12 Day China Delights (2011)
Tour Beijing's imperial treasures. First, Tian'anmen Square, the largest public square in the world, capable of holding one million people. Stroll across its vast expanse. An assortment of historical buildings, Communist monuments and huge museums, including Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, the Monument to the People's Heroes, and the Great Hall of the People - home of the National People's Congress, flank the Square. Walk through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, under the famed portrait of Chairman Mao, to enter the Forbidden City, a 9,999-room compound, where the 24 emperors of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties ruled the Middle Kingdom for nearly 500 years (1420-1911). Experience the architectural splendour of the palaces, ceremonial courtyards and private quarters.
Last Emperor's "Forbidden City"
The "Summer Palace" for Empress Dowager Cixi
Lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a visit to Panda at Beijing Zoo. In the afternoon, you tour the idyllic Summer Palace, with its sprawling encampment of temples, pavilions, and the 728-yard Long Corridor. The Summer Palace served the Qing Dynasty as an imperial retreat from the stifling summer confines of the Forbidden City. It is most associated, however, with the Empress Dowager Cixi who paid for the extravagant Marble Boat with funds meant for the modernization of the Imperial Navy. It is the best preserved and the largest imperial garden in China. Later, you enjoy a boat ride on picturesque Kunming Lake. (B,SL,D)
In the morning, you visit the Temple of Heaven; this remarkable building is considered the supreme achievement of traditional Chinese architecture. During each winter solstice, the Ming and Qing emperors would perform rites and make sacrifices to Heaven praying for good harvest for their empire. The most striking edifice is the "Hall of Prayer of Good Harvests", which according to the emperor's Fengshui masters, is the exact point where heaven and Earth met. Built in 1420, this masterpiece of Ming architecture, features triple eaves, dramatically carved marble balustrades, and gorgeous glazed azure roof that symbolizes the color of heaven. Built without a single nails, this 120-foot-high structure is fixed by four inner pillars represent the seasons, and two sets of 12 columns denote the months and the traditional Chinese division of a day. Later, you take a photo stop at the "Bird Nest" and visit the exterior portion of this magnificent complex — the main stadium of 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"Hall of Supreme Harmony", Temple of Heaven
The "Great Wall" of China
Afterwards, you take a scenic drive through the countryside to reach China's most renowned monument — the Great Wall. The 'original' wall was begun in the 5th century BC to keep out foreign invaders. Construction continued for centuries, eventually linking up the walls of the former independent kingdoms. The Great Wall meanders through China's northern mountain ranges from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert — a distance of over 3500 miles! Chairman Mao once said "You haven't walked on the Wall, you haven't been a good Chinese". Today you will have ample time to climb a section of the Great Wall and to get a sense of the enormity of this ancient edifice. In the evening, savor a specially prepared meal of Beijing Duck, cooked to crispy perfection. (B,L,SD)
Chinese history and modernity permeate Beijing with sites of cultural and historical importance; today is a free day for you to explore this great city independently.
Explore Beijing's imperial treasures on your free day
We recommend that you visit 798 Art Zone or Dashanzi Art District, it is a part of Dashanzi in the Chaoyang District of Beijing that houses a thriving artist community, among 50-year old decommissioned military factory buildings of unique architectural style. It is often compared with New York's Greenwich Village or SoHo, but faces impending destruction from the forces driving Beijing's urban sprawl. (B)
After breakfast, join our Culture InSites™ Program and experience the world of Beijing's Hutongs, via rickshaw. This network of courtyard homes and narrow lanes traditionally linked the Old City. Tour the maze-like alleyways and neighbourhood residences. See the locals as they go about their daily activities. Highlights include visits to a local kindergarten, to the 800-year-old Drum Tower and to a traditional courtyard style home. This unique tour concludes with a meal served at the home of a local family.
Pavilion of Watching the Moon, Master of Net Garden
In the afternoon, you fly to Shanghai then travel by motor-coach to Suzhou, which is often referred, by the Chinese, as the "Venice of the East". Suzhou is a 2,500-year-old city renowned the world over for its traditional gardens, ancient canals and silk production. In 1997 Suzhou's classic garden was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The construction of the Grand Canal in the 7th century created a means whereby silk, the prized commodity from this region could be transported to the Northern capital, Beijing, a distance of over 600 miles. With prosperity came prestige as merchants and artisans plied their trade. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Suzhou flourished as a place of refinement, drawing an influx of scholars and merchants, who built themselves numerous elegant gardens.
The Chinese garden developed as a synthesis of two concepts linked in Taoist philosophy — scenery and serenity: the contemplation of nature in isolated meditation led to enlightenment. Therefore, the educated and wealthy built natural-looking retreats for themselves with an urban environment. The garden creates poetic and painterly concepts, and aims to improve on nature in creating a picture that looks natural but is in fact entirely artificial. For this the Chinese garden designer used four main elements: rocks, water, plants, and architecture.
In the afternoon, you visit the Garden of the Master of Fishing Nets, and experience all of the elements of a classical Chinese garden. It is said that the Master of the Nets Garden was named after one of its owners — a retired official who wished to become an accomplished fisherman. Dating to 1140, it is considered by many, the finest of all Suzhou's gardens. Although exceptional small, it succeeds, with great subtlety, in introducing every element considered crucial to the classical Chinese garden. It includes a central lake, discreet connecting corridors, pavilions with miniature courtyards, screens, delicate latticework, and above all, points which "frame a view", as if looking at a perfectly balanced photograph. The best known building is the "Pavilion for Watching the Moon", from where the moon can be viewed in a mirror, in the water, and in the sky. Suzhou Nanlin Hotel (B,L,D)
In the morning, you visit Tongli, a pretty little water town typical of the region. Tongli gives visitors a good idea of what Suzhou must have been like in its heyday. Reminiscent of scenes from traditional Chinese paintings, it is complete with canals, arched stone bridges, cobbled lanes, and tile-roofed wooden houses. All its houses open out on to a network of canals that are spanned by dozens of stone bridges and are busy with transportation and trading boats. Visit a courtyard mansion to learn about the lavish life style of its residents. Then, learn about traditional Chinese wedding customs at a local folklore museum. Take an exciting ride on a gondola and experience the charm of Tongli's waterways. You will have free time to browse and buy some local specialties along the Old Street, which is lined with Ming style homes and storefronts.
Canals, arched bridges, and cobbled lanes at Tongli
Later, you tour the Silk Spinning Mill, where you will learn how silk is created from the mulberry-munching silkworms to produce thread and fine cloth. Marco Polo once reported that so much precious silk was produced in Suzhou that every citizen was clothed in it. Enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, you take a scenic drive to Hangzhou, one of China's premier tourist destinations. An old Chinese saying states, "In heaven above there is Paradise, on earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou". Hangzhou and its West Lake have been the inspiration for poets and artists for centuries. Besides silk, the region is also a major producer of tea. After lunch, take a cruise on the picturesque West Lake, which is said to be created from a pearl dropped by a phoenix and a dragon, and proclaimed by the Chinese "the landscape composed by a painter". Stroll along the lake's causeways and immerse yourself in its beauty. You also visit the famed "Broken Bridge" to marvel at the Golden Fishes. No tour to Hangzhou is complete without going to the world renowned Dragon Well Tea Plantation, where the legendary green tea is picked and processed by hand. The first picked tea leaves of the new harvest were once reserved solely for the Emperor and transported to him via the Grand Canal. You will learn about the harvesting, as well as the proper way to brew this healthful beverage. The Chinese Tea Ceremony will be demonstrated. Sample the freshness of the tea. Appreciate its "green color, smooth appearance, fragrant aroma and sweet taste". Hangzhou West Lake Golden Plaza Hotel (B,L,D)
Sip the "Dragon Well" tea at the "West Lake"
In the morning you tour the "Old Street" with Ming & Qing houses and stone cobbled lanes, where you visit the Chinese Herb Museum, a rare opportunity to know China traditional herb and medication. After lunch, you travel by motor-coach to Shanghai, China's vibrant financial and artistic center. Shanghai, literally means "above the sea", is China's largest and most dynamic city, with a population of 18 million. In the 13th century it became a minor county seat and so it remained until the mid-19th century when British commercial ambitions led to war with China. The ensuing Treaty of Nanking allowed the British to trade freely from certain ports including Shanghai. The city soon became an outpost of glamour, high living, and ultimately decadence. In the 1930s, Shanghai is renowned as "the Pearl of the East".
Shanghai's waterfront promenade - Bund
Some places are forever associated with a single landmark and in the case of Shanghai it is surely the Bund. After dinner, we take you for an evening walk along the waterfront promenade of the Bund. The Bund was at the heart of colonial shanghai, flanked on one side by the Huangpu River and on the other by the hotels, banks, offices, and clubs that were the grandiose symbols of western commercial power. See the ships and barges on the Huangpu River, en route to the sea or going upstream to the interior of China. The modernistic Oriental Pearl TV tower looms in the background redefining the skyline. Shanghai Crowne Plaza (B, L, D)
In 1949, the communist took over and Shanghai was stripped of its grandeur. In 1990, the Pudong area across the river from the Bund was declared as a special economic zone, and a revival started for the city. Today we take you to futurist Pudong New Developing Area. Transformed from once fertile farmland, this new area is rapidly becoming the symbol of modern China with its clusters of shinning metal and glass skyscrapers of world class hotels, international financial institutions, and commercial centers towered above the Huangpu River.
Jinmao Tower and Pudong's new skyline
Xin Tian Di (New Heaven Earth) at night
You visit to the 88th floor of the Jinmao Tower, the third tallest building in China. At 1,380 feet, it is the world's fifth tallest building, as well as home to the world's tallest hotel — the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. From its lofty platform, you enjoy a stunning view of Shanghai.
Later you have a traditional Mongolian BBQ Buffet lunch. In the afternoon, you visit People's Square and tour the famed Shanghai Museum, an unique and inspiring piece of architecture, home to more than 120,000 cultural relics of ancient China, including a priceless collection of jade, bronze, ceramics, paintings, furniture, etc. After dinner, you attend an unforgettable performance of the Shanghai Acrobats.
After the performance, we drop you at the Xin Tian Di for a leisure and romantic night. Literally means "New Heaven Earth", it is Shanghai's trendiest lifestyle destination. This 2-block complex of high-end restaurants (some of Shanghai's best), bars, shops, and entertainment facilities, mostly lodged in refurbished traditional Shanghainese shikumen (stone-frame) housing, is the first phase of the Taiping Qiao Project, an urban renewal project. Busloads of domestic Chinese tourists traipse through in the evenings, Western visitors feel like they've never left home, and hip young Shanghainese flood here to enjoy the good life they feel they're due. (B,SL,D)
Today is at leisure for you to explore this magnificent city on your own.
Nanjing Road, bargain shoppers' paradise
You will be provided with a specially prepared orientation list. Stroll through the Old Shanghai bazaar, shop at Nanjing Road's emporiums, or enjoy a nostalgic evening performance by the renowned senior citizen's Jazz band at the Peace Hotel. (B)
After breakfast, board the Maglev, the world's fastest magnetic levitation train, for your trip to the Pudong International Airport. The Maglev travels at a speed of 287mph and will cover the 20 mile distance in less than 8 minutes!
Take maglev train to Pudong International Airport
* Maglev is available for San Francisco departures only. (B)
Air China Flight Schedule