12 Day China Delights (2013)
After a hearty breakfast and a tour briefing, you visit the Tiananmen Square. At 100 acres, it is the world's largest public square, flanked by an assortment of historical buildings, huge museums and Communist monuments, including Mao's Mausoleum. One visitor has written, "An army could be massed, and all the kites in the world could fly." You roam the Square; and walk through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, under the famed portrait of Chairman Mao, to enter the Forbidden City, the symbolic center of the Chinese universe and a lasing monument of dynastic China, from which 24 emperors of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties ruled the Middle Kingdom for nearly 500 years (1420-1911).
The Forbidden City
Visit old Beijing's Hutong on pedi-cabs
Completed in 1420, the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the world's largest palace complex and China's most magnificent imperial architecture, consisting of many buildings with 9,999 rooms, on a 250-acre compound, protected by a 20-foot-wide moat and a 32-foot-high wall. Now known as the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City was the exclusive domain of the imperial court and dignitaries where outside visitors were forbidden for 5 centuries. Here you will explore the imperial treasures in the grand palaces and pavilions, exquisite courtyards and gardens in what was once the residence of China's rulers.
Afterwards, join our Culture InSites™ Program for a rickshaw ride along Old Beijing's Hutongs (narrow ancient alleys) to discover the sights and sounds of local Beijing life in these traditional Chinese neighborhoods. See the locals as they go about their daily activities; and tour the maze-like alleyways and courtyard houses before it's gone forever. Highlights include visits to a traditional courtyard home, to a local market, and a leisure walk along the "Lotus Lane" lined with bars, restaurants and tea houses. This unique tour features a delicious lunch served at a local family home with a Chinese dumpling-making demonstration.
Return to your hotel for some free time in the afternoon. In the evening, we are gathering for a welcome dinner of a specially prepared meal of Beijing Duck, cooked to crispy perfection. (B,L,SD)
A memorable day awaits! You will take a full day excursion to the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs and the Great Wall of China.
The Sacred Way of Ming Tombs
The Great Wall of China
In the morning, you take a drive to the northwest of Beijing to visit the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs, regarded as China's finest example of imperial tomb architecture. En route, enjoy a visit to the jade factory with a presentation and some time for shopping. Situated in a peaceful valley, the Sacred Way was chosen by the Ming emperors as their burial place for its auspicious Fengshui alignment—a ridge of mountains to the north cradles the tombs on three sides, opening to the south and protecting the dead from the evil spirits carried on the north wind. Here you will walk along the elegant Sacred Way that leads to the tombs. Beginning with a grand marble gateway more than 400 years old, the long avenue is lined with 36 massive stone sculptures of officials, lions, elephants, camels and mythical beasts.
After lunch at a local restaurant, you take a scenic drive through the countryside and mountains to reach China's most renowned monument—the Great Wall. The 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. (B,L,D)
In the morning, you visit the Temple of Heaven, the largest temple complexes in China and a paradigm of Chinese architectural balance and symbolism. One key element in China's architectural genius was the blending of the monumental with the delicate, and the Temple of Heaven is perhaps the finest expression of this mixing of near opposite.
Hall of Supreme Harmony, Temple of Heaven
The Summer Palace of Empress Dowager Cixi
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 (without the use of a single nail), this masterpiece of Ming architecture, features triple eaves, dramatically carved marble balustrades, and gorgeous glazed azure roof that symbolizes the color of heaven. 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.
Lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a visit to the Giant Panda at Beijing Zoo. Panda is officially considered a national treasure by Chinese government and is often used to cultivate relationships with other countries with panda diplomacy. This zoo offers a wonderful chance to get face-to-face with China's gentle giants. Afterwards, you tour the idyllic Summer Palace, once the summer retreat and playground for the imperial family and royal court during the late Qing Dynasty. Considered the finest Chinese imperial garden, the Summer Palace spans over 700 acres with breathtaking views, temples, pavilions, palaces and halls including the lavishly painted "Long Corridor". 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. (B,L,D)
In the morning, 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.
Pavilion of Watching the Moon, Master of Net Garden
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 Suzhouand 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. Marriott Courtyard Hangzhou Wulin (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 Ocean Hotel (B, L, D)
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 breakfast, you take a leisure 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.
Jinmao Tower and Pudong's new skyline
Xin Tian Di (New Heaven Earth) at night
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. Later 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.
Afterwards, 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. (B,L,D)
Today is a full day at leisure 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)
Bid farewell to Shanghai as you 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 covers the 20 mile distance in less than 8 minutes! * Maglev train ride is only available to Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) and does not work for flight schedule to New York. (B)
Take maglev train to Pudong International Airport
Air China Flight Schedule