See the majestic splendour of Beijing, visit the Great Wall of China and discover the Terracotta Warriors before travelling to Hong Kong to soak up the electric vibe. From sizzling Sichuan dishes in Chengdu and a cruise along the Yangzi River to the tranquillity of the Buddhist temples in Emei Shan, experience the true essence of China - you won't be disappointed.
Day 1 Beijing/Great Wall
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. After the meeting 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. Perhaps kick off your China adventure with an iconic dish – Peking duck.
Day 2 Beijing
Today you’ll explore two of the most popular sights in Beijing. There will be a lot of walking today, so please ensure you wear comfortable shoes. Make your way to the centre of the city – Tian'anmen Square. Perhaps most famous outside of the country for the 1989 massacre (and the iconic picture of a single man standing up to a tank), this square – supposedly the largest down town square in the world – is the symbolic centre of Chinese power. Framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum, and with elaborate flag raising and lowering ceremonies at dawn and dusk, it's a place of pilgrimage for the Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation. From here you will enter the enormous Forbidden City. Built more than 500 years ago and off limits to commoners for almost all that time, is a truly amazing place. Despite the transformation of the city around it, the Forbidden City thankfully looks much like it always has. As you explore the great halls and courtyards you’ll be able appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court during the height of its power in the Ming and Qing dynasties. This evening is free to explore the Beijing street food scene; there are many night markets to visit and hutong (historic narrow streets and alleys) eateries in which to try local delicacies.
Day 3 The Great Wall
This morning you’ll take a private bus to a lesser-visited section of the Great Wall (Jinshanling, approximately 3 hours) and spend some time exploring, taking photos and learning the history of this mighty site (and sight). 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 often feel like you have the whole wall to yourself as you stroll along the wall, which snakes through the hills almost endlessly into the distance. The walk is generally on the restored section of the wall, but there will be some walking over steep, remote terrain, so reasonable fitness and comfortable shoes are suggested. The walk is approximately 5 kilometres, or 3 hours, depending on your level of fitness. A great idea is to bring a picnic lunch with you to enjoy atop the wall during a rest break. Being perched on this incredible engineering feat and surveying the spectacular surrounding countryside is an unforgettable experience. Return to Beijing by private bus, and then enjoy a free evening to either relax or explore Beijing further.
Notes: Due to the excessive heat in the summer months (Jun-Aug), the Great Wall excursion may be altered to provide a shorter, less strenuous trek. Your leader will advise you of any changes at the group meeting.
Day 4 Beijing - Xi'an
Before you depart Beijing today you will visit our friends at Beijing Huiling (meaning 'wise spirit') – a special Intrepid-supported project for young people with intellectual and learning disabilities. If you’re lucky you might enjoy a performance of singing and dancing by the students (and be asked to join in!) and have a chance to see their artwork and handicrafts. You will then transfer to Beijing West train station and board your first overnight sleeper train to Xi'an, (approximately 12 hours).
Notes: 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. We use hard sleeper class trains for most of our overnight train journeys. These are not as rough as they sound – compartments are open-plan, clean, with padded three-tiered berths (6 to a compartment). 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. Keep in mind general train cleanliness may not be to the same standards you are accustomed to. Food is available on the train, but it's a good idea to stock up on snacks for the trip. An optional upgrade from a hard sleeper to a soft sleeper berth (4 travellers per compartment with a lockable door) may be available for some overnight train journeys on this trip. Please contact us for booking and more details.
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 - in most cases you may not be able to check in early due to availability. The Leader will try to secure one room for early check in, so the group to leave their luggage and freshen up, however this is always subject to availability. 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, and groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in cafes. 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
Today you’ll journey out in to the countryside surrounding Xi’an (approximately 2 hours) and 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 over 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. Return to Xi’an for you final evening in the city.
Day 7 Xi'an - Emei Shan
Today you’ll have free time in Xi'an until you board our overnight sleeper train to Emei Shan (approximately 18 hours). This train usually departs at 22:18, so you’ll have most of the day free to further explore Xi'an. There’s still much to see in the city: perhaps cycle around the city walls that you saw on your first walking tour, or visit the impressive Tang Dynasty Small or Big Wild Goose Pagodas. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a picturesque Buddhist pagoda built in 652 AD, located in a scenic area that also includes the Shaanxi History Museum and Da Cien Temple. It’s especially popular with locals in the evenings, when there is a nightly light & music show around the many fountains. You can learn about Chinese dynasties in the Small Wild Goose Pagoda (inside the Jianfu Temple) and the nearby Xi'an Museum. You could also visit the Great Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in China. Featuring an unusual blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture, the mosque is still in use today and 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.
Day 8 Emei Shan
Arrive into Emei Shan today after your overnight train journey. Emei Shan is one of the holiest places in China, long associated with bodhisattva (person committed to the enlightment for the sake of others) Samantabhadra. At just over 3,000 metres high, this mountain of thick forest has been a centre of pilgrimage for over 1,800 years, with over a hundred temples and monasteries hidden in its peaks. The area is stunning at any time of year, from the lush greens of the summer, to the golden reds and yellows of autumn, and the clear, mystical whites of winter. Here you will visit and overnight at the peaceful Baoguo Monastery, where you’ll experience sharing accommodation with monks and waking up to the sounds of drums and prayers.
Notes: You will pack an overnight bag for your trip up Emei Shan, as you'll leave your main luggage at your guesthouse. Please ensure you bring a small daypack for this reason.
Day 9-10 Emei Shan
The next two days will be spent trekking the beautiful surrounding region. Travel by local bus and then take a cable car to best experience the immense landscape (total travel time approximately 3 hours) – the views from the 3,099m peak at Emei Shan are truly spectacular on a clear day. Jump back on the public bus down the mountain, where you’ll start your 3-hour trek with a local guide, to your accommodation at one of the mountain's monastery guesthouses. Expect plenty of steps and steep paths, so make sure you dress appropriately, wear sturdy footwear and be ready for a physical but rewarding day on the mountain. On Day 10 you’ll continue to explore the beautiful countryside at the base of the mountain, which provides ample opportunity for leisurely paced walks. It may be possible to visit some local hot springs to relax and revive from your hike, or take a tour of some nearby villages. You can also visit the Crouching Tiger Monastery, hidden deep in the forest, and see its seven-metre copper pagoda inscribed with Buddhist images and texts.
Notes: While Emei Shan is without a doubt a beautiful place, it is not totally remote wilderness and is very popular with local travellers. You may well find moments of peace when the day-trippers go home, but please be prepared for the fact that during the day (and especially during public holidays) Emei Shan will be a very busy tourist site. Your accommodation here is in a monastery on Emei Shan. It is basic but atmospheric, with simple rooms and shared bathroom facilities, but the setting is always a highlight of the trip. Nights are incredibly peaceful and waking up to the sound of monks chanting is truly unforgettable. Please note that during religious festivals or peak travel periods, you may stay at a guesthouse in Emei town as an alternative to the monasteries here. If you are travelling in the months of October-April, while we still visit Emei Shan and the surrounding areas there may be some changes to the activities and accommodation available depending on the weather conditions. We advise you to bring very warm clothes (waterproof shoes, windproof coat, hat, scarf, gloves) as there can be snow and sub-zero temperatures.
Day 11 Leshan - Chengdu
Today, travel by private bus to the town of Leshan (approximately 2.5 hours) for a stopover on your way to Chengdu, and visit the amazing Leshan Giant Buddha. A World Heritage site, the Leshan Giant Buddha is a statue of Maitreya (a Bodhisattva usually represented as a very stout monk with a broad smile on his face and with his naked breast and paunch exposed to view) in sitting posture. Facing the river, the Buddha is beautifully captured in its solemn stillness. It is 71 meters high, has 8.3-meter-long fingers, and took 90 years to carve. You’ll arrive into Chengdu in the early afternoon or evening depending on traveling time (approximately 4.5 hours). Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province, which is most famous for two things – the pandas living in the mountains and the food. Its hot, spicy dishes are considered by the Chinese to be the best cuisine within China. In such a food-loving country, this is no mean feat. Maybe sample a spicy Sichuan hotpot this evening.
Day 12 Chengdu
It might be one of China's biggest cities, but Chengdu has preserved plenty of its traditional flavour and visitors can still find famous teahouses, numerous markets and some of the most interesting food in China. Visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, where you're able to witness the conservation efforts being made to save this endearing endangered species. There are only around 1,000 pandas left in the world and 80% of them are found in the mountains in Sichuan. The facility was set up 30 years ago to help conserve this animal, and there are more than 80 giant and red pandas living at the base. The pandas have over 600 acres of parkland to live in, and you can get up close and learn more about these majestic creatures. Watch them play, eat bamboo and climb the trees. If you’re lucky enough you might even get to see newborns taking their first steps in the nursery (July-September). You’ll then return to Chengdu for some free time this evening. The tranquil Renmin Park (People's Park) is a relaxing spot to spend a few hours, with interesting tea-houses and areas full of locals exercising, singing, playing Mahjong or relaxing in their bamboo chairs drinking tea. Perhaps yake in a performance of traditional Sichuan Opera, visit the Wenshu Temple, or take a cooking class. This is not just a demonstration of recipes – the why, how, and timing of each step is explained, along with a detailed description of each ingredient.
Day 13-15 Yangzi River Cruise
Take a high-speed train to the industrial city of Chongqing (approximately 2 hours), the gateway to the Yangzi River. Chongqing is the biggest city in China with a population of over 20 million in the city centre and suburbs sprawling along the river and up the steep hills behind. Apart from the unique look of the city you'll no doubt notice the sharp smells of the spicy Sichuan cuisine drifting enticingly from local restaurants and sidewalk cafes. Dare your tastebuds to try the chilli-laced hot pot, the city's favourite dish. Not all food here is spicy, but if you like it hot, you'll be in spicy heaven. On Day 13 start down world’s greatest rivers, with two full days on board a basic tourist class boat cruising to Yichang. The Yangzi has also inspired numerous poets, writers and travellers over the centuries. You will travel along one of the most picturesque sections, through the renowned Three Gorges. The dramatic 'Sanxia', as they are known in Chinese, stretch for 200 kilometres and vary from 100 metres to 300 metres in width. As well as relaxing and taking in the sights (now much changed since the implementation of the Three Gorges dam), you may have opportunities to visit some riverside attractions and towns on optional group excursions, including leaving the river boat to take a side trip down a tributary of the Yangzi River. If you prefer to stay on-board, perhaps take the chance to learn some Chinese words or how to write characters from your leader, how to play mahjong, sing some Chinese songs, catch up on your travel diary or just relax and chat with your group members and local travellers.
Notes: Our cabins are twin-share with private bathroom facilities. Full board buffet style, including local style breakfast, is provided while on the boat with typical (but often quite plain) Chinese cuisine. There's a chance to visit the supermarket in Chongqing before boarding in order to stock up on some favourite snacks, drinks or fruit for your journey, or to buy what you need if you have specific dietary requirements.
Please note that depending on the composition of the group you may be required to share a cabin with your leader or a traveller from outside of your Intrepid group on a same gender basis as tour groups are not permitted to book single rooms on the Yangzi boats.
The gorges are spectacular and most travellers enjoy their time on the Yangzi boats but some words of warning are necessary. The Yangzi River region is one of the most industrialised and rapidly developing areas in China. We travel on Chinese tourist boats rather than luxury tourist vessels. We like to call it a river trip, rather than a traditional cruise.
The Chinese authorities oversee the travel of all boats on the Yangzi. We do everything we can to ensure standards are maintained for our river trip but some things are outside our control. We use a range of different boats, depending on availability and the date of our departure. All boats are of a standard that complies with our required safety standards, although the size and age of boat varies from trip to trip. As the departure times of the boats are subject to frequent change this can mean that we need to make some changes to our itinerary and at times we've been unable to see all three gorges due to the boat schedule or poor visibility. Any changes made will be done with the aim of giving you the best possible Yangzi experience but we'd like to forewarn you of the possibility. Your leader will update you of any changes at your group meeting.
Please note that local tourism authorities operate the side tours, and Intrepid has very little control over the quality of the service provided. Your leader should be able to give you some feedback on which tours their previous passengers have enjoyed.
Day 16 Yichang - Three Gorges Dam
Your Yangzi boat trip will end in the small city (by Chinese standards) of Yichang. It offers a great chance to see typical everyday Chinese life and to really get inside the urban culture. Here you’ll enjoy a tour of the incredible feat of engineering of the Three Gorges Dam. The world’s largest hydroelectric project, the dam generates power and prevents the major flooding that had long threatened the people of the area (though the impact on displaced people and archaeological sites should not be ignored). From here you’ll take a private bus to the train station and board your second overnight train to Liuzhou (approximately 15 hours). As Yichang is not a major railway hub there's only one train heading south passing through here. To make the long journey as comfortable as possible, you will travel by soft sleeper (4 people per compartment with a lockable door) on this leg of our trip. It's important to get a good night's sleep as you’ll have to disembark the train very early tomorrow morning.
Notes: As Yichang is not a terminal station the bedding on this train is not always fresh. You may wish to bring your own sleeping bag or sleep sheet.
Day 17 Yangshuo
Arrive in Liuzhou very early in the morning (approximately 4.30am) and travel by private transfer direct to your next destination, Yangshuo (approximately 3.5 hours). When you arrive, take the day to soak up the charm of this sleepy little town, popular with the Chinese and Westerns alike, who come for the beautiful landscape and stay for the great cafe and bar culture. 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 and towering spectacularly over rice paddies and the meandering Li River, all celebrated on every 20 Yuan note.
Day 18 Yangshuo
Today you’ll shake out your train legs and experience the dramatic limestone karst landscape on a bike ride, where you’ll gain a real insight into rural Chinese life. Stop for lunch at the house of our local friends for a tasty meal made from locally grown and farmed produce. This is an absolutely stunning region to explore, as every turn in the road brings you to another picture-postcard location. You’ll have a local guide take us on this bike trip, and helmets and bike rental are included. Cycling through some of China’s most epic landscapes is a highlight for many passengers. The evening is free for you to explore Yangshuo's lively cafe and bar scene.
Day 19 Yangshuo
Today is free day for you to do as you like, and there are lots of activities on offer. You could begin the day by focusing your body and mind with a morning Tai Chi class or Kung Fu lesson, and then continue the active theme by climbing up to Moon Hill – a limestone pinnacle with a moon-shaped hole penetrating the hill. Perhaps try your hand at Chinese calligraphy or simply sit back and relax as you enjoy a relaxing cruise down the Li or Yulong River. 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 Chinese 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. Later, perhaps watch an outdoor light show staged by 2008 Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony director Zhang Yimou.
Day 20 Hong Kong
Take a private bus from your Yangshuo Hotel to Guilin North Station, and then board a bullet train to Shenzhen North Station (approximately 3.5 hours). This it’s a short metro train from Shenzhen to the Hong Kong border. 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. It was as a British colony that Hong Kong made itself known to the world and, since the 1997 handover, the city is still a unique and fascinating place to explore and 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. The locals are very proud of their Cantonese culture and history, so step out of the shopping malls and off the main streets to discover another side of the city. This evening, enjoy a final farewell dinner at a restaurant of your leader's choice to sample some of the best Cantonese dishes.
Day 21 Hong Kong
There are no activities planned for the today and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
Notes: As your trip finishes today and you only have limited time in Hong Kong, we highly recommend staying a few extra days to enjoy all this incredible city has to offer: Take a scenic journey around the islands of Hong Kong on the famous passenger ferry service, the Star Ferry; venture up to the top of Victoria Peak for a bird's eye view; watch the harbour's spectacular light show or ride the peak tram to Victoria Peak for incredible views of the Hong Kong skyline.
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