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Beijing: 4 nights - Xi'an: 2 nights - Guilin: 1 night - Yangshuo: 1 night - Chengdu: 2 nights - Yangtze Cruise: 3 nights - Shanghai: 2 nights
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Day 1 - Welcome to Beijing
Day 2 - Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & Temple of Heaven
Welcome to Beijing, the historic capital of the People's Republic of China. This vast city is known for its atmospheric narrow alleyways, lively food markets and elaborate temples. It is dominated by the Tiananmen Square and the 15th century Forbidden Palace complex, though other notable landmarks include the futuristic Birds Nest Olympic Stadium, the sacred Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, set within parkland on the outskirts of the city.
You will be greeted by your guide at the airport, who will assist you with your luggage, taking a private transfer to your hotel for a four night stay.
Day 2 - Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & Temple of Heaven
Today's tour will start from Tiananmen Square, the largest urban space in the world, from where we can orientate ourselves in the city, learn about the square's historical significance and appreciate its communist style architecture and monuments. From here, we walk into the famed Forbidden City, the former imperial palace that was home to 24 Chinese emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties for nearly 500 years. Large sumptuously decorated palaces, gates and halls are linked by landscaped gardens, traditional pavilions and spacious courtyards, lined with typical architecture and adorned with intricate statues, marble bridges and other fascinating details.
After lunch we will visit the 15th century Temple of Heaven, one of the most important in all of China. The site is a collection of over 90 buildings, the most important being the richly decorated Temple of Good Harvest, to where Ming and Qing dynasty emperors, seen as a child sent from heaven, would come each year to make a sacrifice and pray for a favourable harvest. A visit here teaches you about Dynasty era sacrificial rituals, cosmogony and philosophical beliefs, as well as giving the opportunity to appreciate ancient artwork and see locals going about their everyday lives and taking daily exercise in the surrounding parkland.
In the evening there is a spectacular optional Kung Fu show.
Day 3 - Great Wall & Ming Tombs
We start the day with a once-in-a-lifetime visit to one of the great wonders of the world and an enduring symbol of Chinese power. Located around 50 miles north of Beijing, Mutianyu is one of the very best preserved sections of the Great Wall, affording picture-postcard views, as the wall gently rolls over the surrounding hills.
On the way back to Beijing, we will stop to visit the impressive Ming Tombs, resting place of 13 Chinese emperors from the Ming dynasty. Surrounded by mountain ridges on three sides, the site shows off some wonderful Ming era artifacts, 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.
In the evening you will enjoy a traditional duck dinner at a local restaurant.
Great Wall alternative excursions
Alternatively, there is the option to visit the wilder Jinshanling Great Wall section, which offers hiking opportunities and far fewer crowds. This is a full day tour from Beijing, so does not allow time for the tombs or the stadium, instead offering a more in-depth experience of the wall.
Day 4 - Beijing Summer Palace
Today we visit the grand Summer Palace, set amid peaceful landscaped parkland that feels a long way from the noise of downtown Beijing. The park is dominated by the huge Kunming Lake, whilst the palace buildings themselves sit on Longevity Hill. A visit here gives you the chance to learn more about the infamous Empress Cixi, who restored the palaces in the 19th century and spent a lot of her time here.
Day 5 - Xi'an city tour
Day 6 - Terracotta Army & Big Goose Pagoda
Today, you will fly to Xi'an in the morning and be shown around the ancient city and its impressive city walls in the afternoon. Once the starting point of the legendary Silk Road and a capital for eleven dynasties, the city has retained a great deal of its mystique and boasts an impressive array of sights, including the Great Mosque, the Muslim quarter and the traditional drum and bell towers.
We begin today with a visit to the famous Terracotta Army, just outside Xi'an. 8,000 individually sculptured clay warriors, horses and archers proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder in three large excavated pits, protecting the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang. At first it is the sheer number that overwhelms, but on closer inspection you begin to notice the extraordinary level of detail that went in to them, with each figure seemingly sporting a different expression and hairstyle. It's not hard to imagine this as a real army in waiting, awakening at the slightest hint of danger.
We continue with a visit to the Big Goose Pagoda, built in the centre of the Dacien Temple grounds to house precious Buddhist scripts, brought back from a seventh century pilgrimage to India by Tang monk Xuanzang. The structure stands 64 metres tall and is comprised of seven stories. You can climb the inside and throw coins out of the windows for good luck.
Enjoy the optional Tang Dynasty show with dinner in the evening. The Tang Dynasty (618-907) is distinguished as one of the most progressive and prosperous era in the history of China. The music and dance of the era fused the culture inherited from the preceding dynasties with elements of the new and exotic cultures that came along the Silk Road. With authentic Tang musical instruments - bells, drums and zithers, the show will take you back to the Tang Dynasty, and present you the art of that golden age.
Day 7 - Transfer to Guilin & visit the Reed Flute Caves
Day 8 - Li River Cruise
We continue on to the scenic city of Guilin, famed for its magnificent karst landscape. Today we take an afternoon visit to the brilliant Reed Flute Caves, so named for the reeds which grow outside and which are used to make instruments, such as flutes. It is a stunning spectacle inside, with a collection of bizarre rock formations, pillars and stalactites illuminated by colourful lighting, making for a dramatic visual treat. There are written inscriptions here that date back to the Tang dynasty.
The highlight of a trip to Guilin is the chance to drift down the Li River to Yangshuo, passing through the infinite limestone sugarloaf peaks which rise dramatically out of the ground, so creating one of the most arresting vistas in the country. Bamboo groves and paddy fields line the river's edge, where we can also observe water buffalo and local peasants working the land. As the light begins to fade, traditional fishermen emerge on their bamboo rafts, to which cormorants are tethered, to help them locate the best fish, a tradition practiced since ancient times.
In the evening, enjoy the spectacular Impression of Liu Sanjie show, which takes place the Li River in Yangshou. It fuses musical, lighting, dance and story telling elements to create a dramatic spectacle. It is performed by local actors from the nearby minority villages and was directed by proclaimed film director Zhang Yimou, who was responsible for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Stay overnight in Yangshou.
It is possible to extend your trip from Guilin by two nights to include the Longsheng Rice Terraces, before heading to Chengdu.
Day 9 - Transfer to Chengdu
Day 10 - Panda Research Center & Sanxingdui
Day 11 - Jinli Street & transfer to Chongqing
Transfer to Guilin, for a short flight to Chengdu.
Day 10 - Panda Research Base
Of course, no visit to Chengdu would be complete without going to the nearby Panda Research Base - there is simply no better place to see these impossibly cute and highly endangered animals up close. Cleverly designed to replicate the natural bamboo habitat of the panda to encourage breeding, the centre is respected the world over for its ongoing research and conservation efforts, not just for the giant pandas, but also for red pandas and black swans.
Afternoon at leisure to do some shopping at the local markets.
Chengdu is renowned for having largely maintained its traditional atmosphere, found primarily in its charming streets and old-fashioned tea houses, in the face of urban development. One of the most interesting parts of the city, and the best place to buy souvenirs, is the lively Jinli Street, lined with traditional buildings and stalls selling locally created artwork, handicrafts, paper cuts and calligraphy. After exploring the compact centre, you will be transferred to Chongqing to begin your three night Yangtze River cruise.
It is possible to extend your trip for two nights to visit the Leshan Giant Buddha and Mount Emei, before continuing on to Chongqing.
Day 12 - Ghost City & Shibao Zhai Temple
Day 13 - Qutang & Wu Gorges
Day 14 - Three Gorges Dam
Having boarded the previous evening, today you will begin exploring the Yangtze River, the third largest in the world. After optional early morning taichi, the first stop is at the Ghost City of Fengdu, a vibrant mountaintop complex where you will see an array of weird and wonderful monuments. After that is a short visit to the remote Shibao Zhai temple, reached via a huge red pavilion sat in a cliff-face on a verdant island. Enjoy an evening dinner and entertainment show.
The journey continues with an optional tour to the White Emperor City, an ancient hilltop temple complex, before passing through the magnificent Qutang and Wu gorges, the first two of the famous Three Gorges. The landscape is marked by powerful steep mountainsides, covered in thick vegetation, which sink into the river and create a breathtakingly cinematic scene. In the afternoon you will take an excursion to the beautiful and more remote Shennv Stream, before experiencing the Three Gorges Dam, lowering some 600 feet as you pass through a series of locks. Dinner is served before reaching the dam, followed by a farewell party.
The final day of the cruise starts with an excursion to see the Three Gorges Dam up close and learn about this remarkable feat of engineering. You will then cruise through the breathtaking Xiling Gorge, the last and the longest of the Three Gorges. Disembark at Yichang around lunch time, before being transferred to the airport for your flight to Shanghai. There you will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel.
Learn more about the Yangtze River cruise experience
Day 15 - Highlights of Shanghai
Day 16 - Maglev Train to Airport
Shanghai is China's most developed mega city, a futuristic metropolis symbolised by its forest of towering skyscrapers. However, if you know which street to turn down, you can still find relics of a bygone era and the occasional oasis of calm.
The Jade Buddha Temple is one such example, rebuilt in 1918 to replace the original one that was destroyed during the revolution and to house two impressive jade Buddhas. The 16th century Yu Yuan is a quintessentially Chinese garden, with many fascinating details throughout the various areas, divided by undulating dragon walls. One of the best spots in Shanghai is the Bund waterfront, lined with historic banks, offices and hotels on one side and on the other, sweeping views across the Huangpu River to the skyscrapers of Pudong - one of the world's most iconic skylines. The most recognisable of these towers is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, offering fine views from its viewing platforms. In the evening you can enjoy a spectacular acrobatics show.
Day 16 - Maglev Train to airport
Experience the high speed Maglev to the airport.
Price guidelines for travel dates and room arrangement
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