16 Day Best of China & Hong Kong (2011)
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 Maos 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 its 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 Sacred Way of Ming Tombs and the Great Wall of China at the less-visited Mutianyu section.
The "Sacred Way" of Ming Tombs
The Great Wall of China at 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 Chinas 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 Chinas northern mountain ranges from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert — a distance of over 3500 miles! Chairman Mao once said "You havent walked on the Wall, you havent been a good Chinese".
And today, youll 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)
In the morning, you visit the Temple of Heaven, the largest temple complexes in China and a paradigm of Chinese architectural balance and symbolism. One key element in China's architectural genius was the blending of the monumental with the delicate, and the Temple of Heaven is perhaps the finest expression of this mixing of near opposite.
"Hall of Supreme Harmony", Temple of Heaven
The "Summer Palace" for Empress Dowager Cixi
During each winter solstice, the Ming and Qing emperors would perform rites and make sacrifices to Heaven praying for good harvest for their empire. The most striking edifice is the "Hall of Prayer of Good Harvests", which according to the emperors 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,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.
6,000 Terra-cotta warriors and horses
Tang Dynasty stage show
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.
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)
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.
Visit Chengdu's Giant Panda Breeding Center
Eating in Chengdu is a serious business
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 "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 in an experience not to be missed.
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, 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)
Up to now at the half way point of this trip, you have toured China's historical capitals and a few traditional cultural centers. Early 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.
Take tram to Victoria Peak, the summit of HK Island
Dim Sum at Jumbo Seafood Floating Restaurant
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)
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.
Hong Kong Island
Victoria Harbour at night
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)
In the morning, you are free to explore this magnificent city on your own. In the afternoon, you are transferred to the airport for a short flight (40 minutes) to Guilin to indulge yourself in China's most amazing natural landscapes.
Hong Kong is shoppers` paradise
Guilin's inspiring sceneries
Guilin, literally "Osmanthus Forrest", is celebrated for its picturesque karst limestone pinnacles and meandering Li River. An old Chinese saying describes Guilin's landscape as "the best scenery under heaven". Its misty limestone peaks "rise as suddenly from the earth as trees in a forest, and surrounding the city like mountains floating in an imaginary sea". Meet your local representative and transfer to your hotel in the heart of the city. Your hotel is located on a riverside avenue of the sweet-scented cassia trees and overlooks the Li River. It's a place for relaxation and also offers a perfect escapade after 10 days of group travel. Sheraton Hotel Guilin (B,L,D)
A beautiful day waits! You take a scenic motor coach ride through the countryside, past lush green fields and rice paddies. Arrive at a local village and embark on a memorable Li River cruise. The 40-mile trip has countless twists and turns. The scenery is reminiscent of classical Chinese landscapes — bamboo groves, sleepy villages, fishermen on bamboo rafts, cormorants, water buffalo, soaring karst pinnacles and mist shrouded peaks... your cruise concludes at the famed Yangshuo, a small town, amidst a haunting and surreal setting. Enjoy an exploration at this fascinating town.
Cruise Li River and soak in its beauty
Crystal Palace at Reed Flute Cave
Later travel by motor coach to Guilin. In the afternoon, 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. In the evening, you are at leisure or join an optional cormorant fishing tour. (B,L,D)
If time permits, you tour the Solitary Beauty Peak for a panorama view of Guilin and Li River, then transferred to the airport for a flight to Shanghai, China's vibrant financial and artistic center. Shanghai, literally means "above the sea", is China's largest and most dynamic city, with a population of 18 million. In the 13th century it became a minor county seat and so it remained until the mid-19th century when British commercial ambitions led to war with China. The ensuing Treaty of Nanking allowed the British to trade freely from certain ports including Shanghai. The city soon became an outpost of glamour, high living, and ultimately decadence. In the 1930s, Shanghai is renowned as "the Pearl of the East".
Bund, the symbol of Shanghai
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 clusters of shinning metal and glass skyscrapers of world class hotels, international financial institutions, and commercial centers towered above the Huangpu River.
Jinmao Tower and Pudong's new skyline
Xin Tian Di (New Heaven Earth) at night
You visit the 88th floor of the Jinmao Tower, the third tallest building in China. At 1,380 feet, it is the world's fifth tallest building, as well as home to the world's tallest hotel — the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. From its lofty platform, you enjoy a stunning view of Shanghai including some of its landmark skyscrapers such as Oriental Pearl Tower and World Financial Tower, etc.
Afterwards, you visit People's Square and tour the famed Shanghai Museum, an unique and inspiring piece of architecture, home to more than 120,000 cultural relics of ancient China, including a priceless collection of jade, bronze, ceramics, paintings, furniture, etc. After dinner, you attend an unforgettable performance of the Shanghai Acrobats.
After dinner, 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)
In the morning you travel by motor-coach to Suzhou, which is often referred, by the Chinese, as the "Venice of the East". Suzhou is a 2,500-year-old city renowned the world over for its traditional gardens, ancient canals and silk production. In 1997 Suzhou's classic garden was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pavilion of Watching the Moon, Master of Net Garden
Canals, arched bridges, and cobbled lanes at Tongli
The construction of the Grand Canal in the 7th century created a means whereby silk, the prized commodity from this region could be transported to the Northern capital, Beijing, a distance of over 600 miles. With prosperity came prestige as merchants and artisans plied their trade. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Suzhou flourished as a place of refinement, drawing an influx of scholars and merchants, who built themselves numerous elegant gardens.
The Chinese garden developed as a synthesis of two concepts linked in Taoist philosophy — scenery and serenity: the contemplation of nature in isolated meditation led to enlightenment. Therefore, the educated and wealthy built natural-looking retreats for themselves with an urban environment. The garden creates poetic and painterly concepts, and aims to improve on nature in creating a picture that looks natural but is in fact entirely artificial. For this the Chinese garden designer used four main elements: rocks, water, plants, and architecture.
Upon arrival, you visit the Garden of the Master of Fishing Nets, and experience all of the elements of a classical Chinese garden. It is said that the Master of the Nets Garden was named after one of its owners — a retired official who wished to become an accomplished fisherman. Dating to 1140, it is considered by many, the finest of all Suzhou's gardens. Although exceptional small, it succeeds, with great subtlety, in introducing every element considered crucial to the classical Chinese garden. It includes a central lake, discreet connecting corridors, pavilions with miniature courtyards, screens, delicate latticework, and above all, points which "frame a view", as if looking at a perfectly balanced photograph. The best known building is the "Pavilion for Watching the Moon", from where the moon can be viewed in a mirror, in the water, and in the sky.
Later, you tour the Silk Spinning Mill, where you will learn how silk is created from the mulberry-munching silkworms to produce thread and fine cloth. Afterwards, you travel to Tongli, a pretty little water town typical of the region. Tongli gives visitors a good idea of what Suzhou must have been like in its heyday. Reminiscent of scenes from traditional Chinese paintings, it is complete with canals, arched stone bridges, cobbled lanes, and tile-roofed wooden houses. Visit a courtyard mansion to learn about the lavish life style of its residents. Then, learn about traditional Chinese wedding customs at a local folklore museum. Take an exciting ride on a gondola and experience the charm of Tongli's waterways. You will have free time to browse and buy some local specialties along Old Street, which is lined with Ming style homes and storefronts. In the late afternoon, you travel by motor coach to Shanghai and enjoy your evening at leisure (B,L,D)
Today is at leisure for you to explore this magnificent city on your own.
Nanjing Road, bargain shoppers' paradise
You will be provided with a specially prepared orientation list. Stroll through the Old Shanghai bazaar, shop at Nanjing Road's emporiums, or enjoy a nostalgic evening performance by the renowned senior citizen's Jazz band at the Peace Hotel. (B)
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.
Take maglev train to Pudong International Airport
* Maglev is available for San Francisco departures only. (B)
Air China Flight Schedule