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22 Day Imperial China, Tibet & Hong Kong (2014-2015)


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 late afternoon. Meet your local representative and transfer to your hotel in the heart of Beijing. Your hotel is conveniently located near the Chang An Avenue, along which are Beijing's major shopping malls, upscale restaurants, and tourist attractions. 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.

Lunch stop at a local jade workshop, afterwards, 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 trip.      (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 enjoy 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.      Sheraton Xian North City  (B,L)     

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

The Tang Dynasty stage show
The 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. Lunch at a local restaurant and see a noodle making demonstration.

In the afternoon, you 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. Time permitting, you'll also enjoy a chance to shop for ancient Chinese furniture or paintings.

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 - Chengdu
Visit Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center
Visit Chengdu's Giant Panda Breeding Center

Eating in Chengdu is a serious business
Eating in Chengdu is a serious business
In the morning, you fly to Chengdu, 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. No visit is complete without a meal in a local Sichuan restaurant. The cuisine is spicy, and peppercorns and chilies abound, but often in a surprisingly subtle way. Whether it's hotpot, meat or a vegetable dish, your mouth will water and your taste buds tingle with delight.

Upon arrival, 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. You are also allowed to make intimate contact with baby pandas and hug them for a photo. Giant Panda is officially considered the 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.

Chengdu has long been famous for its steamy teahouses, where locals recline on bamboo armchairs, play mahjong and meet with friends. For a relaxing afternoon with our exclusive Culture Insites Program, you sample a Sichuan style afternoon tea with locals in one of the many traditional bamboo teahouses scattered in parks across the city. You can while away an afternoon sipping tea and watching the locals read newspapers, play Sichuan opera, debate, play chess, cards, and mahjong. You may even be invited to give it a try yourself. Chengdu is commonly regarded as the most laid back city in China and today's visit gives you the answer why. This unique experience concludes at the Park of Riverview Pavilion set along the river. Check out the ancient Chongli Pavilion dedicated to the 9th century poetess Xue Tao with its striking ornaments, green glazed tiles and red lacquered columns, surrounded by over one hundred varieties of bamboo. A leisure walk in the serene bamboo forest is an experience not to be missed.

After dinner, you will be offered an opportunity to attend an optional performance of "Changing faces" at the 200-year-old Sichuan opera. Full of local color and flavor, Sichuan Opera, is a combination of music, comedy, puppets and acrobatic performances, including Changing Face, Spitting Fire and Bowl-lamp Rolling. The opera is performed in old halls or courtyard buildings and is a feast for the eyes.      Chengdu Minshan Hotel  (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 8: Chengdu - Lhasa
Fly over the snow-capped moutains of Tibetan Plateau
Fly over the snow-capped moutains of Tibetan Plateau

Visit to a local Tibetan family home
Visit to a local Tibetan family home
Today takes us on a spectacular morning flight over the Himalayas to Lhasa, Tibet, the roof of the world at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,700 m)! En route, enjoy the stunning views of "the hundreds of snow peaks in all directions" as we fly over the great White citadel of Minya Konka at 24,783 feet, the impressive 25,439-foot Namcha Barwa, the easternmost rampart of the Himalaya, and the Hengduan Range and the deep, gloomy valleys of three Asia's greatest rivers: the Mekong, the Salween, and the Yangtze.

We land at the Gongkar Airport, greeted by your Tibetan guide and take a scenic drive to Lhasa, capital city and spiritual heart of Tibet. Stop en route to take a peek at the Tibetan villages; 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, united Tibet, and then moved his capital to Lhasa and built a palace on the site now occupied by the Potala. During his reign, the temples of Ramoche and Jokhang were also established to Buddha images brought as the dowries of Songtsen Gampo's Chinese and Nepali wives.

Spend the rest of the day at leisure to acclimatize yourself to the high altitude of Lhasa (11,796 feet). Later in the afternoon, your Tibetan guide will enlighten our group about Tibetan history and folk customs, followed by an insightful visit to a local Tibetan family home where you have a people-to-people experience with the Tibetans and enjoy their home-made yak-butter tea. This evening, join your fellow travelers for a welcome dinner.      Four Points by Sheraton Lhasa  (B,D)     

 
 
Day 9: Lhasa
Potala Palace, once the residence of Dalai Lama
Potala Palace, once the residence of Dalai Lama

Witness the debate between monks at Sera Monastery
Witness the debate between monks at Sera Monastery
An unforgettable day begins with a tour to the monumental Potala Palace whose imposing presence dominates the entire region. Built at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3700 meters), on the side of Marpo Ri in the center of Lhasa Valley, the Potala Palace has vast inward-sloping walls broken only in the upper parts by straight rows of many windows, and flat roofs at various levels, giving it an appearance of a fortress. Once the residence of the Dalai Lama, and the seat of the Tibetan government, the 13-story structure has been a museum since the spiritual leader went into exile in 1959. The palace complex includes the White Palace, which was built for secular uses and contained the living quarters of Dalai Lama, offices, the seminary and the printing house. A central, yellow-painted courtyard known as a Deyangshar separates the living quarters of the Lama and his monks with the Red Palace, the other side of the sacred Potala, which is completely devoted to religious study and prayer. The Red Palace, hosting the sacred gold stupas—the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas, consists of a complicated layout of many different halls, over 10,000 chapels and libraries, and a labyrinth of mysterious dungeons on many different levels with a complex array of smaller galleries and winding passages. Of particular note is the rich gold and jewel-encrusted stupa containing the mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama. This stupa was built of sandalwood and was remarkably coated in 3,727 kg (8,200 lb) of solid gold and studded with 18,680 pearls and semi-precious jewels. It took 7,000 workers and 1,500 artists and craftsmen more than 50 years to build the adjoining White and Red palaces. Perched on Red Mountain, the Palace offers sweeping views of the city and the surrounding immense peaks that are as extraordinary as its interior.

Lunch at a local Tibetan restaurant, followed by a visit to the Sera Monastery, one of the most important centers of the Yellow Hat sect and also a pillar of the theocratic state. The history of the monastery is strongly connected to Master Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), the founder of the Yellow Hat, the much venerated and highly learned guru in Buddhist scriptures. Ordained at the remarkable age of three, he traveled widely to study with his era's greatest teachers and to train thousands of monks. Sera Monastery features three monastic colleges, which served in past centuries as magnets for thousands of monks who traveled from all over Tibet to study, train, and mediate. In the Tibetan language, sera means "wild rose garden." The monastery earned the name for the opulent wild roses that grew all around the site centuries ago. At its peak, the monastery was the home for more than 7,000 monks. While the numbers of roses and monks have diminished with the passage of time, the monastery and its grounds have only increased in cultural significance and emotional power.

The highlight of your trip to the Sera Monastery is a debating session held between the monks, that attracts pilgrims and visitors alike. The debate among monks unfolds in the presence of their teachers, with a very well set rule of procedure for the defender and the questioners. The tradition of such debates is traced to the ancient 'Hindu Orthodoxy' in India and this practice permeated into Buddhist orthodoxy in Tibet in the eighth century. Such debate is integral to the learning process in the colleges in the Sera Monastery and it facilitates better comprehension of the Buddhist philosophy to attain higher levels of study. This exemplary debating tradition supplemented with vigorous gestures which enliven the ambience of the occasion, is said to be exclusive to Sera Monastery. Visitors also attend to witness these debates that are held as per a set schedule, every day in the Debating Courtyard of the monastery.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 10: Lhasa
The view from the roof of Jakhang Temple
The view from the roof of Jakhang Temple

Tibetan Lama at Barkhor
Tibetan Lama at Barkhor
Start your tour in the heart of the old city at Jokhang Temple, the most celebrated temple in Tibet, which was often referred to by early Western visitors as Lhasa's cathedral. Throughout the day and night, Jokhang Temple attracts pilgrims from all over Tibet, who are often seen in full prostration on their hands and knees in reverence to one of Tibet's most sacred sites. Thousands of yak-butter candles flicker inside beneath the enlightened gaze of the golden Jowo Shakyamuni, the seventh-century Buddha statue that the temple was built to house.

Proceed to the Bakhor Street, the Pilgrim's Circuit and Lhasa's oldest market. With its narrow, cobblestone streets lined with kiosks, thangkas, and prayer wheels, this colorful shopping area is full of activities with monks chanting, vendors selling their wares, yak butter wafting in the air and hundreds of pilgrims 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. Bargaining for typical Tibetan goods and getting to know the proud, red-tasseled Khampas from eastern Tibet, the monks, and enjoying bantering with the astute and engaging merchants of this bit of old Tibet—this experience is unforgettable.

Continue to the Norbulingka, the former Summer Palace of Dalai Lama, for a leisurely afternoon visit. The largest and grandest garden of the Tibet Plateau, it is a masterpiece of Tibetan art and covers an area of 89 acres with an audience chamber of bright murals depicting events from Tibetan history, from the tilling of the first field to the building of the great monasteries.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 11: Lhasa - Yangtze Cruise
Prayer flags and views of Tibet
Prayer flags and views of Tibet

3-night cruise down the Yangtze River
3-night cruise down the Yangtze River
Bid farewell to Tibet as you are transferred to the airport for a flight to Chongqing, in preparation for your Yangtze River cruise. With a population of over 30 million, Chongqing is the gateway to China's most populous Sichuan (Literally, Four Rivers) Province and also home to China's most notable Sichuan cuisine. 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. Time permitting, 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.

No visit is complete without a meal in a local Sichuan restaurant. The cuisine is spicy, and peppercorns and chilies abound, but often in a surprisingly subtle way. Whether it's hotpot, meat or a vegetable dish, your mouth will water and your taste buds tingle with delight. After dinner, board your luxurious cruise ship for the memorable 3-night cruise down the Yangtze River. Settle into your outside balcony 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.      Victoria Anna  (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 12: Yangtze Cruise
Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of 3 Gorges
Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of 3 Gorges
From your private balcony, you watch the great Yangtze flow lazily to the east. Your ship docks at Fengdu, where you 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 river conditions, you may alternatively visit the Shibaozhai village (Stone Treasure Stronghold), for its 400-year-old wooden pagoda, known as the Shibaozhai Temple. This colorful structure, built without nails, hugs one side of the Jade Seal Hill. Its tall yellow entrance gate is decorated with lions and dragons and etched with an inscription inviting the visitors to climb the ladder and ascend into a "Little Fairyland".

Your cruise continues in the afternoon 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. Dinner tonight is Captain's welcome banquet.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 13: Yangtze Cruise
Cruise the Shennong Stream on peapod boat
Cruise the Shennong Stream 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 Shennong Stream 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 14: Three Gorges Dam - Shanghai
Enter Xiling Gorge
Enter Xiling Gorge

The Three Gorges Dam construction site
The Three Gorges Dam construction site
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 23 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.      Marriott Shanghai City Center or similar  (B,L)     

 
 
Day 15: Shanghai
Shanghai new skyline
Shanghai's new skyline

Walk on the Bund, the landmark of Shanghai
Walk on the Bund, the landmark of Shanghai
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 16: Suzhou & Tongli
Pavilion of Watching the Moon, Master of Net Garden
Pavilion of Watching the Moon, Master of Net Garden

Canals, arched bridges, and cobbled lanes at Tongli
Canals, arched bridges, and cobbled lanes at Tongli
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. 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)     

 
 
Day 17: Shanghai - Guilin
Guilin inspiring sceneries
Guilin's inspiring sceneries
In the morning you are free to rest, or to explore Shanghai on your own. After lunch, you are transferred to the airport for a flight to Guilin to indulge yourself in China's most amazing natural landscape. 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 Hotel Guilin  (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 18: Dragon Spine Terraces
Long Sheng Dragon Spine Rice Terraces
Long Sheng's Dragon Spine Rice Terraces
This part of the country encompasses China's most famous scenic landscapes. Before discovering the best treasures Guilin has to offer, we take 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.      (B,L,D)     

 
 
Day 19: Guilin - Hong Kong
Cruise the Li River and soak in its natural beauty
Cruise the Li River and soak in its natural beauty

Guilin landmark Li River and limestone peaks
Guilin's landmark Li River and limestone peaks
A beautiful day waits! After breakfast, you take a scenic ride through the countryside, passing lush green fields and rice paddies, to reach the Bamboo River pier, where you embark on a memorable cruise down the picturesque Li River. The 40-mile trip has countless twists and turns and 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 Yangshuo, a rural town, amidst a haunting and surreal setting.

Time permitting you will have free time to explore this fascinating town on your own. Afterwards, you board a short flight to the cosmopolitan Hong Kong. A former British colony perched on the edge of mainland China, Hong Kong is a fascinating city of contrasts—a place where East meets West; where the modern blends with the traditional; where shiny skyscrapers stand next to narrow alleys crammed with traditional vendors’ stalls. You’ll be transferred to your hotel centrally located in the bustling heart of Kowloon, overlooking the scenic Victoria Harbor and near the "Golden Mile," Hong Kong’s famous shopping district.

Tonight we take an exciting walking tour to experience Hong Kong's sights and sounds. In the evening, we gather together outside your hotel at the Victoria Harbor for a leisure walk on the promenade, where at 8pm every day the harbor is lit up with the spectacular show of "A Symphony of Lights"—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. The show is awarded the world's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show by Guinness World Records.

Afterwards, we board Hong Kong's iconic Star Ferry for a short cruise across the Victoria Harbor. The century-old green-and-white Star ferries weave between tugs, junks, and ocean-going vessels in a harbor crossing to Hong Kong Island, where we disembark and proceed to the bustling Central District.

Walk through the towers of steels and glasses and learn how Fengshui influences local architectures. Ascend to the middle level hillside on the world’s longest outdoor escalator, known as the "Heavenly Ladder", to observe a living culture featuring a unique fusion where "east-meets-west"—the hustle and bustle of this modern city mingles with the colorful age-old traditions of yesterday. Here, among the dried seafood and Chinese herb shops, you'll see traditions of the past that remain vibrant today.

As you continue along the walk, you'll experience time through the ages ending in Central, the financial heart of Hong Kong, full of energy and dynamism; an excellent way to see old and new China mingled in a spectacular display of old traditions and new technology. Our walking tour ends at Lan Kwai Fang, a buzzing center of clubs, bars and restaurants—a must for night owls and people-watchers. There's no better way to acquaint yourself with Hong Kong and experience the many facets of this vibrant city than in tonight's walking tour.      Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel  (B,L)     

 
 
Day 20: Hong Kong
Take tram to the Victoria Peak
Take tram to the Victoria Peak

Dim Sum at Jumbo Seafood Floating Restaurant
Dim Sum at Jumbo Seafood Floating Restaurant
After breakfast, you take a tour to Hong Kong Island. Visit Victoria Peak, the summit of the Island and home to Hong Kong's elite. Take the "Tram" to the summit and get a panoramic 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. Descend and see where Hong Kong plays and prays as you visit the beach of shrine-dotted Repulse Bay.

Continue to the 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.

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.

Later, you have some free time to shop at the Stanley Market. In the afternoon, you are at leisure to explore this vibrate city independently.      (B,SL)     

 
 
Day 21: Hong Kong
Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong Island

Victoria Harbor at night
Victoria Harbor at night
Enjoy your final day in Hong Kong at leisure. Take in the sights and sounds of Hong Kong on your own or shop to your heart's content. Hong Kong is a bargain shopper's Mecca. Take advantage of your hotel's prime location and indulge yourself in a shopping spree.

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 façade 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 (optional tour is $99 per person).      (B)     

 
 
Day 22: Fly home
Hong Kong Tsing Ma Bridge
Hong Kong's Tsing Ma Bridge
Bid farewell to Hong Kong as you are transferred to the airport for a flight to U.S. via Beijing, arriving in U.S. later today.      (B)     

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