Day 1: SHANGHAI
Welcome to Shanghai! This city has an important place in Chinese history from being 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!
While some associate Shanghai with cool bars, skyscrapers and an exhilarating nightlife still hugely influenced by the West, others would see it as the result of a fascinating case of cultural fusion.
You will be welcomed by your local guide and transferred onto the Maglev, a highly advanced electromagnetic train and a true tourist attraction of which the Shanghainese are fiercely proud. This high-tech marvel, paid for by the local municipal government, transfers visitors between the airport and the city centre at breakneck speeds, covering 30km (18.5 miles) in just 8 minutes. The speed is displayed on an electronic screen in each carriage so that you can watch in amazement as the train reaches its top speed of up to 430kmph (270mph). This is a perfect way to welcome you to the economic capital of China.
Arriving at the Maglev terminal, you will then transfer to the metro at Longyan station traveling to your final destination of Liujiazui station in Pudong district. Your luggage will be collected from the airport and transferred directly to your hotel, meaning that you can enjoy a hassle-free journey, where you will spend the night.
Day 2: SHANGHAI
Our suggestions (please consult us if you want a chauffeur and guide):
- A walk on the Bund, the famous promenade that boasts superb European buildings from the 1930s. This road is testimony to the wealth of Shanghai and its colonial past. Follow the Bund onto Nanjing Road, an overwhelming experience due to the neon lights and hoards of shoppers that perfectly matches what you might expect from a modern-day Asian metropolis. You can walk up Nanjing Road right to the People’s Square, known for its many museums.
- A walk through the French Concession, a symbol of a bygone age of Western privilege in China. We recommend starting at Fuxing Park, where locals engage in various activities including tango, tai chi and sometimes chess. You can 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.
-Discover the old town, alive with the chatter of the Shanghainese and decorated with people’s washing strung out across the streets to dry. It’s 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.
There are a wide variety of other activities. Should you be interested please consult us.
Second night in the hotel.
Day 3: SHANGHAI - SUZHOU - WUZHEN (B,L,D)
Day 3 will start by moving on to Suzhou (around 100km – 65 miles – from Shanghai, or around an hour by road). Suzhou is the most famous of the ‘Venices of China’ – a collection of small towns which are compared to the illustrious Italian city because of their intricate network of canals and stone bridges. The world-famous Suzhou Gardens are considered some of the most beautiful in the entire country.
Your will start your time in the town by taking a morning bike ride round the narrow streets of the old town, a good way to avoid the early tourist crowds that flood the gardens. China’s famous love affair with the bicycle over the last 15 years is no more evident than in Suzhou and is putting up a brave fight against the rise of the electric bike. Cycling along the cobbled streets, you will notice the white sculpted wooden facades and black tile roofs of the local houses. You will also pass by the many canals and notice the locals who still often use the water to wash their clothes and clean their homes.
You will discover the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden, guided by a Chinese gardener who will talk to you about his art, in particular the penjing (lit: the countryside in a flowerpot) also better known as ‘Bonsai’, which is originally Chinese and not Japanese, contrary to popular belief. 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. The Chinese believe that one should tend to his garden as one would his soul, a lifestyle practised by retired scholars and rich merchants of the region.
Your next stop will be Wuzhen, located around 100km (65 miles) from Suzhou, but taking between 60 and 90 minutes depending on traffic. Wuzhen is another water town but in a style which differs to that of Suzhou. Even though this small town has largely been restored, it still maintains its own identity. It is home to wooden houses, cobbled streets and beautifully sculpted stone bridges which will let you dive head first into ancient China. If time permits you will take a sunset stroll along the main canal which reflects the houses on stilts alongside it, adorned with an increasing number of red lanterns as the evening wears on.
Day 4: WUZHEN - HANGZHOU (B)
The entrance fee for the village gives you access to a number of major sites which differ vastly in their attraction. Depending on what interests you, you can alter the day’s plans and the guide will be happy to give you any advice you need. We have selected the following activities for you to choose from:
- Guided tour of the Gongsheng Distillery followed by an optional wine-tasting session. If you don’t want to try the local wine then don’t hang around too long, even just a whiff of its strong fragrance could get you tipsy! Be careful too! One wrong step and you might end up falling into one of the canals…
- You will then be taken to watch one of the daily performances at the flower drum opera. The Chinese shadow puppet theatre also has on offer daily shows which give you the possibility to marvel at this ancient Chinese art form. The practice, which dates back over 2000 years, can be attributed to Liu Bang (a famous Han army general) who used shadow puppets to trick his enemies into retreat by making them believe that there were thousands of soldiers waiting in leather uniforms ready to defend any oncoming attack.
If you are a fan of literature, then you can visit the ancestral home of Mao Dun, a famous 20th century revolutionary writer. Or, if you are more interested in the art of dyeing and printing then you can visit the blue printing atelier which explains the techniques used in the production of traditional Chinese clothing.
After your morning visits, you will then move on to Anji (about 110km (70 miles) from Wuzhen and around 2 – 2.5 hours by road depending on traffic). Here you will be able to marvel at the largest bamboo forest in China and one of the greatest examples of ecotourism in the whole country. Since the start of the 21st century, the local authorities have become aware of the importance of this natural heritage and have implemented a new policy called ‘the three pures’: pure air, pure water and pure earth. Anyone wishing to use or cultivate the land must first of all pass rigorous checks and only those with the correct ecological practices are allowed into the forest. Anji has become an important producer of bamboo throughout the whole of Asia and has contributed to lifting the whole province of Zhejiang from poverty.
You will be plunged right into the heart of this silent emerald green forest where bamboo trees bend gracefully in the slightest breeze.
You will also visit the adjacent tea plantations, the other speciality of the region of Zhejiang and home to Longjing tea – one of the most prized and expensive teas in the world. The bright green tea fields are often planted at high altitude and in perfectly designed plots straddling the mountain edges creating a true visual spectacle.
Originally consumed as a medicinal plant, the tea rapidly grew to become the Chinese’s favourite drink and starting during the Tang dynasty (618-907) was traded all around the world. Chinese tea culture known for its diversity, complexity and richness can easily be compared to that of the Western world’s wine culture. Apart from the effects of over consumption of the two differ vastly…
During your visit you may also have the opportunity to meet a local tea producer who will be able to introduce you to the different types of tea: green tea, black tea, Oolong tea, fragrant tea, white tea or even ancient ‘tea bricks’.
Afterwards you will head to Hangzhou, the ancient capital of the Southern Song dynasty (1127 – 1279) and the current provincial capital of Zhejiang province.
Day 5: HANGZHOU (B,L,D)
Marco Polo described Hangzhou as a heaven on earth, at least in part due to the ‘West Lake’, a recent addition to UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Its creation in the 8th century by the then governor transformed what had simply been marshland into the park that exists today. In modern times locals make daily visits to this harmonious area of gardens, shops and pagodas to take a stroll. Each season offers something different: in winter the snow rests upon the water and transforms the lake into a piece of art with frozen plants, in spring the peach and plum trees are in full bloom bringing colour back to the park, and in summer innumerable water-lilies create a perfumed blanket on the lake’s surface. The locals like to say that the moon is bigger and more beautiful in autumn, and this can best be seen from the ‘three pools mirroring the moon’ on Xiaoling Island.
A peaceful bike ride around the area will let you explore one of the most famous and picture-perfect symbols of traditional China. The curved bridges lead to small islands in the heart of the lake, and there you can discover, amongst other things, the charmingly romantic Quyuan gardens.
Your voyage of discovery does not stop there, continuing into the hills near the lake to admire the tea-leaf fields that cover the region like an enormous green carpet.
Continuing a little further west you will complete the religious stage of your route, stopping at the Lingyin Temple, one of the best known Buddhist temples in the entire country. The temple was founded in the 4th century by an Indian monk named Huili, whose ashes are stored today in one of the temple’s small pagodas. Before taking its current form after the end of the Sino-Japanese war, the temple was destroyed several times. In addition, you will be able to marvel at the famous 20 metre high camphor statue of Buddha, one of the biggest of its type in China, and the impressive wall of figurines that accompany it. However it is the Buddhist sculptures found alongside and in the caves of Felaifeng, where according to legend a woodpecker flew in and landed on the monk Huili, after which the temple is named. A pleasantly green walk will let you discover these statues of key figures in the introduction of Buddhism to China such as Xuanzang, a Chinese pelerine monk from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Xuanzang spent nearly 20 years travelling through Central Asia and India in order to discover and understand all the teachings of Buddhist thought, translating the sutras into Chinese to assure their better diffusion in China. The book, Peregrination to the West, one of the most popular Chinese novels, tells his incredible story.
Day 6: HANGZHOU - XIDI (B,L,D)
Your first stop on day 6 will be to the Huqingyu Tang Museum of Chinese Medicine, which is found in the Huqingyu pharmacy built in the 19th century. Chinese medicine is a fundamental and fascinating part of Chinese culture, and learning about it shouldn’t be avoided without good reason! If you don’t already know about this type of medicine, it will make you abandon all sense of western logic. The following explanation should help prepare you for the visit.
The human body is an organism that functions much like society or indeed the entire universe. The Chinese term zhi has two meanings, to govern and to cure. Each part of the organism is linked to others and does not function fully unless the ‘life-force’ (qi in Chinese) is allowed to diffuse properly.
Amongst the incredible catalogue of practices and procedures that make up Chinese medicine, you should take note of two in particular which remain popular today: acupuncture and pharmacotherapy.
- Acupuncture is the practice of inserting small needles into ‘Acupuncture points’, grouped into twelve ‘meridians’ (some compare these to the Indian ‘chakras’). Meridians are interdependent relay points in a complex system of canals that allow ‘life-force’ (qi) to circulate. This ‘force’ is constantly changing between Yin and Yang, just as the sun (a manifestation of yang) goes down each day giving way to the moon (a manifestation of yin). The famous yin and yang symbol show that there is always a part of yin in the yang and vice versa. The two principles are co-dependent and neither could exist without the other, just as man (yang) could not exist without woman (yin).
You should not have an excess or shortage of life-force in any one part of the body. For example the stomach should have no fewer than 45 points and if the acupuncturist finds an imbalance he will try to redress it by working on another point of the body, which could be the sole of the foot or underneath the eyelid.
- Pharmacotherapy is, as its name suggests, treatment using pharmacological methods. It is a collection of remedies that come in the form of pills, powders or brews derived from plants (such as Ginseng root), animals (scorpions, seahorses, snakes, rhinoceros horn…)
Qigong (a type of exercise based on the principles of qi practiced by some Chinese people in parks in the morning), diet (certain foods are yangand others yin, a good diet can only come about by achieving a balance between the two) and traditional massage are equally all parts of Chinese medicine, which very much works on the principle of prevention rather than cure.
The museum not only boasts an impressive collection in its famous drawers full of unlikely ingredients, it additionally is housed in a building of typical pharmacy architecture complete with panelling, lanterns and a small garden that make it well worth the trip.
The journey to Wannan in Anhui province is fairly long (it can take between 4 and 4h30 to cover the 270km dependent on the traffic). This area developed an effective commercial network, in part due to its proximity to the Xinnan River and its fertile land. This network allowed it to export tea, bamboo, salt and wood to the east coast. Some local merchants amassed sizeable fortunes during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1644 and 1644-1911 respectively) and constructed magnificent residences that justify the ever-growing flood of tourists.
Three main characteristics of the local architecture still remain: the exterior walls which have been chalked white, the black tile roofs with superbly sculpted gables, the tianjing (literally mirrors to heaven) – indoor courtyards lit by skylights, and finally the paifang, commemorative arches dedicated to the most successful candidates from the Imperial exams. Under the Confucian hierarchy system merchants occupied the bottom rung of society, so many of them relied on their offspring to succeed in the exam system and thus join the prestigious social rank of the scholars. This social game in the region gave rise to many paifang in honour of the most successful, covering over 500 years of regional history.
Night in a village in Yixian district, which you will have the chance to explore further in the morning.
Day 7: XIDI - HUANGSHAN (B,L,D)
Your day will begin with a bike ride through picturesque villages ranked amongst the most beautiful in the country, with two, Xidi and Hongcun, forming part of the UNESCO World Heritage Project.
Visiting these two villages will give you an insight into another major section of Chinese culture: the art of fengshui(literally ‘wind’ and ‘water’), which is also known as ‘Geomancy’. Increasingly popular in the west, although often in a distorted form, fengshui can be defined as a profound study of positive links between housing or tombs. Fengshuiexperts are more and more often consulted to study the fengshui suitability of a prospective house (or indeed a skyscraper) before its construction. The building should be in harmony with nature and the forces which bind the universe together, powered by the same qi or ‘life-force’ that fuels the human body. A craggy mountain represents the yang, while a lake represents the yin and the presence of both is required to create a perfect fengshui environment. If the site lacks one or the other, the fengshui expert will recommend the installation of, for example, an artificial hill or a water feature of some kind to redress the balance.
Colours, layout, light, and the topography of the ground are all part of the never-ending list of determining factors that influence the decision of thefengshui expert.
The village of Hongcun is one of the best articulated and most original examples of the application of the principles of fengshui in the entire country. Its layout is a deliberate reproduction of the silhouette of a buffalo. Its intestines are symbolised by the village’s complex network of canals, and its stomach by the central valley into which they all flow. The two large trees just outside the village represent the horns of the buffalo, an animal symbolically linked to water and as such a guard against the fires which ravaged the village before its design was entirely rethought by afengshui expert.
You will visit the demure Chengshitang, constructed by a salt merchant and perfectly representative of the level of prosperity and refinement present in the region.
The village also served as the filming location for the successful movie ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. This piece of masterful cinematography fruitfully managed to marry Chinese romanticism, martial arts and stunning special effects that were particularly innovative for Chinese cinema.
A neighbour of Hongcun, Tachuan is a seemingly timeless village. It is located at the entrance of a valley that in fall is masked in red and yellow autumnal tones, which enhances the resplendent chalked white houses and makes for an exquisite photograph. Ta is the Chinese word for Pagoda, just like the name given to the village by those who conceived it. Tachuan is not as well-known as some of the other villages, with Wannan having become a victim of its own success, letting you have a glance at something much closer to local everyday life. The best way to pass the time in Tachuan is by losing yourself in the labyrinth of grey-marble alleyways or by taking yourself out into the surrounding countryside, away from the hubbub and the noise, so that you can fully appreciate the history and symbolism of this extraordinary region.
Xidi, whose ideal location alongside a river and just a short distance from a hill was chosen after taking the advice of a fengshui expert, is above all know for its three-level paifang at the entrance to the village which pays tribute to a member of the village clan who became a scholar. Xidi is also notable for having the largest number of merchants’ houses, whose sculpted wooden panelling is particularly attractive. These houses have been immortalised by the tireless work of students of fine art and photography enthusiasts.
Finally we will stop in Nanping, which boasts 500 year-old houses and is home to one of the best examples of an ancestral hall in the region: the Ye Family Ancestral Hall. This temple served as the backdrop for Judou, the well-known Zhang Yimou film starring the iconic Gong Li. It will give you an insight into ancestor-worship, a fundamental practice of Chinese culture that has endured to this day. It is closely aligned with the values of Confucianism and its ‘filial piety’, and is much older than any form of religion in China. The practice consists in maintaining links with the dead by making offerings of food, burning paper money and incense, and ‘sweeping the tombs’ on the national holiday of Tomb-Sweeping Day (Qingmingjie). Some visitors even claim to have seen ghosts of the divine in Chinese temples, often claiming to have seen heroes or key figures from Chinese history who have reached a near cult-level of divinity.
After returning the bikes, we will continue the journey to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), ascending by cable-car and spending the night at the summit. The nights here are fresh and the weather unpredictable, as such waterproofs, walking shoes and warm clothes are a necessity.
Day 8: HUANGSHAN - NANJING (B,L,D)
This site takes its name from an ancient tradition whereby each mountain was named after its most famous visitor and in the case of Huangshan this was the Yellow Emperor (or in Chinese Huangdi), one of the founding fathers of Chinese civilisation who lived in the 3rd century BC. According to legend he was the inventor of Fengshui, the first ever author of a medical treaty and his wife was responsible for training women on how to correctly care for silkworms and a number of other practices that you will discover on your journey. Like many other emperors, Huangdi was a total recluse and spent his life trying to reach immortality by creating potent elixirs made up of local herbal ingredients.
Depending on the weather, you will get the chance to go to summit of the mountain and watch the sun rise over Beihai (the North Sea) where a forest of jagged peaks (with evocative names such as the Beginning-to-believe peak or the Lion peak) is relentlessly covered by a sea of clouds that give the impression of a constantly changing landscape.
A few curved pine trees similar to bonsai trees (penjing) miraculously manage to grow on the granite ledges and are a perfect addition to this living painting, and when the weather is nice this is truly a phenomenal spectacle. Here it is Mother Nature who is the artist, so sit back and admire her at work as a new day is born. Your walk to the top will be similar to that of a monk (or Kung Fu Panda for the young ones) as you go on a pilgrimage following endless steep stairs that wind their way up the mountain face. If you’re feeling up to it you can continue on to the western stairs where you will be able to enjoy you descent by cable-car.
Once at the foot of the mountain you have the option to sooth your aching feet at the local hot spring (which the Chinese are crazy about) in which the Emperor also used to bathe thousands of years ago. The springs offer a variety of treatments using coffee, different types of alcohol and even fish baths where small fish will nibble away at your dead skin (something which you have to see in person because there is no way that this treatment can be done justice in writing!) and a number of other types of massage.
You will be driven to the train station at Tunxi to take the train to Nanjing departing at 23:11.
Day 9: NANJING (B)
Your expected arrival time is 6:23am, whereupon you will be greeted by your local guide and taken to your hotel.
Nan in Chinese means south and jing means capital whereas Bei (of Beijing) means north therefore meaning ‘capital of the north’ whilst Nanjing means ‘capital of the south’. You will find that a number of Chinese cities and regions follow this logic which is linked to the great cardinals.
You will start your day with a walk in the immense Xuanwu park which is partly surrounded by the impressive Nanjing Battlements. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, they are considered some of the oldest battlements in the world and two thirds of them are still visible today. The majority of cities in China were fortified with high walls like these. It is rare however to find any that are still in such good condition, thanks to the Cultural Revolution which contributed to the destruction of those in Beijing, Shanghai and part of the battlements in Xian. Nowadays, Nanjing and the medieval town of Pingyao are the two places where they have best been preserved. Your visit will also take you to the Presidential Palace which was the seat of power during the Taiping Rebellion, one of the deadliest military conflicts in history (killing around 20 to 30 million people) and destabilising the Manchu Qing Dynasty (19th century).
Destroyed and then reconstructed, the palace then became the seat of power for Sun Yat-sen, emblematic figure of the 1911 Revolution who then became the first president of the Republic of China in 1912 and co-founder of the Kuomintang (nationalist party) and considered by some as the father of modern China. On the mainland Mao’s influence overshadowed that of Sun Yat-sen, however he is much more revered in Taiwan where the Kuomintang took refuge and power after the Communist victory in 1949. You will also visit the impressive mausoleum dedicated to Dr Sun and situated at the top of a staircase of roughly 400 steps.
The day will end with a visit to the poignant Nanjing Massacre Memorial, one of the most shocking events of the 20th century. It is estimated that in just six weeks between 200,000 and 300,000 people were murdered and a further 20,000 women were raped by the invading Japanese soldiers. A growing number of historians are showing an interest in the topic (see The Rape of Nanjing by Iris Chang), and slowly films are being made too. Particularly notable is John Rabe which tells the story of a Nazi German businessman living in Nanjing who took in thousands of Chinese in order to protect them from the Japanese army. It’s a story similar to that of Oskar Schindler but on a much larger scale.
Japanese historical revisionism and the lack of transparency in school textbooks in Japan still have a detrimental effect on Sino-Japanese relations.
You will end your day in the delightful Mouchou Park, relatively close to the memorial, where you will be able to relax by the lake and reflect on what you have learnt.
Night in the hotel.
Day 10: NANJING - SHANGHAI (B))
Transfer by high-speed train to Shanghai where you will be greeted by your guide and taken on to your next destination.