Begin this Highlights of China Tour with a visit to Beijing. Upon your 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. From here, head towards the iconic Drum Tower, where the passing of the hours was once signaled by a drum roll (during the Ming era). The tower is opposite the Clock Tower, and provides a pleasant insight into old Beijing . 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.
Overnight in Beijing.
Begin Day 2 of this China Highlights Tour 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. Pay 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.
Continue the temple encounters with a visit to the White Cloud Temple, where Taoist monks still wear their hair in a traditional style. Visitors come here to rub sculptures representing the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac. If time allows, there will also be a chance to visit the Beijing Mosque, a symbol of the expansion of Muslim merchants from Central Asia throughout China. 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. Conclude the day with a visit to the Temple of Confucius. Confucius, his teachings, and moral codes are a cornerstone of Chinese culture, dictating nearly all social interactions in Imperial China.
OPTIONAL: Spend the evening at a Kungfu show in the Red Theatre, downtown.
Overnight in Beijing.
After breakfast, visit one of the most iconic China highlights: The Great Wall. 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. For those who aren’t interested in the long walk back down, there is an alternate option to take a cable car or toboggan ride to the base.
In the afternoon, head back to Beijing to visit 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.
Overnight in Beijing.
The morning is free to spend either enjoying the hotel facilities or doing a bit of shopping in the surrounding areas. After that, continue the Highlights of China Tour with 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 evening, there will be a transfer to the Beijing train station for the night train to Datong. Trains in China are incredibly lively places, so the trip to Datong will be a unique cultural experience all in itself.
Overnight on the train.
Overnight train in a soft sleeper cabin to Datong
The train is supposed to arrive in DATONG in the early morning. Upon arrival, a guide will be waiting to transport you to the hotel.
Despite being known for the deadly coal mines which surround the city, Datong is an important starting point for anyone wishing to visit the incredible Yungang Grottoes. One of China’s three best-known historical Buddhist sculptural sites, this UNESCO-listed treasure dates from the 5th and 6th centuries, and consists of 252 cliffside grottoes and niches, all filled with more than 51,000 statues and depictions of Buddha. The conversion of the Northern Wei people to Buddhism and their subsequent assimilation into greater Chinese society gave birth to the Yungang Grottoes in the 5th century AD.
After exploring the grottoes, head back to Datong where we will visit the completely renovated city centre and discover the superb Huayan Temple. Take a guided walk through this special Buddhism temple consisted of two parts-upper part and lower part. Immerse yourself in the magnificent Buddhism wall paintings in the upper part and admire the great statues of Buddha of three periods: Past Buddha Dipamkara, Present Buddha Sakyamuni and Future Buddha Maitreya. Learn about the reason why this temple is facing east instead of south like other Buddhism temples in China.
Continue your exploration at Nine Dragon Screen, the largest one in China, measuring 45m in length, even larger than the one in Forbidden City. The screens also had a more practical purpose, which was to give some privacy to visitors who wished to change their clothes before entering the building. Transfer back to your hotel.
Overnight in Datong.
This portion of the China highlights tour departs Datong for Pingyao, stopping along the way to the miraculous Hanging Monastery on Mount Hengshan. The Hanging Monastery is a fine example of Northern Wei architecture, which still retains much of its original layout. Discover how this monastery survived in the cliff for over 1400 years. The two main parts of the temple are linked together by a rickety, narrow walkway, which, despite its shoddy appearance, has managed to survive years of storms and heavy winds. All 3 of China’s main religions (Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism) were worshipped in the temple; it was not only a place of worship, but also a resting point for travelers.
If time permits, make a stop at the Pagoda of Fogong Temple or Yingxian Pagoda to learn about the importance of bracket used on this fully wooden structure.
Continue the drive to PINGYAO, the best preserved medieval city in the whole of China; a perfect example of the traditional China that many visitors have in mind. Check in at the hotel in Pingyao and relax for the rest of the day.
NOTE: All the transfers inside Pingyao old town are done by electric car or on foot, all the visits outside will be done by private car.
Explore the city walls on foot to get a real sense of the layout of the streets below. Measuring 6km long, 10 metres high and numbering 72 watchtowers (each of which houses a piece of Sunzi War artwork) the town walls ensure that Pingyao is almost impenetrable to any invading force.
Overnight in Pingyao.
After breakfast, we enjoy a relaxed city tour. Many local merchants amassed immense fortunes during the Ming and Qing dynasties and built themselves palatial homes. A perfect example of one of these homes is the Wang Courtyard Residence, which is made up of an imposing labyrinth of courtyards, small gardens, temples and narrow stairways.
Continue to visit to the Shuanglin Buddhist Temple, boasting a long history of over 1,400 years, just outside Pingyao. Founded during the Northern Wei Dynasty, the temple is well known for its finely sculptured statues which have been very well preserved and still retain their original colours.
The China Highlight Tour today also provides the opportunity to explore the Cave Dwellings that the region is famous for. Around 30 million people in China are thought to still live in cave dwellings built into the loess sedimentary rock. Despite lacking running water and main electricity supplies, these cave homes provide constant year round temperatures, sheltering the inhabitants from the bitter cold winds in winter, and keeping them cool and fresh in the hot summer months.
On the way back to Pingyao we will stop in Zhangbi Cun, a small village famous for its underground tunnels. The tunnels are built 30m underground and extend for around 1500m. After returning to Pingyao, take a leisurely walk to discover the narrow, red lantern lit streets of the old town.
Overnight in Pingyao.
After the morning stroll, head off to explore Rishengchang Draft Bank, known as the precedent of modern Chinese banks. This bank started off as a small dye store in the 17th century grew into China’s first bank, opening branches throughout China. A true success story, Rishengchang helped to contribute to Pingyao’s success as China’s first financial centre. Move to Ancient City Wall, take a walk on top of the well preserved wall and take a panoramic view of the ancient town. Afterwards, visit the local yamen, which during Imperial times was home to the administrative centre, courthouse, and sometimes even a prison.
After this historic visit, continue on to Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, en route stop to visit Qiao Family Compound which fully showcases the unique architectural style of the residence in North China during the Qing Dynasty. Later in the day, make a stop at Jinci Temple, a remarkable building constructed in honour of Prince Shuyu who founded the Jin state (772-403 B.C). This visit will provide insights into ancestor-worship, a fundamental practice of Chinese culture that has endured to this day.
Another such visit is the Hall of the Holy Mother, an ancestral worship site dedicated to Shuyu’s mother. Take time to examine the superb wooden dragon sculptures that surround the temple, often only found in imperial places of worship.
Afterwards, transport will be provided to the station for the Bullet Train to XIAN. Upon arrival, a guide and driver will be waiting to provide you with transfer to the hotel. Overnight in 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. Begin the Xian tour today with a visit to the famous Terracotta Warriors buried with the First Qin Emperor over 2,000 years ago. No China highlight 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.
Overnight in Xian.
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.
Overnight in Guilin.
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 cruise by local rice farmers at work and herds of water buffalo as you explore 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. Overnight in Yangshuo.
Depart from Guilin airport for the flight to HUANGSHAN. Upon arrival, a guide and driver will be awaiting to transfer you to visit Xidi Ancient Village in Yixian district of Anhui province. It has 300 ancient dwelling left from Ming and Qing Dynasties, among them, there are 124 well-preserved. Prosperous merchants in the region built large houses in the area, forming a notable form of architecture. Its main characteristics still remain: exterior walls chalked white, black tile roofs with superbly sculpted gables, the tianjing – indoor courtyards lit by skylights, and the paifang, commemorative arches dedicated to the most successful candidates from the Imperial exams.
Spend the night in Xidi village.
First pay a visit to the village of Hongcun, one of the most celebrated, original examples of applied fengshui, which extends over an area of 28 hectares. Continue on to visit the Chengshitang residence, built by a wealthy salt merchant. There will also be an opportunity to meet a fengshui master, who will explain the secrets of this centuries-old practice. Furthermore, movie fans will recognize the entrance to the village, shot in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Have a chat with local villagers about the stories of the making of the movie.
Begin the afternoon with a bike ride through two neighbouring villages: Lucun, famous for its high class wood carving, and Tachuan, a seemingly timeless village. In Tachuan, explore the labyrinth of grey-marble alleyways or cycle out into the surrounding countryside to fully appreciate the history and symbolism of this extraordinary region. After returning the bikes, travel to the Mukeng Bamboo Forest, another film-famous destination from the movie Li Mu Bai, known for its tranquil, emerald atmosphere.
Continue the journey to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), ascending by cable-car and spending the night at the summit. The nights here are fresh and the weather unpredictable, as such, waterproof walking shoes and warm clothes are a necessity.
Overnight in Huangshan.
Spend the half day exploring Huangshan - a beautiful mountainous region named after the Yellow Emperor. Curved pine trees miraculously manage to grow on the granite ledges here, making the scene appear to be a living painting. Walk to the top of the mountain, which seems like a pilgrimage with its endless steep stairs winding their way up the mountain face.
OPTIONAL: After descending, there is an option to soak tired feet in a nearby hot spring. The springs offer a variety of treatments using coffee, different types of alcohol and even fish baths where small fish will nibble away at dead skin.
After the climb and slight rejuvenation, transport will be provided to HANGZHOU, the ancient capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and the current capital of Zhejiang province. Marco Polo described this city as “heaven on earth” largely thanks to the beautiful ‘West Lake’ area - a recent addition to UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
On arrival, you will be met for a transfer and check in to the hotel. Like Shanghai, what once stood as marshland is today a harmonious area of gardens, shops, and pagodas; the perfect place to take a stroll. Each season offers something different: in winter the snow rests upon the water and transforms the lake into a piece of art with frozen plants, in spring the peach and plum trees are in full bloom bringing colour back to the park, and in summer innumerable water-lilies create a perfumed blanket on the lake’s surface. The locals like to say that the moon is bigger and more beautiful in autumn, and this can best be seen from the ‘three pools mirroring the moon’ on Xiaoling Island.
Overnight in Hangzhou.
After breakfast, the first stop of the Highlights of China Tour segment today will be to the Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Hu Qing Yu Tang), which is located in the 19th century Hu Qing Yu Pharmacy. Chinese medicine is a fundamental and fascinating part of Chinese culture, and learning about it shouldn’t be avoided without good reason! This museum provides excellent insights into the ancient art, boasting drawers full of unlikely ingredients, typical pharmacy architecture, and a small attached garden.
Continue your Hangzhou tour with a peaceful bike ride around. Visit the adjacent tea plantations, home to Longjing tea – one of the most prized and expensive teas in the world. The bright green tea fields are often planted at high altitude and in perfectly designed plots straddling the mountain edges creating a true visual spectacle. There may also be an opportunity to meet a local tea producer who will be able to explain the different types of tea: green tea, black tea, Oolong tea, fragrant tea, white tea or even ancient ‘tea bricks’.
Spend more time to discover Hangzhou city before we head to Suzhou. Overnight in Suzhou.
Garden Hotel Suzhou
Venture over a city tour of Suzhou to explore centuries-old water villages. Immerse yourself in the dynastic history of the Suzhou residential gardens. Continue to travel along the cobbled streets, take note of the white sculpted wooden facades and black tile roofs of the local houses. The world-famous Suzhou Gardens are considered some of the most beautiful in the entire country.
Later, wander through the tranquil grounds of the 400-year old Lingering Garden, as you hear its tale of destruction and revival. Lunch at Suzhou local restaurant and enjoy local Su-zhou folk song with music.
On your way to Shanghai, traverse the ancient canals of LUZHI, known by locals as the “Venice of China”. In the afternoon, enjoy a leisurely boat ride along the Grand Canal.
Upon returning to Shanghai, 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!
Overnight in Shanghai.
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.
Stroll through Fuxing Park where Chinese practice their daily morning exercise rituals before venturing along the surrounding roads teeming with refurbished colonial buildingswhich have now been transformed into restaurants, bars, and different boutiques. Immerse yourself in the history behind one of the worlds “vice capitals”; previously a red light district frequented by the local mafia and the city’s opium traffickers in the 1930’s.
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.
Overnight in Shanghai.
Start day 18 of this China Highlights 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.
Overnight in Shanghai.