There will be a welcome briefing this evening.
Day 2 - 4
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 complex 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). There is the option of a trip to the opera one evening while in Beijing. In the evening of Day 4 we board an overnight train to the ancient city of Xi'an. This train is of a good standard usually with a dining car and bar. 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. It is possible to hire bikes (optional) and cycle on the city walls and appreciate the sheer scale of the walls.
Today we visit the famous mausoleum of Emperor Qin with its staggering display of Terracotta Warriors. His tomb lies covered by a grassy mound amidst green fields. 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 afternoon we fly to Guilin.
This morning we walk along the Lijiang river and visit Reed Flute cave, its name comes from the reeds growing nearby, from which flutes were made. The cave is filled with a large number of stalactites and stalagmites. We then transfer by road for 2 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 good tourist infrastructure due to its large transient population of backpackers and domestic tourists. No trip to China is complete without understanding its cuisine, so this evening under the watchful eye of an expert we partake in a cookery lesson.
In the morning we jump on bikes and ride through the countryside to Moon Hill (approx 15-20kms). We walk to the top of the hill which offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside typical of the region. The afternoon is free; an optional cruise on a raft on the Li River is popular.
Today is free to relax and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and stunning scenery around Yangshuo. There are many optional activities to choose from: visit the Black Buddha caves, 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. 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. For the more energetic, bicycles can easily be hired to explore the surrounding countryside.
This morning we drive to Guilin and then fly to Shanghai. From the airport we drive to Tongli (approx 2 hours), a mediaeval village criss-crossed by canals and tiny bridges. This fascinating village has retained much of its original character and is frequently used as a film set. After a short orientation tour, there is free time this afternoon to wander along the canal banks or take a boat ride (optional) and soak up the atmosphere of this picturesque village.
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 and the Suzhou museum which both give an insight into the lifestyle of China's former imperial elite. Suzhou is also one of China's main silk producing towns and it is an excellent place to buy silk. From here we return to Shanghai.
Today after a guided tour of the Bund, a museum of turn of the century architecture and a visit to the tranquil Yuyan Gardens and Bazaar, the day is free to explore Shanghai, the largest city in China, with a population of around twelve million. 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. Shanghai's world famous Acrobatic Troupe performs nightly and their show is well worth a visit.
For those on the group flight to London the day is free day for further sightseeing or shopping.The French Quarter, an area of unchanged old Shanghai, the Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai's most famous temple and Shanghai's various museums are many of the options available. Evening depart.