China: Rediscovering an Ancient Empire

A 12 day trip to China 
5
5 out of 5 stars
1 reviews

Travel from the mighty streets of Beijing, to the terraced fields and bamboo forests of Guilin, to the proud city walls of Xi'an; encountering many of China's historical, rural, and modern faces on this private China tour.

Customize This Trip For Me
Most tours are customized for private travel.

General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Beijing, Great Wall, Xi’an, Longsheng, Guilin, Yangshuo, Shanghai

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1

Welcome to Beijing

You are greeted at the airport by our local guide upon arrival in Beijing, and taken directly to your hotel. Located in one of Beijing’s famed and fast-disappearing hutongs, traditional courtyard homes connected through a labyrinth of alleyways, our hotel is in an ideal location for an authentic Beijing experience. The afternoon is free to rest or independently explore the neighborhood. Tonight, enjoy a welcome dinner of traditional Chinese cuisine at the Red Capital Club.
Guxiang Hotel, Beijing

DAY 2
Cultural exploration of Beijing

Walking – easy, 2-4 hours.

The morning is full as we head out first to visit Tiananmen Square, Beijing’s famed public plaza and the site of many important historical events since the 15th century, when it was built during the Ming Dynasty. Adjacent to Tiananmen, the Forbidden City was once the Imperial Palace for Ming and Qing emperors, spanning 500 years of dynastic rule. We’ll have the morning to explore this World Heritage Site, an enormous complex of palace rooms, museums, and gardens, which were once strictly off limits to the public. The City has about 800 surviving buildings encompassing a rumored 9,999 rooms. Discover the amazing collection of 17th- and 18th-century clocks made by master craftsmen around the world for Qing emperors. Especially impressive are the Chime Clock, 20 feet high, and the fascinating Water Clock. Marvel at the imperial collections housed in the Treasure Hall, including gold and jade dinner services, feather dresses, ivory mats, statuary, royal seals, and many other spectacular curios.

After lunch at a quiet spot overlooking scenic Houhai Lake, we tour Old Beijing’s hutong area. Many hutongs have been razed in recent years to make way for modern buildings. From our seat in a quaint yet comfortable pedicab, we explore these long-established communities and get a feel for what Beijing once looked like. As we cruise through the narrow streets, watch elders at roadside tables intent on a game of mahjong, observe shopkeepers hawking their fare, like jian bing (pancakes) and baozi (steamed buns), and hear calls announcing the arrival of the knife sharpener or cardboard collector.

Late this afternoon, we have a special private visit to Li Songtang’s Museum. Having the distinction of being the first privately owned museum in China (open since summer 2008), Mr. Li’s collection of salvaged architectural pieces collected as buildings were razed over the past 40 years is fast becoming considered a national treasure.

Tonight, enjoy a classic Peking Duck dinner, a Beijing specialty that can be traced back to the thirteenth century and which later became one of the favorite dishes of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Guxiang Hotel, Beijing

DAY 3
Exploring Beijing and the Great Wall

Walking – easy, 1-2 hours.

We begin the morning with a visit to the Temple of Heaven. Once used by emperors leaving offerings of grain, silk, and animals for a fruitful harvest, this vast complex of architectural masterpieces is now a lively gathering spot for Beijing residents, to practice Tai Chi, play music, and dance in the morning.

Later this morning, we depart for the famed Great Wall. Though the underlying architecture dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the original plan and some construction date back to the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). After lunch, we enjoy an easy walk around the area of Juyongguan pass, comprised of a combination of circular and straight walls, along with a castle that once defended the Guangou Valley. This intricate system took more than 200 years to complete, and at its peak had over 10,000 soldiers stationed here. We continue our exploration as the afternoon light grows long, making for fine photographic opportunities.

This evening, we make our home nearby in the uniquely named “Commune by the Great Wall.” A far cry from a traditional commune, this collection of 12 Asian-architect-designed homes is part of the luxury Kempinski hotel collection. Beautifully tucked in a secluded valley, its stylish modern architecture provides a fitting counterpoint to the nearby ancient wall.
Commune by the Great Wall, Shuiguan

DAY 4
Morning Tai Chi; Beijing to Xi’an

Tai Chi lesson – easy, about 1 hour.

This morning, we enjoy a serene lesson in Tai Chi, an ancient martial art practiced in many forms all over China. The synchronized gentle movements are said to restore balance and strength, and our morning practice overlooking the Great Wall is an ideal way to begin the day.

Later this morning we return to Beijing to board an early afternoon flight to Xi’an, one of China’s oldest cities and a member of the renowned “Four Great Ancient Capitals of China”. Arriving in Xi’an, we first visit Wild Goose Pagoda, a symbol of Buddhism built in 709 A.D. So strong was the influence of Buddhism at this time that Daoism gradually adopted many Buddhist rituals to maintain its popularity among the people.

After settling in at our hotel, we gather for a traditional dumpling dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, before a leisurely stroll through the Muslim Quarter. Here we witness a way of life that is markedly different from that of the Han Chinese. For more than 1,300 years, Muslims have been an integral part of daily live in Xi’an, the eastern terminus of the ancient Silk Road.
Tang Paradise Hotel, Xi’an

DAY 5
The Terra Cotta Warriors and Xi’an

Optional cycling – easy, 1 hour, and walking – easy, 3-4 hours.

We start our day with an easy one-hour bike ride along Xi’an’s ancient city wall, the most complete city wall remaining in China. History resonates as we pass along its broad ramparts.

Later this morning, we explore the incredible excavations of the Terra Cotta Warriors, an army of thousands of clay figures who were buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di after 210 B.C. One of the last century’s greatest archaeological finds, the warriors were accidentally discovered by farmers, and each of these life-sized figures are as individual in their appearance as their real-life counterparts – no two are alike. Standing inside the gigantic Quonset hut that protects the treasures from the elements, you get a sense for the enormity of the army and the amazing craftwork that went into producing each figure. Scholars estimate that it took 700,000 workers to create the warriors over a 38-year period. You will marvel at the sweeping views across the ranks of soldiers, and we’ll enjoy special access to the lower deck to get a closer look at these unique statues. Later today, we continue on to the Shaanxi History Museum, which houses murals, paintings, pottery, and coins, as well as numerous other bronze, gold, and silver treasures dating from the time when Xi’an was China’s ancient capital. As sunset approaches, there may be time to take a stroll along the Ming Dynasty city walls that still circle the old section of Xi’an.

This evening we are treated to a traditional dumpling banquet, for which Xi’an is famous, featuring numerous varieties of Chinese dumplings sculpted into artful shapes. Following supper, enjoy exploring the city streets and shops surrounding our hotel.
Tang Paradise Hotel, Xi’an

DAY 6
Xi’an to Longsheng via Guilin

Walking – easy to moderate, 2-3 hours.

This morning we fly to Guilin, then drive to the magnificent terraced rice fields of Longsheng, carved into the hillsides over hundreds of years by the local Zhuang and Yao peoples. When flooded, the rice paddies’ reflecting water resembles scales on a dragon’s back, from which the Longji (“Dragon’s Back”) terraces takes its name. This countryside surrounding Guilin is renowned for spectacular karst formations, which were thrust up from the limestone sea bed that covered the region more than 300 million years ago. We spend the afternoon on an easy hike through the countryside of Longsheng, taking in splendid views and meeting some of the minority hill people along the way.

This evening, we settle into our superb lodge, situated on a mountain overlooking the sculpted rice terraces below. The all-wood lodge is built in traditional style, using tongue-and-groove instead of nails, yet still features modern comforts. Each of the lodge’s sixteen rooms is designed around a different theme, and throughout you’ll find exquisite art and antiques. Stroll down one of the many paths from the lodge, camera in hand, to discover additional scenic views.
Li’an Lodge, Longsheng

DAY 7
Exploring Longsheng rice terraces; Longsheng to Guilin

Optional hiking – moderate, 4-6 hours.

After breakfast, we set out on an all-day hike, traversing the mountain roads, terraced slopes, and bamboo forests that connect several Zhuang and Yao minority villages in the region. The solitude of the surrounding forests is profound, and at times we enjoy only the simple sounds of a babbling brook or chirping birds – an almost startling contrast to the hustle and bustle of Beijing, where we were just a few short days ago.

Yao women are skilled at embroidery, and as we pass through the villages you may notice the fine flower patterns on the edges of their garments. The Zhuang are the most populous of China’s minorities, and one of the best integrated with the Han, China’s main population. They are known for their festival singing and dancing. Traditional religions of the Yao include nature worship, ancestor worship, and Daoism, while Zhuang add Christianity and Buddhism to the list. As we explore the countryside on foot, soak in the poetic atmosphere, and the astonishing carved terraces that shimmer and swirl across the landscape for miles. Shrouds of hanging fog add an eerie beauty, accentuating the stacked earth.

Late in the afternoon we return to Guilin and enjoy some free time to explore on your own.
Sheraton Guilin Hotel, Guilin

DAY 8
Guilin to Yangshuo

Walking – easy, 2-3 hours; Li River cruise – 2-3 hours.

This morning we find ourselves exploring the narrow stone streets and visiting the market of Fuli, an ancient town near Yangshuo. In this small town of 4,000, one in every four residents makes a living making painted fans and umbrellas.

After lunch, we enjoy a leisurely boat cruise along the Li River from Xinping to Yangshuo. Along the way, sit back and enjoy the idyllic tranquility of Chinese rural and river life amid the mountains, bamboo forests, reed beds, and bizarre rock formations. Such landscape has inspired Chinese artists for thousands of years.

This evening, we head for the river to watch fishermen demonstrate the unusual use of cormorants to catch fish, a traditional skill that has been passed down for centuries.
Dragon River Retreat, Yangshuo

DAY 9
Exploring Yangshuo

Optional biking and walking exploration – easy to moderate, 3-5 hours.

For those who yearn for more time on the unforgettably scenic rivers of this region, you have the option this morning of boarding a private bamboo raft on the Yulong River for a more traditional river experience.

In the afternoon, we have option to hop on bikes and head for Aishan via an old country road to the village of Yongcun, passing picturesque hamlets along the way, tucked among lush vegetation and bordered by rice fields. Moon Hill looms in the distance, an unusual limestone arch with a hole eroded in the center. The hole is believed to have been created by an ancient underground river long since disappeared. After lunch, you can reach the summit of Moon Hill by ascending 819 steps for a spectacular bird’s-eye-view of the surrounding hills. Then we get back on our bikes and continue our explorations of the surrounding country. Depending on the season, you may see farmers walking their water buffalo along the roads or working them in the fields. Traveling by bike allows us to stop to chat with rice farmers and learn about their ages-old lifestyle.

This evening a very special treat is in store: the famed Impression Liusanjie, a choreographed and beautifully lit river performance directed by Zhang Yimou, the internationally acclaimed Chinese filmmaker whose credits include Raise the Red Lantern, Red Sorghum, and House of Flying Daggers.
Dragon River Retreat, Yangshuo

DAY 10
Yangshuo to Shanghai

City walking – easy, 2-3 hours.

We fly to Shanghai after breakfast, dramatically shifting gears from the traditional and bucolic to the pulsating rhythms of China’s cutting-edge future. In the afternoon, take a walking tour of the tree-lined avenues of the city’s French Concession. Many of the elegant homes here were built before WWII and create a charming atmosphere for strolling. Mingled among the houses we find trendy shops and cafés, testament to China’s up-and-coming, well-heeled younger generation. We’ll also sample a few of China’s most famous teas in a local tea shop and get a glimpse inside one of the formal homes, either the home of Sun Yatsen or Song Qingling. For the next two nights, we enjoy our well-located home in the French Concession.
Mansion Hotel, Shanghai

DAY 11
Exploring Shanghai

Walking – easy, 3-5 hours.

Our final full day of exploring China begins at the Shanghai Museum, which houses a world-class collection of Chinese bronzes, jade, pottery, ceramics, paintings, and calligraphy. You’ll have ample time to explore all five floors with the aid of an excellent, self-guided audio system. Lunch at Shanghai Ren Jia offers a delicious selection of dumplings and noodle soups.

Later this afternoon, we explore the 16th-century Yu Garden, a classical Chinese garden with more than thirty pavilions linked by a maze of corridors, courtyards, and bridges over ponds. Such gardens provide an idyllic and tranquil break from the city’s typical pace. The Shikumen Museum recreates a typical Shanghai home from the 1920s, and a stroll through provides a sense of the history of the place.

After a final celebratory dinner, we have a special evening in store: attending an acrobatics show, a 2,500-year-old Chinese tradition that originated during village harvest festivals. Using chi kung, a philosophy harnessing inner strength, acrobats focus the body and mind to work in harmony, performing amazing feats of balance, coordination, and dance.
Mansion Hotel, Shanghai

DAY 12
Departure from Shanghai

After breakfast, transfers are provided to the airport for departures, or you may spend some time exploring the city independently.

Please note that this is a typical itinerary, and actual activities may vary to take advantage of weather conditions, local events, and to allow serendipity to play a hand in your experience. Accommodations are as outlined in the itinerary, although we reserve the right to change these should the need arise.

Price

Price 

Your custom trip package will include accommodations, transportation within the country, guided tours and activities, unique experiences, trip planning, and 24X7 support during your trip.

Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates!