18 Day The Silk Road (2012)
Arrive in Beijing in the late afternoon. Meet your local representative and transfer to your hotel in the center 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 Chinas historic and vibrant capital city. Marriott Beijing City Wall
Bird Nest, the main venue of 2008 Summer Olympics
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).
Last Emperor's "Forbidden City"
Visit old Beijing's Hutong on pedi-cabs
Completed in 1420, the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the world's largest palace complex and China's most magnificent imperial architecture, consisting of many buildings with 9,999 rooms, on a 250-acre compound, protected by a 20-foot-wide moat and a 32-foot-high wall. Now known as the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City was the exclusive domain of the imperial court and dignitaries where outside visitors were forbidden for 5 centuries. Here you will explore the imperial treasures in the grand palaces and pavilions, exquisite courtyards and gardens in what was once the residence of China's rulers.
Afterwards, join our Culture InSites™ Program for a rickshaw ride along Old Beijing's Hutongs (narrow ancient alleys) to discover the sights and sounds of local Beijing life in these traditional Chinese neighborhoods. See the locals as they go about their daily activities; and tour the maze-like alleyways and courtyard houses before it's gone forever. Highlights include visits to a traditional courtyard home, to a local market, and a leisure walk along the ""Lotus Lane"" lined with bars, restaurants and tea houses. This unique tour features a delicious lunch served at a local family home with a Chinese dumpling-making demonstration.
Return to your hotel for some free time in the afternoon. In the evening, we are gathering for a welcome dinner of a specially prepared meal of Beijing Duck, cooked to crispy perfection. (B,L,SD)
A memorable day awaits with an excursion to the Great Wall of China at the less-visited Mutianyu section.
The "Summer Palace" for Empress Dowager Cixi
The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu section
In the morning, 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 pathâ€¦today is a highlight of your China vacation.
Later, you tour the idyllic Summer Palace, once the summer retreat and playground for the imperial family and royal court during the late Qing Dynasty. Considered the finest Chinese imperial garden, the Summer Palace spans over 700 acres with breathtaking views, temples, pavilions, palaces and halls including the lavishly painted "Long Corridor". It is most associated, however, with the Empress Dowager Cixi who paid for the extravagant Marble Boat with funds meant for the modernization of the Imperial Navy. (B,L,D)
In the morning, you visit the Temple of Heaven, the largest temple complexes in China and a paradigm of Chinese architectural balance and symbolism. One key element in China's architectural genius was the blending of the monumental with the delicate, and the Temple of Heaven is perhaps the finest expression of this mixing of near opposite.
"Hall of Supreme Harmony", Temple of Heaven
The Tianshan Mountain of Xinjiang
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.
Later, you are transfer to the airport for a flight to Urumqi, capital of the vast, dry expanse of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China's remote northwest. Upon arrival, meet and transfer to your hotel centrally located in the heart of the city. Hoi Tak Hotel (B,L,IM)
Xinjiang, literally the "New Frontier", is China's Alaska, a region of extremes-stunning mountain ranges, sapphire blue lakes, blasted terrain, and the deadly sweep of the Taklamakan Desertâ€¦ It is divided into northern grasslands and southern deserts by the Heavenly Mountains; Kazakh nomads predominate in the northern pastures and Uighur farmers are a majority in the southern desert basin.
The Heavenly Lake
The Kazakh nomads predominate the North Xinjiang
No city in the world is more distant from the sea than Urumqi (meaning "the beautiful pastures"); today, it is the most industrialized city on the old Silk Road. A scenic drive in the morning takes you high into the Tianshan Mountains to Heavenly Lake for a relaxing break in your journey. You have time to explore the alpine wilderness, savor the fresh air and then take a cruise on the lake. This area is home to the Kazakh and you have an opportunity to visit a local Kazakh family at their yurt home.
After dinner, you are transferred to the airport for a flight to Kashgar, a medieval town, an oasis post and a vibrant Islamic center within Chinese territory. Kashgar Tianyuan Hotel (B,L,D)
No Silk Road trip is complete without visiting Kashgar. This oasis town is located at a great junction in the Silk Road where the northern and southern routes reunited before threaded west into Persia and on to Europe. Heading east, traders swap horses and yaks for camels to cross the vast deserts of China. Heading west, they readied their pack animals to brave the high mountain passes into central Asia. Marco Polo heralded Kashgar in the 13th century as the "Starting point from which many merchants set out to market their wares to the world".
Uygurs at Sunday market
The unforgettable visit to Kashgar's Sunday Bazaar
In the morning, you take a leisure tour to the famous Sunday Bazaar, the largest open-air market in Asia that has been held here for the past 1,500 years. Every Sunday, around 100,000 people gather in the enormous Kashgar Bazaar area where you can buy anything from goats' heads and hooves to colorful painted wooden saddles. Here, you will encounter some of the many different nationalities bringing their wares into town for trade; Uygurs, Han Chinese, Kazaks, Kirgizs, Tajiks, Pakistanis, and Afghanistan. The traditional costumes and food give it an almost medieval feel and bring alive the legends of your adventure to the Silk Road. It is in this giant oasis, near the westernmost tip of China that your epic overland journey reaches its height.
Lunch at a local restaurant to sample the local flavor. Afterwards, you visit the Abakh Khoja Tomb, the holiest site in the entire Xinjiang, with a large dome of dazzling glazed green tiles. It is a masterpiece of Uygur architecture. Legend has it that Iparhan, a descendant of Abakh Khoja, exuded an enchanting natural scent as sweet as the bloom of a flower and therefore was given the name "Fragrant Concubine" by the Qing Emperor, whom she married for 28 years. Living in Beijing but missing her parents in Kashgar, She died at the age of 55. After her death, the Emperor ordered an empty coffin full of the clothes she used to wear to sent back to home town of Kashgar and that trip consumed 120 people 3 years. The original cart carrying the coffin still stands in front of the mausoleum. Later, you tour the Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China, and accommodates up to 20,000 prayers. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, you are transfer to the airport for your flight to Urumqi, upon arrival, travel by motorcoach to the Oasis town of Turpan—a luxuriant staging post at the foot of the Heavenly Mountain, imprisoned in the sterile void of the surrounding terrain.
The Jiaohe Ruins, an UNESCO World Heritage Site
An Uygur girl
Drive to Turpan is an unforgettable and invigorating experience. En route, you pass the snow-capped Heavenly Mountain Ranges, through the remarkable Taklamakan Desert and view the massive amount of wind mills near Babancheng.
At Turpan, the northern route of the Silk Road steps into one of the deepest continental basin on Earth - the Turpan Depression at 505 ft. below sea level. It is a model Silk Road oasis, a sleepy desert down shaded by poplar trees and grape arbors, peopled by Uygur in traditional dress and irrigated by vast system of hand-dug underground channels that funnel the melting snows of the Heavenly Moutains into Turpan.
Upon arrival, you tour the ruins of Gaochang, once the prosperous kingdom of 7th century. Later, you visit Karez Wells - the remarkable underground irrigation system that were first engineered 2,000 years ago, based on a Persian design. For the past 20 centuries, the melting snow and glaciers on the Heavenly Mountain have reached Turpan through this massive underground network of tunnels and more than 3,000 miles of tunnels have been hand-dug under the desert floor at Turpan.
Tonight, you relax and sit under the vineyards for a typical Uygur meal of crispy roast lamb skewers, followed by the Uygur singing and dancing show. Tuha Petroleum Hotel (B,L,D)
In the morning, you tour the Flaming Mountains, well-known scenery in a 16th-century Chinese classics "Journey to the West". This 60-mile long bluff consists of barren red limestone and resembles a tableau of raging flames when ignited by the afternoon sun. In the novel, the monk Xuan Zang and his companion Monkey King attempted to cross the Flaming Mountains but could not penetrate the flames. The Monkey King procured a magical palm-leaf fan from Princess Iron Fan and waved it 49 times, causing heavy rains to fall and extinguish the fire. Nevertheless, the locals now add that, while attempting to cross the Flaming Mountains, Monkey King burnt his tail, and ever since then all monkeys have had red bottoms.
The Flaming Mountain
The Grape Gorge of Turpan
Then you continue to the northeast of Turpan to visit the 5-century AD Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves in stunning surroundings, high up a cliff in the Murtuk River gorge. After lunch at a local restaurant, you tour the famed Grape Gorge - a park of vineyards and fruit groves, to sample its renowned mare-nipple grapes, honeydew melons and wine of this region.
The highlight of today is to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of ancient Jiaohe Ruins. The impressive ruins lie in the Yarnaz Valley west of Turpan, on an island at the confluence of two rivers. The city, built on a high plateau, was established as a garrison during the Han Dynasty. Despite destruction in the 13th century by Mongol hordes, large fragments of actual streets and building remains including a Buddhist monastery, Buddhist statues, a row of bleached pagodas, a observation tower, government centers and even a prison.
After dinner, you are transferred to the train station for an overnight train ride to Dunhuang. Following the path of the Northern Silk Road, you journey east across the Gobi Desert into China's Gansu Province. (B,L,D)
Wake up to the sunrise on the immense desert; you arrive in Dunhuang, a small oasis town, but in many ways the most important outpost on the Silk Road.
Visit the Sand Dunes of Dunhuang on a camel ride
The murals of Mogao Caves
Dunhuang, literally means Blazing Beacon, was a vital and flourishing caravan stop, the westernmost oasis under Chinese control in the early days of Silk Road. Two thousand years ago, when Buddhist first entered China, Dunhuang lay on a principal trade route along which flowed emissaries from myriad cultures of Central Asia. The town marked a confluence of artistic styles and philosophies, becoming an important center of Buddhism and a place of devout pilgrimage. Three major trading routes from the West merged here, making it a major supply center. Dunhuang shelters one of the most significant capitals of early Buddhist art in China.
Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel for a rest. Later, you set off to visit the Dunhuang Museum. Afterwards, you tour the Singing Sand Dunes on a camel ride. The dunes look like a poster of the Sahara. In their deep folds, they trap underground springs, creating Crescent Moon Lake, a celebrated pool where Silk Road travelers, including Marco Polo, paused to drink. A popular saying at Dunhuang goes: "The skill of man made the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, but the Hand of God fashioned the Lake of the Crescent Moon".
Your hotel is located at the foot of the Sand Dunes and at the end of the day, you enjoy a stunning view of the sunset and the evening breeze of the desert. Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel (B,L,D)
On a full day excursion you visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mogao Caves - China's richest treasure house of Buddhist paintings, statues, and manuscripts. Nearly 500 grottoes pierce the desert cliffs above a dry river valley and were created over a thousand-year period stretching from the 4th century to the 14th century AD. Nine dynasties rose and fell during this time, and the artists of each period contributed. The art illuminates a time when Dunhuang was a major center of Central Asian culture and the main contact point between China and the rest of the world.
Mogao Caves, an UNESCO World Heritage Site
A mural inside the Mogao Caves
The first caves are said to have been built in 366 AD and the last one carved out a the time of the Mongolian conquest in 1277. After that, Mogao sunk into oblivion, until the monk Wang Yuanlu settled here at the turn of the 20th century. As news spread of the survival of the caves and of Wang's discovery in 1900 of the Dunhuang manuscripts, foreign archaeologists and explorers began turning up in Dunhuang buying valuable manuscripts and scroll paintings, and removing statues. The richness of the material created a whole field of study known as "Dunhuangology". (B,L,D)
Follow the footsteps of the caravans on the ancient Silk Road, you travel eastward through the barren strip of the Hexi Corridor, the geographical boundary between China proper and the west, heading for the desert town of Jiayuguan Pass. En route, you drive at the foot of the snowcapped mountain of Qilian, into the deep desert, passing the barren landscape of the Gobi, the villages of earthen houses, and the ancient fortress ruins. You stop for a lunch at the Jade Pass, the last frontier of the ancient Middle Kingdom, according to a Chinese saying, even "the spring wind does not go beyond the Jade Pass". Deep into the desert you reach the ruins of Qiaowan, the dream city where the Qing Dynasty emperor ordered a palace built. Stark but fascinating desert scenery compensates for the rather bumpy journey and before you know it you are entering the cultivated fields surrounding the oasis town of Jiayuguan.
Oasis along the Hexi Corridor
A ruin of the ancient Great Wall at Yangguan Pass
Historically, Gansu Province has been a vital conduit between China and the western world, the beginning of the Silk Road along with merchants for centuries transported their wares until shifting power and maritime trade rendered it obsolete. This area first became part of China proper in the Qin Dynasty (B.C. 221 - 206). Buddhism made its way into China through here as early as the first century BC. Gansu became the edge of China, the last link with the Middle Kingdom and therefore with civilization. The Great Wall, the most solid representation of ancient Chinese opinion of the outside world, passes through China to the greatest fortress at Jiayuguan, beyond which lay Dunhuang, and then perdition. Jiayuguan Huayuan Hotel (B,L,D)
After breakfast, you visit the famed Jiayuguan Pass-the single most stunning sight along the Silk Road. When the First Emperor, Qinshihuang, unified ancient sections of the wall in 221BC, Jiayuguan did mark the end of the Great Wall. Under the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368 - 1644), when the Wall achieved its final form, Jiayuguan became the garrison on the final frontier. You will learn why the Great Wall ends here: it controls the route through the Jade Pass that threaded the Silk Road between the snowcapped Qilian Mountain to the south and the Black Mountains of the Horse Mane range to the north. Jiayuguan Pass is a marvelous outpost to behold, its illustrious gate towers rising 35 feet from the desert. Several layers of formidable walls were built in the Gobi Desert. Inside is an assortment of buildings, including a temple and a theater where Qing troops were entertained. Walk on the walls and stroll along the battlements. This spectacular structure traditionally marks the barrier's westernmost extremity. In the afternoon, enjoy an excursion to visit a group of tombs from Wei (AD 220 - 265) and Jin (AD 265 - 420) Dynasties. Tour the underground chambers and see the murals that depicting the daily life of the locals dating back to 2,000 years ago.
The west end of the Great Wall
The Jiayuguan Pass
Later, you fly to Xian, the ancient capital of The Middle Kingdom and the eastern starting point of the Silk Road. 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,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 Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty landmark
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)
In the morning, 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.
Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang landmark
Bund, a landmark of Shanghai
Later, you are 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".
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. Pullman Shanghai Skyway Hotel (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 world class hotels, international financial institutions, and commercial centers.
Shanghai's bustling Yu Garden bazaar
Jinmao Tower & Pudong's new skyline
You visit to the 88th floor of the Jinmao Tower, the third tallest building in China. At 1,380 feet, it is the world's fifth tallest building, as well as home to the world's tallest hotel - the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. From its lofty platform, you enjoy a stunning view of Shanghai. Later you have a traditional Mongolian BBQ Buffet lunch. In the afternoon, you visit People's Square and tour the famed Shanghai Museum, an unique and inspiring piece of architecture, home to more than 120,000 cultural relics of ancient China, including a priceless collection of jade, bronze, ceramics, paintings, furniture, etc. After dinner, you attend an unforgettable performance of the Shanghai Acrobats.
After the performance, we drop you at the Xin Tian Di for a leisure and romantic night. Literally means "New Heaven Earth", it is Shanghai's trendiest lifestyle destination. This 2-block complex of high-end restaurants (some of Shanghai's best), bars, shops, and entertainment facilities, mostly lodged in refurbished traditional Shanghainese shikumen (stone-frame) housing, is the first phase of the Taiping Qiao Project, an urban renewal project. Busloads of domestic Chinese tourists traipse through in the evenings, Western visitors feel like they've never left home, and hip young Shanghainese flood here to enjoy the good life they feel they're due. (B,SL,D)
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 Master of the Nets Garden, 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, you board the Maglev, the world's fastest magnetic levitation train, for your trip to the Pudong International Airport. The Maglev travels at a speed of 287mph and will cover the 20 mile distance in less than 8 minutes! Board your return flight home, and arrive in U.S.A. later today. * Maglev is available for San Francisco departures only. (B)
Take maglev train to Pudong Internaitonal Airport
Air China Flight Schedule