Discover China high and low with this ultimate top to toe immersion into one of the world’s most enigmatic countries. Starting in Beijing where you will walk in the footsteps of the country’s most important rulers from the Ming to Mao, the adventure will then kick up a gear with a tour de force of China’s natural and manmade national treasures. From the Terracotta Army of the first emperor to cruising the River Li through an awesome display of kung fu by the Shaolin monks and glistening Shanghai by night, this is China at her best. Groups vary in size but are typically made up of about six to 10 travellers.
Beijing: The capital’s millions of residents swarm all over the public parks in their free time to practise pastimes such as tai chi, spinning tops, dancing and singing patriotic and revolutionary songs
Yangshuo: Hike to Moon Hill just outside of the town and enjoy the jaw-dropping panoramic views over the dramatic karst landscape of the River Yulong valley
Hangzhou: Head to the rickety wooden shops of Hefang Street in search of the local speciality of dragon beard-candy, made from lengths of stringy dough wrapped around crispy corn kernels
A wide range of optional excursions and pre and post-programme extensions are available on request. Please ask tour designer Kiki Cheng for rates and conditions
Great Wall: Stroll along the restored Badaling section and see the undulating wall disappear into the horizon
Forbidden City: Discover the majesty of the walled imperial precinct, which for centuries was closed off to mere mortals
Temple of Heaven: Behold the beauty of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and other buildings in this Buddhist complex
Longmen Grottoes: These riverside caves outside of Luoyang boast more than 100,000 Buddhist statues
Terracotta Army: Pay homage to the immortal clay warriors unearthed after 2,000 years guarding China’s first emperor
Meijiawu Tea Plantation: Enjoy a taste of old China at this picturesque village boasting more than 150 tea houses
Li River cruise: Glide through the dramatic karst limestone landscapes near the city of Guilin
West Lake: Hangzhou’s most famous attraction is famed for its romantic mists, jade-hued waters and graceful gardens
Jin Mao Tower: This octagonal 88-storey Shanghai skyscraper, which was inspired by a pagoda, offers breathtaking views
Meet your local guide in the lobby of the Beijing Tangram Hotel. This afternoon there is an optional excursion to the Summer Palace and Kunming Lake in the north-west of the city. This spellbinding complex was where China’s emperors and their families would retreat from the heat and intrigues of the Forbidden City. Here they could relax in the lavish pavilions of Longevity Hill, meditate in the temples and stroll through the landscaped gardens around Kunming Lake. The vast and sumptuous Summer Palace provides a range of striking views, and boasts beautifully decorated buildings and courtyards, which are charged with history. Admire structures whose grandeur is matched only by their wonderfully evocative names such as the Temple of Buddhist Virtue, the Hall of Jade Ripples, the Cloud-Dispelling Hall and the Hall of Happiness and Longevity. Kunming Lake is a large manmade pond, expanded over centuries, which has three isles that are believed to represent the ‘three fairy islands of the Eastern Sea’. Two can be reached by bridge, including Nanhu Island, which is linked to the shore by the sensational Seventeen-arch Bridge.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before heading for a photo stop at the Beijing National Stadium, popularly known as the Bird’s Nest, which was the main venue of the 2008 Summer Olympics. This architecturally radical 80,000-capacity arena has become a symbol of the new Beijing and one of the capital’s most popular attractions. Continue to the countryside north of the city for a journey into China’s past with visits to the Great Wall and the Imperial Tombs of the Ming Dynasty. The Badaling section of the Great Wall was built in in 1505 in the strategically important Guan Valley in order to keep out the Mongol hordes from the north. Nowadays, tourists flock from all over the world and it is the most visited part of the Great Wall. Having been reconstructed to replicate its original appearance, this section gives a realistic vision of the Great Wall's immensity. Break for lunch at a local restaurant. Afterwards, take to the road for a brief drive to the Ming Tombs, which are located some 45km north of Beijing in the valley below the Jundu Mountains. The location was specifically chosen because of its harmonious environment, and it was designed in an arc form to ward off evil spirits from the north. This monumental and serene complex is accessed through the imposing Great Red Gate and then reached via the 7km-long Sacred Way, which is lined with statues of guardians such as camels, elephants, lions, soldiers and imperial chamberlains. Explore the Changling Tomb, which is the final resting of the Yongle Emperor, who reigned in the early 15th century and is considered one of China’s greatest rulers.
Breakfast at the hotel is followed by a full day visiting four of Beijing’s most famous landmarks. First up is the enormous Tiananmen Square, one of the world’s largest urban plazas, which is the location of the Chinese parliament, Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the National Museum of China, the Zhengyangmen Gate Tower and the Tiananmen Gate (‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’) which gives access to the Imperial City, within which is the Forbidden City, hidden from the prying eyes of commoners by 10-metre-high walls. Head inside and as you stroll along the stretch leading from the Tiananmen Gate to the Meridian Gate, which leads to the Forbidden City proper, the sense of anticipation gives way to awe as you take in the sheer majesty of this incomparable treasure – one that for centuries no commoner or foreigner could enter and live to tell the tale. Construction began under the Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century and it was meticulously designed to be in harmony with philosophical, religious and hierarchical principles. Thus all roof tiles were yellow, which was the emperor’s colour and could not be used by commoners, while no other building in Beijing could be taller than the Forbidden City. Among the city’s attractions visited are the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, the Hall of Preserving Harmony and the Palace of Heavenly Purity as well as the Hall of Union and Palace of Earthly Tranquillity. Explore this beguiling UNESCO World Heritage Site and marvel at the magnificent temples, halls, pavilions, palaces and courtyards. Enjoy a local lunch after the visit. Adjacent to the Forbidden City is Jingshan Park, which is sprawled over the manmade 45-metre-high hill of the same name. It is the highest point in Beijing and was built as a private garden for emperors and their families. Like all imperial projects, feng shui was to the fore in the planning process, and there are five peaks on the hill, each crowned by a pavilion. The views over the Forbidden City and the rest of the capital are breathtaking. The last visit of your stay in Beijing is to the Temple of Heaven, which is located 3km south of Tiananmen Square. This Buddhist complex dates from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of the three main structures, the most impressive is surely the 32-metre-high Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is the oldest building in the temple. Dinner is in a local restaurant with transfer afterwards to the railway station for the overnight train to Luoyang.
Arrive at Luoyang railway station and transfer to your accommodation for the next two nights, the four-star Hotel Peony. Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before heading to the city’s most famous attraction, the Longmen Grottoes, which are located just south of the city by the banks of the River Yi. (Longmen means ‘Dragon’s Gate’ in Mandarin.) This UNESCO World Heritage Site boast tens of thousands of Buddhist statues carved in almost 1,400 limestone caves. Work on this vast complex first began during the fifth-century Northern Wei Dynasty and the passage of time has only enhanced the sheer scale of what its artisans sculpted out of the rock. From north to south, the grottoes cover a distance of about 1km and apart from the statues, there are also 40 pagodas in the site as well as some 3,600 tablets with Buddhist inscriptions. During this tour of about two hours, we will explore the most interesting and famous caves.
Head to the countryside south-east of Luoyang after breakfast to visit the world-famous Shaolin Monastery, which is considered the cradle and spiritual home of martial arts. There has been a temple at this site at least since the fifth century and today it covers a wide area encompassing more than a dozen halls and courtyards as well as the haunting Pagoda Forest, which is made up of more than 240 brick pagodas and hundreds of trees. Some date back as far as the eighth century and each pagoda pays homage to an eminent monk or abbot, with the different number of levels and sides serving to identify each. The highlight of the visit is the exhibition of kung fu by the monks. Shaolin kung fu movements are based on ancient Chinese medical knowledge and conform to the rules of movement of the human body, with a special emphasis on the combination of movement and stillness, the balance between yin and yang, and the complement of toughness and softness. The most well-known principle is the ‘Six Harmonies’, composed of the three external harmonies (shoulders and hip, elbows and knees, hands and feet) and the three external harmonies (mind and intention, intention and Qi – natural energy – Qi and force). After this awe-inspiring display of martial arts, return to Luoyang to catch the afternoon express train to Xi’an. On arrival, transfer to the four-star Hotel King Dynasty for check-in with the remainder of the day free.
Breakfast at the hotel is followed by a trip to the countryside outside of Xi’an to visit a priceless treasure that was unknown to humanity until some farmers stumbled upon it four decades ago. What they encountered has since become a global phenomenon, with parts of the so-called Terracotta Army being exhibited all over the world. There are thousands of armed warriors, each one different, lined up in rows according to military rank as well as hundreds of horses and chariots. The figures were made by an army of artisans and were buried with Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, who died in 210 BC. To see them all before your very eyes is a truly unforgettable experience. After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll return to Xi’an. The afternoon’s activity is an excursion to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which has stood here since the Tang Dynasty in seventh century. It has been expanded and renovated many times but its main purpose of housing Buddhist scriptures brought back from India by the travelling monk, Xuanzang, has remained the same.
Transfer to Xi'an Xianyang International Airport after breakfast for your flight to Guilin. Head to Fubo Hill, which means Wave-Subduing Hill and is named after a famous Tang Dynasty general who built a temple on its peak. This 213-metre high limestone rock towers over the River Li and aside from its raw natural beauty, the hill hosts several other sites of interest, including the Pearl-Returning Cave – which itself is home to the Sword-Testing Rock – the One-Thousand-Buddha Cave and the Big Iron Clock. Despite its name, the One-Thousand-Buddha Cave has just 239 statues of Buddha in 36 shrines spread out over three levels. Lunch at a local restaurant is followed by check-in at the four-star Guilin Bravo Hotel with the rest of the day free at leisure.
Have breakfast at the hotel before heading to the quays to board your awaiting vessel for an enthralling cruise on the River Li. Sit back and enjoy a 3D-like experience as the boat glides past some of the most dramatic scenery created by Mother Nature. Pass jagged karst outcrops that jut sharply upwards hundreds of metres from the ground like giant stalagmites covered in thick vegetation. Cruise past towns and villages that seem untouched by the passage of time, through gorges, by waterfalls and imaginatively named rocks such as Climbing Turtle Mountain, Fish Tail Peak and Nine Horse Fresco Hill. Each bend in the river brings ever more jaw-dropping scenery until reaching today’s destination, the picturesque village of Yangshuo, at about 13:00 hours. The town is nestled in a rare flat amid all the karst hills. Visit the bustling local market or maybe relax at one of the town’s cafés while admiring the surrounding natural beauty. Yangshuo is a lively spot frequented by backpackers, making it one of rural China’s most cosmopolitan inland destinations.
After breakfast at the hotel, you have free time to explore at your own pace Yangshuo and its surrounding area. Board a coach from Yangshuo to Guilin Airport for a 90-minute journey to catch your flight to Hangzhou. Upon arrival, you will be greeted by a local representative and head straight to the Meijiawu tea plantation. Hangzhou and the overarching Yangtze delta region are known for their stunning scenery and fertile soils, which are especially suited to tea cultivation. At Meijiawu, you will learn about the history of tea production in this scenic area around West Lake, and how it changed the fortunes of the local economy. Today the picture-postcard village of Meijiawu has more than 150 tea houses serving the distinctive local blend of longjing tea (dragon well). Despite the area’s prosperity and its popularity with visitors, it has not lost its pastoral charms and retains the feel of ancient China.
A truly Chinese experience awaits after breakfast at the hotel, with a pleasant morning spent cruising West Lake in the historic heart of Hangzhou. Located by the heart of the old town, West Lake has inspired poets, artists, musicians and romantics since time immemorial and is seen as the ‘mother’ of Chinese Gardens. Such is its dreamlike natural beauty, enhanced by the genius of mankind, that it has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy a boat ride on West Lake’s jade-hued waters – with luck enveloped in romantic mists – and stroll through the graceful gardens. Wander along causeways, admire the pagodas or explore wonderfully named attractions such as the Cloud-Sustained Path, the Crossing the Rainbows Bridge or the Three Pools that Mirror the Moon. Continue into the Wulin Mountains, which rise up from the lake’s western’s shore and, after about 4km, arrive at the legendary Lingying Monastery (or Temple of the Soul's Retreat) which nestles between wooded foothills. This centre of Chan Buddhism was founded in the fourth century and was considered one of the ‘five Zen mountains’ of the Song Dynasty. The most eminent scholars have always been attracted to it and engaged in lively debates about Buddhism and Taoism. There are 11 halls, two pavilions, three pagodas and three grottoes with more than 470 stone carvings of Buddhist figures dating from the 10th to 14th centuries. Enjoy lunch in Hangzhou before transferring in the afternoon to the railway station to catch the high-speed train to Suzhou. Arrive in the late afternoon or early evening and transfer to your accommodation, the four-star Holiday Inn Youlian.
Take to the water after breakfast with a 40-minute boat tour on the Grand Canal, which for centuries has linked the city with Beijing, bringing produce to its markets and prosperity to its merchants, and earning the Suzhou the soubriquet of ‘Venice of the East’. As the vessel glides along the water, admire the historic homes of merchants and aristocrats from the city’s golden age, the cosy tea houses and the famous Shantang Street. Suzhou is also famed for its nine classical gardens, which together comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there will be a visit to the largest of these, the Humble Administrator’s Garden, after the cruise. Despite the modest name, the Ming era garden covers a vast area, which boasts dozens of buildings and bridges located in a maze of connected pools and isles. Among the more enchanting attractions are the more than 700 Suzhou-style penzai, which are small potted landscapes. Wander through the three gardens (Eastern, Central and Western) and admire the pavilions, the water features and the lush vegetation. In the Central Garden, the ‘Surging Wave Pond’ features three isles that recreate the mythical ‘fairy islands of the Eastern Sea’. The wonderfully named Hall of 36 Mandrian Ducks and 18 Camellias can be found in the Western Garden while in the Eastern Garden you will find the Fragrant Sorghum Hall. After lunch in a local restaurant, transfer to the railway station to catch the train to Shanghai, just an hour away, arriving in the afternoon for check-in at the four-star New Century Puxi Hotel.
The dazzling attractions of the world’s largest city are on the menu after breakfast at the hotel. Head to The Bund on the west bank of the River Huangpu, and explore this elegant quay crammed with historic bank buildings from the decades when foreign powers controlled large swaths of Shanghai as ‘concessions’. There are 52 landmark buildings along this 1.5km promenade, ranging in style from neo-classical to art deco. Among the more eye-catching structures are the eight-storey Customs House and the China Bank of Communications Building. Cross the river to east bank and soar to the top of the 88-storey Jin Mao Tower (the ‘Golden Prosperity Building’) which until 2007 was China’s tallest building. The observation deck on the 88th floor offers astonishing panoramic views of metropolitan Shanghai and the adjacent 101-storey World Financial Center. Inside, the views are also eye-catching, with the 31-storey atrium (the second-tallest in the world) such a magnificent a neck-craning sight that it almost appears to be an optical illusion. Break for lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, head back on the west bank to visit the Yu Garden, a classical Chinese garden crammed with richly decorated pavilions, halls, towers, rockeries and ponds, some dating from as far back as the Ming Dynasty four centuries ago. Here you will find a tranquil spot for respite from the modern pace of life in this at times hectic city of more than 24 million souls. Then head outside and discover the old town itself, which has somehow survived China’s impressive modernisation push of the past two decades. Almost huddled beneath the modern high-rises, the two and three-storey narrow streets of the earthy old city offer an astonishing contrast to the glistening new Shanghai. Mingle with pedestrians and cyclists as they weave about, heading to and fro in this warren of family-run shops and diners, before enjoying the remainder of the day to explore at your own pace Nanjing Road, which is Shanghai’s pedestrianised commercial hub. The immense energy, colour and spectacle of the boulevard offer a microcosm of Shanghai all condensed into one place.
Savour a final breakfast at the hotel before checking out and continuing your journey, whether it’s to your home or somewhere else in our beautiful country.