Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet your tour leader and fellow travellers. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. Settle into your hotel and then get a feel for this vibrant city – Shanghai’s bright lights, fevered trade and frenetic pace provide a glimpse into the dazzling global future of the country. Your evening is free for your first exploration of the city.
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. Using the efficient subway, we finish our tour at the Yuyuan Gardens, a classic example of traditional Chinese landscape gardening. This afternoon you might like to explore further afield on foot and wander the narrow winding lanes (nongtangs) of old Shanghai. Take in 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 both Xintiandi and Tianzifang, 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'. Join back with your group tonight for an included dinner of Shanghai specialties.
Take advantage of free time to delve further into Shanghai's sights and sounds. Perhaps get another taste of the city's eclectic food scene before boarding a westbound bullet train this afternoon. Travel for about 6 hours to Luoyang, arriving in the early evening. Ancient China's prosperous capital for many dynasties, archaeological digs of surrounding countryside have unearthed some fascinating ancient treasures. After settling into your hotel, perhaps venture to the Old Town for dinner with the group.
Shaolin / Luoyang
Today, visit the legendary birthplace of kung fu - the Shaolin Monastery. A private bus journey of around 3 hours will take you to the monastery, which remains the primary source of Shaolin Buddhist training and learning to this day. Learn about the warrior monks of Shaolin and how the martial art has changed over centuries. Watch an athletic kung fu performance and then wander through the Pagoda Forest, where respected monks have been laid to rest in towering tombs since AD791. For lunch enjoy a vegetarian feast at nearby Yongtai Temple where you will sample innovative Buddhist cuisine. Enjoy a free afternoon and evening in Luoyang. As night falls, you’ll see thousands of colourful lamps light the streets and squares across the city, creating a lovely ambiance.
Longmen - Xi'an
This morning you'll drive to the Longmen Grottoes (approximately 40 mins). These 2100 caves, filled with more than 100,000 statues of Buddha dating back as far as the 4th century, are rare examples of exquisite Buddhist rock carving. Learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site as you explore some of the masterpieces with a local guide. In the afternoon, take a bullet train from Luoyang to Xi'an (approximately 2 hours), arriving in the early evening. Dine out with the group tonight at the Muslim Quarter for an unexpected spin on Chinese food.
Visit Xi'an's most famous site today, the Terracotta Warriors. You'll travel by bus (approximately 2 hours) to reach the site. Once there, you will hear all about this incredible archaeological find, which happened when farmers were digging a well in 1976. Until then, the site had been buried for thousands of years. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots all standing in battle formation were commissioned by the emperor of the Qin dynasty as part of his mausoleum and a number of pits are now on display to the public. Enjoy a local lunch nearby and return to Xi'an for the night.
This morning you'll get another taste of China's efficient bullet trains as you travel about 3 hours west to Lanzhou. From there, transfer to the enchanting Tibetan town of Xiahe (another 3 hours). A place of pilgrimage for many Tibetans, Xiahe is as scenic as it is tranquil. Get acquainted with the town on a short walking tour with your leader. The rest of the day is yours to spend how you please. As Xiahe is located 2800 metres/9185 feet above sea level, it's a good idea to take it easy today so that you can acclimatise to the altitude.
Visit the fascinating Labrang Monastery today where Tibetan monks can be seen going about their daily rituals. Depending on the season, after the monastery we will either head out to Sangke grasslands (June to August), visit the nomadic Tibetans on the grassland and learn about their life over some yak butter tea, or we will visit a Tibetan family in town and enjoy a deliciously home cooked lunch.
Lanzhou to Beijing
Today is largely a travelling day. Travel back to Lanzhou (about 4 hours), from there, catch an afternoon flight to Beijing, arriving in China's capital in the late afternoon. After settling into your hotel, you will have free time to explore - your leader can suggestion optional activities or where to go for a meal.
It's time to visit the legendary Great Wall today. Take a private bus to the Mutianyu section (approximately 1. 5–2 hours) which features guard towers dating back to the Ming dynasty. You can either walk or catch a cable car up to the wall. On the way back down, you can walk or take a toboggan. The latter is highly recommended!
Today you'll enter the amazing Forbidden City, former home of China's imperial rulers. Discover its many palaces, gardens and courtyards. You will also visit the historic Tiananmen Square, one of the world's largest downtown squares. Then head to an area known for its hutongs (narrow streets and alleys) and explore the historic streets. Although Beijing is modernising rapidly (its contemporary culture is a huge source of fascination in itself), there are still some pockets in which to discover the nation's ancient roots. Enjoy a final farewell dinner tonight with the perhaps the most well known of all the capital's dishes - Beijing Duck.
Your trip comes to an end this morning after breakfast. Staying an extra few days in Beijing is highly recommended, as there is so much to see and do. A trip to the 798 Art District will give you a glimpse of where art is heading in today's China. Another great option is to hire a bike and see the city as so many locals do. Alternatively, the Summer Palace is a simple metro ride away, and this former imperial residence boasts the best-preserved imperial garden in the country.