Day 1 - Beijing
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places that give an insight into the nation's ancient past, as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6 pm this evening. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. Settle into your hotel and then maybe head out to explore the Beijing Streets – with your hotel located centrally, a walk in any direction will unveil all sorts of wonderful surprises.
Day 2 - Great Wall
Today you’ll have some free time in the morning to further explore Beijing before taking take a private bus to a lesser-known section of the Great Wall – Gubeikou (approximately 3 hours drive). An incredible piece of engineering, the wall stretches 6,000 km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from the 'barbarians' of the north and even though it failed in this purpose, it's still without a doubt one of the country's most remarkable achievements and an iconic destination.
You’ll spend the night in a family run village guesthouse. The facilities are more basic than some of our accommodation on this trip but you can be assured of great local hospitality. Most passengers will choose to eat at the guesthouse for dinner as it's a great chance to sample local produce and delicious home style cooking.
Day 3 - Great Wall
Today you’ll rise early and trek from the Gubeikou section to the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall. You will walk over some steep, remote terrain for approximately 3-5 hours. Some parts of the wall are un-restored so you'll need to concentrate hard to keep your footing, while in other parts the trail takes you off the wall to walk alongside it through the countryside. You’ll often feel like you have the whole wall to yourself as you take your time strolling along the wall, which snakes through the hills almost endlessly into the distance. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. You’ll spend tonight in accommodation in Jinshanling.
Day 4 - Overnight Train
Today is a long travelling day – you’ll travel back to Beijing by bus (approximately 3 hours), maybe grab some snacks for the journey, and then board an overnight hard sleeper train bound for Xi'an (approximately 15 hours). Train travel in China may not be entirely luxurious but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the country and its people, as it's the main form of transport for locals.
Day 5 - Xi'an
Arrive in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China. Once the imperial centre of China for 2,000 years, Xi'an is now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites and is a great place to explore. Head to the hotel to freshen up then join your leader on a short walking tour to uncover what was once the start of the ancient trading route of the Silk Road. Visit the Bell and Drum Towers, the former built (according to legend) to restrain the dragons that were causing earthquakes, the latter is (unsurprisingly) full of drums, once used to mark time and warn in emergencies. The city also has a wonderful Muslim Quarter, and you’ll wander the narrow streets of quaint shops, lively markets, groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in cafes, and the Great Mosque, one of the most important in China. See the City Walls and Gates, the most complete in China, running over 13 kilometres around the city. Xi’an’s Silk Road history means it has an exciting mixture of cultures, especially found in its food options, ranging from delicious Muslim fare to great little dumplings in Chinese restaurants. Perhaps visit the night markets and try many of the tantalising local specialties such as pao mo (lamb broth that you break flat bread into), hand pulled noodles, hot pot and barbecue.
Day 6 - Xi'an/Overnight Sleeper Train
Today we will travel by public transport (approx 2 hours) to visit what is undoubtedly one of the man-made wonders of the world – the Terracotta Warriors. You’ll learn all about this incredible archaeological find, discovered in 1976 by farmers digging a well, after being buried for 2,000 years. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots (originally all painted) were commissioned by the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Three main pits are open for you to view, where just under 2,000 of the total 6,000 warriors – each individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expressions – stand in battle formation. The scale is incredibly impressive. Afterwards you'll return to Xi'an and then the train station to board your second overnight train to Shanghai (approximately 16 hours).
Day 7 - Shanghai
Blending 21st-century architecture with old-world character, Shanghai pulses with the beat of new China. Arrive and take the subway to your accommodation. You’ll have a full day to explore here, but don't worry if you don't fit everything in, as you will return here for the end of the trip. Today join your leader for a walking tour that will take you to historical Shanghai. At the Bund you can get a taste of 1920s Shanghai; its spectacular array of art deco style buildings, formerly belonging to Western banks, line what was once the most important financial street in Asia. Wander the narrow winding lanes (nongtangs) of old Shanghai, where you can get a real glimpse into the locals’ daily life. Explore the European-influenced French Concession, the area of Shanghai once designated for the French, consisting of today's Luwan and Xuhui Districts. Luwan's Huaihai Road is a busy shopping street and is home to Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang, extremely popular shopping and dining spots for visitors. The area's tree-lined avenues and their many Tudor mansions still retain an air of the 'Paris of the East'. This evening perhaps get a taste of Shanghai’s eclectic food scene, which draws influence from far beyond China’s walls.
Day 8-9 - Huangshan
Travel by public bus to Huangshan (approximately 6 hours), otherwise known as Yellow Mountain, where you’ll stay in a local guesthouse for the next two nights. The 72 peaks of Huangshan provide some of China's most stunning scenery, and you have the next two days to explore the mountain however you’d like. The eastern steps are shorter (7.5 kilometre, approximately 3-4 hours), but with less spectacular views. The western steps take longer (15 kilometres) and are more difficult. We recommend taking the cable car up, exploring the trails at the summit and then descending via the western steps. Either way, the dramatic limestone peaks populating this superbly beautiful area make for some breathtaking vistas. After taking in the iconic beauty of Huangshan (which, despite the crowds and unpredictable weather, is a rewarding destination) you’ll return to your guesthouse for a well-earned rest.
Day 10 - Hongcun
Climb aboard public transport to travel through Anhui province to the picturesque villages of the Huizhou region (approximately 2 hours). A number of these villages are now World Heritage sights, and were even the backdrop to scenes in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. You will stay overnight in a village guesthouse, giving you plenty of time to wander the maze of cobbled alleys, admire Ming dynasty architecture and ornate stone carvings, or clamber up into the hillsides for panoramic views of the pretty-as-a-picture traditional settlements. You might like to explore more villages on your own by bike or public transport, or just on foot.
Day 11 - Shanghai
A long travel day by public transport (approximately 6 hours) takes you back to the big smoke of Shanghai. Perhaps celebrate the end of your time in China with a night out with the group at a traditional tea ceremony, visit the city's hippest bars, or toast to the conclusion of this memorable Chinese journey in one of Shanghai's great restaurants.
Day 12 - Shanghai
As this is a combination trip you may say farewell to some of your fellow travellers who are ending their journey here today. You will have free time until the group meeting tonight at 6pm where you will meet your new travel companions and leader (if applicable) for the next leg to Hong Kong.
Day 13 - Shanghai/Overnight Train
Today you have free time to explore this bustling city until this afternoon, when you’ll board your first overnight train from Shanghai to Guilin (approximately 18-20 hours). You could visit the Propaganda Museum for a fascinating look at China's revolutionary past, get a bird's eye view of the city from the Pearl Tower's observation decks, get a taste of 1920s Shanghai along the Bud, wander the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar, barter in markets, stroll through modern Pudong or the explore ancient nongtangs.
Day 14 - Longji Rice Terraces
Disembark from the train and jump on a bus from Guilin to Longji.
The Longji region has some of the most extensive rice terraces around. These terraces change with the seasons: filled with water from the mountains before planting, becoming green during the growing season and then golden when the rice is ready for harvest. This evening you’ll overnight in the village of Dazhai, which is home to the Yao minorities. The Yao still preserve some of their traditional lifestyle and unique customs. You'll notice women only cut their hair at 16 years old, symbolising their entrance into adulthood. The hair isn’t thrown away, but is kept by the grandmother. When the woman marries, the hair is made into an ornamental headdress and brought to the husband's home as a souvenir!
Day 15 - Longji Rice Terraces
Today you’ll hike through the Longji Valley and its rice terraces, constructed over 500 years ago (called the Dragon’s Backbone because the rice terraces resemble a dragon's scales, while the mountain summit looks like the backbone of the dragon). Walk through stunning scenery, with its unique terraces for growing rice, alongside bamboo trees and chestnut forests. Despite some challenging hills, much of the hike is spent walking around over the stones, passing waterfalls and fields. After a day spent admiring the endless vistas, you’ll overnight in the picturesque village of Ping'an.
Day 16 - Yangshuo
Take public transport on to Yangshuo (approximately 4 hours). Soak up the charm of this little town, popular with the Chinese and Western travellers alike, who come for the beautiful landscape and stay for the great cafes and bars. It's also one of the best places in the country to get a feel for local culture and traditions while having plenty of fun at the same time. The countryside around Yangshuo is immortalized in many traditional Chinese paintings – picture immense limestone karsts dotting the rural landscape, towering spectacularly over rice paddies and the meandering Li River. The scene is even celebrated on every 20 Yuan note.
Day 17 - Yangshuo
Today is a free day for you to do as you like. You could begin by focusing your body and mind with a morning Tai Chi class or Kung Fu lesson, and then continue the active theme by hiring a bike, gaining insight into rural Chinese life on a cycle through picture-perfect locations. You could climb up to Moon Hill – a limestone pinnacle with a moon-shaped hole penetrating the hill – or simply stroll along the river and be immersed in the natural beauty of the valley. For something a little less energetic, you could simply sit back and relax as you enjoy a relaxing cruise down the Li or Yulong River. Later, perhaps watch an outdoor light show staged by 2008 Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony director Zhang Yimou.
Day 18 - Yangshuo
Today’s another free day to pursue you interests here in Yangshuo. Freedom and flexibility is the idea today, and your friendly local leader will be on hand to give you suggestions and tips. If you’re still feeling active then up in the limestone hills are a number of caves that can be explored; or if you’d rather see the landscape from a different perspective, then kit up in a rock-climbing harness and tackle one of the 300 rock-climbing routes. For a more laid-back day, maybe visit the market to shop with the locals and get a feel for the regional produce. You can then put this new knowledge to use in a cooking class at the Yangshuo Cooking School. Learn to cook dishes with recipes that are easy to make and ingredients readily available outside of China, so that you’ll soon be wowing friends and family back at home.
Day 19 - Tulou Village
This morning travel by private bus to Guilin Airport (approx 90 mins) for your flight to Xiamen (approx 90 mins). On landing you’ll transfer by private bus from Xiamen Airport to the Tulou village (approximately 3 hours). This area is home to the Hakka people, who traditionally live in round, walled villages or communal houses (“tulou”) with many families and generations of the same clan living together. Accommodation is very basic in the local style. It can get quite cold at night in some months so please ensure you bring warm clothes. Washing facilities may be limited, with communal toilets outside of the rooms. Tonight you have the option to try some simple local dishes for dinner, and breakfast tomorrow may be quite different from what you are used to, but is certainly authentic. The area has been developed for domestic tourism recently and sees lots of day-trippers, but few people stay overnight, so you’re sure to have a great local experience while here.
Day 20 - Xiamen
Today you’ll take a walk with a local guide around the surrounding villages and between some of the clusters of Tulou houses. Learn some more about these impressive structures, which are like 500-yar-old apartment blocks, huge earthen structures that resemble coliseums with timbered galleries as high as five stories. The buildings were constructed to protect the inhabitants from animals, warlords and bandits, with five-feet thick walls repelling human and natural threats. Later, head out on a hike to a viewpoint and nearby waterfall. The length and distance of the hike will depend on the weather, local conditions and fitness of the group, however most groups will generally spend a few hours exploring. Transfer to by private bus to return to Xiamen for the evening (approximately 3 hours).
Day 21 - Xiamen
Today is a free day for you to explore Xiamen. One of the highlights of this coastal city is the island of Gulang Yu, just across the harbour. It’s highly recommended that you jump on a ferry and head over to this island crammed full of historic mansions and villas, which is easily navigable by bike or on foot. The streets are filled with food vendors, handicraft stalls, and lovely cafes and restaurants to sit and relax. The island was declared an international settlement after the First Opium War in the late 19th century, and Europeans, Japanese and wealthy Chinese constructed lavish buildings during Xiamen’s time as an important port. Time in the city can be spent in the landscaped grounds of Xiamen University campus, surrounded by trendy bars and cafes where you might have a chat with some local students. Perhaps climb up the steps to Nanputuo Temple, one of the most important and active Buddhist sites in the region, which has beautiful views across the city and surrounds. Xiamen has many local specialty dishes, so tonight why not try something like Shacha Mian (noodles with peanut soup) for dinner.
Day 22 - Hong Kong
Today you’ll travel by high-speed train to the Chinese border at Shenzhen (approximately 4 hours). The China-Hong Kong border is busy, so there can often be a bit of a wait to get through and a lot of patience is required. On average, it takes around 2 hours to clear immigration and customs on both sides. Your bags will be with you during this time. Then you’ll walk the short distance from the train station to the border, go through procedures to exit China, and then enter Hong Kong. Once all that's done, you’ll travel on the KCR train to central Hong Kong. Hong Kong made itself known to the world as a British colony and, since the 1997 handover, the city has become a unique and fascinating place to see where the East really does meet the West. Hong Kong's cityscape is spectacular and its modern fast-paced life is only minutes from picturesque islands and beaches. Perhaps spend the last few hours of this trip searching out the best yum cha for a final sumptuous meal with your group.
Day 23 - Hong Kong
There are no activities planned for today and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Flights, Travel Insurance, Visa, Vaccinations or Personal Spending Money