12 Day China Highlights (2012)
Tour Beijing's imperial treasures. First, Tiananmen 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,L,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 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)
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 neighborhood residences before it's gone forever. See the locals as they go about their daily activities. Highlights include visits to a traditional courtyard style home, to the Lotus Flower Market, and a leisure walk along the "Lotus Lane" lined with bars, restaurants and coffee houses. This unique tour concludes with a delicious meal served at the home of a local family.
Visit old Beijing's Hutong on pedi-cabs
Night market at Xian's Muslim quarter
In the afternoon, you are transferred to the airport for a short flight to Xian to witness the historical side of China. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Xian was a historic gateway to the Silk Road and the capital of the Middle Kingdom for 11 dynasties. In a time when ancient Beijing was just a remote trading post, Xian was the capital of China and one of the world's largest and richest cities, with a population exceeding one million in the 10th century.
After dinner, you take a relaxing walk to the heart of the city to visit its fascinating night market at the Muslim quarter. In the center of Xian, visible everywhere from the surrounding city walls, are the city's two Ming Dynasty treasures - Bell and Drum Towers. Built in 1384, the Bell Tower, in which a great bell once rang at dawn, is a classic example of Ming architecture. It consists of a triple-eaved, two storey wooden pavilion resting on a square brick platform nine meters high, pierced by four archways. Across the square from the Bell Tower is the rectangular Drum Tower, where a drum was beaten daily at sundown. First erected in 1380, the Drum Tower has become the gateway to Xian's old Muslim quarter and its historical mosque.
Founded in 742, the Great Mosque is the focus of the more than 30,000 Chinese Muslims (Hui) of Xian, whose beards and white caps distinguish them from Han Chinese. Stand in four beautiful courtyards of ancient trees, ornate arches and stone steles, the Mosque is the center of life for the Muslim community - the descendants of the merchants that ferried the religion into China along the ancient Silk Road. The backstreets surrounding the mosque is the charming Muslim Quarter hosting the city's most fascinating night market, with its winding streets, low houses, narrow lanes, excellent ethnic cuisine, and resident Hui community. Tour the lovely and unusual area with bustling stalls and enjoy some of the best street food in China! Xian Jianguo Hotel (B,L,D)
Today's excursion will take you to modern China's greatest archaeological discovery - The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, which silently guarded the tomb of China's First Emperor for over 2,200 years. In 1974, a local farmer uncovered the first of three massive earth and timber vaults, while digging a well. The extensive excavation, still in progress, has yielded over 6000 life-sized terra cotta warriors, each individually sculpted, with the physical characteristics of the humans they were modeled after. Archers, infantrymen, horses and bronze chariots have also been unearthed. A Circle Vision documentary is available on site. Lunch at a local restaurant and see a noodle making demonstration.
The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses
fascinating Tang Dynasty stage show
Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), traditionally regarded as the golden age of China, was a time of patricians and intellectuals, Buddhist monks and Taoist priests, poetry and music, song and dance - a period of peace and exceptional creativity lasting 300 years. This evening, you attend a feast of culinary and cultural delights with a special Dumpling (dim sum) followed by a fascinating Tang Dynasty stage show. Indulge yourself in this remarkable show and reinvent your China dream with a travel back in time to the world of China's Golden Age, then come back to the present with a greater understanding of this amazing time. (B,L,SD)
This morning, tour the Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty landmark. This seven-story pagoda was initially constructed in 652 AD to house the Buddhist sutras brought back from India by the monk, Xuan Zang, who later translated them into Chinese. His pilgrimage to India is immortalized in the Chinese classic - The Journey to the West.
Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang landmark
Guilin's inspiring sceneries
Today's Culture InSites™ Program will offer you a rare opportunity to witness a real rural life at a typical village in central China. You visit a rural primary school and mingle with students and faculties at their classroom. Later, you stop at a "Yao Dong" (Literally an arched tunnel) - a typical cave dwellings that stretches across six provinces in north central China. The "Yao Dong" is caves dug into mountainsides with a signature arched front. Usually, one family unit consists of three arched openings, and the units are interconnected inside. The center cave can be termed the "living room", which includes a stovetop cooking area. The two side caves are sleeping quarters. Outside of the cities of this region, some 90% of the rural population live in yaodongs.
In the late afternoon, you fly to Guilin and indulge yourself in China's most amazing natural landscapes. Guilin is celebrated for its picturesque karst limestone pinnacles and meandering Li River. An old Chinese saying describes Guilin's landscape as "the best scenery under heaven". Its misty limestone peaks "rise as suddenly from the earth as trees in a forest, and surrounding the city like mountains floating in an imaginary sea". Meet your local representative and transfer to your hotel in the heart of the city. Your hotel is located at the foot of Mount Laoren and surrounded by Osmanthus Lake, which is then connected by Guilin's three major rivers to all five lakes in the area. At night, the hotel is lit up and spectacular views are reflected on the Lake Osmanthus. It's a place for relaxation and also offers a perfect escapade after one week of group travel. Guilin Park Hotel (B,L,D)
A beautiful day waits! You take a scenic motor coach ride through the countryside, past lush green fields and rice paddies. Arrive at a local village and embark on a memorable Li River cruise. The 40-mile trip has countless twists and turns. The scenery is reminiscent of classical Chinese landscapes - bamboo groves, sleepy villages, fishermen on bamboo rafts, cormorants, water buffalo, soaring karst pinnacles and mist shrouded peaks... your cruise concludes at the famed Yangshuo, a small town, amidst a haunting and surreal setting. Enjoy an exploration at this fancinating town. Later travel by motor coach back to Guilin and enjoy the balance of your day at leisure. (B,L,D)
Cruise the Li River and soak in its natural beauty
If time permits, you tour the Fubo Hill for a panorama view of Guilin and Li River, then transferred to the airport for a flight 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".
Bund, the symbol of Shanghai
Xin Tian Di (New Heaven Earth) at night
Some places are forever associated with a single landmark and in the case of Shanghai it is surely the Bund. Today, 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. Crowne Plaza Shanghai (B,L,D)
Begin your tour in the heart of old Shanghai at the 16th century city bazaar. This complex, with its classical architectural details, maze of walkways and reflecting pools, has been a marketplace and social center for over 200 years. In contrast, is the futurist Pudong 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.
Visit "Old Shanghai" city barzaar
Jinmao Tower and Pudong's new skyline
You visit 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 including some of its landmark skyscrapers such as Oriental Pearl Tower and World Financial Tower, etc.
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)
In the morning you 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
Canals, arched bridges, and cobbled lanes at Tongli
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.
Upon arrival, 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.
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. Afterwards, you travel to 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. 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 Old Street, which is lined with Ming style homes and storefronts. In the late afternoon, you travel by motor coach to Shanghai and enjoy your evening at leisure. (B,L,D)
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! * Maglev is available for San Francisco departures only. (B,IM)
Take maglev train to Pudong International Airport
Air China Flight Schedule