• 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.


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

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.

. 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.

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.

, 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.

, 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.

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.

. 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.

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.

, and take a rickshaw ride along the historic

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.

alleys. We will then drive to the airport to catch a flight to the capital of Yunnan province –

Explore the City of Eternal Spring – Yunnan’s laid-back capital.

Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province, is one of the most livable cities in China, and a must-see on any trip to the region. Located in the north of Yunnan, it has a population of 6.8 million and an urban area of 6,200 square kilometers. While it is the outlying parts of Yunnan that are most popular among tourists (such as the Western Hills, Erhai Lake and Stone Forest), the city itself has some fantastic sights and sounds. The province has the highest ethnic population in China, with 26 of the country’s 55 minorities living there. This adds a certain color and culture to Kunming, and an overall atmosphere of good-natured inclusivity. A temperate climate all year round has earned it the nickname “City of Eternal Spring”.

There is evidence of human settlement in the Kunming area dating back to Neolithic times. Since the era of the Silk Route, trade has passed through Yunnan to Tibet, India, Myanmar and the rest of Asia, and the opening of the Hanoi railway in 1910 put Kunming on the path to development. The city was used as a US airbase during World War II, and is now the main hub for transport, economics, and culture in this part of China.

The golden horse and green rooster of Kunming’s emblem refer to the two hills that flank Dianchi Lake – Jinma and Biji. The mythical creatures also lend their name to the city’s main plaza – Jinma Biji Square. Five main roads fan out from the square, and there are pedestrian areas like Nanping Avenue and the Flower Market that are worth strolling.

Kunming is one of China’s most interesting cities thanks to its location, surrounding attractions, and unique ethnic mix of its population. However long you stay, the City of Eternal Spring is sure to make its mark.

. Upon arrival, we will meet our guide and transfer to the hotel.
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Day 5 During our first day in Kunming we will visit a variety of interesting attractions. We’ll start at the Flower Market (
Bird and Flower Market

See Kunming’s official flower in bloom and listen to the chirp of birds as you stroll through this bustling market.

Since 1983, the Jingxing Bird and Flower Market in Kunming’s old town has attracted millions of shoppers – both local and from abroad – to browse the blooms, admire the singing birds, and pore over antiques and curios.

The camellia was designated as Kunming’s official flower in 1983 so it’s no surprise that there are plenty for sale in the market. They jostle for space with orchids, lilies, tulips and roses, creating a wonderful aroma that fills the market. In counterpoint to this smell is the chirping of birds – mynahs, thrushes, cuckoos – which are all for sale. Keeping birds in cages on verandahs is a common practice in China, and one that adds an atmosphere to Kunming’s streets.

Also for sale at the market are antiques and curios like jade, porcelain, ink stones, and jewelry, as well as handicrafts made by the stallholders. Look out for brightly colored ethnic headdresses and costumes, and don’t be afraid to haggle if you see something you want to buy. The area directly surrounding the flower market is home to some old buildings containing Western restaurants.

), continue to the picturesque and unique
Stone Forest

Walk around a mystical forest made of stone, and explore underground caves bristling with stalactites.

The saying goes that if you visit Yunnan without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted you time. The incredible karst formations jutting up from the earth make up one of the most unusual and eerie landscapes on earth. Situated 85 kilometers from Kunming in the Lunan Yi Autonomous Region, the forest (known as Shilin in Chinese) was formed 270 million years ago during the carboniferous period of the Paleozoic era. Back then, the area was covered by a huge sea that, when it retreated, left behind limestone that eventually eroded into the shapes we see today.

The Shilin National Park covers 350 square kilometers and is split into several parts. These include the Greater and Lesser Stone Forests, Long Lake, Moon Lake, and Zhiyun Cave. The Strange Wind Cave is one of the most striking of the forest’s underground sites; a subterranean river winds through Penfeng Cave, fed by Hongxi Spring. Between August and November, a huge gust of wind rushes through the cave every half hour for two to three minutes at a time. Another highlight is Long Lake, which is three kilometers long but only 300 meters wide.

With its vista of craggy pillars and network of grottoes, this eerie landscape is one of the most unusual on earth.

, and end at the
Western Hills

Explore the forests and temples of these rolling hills outside Kunming.

In the western suburbs of Kunming lies a range of hills known as Sleeping Buddha Hills thanks to their resemblance to a reclining Buddha. They are also called the Sleeping Beauty Hills, as some people think they look like a girl lying beside Dianchi Lake. However they are named, they provide visitors to Kunming with a great introduction to the beautiful scenery that awaits them in the rest of Yunnan Province.

The hills are covered in dense forest and replete with rare and beautiful plants. Tucked among the trees are ancient temples, grottoes and pavilions. The oldest of the temples is Taihua Temple, on the hill of the same name. It was built in the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) and is surrounded by hundreds of wild flowers. The Huating Temple is one of the largest Buddhist places of worship in Yunnan, and includes a Hall of Guanyin, three golden Buddhas, and clay carvings of animals.

Another treasure of the Western Hills is Sanqing Pavilion, which is built on a cliff 300 meters above Dianchi Lake. According to Taoism, “sanqing” means the loftiest stature, so climbing up to the pavilion signifies reaching a high point. Seeming to float in the air above the lake, the pavilion is known as the “castle in the sky”. Dragon Gate is a carved stone structure also overlooking the lake. It includes grottoes, stone rooms and carvings.

. In the evening we will take a flight to Dali where we will spend the night.
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Day 6 Our exploration of Yunnan continues with a trip to

Cruise on this beautiful ear-shaped lake stunned with islands, where cormorants help locals catch fish.

Erhai earned its name (which means Ear Sea) thanks to its distinctive shape. Just eight kilometers wide and 40 kilometers long, it is the second largest alpine lake in China after Dianchi, and one of the nation’s seven biggest freshwater lakes with an area of 250 square kilometers.

The banks of Erhai were used as a deer ranch during the Nanzhao Kingdom of the 8th and 9th centuries. The lake is located two kilometers east of Dali city at the foot of Cangshan, and its green waters contrast with the snow-capped peaks. The view of both is known as “Silver Cangshan, Jade Erhai”. The Miji and Mici rivers feed into the lake from the north, and the lake drains into the Mekong River.

One of the most arresting sights on Erhai is local fisherman catching fish with the help of cormorants. Each fisherman has several birds, and he ties a ring around their necks before sending them underwater to catch fish. Unable to swallow their quarry, the cormorants bring it back to their masters and are rewarded at the end of their shift with a hearty meal.

Also notable are the many islands that dot the late, such a Xiao Putuo with its Buddhist temple, Nanzhao Fengqing, and Jinsuo or “Golden Shuttle”.

Lake where we will enjoy a cruise, and visit some of the local villages that surround it. This will be followed by a visit to
The Three Pagodas

Visit the iconic white pagodas that were built to drive away a colony of dragons.

One of Yunnan’s most photographed historic monuments is the trio of pagodas on the west shore of Erhai Lake in the shadow of Mount Cang. The pagodas date from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and are made of brick covered in white mud.

The pagoda in the middle is called Qianxun and is 69 meters tall. It was built between 824 and 840 (apparently to dispel a group of breeding dragons), and is made up of 16 square stories. On the façade of each floor is a white marble sitting Buddha. The interior of the pagoda is hollow, but unfortunately it is not possible to climb it. The two smaller pagodas to the right and left of Qianxun are solid octagons of eight stories, and were built a century after their larger cousin. Junying Pool behind the pagodas acts as a mirror, reflecting the three towers for one of China’s best photo opportunities.

Qianxun pagoda was built to store Buddhist statues, readings and medicinal herbs. Miraculously, it survived the 1925 earthquake in which one in 100 buildings in Dali were destroyed. An excavation in 1978 uncovered countless precious artifacts including copper discs and gold sculptures.

at the Chong Sheng Temple and a tour of the local markets.
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Day 7 Today we will explore
Dali Ancient City

See the traditional homes of the Bai minority, and admire the old gates of the city that was a military base in ancient times.

The city of Dali 300 kilometers north-west of Kunming is unique for the fact that its old and new quarters are separated. The new part, Xiaguan, is divided from the ancient part by 13 kilometers. Xiaguan is a glittering new metropolis filled with administrative buildings and commercial streets, but the old town provides a portrait of how Yunnan used to be. The Bai people settled in this area 4,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) that it became part of the Chinese empire. The Ming emperor Hongwu (1368-98) established the city we see today, including a vast city wall. The North and South City Wall Towers were restored in 1982 and are among Dali’s most beautiful historic buildings, along with the Wuhua Tower.

Other highlights of the town are the traditional Bai minority homes with their courtyards and sun-filled rooms. The houses are highly decorative, with pointed eaves and engraved wood. The people of the Bai ethnicity make up 67% of Dali’s population. Their annual folk ceremonies add color to the town, such as the March Street Festival and Butterfly Festival.

Particularly popular with visitors is the aptly named Foreigner Street, where stallholders sell local handicrafts and snacks.

and Xizhou Town (
Xizhou Village

Wander the streets of a traditional Bai village and admire local handicrafts at the markets.

Xizhou Village is located 18 kilometers north of Dali Ancient Town, with Erhai to the east and Cang Mountain to the west. A military stronghold during the Nanzhao Kingdom of the 8th and 9th centuries, Xizhou was an important stop on the trade routes that passed through Yunnan province on the way from eastern China to Asia Minor.

Thanks to the remoteness of its location, Xizhou Village has preserved its traditional ways of life, from the colorful street markets to the courtyard residences of the Bai ethnic minority who make up most of the town’s population. These unique houses are arranged around a courtyard with three rooms going off to each side, and a south-facing screen at the bottom. Both the interior and exterior are vibrantly decorated in gold, white, green and blue, and homes have the typical upturned eaves and carved beams of Chinese architecture.

The shops and market stalls around Xizhou are a good place to pick up some keepsakes. The local tie-dyed fabrics make great gifts.

) before driving to our next destination -

Witness ancient culture in action, walk through China’s best-preserved old town, and see a breathtaking natural gorge.

Located close to where Yunnan Province borders Sichuan and Tibet, Lijiang is perfectly positioned to soak up the culture of each place. This remote city of just over a million people is home to the best-preserved ancient town in the whole of China, and is the gateway for the stunning Tiger Leaping Gorge – one of the biggest draws to Yunnan.

Historically speaking, Lijiang dates back to the Warring States Period (476 – 221 BC), and flourished under the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) after the Ancient Tea-Horse Road was built to ease trade between Yunnan and the rest of China. The old trade route linked Sichuan, Tibet and Yunnan both commercially and culturally, and Lijiang thrived.

The Lijiang Autonomous County of the Naxi Ethnic Minority (to give it its proper name) is home to the Naxi ethnic group – one of China’s 55 minorities. Their Dongba culture originated in Tibet, and is still practiced today. Many of the most popular souvenirs in Lijiang are engraved with Dongba heiroglyphs.

Lijiang town covers 21,219 square kilometers and is split into four counties and an old town paved with local bluestone. It is this old town that is the main attraction, as well as the many beauty spots in the surrounding countryside such as Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the Ming Dynasty frescoes at Baisha, and Tiger Leaping Gorge.

With its ancient streets, stunning scenery and wide skies, Lijiang sums up the essence of Yunnan.

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Day 8 We begin our tour of the beautiful city of Lijiang with a trip to the Black Dragon Pool. We will then explore the rich history and culture of China’s ethnic minorities at the Museum of Naxi Dongba Culture and Lijiang Ancient Town (
Lijiang Old Town

Find out why this old town has no city walls, learn about Lijiang’s ancient water system, and buy colorful souvenirs from the Naxi people.

The best-preserved ancient town in all of China, Lijiang Old Town was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997. The 3.8 square kilometer area is flanked by the Lion Mountain to the west and Elephant and Golden Row Mountains to the north, and lies on a plateau 2,400 meters above sea level. When it rains, Lijiang’s blue-stone streets look like a wet ink block, giving it the nickname “Town of the Big Ink Slab”.

Lijiang Old Town can trace its history back 800 years to the late Song and early Yuan Dynasties. The first Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan set up his court there, making it a center for culture and trade. The colorful mix of minorities – Naxi, Bai, Tibetan, Han – makes for a unique culture, while the stunning geography of the surrounding region only adds to Lijiang’s appeal.

Curiously, Lijiang Old Town has no city wall, which is incredibly rare for a settlement of its era. The story goes that the ruling family, Mu, thought it would bring bad luck if they erected a barricade around the city. This is because the Chinese character for Mu becomes “kun” meaning “predicament” when drawn inside a wall. Another unique feature of the town is the ancient water system that drained down from the Black Dragon Pool via a series of aqueducts and bridges. Lijiang Old Town’s main square is Sifang Jie, from which four streets fan out. Every night, a sluice is opened in the square from which water pours to wash the street surface.

Many of the buildings in Lijiang Old Town are built of decorated timber, and have a garden inside the complex. The streets are narrow and winding, and the architectural style is free and diverse.

Lijiang is the ideal place to see some of China’s most vibrant minority culture, and view the human face of Yunnan between admiring its scenic beauty.

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Day 9 Our day begins with a chairlift ride to a meadow on the impressive
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Admire thirteen snow-capped peaks and explore a vast meadow at the southernmost glacier in the Northern Hemisphere.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain stands 5,600 meters tall at its highest point, and consists of thirteen peaks, the tallest of which is Shanzidou. The peaks stretch for 35 kilometers, and look like a dragon reclining in the clouds.

The Naxi people were the first to notice this likeness to a slumbering dragon, and told stories and legends about how it came to be there. The most vibrant is the tale of two brothers named Jade and Haba who made their living panning for gold in the Golden Sand River. One day a demon took control of the river and the brothers tried to fight it off. Haba was killed in the battle and became a mountain, but Jade Dragon overwhelmed the demon, using thirteen swords to see it off. Forevermore he stood, brandishing his weapons, which became the thirteen peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

As well as the peaks, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is home to many plateaux and meadows, such as Spruce Field which is dotted with trees, and Dry Sea Meadow which is flat terrain. The area is popular for hiking, mountaineering and skiing, and a cable car takes visitors up into the clouds to enjoy the snowy view. One quarter of all plant species in China are found here, making it a rich natural landscape as well as an area of scenic beauty.

where we will watch Impression of Lijiang – one of the highest open-air live performances in the world. This will be followed by a visit to the Baisha Murals (
Baisha Frescos

See Lijiang’s famous frescos at this ancient village.

Located eight kilometers outside of Lijiang Old Town, the village of Baisha is home to Yunnan’s most celebrated murals, depicting daily life, deities, and demons in one fell swoop. The great Lijiang Mural was begun in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and took 300 years to complete. At the same time, a series of temples was being built in the towns surrounding Lijiang, like Baisha, Shuhe, Xuesong and Dayan. The fresco originally had over 200 pieces, but only 55 of them survive. They are divided among the temples, and the best are in Baisha.

The Lijiang Mural was painted to commemorate daily life in the area, and to celebrate rapid economic development. Subject matter ranges from Buddhist, Taoist and Lamaist imagery to Naxi Dongba traditional folk beliefs and local townspeople. The artists behind the frescos include anonymous local muralists, the Taoist painter Zhang from the Central Plain, Lama artist Guchang from Tibet, and Han painters Li Zeng and Ma Xiaoxian.

The skill and vibrancy of these gorgeous frescos provides a glimpse of local Naxi talent, as well as presenting a historic record of the Lijiang region.

) and the Ancient Shuhe Village of the Naxi People. In the evening we will attend the world famous
Naxi Ancient Music Show

Hear the music of the Naxi people, and experience how Chinese music sounded in ancient times.

Maybe it has something to do with the inspiring scenery of their land, but the Naxi people has always been known for its artistic talent. Whether painting, singing, dancing, or making calligraphy, the members of the Yunnanese ethnic minority have exceptional talent. Luckily, they are more than willing to perform for visitors, and some of their music groups have toured as far afield as the USA, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, and Norway.

Traditional Naxi music is split into three groups. Baisha consists of ancient orchestral scores from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) consisting of 24 melodies, choral segments, and dance. The Dongjing style came from Central China in medieval times and mixed with Naxi traditional tunes to create a meld of Taoist rites and Confucian ceremonial songs. The third style, Huangjing, has been lost. Lijiang’s position on the Silk Route and Ancient Tea-Horse Road mean that it has always been open to the influence of passing traders. This can definitely be seen in the music that has evolved among the Naxi people. Thanks to the area’s remoteness, the music has stayed in tact for many centuries, making what is known as a “living fossil of music”.

Naxi musical performance follows the three “old” rules. The musicians, instruments, and songs must all be old. Thus, most performers of Naxi music are elderly, and the instruments date back over a century. Orchestras are made up of traditional lutes, zithers, drums and flutes, which are played either sitting down or walking.

Listening to a concert of Naxi music helps you gain an understanding of this artistic people, and gives a taste of what music was like in China many hundreds of years ago.

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Day 10 Today we travel to Zhongdian - also known as Shangri-La. En route we will visit the
Tiger Leaping Gorge

Visit the deepest gorge in the world, and watch the churning Golden Sands River slice through the snow-capped mountains.

Legend has it that a tiger escaping from a hunter used a rock to help him leap across the gorge, lending the world’s deepest canyon its poetic name. Tiger Leaping Gorge, located 100 kilometers north-west of Lijinag Old Town, lies between Jade Dragon and Haba Snow Mountains. At its lowest point, the river crashes 200 meters below the cliffs, whirling through 18 rapids for 15 kilometers. As with much of Yunnan Province’s mind-boggling scenery, Tiger Leaping Gorge is breathtaking.

The narrowest section is at the start of the Golden Sands River, and has the rock that inspired the legend. The water is calm and quiet here, making it ideal for rafting. In the middle section, the river drops 100 meters and quickens, passing sharp rocks and huge boulders as it goes. The third and lowest section is flanked by steep, dangerous cliffs.

The gorge is part of Yunnan’s Protected Areas World Heritage Site, and was opened to foreign tourists in 1993. It is an unmissable feature of the provinces landscape, so make sure you have your camera with you.

and the first bend of the Yangtze River.
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Day 11 Our Shangri-La experience begins with a trip to Bitahai Lake, followed by a tour of the Napahai Reserve. Finally we will pay a visit the famous monastery at the Songzanlin Lama Temple. Zhongdian tl_files/china-packages/icons/sightseeing.png
Day 12 Today we will travel to our next destination –

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.

(via Kunming). 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.

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.

, 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.

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

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.

and take a short drive to the Pudong (

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.

) 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.

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

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.

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