There will be a welcome briefing this evening.
Day 3 - 5
For these three busy days we will enjoy the sights and sounds of China's capital. The sightseeing will include the Forbidden City with its innumerable courtyards and temples, and the Temple of Heaven Park in the southern part of the city. We also visit Tianamen square, the largest square in the world and able to hold over a million people. Just outside the city centre is the Summer Palace, a huge park dotted with impressive pavilions and temples which, like the Forbidden City, was once the exclusive playground of China's Emperors and their concubines. We will take a walking tour of the cities hutongs (narrow alleys) to see what is left of old Beijing and its traditions. We will also leave the capital and head into the countryside to the Great Wall, an approx 2 hour journey to the north of the city. We go to one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall at Mutianyu which is an impressive sight, snaking off across mountains and valleys into the distance. This section of Great Wall used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. The wall here is upto 8.5 metres high and 5 metres wide, and has 22 watchtowers on its 2,250-metre-long stretch. There are some steep steps to navigate and clients who suffer from vertigo may find it difficult, (there is an optional cable car that takes you from the bottom to the wall itself). There is the option of a trip to the opera, kung fu or acrobat show one evening while in Beijing. In the 3 days in Beijing lunch is only provided on the Great Wall day (breakfast is included every day). In the evening of Day 4 we board an overnight train to the ancient city of Xi'an. It is recommended to try and get food before the train as there is a limited selection provided on the train. The train itself is of a good standard, although please note that all facilities such as washrooms and toilets are shared with other passengers. Sleepers are four berth and bedding is provided.
Xi'an is one of China's former capitals and one of the few cities in China to have retained its city walls, probably because they are so massive that no revolutionary was willing to tackle the huge task of removing them. Today we will visit the city and the Bell and Drum Plaza at its heart, along with the Great Mosque. The Muslim quarter is a fascinating place to visit, especially in the evening as it comes alive with the bustle of the bazaars and food stalls. This afternoon is free; it is possible to appreciate the sheer scale of the City Wall, you can hire bikes and cycle on the city walls.
Today we visit the famous Terracotta Warriors of Emperor Qin. Originally four armies were planned, at each point of the compass, life-size and lifelike. Three have been found and it is assumed the emperor's successors decided enough was enough before the fourth was begun. The first pit excavated had an estimated 6,000 figures in its one army. The third pit has been opened to the public, which contains the 'command post' for the entire operation. This is one of China's great tourist attractions, and some people may find the sheer numbers of visitors rather overpowering. In the evening we will leave Xi'an and board an overnight train to Chengdu.
We arrive in Chengdu around midday, the capital of Sichuan province. We then transferr to the hotel. In the afternoon, your group leader will take you on a walking tour (travelling by public buses) through the lively parks and city center square where you will get a taste of the real local life. Don't miss the options to join the locals in the atmospheric outdoor tea houses for some local tea.
Today, we will visit one of the iconic UNESCO sites near Chengdu - the Leshan Giant Buddha. About 2-3 hours drive from Chengdu, this 71m tall Buddha carved out of the cliff face of the mountain is the biggest sitting Buddha in the world which took almost 100 year of hard work to finish about 1300 years ago. You will have 2 options of visiting the Buddha, either by boat on the river or by walking around it in the mountain. Be prepared for the crowds and long queues who come to worship this Giant Buddha if you walk, and your group leader will advise you the best way to visit depending on the season. We return to Chengdu in the late afternoon.
With an early start today we will visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base. Hopefully these intriguing and rare animals will be feeding, as this is when they're most active; otherwise we will have the opportunity to watch the Pandas indulge in their most common form of entertainment, sleeping! We then travel by train to Chongqing City (approx 3 hours), the embarkation point for our Yangtze River Cruise (after a 30 minute transfer to the dock). On arrival we will board our four-star cruise boat and settle into our cabins. The boat accommodates approx 150 passengers. Twin Berth Cabin with en suite bathroom.
Day 11 - 12
These two days are spent cruising on one of the world's great rivers as we head downstream through stunning scenery of towering cliffs and gorges. En-route we pass many towns and villages that have sprung up along the banks of the river that supplies the lifeblood to the heart of China.To try to limit the impact of flooding, the Chinese government has undertaken a huge construction project with a massive dam being built. This has flooded the famous three gorges of Qutang, Wu and Xiling. A journey amidst these natural wonders is a must see for any visitor to China. The nights are spent on the boat and there is time for shore excursions on the way as the boat docks at some of smaller towns and villages, and the lesser gorges by smaller boats, depending upon water levels. Twin Berth Cabin with en suite bathroom. The day-to-day schedule for the cruise can change due to adverse weather conditions.
We complete our cruise this morning and disembark and can take a look at the dam and learn about the massive engineering project that took place. If water levels are ok we will cruise through a series of locks through the dam itself, but this cannnot be guaranteed. We then drive to Yichang where we catch the afternoon train to Liuzhou.
We arrive in Liuzhou early this morning (4:30/5:00am) and then transfer by road for 3½ hours through the stunning towering limestone scenery to Yangshuo. The surrounding region is famous for the steep-sided Karst Mountains that pierce the otherwise flat landscape of paddy fields. A view of a rural landscape that has changed little in centuries. Despite its small size, Yangshuo has quite a tourist infrastructure due to its large transient population of backpackers and domestic tourists. This afternoon is free to relax.
Day 15 - 16
These two days are free to relax and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and stunning scenery around Yangshuo. There are many optional activities; you may choose a cruise on the Li River, make a trip to Moon Hill, which offers superb views of the surrounding area, visit the Black Buddha caves or maybe enjoy a Chinese massage or even a kung fu class, or watch the Liu Sanjie Show an outdoor performance set on a natural stage formed by the Li River and 12 peaks. For the more energetic, bicycles can easily be hired to explore the surrounding countryside. Even if you choose just to relax this is an ideal place, you can take a stroll around the market and examine the local produce or enjoy one of the cafes and watch the world go by.
In the morning we transfer to the airport at Guilin to fly to Shanghai, from here we take a 2 hour bus journey to Tongli, a mediaeval town criss-crossed by canals and tiny bridges. This fascinating town has retained much of its original character and is frequently used as a film set. After a short orientation tour, there is free time to wander along the canal banks or take a boat ride (optional) and soak up the atmosphere of this picturesque town.
Leaving Tongli we take a short bus ride of 45 mins to Suzhou. 'In Heaven there is paradise, on Earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou' runs an old Chinese saying. Due to its strategic situation on the Grand Canal, Suzhou long ago became a place of great affluence. One offshoot of this wealth was the construction in the town of several beautiful gardens, with rich officials of the past competing with each other to produce ever more impressive displays. We visit the largest of these gardens the Humble Administrator's Garden which gives an insight into the lifestyle of China's former imperial elite. Suzhou is also one of China's main silk producing towns. From here we take the bullet train to Shanghai. Shanghai's world famous Acrobatic Troupe performs nightly and their show is well worth a visit.
With a population of around twelve million Shanghai is yours to explore today. This morning we have a guided tour of the Bund, a museum of turn of the century architecture, the rest of the day is free to explore. Though it no longer warrants the title 'Paris of the East', many of the vestiges of its colonial past are still apparent. It is worth strolling along Nanjing Road (Shanghai's 'Oxford Street') or visiting the newly opened World Financial Centre with the highest observation deck anywhere in the world at 474m or Shanghai's smaller television tower to see some of the city's stunning architecture. Evening depart for those on the group flight to London.