14 Day China's Best Treasures (2013)
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
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).
The 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 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.
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)
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 of 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 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.
Lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a visit to the Giant Panda at Beijing Zoo. Panda is officially considered a national treasure by Chinese government and is often used to cultivate relationships with other countries with panda diplomacy. This zoo offers a wonderful chance to get face-to-face with China's gentle giants. Afterwards, 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 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. Sheraton Xian North City (B,L,IM)
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, but it's only a fraction of the total buried there to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor. A Circle Vision documentary is available on site. Lunch at a local restaurant and see a noodle making demonstration.
The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses
The Tang Dynasty stage show
Today's Culture InSites Program will offer you a rare opportunity to witness a real rural life at a typical village in central China. You visit a Yao Dong (Literally an arched tunnel)—a typical cave dwellings that stretches across six provinces in north central China. The Yao Dong is caves dug into mountainsides with a signature arched front. Usually, one family unit consists of three arched openings, and the units are interconnected inside. The center cave can be termed the living room, which includes a stovetop cooking area. The two side caves are sleeping quarters. Outside of the cities of this region, some 90% of the rural population lives in yaodongs. 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)
This morning, tour the Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty landmark. This seven-story pagoda was initially constructed in 652 AD to house the Buddhist sutras brought back from India by the monk, Xuan Zang, who later translated them into Chinese. His pilgrimage to India is immortalized in the Chinese classic—The Journey to the West.
Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang landmark
Guilin's inspiring sceneries
Later, you take a relaxing walk to the heart of the city to visit its fascinating Muslim quarter. In the center of Xian, visible everywhere from the surrounding city walls, are the city's two Ming Dynasty treasures—Bell and Drum Towers. Built in 1384, the Bell Tower, in which a great bell once rang at dawn, is a classic example of Ming architecture. It consists of a triple-eaved, two storey wooden pavilion resting on a square brick platform nine meters high, pierced by four archways. Across the square from the Bell Tower is the rectangular Drum Tower, where a drum was beaten daily at sundown. First erected in 1380, the Drum Tower has become the gateway to Xian's old Muslim quarter and its historical mosque.
Founded in 742, the Great Mosque is the focus of the more than 30,000 Chinese Muslims (Hui) of Xian, whose beards and white caps distinguish them from Han Chinese. Stand in four beautiful courtyards of ancient trees, ornate arches and stone steles, the Mosque is the center of life for the Muslim community - the descendants of the merchants that ferried the religion into China along the ancient Silk Road. The backstreets surrounding the mosque is the charming Muslim Quarter hosting the city's most fascinating night market, with its winding streets, low houses, narrow lanes, excellent ethnic cuisine, and resident Hui community. Tour the lovely and unusual area with bustling stalls and enjoy some of the best street food in China!
In the late afternoon, you fly to Guilin and indulge yourself in China's most amazing natural landscapes. Guilin, literally means 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 one week of group travel. Sheraton Hotel Guilin (B,L,IM)
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.
Long Sheng's 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)
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.
Cruise the Li River and soak in its natural beauty
Guilin's landmark Li River and limestone peaks
Time permitting you will have free time to explore this fascinating town on your own, followed by a tour on tuk-tuk to visit local farmers' fields and homes. Yangshuo's landscape of limestone hills, rice fields and lazy rivers is the very image of rural China, and ride on a tuk-tuk through this much-painted landscape provides a great way to experience the dramatic countryside, ancient villages and bustling local markets in a very intimate way.
Traveling back to Guilin in the late afternoon, en route, we will make photo stop to shoot signature sceneries of the countryside. (B,L)
In the morning, you tour the Reed Flute Cave, nature's subterranean wonder filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Its name comes from the verdant reeds growing outside that are used to make flutes. The grand chamber known as the Crystal Palace, is an awesome spectacle, not to be missed. Another natural landmark is Elephant Trunk Hill, which resembles an elephant taking a drink of water from the Li River.
Bund, a landmark of Shanghai
In the late afternoon, you are transferred to the airport for a flight to the cosmopolitan 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". Marriott Shanghai City Center (B,L,D)
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.
Shanghai's new skyline
Xin Tian Di (New Heaven Earth) at night
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)
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)
Enjoy a full day at leisure 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)
Bid farewell to Shanghai as 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 covers the 20 mile distance in less than 8 minutes! * Maglev train ride is only available to Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) and does not work for flight schedule to New York. (B)
Take maglev train to Pudong International Airport
Air China Flight Schedule