Tailor-made Tour 20 days from £4685 per person
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. Three weeks is the minimum amount of time you’ll need to 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 and city of Lijiang in Yunnan, whose iconic roofscape is framed by the snow peaks of the Jade Dragon Mountain. Rest assured, you’ll consider it time well spent!
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Fly overnight from the UK to Beijing. Non-stop services take around 10hrs; indirect ones longer, depending on the routing and carrier.
On arrival you’ll be met by your guide and accompanied to your hotel. Spend the remainder of the morning recovering from your journey. Later, re-join your guide for a trip to the Imperial Summer Palace.
Situated on Beijing’s northwestern outskirts, the Summer Palace was 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 – the perfect place to ease yourself gently into your trip. After supper, should you have the energy, consider a taking in a performance by the State Circus or Chinese National Opera.
A full day’s sightseeing of starts with a visit to Tiananmen Square and the magnificent ‘Forbidden City’, former seat of the Ming and Qing dynasties, followed by the Temple of Heaven in the afternoon.
The Forbidden City is a vast complex, but you’ll have ample time in the morning’s tour 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 proper. After lunch and some time relaxing back at your hotel, you’ll be driven to the Temple of Heaven – one of China’s great religious and historical monuments. Intricate rituals used to be performed at an open-air marble altar here by the Chinese Emperor to ensure the success of the harvest.
Beijing, Great Wall of China
An early start is recommended for your visit to The Great Wall, one of the real highlights of this tour.
Around three hours’ drive north of Beijing, the Jinshanling section is our favourite stretch of the Wall and well worth the effort to reach. Being so far from the city, it sees far fewer visitors. Spectacular views extend from the ramparts, which have been beautifully renovated by the Chinese government. Set amid an expense of rugged mountains, the scenery at Jinshanling is also magnificent. The whole area offers great potential for walkers. For a small additional cost, a specialist guide may be arranged for trekking along particularly steep and dramatic stretches of the wall. Once back in Beijing at the end of the day, head across town to the Liqun Road Restaurant for a definitive plate of Peking Duck.
After an early breakfast, your guide will accompany you to the train station to catch the high-speed ‘G’ service to Xi'an, which takes just under 6hrs. On arrival, you’ll be met by our local TransIndus guide, who will escort you to your hotel.
Spend the afternoon visiting the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, originally built by the Tang Emperor, Gaozong in the late 7th century. Continue across town to the atmospheric Muslim (Hui) Quarter, whose Great Mosque is nearly 1,200 years old and 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, when open-air kitchens serve an amazing array of traditional treats to strollers – a great place to soak up the traditional atmosphere of this distinctive neighbourhood.
Visit the world-famous Terracotta Army archaeological site in the morning, where eight-thousand life-sized warriors, horses and chariots stand guard over the Qin Emperor’s tomb. In the afternoon, return in time for a round of Xi'an’s 16th century Ming ramparts by bicycle.
Until you set eyes on the legion of 8,000 soldiers, horses and chariots, buried in three huge pits outside Xi'an 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, hairstyle, clothing and weapons, preserved in amazing detail.
Transfer to the airport after breakfast for your morning flight to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. On arrival, you’ll be met by your guide and driven to your hotel downtown.
Once you’ve had lunch and a rest, spend the afternoon exploring the area around Jinli Street – a modern facsimile of an antique Chengdu market area, lined with pretty little shops selling traditional Sichuanese delicacies and souvenirs. Afterwards, head across town to the ‘Wide Lanes, Narrow Lanes’ pleasure district to catch a performance of Sichuanese opera, ‘face changing’ and acrobatics at one of the traditional theatres in the neighbourhood, which is also a good place to dine on spicy local dumplings!
A visit to the world-famous Chengdu Panda Centre takes up your second morning in the Sichuanese capital.
As the bears are most active early in the day, we recommend arriving by 8am, when you’ll stand the best chance of seeing the youngsters at play. You’ll also have an opportunity to watch the pandas being fed, and to visit the wonderful nursery to see the newest arrivals. After lunch, explore the antique heart of Chengdu with a visit to the beautiful Wenshu Temple. With its bamboo furniture and distinctively Sichuanese atmosphere, the traditional tea house behind it is a great place to relax, snack and people watch. Don’t be dismayed by the sound of the house speciality – ‘monkey head dumplings’. The tea house is 100% vegetarian!
The transfer to Chengdu Airport for your flight across the mountains to Lijiang takes around an hour. Your guide will be waiting in the arrivals hall to escort you to your hotel. Spend the remainder of the day admiring the views of snow-capped Jade Dragon Mountain, and exploring the surrounding streets.
The twin allures of Lijiang’s spellbinding backdrop and pretty old town have made it the most popular visitor attraction in Yunnan. The timbered buildings, elaborately carved window frames, winding cobbled streets, Ming-era humpbacked bridges and secluded market squares of the old town are at their most picturesque in the mornings. When the streets fill up later, take a short bicycle ride across the mustard fields to one of the traditional Naxi villages on the outskirts where your TransIndus guide will lead you to little temples filled with 15th-century frescoes, and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries swathed in fragrant juniper smoke.
Continue exploring Lijiang’s old town in the company of your guide, perhaps venturing up Lion Hill in the afternoon for the ultimate panoramic view over the city.
Dating from the late Song dynasty, Lijiang’s old town is a feast of winding, cobbled alleyways, canals and wood-fronted shops. The most iconic view is the one of the arched bridge over Black Dragon Pool, with the exquisite Naxi-style pavilion and snow peak in the background. Another fabulous panorama is the vista from the top of Lion Hill, from where the full extent of Lijiang’s amazing, 800-year-old roofscape is revealed in all its antique glory.
Today you’ll have the chance to visit some of the pretty Naxi and Bai villages around Lijiang, before catching a cable car up to the high glaciers of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
One of the most interesting villages near Lijiang is Yuhu, where Austro-American botanist and explorer, Joseph Rock, lived in the 1920s. The photographs Rock took of Yunnan, many of which were published in National Geographic and on display in his house, vividly evoke the era when Lijiang was an important waystage on the Tea-Horse road connecting China and Tibet. Three cableways ascend the big mountain outside the city. Your guide will be able to discuss the relative merits of each with you prior to departure.
On the twelfth day of your tour you’ll fly 1,000 miles (1,600km) from Yunnan east to Guilin, via Kunming. On arrival, your guide will accompany you on the short transfer to your hotel, where you can 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 and parks, which offers a wide choice of high-quality hotels.
A trio of natural wonders dominate your day’s sightseeing in Guilin.
The first, ‘Elephant Trunk Hill’, is a limestone rock arch on the river. Reed Flute Cave is China’s most famous show grotto. And finally, ‘Fubo Hill’ is a spectacular tooth of karst limestone rising from the riverbank, which was embellished with exquisite sculptures of Buddhas during the Tang era of the 7th and 8th centuries. As ever, you TransIndus guide will be on hand to provide essential context for these landforms and monuments.
After breakfast, you’ll be driven to Guilin’s Zhujiang Jetty to begin a cruise through one of Asia’s most magical landscapes. A spectacular sound-and-light show in the evening rounds the day off in memorable fashion.
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 – a typically Chinese extravaganza featuring a cast of hundreds.
A welcome rest day marks the two-week point of your tour. You can catch up on some reading and postcard writing at your hotel, or head off to explore the surrounding landscape by bicycle.
The winding lanes and pretty farming villages around Yangshuo (some of which retain their Ming-era architecture) make for a memorable day’s cycling, and there are numerous caves, rock formations and viewpoints to visit. Bamboo rafts are also on hand for excursions of the rivers, where you’ll see cormorant fisherman at work and buffalo lazing in the shallows.
A leisurely 3-hour drive north takes you beyond Guilin to another of China’s much-celebrated landscapes: the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’ rice terraces of Longji Titian.
Quite apart from forming an arresting spectacle at any time of year, the elaborately terraced hillsides outside Longji are a fine place to relax and walk. Wandering around the old pathways with your guide, you’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 the day exploring villages and terraced ricefields with your guide.
In spring, 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 the homeland of the Yao minority, whose womenfolk grow their hair to extraordinary lengths, and wear it coiled into fabulous ornamental headdresses.
Drive to Guilin after breakfast to catch the final domestic flight of your trip to Shanghai. Once back on terra firma, you’ll be met by your TransIndus guide and accompanied to your hotel in time for a quick taste of the city before nightfall.
For your first evening in Shanghai, we recommend a stroll along the Bund to experience the futuristic skyline of Pudong across the Huangpu River – a quintessentially 21st century vision!
A full day of sightseeing – with visits to museums, temples, Classical Chinese gardens and temples – brings your China holiday to a memorable close.
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.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK.
Tailor-made Tour 20 days from £4685 per person
✓ International flights from UK in economy
✓ 18 nights accommodation
✓ All road travel and transfers using private chauffeur-driven vehicles
✓ All domestic flights in economy
✓ Private English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
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...
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...
At the mouth of the Yangtze River, Shanghai became the hub of European imperial ambitions in mainland China after the Opium Wars, and today is the powerhouse of a dramatic economi...
For Chinese people, ‘Yunnan’ represents everything that’s most exotic about their own country. Bordered by Tibet, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Vietnam, the province encompasses extra...
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