Day 1: ARRIVAL IN CHENGDU (D)
Arrival in Chengdu. Welcome by your guide and transfer to the hotel.
Welcome to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province and ancient capital of the powerful Shu Kingdom. Chengdu has had the same name for over two millennia, which is proof of not only its longevity but also the major role that it has always played in the region.
This venture will provide excellent opportunities to try some of the specialties of the region and its famous food culture. Sichuan cooking is one of the eight major strands of cooking in the country, and is famous for being very spicy.
In the evening you will try mapo doufu, a traditional Sichuanese dish comprising of fresh tofu, minced beef and soy served in a sauce of garlic, peppered oil and Sichuan peppercorns.
Overnight in Chengdu
Day 2: CHENGDU / JIUZHAIGOU (B)
Walk in the People’s Park, a perfect example of the parks where the Chinese practice Tai-Chi, Kung-fu, sword dance, meditation, dance, gymnastics… all activities that they consider essential to their well-being.
Visit to the Wenshu Temple (or Manjushri to the Indians), the best preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu that still boasts a large number of worshippers. You will have a cup of tea in the House of Tea next door (the city has many such establishments and this is one of the most popular).
Then you'll be taken to the Panda Breeding Center (about 20km from city center) that boasts slightly fewer than 100 pandas, making it the largest centre for Pandas in captivity in the world. The panda (“xiongmao” in Chinese, literally meaning “bear-cat”) is an endangered species that the Chinese Government and specialist NGOs have been consciously protecting since the 1980s.Their efforts have been rewarded and the latest population counts have shown an increase of nearly 50% in the number of pandas in the world (it is reckoned that there are more than 2000 living in the wild, although it is hard to give an exact figure).
Pandas’ nourishment comes almost exclusively from bamboo, unstoppably eating throughout the entire day, consuming up to 40kg a day.
Transfer to Chengdu airport and flight to Jiuzhaigou
Arrival at Huanglong airport, welcome by your local guide and transfer to the hotel (around 90km away, taking 90 minutes to reach).
Overnight in Jiuzhaigou
Day 3: JIUZHAIGOU (ALTITUDE: 2000M) (B)
The entire day will be consecrated to the visit of the Jiuzhaigou national park, which means “the valley of nine villages”, all of which are Tibetan.
Part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Project, Jiuzhaigou is known for its lakes in which tree trunks bathe, seemingly preferring to uproot and soak in their heavenly waters, as if hypnotised by the pallet of colour changing from turquoise to navy blue to emerald green… While the temperatures are more clement between April and October, the autumn spectacle of golden and red leaves on the trees is exceptional. The winter that follows seems like a fairy tale as pine cones turn to crystal and the snow takes on the intense blue of the lakes.
When the sky is cloudless the backdrop of the eternally snowy mountains completes this natural artwork.
Note: The site is an example of an increasingly popular vision for eco-tourism in China, and the park authorities have undertaken the important project of raising awareness of this. An effective network of “eco-busses” freely whisks guests around the park and provides a good option to walking. The running order of the visit has been refined to make best use of your day, but it can be changed completely if you so wish.
The main places of interest in the park are arranged in the shape of an Y. Each leg of the Y represents a valley, and our departure point will be from the most southern point. You will go up to the centre of the Y (on foot or by bus) to see the Shuzheng Lakes, Tiger Lake and Rhinoceros Lake, as well as several small waterfalls.
From the centre we will head to the southern leg (this time we will go by bus as the distance is a little long for walking if we wish to cover all the major sites in one day). Located here are the Five Colour Pond, undoubtedly offering the most intense colours of the site, and the Long Lake with its backdrop of snow-topped mountains.
The final part, therefore, is to the north-eastern leg of the Y to visit the Nuorilang waterfalls, Pearl Shoal and Five Flower Lake, which many consider to be the most beautiful part of the park.
If time permits you will visit The Primeval Forest, dominated by the majestic Ganzigongai, which at 4500m is the highest mountain in the park. Return to the hotel.
Optional: - you can relive your fatigue with a foot massage, based on the techniques of reflexology.
- Dinner in the Alabuzi Restaurant, in a beautiful Tibetan setting offering food typical to the local area.
Overnight in Jiuzhaigou
Day 4: JIUZHAIGOU - HUANGLONG (ALTITUDE 3200 - 3700M) - BEIJING (B)
Journey to the Huanglong National Park, which literally means “Yellow Dragon” (it should take around 3 hours to reach, depending on traffic). You will pass through various typical Tibetan villages en route and providing the weather is good you can take in the magnificent landscape of mountains bathing in seas of clouds.
The main area of the park is an ascent though a pine forest passing by incredibly beautiful turquoise, yellow and emerald green limestone ponds (there are nearly 700 in the park in total). There are several viewing platforms located along the route of the walk, all made of wooden logs. It should take around two hours to reach the summit, and the same again to come back down.
Your hard work will be rewarded when you arrive in the somewhat unreal, fantastical setting of the Yellow Dragon Temple (built during the Ming Dynasty and combining both Buddhist and Taoist idols) and get to see the Five Colour Lake overlooked by the Xuebao peak (5800m).
Optional: A cable car ride followed by a 30 minute walk over flat terrain allows you to reach the summit without expending too much effort. We recommend to at least come back down the walking route so as to appreciate the natural beauty up-close.
Return transfer to Huanglong airport and flight to Beijing. Welcome from your guide and transportation to the hotel.
Welcome to Beijing, capital of the “Middle Kingdom”! This fascinating place has become a thriving metropolis in recent years, and was brought back to the attention of everyone on the world stage in 2008 when it hosted the Olympic Games.
Overnight in Beijing
Day 5: BEIJING (B)
This day will begin very early, but you may forget this inconvenience when you enter the Temple of Heaven. At this time of the day, you will see the various activities the Chinese do in the morning. Tai Qi, Kung Fu, sabre practice, meditation, tango, and gymnastics are just some of them. The Chinese like to prepare for their day with physical exercises that they consider essential for their health. As well, some Chinese practice calligraphy with giant brushes and water on the park’s flagstones that esthetically pleases for as long as the water evaporates.
Next, you will discover the Temple itself and its simplicity in structure. Its hidden symbolism hints at beliefs even more ancient than Buddhism and Taoism and to a time when the Emperor was considered the direct authority on earth from the heavens.
Head to the Forbidden City. Most Chinese buildings face south, which according to ancient beliefs symbolized the barbarian threat and potential invasion from the north. This explains why the main entrance to the Forbidden City faces south towards Tiananmen Square, the third largest city square in the world.
The construction of the City was finished in 1420 during the reign of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle, and served as the Imperial administrative centre throughout the Ming and Qing Dynasties until the fall of the Empire in 1911. According to legend the Forbidden City is made up of 9999 different rooms.
Take your time during this visit to such an unforgettable destination, and make sure you spend some time in the more serene surrounding courtyards and rooms. Climbing the artificial coal hill just behind the Forbidden City provides a spectacular view of the entire site and lets you get a grasp of the layout of the whole of Beijing. Transfer back to your hotel.
Afterwards, you will finish your day with a refreshing change of decor and ambiance in the Wangfujing neighborhood, home to the famous Wangfujing road, the most commercial area of the capital. While you are there, you will get the opportunity to witness how modern China has become and how its fierce consumerism continues. Next door, the Donghuamen Market offers a delightful taste of the night markets in the city. No one in the whole world yells as loud as the wonton vendors in Donghuamen.
Overnight in Beijing
Day 6: BEIJING (B)
On the morning you will visit the Summer Palace (about 20km from city center). Otherwise a simple Imperial garden, the site was completely renovated by Emperor Qianlong during the 18th century to become one the most important sites of the capital. Back in the day, the members of the Imperial Court would flee the summer’s insufferable heat inForbidden City to lounge on Palace’s immense lawn. Harmonious in nature, a variety of traditional Chinese temples, pavilions, lakes and gardens comprise the Palace. The Long Corridor, Marble Boat, 17-Arch Bridge, Kunming Lakeand Longevity Hill are the cornerstones of the site.
You can make various stops in the shade of the Palace to refresh yourself.
After the visit of Summer Palace you will head the Great Wall (about 80km away), Mutianyu section. The Great Wall is one of the most famous symbols of China and should not be missed. You have to go back to the Qin Dynasty over 2000 years ago to find the first traces of defensive walls that were slowly unified and linked under the greater restoration project of the Ming Dynasty and created the Wall we know today.
The Wall stretches for over 6000km from ancient Manchuria to the fort at Jiayuguan at the edge of the Gobi desert in the west.
Running along high ridges, the Wall offered an excellent vantage point to the north allowing watch tower guards to raise the alarm on any potential threat from invading barbarian hordes. The wall was also high enough to slow the progress of expert Mongol Cavaliers who were forced to dismount in order to continue their attack.
Option: You can have lunch at Schoolhouse (located a few minutes away by car from Mutianyu), a former primary school turned restaurant, glass-blowing workshop and lodge. Schoolhouse has strong environmental and social ethics, meaning it principally employs local people, restores abandoned buildings and grows its own produce for its simple and fresh food.
Overnight in Beijing
Day 7: BEIJING - ZHANGJIAJIE (B) (B,L)
You will have a walk in the famed hutongs (narrow alleys and streets of Beijing) near Houhai Lake. Then you will visit the Gulou, the Drum Tower where during the Ming Dynasty, the city marked the hours of the day with the rumbling of drums. The tower faces the Zhonglou, the Bell Tower, and gives visitors a glimpse of ancient Beijing.
Moving along, you will meet a bicycle repairman, whose job exemplifies perfectly the urbanization of the city itself. You can ask any question! Some could be: how quickly the car has surpassed the notorious Beijing bicycle, how the youth today move around or if the bicycle has become fashionable or preferable again.
Sooner or later you will probably assist in a mahjong party, a social get-together around Chinese Chess or card games. The number of elderly swells around these very popular games, a gathering where bystanders often come to watch and your guide can help explain the rules.
Head to the heart of the capital’s art scene: the 798 art district, situated in Dashanzi in the north east of the city, just outside the 4th ring road. 798 is made up of a number of abandoned factories which were renovated in the 90s by Chinese artists in a style similar to that seen in Berlin. ‘Dashanzi’ as it is known, is becoming ever more popular. Cafés, restaurants and specialist designer boutiques homewares and pottery have grown in number over the past few years. You can spend hours wandering through the narrow alleyways browsing the shops stopping to relax and enjoy a coffee at any one of the cafés or bars…
You will be transferred to the airport (not far away from the Art District) and take flight to Zhangjiajie airport. Upon arrival at the airport you will be met by a guide and transferred to the hotel.
The National Park at Zhangjiajie is now most famously known as the inspiration for James Cameron’s award winning Avatar, and it is obvious why – this is one of the most stunning natural beauty spots throughout the whole of China. The National Park of Wulingyuan, which encompasses both Zhangjiajie and Tianmenshan
Overnight in Zhangjiajie city
Day 8: ZHANGJIAJIE (B,L)
You will need to get up early for today’s trip where you will be transferred to the main entrance of Zhangjiajie (about30km/20miles from the hotel). You will start off by visiting the Yellow Stone Village (which reaches 1048 metres in height), from which you will be able to discover the first treasure of Zhangjiajie and one of the most famous in the region - The Five Fingers Peak.
As the local tourists don’t tend to spend too long at each spot you will quickly be able to admire in peace the phenomenal spectacular of the largest concentration of karst rock formations in the world. The peaks shoot up from the thick vegetation which covers around 90% of the park like sword blades. A few waterfalls and limestone caves here and there really finish off this picturesque scene as clouds roll in to give the impression that the mountain peaks are floating in the air. Even though the weather can be a little more unpredictable in the winter months, the dusting of snow on the mountain peaks only adds to the park’s natural beauty.Keen gardeners will be in their element, with a few thousand different species to be found in the park alone including the extremely rare lobster flower (literal translation) which changes colour several times a day.
Lunch will be in a restaurant near the main entrance which serves a number of local specialities. Hunan makes up one of the 8 main types of Chinese cuisine: Xiangcai or chilli is often the base to most dishes, so make sure that you make it well known if you do not like your food hot.
Your day will continue with a stroll along the Golden Whip Stream, giving you another angle from which you can view the amazing karst peaks. From here they appear to shoot up into the sky like giant natural skyscrapers. Adored by the Chinese, the peaks have been given a number of different poetic names, including the tallest which stands at 400 metres and is known as the Magical Eagle Protecting the Whip.
Note: The wildlife in the park is extremely varied and you may be lucky enough to spot a panther, a bear or a pangolin (an anteater like mammal) all of which inhabit the 350km2 national park. You may even stumble upon groups of monkeys which some (misadvised or well-intentioned) tourists like to feed, but we urge you to not follow their counterproductive example and leave the animals well alone!
You walk will last around 2 hours and will end at the Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve, from where you will be able to take either a tourist tram or go on foot to the Ten Mile Gallery.
You will head back to the village of Zhangjiajie.
Overnight in Zhangjiajie city
Day 9: ZHANGJIAJIE (B,L)
Today you will head for one of the most famous attractions in the park and the one that attracts the most tourists – The Son of Heaven Mountain (Tianzishan). You will ascend the mountain by cable-car and at the top you will be able to enjoy views of Warrior Taming Horse Rock and the Western Sea which are two of the most stunning mountain formations in the whole park and are really a pleasure to see.
After visiting the Son of Heaven Mountain you will continue on to a spot that is far less visited and can be a little difficult to find because the well surfaced paths soon disappear and the trail leads through heavy forest arriving at the viewing point known as One Step To Heaven. Unlike the name suggests this isn’t actually just one step to heaven, but more of a metal staircase which leads to a metal viewing platform. From here you can admire 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks.
Note : The viewing platform isn’t recommended for those who suffer from vertigo and we suggest that for this trip you wear sturdy shoes.
The incredible mixture and variety of treatments which makes up what we know as Chinese medicine is fascinating and almost endless, but two of the most famous, and which are still very popular today, are acupuncture and pharmacotherapy. The medicinal plants in this region are very well known and you will see a number of small stands selling a variety of traditional types of medication such as ginseng root, small flasks of snake venom and a number of other types of Chinese medicine.
The Corridor in the Sky is another fantastic view point that you will pass by on the walk back from the One Step to Heaven scenic spot. This tranquil spot is a perfect place to take part in a spot of self-contemplation, and enjoy a well-deserved picnic lunch which we will have here, depending on the weather.
The west part of the Hunan province is well known for having been, like its neighbouring provinces of Guangdong and Hubei, rife with bandits. This region is home to numerous caves that gave refuge to local criminals, as opposed to other parts of China where they were normally used for religious purposes. We will take you to an old wooden house on the mountain top which belonged to a legendary bandit who made this region his home. Today visitors to the house can dress up in bandit costumes and pose for photographs.
Your day will end on a high point with a trip to the scenic spot at the Tianbo Mansions which are reached by a suspended wooden footbridge. It’s from here that you get the strongest impression yet of being on the top of a mountain peak. You will descend from the top by taking the Bailong Panoramic Elevator which offers stunning views over the entire National Park.
You will be transferred back to the town of Zhangjiajie, which is close by to next day’s last stop
Overnight in Zhangjiajie city
Day 10: ZHANGJIAJIE - TIANMENSHAN - SHANGHAI (B,L)
An early morning rise will be followed by a trip to another major attraction in the region: Heavenly Door Mountain or Tianmenshan which we will ascend by way of cable-car. The mountain is still a part of the Wulingyuan national park but it is of a different type to the scenery we have already seen. Unlike the other mountains, Tianmenshan is not really a peak, but rather a whole collection of karst formations that altogether are much more imposing. The journey up to the top lasts around 20 minutes and the views from the cable-car are spectacular. The surrounding rock formations are truly stunning and the mountain itself is almost like a natural cathedral. The top of the formation is over 1500 metres and dominates the whole of this region.
Afterwards you will take a stroll through Ghost Valley along the well signposted path which includes a section of around 60 metres that has been turned into a glass bottomed walkway! The walk is at the top of an 800 metre sheer drop off the edge of a cliff and you will be provided with a pair of “special shoes” which are distributed to visitors, especially those who come in a pair of high heels.
You will spot an endless number of red ribbons tied to the branches of nearby trees on which visitors write famous proverbs, declarations of their undying love and other good luck messages. The belief is that because they are so high up and close to the sky, their messages to the Gods will have a better chance of getting there.
Lunch will be at a vegetarian restaurant inside the recently restored Tianmenshan Temple, which has been a centre for Buddhists in western Hunan since the Ming Dynasty.
Transfer back to Zhangjiajie airport and flight to Shanghai. Welcome by your guide and transfer to the hotel.
Welcome to Shanghai! This city has an important place in Chinese history the first area to be colonised by western powers in the 18th century, to then becoming the first seat of the Communist Party, and nowadays being the economic powerhouse of China. The recent history of this city has been a real rollercoaster!
Overnight in Shanghai
Day 11: SHANGHAI (B)
Today’s goal is People’s Square, the cultural epicenter of the city.
This day will see us visit three museums of very different styles. We will start off with the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, and more precisely the model layout of Shanghai which covers a large part of the 3rd floor. This model city will really let you get your head around the layout of Shanghai, and understand just its size. A stunning panoramic cinema which shows a short video explaining how the city developed into the metropolis it is today will also help you get your head around Shanghai’s recent development. On the 4th floor there are some more interactive displays, which are perfect for the young (or the young at heart) and include a simulator of a boat being docked at Yangshan deep water port.
From here you will head to one of the most famous and prestigious museums in the country, and in Asia: The Shanghai Museum. The collection of bronze statues on the first floor is unrivalled, and is complemented by a number of jade pieces of artwork, as well as Qing Dynasty furniture, Buddhist sculptures and other pieces of Chinese artwork. The audio guides on offer are excellent, and it’s really worth taking your time to explore the museum.
Located in the center of today’s activities is the People’s Park with its benches, small lake and food stands. You are welcome to enjoy it as you traverse the Square to the various museums. In addition, the neighborhood surrounding the Square is crammed full of restaurants and cafes for your enjoyment.
Then you will explore the famous Nanjing Road with its colorful signs and crowd of locals and tourists corresponding perfectly with the image of a modern Asian capital. If you feel the urge, please do not hesitate to stroll the neighboring streets animated by the sight of locals recycling materials from the public waste bins, the uncountable number of restaurants and the smells from the fruit stalls.
You will end up on the Bund,the city’s famous walkway next to some of Puxi’s historical buildings. The site dates back to the 1930s, Shanghai’s rich culture and European influence. Across the river, the Bund faces Pudong, the modern business district and symbol of the dynamic city. Not long ago, Pudong was just a marsh where only farmers and water buffalo frequented. Now, the area has become one of the most important business centers in Asia with skyscrapers popping up like mushrooms next to old Shanghainese banks each year.
Overnight in Shanghai
Day 12: SHANGHAI (B)
In the morning we will head for the French Concession, a symbol of a time when Western powers were accorded many privileges. You will start your trip with a stroll through Fuxing Park where you will have the chance to watch the Chinese practising their ritual of morning exercise. Especially worth watching are the tango dancers whose music fills every corner of the park.
Afterwards you will wander the surrounding roads, admiring the old colonial homes that have now been transformed into restaurants, bars and different boutiques. During colonial times the French Concession was a no-go zone for the police and was home to gangsters, mafia, opium traffickers, prostitutes and people looking for a good time. Shanghai earned itself the title of one of the world’s vice capitals.
You will continue on to Xintiandi, an entirely renovated area that is considered one of the liveliest parts of the city. You can end your walk at Tianzifang, a maze of animated alleyways full of restaurants, boutiques and small art galleries similar to those found in Xintiandi but much more authentic.
Your will walk will end in the Old Town, which today has mostly been rebuilt but which still has some of its old lilongs (which are like the hutongsfound in Beijing) alive with the chatter of the Shanghainese and decorated with people’s washing strung out across the streets to dry. The Old Town also home to the famous Yu Yuan Gardens, a superb example of the art of Chinese garden landscaping, which is particularly common in this region. Traditionally Chinese gardens are a miniature reproduction of nature: the presence of rocks represents mountains, ponds represent lakes and running water imitating rivers. The quest for harmony takes precedence over the rigorous geometrical planning that you would see in most Western gardens. Their shape is therefore never rectangular, encouraging visitors to wander around with only their thoughts and no definite aim.
Optional: you will also get to meet a Chinese gardener who will talk to you about his art and notably about penjing (bonsai) trees
The most daring visitors will finish their day in the bazar in the surrounding neighborhood where locals and visitors haggle over souvenirs and items until someone gives in. This is a great opportunity to get a good deal on something that catches your eye. The most exhausted visitors will take their last break in the Huxinting Teahouse in the center of a lake just in front of the Garden. You may be amazed at the harmony of the situation as people gracefully overpopulate the area.
Overnight in Shanghai
Day 13: LEAVING SHANGHAI (B)
You will be transported to the airport and to your returning flight.