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21 Day Imperial China, Tibet & Hong Kong (2011)


Tour Itinerary


Day 1 Depart USA
Board Air China non-stop flight to Beijing
Board Air China non-stop flight to Beijing
Your exotic journey to China begins as you board China's national airline, Air China non-stop flight bound for Beijing. En route, cross the International Dateline and lose a day. You'll recover this day on your return trip.      (IM)     

 


Air China Flight Schedule
 
Day 2 Beijing
Bird Nest, the main venue of 2008 Summer Olympics
Bird Nest, the main venue of 2008 Summer Olympics
Arrive in Beijing in the afternoon. Meet your local representative and transfer to your hotel in the heart of Beijing. Relax and enjoy the evening in China's historic and vibrant capital city.      Marriott Beijing City Wall   
 
Day 3 Beijing
Last Emperor Forbidden City
Last Emperor's Forbidden City

Visit old Beijing Hutong on pedi-cabs
Visit old Beijing's Hutong on pedi-cabs
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).

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)     

 
 
Day 4 Beijing
The "Sacred Way" of Ming Tombs
The "Sacred Way" of Ming Tombs

The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu section
The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu section
A memorable day awaits with an excursion to the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs and the Great Wall of China at the less-visited Mutianyu section.

After breakfast, 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. Situated in a peaceful valley, the site 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. Since the Great Wall is the single greatest attraction of China travel, we take you to the less-visited and more "original" Mutianyu section and try to avoid other sections which are the most accessible and consequently the most crowded.

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".

And today, you'll not only visit the Great Wall, but experience it in more ways than one — Learning some of the fascinating history and legend of this engineering marvel, riding a gondola up to the highest point for panoramic views of this ancient edifice, exploring its impressive watchtowers, ramparts, carriageways at your own pace, or, hoping on a toboggan for an exciting ride down the curvy path...today is a highlight of your China vacation.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 5 Beijing - Xian
"Hall of Supreme Harmony", Temple of Heaven
"Hall of Supreme Harmony", Temple of Heaven

The "Summer Palace" for Empress Dowager Cixi
The "Summer Palace" for Empress Dowager Cixi
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.

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.

Time permits, you take a photo stop at the "Bird Nest" and visit the exterior portion of this huge complex — the main stadium of 2008 Beijing Olympics. In the afternoon, 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. Weather permitting you can take a Dragon boat ride across the picturesque Kunming Lake.

Later, transfer to the airport for a flight to Xian to experience the historical side of your China trip. Located in the Yellow River Basin in China's heartland, Xian is one of the birthplaces of civilization. It has seen 3,100 years of development and 11 dynasties, giving it equal fame with Athens, Rome and Cairo as one of the four major ancient civilization capitals. Xian reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty at 10th century with a population of one million and is rich with cultural and historical significances.      Xian Grand Noble Hotel  (B,L,IM)     

 
 
Day 6 Xian
The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses
The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses

fascinating Tang Dynasty stage show
fascinating Tang Dynasty stage show
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. Later, you have a lunch at a local restaurant and see a noodle making demonstration.

In today's Culture InSites™ Program, you have an opportunity to witness a real rural life at a typical village in central China. You visit 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 lives in yaodongs.

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) banquet 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)     

 
 
Day 7 Xian - Guilin
Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty landmark
Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty landmark
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.

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.      Sheraton Guilin Hotel  (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 8 Dragon Spine Terraces
Long Sheng Dragon Spine Rice Terraces
Long Sheng's Dragon Spine Rice Terraces

Guilin signature Li River and jagged mountains
Guilin's signature Li River and jagged mountains
This part of the country encompasses China's most famous scenic landscapes. Before discovering the best treasures Guilin has to offer, we start an off-the-beaten-path hiking tour to Long Sheng's spectacular Dragon Spine Rice Terraces.

Over the centuries, the Zhuang and Yao minorities have sculpted 2,000 feet peaks with remarkable step-like terraces for growing rice in the hilly areas of Southwest China. This transformation over time has created landscapes of utility as well as immense beauty. In Spring, when the terraces are full of water, they resemble irregular silver ladders; and in autumn, when the rice ripens, the mountains turn into golden waves.

Visit the unique culture of local minorities and their villages where life has remained unchanged for thousands of years! we are able to hike between the villages following tiny stone paths carved out by the local people. This memorable journey is rarely included in the conventional itinerary.

Return to Guilin in the afternoon and tour the Reed Flute Cave, Nature's subterranean wonder filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The grand chamber known as the Crystal Palace, is an awesome spectacle, not to be missed.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 9 Guilin - Chengdu
Cruise on the Li River
Cruise on the Li River
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. Free time to explore this beautiful town on your own or shop at the color stores in the West Street.

In the evening, you fly to Chengdu, in preparation for your trip to Tibet. Chengdu is the capital city of China's most populous Sichuan (Literally, Four Rivers) Province and home to China's most notable Sichuan cuisine. With 2,500 years history, Chengdu has managed to preserve some of its older characteristics and traditions, and today you still find famous teahouses, numerous markets and some of China's the most interesting and spicy food.      Chengdu Minshan Hotel  (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 10 Chengdu - Lhasa
Visit Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center
Visit Chengdu's Giant Panda Breeding Center

Fly over the snow-capped moutains of Tibetan Plateau
Fly over the snow-capped moutains of Tibetan Plateau
In the morning, you enjoy a rare opportunity to visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center to witness the conservation efforts being made to save this endangered species. The center is the largest giant panda reserve in the world. Whenever China dispatches its animal ambassadors to zoos around the world, they have usually started their life in Chengdu. Eighty percent of the world's 1,000 remaining giant panda reside in Sichuan Province. It's no surprise the Chengdu center is heavily involved in their preservation and research. Today you will see a dozen of pandas wandering through a sizable domain of bamboo groves and forest. There is also a panda museum that has detailed exhibitions on panda evolution, habits, habitats and conservation efforts. Occasionally, you are allowed to make intimate contact with baby pandas and hug them for a photo. Giant Panda is officially considered "National Treasure" by Chinese government and is often used to cultivate relationships with other countries with "Panda Diplomacy". This massive ecological and zoological park offers a wonderful chance to get face-to-face with China's gentle giants. There are other rare species at the base, including the little-known red panda.

Later, you fly to Lhasa, the spiritual heart of Tibet. En route, you enjoy a fantastic view of the snowcapped mountain ranges as you fly over the Tibetan Plateau - the earth's highest ecosystem and one of its last remaining great wildernesses, also the source of Asia's greatest rivers. Half way to Lhasa you pass the great White citadel of Minya Konka at 24,783 feet. Now you fly over the Hengduan Range and the deep, gloomy valleys of three Asia's greatest rivers: the Mekong, the Salween, and the Yangtze. As you near the Plateau you'll likely to catch sight of another impressive peak, 25,439-foot Namcha Barwa, the easternmost rampart of the Himalaya.

Upon arrival at Gongkar Airport, two hours outside of Lhasa, you will meet your Tibetan guide and driver, and together you take a scenic drive to the holy city. Stop en route to visit Tibetan villages and schools; and make photos of the Tibetan houses, yaks, Buddhist carvings, and the remarkable landscape of streams and snowcapped mountains. Lhasa means "country of the gods" and it rose to prominence as an important administrative center in the 7th century AD, when Songtsen Gampo, a local ruler in the Yarlung Valley, continued the task initiated by his father of unifying Tibet. Songtsen Gampo moved his capital to Lhasa and build a palace on the site now occupied by the Potala. At this time the temples of Ramoche and Jokhang were established to Buddha images brought as the dowries of Songtsen Gampo's Chinese and Nepali wives. Your hotel in Lhasa is perfectly situated near the center of town. You enjoy a quiet, leisurely afternoon and evening acclimating to Lhasa's high altitude (11,796 feet).      Jardin Secret Hotel Lhasa  (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 11 Lhasa
Potala Palace, once the residence of Dalai Lama
Potala Palace, once the residence of Dalai Lama

Visit to a local Tibetan family home
Visit to a local Tibetan family home
An unforgettable day begins with a tour to the monumental Potala Palace whose imposing presence dominates the entire region. Once the residence of the Dalai Lama, and seat of the Tibetan government, the 13-story structure has been a museum since the spiritual leader and head of state of Tibet went into exile in 1959. Initially built in the 7th century, the buildings were restored and expanded upon in the 17th century. There are two main sections. The Red Palace, completed in 1693, which dealt with spiritual matters, and the White Palace, completed in 1645, which housed administrative offices that ran the government.

In the afternoon, tour the Tibetan Museum to learn more about the history of this region referred to as the "roof of the world". Today's Culture InSites™ Program will offer you an insightful visit to a local Tibet family home where you have a people-to-people experience with the locals and enjoy the famous yak-butter tea.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 12 Yamdrok Yumtso
The view from the roof of Jakhang Temple
The view from the roof of Jakhang Temple

Tibetan Lama at Barkhor
Tibetan Lama at Barkhor
In the morning, you take 2 ½ hour scenic drive to the Yamdrok Yumtso (tso means lake) to enjoy the natural beauty of this mystical land. You follows the Kyichu, or the Lhasa River to Tsangpo River, the highest major river in the world. After crossing the Tsangpo, you begin a hairpin ascent to reach Khampa La (La means pass) at 15,700 feet. From the pass you make a one-thousand-foot descent and arrive at tranquil Yamdrok Yumtso. You stop here to enjoy a picnic... rarely included in conventional itineraries, This scenic excursion gives you a nice break from peering at Buddhist deities.

Later, you return to Lhasa, en route you make multiple photo stops. Your tour in the afternoon begins in the heart of the old city at Jokhang Temple, Tibet's holiest temple, which was often referred to by early Western visitors as Lhasa's cathedral. Built in 647 AD, the Jokhang Temple attracts pilgrims throughout the day and night. They will often be seen in full prostration on the flagstones leading up to the temple or in prayer. The pioneering Tibetologist Guissepe Tucci wrote: "An endless, three-story high flight of chapels surrounds the statue, decorated with the smiling and sneering Buddhist pantheon. Blissful and terrific gods fill the shade of the cells and peer unexpectedly out of their mystery."

Surrounding Jokhang is the Barkhor, the Pilgrim's Circuit, Lhasa's old market. This area is full of activity with monks chanting, vendors selling their wares, yak butter wafting in the air and hundreds of people moving in a clockwise direction. Much has been changed in Tibet in the past few hundred years, but the Barkhor still has the air of a medieval bazaar. In today's Barkhor you can bargain good-naturedly for dorjes, phurbas, thangkas, and other religious implements. You'll get to know the proud, red-tasseled Khampas from eastern Tibet, the monks, mendicants, pilgrims who circumambulate the Jokhang, and enjoy bantering with the astute and engaging merchants of this bit of old Tibet.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 13 Lhasa - Yangtze Cruise
3-night Yangtze Cruise aboard "Century Sky"
3-night Yangtze Cruise aboard "Century Sky"
After breakfast, you fly to the mountain city of Chongqing in preparation for your cruise downstream the Yangtze. Chongqing is China's largest city with a population of over 30 million. During WWII, Chongqing was China's wartime capital. U.S. General Stillwell was the Commander of the US Forces here and the "Flying Tigers" was also based in Chongqing. In the afternoon, you visit Chongqing's Old Town. This is one of China's most naturally preserved, active old towns. Explore Ming and Qing dynasty courtyard homes; rarely included in conventional itineraries, this old quarter is unforgettable.

Later, you board a deluxe ship with private balcony. Settle into your cabin and check out the numerous amenities on board. The Yangtze River originates on the Tibetan Plateau and traverses a distance of 3900 miles before flowing into the East China Sea, near Shanghai. It is the third longest river in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile. With over 700 tributaries, the Yangtze River has been the lifeline and major commercial thoroughfare in China for millennia.      M.V. President Prime  (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 14 Yangtze Cruise
Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of 3 Gorges
Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of 3 Gorges
Your cruiser sets sail early in the morning and later stops at Fengdu. You then take a shore excursion to explore China's city of Ghosts, where all souls are said to return here to accept final judgments after their death. You visit temples and shrines dedicated to the gods of the underworld and other landmarks including "Ghost Torturing Pass, Last-glance-at-home Tower, and Nothing-to-be-done Bridge. Depends on the water level and sail schedule, you may alternatively visit the Snow Cave, nature's subterranean wonder filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

Back onboard in the afternoon; your cruise continues and enters Qutang Gorge - the shortest, narrowest and probably the most fascinating of the three, noted for its fantastic scenery resembling an elegant Chinese painted scroll. Tonight is Captain's welcome banquet.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 15 Yangtze Cruise
Cruise Lesser Three Gorges on "peapod" boat
Cruise Lesser Three Gorges on "peapod" boat

Tweleve misty peaks of Wu Gorges
Tweleve misty peaks of Wu Gorges
Another day of incredible views awaits you upon entering Wu Gorge. The softly layered peaks form a surreal backdrop as the ship courses through the rugged canyons. So sheer are the cliffs that it is said the sun rarely penetrates. Wu Gorge, celebrated for its twelve misty peaks soaring above, has been the inspiration of Chinese painters and poets throughout the centuries. The most famous is Goddess Peak, which resembles the figure of a maiden kneeling in front of a pillar. She is believed to be the embodiment of Yao Ji, the 23rd daughter of the Queen Mother of the West. Yao Ji, accompanied by 11 fairy handmaidens, was sent to oversee the Jade Pool of the Western Heaven, and end up staying there to protect the boats from the dangerous rapids. These 12 maidens became the 12 sentinel peaks of Wu Gorge.

You then change to the "peapod" boat for a trip up the crystal-clear Daning River through its magnificent Lesser Three Gorges to experience the excitement and awe of bygone days of river travel in China. Notice the ruins of the ancient plank road along the cliff face as well as the coffins of the Ba people suspended from the cliffs above. The contrasting heights of these gorges and the narrowness of the river make this area one of the most dramatic scenes in the world. Tonight you have a dinner featuring local cuisine and enjoy onboard entertainment.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 16 Three Gorges Dam - Shanghai
Enter Xiling Gorge
Enter Xiling Gorge

Visit "Three Gorges Dam" construction sites
Visit "Three Gorges Dam" construction sites
Your memorable cruise continues as you enter the spectacular Xiling Gorge. Choose your vantage point as the ship transits the five stage shiplocks, the largest shiplock in the world. Your cruiser makes a brief stop at Sandouping, the site of modern China's most ambitious engineering project - the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant. View the current phase of this 17 year project. When completed, the dam will be 610 feet high and over a mile wide. The hydroelectrical power plant will be driven by the world's largest turbines and have the generating capacity of 18 nuclear power plants. A reservoir 372 miles long will be created, with the end result of displacing 1.5 million people, submerging 1000s of their towns and villages and wiping out numerous archaeological sites. Whole cities have been relocated, precious topsoil brought to higher elevations and centuries-old lifestyles altered forever. Disembark at Yichang, the terminus of your memorable Yangtze cruise, you board 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". Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel and enjoy the evening at leisure.      Pullman Shanghai Skyway Hotel  (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 17 Shanghai
Bund, the symbol of Shanghai
Bund, the symbol of Shanghai

Shanghai new skyline
Shanghai's new skyline
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.

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.

Later, 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,L,D)     

 
 
Day 18 Suzhou Excursion
Pavilion of Watching the Moon, Master of Net Garden
Pavilion of Watching the Moon, Master of Net Garden
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.

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. Marco Polo once reported that so much precious silk was produced in Suzhou that every citizen was clothed in it. You also take a leisure cruise on the Grand Canal to see the real life along this ancient waterway. Afterwards, you travel by motor coach back to Shanghai.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 19 Hong Kong
Take tram to Victoria Peak, the summit of HK Island
Take tram to Victoria Peak, the summit of HK Island

Dim Sum at Jumbo Seafood Floating Restaurant
Dim Sum at Jumbo Seafood Floating Restaurant
In the morning you board the flight to Hong Kong to see the other side of China with its amazing modernity and cosmopolitan culture. Hong Kong, ranked as world's freest economy since 1970, is China's dynamic financial center and home of the world's busiest port. The ex-British colony is known as the "Pearl of the Orient" with its cultural diversity and serves as a major gateway to mainland China.

After two-hour flight you land at Hong Kong Airport - world's busiest airport that costs more than $20 billion to build. Upon arrival, meet your local representative and visit Victoria Peak, the summit of the Island and home to Hong Kong's elite. Take the original tram to the summit and get a bird-eye view of the magnificent skyline of the Victoria Harbor, where ferries and pleasure junks glide by. At night, this scene is transformed into a spectacle of lights.

Hong Kong prides itself with the most famous Cantonese cuisine in Chinese community. It is said that the Cantonese eat everything with four legs except tables, and everything with two wings except airplanes. To dine at a local restaurant is the best way to understand the local cultural. Today, you will have a special "Dim Sum" lunch at the iconic Jumbo Floating Seafood Restaurant, a complex of fine dining, sightseeing, shopping, and cultural attractions, which is also on top of Hong Kong Must-see list.

After lunch, you tour the nearby floating village of Aberdeen, where a 20-mintues optional cruise ($8 per person) is available to bring you an up-close look at the disappearing fishing community before this area is abolished and becomes a distant memory. Thousands of people still live on the junks and sampans in the harbor. Their traditional lifestyle is in sharp contrast to the modern life style of those living in the high-rise communities that hugs the nearby hillsides.

Later, you have some free time to shop at the Stanley Market and see where Hong Kong plays and prays as you visit the beach of shrine-dotted Repulse Bay.

In the evening, return to your hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure. Your hotel is centrally located in Mongkok in the heart of Kowloon. With its prime location, Royal Plaza gives you easy access to main business, shopping and entertainment this exciting city has to offer. At night, take a stroll along the famed Nathen Road and indulge yourself in a shopping spree at the countless stores and malls that open to the mid-night.      Royal Plaza Hotel Hong Kong  (B,SL)     

 
 
Day 20 Hong Kong
Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong Island

Victoria Harbour at night
Victoria Harbour at night
Hong Kong is bargain shopper's Mecca. And the prime location of your hotel offers everything you possibly need from shopping, dining, entertaining, touring etc. Enjoy your free day to explore this vibrant and fascinating cosmopolitan independently. You may also want to take the tram to the Victoria Harbor where In the evening, you can enjoy the spectacular show of "A Symphony of Lights". The show is awarded the world's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show by Guinness World Records, a nightly spectacle which combines interactive lights of 33 key buildings on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon with musical effects to showcase the enchanting night view of the Victoria Harbor. There's no better way to acquaint yourself with Hong Kong than to ride the cheapest cruise in China. The century-old green-and-white Star ferries weave between tugs, junks, and ocean-going vessels in a 5-minute harbor crossing to Hong Kong Island.

If you like, you can also take a vacation from your vacation with an optional tour to Macau and experience the uniqueness of this former Portuguese colony, which is an hour's turbojet ride from Hong Kong. Macau was first settled by Portuguese merchants and Jesuits in the 1500s. The Jesuits were ousted in the 1800s, but the Portuguese remained in control until 1999, when the colony was handed back to China. Often referred to as the "Monte Carlo of the Orient", 24 hour gambling is Macau's major draw, as well as its unique cuisine and its quaint European ambience. Meet your local representative upon arrival. Visit the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral, once a powerful presence. The crumbling facade is all that remains. Tour the beautifully tiled Largo do Senado, the main public square, an area of fountains, colonnades, and stately Portuguese architecture. Visit the A-Ma Temple, dedicated to the goddess of the sea, and for whom Macau was named. The temple is over 500 years old. After an included lunch, you will have the "chance" to go to the Casino Lisboa, Macau's largest casino. Take the turbojet back to Hong Kong and transfer to your hotel.      (B)     

 
 
Day 21 Fly home
Hong Kong Tsing Ma Bridge
Hong Kong's Tsing Ma Bridge
Transfer to the airport for your home-bound flight via Beijing. Arrive in U.S. later today.      (B)     

 
Air China Flight Schedule
A Chinese poem of your China and Tibet Tours