• We returned from our holiday last Wednesday and I just wanted to say a big thank you for organising our tours in Beijing last week.
  • Thank you for making possible an enjoyable trip for us. We learnt about Shanghai’s people, history and culture.
  • I am writing to you to thank you very much for our wonderful trip to Xian. The tour that you organised was fantastic.

Overview

Days Description Overnight  
Day 1 A warm welcome to China’s capital,
Beijing

The capital of the People’s Republic of China is a city steeped in history, but looking resolutely to the future. The 2008 Olympic games turned the eyes of the world onto Beijing, bringing an influx of prosperity that has propelled it onto the world stage. Unlike Shanghai where the relentless march of modernism has destroyed most of the ancient buildings, Beijing has always been more historically focused, and thus has a huge array of sites remain. The most famous and important are the Forbidden City, Great Wall, Summer Palace and Lama Temple, while newer yet no less significant attractions include the Bird’s Nest stadium, Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, and Tian’anmen Square.

Beijing has a metropolitan population of 22 million spread over 1,300 kilometers. It is made up of 16 districts and two counties. Evidence of human settlement has been found in the Zhoukoudian area dating back 700,000 years to the time of “Peking Man”. Beijing started life as a city named Jin in the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC – 771 BC), and spent a total of 800 years as China’s capital. In fact, its name means “northern capital”, in contrast to Nanjing (“southern capital”) which was China’s main city 229 to 280 AD during the Three Kingdoms period.

From the ancient hutong alleys to the vast spread of Tian’anmen Square and the gardens of the Summer Palace, Beijing is a roadmap of Chinese history and a fantastic modern metropolis.

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. Upon arrival, we will take a panoramic tour of the city and visit the famous Olympic stadium, which is known as
The Bird’s Nest

See the centerpiece of the 2008 Olympics – a uniquely designed stadium that is symbolic of Beijing’s future.

When the Olympic Games came to China in summer 2008, the eyes of the world turned to the nation’s capital. Beijing was in the spotlight, and it didn’t disappoint. The centerpiece of the games was the National Stadium, nicknamed the “Bird’s Nest” thanks to its distinctive shape.

The Bird’s Nest was the sight of the impressive opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, as well as the track and field events. It was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron with help from Chinese designer Li Xinggang, and features exposed steel “ribbons” enclosing an inner shell. Construction began in December 2003 and was finally completed in March 2008 after a brief halt while the design was amended.

The stadium has 91,000 seats - 80,000 permanent and 11,000 temporary. It covers 258 square meters and cost 226 million yuan (33 million US dollars) to construct. Since the Olympics finished, it has been used as a ski center, an exhibition hall, and a tourist attraction. It is located in the Olympic Green Village in Chaoyang District, near to the “Water Cube” aquarium.

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thanks to its distinctive shape. For your first meal in China you will enjoy one of Beijing’s signature dishes,
Peking Duck

Experience the flavor of Beijing with the legendary dish that symbolizes the capital’s cuisine.

Think of Beijing’s food and your mind will most probably turn to Peking Duck. A delicacy that has spread across the world, this dish is at its most authentic in the city of its birth. Such is its importance that many people say “you haven’t truly visited Beijing unless you’ve eaten Peking Duck”.

The origins of the dish are shrouded in mystery. One story goes that Marco Polo introduced the tradition of roasting poultry to the Chinese, while other sources claim that Nanjing was the first city to prepare ducks in this way during the Northern and Southern Dynasty (430-589). When the capital was moved to Beijing, the tradition followed. It was during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that Peking Duck rocketed in popularity, thanks to its inclusion on imperial menus.

The modern cooking process has changed little since the early days. Ducks from the Peking White breed are killed and plucked. Their entrails are removed and air is blown between the skin and the body. This is later filled with water, and the duck is suspended on a hook. The skin is allowed to dry, and is brushed with sugar. After 30 to 40 minutes in a smokeless oven heated to 270 celcius, the duck turns deep red and is ready to be eaten. The chef will bring your duck to the table and slice it while you watch, making sure to leave the skin on while shredding the flesh.

The traditional way of eating Peking Duck is to place the sliced meat on a thin pancake with plum sauce, shredded cucumber and spring onion, then roll it up and pinch it between chopsticks. If you haven’t tried it before, you’re sure to be impressed by the rich flavors and tender texture of the meat.

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, at a local restaurant.
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Day 2 Your first full day in Beijing will be spent exploring. We’ll visit an array of attractions including the
Temple of Heaven

See where emperors prayed for a good harvest and walk around beautiful parkland.

The Temple of Heaven is a complex of buildings in the south-east of Beijing’s downtown area. Built between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the Ming Dynasty, it was used by emperors to pray for a good harvest.

The temple’s design reflects ancient Taoist beliefs about the earth and the cosmos. The complex covers over 2,700,000 square meters of parkland and paved land, and is enclosed by a wall. Inside the wall, the northern part is semicircular which symbolizes the heavens, while the southern part is square, representing the earth. This follows the old Chinese principle that “the heaven is round and the earth is square”.

The Temple of Heaven’s most striking building is the triple-gabled Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan) with its blue tiled roof and patterned walls. This 38-meter-high structure is where the emperors used to offer their prayers to the harvest gods. The Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) is a miniature version of the Circular Mound Altar, while the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) runs from south to north. The main buildings of the are connected by the Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao), also known as the Sacred Way.

Aside from the buildings, the Temple of Heaven’s park is also worth a look. It is popular among local tai-chi performers, and families out for a stroll.

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, historic
Tiananmen Square

Walk across the world’s largest public square, the site of turbulent times in recent Chinese history.

Situated in the heart Beijing, Tian’anmen Square is the largest public plaza in the world. It  covers an area of 440,000 square meters and measures 880 meters by 500 meters. The square is located between two ancient gates, the Tian'anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) to the north, and the Qianmen (Front Gate) to the south, and backs onto the Forbidden City. The vast square has been used throughout its history for gatherings, parades and protests, and has hosted some now-infamous political incidents. One notable event was Chairman Mao’s announcement of the birth of the People’s Republic of China on October 1st 1949. This was followed by annual military parades on the anniversary every year until 1959.

Tian’anmen square saw celebrations for the 35th and the 50th anniversaries of the People's Republic of China in 1984 and 1999 respectively. In 1976, a million people gathered there to pay their last respects to Chairman Mao, and in 1989 army tanks and soldiers forced pro-democracy demonstrators out of the square with tragic consequences.

The plaza is surrounded by a selection of monuments and museums including the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, and the Monument to the People's Heroes.

Thanks to its size, its historical and political importance, and the breathtaking views on a clear day, Tian’anmen Square is one of the most popular attractions in Beijing, and a must-see on any itinerary.

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and the famous
Forbidden City

Walk in the footsteps of the emperors at this incredible palace complex in the heart of Beijing.

The Forbidden City lies at the heart of China’s capital, and is a symbol of the many emperors who ruled the country in dynastic times. The palace complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its cultural importance, and it forms the largest collection of ancient wooden structures anywhere in the world. Covering 720,000 square meters and consisting of 980 buildings, the Forbidden City is the biggest palace complex in the world, and is surrounded by a moat six feet deep. Throughout history, the emperor was considered to be a direct descendent of the gods so his residence was out of bounds for common people, hence “Forbidden”.

As many as a million laborers are thought to have worked on the complex. Construction took nearly 15 years, starting in 1406 during the Ming Dynasty, and finishing in 1420. The buildings are crafted in traditional architectural style, including upturned eaves to discourage evil spirits from settling. The dominant color in the Forbidden City is yellow - a symbol of the royal family. The roofs were built with yellow glazed tiles, and many decorations and ornaments around the palace are painted yellow. Even the bricks on the ground are yellow. However, the royal library (Wenyuange) has a black roof, as that color was thought to embody the fire extinguishing properties of water.

The Forbidden City is divided into two main parts. The southern section (Outer Court) was where the emperor ruled over his household and the nation outside it. The Outer Court is made up of three main ceremonial and state halls: The throne room, or Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) which is the most important structure in the complex, the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian).

The northern section of the complex (Inner Court) was the residence of the royal family. The Inner Court also contains three main buildings: the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong), the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian) and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong). There are six palaces to the east and six to the west of the main three, which are where the emperor kept his wives and concubines, and conducted daily business. Six eastern palaces and six western palaces surround these main buildings, and are probably where the emperor handled his daily affairs and lived along with his wives and concubines. These twelve palaces are now used as exhibition halls to display imperial treasures. The main exit gate of the Forbidden City is the Gate of Divine Might, behind the Imperial Garden.

The Forbidden City is one of the most recognizable symbols of China. Throughout its long history it has housed emperors, featured in films (‘The Last Emperor’) and music videos (‘From Yesterday’) and been a museum of imperial history as well as a cradle of Chinese culture.

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. In the evening we will experience the one-of-a-kind Food Night Market on Wangfujing Street (
Night Market on Wangfujing Street

Taste some of Beijing’s more exotic culinary offerings at this atmospheric night market.

Beijing might be best known for roast duck, but head down to the night market on Wangfujing Street for a taste of the more adventurous side of the capital’s cuisine. Located where Wangfujing Street meets Jinyu hutong (alley), the market sells everything from candied fruit to exotic sea creatures on sticks.

During the day, Wangfujing Street is a bustling commercial boulevard lined with shops and department stores. When night falls, the stall-holders come out and the aroma of barbecues starts to waft in the air. Most of the “xiao chi” (small food) is served on kebab skewers, from regular lamb and beef to scorpion, starfish, and even insects. Try it if you dare!

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Day 3 The Great Wall is one of China’s most famous landmarks. Today we will travel to the Badaling section (
Great Wall of China - Badaling Section

Walk along this legendary wall – a feat of human engineering and a new wonder of the world.

China’s Great Wall is one of the most famous structures on the planet, and a symbol and icon of the nation. Starting at Hebei Province in the east, it stretches for a total of 6,259 kilometers to Lake Lop near the Taklamakan Desert in the Muslim region of Xinjiang – China’s most westerly province. The wall was begun in the Qin Dynasty (220-206 BC) during the reign of the first emperor and completed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) making it the longest building project in history. The Great Wall’s purpose was to stop invasions by northern nomads – particularly from Mongolia – and consisted of high fortifications dotted with watch-towers. If the guards in a certain tower spotted invaders, they would fire gunshots to warn others along the wall. One shot means 100 invaders, two shots meant more than 500, and three signified more than 1,000.

It is possible to visit the Great Wall at several points along its course, many around Beijing. The most popular are Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling. Of these, Badaling is the best preserved and the most frequently visited. It is famous as the place where President Richard Nixon viewed the wall on his history-making visit to China in 1972, and was climbed by Mao Zedong and 370 dignitaries and celebrities from around the world. Badaling and its nearby expressway were used as the finishing circuit of the Urban Road Cycling Course in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The Badaling section of the Great Wall was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1988, and became one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. Badaling means “reach eight directions”, because of the area’s many natural ridges that. The site is located in Yanqing County, about 70 kilometers north of Beijing, and runs for 7,600 meters with an average altitude of over 1,000 meters. This part of the wall was built in 1505 during the reign of Ming Dynasty emperor Hong Zhi. It has been open to the public since 1957 – the longest of any section.

The outside casing of the wall is made of 1000-kilogram granite slabs; the interior was formed by packing earth and small rocks tightly together. The wall averages 7.8 meters in height and 5.7 meters in width, and features crenellations for archers, a barrel-drain and a moat both inside and outside, along with the watch-towers that were used as firing posts.

A true wonder of the world, the Great Wall of China is one of the earth’s most important cultural relics. Spend some time walking along its ancient fortifications to experience living history.

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) just outside of Beijing. En route we will stop off at the Ming Tombs at Changling and walk along the Sacred Road (
Ming Tombs & Sacred Road

See the tombs of thirteen great Ming Emperors set in rugged terrain outside of Beijing.

Fifty kilometers north of Beijing lies a necropolis dedicated to thirteen emperors of the great Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), rivaling Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in scope and historic importance. The mausoleums and tombs of the emperors are spread over an area of 40 square kilometers in an arc shape that conforms to ancient “feng shui” principles of geomancy. It was believed that the evil winds coming down from the Jundu Mountains would be stopped by the arc, unable to reach the emperors’ remains. The tombs in the necropolis are incredibly well preserved, offering an important insight into the pomp and riches of Imperial China.

The site on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain was chosen by the Emperor Zhu Di in 1402. The last emperor to be buried there was Si Ling in 1644. Only two of the tombs are open to the public – the grand Changling Mausoleum of Zhu Di, and Dingling, the underground burial place of Emperor Zhu Yijun, who was the longest serving Ming ruler. The Changling tomb covers 1956 square meters and includes a gorgeous palace made entirely of fragrant camphor wood. The Dingling mausoleum lies 27 meters below the ground.

The necropolis is accessed by the seven-kilometer Sacred Way, flanked along its length by 24 statues of guardian animals and 12 human figures. In imperial times, the emperor was known as the Son of the Heaven, and this divine boulevard was designed as the road down which he would return to his heavenly home after death. The Sacred Way begins with an enormous stone memorial archway dating back to 1540, It is the oldest and largest surviving stone archway in China.

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). We return to Beijing in time to see a stunning
Kung Fu Show

Watch a breathtaking display of Shaolin-style martial arts performed by a group of talented fighters.

Martial arts, or “wu shu”, developed over many centuries in ancient China, and were designed as a form of self defense in dangerous times. Through kicking, chopping, tumbling and leaping, kung fu fighters could overmaster their enemies in a few deft moves. Kung fu became famous across the world thanks to the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and the recent fame of the Shaolin monks of the Songshan Monastery has spread its popularity even wider.

Shaolin is the type of kung fu practiced in the north of China, as opposed to Wudang in the south. Shaolin is considered to be the most pure and original, since the monks integrated the movements of birds and animals into their actions. Sticks and spears are also used.

Watching a kung fu show is a great way to get to know this ancient martial art, and enjoy a spectacular stage performance at the same time.

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Day 4 This morning we will visit more of Beijing’s top attractions including the
Summer Palace

Visit the beautiful gardens where the emperor cooled off during the summer months.

The Summer Palace is a gorgeous lakeside landscape 15 kilometers outside of Beijing, where the emperor and his family escape the heat of summer in the capital. The main site includes the 2.9 square kilometer Kunming Lake, which was artificially extended to resemble Hangzhou’s famous West Lake. The excavated soil from the project was used to make Longevity Hill, which is home to pavilions, gardens, ponds and cloisters.

The Summer Palace was begun in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), but reached its current size and scope in 1705 during the reign of the Qing Emperor Qianlong. Many of the buildings were damaged during the Anglo-French attacks of the Boxer Rebellion in 1860 and the Eight Allies invasion of 1900, but the gardens survived and were revamped in 1902.

Three quarters of the Summer Palace’s 294 hectares are covered in water. The central attraction is the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Foxiangge) at the top of the hill, but the surrounding area is home to over 3,000 pavilions, towers, bridges, and corridors.

The Summer Palace is split into four parts: the court area, front hill area, front lake area, and rear hill and back lake area. The front hill area has the most attractions including the lakefront and Longevity Hill. There is also the Gate of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Moral Glory, Tower of Buddhist Incense, and Hall of the Sea of Wisdom.

The rear hill and back lake areas are mainly landscaped gardens criscrossed with winding lanes and paths, adjoining Kunming Lake and Back Lake. The Garden of Harmonious Interest was modeled on the classical gardens of Suzhou.

The court area is where the emperor conducted state business and rested. The main palace buildings include the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (which was the emperor’s office), the Hall of Jade Ripples, the Hall of Joyful Longevity (once home to China’s last empress, Cixi) and the impressive Long Gallery.

The front lake area makes up the largest part of the Summer Palace, and includes Kunming Lake. Here you’ll find the Seventeen-Arch Bridge, Jade-Belt Bridge, Nanhu Island, a bronze ox statue, and the Marble Boat.

UNESCO made the Summer Palace a World Heritage Site in 1998, declaring it "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design." It is an unforgettable site and an essential part of your Beijing itinerary.

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and the
Lama Temple

Admire intricate carvings and beautiful statues at one of China’s most important Buddhist temple.

In Beijing’s Dongcheng District sits a gorgeous temple that started life as a home for imperial eunuchs, before becoming the center of Geluk Buddhism. Containing five lavishly decorated halls filled with statues and engravings in Tibetan and Han styles, it is among China’s largest and oldest Buddhist temples.

The Yonghe Temple (also known as the Palace of Peace and Harmony, or simply Lama Temple) was built in 1694 as a residence for the court eunuchs. It then became the court of the Kangxi Emperor’s son, who later became Yongzheng Emperor and turned half of the complex into a lamasery (Buddhist monastery). When his successor Qianlong ascended to the throne, he granted the temple imperial status, changing the turquoise tiles for yellow ones to signify royalty. The Lama Temple escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution thanks to an appeal by former prime minister Zhou Enlai.

The temple is laid out along a central axis that runs north to south for 480 meters. At the southern end is the main gate, and there are five main halls along its length, separated by courtyards. There are the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the Hall of Harmony and Peace, the Hall of Everlasting Protection, the Hall of the Wheel of the Law, and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses. The Hall of the Heavenly Kings used to be the main entrance to the monastery, and contains a statue of the Maitreya Buddha along with icons of the four Heavenly Kings.

The Hall of Harmony and Peace is the temple’s main building, housing three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages. The Buddha of the Present (Gautama) is in the middle, between the Buddha of the Past (Kasyapa Matanga) and the Buddha of the Future (Maitreya). The Hall of Everlasting Protection served as Emperor Yongzheng's living quarters when he was a prince. It is now home to a statue of the Healing Buddha (Bhaisajya-guru).

The Hall of the Wheel of the Law is used for reading scriptures and holding religious ceremonies, and has a statue of Je Tsongkhapa who founded the Geluk School. The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses houses a 26-meter-tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.

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, and take a rickshaw ride along the historic
Hutong

Get a rare glimpse of how Beijing looked in ancient times with a trip to the alleys and courtyard homes of the hutong.

Before Beijing became the modern metropolis it is today, most of its residential districts were made up of networks of alleys and courtyards known as hutong that fanned out from the Forbidden City. These neighborhoods are so integral to the fabric of the city that they are thought to embody Beijing’s culture.

The word “hutong” is thought to come from Mongolian, and means “water well”. The hutong itself is the lane that connects the courtyard residences. These are known as “siheyuan”, and are open spaces surrounded by four buildings. In imperial times, a single siheyuan would house one extended family. Hutong lanes were built to connect the courtyard homes, and narrower alleys connected the lanes. The lanes ran east to west, and the courtyards usually faced south to catch the sun.

Hutong neighborhoods developed in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 256 BC) and housed much of Beijing’s population until the development boom of the late 20th century. As the need for space grew, most of the hutong were destroyed. Throughout the Republic of China era (1911 – 1948), many traditional neighborhoods had fallen into poverty, and were razed to make room for new residential and commercial buildings.

Nowadays, the best-preserved hutong neighborhoods are located around the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. They are open to visitors, and popular for pedicab tours.

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alleys. We will then drive to the airport to catch a flight to our next destination –
Xian

The saying goes that if you want to see China as it was 100 years ago, visit Shanghai. If you want to see the China of 500 years ago, go to Beijing. But if you want to see what it was like 2,000 years ago, you must go to Xian. A cradle of Chinese civilization and the nation’s capital for over a thousand years, Xian is one of the most historically and culturally rich cities in the entire world.

Xian’s most famous attraction is one of the symbols of China, and is probably the most significant archaeological discovery of the 20th century. The incredible Terracotta Warriors were carved to guard the tomb of the mighty Emperor Qin Shihuang, who unified China as a single nation in the 3rd century BC. Xian is also blessed with countless historical sites such as the Tang Dynasty City Walls which are the best preserved in the world, the Bell Tower, Drum Tower, and Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Located near to the Drum Tower is Xian’s Muslim Quarter, which contains one of the biggest and most impressive mosques in China.

Archeological discoveries in Shaanxi Province date Xian’s origins to at least 3,000 years ago. Xian’s ancient name was Chang’an, and it was the capital of China during the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui, and Tang Dynasties. Strategically located in the Yellow River Basin, the city was the starting point of the Silk Road, which allowed trade between China, the Far and Middle East, and Europe. The constant coming and going of traders from around the world gave the ancient city a vibrancy that persists into modern times.

Hailed as one of the Four Great Capitals of Ancient China, Xian is a treasure trove of history and culture. With so many attractions to enjoy, it is bound to be a highlight of your China adventure.

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Day 5 Our first day in Xian will begin with a visit to the world famous Terracotta Museum (
Terracotta Warriors Museum

Although they are some of the most photographed statues in the world, nothing prepares you for seeing the Terracotta Warriors in real life. Stretching as far as the eye can see in their regimented rows, the stone soldiers are an arresting sight, and an impressive example of the scope of human capabilities. Ever since the warriors were unearthed by peasant farmers in 1974, they have captured the world’s imagination, and attracted countless visitors to admire them.

This huge model army was constructed as part of the burial site of Emperor Qin Shihuang. During his reign, Shihuang became the first emperor of a unified China, and was renowned for his cruel, tyrannous ways. On taking the throne in 246 BC at the tender age of 13, he immediately commissioned his mausoleum, which took 11 years to complete. On his death, he was interred with nearly 8,000 stone warriors, plus model horses, chariots, and weapons of war.

After the site was discovered in 1974, a museum was built to display and study the warriors. The artefacts are spread over 16,300 square meters, separated into three sections. The largest, Pit One, was opened to the public in 1971 and contains most of the warriors. Pit Two holds over 1,000 cavalry and infantry warriors and was unveiled in 1994. The third pit is thought to be the army’s command post, and contains high ranking officials and their chariot. The museum was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, and is one of the most visited attractions in China.

The memory of these noble warriors and their trusty horses will stay in your mind long after you’ve left Xian.

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). After a trip to the
Hot Springs Palace

Bask in the tranquil atmosphere of an imperial bathing complex, and admire a statue of the most beautiful woman in ancient China at the Huaqing Hot Springs and Palace.

The scenic Huaqing Hot Springs and Palace lie at the northern foot of Lishan (Mount Li), about 30 kilometers outside of Xian. The site was first used as an imperial bathing site in the reign of Emperor You of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 – 771 BC), and a palace was built around it. A succession of emperors added to it, but it was Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty who made it great. He spent huge amounts of money on a series of pavilions, pools and halls, and used it to honor his concubine Yang Guifei, one of the four great beauties of ancient China. The site is now a national cultural relic, and one of the country’s 100 famous gardens.

As you enter the palace grounds between two majestic cedar trees, you are greeted by two symmetrical plunge pools and the Nine Dragon Lake. This 5,300 square meter artificial lake is filled with fragrant lotus flowers. Reflected in its water is a white marble statue of Yang Guifei in all her glory. Also flanking the lake is the Hall of the Flying Frost, which was the bedroom of Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine, along with Yinchun and Chengxiang Halls. 

In the Huan Garden you’ll see the Lotus Pavilion, the Viewing Lake Tower, the Flying Rainbow Bridge, Flying Glow Hall, and the Hall of the Five Rooms. According to legend, Flying Glow Hall was Yang Guifei’s favorite spot to cool down and admire the scenery. The Five-Room Hall dates from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and was used by the Dowager Empress Cixi to shelter from enemies in 1900. Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, also sought refuge here during times of political turmoil.  

A trip to the stunning Hot Springs Palace will give you an insight into the luxuries of Imperial China, and provide a break from the buzz of the city.

, the day will come to an end with a night tour of the city center.
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Day 6 Today we will continue to explore the wonders of Xian. We will see the
Big Wild Goose Pagoda

See ancient Buddhist relics brought from India, and enjoy a panoramic view of Xian from this attractive Tang Dynasty pagoda.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda, known as Dayan Ta in Chinese, is located in Xian’s south suburbs and is part of the Da Ci’en (Maternal Grace) Temple complex. The pagoda we see today is not the original. The first version was built in 652 AD during the rule of Tang Dynasty emperor Gaozong. It fell down in 704 and was rebuilt by Empress Wu Zetian. A huge earthquake in 1556 caused several stories to collapse, leaving it with the seven floors it currently has. The pagoda leans visibly to the west, and measure 64.5 meters. It is made of sand-colored brick, and its interior walls are engraved with images of the Buddha by Tang Dynasty artist Yan Liben.

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was built by Emperor Gaozong to house a massive collection of sutras and Buddhist relics brought from India by Xuanzang, who later became the first abbot of the Da Ci’en Temple. Xuanzang and his team of monks translated the sutras from Sanskrit into Chinese – a huge undertaking, which is commemorated by a statue of Xuanzang in front of the temple.

Climb the staircases inside the temple to admire the carvings, and savor the view of Xian and its surroundings from the upper stories.

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The Old City Wall

Look out over the old city from Xian’s ancient walls.

Xian has one of the best preserved fortifies city walls in the whole of China. The modern wall dates from the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in 1386, but there has been a fortification around the city since 194 BC when Xian was known as Chang’an. The first wall took four years to build and measured 25.7 kilometers all the way around. The current fortification was completed at the start of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang’s reign at the dawn of the Ming Dynasty. According to historic sources, a hermit spoke to the new emperor and advised him to build strong walls around his city. Zhu Yuanzhang took the hermit’s words to heart, and began to rebuild the defense system that remained from the Tang Dynasty.

The wall we see today encases an area of 14 square kilometers. It is between 15 and 18 meters wide at its base, and is ringed by a deep moat. There are 98 ramparts spread around the wall at intervals of 120 meters, each containing a sentry post where guards stood watch in ancient times. Since the gates were the weakest points, all four of the main entrances are heavyily fortifies. The gates have names reflecting the emperor’s desire for peace and happiness: the east-facing gate is called Changle (meaning eternal joy), to the west is Anding (harmony and peace), to the north is Anyuan (eternal harmony), and the grandest, Yongning, faces the south. Its name means eternal peace. Yongning gate faces the Bell Tower in the center of the old city.

Climb onto the wall at one of 18 points along its length for a view across ancient and modern Xian.

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, and
The Great Mosque

Visit a mosque with distinctively Chinese characteristics.

Dating back to 742 AD, Xian’s Gran Mosque the oldest and one of the most famous in China. Unlike other mosques, it has neither domes nor minarets, and the only indication that it is a place of Muslim worship is the Arabic engraving and decoration on the walls. In place of a minaret there is a pavilion, and the architecture is typical of the Tang Dynasty. The mosque is still used by members of the Hui ethnic minority, who can trace their ancestors back to the Persians and Afghans who arrived on the Silk Road in ancient times.

This huge mosque covers 12,000 square meters, and is made up of four courtyards and beautiful landscaped gardens. You enter the first courtyard through an elaborate nine-meter-tall wooden archway decorated with glazed tiles from the 17th century. The second courtyard has an arch made of stone, flanked with two smaller stones on which is engraved calligraphy by Song and Ming Dynasty artists. Inside the third courtyard is the Xingyin tower and more engraved stones, while the final courtyard leads to the prayer hall. Up to 1,000 Muslim worshippers can pray at the same time, and there are services five times a day.

A visit to Xian’s Great Mosque is a great way to soak up the city’s Islamic heritage and observe the culture of the Hui people.

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, and stroll around the
Muslim Quarter

Immerse yourself in Xian’s Islamic quarter, and try a “Muslim hamburger”.

Xian’s Muslim population is descended directly from Middle Eastern merchants who arrived on the Silk Road. Members of the modern-day Hui ethnic minority live in a thriving, close-knit community centered around the Drum Tower. The main street running through the Muslim quarter is lined with shops and stalls where you can pick up souvenirs and sample the local food.

Some of China’s tastiest morsels are to be found in Xian. The aroma of barbecuing meat wafts through the streets of the Muslim district, tempting the tastebuds to try lamb kebabs smothered in herbs and spices. Another favourite is rou jia mo, also known as the Muslim hamburger. Ground lamb is fried with coriander and spices, then stuffed inside a flat bread bun. Look out for street-side eateries selling yang rou pao mo – hard, unleavened bread soaked in a flavorsome mutton soup.

Wander past old bearded men wearing white caps sitting in doorways, see women in traditional headscarves on their way to the mosque, and enjoy the unique atmosphere of Xian’s Muslim quarter.

and local markets. We then travel to the airport for the flight to our next destination –
Guilin

Sail down the Li River to admire some of China’s most unusual mountains, and visit caves, hills, and rice terraces in beautiful Guilin.

The small city of Guilin in Guanxi Province’s Zhuang Autonomous Region is surrounded by the incredible, fairytale karst peaks that appear in classical Chinese landscape art. Sliced by river valleys and decorated with lush forests and gleaming rice terraces, Guilin has earned a reputation for being one of China’s most picturesque regions. The Li River flows through it, and highlights like Elephant Trunk Hill, Seven Star Park and the backpacker town of Yangshuo attract visitors all year round.

The Guilin region has been settled for over 10,000 years, first by the Zengpiyan matriarchal tribe. The Wu Emperor of the Qin Dynasty established a settlement there in 214 BC, and in 111 BC during the Han Dynasty it was called Shi’an. Before being renamed Guilin (meaning forest of sweet osmanthus flowers) in 1940, it was known as Guizhou. Revolutionary leader Sun Yat-Sen used the city as a headquarters for his Northern Expedition, and it was designated as one of China’s four cities of historic and cultural importance in 1981.

A cruise on the beautiful Li River is the best way to enjoy Guilin’s scenery. The caves, hills, mountains and parks make up a stunning and unforgettable landscape, and the view of the rice terraces reflecting the sun is one of the most memorable you’ll see in China.

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. Upon arrival, we will transfer to the hotel.
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Day 7 We begin our day with a two-hour drive to the awe-inspiring Longji rice fields in Longsheng County (
Longsheng Rice Terraces

Admire the colorful curves of the Lonji rice terraces as they spiral up and down the mountains.

Longsheng County lies in the north-east of Guangxi Province around 100 kilometers north of Guilin. The area’s main industry is rice growing, and the region surrounding Longsheng Town is given over to paddyfields and terraces. Longsheng was the first county to be established in south China, and rice growing dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). The Longji terraces were built and maintained from the 13th century through to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) by the people of the Zhuang ethnic minority. Longji means ‘dragon’s backbone’, and refers to the spine-like layout of the paddyfields.

The Longji terraces cover 60 square kilometers, and range in altitude from 380 to 885 meters above sea level. The long water-logged fields run up and down the hillsides like curling ribbons, and are farmed using traditional ox-pulled ploughs. The pools reflect the sun, sky, and surrounding greenery, making for some truly impressive multi-colored patterns. No trip to Guilin is complete without seeing them.

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). There we will watch the long-haired women of the Yao ethnic minority perform their hair washing ceremony. We will then drive back to Guilin for the Two Rivers and Four Lakes night cruise.
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Day 8 Our morning begins with a cruise on the
Li River

Cruise past haunting pillar-shaped mountains and soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful waterway.

The lovely Li River contains scenery so iconic that it features on the 20 yuan banknote. Starting its course in the Mao’er Mountains of Xing’an County, the Li winds southwards through Guilin and Yangshuo before merging with the Gui River at Pingle. The two rivers have a combined length of 437 kilometers. The striking karst peaks have appeared in countless scroll paintings through the dynasties, and make up a landscape that means “China” around the world.

The 100-kilometer stretch of river that flows through Guilin and its surrounding countryside is dotted with historic attractions and areas of particular scenic beauty. These include the Elephant Trunk Hill, Seven-Star Park, Mountain of the Splendid Hues, and the Lingqu Canal, which is the oldest in the world.

A cruis down the Li River offers an overview of Guilin’s treasures, and is an unforgettable part of your Guangxi adventure.

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to our next destination –
Yangshuo

Explore the Western-style cafés and bars of this backpackers’ haven, while soaking up local culture on the banks of the Li River.

The small town of Yangshuo lies nestled between karst peaks on the banks of the Li River. Its permanent population of 300,000 is swelled by tourists who come all year round to enjoy the picture-perfect scenery and climb the surrounding mountains. As well as being a tourist Mecca thanks to a recommendation in the Lonely Planet guide, Yangshuo is China’s main rock-climbing center and attracts climbers from around the world.

Located to the south-east of Guilin in the northern part of Guangxi Province, Yangshuo has a unique mix of east and west. While visitors can pay to watch fisherman ply their trade using cormorants and see traditional dances performed by local women, they can also have a beer at a Western bar, or sip latte in a European-style café. Yangshuo’s main avenues are West Street and Chinese Street, and most of the backpacking venues are located there, as well as on pedestrianized Xian Qian Street.

Swimming and rafting on the Yulong and Li Rivers are popular Yangshou pastimes, along with biking or hiking in the hills. Zhang Yimou’s folk opera “Impression Liu Sanjie” is performed on Schoolboy Hill close to the town.

Local delicacies include rice noodles, beer fish, and glutinous rice cakes. Locally grown fruits like kumquats and shaddocks are worth a try. If you want to pick up some souvenirs in Yangshuo, the town is particularly famous for painted fans, shirts, and laquered balls.

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. Upon arrival we will take a stroll down West Street. Later in the afternoon we will visit two beautiful attractions – Moon Hill and the Banyan Tree. In the evening we will watch the most famous performance in the region -
Impression Sanjie Liu

Watch the Li River come alive with a visually stunning and musically diverse performance involving 600 actors.

The 1961 movie “Sanjie Liu” made Yangshuo’s Li River famous around the world, and brought the story of the eponymous fairy princess to a wider audience. According to the myths of the Zhuang ethnic minority, Sanjie Liu was a maiden of incredible beauty who lived on the river and possessed a great talent for singing. In 2004, the stage extravaganza “Impression of Sanjie Liu” was premiered in Yangshuo, based on the legends surrounding her.

The show mixes dancing, singing, music, and lighting effects to create a stunning tableau of Li River life. As well as celebrating the life of Sanjie Liu, it showcases the traditions of the people who live and work on the river. The theater where the performance takes place is the largest outdoor performance space in the world. The audience sits on a series of terraces to watch the action unfold on islands spread across the river. Twelve peaks form a natural backdrop.

The performance is split into seven parts: a prologue and epilogue, and five “color” impressions – red (folk songs), green (gardens), gold (fishermen), blue (love songs), silver (a grand ceremony). Performers row rafts between the islands while modern and traditional music plays.

Both an impressive stage show and an insight into Li River life, “Impression Sanjie Liu” is an unmissable spectacle and a hugely enjoyable highlight of any trip to Yangshuo.

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Day 9 We return to Guilin to visit further attractions including
Elephant Trunk Hill

See an amazing natural rock formation that resembles an elephant drinking from the Li River.

Sailing down the tranquil Li River, the last thing you’d expect to see is an elephant bowing its head to drink. Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbishan) may not be a real pachyderm, but it looks convincing enough. A promontory of rock on the western bank of the Li looks just like an elephant lowering his trunk into the water. A cave on the hillside nearby looks like the creature’s eye. The space formed by the arch of the elephant’s trunk away from his body is known as Water Moon Cave, and makes up an image of the full moon with its reflection in the river.

On top of the promontory is a two-story pagoda from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that resembles a ceremonial vase on the elephant’s back when viewed from a distance. The pagoda contains an image of the Bodhisattva Puxian, who traditionally rides a white elephant. The hill is part of Elephant Trunk Park, which is also home to Yunfeng Monastery and Aiqing (Love) Island.

 

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,
Seven-Star Park

Explore some of Guilin’s most interesting peaks, including a mountain shaped like a camel.

This beautiful area of parkland on the east bank of the Li River is home to mountains, caves, temples and pavilions. A popular destination since the Sui Dynasty (581-618), Seven-Star Park takes its name from the four peaks of Putuo Mountain and three of Crescent Mountain, which look like the formation of the Big Dipper constellation.

Putuo Mountain makes up the main area of the park. Spread over four peaks, it is sacred to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. With caves and pavilions like Putuo Jingshe, and the Seven-Stars Cave with its stalactites and stalagmites, there is no shortage of attractions in this part of the park. Other notable sites are the Tomb of the Three Generals and the Tombs of the 800 Heroes, and the Xuanwu and Zhaixing Pavilions. Between Putuo Mountain and Crescent Mountain you’ll find the Light of China Square, which commemorates 5,000 years of Chinese civilization. Highlights of Crescent Mountain include the Guihai Stele Forest with its 221 stone tablets.

One of the park’s most striking sites is Camel Hill, which resembles the humps and dips of a dromedary’s back.

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,
Fubo Hill

See where a Tang Dynasty general tested his sword, and witness natural pavilions and cloisters made from rock formations.

Fubo Hill overlooks the Li River from the western bank around two kilometers from Elephant Trunk Hill. The 213-meter peak stands alone, and is decorated with a series of cloisters, gardens and pavilions. At water level, it hides caves and statue-filled grottoes, making it one of the most interesting and mysterious attractions on the Li riverbank. The hill is named for its apparent ability to calm the waves.

On the peak itself is a cloister that combines the natural rock formation with artificially built levels and pillars. The cloister encloses a garden and pavilion, in which is stored a huge 300-year-old iron pot that can boil enough water for a thousand people.

It is the caves that are the most impressive aspects of Fubo Hill. Pearl Returning Cave contains stalactites and stalagmites that have been engraved with Buddhist art and inscriptions. The legend goes that a peasant kicked a pearl out of the cave, angering a dragon that lived there. The only way to appease the dragon was to return the pearl, which the peasant dutifully did. The nearby Sword Testing Cave has a huge hanging pillar where a general is said to have checked his weapons. Connecting to this chamber is the Thousand Buddha Hall. Visitors climb a winding staircase to see all 239 of the Buddha statues, as well as paintings from the late Tang era (618-907).

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and
Reed Flute Cave

Walk through a surreal underground landscape of eroded karst, past stalactites, rock formations and rainbow illuminations.

Many attractions stake claim to being China’s oldest, but with 180 million years of history, the Reed Flute Cave (Lu Di Yan) surely trumps them all. The cave’s fairyland of weird and wonderful rock formations was created when the karst rock eroded over many millennia, leaving columns, pillars, and strange shapes. The cave was discovered by refugees in the 1940s, and has since become one of China’s most beloved cave systems. Illuminations in many colors bring the stones to life.

Visitors tour the cave in a U-shape, using zigzag bridges and walkways to get up close to the rock features. The locals have bestowed names on many of the formations, such as Dragon Pagoda, Virgin Forest, and Fruit Mountain.

The cave is named after the reeds that grow outside, which people use to make musical instruments. These days, vendors peddle the flutes at the entrance and exit.

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. We then travel to the airport and fly to our next destination –
Hangzhou

Beautiful Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province in eastern China, 180 kilometers south west of Shanghai. Poets and writers through the ages have been inspired by the city’s scenic lake, mountains and pagodas, which have earned Hangzhou the nickname  ‘paradise on earth’. Modern Hangzhou is a vibrant metropolis with a population of over eight million. Its downtown business district and outer suburbs fan out from the north shore of West Lake, leaving the rest of the lakeside free from tall buildings. Ringed by densely forested mountains on three sides, the lake is Hangzhou’s most popular attraction. Conveniently, many of the city’s historic sites are located in the hills surrounding it, such as the Six Harmonies Pagoda and Lingyin Temple.

There is evidence of settlement in this part of Zhejiang Province dating back 7,000 years. Five millennia ago, it was home to the Liangzhu people who made some of the earliest jade carvings. The city of Hangzhou was founded during the Qin Dynasty in 591, and was one of the seven ancient capitals of China. It prospered economically thanks to its strategic location near the Qiantang River in the Yantze Delta. When the Grand Canal was completed in 609, Hangzhou became its southern terminus.

As well as its scenic beauty, the area is known for the longjing variety of green tea that grows on the hillsides, as well as silk and handicrafts like umbrellas and fans. Hangzhou is one of Shanghai’s most attractive cities, and a great place to enjoy history and scenery side by side.

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. Upon arrival, we transfer to the hotel.
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Day 10 Today will be spent discovering Hangzhou’s main attractions. We will start at the
Six Harmonies Pagoda

Rising up from the lush forest like a pine-cone, the beautiful Six Harmonies Pagoda is one of Hangzhou’s many treasures, and a great example of ancient pagoda architecture. Located on Yuelun Hill in the south of the city, Liuhe Ta (as it is known in Chinese) overlooks the Qiangtang River and the rest of Hangzhou, offering panoramic views from each of its seven stories.

Six Harmonies is one of the most famous ancient pagodas in China, and was originally built in 970 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty. A battle in 1121 left the landmark in ruins, but renovations in mediaeval times restored it to its former glory, adding extra eaves and decorations. The six harmonies of the pagoda’s name refer to the Buddhist codes of earth, heaven, north, east, south and west.

From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the pagoda had thirteen stories, but in fact there are seven. They are connected by a spiral staircase, and each of the seven ceilings is decorated with gorgeous carvings and paintings of birds and flowers. Enjoy the fantastic view from the top before exploring the nearby exhibition hall to learn more about pagoda architecture.

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, take a cruise on the
West Lake

The symbol of Hangzhou and one of the most scenic attractions in the whole region, West Lake is the centrepiece of the city. Surrounded on three sides by low, forest-covered mountains dotted with ancient temples and pagodas, it is a tranquil oasis at the heart of the modern town. The Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo (960 – 1127) wrote of the lake’s “rippling water shimmering on sunny days, misty mountains shrouded in rain”, and artists and writers throughout history have been charmed by its natural beauty. It is so important to Chinese culture that it even appears on the one yuan note.

West Lake (or Xi Hu) covers 5.6 square kilometers to the west of central Hangzhou. It is intersected by three causeways lined with willow trees, and measures 15 kilometers around its edge. It is split into five sections, the largest of which is Outer West Lake. As well as its calm waters, the lake is ringed with quaint stone bridges and inlets full of waterlilies, and is overlooked by beautiful historic buildings like the Six Harmonies Pagoda and the Lingyin Temple. Cruising on West Lake is guaranteed to be one of the most treasured memories of your trip to China.

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and visit
Lingyin Temple

Nestled in a valley between two wooded hills to the west of the lake lies Lingyin Temple, one of China’s most famous ancient Buddhist temples. Dating from the 4th century AD, the temple contains nearly 500 statues. As you approach the main Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the smell of incense will waft towards you, and a feeling of peace will settle in the air. Lingyin is still an active place of worship and Buddhist research, and is operated by the Chan sect of the religion.

Inside the double-eaved Hall of the Heavenly Kings you’ll see a beautifully carved statue of Maitreya in his manifestation as the Laughing Buddha. Look out for the carved dragons and phoenixes that curve across the ceiling. There is also a Skanda Buddha, as well as the four guardian gods after whom the hall is named. Moving on through the open courtyard you’ll come to the Grand Hall of the Great Sage, which contains a statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha covered in lavish gold leaf. Other highlights of the temple include the Hall of the Medicine Buddha, the Sutra Library, and the nearby Feilai Feng Grottoes.

An interesting legend lies behind the establishment of the Lingyin Temple. The story goes that a monk named Huili came to Hangzhou from India during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420). He was so inspired by the tranquillity of the lakeside that he believed it to be the home of the Immortals. The temple he built was known as the Soul’s Retreat. The site benefit from Buddhism’s surge in popularity during the 10th century, and contained over 1,300 rooms in its heyday and was home to 3,000 monks. The complex suffered badly during the Cultural Revolution, but was restored to the temple we see today in the 1970s.

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. In the evening we will enjoy the Song Dynasty Show (
Romance of the Song Dynasty Performance

After a day of sightseeing in Hangzhou, relax and soak up some of the city’s culture and history with the Romance of the Song Dynasty. The show is a large-scale extravaganza of song, dance and acrobatics tracing Hangzhou’s past all the way back to the Song Dynasty (420 – 479). The performance takes place in the Song Dynasty Town, which is a recreation of how the city looked during the fifth century. Lavish costumes and impressive sets make for a colourful show. Widely celebrated as being one of the best stage performances in China, and one of the finest in the world, Romance of the Song Dynasty is a thoroughly enjoyable journey through Hangzhou’s past, and a great reflection of it’s present.

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Day 11 We start the morning with a visit to a tea plantation (
Meijiawu Tea Plantation

Hangzhou and its surroundings are famous for a variety of green tea known as longjing. The tea plants flourish in the rich soil on the hillsides around the city, and Meijiawu village is the best place to try the local brew and admire the tea growing plantations. Set in acres of beautiful rolling green mountains, Meijiawu looks picture perfect under soft morning mist or at sunset. China’s first prime minister Zhou Enlai was such a fan of longjing tea and the village itself that he visited five times. The road to Meijiawu was actually paved in his honor. President Richard Nixon also stopped by during his trip to China and was impressed. When you see the idyllic scenery and taste the mellow brew, you’re sure to agree.

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) before driving to our next destination –
Suzhou

One of China’s most historically rich cities, Suzhou is famous for its gardens, bridges, and silk. Located in Jiangsu Province in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Suzhou lies within easy reach of Shanghai, only 80 kilometers away, and under an hour by train. Population-wise, it is a medium sized city, with just over six million inhabitants.

The legendary saying goes that the gardens to the south of the Yangtze River are the best in the world, and the ones in Suzhou are the best of them all. Most of the gardens were built during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties by governors and members of the wealthy classes. The most famous are the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden. Suzhou is also famous for silk, and a whole museum is devoted to sericulture. Suzhou’s other attractions include the 2,500-year-old Pan Gate, and several beautiful pagodas. Since 42% of the old town is water, boats are the best way to get around.

Suzhou is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin. It was founded over two thousand years ago during the Shang Dynasty when tribes settled in the area. In 514 BC, King Helu established his city there, but it wasn’t known as Suzhou until 589 AD during the Sui Dynasty. Suzhou’s prosperity grew thanks to its position on the Grand Canal, which was a main trade route between Beijing and Hangzhou. Suzhou’s gardens were badly damaged during the Japanese invasion of 1937, but restorations brought them back to their former glory, and they are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With its quaint streets, gorgeous classical gardens, and air of tranquility, a visit to Suzhou is like stepping back into ancient times.

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. On our way we will stop at
Tongli Water Town

Walk across three lucky bridges and visit two historic halls in the “Venice of the East”.

Just 18 kilometers away from central Suzhou in Wujiang County, Tongli water town near Tai Lake is nicknamed “Venice of the East” thanks to its network of canals, waterways, and bridges. Of the many water towns in the region, Tongli is one of the prettiest, and is full of historic highlights to explore. The town can trace its roots back 1,000 years, and is based around a system of seven islands, five lakes, and 15 rivers. Much of Tongli’s transport happens on the water, and a gondola ride is a great way to get to know the town.

Don’t miss the lucky trio of bridges. Tongli has 49 bridges in total but there are three that are extra special. They are called Taiping (Peace and Tranquility), Jili (Luck), and Changqing (Lasting Celebration), and are believed to bring health, wealth and longevity to whoever crosses all three, one after the other.

Other Tongli highlights include the Ming Dynasty Gengle Hall with its picturesque ponds and garden, the intricate wood carvings in Chongben Hall, and the tranquil Tuisi Garden. For visitors who want something a little different to your regular tourist attractions, check out the China Sex Museum, which relocated to Tongli from Shanghai in 2004.

The town of Tongli dates back over a thousand years, and was originally called Fushi. The modern town has a population of 33,000 people (which is small by Chinese standards) and covers 63 square kilometers.

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and explore the old streets and canals. Upon arrival in
Suzhou

One of China’s most historically rich cities, Suzhou is famous for its gardens, bridges, and silk. Located in Jiangsu Province in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Suzhou lies within easy reach of Shanghai, only 80 kilometers away, and under an hour by train. Population-wise, it is a medium sized city, with just over six million inhabitants.

The legendary saying goes that the gardens to the south of the Yangtze River are the best in the world, and the ones in Suzhou are the best of them all. Most of the gardens were built during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties by governors and members of the wealthy classes. The most famous are the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden. Suzhou is also famous for silk, and a whole museum is devoted to sericulture. Suzhou’s other attractions include the 2,500-year-old Pan Gate, and several beautiful pagodas. Since 42% of the old town is water, boats are the best way to get around.

Suzhou is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin. It was founded over two thousand years ago during the Shang Dynasty when tribes settled in the area. In 514 BC, King Helu established his city there, but it wasn’t known as Suzhou until 589 AD during the Sui Dynasty. Suzhou’s prosperity grew thanks to its position on the Grand Canal, which was a main trade route between Beijing and Hangzhou. Suzhou’s gardens were badly damaged during the Japanese invasion of 1937, but restorations brought them back to their former glory, and they are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With its quaint streets, gorgeous classical gardens, and air of tranquility, a visit to Suzhou is like stepping back into ancient times.

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, we will transfer to the hotel before enjoying the
Night Show at the Master of the Nets Garden

The Master of the Nets garden may be the smallest residential garden in Suzhou, but it is well worth a look, especially for the evening performances that are hosted there. The gardens date back to the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279). It got its name when the government official who lived there remarked that he would rather be a fisherman than a bureaucrat. The night show happens in one of the pavilions attached to the garden, and on the adjoining terrace. Split into eight parts each lasting 10 minutes, the performance is a treat for the senses. It includes traditional Chinese opera, instrumental music, dance, and singing from a troupe of incredibly talented performers. Set against the backdrop of the old pavilion with its twinkling lights, intricate wall-hangings and carved wooden window frames, it is a great introduction to traditional Chinese music and dance.

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Day 12 This morning we will explore some of the many attractions
Suzhou

One of China’s most historically rich cities, Suzhou is famous for its gardens, bridges, and silk. Located in Jiangsu Province in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Suzhou lies within easy reach of Shanghai, only 80 kilometers away, and under an hour by train. Population-wise, it is a medium sized city, with just over six million inhabitants.

The legendary saying goes that the gardens to the south of the Yangtze River are the best in the world, and the ones in Suzhou are the best of them all. Most of the gardens were built during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties by governors and members of the wealthy classes. The most famous are the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden. Suzhou is also famous for silk, and a whole museum is devoted to sericulture. Suzhou’s other attractions include the 2,500-year-old Pan Gate, and several beautiful pagodas. Since 42% of the old town is water, boats are the best way to get around.

Suzhou is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin. It was founded over two thousand years ago during the Shang Dynasty when tribes settled in the area. In 514 BC, King Helu established his city there, but it wasn’t known as Suzhou until 589 AD during the Sui Dynasty. Suzhou’s prosperity grew thanks to its position on the Grand Canal, which was a main trade route between Beijing and Hangzhou. Suzhou’s gardens were badly damaged during the Japanese invasion of 1937, but restorations brought them back to their former glory, and they are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With its quaint streets, gorgeous classical gardens, and air of tranquility, a visit to Suzhou is like stepping back into ancient times.

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has to offer, including a cruise on the Grand Canal and a visit to the
,
Tiger Hill

See a mysterious tomb once guarded by a white tiger, check out China’s very own Tower of Pisa, and see where the world’s first book about tea was written – all on Tiger Hill.

The ancient poet Su Shi said that if you go to Suzhou without visiting Tiger Hill, it will be a “lifelong pity”. Bearing in mind how many fantastic sites, mysterious legends, and historic relics are to be found on the peak, he’s most definitely right.

Legend has it that the hill got its name from a white tiger who sat on the grave of King He Lu, who died in battle in 496 BC. The tiger appeared three days after the king’s funeral, and seemed to be guarding the burial site. He Lu’s tomb can still be seen on the hill today.

The Tiger Hill pagoda can be seen for miles around. It belongs to the Yunyan Temple, and is the oldest pagoda in Suzhou. Another thing that makes it unique is the fact that it leans slightly to the north west, making it China’s very own Tower of Pisa. It was built between 959 and 961 around an octagonal design, based on earlier Tang Dynasty pagoda style.

Other highlights of Tiger Hill include the Wanjing Villa, which acts as a giant bonsai nursery, and the Verdant Mountain Villa. The Sword Testing Stone and Sword Pool are also worth a look. King He Lu was said to have tested his collection of swords there. The stone bears a worn crevice, and the nearby pool is rumoured to hold the corpses of the 1,000 workers who built the king’s tomb.

The Tang Dynasty tea expert Lu Yu lived and worked on Tiger Hill. He completed his “Classic of Tea” treatise there – the first book about tea ever published. On sinking a well on the hill, he declared its water to be the third best in China, and the site has been popular with tea lovers ever since.

, and Silk Factory (
Silk Museum

Walk down an ancient street, watch silk being spun, and find out why Suzhou is so famous for silk at this diverse and interesting museum.

Suzhou is the silk capital of China. During the Tang and Song Dynasties it grew in importance as a center for making and weaving the fabric. By the Ming Dynasty, the city was supplying the emperor and his household with most of his silk. The Silk Museum traces the history of silk from Neolithic times through to the modern day by way of displays and demonstrations. According to legend, it was Lei Zu, wife of the Yellow Emperor, who first started to raise silk worms. The practise has changed very little since then, with worms being fed on mulberry leaves. The museum has silk worms of its own (unfortunately the real ones were replaced by models in 2009), as well as looms where silk is woven while you watch. Girls in costume from various periods demonstrate different styles of loom, while replica Ming and Qing Dynasty streets help to set the atmosphere of Suzhou’s buzzing silk trade.

). In the afternoon we will head towards the final location of our trip –
Shanghai

Experience the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s most exciting cities, where contrasts abound.

A thoroughly modern metropolis, Shanghai is one of the world’s biggest and most vibrant cities. With a population of nearly 20 million spread over 18 districts, it is huge in every respect, but manages to combine stunning futuristic business centers with tree-lined boulevards and local neighborhoods. Shanghai’s history as a point of international trade has gifted it with a diverse array of cultures, but glimpses of ancient times can be seen at the temples and traditional gardens that have survived many generations of war and political turmoil.

The two Chinese characters that make up Shanghai’s name mean “above” and “sea”, reflecting the city’s maritime history. Before the Song Dynasty (920-1279), it was a small fishing village on the banks of the Huangpu River, a tributary of the great Yangtze. As the dynasty progressed, it was raised to the status of a market town, and eventually became a city in 1297. The building of a city wall in 1554 during the Ming Dynasty and the erection of the City God Temple in 1620 elevated Shanghai to even greater importance, and it became a major sea port during the Qing era (1644-1911). The opium trade of the 19th century led to international colonization, with vast areas of the city coming under the control of the USA, UK and France. Much of the architecture still visible today in Shanghai dates from this period, including the low-rise, tree-lined avenues of the French Concession with their Art Deco villas, and the majestic Neo-Classical banks and custom houses of the Bund waterfront. The 1920s and 1930s are known as the “golden age” of Old Shangahi, when the city had a reputation for vice and intrigue, earning it the nickname “Whore of the Orient”.

Rapid modernization after the Mao era gave the city its modern look. The skyline of the Pudong Financial District on the east bank of the Huangpu bristles with gleaming silver skyscrapers, and huge shopping malls have sprung up on Nanjing and Huaihai Roads. This mix of busy commercial areas, ancient temples, and colonial neighborhoods contributes to Shanghai’s reputation for contrasts.

While Mandarin is the official language of China, Shanghai people speak a dialect known as Wu, or “Shanghainese”. It is incomprehensible even to native Mandarin speakers, and adds a certain local color to the streets and markets. Unlike the types of Chinese food that have spread to the West, Shanghainese cuisine is sweet and glutinous, involving stewed seafood, wine marinades, and light flavors.

As China’s cultural and economic powerhouse, it is an energetic and often chaotic metropolis that has to be seen to be believed.

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. During our first evening in Shanghai we will visit
Nanjing Road

Wander the length of Shanghai’s busiest shopping street, stretching from the Bund to Jing’an Temple.

Known as Park Lane in colonial times, Nanjing Road is the world's longest shopping street. Its six kilometers of shops, boutiques, malls and department stores attract over one million people every day, symbolic of Shanghai’s rapid ascent as a capitalist enclave in a communist land.

Nanjing Road began to develop as a shoppers’ paradise in the early 1900s with the opening of eight department stores. This was followed by a series of franchise stores, and the rest is history. Nowadays, you can get everything from cheap souvenirs to Louis Vuitton handbags, and break for coffee or drinks at one of the many cafés and bars that are intermingled with the shops.

Nanjing Road is divided into two parts. East Nanjing Road runs from the Bund to People’s Square, and has mainly Chinese brand shops. West Nanjing Road (called Bubbling Well Road in the colonial era) starts at People’s Square and stretches to the western suburbs past Jing’an Temple. It is this part of the road that houses most of the international shopping malls and boutiques.

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and enjoy a great view of
The Bund

Visit Shanghai’s iconic waterfront with its austere colonial buildings, and enjoy the view of the modern skyline across the river.

Shanghai’s historic waterfront stretches for a mile between the Waibaidu Bridge and Yan’an Road, and is home to 52 beautiful colonial-era buildings in Neo-Classical, Gothic, Baroque and Art Deco styles. A stark contrast to the futuristic skyline across the river and the local Chinese neighborhoods behind it, the Bund is a symbol of Shanghai’s boom years as an international sea port.

The Bund as we know it today started life in 1846 when a British trading company opened an office there. Before long, the whole stretch of the Huangpu’s western bank (Puxi) was lined with beautiful grey-stone buildings housing banking headquarters, customs houses and trading offices. The word “bund” comes from Anglo-Indian and means “embankment”.

During the early years of the People’s Republic (post-1949), the Bund’s buildings were taken over by the People’s Liberation Army and used for state business. Starting from the 1980s, they returned to commercial use, and now house some of Shanghai’s best bars, clubs, restaurants and boutiques.

Recent developments have extended the Bund to the south, and erected a 771-meter-long retaining wall and promenade that is busy from dusk until dawn. To visit the Bund is to witness all facets of Shanghai’s past, present, and future, and a must-stop on any itinerary.

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Day 13

Our introduction to Shanghai’s attractions will start at the
Shanghai Museum

Learn about the history of the metropolis at this uniquely designed museum.

For an overview of Chinese history, the Shanghai Museum is the place to go. Located in People’s Park in the center of the downtown area, the museum holds 120,000 artifacts, as well as the biggest and most varied collection of Chinese art anywhere in the country. The building has eleven galleries spread over five floors, covering every period of Chinese history from prehistory to modern times. Noteworthy collections include jade, calligraphy, seals, furniture, bronze, and sculpture.

The building itself is a relic in itself. It was designed in 1993 by a local architect who fashioned it in the form of an ancient bronze cooking pot called a “ding”. The museum has a domed roof and a square base, reflecting the ancient principle of “round sky, square earth”. The building was completed in 1999, and the museum’s collections were moved from their former home on nearby West Nanjing Road, in what used to be the clubhouse of the Shanghai Racecourse.

With so much to see, a trip to the Shanghai Museum can seem daunting, but even if you see only a small part of its displays, you will have learned plenty about the history of this incredible city.

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, which will be followed by a trip to the
,
Yu Garden

Experience a traditional Ming Dynasty garden built by a governor for his parents.

Although Shanghai has fewer historic sites than Beijing, there are several that are worth a look. The most popular is the Yu Garden – a lovely Ming Dynasty garden dotted with bridges, pavilions, pools, and rock formations.

Yu Yuan, as it is called in Mandarin, means garden of happiness, and was constructed in 1577 by a Ming Dynasty governor as a gift to his parents. It fell into disrepair after their deaths, and lay in ruins until two wealthy merchants bought it in 1760 and restored it. It suffered damage during the Opium Wars of the 19th century, but was renovated and opened to the public in 1961. Thanks to its popularity and cultural importance, it was granted National Monument status in 1982.

Yu Garden lies at the center of a massive bazaar selling traditional Chinese handicrafts such as silk, seals, fans, chopsticks, and jade. The bazaar is home to dumpling shops as well as the obligatory branches of Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs.

The five-acre garden follows Ming Dynasty (131368-1644) design traditions from the Suzhou school, and includes stone walkways, lakes and pools full of carp and goldfish, rock formations, halls, and tea houses. Look out for the beautiful zig-zag bridge over the lotus pool, which was specially designed to stop evil spirits entering the garden.

Yu Garden is split into several distinctive parts: Ten Thousand-Flower Tower, the Lotus Pool, the Jade Magnificence Hall, the Inner Garden, the Heralding Spring Hall, and the Grand Rockery containing the Three Corn Ears Hall and a giant slab of rock.

From the highest point of the garden, you’ll catch a glimpse of Pudong’s modern skyscrapers across the river, which forms a contrast that perfectly sums up Shanghai.

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and
Chenghuang Miao Bazaar

Traditionally, every Chinese city that had a fortifying wall also had a City God Temple. This was where the townsfolk gathered to pray for peace and good fortune, and the gods in question were often high-ranking officials of ancient times. Shanghai’s City God Temple was originally dedicated to Huo Guang, Qin Yubo and Chen Huacheng who were chancellors and administrators of the old imperial court.

Located close to the Yu Garden in Shanghai’s old walled city, Chenghuang Miao was originally named Jinshan Temple, and was used for the worship of a local god. It was converted to City God status in 1403 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the Ming Dynasty. It grew in popularity during the Qing Dynasty, especially when Emperor Daoguang was in power between 1782 and 1850. To profit from the temple’s many visitors, shops and stalls sprung up around it. This is the Chenghuang Miao that is still operating today.

Connected to the Yu Garden, the Chenghuang Miao Bazaar covers 5.3 hectares and is a haven for tourists looking for the perfect souvenir. The main bazaar is enclosed in a grand traditional wood and timber building with a tiled roof and upturned eaves, but stalls spill out down the surrounding streets. Vendors sell everything from tea, jewelry, and fans to ceremonial weapons, masks, and knock-off bags. The bazaar is famous for its excellent dumpling and bun shops, but there are also branches of Starbucks, KFC and Haagen-Dazs for the less adventurous.

. In the evening we will take in a breathtaking acrobatic show and enjoy a stroll around the lifestyle and leisure hub
Xintiandi

Enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere of this contemporary lifestyle hub built in a series of old lanes.

Xintiandi means “new heaven and earth” in Chinese, and it definitely lives up to its name. Offering an array of high-class eating options, designer boutiques, and plenty of terraces and patios for people-watching, it is one of Shanghai’s most popular areas for affluent locals and curious visitors.

The Xintiandi development was begun in the early 2000s when two blocks of traditional shikumen (stone gate) houses were saved from demolition and turned into shops and restaurants. The project has won awards for preserving the traditional architecture and atmosphere of the longtang (alleys) while giving the area a modern facelift.

Xintiandi’s North Block is home to Western and Chinese restaurants, cafés and bars, while the South Block ends with a huge glass-fronted shopping mall. Both blocks have shops and boutiques, as well as stallholders peddling luxury handicrafts.

Watch Old Shanghai meet new Shanghai with impressive results at this popular attraction.

, which is made up of converted stone-gate lane houses, or shikumen.
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Day 14 Today we will visit the
Jade Buddha Temple

Observe monks at prayer and see a Buddha statue made entirely of jade.

Hidden away in the residential sprawl of north Jing’an District, the Jade Buddha Temple is a working monastery as well as a place of worship. Located close to Shanghai’s main railway station, it was built in 1884 to store two jade Buddhas presented to the Qing Dynasty government by an abbot from a neighboring province.

The temple is divided into three main halls. The Chamber of Heavenly kings close to the front entrance commemorates the four great figures of Buddhism, and the Great Hall contains 18 golden statues of famous Buddhist practitioners as well as three golden Buddhas. The eponymous jade Buddha is in a hall on the second floor.

As well as a temple and monastery, the building also houses a library from which research texts are published and lectures held. It has been the site of the Shanghai Institute of Buddhism since 1983.

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and take a short drive to the Pudong (
Lujiazui

See Shanghai’s iconic skyline up close.

Before the economic boom of the 1980s, the area known as Lujiazui (Lu’s Mouth) on the eastern bank of the Huangpu River was dedicated to low-rise housing, warehouses and factories. Thirty years later it is an ultra-modern financial district, with some of the world’s tallest and most striking buildings.

Lujiazui is the only officially designated finance and trade area out of China’s 185 state-level development zones. It is home to over 500 international and domestic companies across more than 30 skyscrapers, and has given Shanghai its legendary skyline. Luxury five star hotels have moved in to the area, offering a boost to the city’s tourism industry. Many of the skyscrapers have bars and restaurants on their upper floors.

Lujiazui’s “big three” are the Oriental Pearl TV Tower with its pink spheres, the Jin Mao (shaped like a pagoda), and the Shanghai World Financial Center, which many people nickname “The Bottle Opener” due to its distinctive cut-out square. Currently the world’s third tallest building, the SWFC will soon be overtaken by the Shanghai Tower that is being built beside it.

As well as the business area, Lujiazui also has several excellent shopping malls, a riverside promenade lined with restaurants and bars, and an aquarium.

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) new area where we will visit Shanghai’s distinctive TV tower (
Shanghai TV Tower

Ascend Shanghai’s most futuristic building for a bird’s eye view of the entire city.

Sitting on the eastern bank of the Huangpu River like an alien spaceship, the striking Oriental Pearl TV Tower was Shanghai’s first skyscraper, and remains one of the city’s tallest buildings. Its unique design is a highlight of the Shanghai skyline, with 11 pink tiled spheres arranged around concrete pillars.

At 468 meters tall, the Pearl was the tallest building in Shanghai when it was opened in 1995, and remained so until the Shanghai World Financial Center went up 2007. Rumors abound that the designer, Jiang Huancheng, was inspired by a classical Chinese poem about pearls falling onto a jade dish, but he has denied the story.

The Pearl has a total of 15 observatories, the most popular of which are the 350-meter-high Space Module, the Sightseeing Floor at 263 meters and Space City at 90 meters. The Space Module offers the best views of the surrounding skyscrapers and beyond. On clear days you can see all the way to Chongming Island, the alluvial sand bar that is China’s largest island. The module’s glass floor panels offer vertiginous views of the ground hundreds of meters below.

The Oriental Pearl attracts over 30 million visitors per year, making it one of Shanghai’s most popular tourist destinations. There is a revolving restaurant at 267 meters, a 20-room hotel between the lowest two spheres, and a museum of Shanghai history on site.

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) and Shanghai History Museum, and view some of the tallest and most magnificent buildings in the world. We will then ride the
Maglev

Zip to Pudong Airport in record time on the world’s fastest train.

The quickest way of getting between downtown Shanghai and Pudong International Airport is to take the Maglev. Also known as the Transrapid, this “train of magnetic levitation” gets you from Longyang Road metro station on Line 2 (seven stops east of People’s Square) in just seven minutes and 20 seconds if traveling at its optimum speed of 431 kilometers per hour.

Construction of the Maglev took two and a half years. The route opened in 2002 at a cost of 1.3 billion yuan. Magnetic levitation technology originates in Germany, and has revolutionized high-speed travel.

The Maglev runs from 6:45am until 21:32, and trains depart every 15, 20, or 30 minutes depending on the time of day. There are plans to link the Maglev with People’s Square and eventually Shanghai Hongqiao Airport in the west of the city, which would be a further boost to the city’s already advanced transport infrastructure.

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- the fastest train in the world - to the airport for your flight home.
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