18 Day China's Imperial Wonders & Yangtze (2012)
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", also known as Palace Museum"
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.
After lunch, you 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.
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.
Afterwards, you take a scenic drive through the countryside and mountains to reach China's most renowned monument—the 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—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, and having lunch with views of this architectural wonder spread out all around you at the Schoolhouse...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 emperor's Fengshui masters, is the exact point where heaven and Earth met. Built in 1420 (without the use of a single nail), this masterpiece of Ming architecture, features triple eaves, dramatically carved marble balustrades, and gorgeous glazed azure roof that symbolizes the color of heaven. This 120-foot-high structure is fixed by four inner pillars represent the seasons, and two sets of 12 columns denote the months and the traditional Chinese division of a day.
Time permits, you take a photo stop at the "Bird Nest" and visit the exterior portion of this huge complex—the main stadium of 2008 Beijing Olympics. In the afternoon, you tour the idyllic Summer Palace, once the summer retreat and playground for the imperial family and royal court during the late Qing Dynasty. Considered the finest Chinese imperial garden, the Summer Palace spans over 700 acres with breathtaking views, temples, pavilions, palaces and halls including the lavishly painted "Long Corridor". It is most associated, however, with the Empress Dowager Cixi who paid for the extravagant Marble Boat with funds meant for the modernization of the Imperial Navy. Weather permitting you can take a Dragon boat ride across the picturesque Kunming Lake.
Later, transfer to the airport for a flight to Xian to experience the historical side of your China trip. Located in the Yellow River Basin in China's heartland, Xian is one of the birthplaces of civilization. It has seen 3,100 years of development and 11 dynasties, giving it equal fame with Athens, Rome and Cairo as one of the four major ancient civilization capitals. Xian reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty at 10th century with a population of one million and is rich with cultural and historical significances. Shangri-La Hotel Xian (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. A Circle Vision documentary is available on site.
6,000 life size Terra-cotta Army
Enjoy 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)
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 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 overlooking the Li River. Shangri-La Hotel Guilin (B,L,IM)
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 Yangshuo, a small town, amidst a haunting and surreal setting.
Li River & Karst mountains - Guilin's signature scenery
The Crystal Palace of Reed Flute Cave
In the afternoon, you take a scenic drive back to Guilin and visit 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. Tonight you have an international buffet dinner served in your hotel. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, you take a short flight to the mountain city of Chongqing, China's largest city 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.
Yangtze, the Greatest river in Asia
Cruise on the crystal clear Shennong Stream
Visit the Giant Panda at Chongqing Zoo. Whenever China dispatches its animal ambassadors to zoos around the world, they have usually started their life in Sichuan Province where eighty percent of the world's 1,000 remaining giant panda reside. Giant Panda is officially considered "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. 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, you board China's official 5-star cruiser (with private balcony) to start your memorable 3-night cruise down the Yangtze River. Settle into your cabin and check out the numerous amenities on board. The Yangtze River originates on the Tibetan Plateau and traverses a distance of 3900 miles before flowing into the East China Sea, near Shanghai. It is the third longest river in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile. With over 700 tributaries, the Yangtze River has been the lifeline and major commercial thoroughfare in China for millennia M.V. President Prime, Executive Suite with seperate VIP Dining (B,L,D)
From your private balcony, you watch the great Yangtze flow lazily to the east... your cruiser makes a stop at Fengdu. You then take a shore excursion to explore China's city of Ghosts, where all souls are said to return here to accept final judgments after their death. You visit temples and shrines dedicated to the gods of the underworld and other landmarks including "Ghost Torturing Pass, Last-glance-at-home Tower, and Nothing-to-be-done Bridge.
Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of 3 Gorges
Back onboard in the afternoon; your cruise continues and enters Qutang Gorge - the shortest, narrowest and probably the most fascinating of the three, noted for its fantastic scenery resembling an elegant Chinese painted scroll. Tonight is Captain's welcome banquet. (B,L,D)
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.
Cruise "Lesser Three Gorges" on "peapod" boat"
Tweleve misty peaks of Wu Gorges
You then change to the "peapod" boat for a trip up the crystal-clear Daning River through its magnificent Lesser Three Gorges to experience the excitement and awe of bygone days of river travel in China. Notice the ruins of the ancient plank road along the cliff face as well as the coffins of the Ba people suspended from the cliffs above. The contrasting heights of these gorges and the narrowness of the river make this area one of the most dramatic scenes in the world. Tonight you have a dinner featuring local cuisine and enjoy onboard entertainment. (B,L,D)
Your memorable cruise continues as you enter the spectacular Xiling Gorge. Choose your vantage point as the ship transits the five stage shiplocks, the largest shiplock in the world. Your cruiser makes a brief stop at Sandouping, the site of modern China's most ambitious engineering project - the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant. View the current phase of this 17 year project. When completed, the dam will be 610 feet high and over a mile wide. The hydroelectrical power plant will be driven by the world's largest turbines and have the generating capacity of 18 nuclear power plants. A reservoir 372 miles long will be created, with the end result of displacing 1.5 million people, submerging 1000s of their towns and villages and wiping out numerous archaeological sites. Whole cities have been relocated, precious topsoil brought to higher elevations and centuries-old lifestyles altered forever. Disembark at Yichang, the terminus of your memorable Yangtze cruise you board a flight to Shanghai, China's vibrant financial and artistic center. Shanghai, literally means "above the sea", is China's largest and most dynamic city, with a population of 18 million. In the 13th century it became a minor county seat and so it remained until the mid-19th century when British commercial ambitions led to war with China. The ensuing Treaty of Nanking allowed the British to trade freely from certain ports including Shanghai. The city soon became an outpost of glamour, high living, and ultimately decadence. In the 1930s, Shanghai is renowned as "the Pearl of the East". Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel at the heart of Shanghai. Enjoy the evening at leisure. Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai (B,L,D)
Enter Xiling Gorge
Visit "Three Gorges Dam" construction sites
Begin your tour in the heart of old Shanghai at the 16th century Yu Garden 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. Enjoy a stunning view of Shanghai from the 88th floor of the Jinmao Tower, the tallest building in China. At 1,380 feet, it is the world's third tallest building, as well as home to the world's tallest hotel, the Grand Hyatt Shanghai.
Visit Yu Garden and city barzaar
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 lunch, you take a 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. Later, you visit the People's Square and tour the architectural inspiring Shanghai Museum, with its 120,000 piece collection of ancient Chinese relics. The priceless collection includes jade, bronze, ceramics, paintings and furniture. Dinner is an authentic Shanghai cuisine followed by an unforgettable performance of the Shanghai Acrobats. (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
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 cruise on the Grand Canal followed by a tour to 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 by motor coach to Shanghai and enjoy your evening at leisure (B,L)
In the morning, you are free to rest or to explore this magnificent city on your own. Your hotel is centrally located near major shopping areas. After lunch, you are transferred to the airport for a flight to Hong Kong.
The Victoria Harbour
Hong Kong, ranked as world's freest economy since 1970, is China's dynamic financial center and home of the world's busiest port. With its amazing modernity and cosmopolitan culture, the ex-British colony is known as the "Pearl of the Orient" and serves as a major gateway to China. Your hotel is located in the heart of the renowned shopping and entertainment district of Tsim Sha Tsui overlooking Victoria Harbor. In the evening, the spectacular show of "A Symphony of Lights" illuminates the area with a dazzling display. This show has been named as the world's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show by Guinness World Records. It is a nightly spectacle which combines interactive lights of 33 key buildings on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon and features musical effects to showcase the enchanting night view of Victoria Harbor. Kowloon Shangri-La (B,L)
After breakfast, you visit the 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. Then see where Hong Kong plays and prays as you visit the beach of shrine-dotted Repulse Bay.
Take tram to the Victoria Peak
Dim Sum at Jumbo Seafood Floating Restaurant
Later, you have some free time to shop at the Stanley Market. If time permits, you visit the floating 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.
Afterwards, return to your hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure. You may take a short tram ride to Tsimshatsui where you may enjoy a "high-tea" at the legendary Peninsula Hotel, or visit the Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong Cultural Center, and Star Ferry - 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. (B,L)
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.
Hong Kong Island
Victoria Harbor 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 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)