There will be a welcome briefing this evening with dinner at a local restaurant. Today is a free day to discover Beijing, a visit to the Science and Technology museum located close to the Olympic Park and the Water Cube which is also open for swimming is one popular option.
Day 2 - 3
For these two 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 take a walking tour of the cities hutongs (narrow alleys) to see what is left of old Beijing and its traditions. We also visit Tianamen Square, the largest square in the world and able to hold over a million people.
We leave the capital and head into the countryside to the Great Wall, a 3-4 hour journey to the north of the city. We go to the less visited section near Jinshanling where the Wall is an impressive sight, snaking off across mountains and valleys into the distance. This afternoon we trek along the Wall from Jinshanling towards Simatai. The wall here was rebuilt in 1572 and has been restored but is still reasonably quiet if we start early. On our 5km walk we will pass watchtowers looking out across the gullies and ravines of the rugged landscape. The Wall is steep in places and its condition worsens in the middle section - you need to be happy walking on uneven and stony surfaces with some drops off to the side, anyone who suffers from vertigo may find it difficult. The trek normally takes about 3 hours. The views are excellent, watching the Wall move away across the rugged hills. We sleep tonight in Jinshanling a village close to the Wall, returning there by bus at the end of the day.
This morning we have more time to explore the wall. In the afternoon we transfer by road back to Beijing where just outside the city centre we visit 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 then freshen up before boarding an overnight train to the city of Luoyang. This train is of a good standard usually with a dining car and bar. Sleepers are four berth and bedding is provided.
After breakfast and freshening up upon arrival, we drive to the world famous shaolin martial arts monastery, the birthplace of both Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. The monastery has been destroyed and rebuilt many times since it was built in 495 AD and is reputed to be the 'Number One Temple under Heaven.' Kung Fu was invented here by an Indian Buddhist monk who taught it to the monks as a form of exercise to counter their poor health as they had previously been engaged in only academic work in dark cramped conditions. Kung Fu in Shaolin means hard work and perfection not martial art. Kung Fu is based on the movements of five animals the tiger, snake, crane, eagle and monkey and the monastery still attracts martial arts devotees to this day. We will watch a show of the monk's skills; there will then be time for an optional Kung Fu lesson for anyone who wishes to give it a try.
This morning we will visit the Long Men caves, the grottoes here hold one of the most famous ancient collections of Chinese sculptures. There are reportedly 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas and over 100,000 Buddhist images carved out of the hard limestone cliffs, with the carving work beginning in 492 AD and carrying on for over 500 years. Historical materials about religion, art, music, medecine and architecture are all stored in the caves. In the afternoon, we catch the train to Xian, the journey is the perfect opportunity to practise your language skills with those onboard, with your leader on hand to act as an interpreter. Xian 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.
In the morning we will visit the city and the Bell & 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 hire bikes (optional) and cycle on the city walls and appreciate the sheer scale of them. As there is no traffic on the walls, cycling is a great way for young and old to experience the city.
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, one 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. After visiting, we fly to Chengdu and check in to our hotel.
Chengdu the capital of Sichuan province is the home of the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base which we visit. 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 Panda's indulge in their most common form of entertainment, sleeping. We fly from Chengdu to Guilin in the evening and transfer by road for 2 hours through the stunning towering limestone scenery to Yangshuo. Yangshuo and the surrounding region are famous for the steep-sided Karst Mountains that everywhere 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.
Today is 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, visit the Black Buddha caves or maybe enjoy a Chinese massage or even another 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.
This morning we hire bicycles to explore the surrounding countryside making a trip to the strange Moon Hill, a short ride away (approx 15-20kms), which offers superb views of the surrounding area. All this activity needs fuelling which gives us the perfect excuse to sample more Chinese food, this time cooking ourselves under the watchful eye of an expert at this afternoon's cookery lesson, after having visited Yangshuo market enroute to our class to see some of the ingredients used in Chinese cooking.
This morning we return to Guilin and fly to Shenzhen. At Shenzhen we cross the border and take a metro to Hong Kong our final destination. The train station, border crossing and metro are all in the same building but you will need to walk with your bags a short distance as porters are not available. Free afternoon on arrival in Hong Kong. Each evening there is a Sound and Light show with the cities high-rise buildings lit up in all their glory to round off the day.
This morning we take a walk down to the famous Tsim Sha Tsui promenade for a spectacular view of Victoria Harbour passing the iconic Kowloon railway clock tower before boarding the star ferry across to Hong Kong Island. Here we take a walk through the colonial architecture of Hong Kong island. We will pass the former supreme court and St Johns Cathedral. Hong Kong is mix of old and new and you will also see the bank of China Tower once the tallest building in the world outside the US. Finally we take an historic tram ride to Victoria peak famous for its stunning views. This afternoon is free for further sightseeing or shopping. One option is to visit Aberdeen Fishing Village which was once just that, a simple village, but is now a vibrant modern waterfront area, home to thousands of boat people on hundreds of junks (brightly coloured trawlers) who still carry on with their traditional way of life. It is worth taking a ride on one of these boats to experience life on the water with its colours, sounds and odours.
End Hong Kong.