Over 4,000 years of dynasties, invasions, and revolutions have left China with a wealth of history and culture. Skills such as calligraphy, martial arts, and acrobatics were developed. The Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, and Shanghai’s skyscrapers were built without clouding the natural beauty of the Yangzi River, giant pandas, and the mist shrouded hills of Guilin. With 33 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 4 million sq. miles of land, and 2 million sq. miles of water, no other country can compare to the myriad of landscapes, destinations, and rich cultural heritage of China.
The Grand Tour: 13-Day Sample Itinerary
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Days 1, 2, 3: The Historical Treasures of Beijing
Peking man inhabited caves in Beijing 500,000 years ago. Since then the city has witnessed the rise and fall of many imperial dynasties, all of which have left their indelible footprints and made Beijing the vibrant city it is today.
Visit The Forbidden City to see grandeur of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Continue to Tiananmen Square, which Mao envisioned to represent the enormity of the Communist Party. Take a pedi-cab through the ancient alleys of the old city. Stroll the peaceful woods around the Temple of Heaven. Enjoy a boat ride on Kunming Lake, located in the ruins of the Summer Palace. Take in a Peking Opera performance, and a Peking Duck dinner.
Day 4: The Great Wall and Ming Tombs
Journey to the Great Wall of China, the massive stone fortification that required over 2,000 years and 3 million laborers to construct. Started by China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, this 4,163-mile wall must be witnessed in person for its magnitude to fully be imagined. After you have climbed up and walked down the Wall, follow Spirit Way to the Great Red Gateway, the massive red entrance to the Ming Tombs, the ornate mausoleum that is the resting place of thirteen emperors of the Ming Dynasty.
Days 5 & 6: The Army of Xi’an
Stop in Xi’an, just as Roman merchants did thousands of years ago on the Silk Road. A former capital of China and major terminus on the Silk Road, Xi’an is also the location of the 8,000 life-sized and life-like Terracotta Warriors that have been guarding Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum for over 2,000 years. Continue to the Shaanxi Provincial Museum to see artifacts from the Bronze Age and then view the battlements and towers of Xi’an City Wall.
Days 7, 8, & 9: Guilin’s Misty Hills ; Elephant Trunk Hill
Guilin’s dream-like scenery brings to mind the landscapes of traditional Chinese ink paintings. Navigate through the stone pillars of the water-eroded Reed Flute Cave, named for the reeds growing around it. Climb to the top of water-surrounded Fubo Hill for a panoramic view of the sweet osmanthus trees and Li River. Descend to the base of Fubo and enter Pearl-Returning Cave to see its 300 Buddhist carvings.
Travel down the Li River to Elephant Trunk Hill, named so because it resembles an elephant drinking water from the river. Between the trunk and front leg of Elephant Trunk Hill is the half-circle cave Shui Yue, or Water Moon Cave. Combined with its reflection in the river it forms a full moon. Seen in person, these natural wonders are truly sights to behold.
Day 10: The Scenes of Hangzhou’s West Lake
Travel to Hangzhou, whose natural beauty countless poets and artists have long tried to capture. Cruise on the West Lake and look for the famous Scenes of the West Lake, such as the Jade Emperor Hill and Dragon Well Tea Fields. That evening enjoy local entertainment such as an acrobatic show.
Day 11: Cosmopolitan Shanghai
Visit the sophisticated and sprawling metropolis Shanghai, billed by many to be the most exciting city in the world right now. Examine Shanghai’s colonial past by strolling the Bund, the famous Asian street filled with European buildings ranging in style from Renaissance to Art Deco. See the impressive collection of artifacts at the Shanghai Museum. Explore Old Town, the first part of Shanghai to be settled. Visit the Jade Buddha Temple, which houses two luminous white jade Buddhas from Burma. Wander the shaded alcoves of the classical Chinese garden Yu Yuan. And of course, enjoy some high-class Shanghai shopping.
Day 12: The Bridges of Suzhou; Luzhi
Enjoy a leisurely cruise in a wooden boat through Suzhou, known for its stone bridges and canals that crisscross the land. Stroll among the harmoniously constructed Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Continue to the exquisite Luzhi, named the first water town in China and also containing quaint stone bridges.
Day 13: Farewell to China
Board your plane for a safe flight home.
Silk Road Biking: 11-Day Sample Itinerary
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Journey through the mountain ranges, deserts, prairies, and basins of China on the legendary Silk Road. Through a combination of biking and hiking (and plane rides for the long stretches), you can experience the Silk Road as the ancient traders did. Bike alongside donkeys, pedestrians, and farmer carts to villages where westerners are rarely seen. Visit the historical sites of this heavily traveled route – the Terracotta Warriors and the Caves of Mogao. And of course, stop at trading towns to haggle over silks, spices, or even sheep!
Days 1 ; 2: Xi’an – Gateway to the Silk Road
Begin your journey at the beginning of the legendary Silk Road, Xi’an. Walk the ancient ramparts for a panoramic view of this former capital of China. Xi’an is also site of the life-sized and life-like Terracotta Warriors. The 8,000 unearthed Warriors are only a fraction of the entire buried army.
Days 3 & 4: Dunhuang & and Caves of Mogao
Fly to Dunhuang, located on the fringes of the Taklamakan Desert. In Dunhuang are the Caves of Mogao, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The caves are a network of Buddhist shrines that were carved into the cliff side. Over the centuries they have accumulated the largest collection of Buddhist art on earth, holding 45,000 murals, 2,000 statues, and thousands of manuscripts left by traveling monks and pilgrams.
Continue to the Ming Sha “mountains” (giant sand dunes) at the edge of the desert to explore Crescent Lake, an ancient oasis that has given water to desert weary travelers for centuries.
Days 5, 6, 7: Turpan – The Land of Fire
Fly to Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Uyghurs, the largest ethnic group in the region, have shared Xinjiang for centuries with many other ethnic groups, including Kazaks, Mongols, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Krgyz, and are a central-asian people with distinctly non-Chinese features. Through interpreters, talk to the Uyghurs about their lives and family histories.
Bike along a dusty valley road to Turpan, whose record high temperature is 169 degrees F! Despite the heat the community thrives and many locals live to be 100-years-old. Explore the town and then bike beneath the red limestone cliffs known as the Flaming Mountains, sharing the poplar-lined roads with other bicycles, donkeys, pedestrians and simple farmer carts.
Days 8, 9: Kashgar – End of the Silk Road
Fly to Kashgar, where you can partake in the city’s time-honored tradition of haggling over carpets, gold, spices, and of course, silk. After you have successfully negotiated the lowest price, bike the quiet and tree-lined route to Atush, where westerners are rarely seen. Enjoy the multitude of lamb dishes, the local specialty.
The next morning visit the livestock market. If you are not interested in buying cows, sheep, horses, or donkeys, fear not – plently of textiles, antiques, spices, jewelry, and almost anything else the mind can imagine will be on sale.
Day 10: Beijing
Take the long flight to Beijing, ending your journey on the Silk Road. Spend the evening either relaxing in your luxurious hotel, or explore the city if you feel energized.
Day 11: Homeward Bound
After a hearty breakfast board your plane for a safe flight home.