Day 1: ARRIVAL IN BEIJING
Welcome from your guide and transportation to the hotel.
Welcome in Beijing, the capital of the “Middle Empire”! Here is a short cultural lesson. “Bei” means “north” and “jing” capital. Therefore, today’s Beijing literally means “the capital of the north” while “Nanjing”, on the other hand, is the “Southern capital” of the past.
An evolving city, the capital became a megalopolis these last years and entered the world’s attention with the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. “Restored” is a more appropriate term for the city since it had been the capital of the empire since the Yuan Dynasty (the Mongols) in the 13th century. It was during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that Beijing gained its true identity. Emperor Yongle and the million of workers created Forbidden City, the exact City that stands today.
As you enjoy the ride to the hotel, you will notice the “Bird’s Nest”, the modern stadium now recognized as one of the symbols of modern China and a triumph of architecture and the involvement of Ai Weiwei, the well-known Chinese artist. It still stands as the site of the unforgettable 2008 Opening Ceremony and the majestic 100m final when Usain Bolt flew down the track during the Games.
After stopping at the hotel, you will visit 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.
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.
Once you have had enough of the market, you will return to the hotel for a rest.
Day 2: BEIJING (B,L)
China is a country of strong religious syncretism. It is still very difficult to find accurate statistics about the number of people participating in religions even though Buddhism dominates the scene. What we can find is the recurring indication of the people’s religious spirit and the quasi-absence of an official religion in the whole of Chinese history.
Therefore, China has become a fusion of popular and old-fashioned beliefs: Confucian doctrines, Chinese-originated Taoism, the foreign versions of Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
It is not rare to find gods from the Taoist pantheons in the Buddhist temples or to find representations of Guanyin (the Chinese version of the Buddhist deity Avalokitesvara in India) in the Taoist temples (where she is known as Tianhou). With so many versions of one deity, even the Chinese become confused over the details.
This day will begin very early, but you may forget this inconvenience when you enter the Heaven Temple. 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.
It is normal if other activities catch your attention to the point where you may want to run backwards to watch, to scratch your head or to come nearer to a wall or gate and jump in place!
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.
Your guide will conduct you next to the discrete White Cloud Temple where Taoist monks wear their hair in chignons and superstitious visitors can touch the sculpture-murals representing the twelve Chinese Zodiac animals.
If you want and think you have enough time, you can visit the Niujie Mosque, a place that showcases the expansion of Muslim merchants from Central Asia to China.
Towards noon, you will eat lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in the downtown section of the city. You will get to try a few better-than-real imitations of lamb kebabs and Peking duck and to pretend that you are a monk too.
Later, the afternoon will consist of a visit to the Yonghe Temple, the most visited temple in town. To understand the Tibetan Buddhism practiced by both Tibetans and central Mongolians, this temple is fundamental for you to visit. With its 18-meter Buddha statue made from only one block of wood welcoming you, you can explore the grounds.
Your day will end with a visit of the Confucius Temple, named after the very man behind the moral codes and precepts that organized the majority of the social interactions of Imperial China. Even today, Confucianism still surfaces in China to be a part of the society.
Day 3: BEIJING (B,L)
Even though we like to falsely say that it is visible from the moon, the Great Wall is one of the most important symbols of the country and must be visited. In doing so, we must retrace our steps back to the Qin Dynasty (more than 2000 years ago) to find the first traces of the defensive walls. During the Ming Dynasty, workers restored and expanded the Wall to its height, width and length we recognize today.
Placed on the highest ridges, the wall offered an excellent view to the north and permitted the guards of the lookout towers to watch out for alarm fires down the wall in case of barbarian intruders. The Wall sufficiently prevented Mongolian cavalry from easily progressing on the wall and forced them to dismount from their horses before attacking.
At its peak of condition, the Wall extended over more than 6000 kilometers of ancient Manchuria until the fort of Jiayuguan (where the Gobi desert begins to the west). At a point in history, the government used to ban criminals to this desolate location.
Bright and early in the morning, you will depart from your hotel to visit the Mutianyu section of the Wall. Once you are there, you can benefit from the early morning sunrise in your photographs.
If the hiking seems too long after a while, you and your companions can ride the toboggan down the wall or have a picnic on the Great Wall. You may take some time and admire the wonderful rugged scenery.
Soon after, you will return to Beijing and visit the Summer Palace. 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 in Forbidden 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 Lake and Longevity Hill are the cornerstones of the site.
Now, the Emperor is no longer there, but the heat remains. You can make various stops in the shade of the Palace to refresh yourself.
Afterwards, you will return to the capital.
Day 4: BEIJING - XI'AN (B)
This morning you are free to enjoy your hotel or to do some shopping. Later you will visit the Forbidden City.
In Beijing, most Chinese structures face south with their backs to the north. This particular choice allowed structures to have walls protecting the people from potential barbarian threats and invasions from the North. The same goes for the Forbidden City. The Tiananmen Square, considered the third most important site in the world and door to the City, faces the south.
In 1420, the workers finished the construction of the City. Under the reign of Yongle (during the Ming Dynasty), the City became the headquarters of the Imperial administration until the end of the Empire in 1911. During that period of time, the Chinese people were forbidden to enter the City without permission. Anyone who did not have it was executed on the spot.
Originally, the Hue Citadel in Vietnam helped inspire the idea for the construction of the City, but the real prototype of the immense City was the Nanjing Palace in Nanjing, the ancient and now crumbling capital of the Empire. Once completed, the City provided the material for the legend of having 9999 rooms.
To simplify this history lesson, it is easier to divide the rest of it into three short points for later explanation:
-The palace officials who served during the important ceremonies, Imperial exams or summit meetings with the nation’s ministers
-The quarters and the Imperial garden where the Emperor, the Empress and the visiting ambassadors lived
-The coinciding halls where we find the temples, the libraries and the gardens
You can take your time for this unforgettable visit and explore the various rooms and outdoor spaces. You can walk up Jingshan or the « Prospect Hill » to get a superb view of the City and the surrounding capital’s architectural arrangement. Restored for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the City now shows more clearly how it may have been.
The second portion of the day will consist of traveling to the train station for a night train in a soft sleeper cabin to Xi’an. In China, the train is the meeting place of the Chinese. People board the train, eat containers of instant noodles with water from their thermos in hand, gulp down unbelievable quantities of sunflower seeds, play cards, and clink glasses of beer or baijiu, the country’s rice liquor.
There exist many types of trains today. The most noticeable is the arrival of the ultra modern TGV, but the night trains provide a memorable experience. For anyone who has adventured in the different class cabins, this may be an unforgettable experience. There are: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper train cabins.
Welcome to a theater of culture!
Day 5: XI'AN (B)
When you arrive in Xian, your local guide will welcome you and provide transportation to the hotel.
Now you are in Shaanxi Province, the place often considered where Chinese civilization began. The capital of the Empire three times, Xi’an played a decisive role in the history of the country. On the Silk Road, the city was an administrative site and a hub of commerce. The city exported silk and local products to other countries. During the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Emperor of China (who unified the different provinces in 221 BC), the city had over a million people. Later, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 BC) the city became the most populated city in the world.
The Terra Cotta Warriors are about an hour ride outside of Xi’an.
In 1974, a few farmers stumbled upon the Warriors by accident. Now, we can only wonder what those original farmers felt when they first laid eyes on the thousands of soldiers lined up in battle formation. They had just discovered one of the greatest archeological finds in history!
Incidentally, we now have this wonder to view because of Qin Shi Huangdi’s fear of malevolent spirits. Qin Shi Huangdi built a mausoleum to have his immense army of infantrymen, archers, and cavalry riders to protect him in the Afterlife. Each one of the Terra Cotta Warriors has a different face from a soldier during the Emperor’s life. Historians theorize that the Emperor may have wanted to rule the world from the Afterlife.
Certain practices during the Shang Dynasty (centuries before the beginning of the Empire) consisted of aristocrats and local kings burying people alive or sacrificing slaves before placing them in their future tombs or coffins so that they might serve their masters beyond the living realm. This cruel practice was later slowly abandoned with the beginnings of the Qin and Han Dynasties and the use of tomb statues instead of victims. It was here that the idea of the Warriors began.
In spite of this, it did not stop Qin Shi Huandi from burying a few thousand workers who worked on his mausoleum in a separate tomb so they could not divulge the secrets of the mausoleum’s construction to anyone. This tomb is still considered today to be too dangerous to be disturbed and visited.
The statues you can view are separated in three pits. You will begin with the pits number 2 (that is still being excavated) and number 3 (that shelters the majority of items). You will end with pit number 1, the most impressive one with about 2000 warriors.
Otherwise there is a small museum on site that houses two splendid bronze chariots found in 1980 west of the mausoleum. You can now see them on display along with other artifacts.
Afterwards, you will take a bike tour (or for an additional charge a cart tour) for about one hour to discover and glide through Xi’an without traffic jams and crowds. You can even test out a tandem bike for something with a little more jazz. During your tour, you will see the impressive Xi’an ramparts built during the Ming Dynasty. Today, they stand restored and reconstructed and are a part of the fortifications still visible in China.
On a different note, Xi’an is also a city of many cultures. During the day of the Silk Road, Muslim merchants from Central Asia came to China to do business and left their influence in Xi’an. Several Muslim minorities (totaling 15 million inhabitants) now live in China. The Hui minority is predominant in Xi’an. You will visit the Chinese-style Mosque and the vibrant neighborhood around it housing a number of butcher shops and different sorts of stores where men wear white skull caps and women wear colorful headscarves. At dinner, you will appreciate the unique ambiance of a night market as you dine on the neighborhood’s specialties of spiced lamb kebabs, flat bread and mutton soup with noodles.
Optional: Your evening will end with a short visit to a internet bar. In China, there are 450 million Internet users today, with 24 million of them being devote gamers. The Internet now plays a big role in China’s modernizing society. Currently, the number of gamers grows rapidly and causes a new problem not seen in the country until now. Because of the rapid growth, it is in one of the biggest cybercafés of the town that you will get to see the new version of the buried warriors in Xi’an. These “warriors” are still alive and may have now lost the sense of their origins, stuck in front of their computers.
Day 6: XI'AN - GUILIN (B)
The day will begin with transportation to the airport and a visit along the way to the tomb of Emperor Jing, about 15 kilometers from the Xi’an airport. It is an ideal place to visit before taking off.
The reign of Emperor Jingdi during the Han Dynasty (118-141 BC) is the exact opposite of the one with Qin Shi Huangdi. As it is, the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi was marked by cruelty and priority to military spending, while the reign of Jingdi was distinguished by his humanism and his vision of more diplomatic relations with foreign peoples.
The tomb, opened to the public in 2006, houses a multitude of figurines representing eunuchs, servers and domestic animals, and brings more to mind the normal day life under the Han Dynasty than the Qin Shi Huangdi tomb with its warlike appearance.
You will walk on a glass panel over the different pits and will be able to observe closely the most recently uncovered statuettes. The site also contains a small museum showing the items in the best condition. The importance of the contrast between the two excavation sites near Xi’an makes this visit essential.
Next, you will fly to Guilin where your guide will meet you and transport you towards the city upon arrival.
Welcome to the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region! This region is best known for its numerous minorities and its fantastic countryside of rocky peaks bordering the Li River, uncountable caves, the Longsheng terrace paddy fields and the Detain waterfalls. This portion of your voyage will be the nature portion.
You will discover the Reed Flute Clave that gets its name from the numerous reeds growing at the entrance of the cave. Local tradesmen use these reeds for the fabrication of flutes. When you enter the cave, you will have the opportunity to explore the cave’s stalactites and stalagmites that create a game of light across the cave’s walls with the use of a flashlight.
You will end your day with a walk around Shan Lake known for its two superb Sun and Moon pagodas.
Day 7: GUILIN - YANGSHUO (B,L)
Your guide will transport you to the pier to begin the cruise on the Li River.
Eighty-three kilometers separate Guilin, the capital of the province, from Yangshuo, the small market town that has become very popular during these last 15 years. The town’s buildings follow the famous Li River where they are overshadowed by picturesque hills with fantastic names: the Elephant Trunk Hill and Folded Brocade Hill.
These superb natural formations have inspired poets, painters and photographers, and constitutes today as one of the most capturing visits in the country.
Even though the majority of voyagers stop in Yangshuo to spend time on the commercial West Road, we propose that you pursue your own trek on a bike to explore the countryside environment with its rice paddies, water buffalo and small villages.
For the night’s stay, you will have the choice to loge in Yangshuo itself or outside the town so you can be closer to nature.
Optional: Before the exceptional performance at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the film director Zhang Yimou was already a celebrity because of his rich filmography with works like Rise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad, To Live, and more recently Hero or Curse of the Golden Flower. It is to this man that the local authorities entrusted the creation and design of the sounds and lights for the Yangshuo “Impressions Sanjie Liu” Outdoors Theater. On this natural front of rustic countryside hundreds of actors step into roles of local fishermen to imitate scenes of rural life and highlight the traditional dress of the region’s minorities.
Day 8: YANGSHUO - GUILIN - SHANGHAI (B)
Your day begins with your guide transporting you to the Guilin airport (about two hours on the road) and a flight to Shanghai.
Welcome to Shanghai, city of Western colonization in the 19th century, the stage of the beginning of the Communist Party and today a beacon of the Chinese economy, modern history and future developments. Even though certain people consider Shanghai a megalopolis with its trendy bars, buildings and vibrant night life influenced by Western ideals, others see a fusion of different cultures creating a whole new result.
When you arrive, your local guide will welcome you and help you enter the city on the Maglev, an electro-magnetic train of the latest fashion and a source of pride for the Shanghainese. During its construction, the municipal government paid for it to make transportation from the city to the airport more rapid and impress visitors.
As you ride the train, you will be able to note the speed on a small monitor in each train car. The train can go up to 430 kilometers per hour. It only takes about eight minutes to go 30 kilometers.
Then you will continue your entrance into the city with the subway at Longyang station (the terminal station of the Maglev) until Lujiazui station inPudong district. On a separate note, your baggage will be picked up at the airport and directly transferred to the hotel while you enjoy traveling light into the city.
Not long ago, Pudong district 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.
When you come to Shanghai, “dong” means “east” and “xi” means “west.” The Huangpu River separates the Puxi and Pudong areas. Puxi is the entire downtown region of the city west of the river while Pudong is the whole region of the city east of it.
You will converge on the nearby neighborhood of Lujiazui, the epicenter of some of the most famous buildings: the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Jin Mao Tower (where a shoe seller from Anhui Province and later Alain Robert, the famous urban climber, scaled the tower’s walls) and the never ending Shanghai World Financial Center (the tallest building in Shanghai), that you will visit and where you can admire the city from the highest panoramic terrace in the world. You can take a break at the 100 Century Avenue café and enjoy some refreshments when you arrive.
Shortly after, you will take the famous Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, a mini subway line, to cross the Huangpu River to reach Puxi in a couple of minutes.
Next you will discover the Bund, the city’s famous walkway along some of Puxi’s historical buildings. The area dates back to the 1930s, Shanghai’s rich culture and European influence.
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.
Once you are finished with your stroll of Nanjing Road, you will arrive at People’s Square, the former site of the Shanghai Racetrack (and the site of your next extensive visit), and be transported back to your hotel.
Day 9: SHANGHAI (B)
Today’s goal is People’s Square, the cultural epicenter of the city.
There are three different museums with three different styles in Shanghai. You will begin your day at the Urban Planning Exhibition Center. The photos and the current expositions on the third floor will give you an excellent summary of the evolution of the city and its captivating history. On the fourth floor, you will have an opportunity to admire and understand the arrangement of the current Shanghai with the museum’s immense model of the city. If you want, you can watch a short documentary in the museum’s panoramic gallery to get an idea of what the city might become. For curious visitors, there is an interactive simulation of a boat in the Yangshan Deep-Water Port near Shanghai on the fifth floor.
Next, you will continue your day in one of China’s best museums for Asian artifacts: the Shanghai Museum. The museum’s ancient Chinese bronze collection on the second floor has no equivalent in the world. The museum also holds Qing Dynasty jade and furniture, Buddhist sculptures and other Chinese artifacts. Your guide will give you the option of using excellent audio guides for your visit. You will be able to take as much time as you want to explore the many rooms.
If you are an art lover, the day will end at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Moca).
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.
To end your time in the Square, you can stroll from the Square, along East Nanjing Road, to the Bund and admire the Shanghai night skyline.
Day 10: SHANGHAI (B)
The day takes you to the French Concession, the symbol of the past and the privileges given to Westerners. You will begin your walk at Fuxing Park for a final view of the Chinese’s morning routines and maybe see a tango dancer dancing to imaginary music in the morning sunlight.
You will then follow the streets in the French Concession where renovated colonial residences are now restaurants, bars and diverse boutiques. This quarter still hints at a time when the Chinese law did not rule supreme and gangsters, mafia, opium sellers, prostitutes and voyagers converged to explore new adventures and profits. You can imagine the ambiance of this neighborhood up to present as one of the world’s capitals of vice and sin.
As the morning continues, you will pass through Xintiandi, a completely restored neighborhood now considered one of the animated centers of the city. You will end your walk through the Concession by traversing Tianzifang, a maze of alleyways and lanes, with restaurants, boutiques and small galleries full of authentic and current art.
The day turns towards the old town, mostly restored today, but where you can still see some lilongs (which are the equivalent of Beijing’s hutongs)where local Shanghainese discuss nothing and everything and laundry dries outdoors on clotheslines. This is also the neighborhood with the famous Yu Garden with its excellent example of Chinese art in gardens of the region.
Traditionally, the gardens of the region are small replicas of nature where the systematic rocks represent the mountains, the pools the lakes and the flows of water between them the river current. The paths never go completely straight to any one place, so visitors can meander between portions of the garden at his or her leisure. The site is extremely popular during the weekend, so your guide will bring you to the Garden towards the closing hours of the Garden, when most visitors have already left. You will even meet a gardener who will talk about his art of the penjing or Bonsai plants throughout the garden. These plants are actually from China and not from Japan, like many people believe.
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.
The finale of your day will be a traditional Chinese massage, or “acupressure”, that concentrates on acupuncture points to stimulate the body’s natural healing throughout the whole body. It is a perfect conclusion for this trip full of contrasts and lessons.
Day 11: LEAVING SHANGHAI (B)
You will be transported to the airport and to your returning flight. If you would not like to leave yet, please consult with us about your plans.