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Beijing: 4 nights - Kunming: 2 nights - Tea Horse Road Shangri'la to Lijiang: 5 nights - Dali: 2 nights - Beijing: 1 night
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Day 1 - Welcome to Beijing
Day 2 - Special tour - Beijing's past & present
Day 3 - Personalised Beijing guided tour
Upon arrival you will be greeted by your guide at the airport, who will assist you with your luggage and will take a private transfer to your hotel for a four night stay. You will have the remainder of the day free to rest and recover from your flight and perhaps explore the local area near your hotel.
Our special tour of Beijing has been designed to give you a comprehensive overview on the history and modern day life of the Chinese capital. We will journey through the Dynastic and Communist history of China, before exploring two of its main philosophical systems to better understand local culture.
We start in the vast Tiananmen Square to learn about its historical significance and appreciate its communist style architecture and monuments. Generations of Chinese families line up to have their family portrait with Chairman Mao's image at one end, whilst his immense mausoleum sits at the other.
From here we will walk into the Forbidden City, home to 24 Chinese emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties for nearly 500 years. Throughout are sumptuously decorated palaces, gates and halls, linked by landscaped gardens, traditional pavilions and spacious courtyards. This is the best place in the city to learn about China's imperial roots.
We continue along the central axis of Beijing, heading north to climb Coal Hill, man-made to provide good Feng Shui for the Forbidden City. From here we get a panoramic view across the city and also appreciate the special architecture of central Beijing; the yellow rooftops of the imperial city, the large lakes and gardens amid which emperors relaxed, the grey roofs of the city's hutongs and the surprising abundance of verdant trees.
After lunch in a local restaurant, we will head to the little-visited Confucius Temple, dedicated to the philosopher whose ideas continue to play a key role in Chinese society. The quiet grounds are filled with beautiful structures and it is here that we can best understand how Confucius defended his ideas, how they eventually gained prominence and why they are still valid today.
Nearby is the Lama Temple, the largest Buddha temple outside of Tibet. This is a great place to see how Buddhism has once again gained acceptance in Chinese society, learning more about its teachings and belief system and how it fits together with Taoism and Confucianism.
If there is time and you wish to see it, we could catch the last Drum Show performance at the Drum Tower.
Today you will be shown around other parts of Beijing, according to your particular interests. We have a number of different half and full day excursions to choose from, including:
Day 4 - Hike the Great Wall of China
One of the highlights of your China holiday will undoubtedly be the chance to walk along the Great Wall of China. In our own personal experience, the best way to experience the true majesty and atmosphere of the wall is to begin a hike at one of the lesser-visited parts, seeing the wall in its wild and untamed state. One such hike begins at the Zhenbeikou watchtower, a two hour drive north of Beijing, and ends at the popular Mutianyu section, where the wall has been restored and cable cars provide easy access, bringing more visitors. This is a great way to combine a wild and restored section.
The hike lasts around 5 miles, starting with a fairly arduous climb through a forested area. Although tricky in places, it will be appropriate for most visitors. Alternatively, you could join the Great Wall at Gubeikou and then decide where to exit the wall, or start at the beautiful Jinshanling sections, once it reopens to visitors. We do not recommend a visit to Badaling as this gets extremely busy and provides little of the true essence of the Great Wall.
Visiting only Mutianyu is a shorter experience and so allows time to visit the impressive Ming Tombs on the way back to the city. Resting place of 13 Chinese emperors from the Ming dynasty, it is surrounded by mountain ridges on three sides and shows off some wonderful Ming era artefacts, statues and architectural details. Upon returning to Beijing, we will make a quick stop to admire and photograph the world famous Birds Nest Olympic Stadium. It is one of the finest modern arenas in the world, surprisingly full of hidden symbolism.
Day 5 - Transfer to Kunming
Day 6 - Stone Forest & Kunming
Today you will fly to Kunming ahead of our visit to the Stone Forest. You will be met at arrival by our guide and drive and will be transferred to your hotel for an afternoon at leisure.
Day 6 - Stone Forest & Kunming
Kunming is the capital of the Yunnan province, a modern city with a beautiful urban park at its centre. The reason for our visit here though is to explore the nearby Stone Forest, known as Shilin in Chinese. A sea of limestone pillars, many in weird formations and with wonderfully descriptive names, rise powerfully out of the ground, creating a magnificent karst landscape. Mysterious caves, underground rivers, ponds, lakes and waterfalls only add to the beauty found here. A guided tour will help you understand how they came to be and lead you to the very best viewing points.
In the afternoon we will return to the city to visit the Yuantong Buddhist Temple, at the foot of Yuantong Hill and also the pretty Green Lake Park, for a glimpse into everyday life in Kunming.
Day 7 - Napahai Wetlands & Benzilan arrival
Day 8 - Dongzhulin Monastery & Shuibianhe Valley
Day 9 - Balagezong Canyon & Nixi Pottery Masterclass
Today you will fly from Kunming to Shangri-La airport, after which we will drive out of town to the ever-changing Napahai wetlands, encircled by mountains. At different points of the year it is possible to sea a huge variety of migrating birds, including the rare black-necked crane and herds of yaks and horses grazing, as the waters recede.
We continue on into the mountains, driving through a dramatic canyon to reach your base for the next three nights; the LUX Benzalin luxury resort. Relax by the pool or roof terrace and enjoy a specially prepared dinner, ahead of tomorrow's exploration.
After breakfast we will drive 30 minutes to the Dongzhulin Monastery and small religious community. We will listen as the monks chant their morning prayers and then take a guided tour of the temple. This particular temple, unlike the more famous Songzanlin Monastery, is not a big tourism attraction and so allows for a far more insightful and intimate experience. You can even speak to the monks to ask them about Buddhist life here.
We depart the monastery, returning later, to drive in to the Shuibianhe Valley to visit the small Tibetan hamlet of Shiyi. Here we will observe the process of making traditional Tibetan incense sticks. We then return to a second hamlet - Bairen - to watch a bell-maker at work. For lunch you can choose between a Tibetan-style picnic lunch or a home-cooked French lunch, made with Tibetan ingredients and served in the home of a local.
After lunch we will return to the Dongzhulin Monastery, enjoying privileged access to a Gelugpa-sect debating session. These debates are lively and expressive affairs, involving much shouting, jumping, dancing and posturing. Following this unique experience we will return to the hotel where you can relax and have dinner, before perhaps watching a movie outdoors under the stars in the LUX's Cinema Paradiso experience.
The next day we will drive 45 to the Balagezong Canyon, a wonderful place to experience the precipitous gorges and biodiversity of the Three Parallel Rivers area, protected by UNESCO. Following a dramatic ascent, via some 30 switchbacks, we will enjoy panoramic views over the valley below. We continue down the canyon to enjoy a guided nature walk, crossing a spectacular suspended walkway high above the river, before taking to the water itself for a short boat trip.
After lunch we head on-wards to the remote Nixi village of Tangdui, to visit a master potter at work. Luo Sang Enzhu Is recognised as the greatest exponent of black pottery in the surrounding area, following on from the legacy of his father. Learn how the pottery gains its distinct black colour and be taught by the master himself how to mould a Tibetan bowl with your very own hands.
We will then return for a final night at the LUX Benzilan hotel, offering the chance to relax, dine and perhaps enjoy another Cinema Paradiso film under the stars.
Day 10 - Tea Horse Road to Lijiang ancient town
Day 11 - Lijiang, Jade Dragon Mountain & Baisha
Today we will leave behind Benzilan and drive south to the ancient city of Lijiang, following the route of the old Tea Horse Road. Along the way we will pass mountains, gorges and high passes, as well as entering a completely different cultural region, as we shift from the Tibetan influences of Shangri-la to the Naxi dominated Lijiang.
Before departing we will enjoy a walk around Shangri-la's historic old town, which was once a major staging post for caravans, a final port of call before travelling the dangerous road to Tibet. A huge fire swept through the old town of Dukezong in 2014, the poignant affects of which can still be seen today. The town is being faithfully restored, but fortunately plenty of places of interest escaped unscathed, including the Guishan Temple and the world's largest Tibetan prayer wheel.
After an organic Tibetan lunch at a local restaurant we will being our journey south across the high plain. It is a journey of around 3 to 4 hours, in stark contrast to the week long undertaking that it was in the days of the caravans. En-route we will observe traditional Tibetan style houses and enjoy views of the Haba Mountain. The highlight of the trip though is undoubtedly the Tiger Leaping Gorge, through which we drive, following the path of the Yangtse River. Soon we reach the LUX* Tea Horse Road Lijiang, your home for the next two nights, in the heart of the Dayan old town in Lijiang.
You will be welcomed with a traditional cup of tea and given chance to settle in to your room, before taking a late afternoon stroll through the winding cobbled streets of this 800 year old town. A special map will be provided, detailing the most authentic shops and which will also lead you to a lookout point for a panoramic view of the city. A visit to the oldest of the tea-houses is a must, giving you the chance to watch the tea being pressed and prepared and then enjoy a guided tasting session in the company of a Pu'er tea master, whose family has traded and served tea for generations. Return to the hotel for dinner and relax after a busy day, either within the welcoming confines of the LUX hotel, or at a nearby canal-side cafe or bar.
Day 11 - Lijiang, Impression Show & Baisha
The final day will see us explore Lijiang and the surrounding area in greater detail, to complete your Tea Horse Road experience. After enjoying another specially designed self-guided walk through the atmospheric streets of Lijiang, via picturesque stone footbridges and Naxi 'three eyed' wells, you will return to the hotel to accompany the head chef to a local market. Away from the tourist crowds, you will see an authentic exhibition of local Naxi life, as all kinds of goods are brought and sold. We will do some buying ourselves, as the head chef guides you through the Naxi cuisine and purchases the ingredients needed to make the LUX's signature Naxi Hotpot later that day.
We will then take a 45 minute drive north to the foot of the snow-capped Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to watch the awesome Lijiang Impressions Show, a visual treat set in front of a spectacular backdrop. The epic open-air show was designed by renowned movie director Zhang Yimou (he of House of Flying Daggers and Hero fame) and features hundreds of horses and over 500 actors. You will enjoy VIP seats for the best views of this hour-long performance - just don't forget your camera!
We head back to the hotel via the Naxi settlement of Baisha which, together with Dayan and Shuhe, formed the original city of Lijiang. We visit the temple to admire its ancient murals and learn about the unique Dongba hieroglyphic script - the world’s only living pictographic language. We complete the visit by walking to a local silk tapestry school. Back at the hotel, after enjoying the Naxi Hotpot, created using the ingredients procured from the market earlier, settle in for your last night at the LUX Lijiang and reflect upon an unforgettable few days that will have completely immersed you in the various cultures and ancient customs of this part of Yunnan.
The Tea Horse Road experience is based on groups of a maximum of just five people, so depending on your group size you may be joined by other guests. Alternatively we can arrange the entire experience on a private basis, for a minimum of two travellers.
Day 12 - Shaxi, Shibaoshan Grottoes & Dali
Day 13 - Zizhou Village & Erhai Lake
Day 14 - Fly to Beijing
Day 15 - Return flight to UK
After breakfast at the LUX hotel, we will take a transfer south to the city of Dali. En-route we will visit the Shibaoshan grottoes and admire their intricate carvings and then continue on to Shaxi, one of the best-preserved of the caravan towns of the ancient tea route into Myanmar and Tibet. In the afternoon we arrive at Dali old town, famed for its centuries-old Three Pagodas.
Today we will start with a visit to the picturesque minority village of Xizhou and explore the nearby Erhai Lake, taking a scenic boat trip to visit the three main islands and their small temples. We finish at a traditional fishing village.
Take a morning flight back to Beijing, with time for any last minute shopping or sightseeing in the capital.
You will be transferred with your guide to the airport for your flight back to the UK.
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