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One could spend a lifetime exploring China and never see it all. This trip introduces the essential highlights that define the country. Visit the start of the ancient Silk Road in Xi’an, learn about China’s Hui Muslim ethnic minority and explore the French Concession enclave in Shanghai. Get a glimpse of sacred monuments, delve into local culture and explore ancient villages on this culture-filled tour of China. See iconic sites like the Great Wall and Forbidden Palace, explore spectacular nature in Yangshuo and experience local culture- old and new- at every turn. This 11-day tour won’t disappoint those wanting to peel back the layers of China’s rich history, complete with visits to China’s most famous attractions, including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Terracotta Warriors.
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DAY 01: BEIJING ARRIVAL
Upon arrival in BEIJING, you will be met by your local guide, an Asia Senses Travel representative before beginning this classic China trip enroute to the hotel with a visit to the iconic “Bird’s Nest” stadium, a contemporary structure. Afterwards, continue to Houhai Lake to explore Beijing’s ancient famed Hutong alleyways by rickshaw. Wind your way through the maze of narrow streets teeming with life before continuing with a visit to the Gulou, or Drum Tower, built during the Ming Dynasty. Savour the unique views above the sprawling rooftops of old Beijing.
Moving along, stop by a traditional bicycle shop to chat with locals, and have some fun learning how to play mahjong, a social get-together usually based around Chinese Chess (or card games). Master the art of this ancient pastime and watch seasoned locals face off in front of crowds of curious bystanders. For those who don’t know the rules of the game, the guide will be happy to explain.
Conclude the day with a visit to Wangfujing, Beijing’s bustling market district. Browse hundreds of colourful stalls before heading to Donghuamen Market, packed with vendors hawking everything from giant centipedes to cooked seahorses on skewers. While exploring the region, enjoy the opportunity of witnessing how modernized China has become and how its fierce consumerism continues.
Begin Day 2 of this classic China trip exploring China’s most revered spiritual monuments, with its fusion of popular and old-fashioned beliefs: Confucian doctrines, Chinese-originated Taoism, and the foreign versions of Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Begin the day very early with a visit to the Temple of Heaven, a 15th century architectural masterpiece and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Study its intricate design and stately prayer rooms before heading over to the magnificent imperial altar, once reserved for emperors to pray for good harvests. Surrounding grounds, you can gain some unique insight into daily Chinese activity. From Tai Qi, Kung Fu and sabre practice to meditation, tango, and physical exercise is considered an essential daily start for the Chinese.
Afterwards, head over to the White Cloud Temple and see Taoist monks wearing their hair in traditional chignons. Watch out for superstitious visitors touching sculptures of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals for good luck. For those with enough time to spare, pay a visit to the Niujie Mosque, the oldest mosque in Beijing built by merchants from Central Asia. Lunch will be had around noon; a vegetarian meal located in the in the downtown section of the city.
In the afternoon, venture over to the Yonghe Temple, the single most visited temple in Beijing. A Tibetan Buddhist temple, Yonghe is famous for its 18-meter high Buddha statue made from only one block of wood and has peaceful courtyards ideal for a promenade in the afternoon. End the day at the Temple of Confucius, named after the very man behind the moral codes and precepts that organized the majority of the social interactions of Imperial China. Even today, Confucianism still surfaces in China to be a part of the society. This is the second largest Confucian temple in China. Return to your hotel.
OPTIONAL: Spend the evening at a Kung Fu show in the Red Theatre, downtown.
After breakfast, journey to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China to experience one of the world’s most spectacular sights. Despite an early morning wake up, this is by far the best time of the day for photographs. Enjoy amazing views of the surrounding landscape as you scale the iconic walls spanning over 6,000 kilometers, from Ancient Manchuria to the Gobi Desert in the west, dotted with tall watchtowers along the way. Hike along the wall’s high ridges and explore its ancient watchtowers, dating back more than 2000 years.
After your hike, there may also be an opportunity to settle down for a picnic lunch on the Great Wall, while savouring superb views of the countryside. If you’re feeling adventurous, glide down the wall on a toboggan or see more of this section by cable car. For those who aren’t keen on a hike back down, there is an alternative option for descending via cable car or if you’re feeling adventurous, glide down the wall on a toboggan.
In the afternoon, pay a visit to the Summer Palace, entirely renovated by Emperor Qianlong as a gift to his mother in the 18th century. Harmonious in nature, a variety of traditional Chinese temples, pavilions, lakes and gardens comprise the Palace. Wander through the tranquil grounds where imperial staff would flee from the stifling rooms of the Forbidden City during summer. Grab a refreshing beverage in the shady grounds before wandering through its famous pavilions and scenic lakes, including Kunming Lake and the Seventeen-Arch Bridge. Head over to the intricately carved Marble Boat before hiking to the top of Longevity Hill for panoramic views of the complex. After the palace visits, transfer will be provided back to the city for an evening at the hotel.
The morning of Day 4 will be set apart for a visit to the Forbidden City, the ancient seat of Chinese political power for almost 500 years and once home to China’s last ruling dynasty until the fall of the Empire in 1911. As there is much to see in the compound, it is suggested that visitors take their time during the visit. Explore its tranquil courtyards and imperial courtrooms before climbing the coal hill behind it for spectacular views of the entire site and Beijing’s sprawling skyline.
NOTE: Forbidden City is closed on Mondays, except July and Aug. Access to for Forbidden City is limited to 80,000 visitors/day. Passport copies must be provided at least 11 days in advance to assure a successful booking; it will not be possible to modify this date later on. Visitors are required to bring their passport for security check upon their visit to the monument.
After lunch at local restaurant, enjoy some leisure time at Beihai Park. A good example of a classic Yuan dynasty imperial garden, it also has the benefit of being good to visit in all seasons and is a popular place for locals to spend a day with families and friends.
In the late afternoon, transport will be provided to Beijing western railway station for the trip to XIAN in a soft sleeper cabin. While luxurious options are available, we recommend making the journey in joint cabins to get a glimpse of the cheerful disposition typical of travelling by train in China.
Overnight train (soft sleeper cabin) to Xi’an.
Soft Sleeper Train
DAY 05: XIAN
Rise and shine as you arrive in Xi’an in the morning. Being the capital of the Empire three times, Xi’an played an integral role in the history of the country. Upon arrival, a local guide and driver will be waiting to provide transfer to a restaurant for breakfast.
Continue your day amongst the famous Terracotta Warriors buried with the First Qin Emperor over 2,000 years ago. No classic China trip is complete without seeing them. This grand discovery became unearthed accidentally in 1974 by local farmers and was one of the greatest archaeological finds in modern history. Built in response to Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s fear of malevolent spirits, this immense army mausoleum features infantrymen, archers, and cavalry riders positioned to protect him in the afterlife. The most astonishing fact about the warriors is every single one has a different face from a soldier during the Emperor’s life! Wander around its three different earthen pits to view the statues.
Grab a souvenir from the museum before embarking on a one-hour of cycling (or, for an additional charge, cart tour) along Xi’an’s old city wall. One of the highlights of the tour is to pedal alongside one of the oldest fortified walls in China, built during the Ming Dynasty.
Later, pay a visit to the city mosque in the town centre then explore part of Xi’an’s Islamic background. During the day of the ancient Silk Road, Muslim merchants from Central Asia travelled to China to do business, leaving behind their influence in Xi’an. Several Muslim minorities (totaling 15 million inhabitants) now live in China- the Hui minority being predominant in Xi’an. Take a stroll around the Muslim district of the city and browse its eclectic boutiques and butcher shops. In the evening, wander through the bustling night market and get a taste of hearty local cuisine, feasting on spiced lamb kebabs, flat bread and mutton soup with noodles.
Early in the morning, your guide and driver will transfer you to the airport. Along the way, visit the tomb of Emperor Jingdi, immortalized in Chinese history for his humanism and diplomatic relations. Opened in 2006, the tomb houses hundreds of small figurines depicting normal scenes of everyday life such as eunuchs, servers, and domestic animals; it stands in stark contrast to the imposing militarism of the Terracotta Warriors. Walk on glass panels over the pits of newly uncovered statuettes before departing for the airport and boarding your onward flight to Guilin.
In the afternoon, arrive in GUILIN where a guide will be waiting to take you to your hotel. After checking into your room, head to Reed Flute Cave and explore its impressive collection of stalactites and stalagmites light up in a rainbow. Watch local tradesmen collect reeds at the cave’s entrance to fashion handmade flutes before ending the day with a leisurely stroll around picturesque Shan Lake.
Start the day with a relaxing cruise along the tranquil waters of the Li River towards YANGSHUO, a small market town, 83km away. Take in spectacular views of the river whilst admiring the surrounding karst mountains that have inspired poets and artists for centuries.
In the afternoon, there is an option to witness local rice farmers at work and herds of water buffalo as you jump on a bicycle ride through the stunning countryside by bike. Stop in at some small villages to get a glimpse of local life before heading back to your accommodation for the evening. Alternatively, you can opt for a cooking class, located in the superb Yangshuo countryside. The cooking class includes a visit to a local market (where ingredients are selected). After the course, enjoy the day’s work with the delicious meals!
OPTIONAL: In the evening, enjoy the show ‘Impressions Liu Sanjie.’ Directed by Zhang Yimou and located in the karst countryside, hundreds of local actors imitate scenes from rural life by dressing up in traditional costumes of the minorities of the region.
In the morning, transfer to Guilin airport for your flight to Shanghai. Upon arrival into SHANGHAI, greeted by your local guide before riding the electromagnetic Maglev train into the city. Reaching speeds of up to 430 kilometers per hour, the ride takes only 8 minutes to cover a distance of 30 kilometers! Watch as the speed dial climb as high as 430km per hour as you hurtle towards the heart of China’s commercial centre.
After a short subway connection, ultimately arrive at Lujiazui station in the heart of Pudong district, home to some of Shanghai’s most impressive skyscrapers. Once an empty marsh inhabited by water buffalo, the area is now one of the most important business districts in Asia, with new skyscrapers sprouting along the Huangpu River every year.
Upon arrival to the neighborhood of Lujiazui, some of the icons of Shanghai stand surrounding: the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Jin Mao Tower, and the tallest building in Shanghai and China – the Shanghai World Financial Centre. Step inside and take its super high speed elevator to the world’s highest panoramic terrace at its 118th floor observation. There, admire the best views of the Shanghai skyline before heading over to the famous Bund Sightseeing Tunnel.
Take a stroll along the west bank of the Huangpu River and marvel at the sprawling European architecture of the Bund which dates back to the 1930’s. Continue on to explore the famous Nanjing Road with its colorful signs and crowds of locals and tourists alike; one of the world’s busiest shopping strips. Savour the aromatic smells wafting from nearby restaurants and food stalls as you weave your way through the back streets. After completing the Nanjing Road visits, arrive at People’s Square, where transportation will be provided back to the hotel.
Start day 9 of this classic China trip with a visit around People’s square before heading to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre. Marvel at the scaled model of Shanghai that occupies the entire third floor as your wrap your head around the layout and size of the city. Additionally, a stunning panoramic cinema will display a short video explaining Shanghai’s evolution into a booming metropolis as it is today.
From here, head to China’s most famous and prestigious museums in the country: The Shanghai Museum. Browse its impressive collection, including one gallery of unrivalled bronze statues some which date as early as the Neolithic period; and a number of jade pieces of artwork, as well as Qing Dynasty furniture, Buddhist sculptures, and other pieces of Chinese artwork. For those interested in art, wander through the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
In the afternoon, return to the People’s Park for an afternoon snack. Soak up the energy of the city coming alive at night as you go cafe-hopping around the square. Conclude the day, walking along East Nanjing Road to the Bund for a spectacular view of Shanghai’s skyline before heading back to your hotel.
OPTIONAL: Enjoy an “ERA” evening show, one of the most popular evening entertainments in the city. On stage for 6 years, ERA is a multimedia odyssey whose inspiration is a direct result of the combination of traditional Chinese acrobatic arts and modern technology.
Start the day by heading towards the ritzy French Concession enclave, a former French colonial settlement that was signed over to China in 1946. Despite redevelopment over recent decades, the area has retained its distinct character as a premier residential and retail district in Shanghai.
Escape the fast pace of the city and go for a relaxing stroll in Fuxing Park, a once private garden during the Ming Dynasty before the French took it after the Opium War and redesigned some elements. Witness locals performing their morning exercises, singing opera and dancing.
Continue on to Xintiandi, an entirely renovated area that is considered one of the liveliest parts of the city. Later, wind your way through the maze of alleyways in Tianzifang, buzzing with busy restaurants, boutiques and small art galleries. Conclude the walk in Shanghai’s charming Old Town, the largest example of traditional Chinese architecture in the city. Dine like a local at one of the street stalls while watching hoards of people walk home from work.
On your way back to the hotel, stop by the picturesque Yu Yuan Gardens, a superb example of the art of Chinese garden landscaping, particularly common in this region. Understand the delicate balance of creating harmony with penjing, or small bonsai trees. There is also a chance to visit the local bazaar and grab some souvenirs before departure the following day. Alternatively, relax at the refined Huxington Tea House overlooking the grounds of Yu Yuan Park. Wrap up the day with a traditional Chinese massage, or “acupressure,” a technique that concentrates on acupuncture points to stimulate the body’s natural healing powers!