Temples wait serenely beneath tree blossom as walls rise and fall far beyond the horizon. Welcome to the best of Japan and China, a two-week tour of immersive history, iconic culture, and incredible nature. Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Beijing, Xian, Guilin, Shanghai are destinations that are enshrined in legend and yours to explore. Both of these countries offer an engaging adventure as the modern meets the ancient, leaving you two incredible cultures that will command your senses and your interest.
Tokyo – Touch Down in a Throbbing Megalopolis
Touch down in Tokyo and take some downtime to relax at your hotel and get yourself energized, and then head out with your local guide, not to any particular attraction, but to explore the most interesting neighborhoods. First impressions of Tokyo can be baffling as the enormous city pulses with life as contemporary culture is on display at every street corner. Begin to explore, and you can find subtleties, as each neighborhood is a little different from the next. Enjoy Shibuya, where great crowds of people cross the road beneath flashing neon. Move next to Harajuku, where the colors of subculture youth liven a park. Take in Ginza for a journey through fashion boutiques and 22nd-century design. It will be a journey from Japanese pop culture through striking architecture, to food halls and dinner at a legendary noodle shop, and a perfect beginning to your vacation.
Tokyo – Highlights of Old and New Tokyo
Thanks to your time yesterday, you are now in tune with the city, and you can now take your exploring further into both the old and the new. See the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, with five stories of tradition rising amid skyscrapers. Move next to the Mori Art Museum for contemporary art located on the 53rd floor of a Roppongi Tower. Take in the Imperial Palace for the afternoon, a getaway of parks and gardens and shrines. The evening can be customized to your interests, Tokyo being a city that can pull you in many directions with art galleries showing the old and new, sumo wrestlers training in a sumo stable, sake tasting with experts, Japanese baseball, perhaps even some local festivities outside the city.
Hakone – Shinkansen, Ryokan and Kaiseki Ryori
Look forward to a day of classic Japanese experiences, four of them to be precise. Zoom through the country on a first-class Shinkansen bullet train, first whizzing through a seemingly endless metropolis before the cone of Mount Fuji guides you into nature. Travel next to the hot springs for a timeless Japanese tradition, basking in geothermal waters as forested mountains glimmer in the afternoon light. Perhaps you will have time to fit something more in, like a boat ride on Lake Ashinoko, or a tasting journey into the whiskeys that have put Japanese whiskeys on the international map.
Move next to settle properly into your ryokan, a traditional style of an inn that has stayed true to its eighth-century origins. Remove your shoes and open a sliding door onto tatami mat flooring. Enjoy some fresh tea while seated on the floor, and then indulge on the most sublime of Japanese meals, a legendary kaiseki ryori. Full of delicacy, this multi-course dinner takes you through the complete range of flavors with many small dishes chosen for their variety and organic origins. You can eat privately in your room and then slip into a traditional yukata, or robe, after an evening thermal bath. The futon is spread out as the table is set aside, and you can drift off in the simple comfort of Japanese tradition.
Kyoto – Exploring the Spirituality
Pop back onto the bullet train for Kyoto, the heartbeat of old Japanese culture. There are more UNESCO World Heritage Sites here than any other city in the world with temples, imperial villas, Buddhist shrines, and expertly preserved gardens. With 48 hours in Kyoto, you can travel through the eras to appreciate how the architecture and the empire have changed over the centuries. Kyoto has far too many sites to mention here, and that is something you will see immediately upon your arrival. It would take many weeks to get around everything, so your guide will discuss what is best to include in the two days that you have.
Kyoto – Legendary Temples From a Distant Time
Wander through a forest of thick bamboo and a temple appears as a woman walks past in a kimono, holding a bright red umbrella. Lanterns hang down from columned archways, pointing the path towards a gold-tiered temple. Some shrines are shrouded in moss while others retain their power to impact history. Your guide gains you access to private gardens and imperial villas, places to escape from crowds that gather at particularly famous temples. In Kyoto, it is not just UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so you can spend this evening exploring Gion, a traditional geisha district that is packed full of stories and strange moments. You can dine here, the Kyoto kaiseki its own unique form, defined by the seasonality of its ingredients.
Beijing – Contrasts and Charms
With a full morning in Kyoto, you can continue to explore. Spend more time in one of the gardens as the living pieces of art morph with the seasons. Maybe explore another temple, one hidden in bamboo or open along the road. Your final Japanese experience comes in a Zen temple, where a local monk takes you through the basics of Zen meditation, always a good experience before you must board a plane and travel across Asia. After two flights and a short layover, you will land in Beijing with just enough time to go to dinner at a contemporary restaurant. From your window, you can watch the bustling city roll by, savoring the contrasts to Tokyo and Kyoto.
Beijing – Highlights of Old and New Beijing
The heart of Beijing is a place of legend and legacy. Feast your eyes on the Forbidden City, and it is easy to be overawed by its scale. It is such an enormous palace with such majestic walls, and it feels more formidable than forbidden while providing a good understanding of an imperial time. Likewise, the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, exceptional museum pieces from a long-lost era. There is more to the old section of Beijing, and you can take a rickshaw down mazy hutongs, or narrow lanes, for a journey to show how small old neighborhoods have survived into today. Move next to engage with the new as you dine on specialties at a modern restaurant overlooking the rooftops, travel along lanes of neon-shrouded skyscrapers, and take a glimpse at Beijing’s contemporary art scene. There is a lot to experience in a single day, but Beijing is that kind of city and it picks you up and whirls you into its inimitability.
Beijing – A Day at the Great Wall
The Great Wall is surprisingly close to Beijing. Or perhaps that’s unsurprising, as anything that is over 10,000 miles long will be close to a lot of things. Some of the best-preserved sections are just an hour from the capital where enormous steps stretch along green hills. Walls of towering stone do not seem real at first glance but climb up slowly and you can see how the wall extends, turning and twisting far beyond the horizon. You can decide how far to walk, whether it be just a few steps or a two-hour stretch between two distinct sections of this monument viewable from space. While some sections of the Great Wall have become a little like a tourist circus, there remains real authenticity here, especially when the guide takes you away from the over-popular stretch that is closest to Beijing.
Xian – A Fabulous Walled City and the Terracotta Warriors
Fly to Xian, and it will seem as though you are in another period in time, as this is the city at the end of the legendary Silk Road. Cycle or walk on the city walls for a great introduction as your guide narrates engaging tales as you gaze down upon pagodas, markets, halls, and quarters almost a millennia-old. Your hotel is inside the city walls and is a living piece of history, the fittings, and the architecture as if you have stepped back into the time of trading caravans and mystical stories. Not far beyond the city lies the Terracotta Army, where epic lines of sculpted warriors guard a deceased emperor. The individualistic details are remarkable, and you can walk alongside the army to appreciate their real-life size. Back in Xian, there is some imperial dining to be done, along with a traditional teahouse experience.
Guilin – More of Xian and Cruising the Karst
24 hours is enough in Xian, as the old and the enchanting is surrounded by the modern and the mundane. You will, however, need two days in Guilin as nature sets the scene and there is a tranquility that most do not expect in China. Fly south, and you will soon be out cruising. Limestone karst dots the river, their facades rugged and sharp, and the surrounding hills are constructed from a thousand shades of green. It will likely be silent, with no other sound beyond your paddle softly splashing into the water. Japan and China can both be an intensive experience, especially in the cities, so Guilin is like a vacation from a vacation with 48 hours of tranquility in a remarkable landscape.
Guilin – Relaxing Along the River and Visiting Local Villages
Take it easy this morning, and perhaps visit one of the Guilin teahouses, tasting with your nose as much as your tongue. You might want to walk through the town, enjoying the strange Chinglish translations found on the shop signs. This afternoon, you can go cruising through the karst once more, stopping to experience Chinese villages mostly untouched by time. China is a rural country, and while it is rapidly developing, there is a strong piece of the old that lives on. It is this feeling that you will find today in two different villages through the hospitality, the welcome, the food, and the smiles. Today’s tour can be tailored to you, as you may prefer more time cruising, or more stretches of time to visit the other villages.
Shanghai – The Experience Changes Once Again
Take one more short flight, and be amazed as to how the experience changes. Shanghai hits you like Tokyo did, with the bustle and the chaos tempered by architectural glory and an energy that is quick to lift you skywards. That is metaphorically as well as literally, as you ride the elevator up one of the world’s tallest towers for a bird’s-eye overview. All around you, there is the new, the snazzy, and the chic of contemporary China. Just across the water, however, is the old as Chinese hutongs are set alongside European colonialism and the unmistakable scent of faded grandeur. As in all big cities, you will need a good guide to understand Shanghai, and that is what sets this tour apart from others. Millions visit Shanghai and only see the Bund and a few towers, but you will get to explore more than just the icons to engage with what makes this city tick.
Shanghai – Highlights of Old and New Shanghai
Your exploration of Shanghai will be customized by you and can evolve as the day goes on. You can take a stroll down a French street to see one side to Shanghai, while the epic skyscrapers illustrate another. But there are hundreds of neighborhoods here, and while one of these may take tradition into the 21st century, another might bring a contemporary facade for an old-world culture. Another neighborhood might stoically preserve history, which you can experience for yourself as you stop for tea beneath a wooden balcony. In one neighborhood, you can try Shanghai’s dumplings, a famous food that really is not the same once it leaves Shanghai. In another, you might see how European tastes have mingled with China, primarily through art and architecture. Today’s guided tour will explore the old and the new of Shanghai with your guide customizing it to your interests.
Shanghai – Departure
There will be plenty of time for shopping and relaxing before you are transferred to the airport for your outbound flight, as late check out has been arranged to give you freedom for one last leisurely morning.
- Bask in the beauty of Kyoto, where hundreds of temples have been breathtakingly preserved
- Feel your feet upon the Great Wall of China and visit different sections of the mega-structure
- Cruise serenely down the Li River, past the karst from Guilin to Yangshuo
- Discover the best of Tokyo, a city that timelessly blends old and new
- Feast your eyes on the Terracotta Warriors, just one iconic highlight in and around the imperial city of Xian
- Bathe in hot springs, experience a ryokan, dine on kaiseki ryori, and travel on a first-class Shinkansen bullet train
- Explore the best of Beijing, where spectacular history meets a bustling modern megalopolis
- End the vacation in Shanghai, where the old and new come together in distinctive parts of the city
- Japan and China are full of small pleasures; steamed dumplings, meeting with a monk, colorful parks, quiet landscapes and so much more
Temples rise evocatively amid the forest with each tier a little more exquisite than the last. Locals mingle outside the walled cities, including one that was once forbidden. Limestone karst dots the river, and you can travel serenely by boat. Mountains and cities carpet a valley, and then you can zoom through on a Shinkansen bullet train. In Shanghai, you can go in search of the finest steamed dumplings, while in Hakone you sit down for the complete kaiseki ryori feast. Welcome to the best of Japan and China with two weeks in two countries that blur the old with the new. Culture and tradition still ring true here, even if the city facades suggest otherwise. History is everywhere, juxtaposed with contemporary thinking, and the natural beauty is beyond what you may be expecting, superlative as it takes you away from it all.
New experiences are more than just every day here, as sometimes it will feel like every single moment is bringing something new. The impressions are endless, and it will take a while to reflect and recollect on what you have experienced. Often, it will be the small moments that leave the longest impression, be it a guide, a backstreet, a journey, or something that only you caught with your eyes. And while the destinations you visit are both legendary, each visitor’s experience is entirely different. In Japan, you will have two nights in Tokyo, a night of tradition around the Hakone hot springs, and then a full 48 hours in Kyoto. Fly next for three nights in Beijing, which includes the Great Wall, to be followed by 24 hours in Xian, two tranquil nights in Guilin, and the contrasts of bustling Shanghai.
There are extraordinary sights to behold, of course. You will see Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, all of the World Heritage Kyoto temples, the Terracotta Warriors, and Beijing’s historic core. Local delicacies and styles provide another experience, such as a ryokan in Hakone, village visits near Guilin, and discussing Zen with a Buddhist monk. The Japanese journeys are very memorable, first-class Shinkansen trains providing a snapshot of the country. In China, you can fly between destinations with expedited travel within a very large country. Hotels are handpicked to place you in the center of the action, surrounded by all the new impressions with guides that are experts in their craft, slowly revealing their little corner of the world. In just two weeks, it will begin to feel as though you have had many years of new travel experiences, and that’s the real beauty of these two countries. Consider learning more about our travelers’ best travel experiences by reading their travel reviews from China and Japan.
$4,363 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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