Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1. 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.
Shanghai - Overnight Train
Free morning until our first overnight train to Luoyang (approx. 17 hrs).
Notes: You'll travel on a soft sleeper class train for this trip. These are four berth compartments with a lockable door. Note that compartments are not segregated by gender, so you could be sharing with members of the opposite sex. Wherever possible, we will group our travellers together, but this will depend on group size and ticket availability. Sheets, pillows and a blanket are provided. Some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Safe, hot drinking water is always available. It is a good idea to bring a mug, spoon, knife and fork if you will be preparing your own hot drinks or food on the train (as these are not provided in cabins). Basic bathroom facilities with toilets and washbasins are situated at the end of each carriage. As toilet paper isn't always available, it's best to bring an emergency supply. Food is available on the train, but it's a good idea to stock up on snacks for the trip.
Shaolin / Luoyang
Arrive in Luoyang at around 7am. We'll go to our hotel and if the rooms are ready, we'd be able to check in and refresh, otherwise, we'll leave our luggage here and continue to Shaolin for our visit. Shaolin temple is about 3 hrs drive away from Luoyang. It is the legendary birthplace of kung fu. Witness a kungfu performance and wander through the impressive Pagoda Forest. We'll include lunch during the day today too. Return to Luoyang for the evening.
Longmen - Xi'an
This morning you'll drive to the Longmen Grottoes (approximately 3 hours). These 2,100 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 a new spin on what you thought Chinese food is!
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.
Xi'an – Overnight Train
Free time until our departure on the overnight train later today. Visit the impressive Tang-era Small or Big Wild Goose Pagodas. Try a leisurely cycle along the Xi'an city wall – a total distance of 13. 74 km. You may also like to see the Great Mosque in Xi'an which features an unusual blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture. Still in use today, the mosque serves as a place of worship for Xi'an's large Muslim population, made up predominantly of the Hui minority. Although non-Muslims are not allowed within the main hall itself, a visit during one of the five daily prayer times adds another dimension of spirituality, no matter what your religion. Get ready to leave the big cities and head towards China's Tibetan fringe. Board your overnight train to Lanzhou (approximately 9 hours).
Lanzhou - Xiahe
Arrive in Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou, at around 7am. Travel onwards by private bus to the enchanting Tibetan town of Xiahe (approximately 4 hours), your base for the next two nights. Many Tibetans come here on pilgrimage, and the combination of the many monasteries, saffron-robed monks, fluttering prayer flags and spectacular scenery make this small town feel very much like Tibet. Indeed, in all but name, you are in Tibet; Xiahe is right up on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and the population here is over 45% Tibetan. Take a small walk up a local trail and take in a view of the town and monastery which we will visit tomorrow.
Xiahe - Lanzhou
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 the grasslands to have lunch with a Tibetan family or visit a family in town for a meal. Return to Lanzhou this afternoon. The rest of the day is free.
Catch a flight to Beijing
this morning, arriving in China's capital at around midday or early afternoon. After settling into your hotel, we will have some free time - your leader can make some suggestions of optional activities.
Beijing / Great Wall
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 most well known of all the capital's dishes - Beijing Duck.
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.
Your trip comes to an end this morning and you are free to depart at any time.