Visit China's cultural highlights and spectacular landscapes on this group tour
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.
Holidays types: Group Tours, Cultural Holidays, Family Holidays, Landscape & Nature Holidays
➕ Day 1 Beijing
On arrival you'll be met by your guide and accompanied to your Howard Johnson Paragon. Spend the remainder of the morning recovering from your journey. Later, the group will gather for a welcome dinner of Peking Duck.
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.
➕ Day 2 Beijing
A full day's sightseeing starts after breakfast with a visit to Tiananmen Square and the magnificent 'Forbidden City', former seat of the Ming and Qing dynasties, followed by a trip up to the Summer Palace in the afternoon.
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 proper. 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.
➕ Day 3 Beijing
Your second full day in Beijing features visits to the Temple of Heaven, where intricate rituals used to be performed at an open-air marble altar by the Chinese Emperor, followed by a visit to the Great Wall of China in the afternoon.
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.
➕ Day 4 Xi'an
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 theGrand Dynasty Culture Hotel or similar for two nights.
The group will spend the afternoon visiting the giant Wild Goose Pagoda, originally built by the Tang Emperor, Gaozong, in the late 7th century. We'll 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 traditional atmosphere of this distinctive neighbourhood.
➕ Day 5 Xi'an
Visit the world-famous Terracotta Army site in the morning. In the afternoon, tour the most impressive sections of Xi'an's 16th-century Ming ramparts, followed by a traditional dumpling 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.
➕ Day 6 Chengdu, Leshan
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 before heading off to see the giant Buddha at Leshan in the afternoon.
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, an optional excursion will be offered to experience traditional Sichuan opera at one of the theatres in the 'Wide Lanes, Narrow Lanes' pleasure district. Shows usually include demonstrations of 'face changing' and Chinese acrobatics.
➕ Day 7 Chengdu
The group will visit the Panda Breeding Centre in the morning, followed by a special vegetarian lunch at the Wen Shu Temple. Later, you'll be at leisure to explore the bright lights of nearby Jinli Street.
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.
➕ Day 8 Lijiang
The transfer to Chengdu Airport for your flight across the mountains to Lijiang takes around an hour. In the afternoon the group will embark on a guided tour of the city, then attend a performance of traditional Naxi music.
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.
➕ Day 9 Lijiang
Today will be taken up with a visit to nearby Tiger Leaping Gorge - one of China's greatest natural wonders.
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 viewpointA high above the gorge, and down by the water, where we'll gain a vivid sense of the river's awesome power.
➕ Day 10 Guilin
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, 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 and parks.
➕ Day 11 Yangshuo
After breakfast, the group will be driven to Guilin's Zhujiang Jetty to begin a cruise through one of Asia's most magical landscapes.
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.
➕ Day 12 Yangshuo
Today the group will explore the extraordinary landscape of Yangshuo in more depth, with a visit to picturesque Moon Hill. Later, we'll take to the river on bamboo rafts.
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.
➕ Day 13 Longji
A leisurely 3-hour drive north takes us beyond Guilin today to another of China's much-celebrated landscapes: the 'Dragon's Backbone' rice terraces of Longji Titian.
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.
➕ Day 14 Longji
Today the group will be at leisure to relax and walk in amid the beautiful rice terraces around Longji.
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.
➕ Day 15 Shanghai
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. Stay at the Jiulong 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!
➕ Day 16 Shanghai
A full day of sightseeing - with visits to museums, temples, Classical Chinese gardens and temples - brings your China tour 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, followed by a performance by Chinese acrobats.
➕ Day 17 Shanghai
Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK.