12 Day The Middle Kingdom (2010)
Day 1 Depart USA
Day 2 Beijing
Day 3 Beijing
Tour Beijing's imperial treasures. First, Tian'anmen Square, the largest public square in the world, capable of holding one million people. Stroll across its vast expanse. An assortment of historical buildings, Communist monuments and huge museums, including Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, the Monument to the People's Heroes, and the Great Hall of the People - home of the National People's Congress, flank the Square. Walk through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, under the famed portrait of Chairman Mao, to enter the Forbidden City, a 9,999-room compound, where the 24 emperors of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties ruled the Middle Kingdom for nearly 500 years (1420-1911). Experience the architectural splendour of the palaces, ceremonial courtyards and private quarters.
Last Emperor's "Forbidden City"
The "Summer Palace" for Empress Dowager Cixi
Lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a visit to Panda at Beijing Zoo. In the afternoon, you tour the idyllic Summer Palace, with its sprawling encampment of temples, pavilions, and the 728-yard Long Corridor. The Summer Palace served the Qing Dynasty as an imperial retreat from the stifling summer confines of the Forbidden City. 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. It is the best preserved and the largest imperial garden in China. Later, you enjoy a boat ride on picturesque Kunming Lake. (B,L,D)
Day 4 Beijing
In the morning, you visit the Temple of Heaven; this remarkable building is considered the supreme achievement of traditional Chinese architecture. 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, this masterpiece of Ming architecture, features triple eaves, dramatically carved marble balustrades, and gorgeous glazed azure roof that symbolizes the color of heaven. Built without a single nails, 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 take a photo stop at the "Bird Nest" and visit the exterior portion of this magnificent complex - the main stadium of 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"Hall of Supreme Harmony", Temple of Heaven
Visit the "Great Wall" of China at Badaling section
Afterwards, you take a scenic drive through the countryside to reach China's most renowned monument - the Great Wall. The 'original' 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". Today you will have ample time to climb a section of the Great Wall and to get a sense of the enormity of this ancient edifice. In the evening, savor a specially prepared meal of Beijing Duck, cooked to crispy perfection. (B,L,SD)
Day 5 Beijing - Xian
After breakfast, join our Culture InSites™ Program and experience the world of Beijing's Hutongs, via rickshaw. This network of courtyard homes and narrow lanes traditionally linked the Old City. Tour the maze-like alleyways and neighborhood residences before it's gone forever. See the locals as they go about their daily activities. Highlights include visits to a traditional courtyard style home, to the Lotus Flower Market, and a leisure walk along the "Lotus Lane" lined with bars, restaurants and coffee houses. This unique tour concludes with a delicious meal served at the home of a local family.
Visit old Beijing's Hutong on pedi-cabs
Night market at Xian's Muslim quarter
In the afternoon, you are transferred to the airport for a short flight to Xian to witness the historical side of China. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Xian was a historic gateway to the Silk Road and the capital of the Middle Kingdom for 11 dynasties. In a time when ancient Beijing was just a remote trading post, Xian was the capital of China and one of the world's largest and richest cities, with a population exceeding one million in the 10th century.
After dinner, you take a relaxing walk to the heart of the city to visit its fascinating night market at the 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! Xian Grand Noble Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 6 Xian
Today's excursion will take you to modern China's greatest archaeological discovery - The Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, which silently guarded the tomb of China's First Emperor for over 2,200 years. In 1974, a local farmer uncovered the first of three massive earth and timber vaults, while digging a well. The extensive excavation, still in progress, has yielded over 6000 life-sized terra cotta warriors, each individually sculpted, with the physical characteristics of the humans they were modeled after. Archers, infantrymen, horses and bronze chariots have also been unearthed. A Circle Vision documentary is available on site. Lunch at a local restaurant and see a noodle making demonstration. In the afternoon, you tour the Wild Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty landmark. This seven-story pagoda was initially constructed in 652 AD to house the Buddhist sutras brought back from India by the monk, Xuan Zang, who later translated them into Chinese. His pilgrimage to India is immortalized in the Chinese classic - The Journey to the West.
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) banquet followed by a fascinating Tang Dynasty stage show. Indulge yourself in this remarkable show and reinvent your China dream with a travel back in time to the world of China's Golden Age, then come back to the present with a greater understanding of this amazing time. (B,L,SD)
Day 7 Xian - Hangzhou
After breakfast, you fly to Hangzhou, one of China's premier tourist destinations. An old Chinese saying states, "In heaven above there is Paradise, on earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou". Hangzhou and its West Lake have been the inspiration for poets and artists for centuries. Besides silk, the region is also a major producer of tea. Renowned in medieval China as an earthly paradise, Hangzhou became the splendid capital of China of the Southern Song dynasty between 1138 and 1279. The capital flourished and its glories were extolled by Marco Polo, who visited Hangzhou at the height of its prosperity and described it as "the city of Heaven, the most magnificent in all the world".
Cruise on the "West Lake"
After lunch, take a cruise on the picturesque West Lake, which is said to be created from a pearl dropped by a phoenix and a dragon, and proclaimed by the Chinese "the landscape composed by a painter". Stroll along the lake's causeways and immerse yourself in its beauty. You also visit the famed "Broken Bridge" to marvel at the Golden Fishes. No tour to Hangzhou is complete without going to the world renowned Dragon Well Tea Plantation, where the legendary green tea is picked and processed by hand. The first picked tea leaves of the new harvest were once reserved solely for the Emperor and transported to him via the Grand Canal. You will learn about the harvesting, as well as the proper way to brew this healthful beverage. The Chinese Tea Ceremony will be demonstrated. Sample the freshness of the tea. Appreciate its "green color, smooth appearance, fragrant aroma and sweet taste". West Lake Golden Plaza (B,L,D)
Day 8 Hangzhou - Suzhou
In the morning you tour the "Old Street" with Ming & Qing houses and stone cobbled lanes, where you visit the Chinese Herb Museum, a rare opportunity to know China traditional herb and medication. After lunch, 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.
In the afternoon, 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. Your hotel is centrally located in the quaint old city, within walking distance of art studios, silk shops, tea houses and handicraft stores. Garden Hotel Suzhou (B,L,D)
Day 9 Suzhou - Shanghai
In the morning, you take a cruise on the Grand Canal to view the life along China's golden waterway in its heydays. 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. Marco Polo once reported that so much precious silk was produced in Suzhou that every citizen was clothed in it.
Suzhous gardens and canals
Evening walk on the waterfront Bund
Afterwards, you travel by motor coach 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. After dinner, we take you for an evening 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)
Day 10 Shanghai
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.
Shanghais bustling Yu Garden bazaar
Jinmao Tower & Pudongs 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)
Day 11 Shanghai
Today is particularly arranged as a free day for you to explore this magnificent city on your own, or attend 2010 World Expo (May 1 - Oct. 31, 2010). Expo 2010 will be held in Shanghai and is a scheduled World Expo in the grand tradition of international fairs and expositions. World Expo 2010 Shanghai is the occasion for China to bring the world at home, and for the world to feel at home in China. By dedicating a 5.28-square-kilometer area at the core of the city to exhibitions, events and forums on the Expo theme, "Better City, Better Life," Shanghai hopes to build a powerful and lasting pilot example of sustainable and harmonious urban living. (B)
Nanjing Road is bargain shoppers' paradise
Day 12 Journey Home
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