train
Since the inter-city travel is mostly done by train, it’s crucial that you limit yourself to one suitcase and one carry-on with a combined weight of 15 kilograms (33 lbs) or less. Your suitcase must have wheels and measure 25″ by 18″ by 10″ or smaller. Otherwise you may difficulty storing your bag on the overhead luggage rack. The carry-on should be a backpack so that you’ll have a hand free at all time. Navigating train stations means lots of walking and escalator riding. If your bag is too heavy or even worse you come with two pieces, not only will you struggle to catch up with the group but you will have a hard time finding storage space on the train.