Places Visited: Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Lijiang, Guilin, Yangshuo, Longji, Shanghai
This once-in-a-lifetime trip will leave you awe-struck at the refinement of ancient Chinese culture, and splendour of the country’s landscape. In seventeen days you’ll complete a tour of the country’s Big Five sights (Beijing’s ‘Forbidden City’, the Great Wall, Terracotta Army outside Xi’an, Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu and Karst scenery around Guilin), along with the highlights of the south – the swirling rice terraces of Longji – before ending your trip in style at Shanghai, one of Asia’s most compelling cities. As ever with our Group Tours, you’ll be staying in luxurious hotels, travelling around in a modern, comfortable coach and benefitting from the presence of expert, English-speaking guides.
- Group Size 6-16 people
- Internal Travel Arrival & departure transfers. Internal travel by road and rail
- Accompanying Guide English-speaking guides and naturalist. Accompanying tour escort when minimum group size achieved
- Accommodation 16 nights
- Meal Plan Breakfast daily. Lunch on days 2 to 7 & 12. Dinner on day 2
Itinerary for Discover China
On arrival in Beijing, you will be met at Beijing Capital International Airport and transferred to Howard Johnson Paragon hotel or similar for three nights.
Start the day off at Tian An Men Square before exploring the magnificent Forbidden City with your guide. Afternoon visit to see the pavilions, prayer halls and gardens of the Summer Palace; built to escape the summer heat. Enjoy a Peking Duck welcome dinner in the evening. Optional excursion: Kung Fu show.
The Forbidden City is a vast complex, but you’ll have ample time to savour its extraordinary architecture and displays of priceless ceramics, calligraphy, weapons, ceremonial robes and paintings. Beyond the north walls, the rockeries and cypress groves of the Royal Gardens provide a serene counterpoint to the vast structures and open spaces of the palace. After lunch, the group will visit the Imperial Summer Palace, where the Qing court used to spend the hot season. Comprising an assemblage of pleasure pavilions, palaces, shrines, and pathways, it nestles at the foot of a low, wooded hill beside a lake.
An optional excursion on offer today is a trip to the enduringly popular ‘Legends of Kung Fu’ show at Beijing’s Red Theatre. Past clients have thoroughly enjoyed this enthralling display, saying its vibrant costumes and the consummate skill of the cast are guaranteed to banish any residual jet lag.
Another day spent in Beijing to visit the Temple of Heaven which comes alive each morning when elderly locals gather to practise Tai Chi. Later, drive out to see the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, one of the most iconic sights in Asia.
Widely regarded as Beijing’s most exquisite building, the Temple of Heaven marked the spiritual heart of Imperial China. The whole complex was set out according to principles of Confucian sacred geometry, with the circular, wooden, polychrome ‘Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests’ as its focal point. Of equal fascination for visitors are the colonnaded hallways and parkland surrounding the temple, where local people gather to play the double-stringed erhu, sing folk songs and paint Mandarin calligraphy.
Our favoured stretch of the Great Wall, which you’ll travel to after lunch, is the one at Mutianyu, where the ramparts have been well reconstructed and a cable car ensures easy access to the high battlements.
Take a high-speed train to Xi’an this morning (5-6 hours). On arrival, check-in at Grand Dynasty Culture hotel or similar for two nights. In the afternoon, visit the sights of Xi’an including the Big Goose Pagoda, Great Mosque and the Muslim Quarter.
The group will spend the afternoon visiting the giant Wild Goose Pagoda, originally built by the Tang Emperor, Gaozong, in the late 7th century. Then continue across town to the atmospheric Muslim (Hui) Quarter, whose 12,000-year-old Great Mosque is one of the most evocative monuments surviving from the era when the capital formed the end point of the legendary Silk Road. The district’s main street, Beiyuanmen, comes to life in the evenings. Its open-air kitchens serve an amazing array of traditional treats to strollers – a great place to soak up the atmosphere of this distinctive neighbourhood.
Start off the day with the amazing Terracotta Warriors and Museum of Horses, learning about the history of this incredible archaeological treasure. Explore the city walls in the afternoon. Enjoy a dumpling dinner banquet in the evening.
Until you set eyes on the legion of 8,000 soldiers, horses and chariots, buried in three huge pits outside Xian in the 2nd century BC, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of the Terracotta Army. Yet the complex is only one part of a much larger ensemble that includes a colossal mound – still un-excavated – containing the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor. What most impresses about the figures themselves is how unnervingly lifelike they are. Each one has its own distinct facial expression, posture, hair style, clothing and weapons, preserved in amazing detail.
Transfer to the airport after breakfast for your morning flight to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. Stay at the Tianfu Sunshine hotel or similar for two nights. Later, visit Leshan Big Buddha and take a boat ride on the river. Optional excursion: Sichuan opera performance.
Hewn from a cliff of red sandstone, Leshan’s colossal Buddha is one of the great sights of China. Our visit will include a short (40-minute) cruise along the river – the best vantage point from which to view the site. Energetic group members may also wish to climb the staircase winding up the monument for a close encounter. From Leshan, it takes a couple of hours to reach Chengdu by road.
In the evening, there will be an optional excursion to experience traditional Sichuan opera at a theatre in the ‘Wide Lanes, Narrow Lanes’ pleasure district. Shows usually include demonstrations of ‘face changing’ and Chinese acrobatics.
Visit the Panda Breeding Centre in the morning followed by a very special vegetarian lunch at the Wen Shu Temple. Later on, walk along famous Jin Li Street and explore the city on your own in the evening.
As the pandas are most active early in the day, we’ll aim to arrive at the breeding centre by 8am, when you’ll stand the best chance of seeing the youngsters at play. We should also have an opportunity to visit the wonderful nursery to see the centre’s newest arrivals.
After lunch, we’ll visit the beautiful Wenshu Temple and old-style tea house behind – a great place to relax and people watch. A modern facsimile of a traditional Sichuanese market area, nearby Jinli Street is lined with pretty little shops selling traditional Sichuanese delicacies and souvenirs.
Morning transfer to the airport for a flight to Lijiang. Stay at He Xi hotel or similar for two nights. Enjoy a guided tour of the city, followed by a traditional performance by the Naxi minorities in the evening.
Economic capital of the Naxi minority, Lijiang prospered on the back of the Tea-Horse trade between China and Tibet, giving rise to a splendid old quarter. With its maze of winding cobbled streets, wooden houses and willow-lined streams, the area ranks among China’s great sights, despite having been badly damaged by an earthquake in 1996. It has since been extensively rebuilt and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, attracting visitors from across the world. We’ll spend the afternoon wandering around the pretty streets, canals and parks with our guide.
Enjoy a full day at the Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world.
An unmissable highlight of China’s southwest, ‘Hutiao Shah’, as the TLG is known in Mandarin, ranks among the deepest canyons in the world, with walls rearing 3,720m (12,434ft) from the frothing, grey-brown waters of the Jinsha River to the snowy summits of the Haba Shan range. Our guide will lead us to a viewpoint high above the gorge, and down by the water, where we’ll gain a vivid sense of the river’s awesome power.
On the tenth day of the tour you’ll fly 1,000 miles (1,600km) from Yunnan east to Guilin, via Kunming. On arrival, our guide will accompany us on the short transfer to your hotel, Guilin Universal hotel or similar where we’ll spend the remainder of the day relaxing.
Featured on ancient scroll paintings, Ming porcelain vases and the modern 20-Yuan note, the Karst mountains of Guangxi province rise at surreal gradients from the limpid green waters of the Li River – a landscape that has for centuries epitomized the exotic grandeur of southern China’s rural heartland. Gateway for this much visited region is the city of Guilin itself, a pleasant provincial capital of tree-shaded boulevards.
This morning, cruise down the Li river to Yangshuo. Lunch is arranged on the cruise. Check into the Yangshuo New Century hotel or similar for two nights. The remainder of the day is at leisure.
Lasting 3–4 hours in summer (or 4–5 hours in the dry season), the trip along the Li River to Yangshuo reveals the full grandeur of the region’s karst hills, depicted in countless Chinese ink drawings and scroll paintings over the centuries. On arrival, you’ll have time to shop for souvenirs along the village’s bustling West Street before being transferred to your hotel on the outskirts. You may, however, be tempted back into town after nightfall to see the extraordinary Liu San Jie Lightshow (optional – additional costs apply) – a typically Chinese extravaganza featuring a cast of hundreds.
Explore the countryside around Yangshuo, which includes the picturesque Moon Hill. Join a cooking class to learn about Chinese food and dishes. Later, enjoy a bamboo raft ride on the Yulong River.
The winding lanes and pretty farming villages around Yangshuo (some of which retain their Ming-era architecture) make for a memorable day’s tour, and there are numerous caves, rock formations and viewpoints to visit, among the most striking of them the giant natural arch high above the valley on Moon Hill. Bamboo rafts are also on hand for excursions of the rivers, where we’ll see cormorant fisherman at work and buffalo lazing in the shallows.
Take the picturesque mountainous route to Longji, known for its idyllic vistas of lush, green terraced ricefields and ethnic minorities. Stay at Longji Ping An hotel or similar for two nights.
As well as offering one of the world’s most striking views, the elaborately terraced hillsides outside Lonji are a fine place to relax and walk. Wandering around the old pathways with our guide, we’ll enjoy encounters with smiling local Zhuang farmers tending their paddy. Photographers will have plenty to get excited about as the fading light intensifies the beautiful colours of the swirling terraces.
Spend a leisurely day, on your own, exploring the town and rice fields.
In spring time, when filled with irrigation water, the rice terraces appear as bands of silver and terracotta; in summer, they’re vibrant green; and during the autumn harvest season, golden brown. You’ll be able to savour the amazing views over them at breakfast time while sipping a cup of steaming, sweet ‘oil tea’. Local Zhuang farmers, who still work the terraces using horse-drawn ploughs, are charming hosts. This area is also homeland of the Yao minority, whose womenfolk grow their hair to extraordinary lengths, and wear it coiled in to fabulous ornamental headdresses.
Longji, Guilin, Shanghai
Drive back to Guilin for a flight to Shanghai. Transfer to the hotel by Maglev, the world’s fastest train in regular commercial service. Stay at the Bund hotel or similar for two nights.
For your first evening in Shanghai, we’ll take a stroll along the Bund to experience the futuristic skyline of Pudong across the Huangpu River – a quintessentially 21st century vision!
Walk along the famous ‘Bund’ in the morning. Afterwards, visit the Yu Garden and the World Financial Centre. Enjoy a performance by Chinese acrobats in the evening.
Shanghai ranks among the most compelling and distinctive cities in the world and after a day of guided tours around its principal landmarks you’ll have gained a strong sense of what makes it tick. Spend your final evening enjoying a fabulous meal of dim sum, shrimp dumplings or crispy pork belly at one of the city’s acclaimed Cantonese restaurants, followed by a performance by Chinese acrobats.
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
Group Tour 17 days from £2925 per person
✓ 16 nights accommodation
✓ Arrival & departure transfers. Internal travel by road and rail
✓ English-speaking guides and naturalist. Accompanying tour escort when minimum group size achieved.
✓ Breakfast daily. Lunch on days 2 to 7 & 12. Dinner on day 2
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Holiday Extensions for this tour
Discover China - Vibrant Hong Kong
3 days, 2 nights from £465 per person
Single supplement £ 465 per personview itinerary
Shanghai, Hong Kong
Fly to Hong Kong in the morning and transfer to your hotel for two nights. the rest of the day is at leisure to explore the city on your own.
Day at leisure.
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
Discover China - Hainan Island beach break
4 days, 3 nights from £625 per person
Single supplement £ 245 per personview itinerary
Fly to Sanya airport today. Stay at the Huayu Resort for three nights of relaxation on this beautiful island.
Days at leisure.
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
Places and Experiences in this tour
Forbidden City (Beijing)
Comprising over 800 buildings ranged around a series of vast paved courtyards, Beijing’s Gugong, or ‘Imperial Palace’, formed the nerve centre of the Ming and Qing empires. For th...
The Great Wall
China’s Great Wall undulates for over 5,500 miles (8,880km) across the north of the country – an astounding engineering feat and a vivid testament to both the might of the emperor...
Xi'an, capital of populous Shanxi Province, is one of China’s fastest expanding industrial centres, and at first glance seems to hold little promise for visitors. For over two-tho...
The Terracotta Army
In 1974, a couple of farm workers digging a well in the fields outside Xi'an uncovered the limb of a terracotta figure. What they didn’t know then, and which only became apparent ...
On the western edge of Sichuan’s Red Basin, Chengdu is the largest city in Western China, with an ultra-modern, high-rise centre that belies its role as a regional capital for ove...
Giant Panda Base
The bamboo forests of southern Sichuan are the last stronghold of China’s national treasure, the Giant Panda. Around 1,500 of these adorable black-and-white bears survive in the w...
The vision of the Jade Dragon Mountain’s eternal snowfields shining above the elegantly upcurved, pantiled rooftops of Lijiang is one of the most evocative in China. An important ...
Guilin & the Li River
Featured on ancient scroll paintings, Ming porcelain vases and the modern 20-Yuan note, the karst mountains of Guangxi province rise at surreal gradients from the limpid green wat...
Yangshuo (Li River)
The main hub for the Li River is Yangshuo (‘Bright Moon’), a lively riverside village with a crop of Ming-era houses and bustling market area where you can stock up on local souve...
Longji & the 'Dragon's Backbone' Rice Terraces
Around 95 miles (150km) north of Guilin city in Longsheng county, the slopes below Longji Titian (‘Dragon’s Backbone’) mountain have been molded across the centuries into narrow r...
Tiger Leaping Gorge Trek
An unmissable highlight of China’s southwest for any keen hiker is the Tiger Leaping Gorge, or ‘Hutiao Xia’ in Mandarin. The canyon ranks among the deepest in the world, with wall...
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