Day 1 Arrive Beijing
Arrive to Beijing International Airport today where you are met by your guide and transfer the one hour drive to your hotel. After you have the chance to settle in, set out to visit Tian'namen Square, once the largest square in the world. Walk through and admire the many impressive buildings and monuments here, including Tian'anmen Tower, National Museum of China, Great Hall of the People, Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, and the Monument to the People's Hero.
Day 2 The Forbidden City & Beijing Hutongs
Early this morning take part in an hour-long Tai Chi lesson in the hotel courtyard before setting out to visit the magnificent Forbidden City. This World Heritage Site bears the legacy of housing the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties starting in 1420. Enjoy lunch at a hidden Yunnan restaurant in a hutong near the Bell Tower before setting out on a walking tour of the nearby hutongs, or ancient city neighborhoods. These alleyways have created the residential infrastructure in Beijing and date back multiple centuries. Chat with the locals here and get an up-close glimpse into their daily life and climb up the Drum Tower for panoramic views of the old city of Beijing.
Day 3 Great Wall & Summer Palace
This morning drive 2 hours and take the cable car to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, a less touristy section than other locations. Hike around here for 1-2 hours exploring this 6th century section of the World Cultural Heritage Site which was restored during the Ming Dynasty. After lunch at a local restaurant, visit next the Summer Palace, a quiet royal retreat that epitomizes the philosophy and practice of Chinese garden design. Wander through the unique landscape design and palaces along Longevity Hill overlooking Kunming Lake. This evening, visit Olympic Park to see the two 2008 Olympics stadiums, the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, and their dazzling light display at night.
*Modify your trip: A full day Jinshanling hike, two day overnight hike, or a multi-day trek can be planned in place of Mutianyu.
Day 4 Xi'an City
This morning fly on to Xi'an, the ancient capital city for 13 dynasties and starting city of the Silk Road. Upon arrival enjoy lunch at Laosunjia Restaurant before visiting the Shaanxi Museum, one of the largest state museum collections in China and boasting over 300,000 items including coins, metal objects, and other pieces of artwork.
Next explore Giant Wild Goose Pagoda this afternoon. This 1,300 year old pagoda was built during the Tang Dynasty in honor of a famous Buddhist monk and offers an amazing view of Xi'an. Explore the surrounding courtyards, including the North Square, which holds the largest musical fountain in China and performs at set times of day.
Day 5 Terracotta Warriors & Ancient Wall
This morning drive 1.5 hours to the site of the Terracotta Warriors, which are considered one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century. First discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well, the discovery eventually attracted archaeologists which led to the largest pottery figurine find in China's history. After lunch at a nearby restaurant, return to Xi'an for a walk along the ancient city wall, stopping for impressive views of the old city contained within its walls on one side and the modern city that lies without to the other side. Next wander the Muslim Quarter, known for its mosques, souvenir markets, and delicious food and visit the iconic Xi'an Bell Tower which marks the center of the ancient capital. Tonight enjoy a traditional Xi'an dumpling dinner, similar to Dim Sum. Try up to 18 different varieties of dumplings throughout the meal.
Day 6 Dujiangyan Irrigation System
This morning fly on to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province. Boasting lovely scenery and mild weather, the delicious food and long history make this a popular city to visit. Upon arrival drive 1.5 hours north to Dujiangyan city, home to the UNESCO engineering feat of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System which dates back to 256 BC. Designed to bring water to the once dry Chengdu Plain, this massive man-made marvel has irrigated this Sichuan region into one of the most fertile and productive regions in China to this day. Wander the walkways around the structure and learn about its construction at Erwangmiao Temple.
Relax the rest of the day as you walk around the small yet charming city. Tonight try a bamboo dinner, a local delicacy made of bamboo shoots and its by products.
Day 7 Panda Base Volunteering & Chengdu
Leave early this morning for a day of volunteering at the Panda Base which houses more than 20 panda bears in various enclosures. Take a brief tour of the Panda Museum before setting out to perform your duties as a panda bear keeper, such as cleaning cages and picking up droppings. Learn as well to make panda cakes which you may feed to the pandas later in the day. Enjoy lunch and take a brief tour of the Panda Base facility before returning a second time for the keeper's duties and feeding time. After your day of work is complete, receive your certificate and drive back to Chengdu in time for a Sichuan vegetarian meal this evening, a popular meal choice in this part of China.
Day 8 Giant Leshan Buddha
Drive about 2 hours today to the Giant Buddha, located at the confluence of the Minjiang, Qingyl, and Dadu Rivers. Built in the year 713, the Giant Buddha is the largest sitting Buddha in the world at a height of 71 meters (or 233 ft). Take a closer look at the Buddha, or take a short walk on the steep trail to the river to admire the view. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant nearby and return to Chengdu city. If time permits, learn to play mahjong, walk around the local park and broad and narrow alleys, and experience a bit of the local life of Chengdu.
Day 9 Chongqing & Yangtze River Cruise
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Today transfer to the railway station for a morning 2 hour ride to Chongqing. Upon arrival, meet your local guide and head into the city to start exploring. The first stop in Chongqing is Ciqoukou Old Town, a preserved shopping and eating district near the Jialing River. Visit also the General Stilwell Museum and learn about the war efforts made by the Chinese during WWII. Last visit Three Gorges Museum, which seeks to educate the public about the cultural and environmental concerns and impact surrounding the Three Gorges Dam region on the Yangtze River.
Embark the ship this evening and settle in for the next three nights. While relaxing over dinner, the ship will set sail on its downstream course for Yichang through the Three Gorges region.
See more details on the Yangtze Cruise
Day 10 Fengdu & Wanzhou
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Start your morning off participating in a Tai Chi class taught by a certified Tai Chi master. Spend the rest of a relaxing morning learning the art of tea appreciation and the secrets of the Chinese kitchen, taught by the ship's chef. In the afternoon disembark for Fengdu and Wanzhou, exploring elaborate temples and bustling markets in these charming river villages. Gain a deeper understanding of this culture as you mingle with the locals in this unique glimpse into one of China's remote communities.
Day 11 Gorges & Shennong
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
View the breathtaking scenes of the Qutang Gorge and the Wu Gorge as the ship continues its course downstream. Both gorges are noted for their majestic cliffs and towering peaks, inducing a sensation of entering an otherworldly destination. Disembark the Yangzi Explorer at Badong and transfer to a local longboat poled by Tujia boatmen. Immerse yourself in the unrivaled scenery of crystalline waters, rich forest, and towering rock formations, as well as catch a glimpse of several species of endangered flora and fauna found in the Shennong Region, including the elusive golden hair monkey and many varieties of medicinal plants.
Day 12 Three Gorges Dam & Disembark
Arrive at the Three Gorges Dam Project site and take a tour of the world's largest engineering project. Gain additional insight into the impact that this project will have on the people and culture of this remote Asian region. After the tour, disembark in Yichang mid-day and meet your local guide. Set out towards Zhangjiajie, one of three parks that comprises the famous Wulingyuan Scenic Area. Here you find towering karst pinnacles of sandstone and two nature reserves most noted for their inspiration as the backdrop in the recent film Avatar. Arrive this evening and settle in to your hotel.
Day 13 Tianzi Mountain & Yuanjiejie Scenic Area
This morning head towards Tianzi Mountain, where you take a cable car up its side to observe large areas of jagged peaks thrusting up from below. Walk along the top and take in the spectacular views. From here you can see the Marshel Helong Park, the West Sea, and Imperial Pen Peak. This afternoon ride a public shuttle bus to Yuanjiajie Scenic Area, whose neighboring mountains are said to be the inspiration for Avatar's Hallelujah Mountain. This mesa overlooks a deep valley with a chain of mountain peaks. When it is time to go, descend the mountain in the Bailong Elevator, a glass elevator built into the side of the cliff and the world's highest elevator of its kind.
Day 14 Wulingyuan Scenic Area
Today set out towards Wulingyuan Scenic Area, comprised of two nature reserves and Zhangjiajie National Park. Take the cable car to visit Huangshi Village, located at the top of steep cliffs and offering the highest vantage point to view the parks below. After lunch take a light hike along the Golden Whip Stream, known for its pristine water that flows through mountains, steep cliff sides, and a serene valley. Observe the abundance of flora and fauna along its banks before turning back this afternoon. Drive back to Zhangjiajie and catch an evening flight on to Guangzhou late this evening.
Day 15 Guangzhou City
After your late night, sleep in a little this morning before setting out on a tour of Guangzhou city. Visit first the Chen Clan Temple and learn about traditional virtures of the Chinese people and of the Chen Family's rise to high position during the Qing Dynasty. Next visit Dr. Sun Yatsen's Memorial Hall and learn about the early democratic revolution he helped drive in the 20th century. Visit Guangzhou Tower, a miracle of modern construction and enjoy the panorama of Guangzhou below. Next this evening enjoy a night cruise on the Zhujiang (Pearl River). The river cruise lasts slightly over an hour and allows you to enjoy the beautiful night views of Guangzhou.
Day 16 Kaiping Diaolou Tour
This morning drive about 2 hours to Kaiping Dialou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose old fortress-like buildings were mainly constructed at the end of the Qing Dynasty, when ethnic warfare and village battles were rampant throughout this region. Visit the private garden of Liyuan and see the fifteen different architectural Dialou styles in Zili Village. Also visit Chikan ancient water town, with a 350 year history with a unique construction. If time allows, visit also Majianglong Village, often described as one of the most beautiful Dialou clusters. Drive back to Guangzhou this evening.
Day 17 On to Hong Kong
Take a two hour train ride this morning from Guangzhou into Hong Kong. Settle in and set out this afternoon to Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. Take the popular peak tram to the top for a bird's eye view of Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong. Stand on the Sky Terrace on top, the highest viewing platform in Hong Kong that offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the city and its surrounding natural beauty. While on Hong Kong Island you visit the golden soft sand of Repulse Bay beach and Aberdeen Harbor, the largest town on Hong Kong Island outside the main urban area. Learn about the history of this southern island town before heading back to your hotel this evening.
Day 18 Lantau Island
Drive over Tsing Ma Bridge, the world's seventh longest suspension bridge (2.2 km) to visit the largest island in Hong Kong, Lantau Island. First visit Po Lin Monastery and its three bronze statues of the Buddha and many Buddhist scriptures. Also see the Tian Tan Bronze Buddha (or Giant Buddha), one of the five largest statues in China. This giant Buddha symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature and is the center of Buddhism in Hong Kong and a popular attraction. Lastly visit the picturesque fishing village of Tai-O Village, one of the few places where you can still observe old Southern-style fishing residences and business still standing along the water. Explore the village and drive back to your hotel for the evening.
Day 19 Free Morning, on to Longsheng
Enjoy free time to explore Hong Kong on your own this morning. Late afternoon fly on to Guilin where you meet your new guide and drive two hours towards Longsheng Rice Terraces. Upon arrival to the scenic area, board a 45 minute shuttle taking you up towards Ping'An village. The village has been traditionally inhabited by the Zhuang ethnic group and is surrounded by rice terraces. Arrive around sunset and hike a half hour uphill to Li'an Lodge where you will be staying.
The minority group of Zhuang people here are the second largest of 56 recognized ethnic groups in China. The majority follow an animist faith which includes elements of ancestor worship. The Yao people, another minority group in the region, wear heavy earrings, have long hair, and work the rice paddies. Their rice terraces, built over 650 years ago, cover an area of over 16,000 acres and span an altitude between 980 ft and 3600 ft. Every year in May or early June they flood the rice paddies and transfer young plants into them to re-plant for the harvest in fall. Their wooden houses dot the terraces with their colorful tiles.
After checking in to your lodge, explore the charming Zhuang village.
Day 20 Longsheng Rice Terraces Hiking
Start this morning with a shuttle trip to Dazhai Village where our trail begins. Hike up to Tiatouzhai Village, which offers stunning views of the rice paddies. As tourism to the area gradually increases, local families are beginning to open small restaurants. Stop in one of these local restaurants for lunch. Shortly after your visit to Tiatouzhai, begin a gradual descent into the village of Zhongliu, home to the Yao people. Yao ladies are well known for their beautiful singing and long hair. Continue through the village and arrive back to Ping'an Village in the late afternoon.
Hiking: 6-7 miles / 10-12 km / 4-5 hours. Moderate to difficult with uphill climbs.
Day 21 Longji Zhuang Village
This morning hike to Longji Zhuang Village, located only 3 km away from Ping'An. The two hour hike brings you into a very traditional Zhuang village where people live a more isolated and peaceful life. Return to Ping'An to checkout and enjoy lunch before heading back down to the scenic area for the three hour drive to Yangshuo. Yangshuo boasts one of the most beautiful karst landscapes in all of China, with the Yulong and Li Rivers meandering between towering peaks and open valleys. Settle in to your hotel this evening.
Day 22 Yulong River Biking & Bamboo Rafting
Yangshuo is a lovely town set at the base of the Li River, which meanders through steep limestone peaks. This landscape paints one of the most dramatic backdrops in all of China. Today bike from on roads through villages, narrow trails and along rice fields and the Yulong River. The scenic Yulong River offers a more remote and peaceful experience away from the tourist boats found on the larger Li River. Stop for lunch at a local farmer's house, and then embark on a 2 hour bamboo raft for a smooth ride downstream to the pier. Lastly hike half an hour up the famed Moon Hill and enjoy the stunning karst landscape view before returning to your hotel. This evening is free for you to explore. Opt to attend the Impression of Liusanjie Show, a popular night time laser lights show over the water. The show was created by Mr. Zhang Yimou, the director of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies in 2008.
Biking: 12-18 miles / 20-30 km / moderate difficulty on flat, sometimes narrow trails.
Hiking: 820 steps / half hour
Day 23 Shanghai City
This morning take a short two hour flight to Shanghai, China's commercial and financial center and the world's most populated city. Upon arrival meet your guide and visit the Yu Garden, a beautiful 400 year old traditional Chinese Garden first created in 1559 as a comfort for an old minister. Six general areas are laid out in Suzhou style separated by 'dragon walls'. The surrounding Yuyuan market area is packed with traditional and modern shops, restaurants, and the City God Temple. After dinner in a local restaurant, take a stroll along the beautiful waterfront called the Bund, and enjoy the nighttime views across the water of Shanghai's skyline. See the contrast between the 19th century buildings on the west bank, and the constantly changing skyline of modern skyscrapers on the east bank.
Day 24 Xitang Ancient Watertown
This morning drive an hour and a half south to Xitang, an ancient water town crisscrossed by nine rivers. Explore the peaceful atmosphere here with its flat terrain, stone bridges, and long corridors of shops lining the canals which serve as the main thoroughfare for transportation. See antique residences and temples and witness the architecture here, most of which was built during the Qing and Ming Dynasties. Explore the town today before you return to Shanghai In the afternoon.
The rest of the evening is free to explore on your own. You may opt to attend an Acrobatics Show and watch these flexible athletes perform a variety of stunts.
Day 25 Return Home
Arrange for a taxi to your hotel to take you back to the airport for your return flight home.