Uncover the Spirit of the Himalayas

Route: Beijing - Great Wall of China - Xian - Terracotta Army - Lanzhou - Xiahe - Langmusi - Songpan - Jiuzhaigou - Chengdu - Zhongdian - Lijiang - Chengdu

This is the perfect China itinerary if you'd like to experience that holy Tibetan atmosphere and those sprawling remote landscapes, but can't make it to the Tibet Autonomous Region during your trip. 

You'll explore China by starting in the Capital of Beijing where you'll have plenty of time to see the sites and take a hike along the Great Wall. From here you'll head to another ancient site; the Terracotta warriors just outside Xian. You'll travel by jeep over the grassy plains where you'll see Tibetan monasteries and yak herders going about their daily lives in a region rarely visited by other Westerners. Next, you'll visit the stunning crystal lakes of Jiuzhaigou before heading on to Chengdu to see the Giant Pandas. Then it's back into the foothills of the Himalayas in an area now known as Shangri-la before finishing off amongst the Lanterns of Lijiang.

If you'd like to build your very own China holiday, you can choose from our range of bite-sized China trips. Or alternatively, take a look at our wider range of holidays in China or give us a call on 01273 322 048.

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  • explore China - Beijing city wall
  • explore China - get away from it all
  • explore China - Xian drum
  • explore China - Zhongdian flags
  • explore China - Xian bell tower
  • explore China - Chengdu arrival

Duration:              22 days / 21 nights             
                             departs Monday, Wednesday and Saturday

Price:                    £2545 per person - based on 2 people sharing                                                        

Accommodation:  10 nights in category 3 accommodation, 9 nights in                                 category 2 and 2 nights in category 1
                            (see accommodation).

Transport:           Arrival transfers, transfer between cities and towns

Includes:             Transport, accommodation, 3 domestic flights,                                         transfers and excursions as described below,                                         Panda Research Centre entrance fee.

Excludes:             International flights, (airport) taxes, meals                                             and drinks, entrance fees

explore China - Beijing hotel

Day 1: Arrival in Beijing

Upon arrival on the first day of your explore China holiday, you'll be greeted by one of our local representatives in the arrival hall. You'll also find an ATM machine here to withdraw you China travel money. After about an hour drive, your transfer will reach your traditional courtyard hotel in the centre of Beijing. Its small scale architecture, the magnolia trees and the colourful lanterns all add significant allure to this hotel. The staff at the reception area are quite well versed in English and there are several large streets filled with stores within walking distance. Be prepared to sleep on a hard bed though; unfortunately hard beds are everywhere in China and you'll encounter them in every hotel. The afternoon is yours to spend as you please; if you like you can explore the hotel surroundings.

Day 2: Beijing

Today on your China holiday, you'll have a chance to explore Beijing by car with a driver and an English-speaking guide. You'll be picked up at your hotel around 8:30 in the morning. The first stop is Tian'anmen Square: the gateway to heavenly peace. This infamous square is home to the buildings of parliament as well as the entrance to the Forbidden City and Mao Zhedong's Mausoleum and is most likely top of your list of must-see's while you explore China. After a stop you'll visit the Temple of Heavenly Peace (entrance fee 35 Yuan) and the colourful Lama Temple (entrance fee approximately 25 Yuan). These are Beijing's most important temples. You'll walk among red pagodas, monks and prayer houses with the scent of incense and sandalwood all around you. 

explore China - Beijing city
explore China - Forbidden city

During the afternoon, you and a guide will explore China's Forbidden City where you'll take a peak at the emperors residence during the 18th century (open until 16:00, entrance fee approximately 60 Yuan). After you've seen all you want to see your guide will help you catch a taxi back to your hotel (approximately 15 Yuan). Be sure to always bring along one of the hotel's business cards whilst you explore China as your taxi driver may not be able to understand English. 

As its name indicates, Peking Duck comes from Peking (Beijing). If you wish, we can reserve a table for you at the restaurant that prepares the best Peking duck recipe in town. Your guide will take you to the restaurant and for £20 per person the chef will personally place the duck on your plate. A delicious Chinese delicacy! Afterwards you can visit the illuminated Hou Hai Lake. It lies in the middle of the city and is the place to be in the evening for those of all classes, backgrounds and ages.

Day 3: Beijing - Great Wall of China Tour

Most travellers will agree that the Great Wall of China is one of the highlights of any China holiday. You'll leave Beijing early in the morning and head towards a quiet part of the wall, about three hours from Beijing. Here you'll walk over the wall for about 10km; it's quite a vigorous walk and not appropriate for people with a fear of heights! It should take you about four hours to complete the entire course. Many parts of the wall are still the original wall segments, completely unrestored and dating back to around 1570. At the end of the route you'll encounter the busy Beijing streets once again; arriving back at around 18:30.

explore China - Great Wall

     Recently the Simatai section of the Great Wall has been closed for renovation and is unavailable for clients to hike. The hike that we
     offer will still depart from Jinshanling and continue onto the point of closure at Simatai and then continue back to Jinshanling. Even
     with the closure of the Simatai section we still feel that this is the best way to experience the stunning landscapes in the
     mountainous area of the Luanping County.

explore China - take in the scenery

Beijing - Alternative Great Wall of China tour

If this 10km hike is a bit more than you would like to take on during your trip to China, you could also go on our trip to the Great Wall at Mutianyu instead. This Mutianyu trip takes you to the mighty Great Wall and the 2008 Olympic Park (the birds-nest stadium) which is now a centre for cultural sporting activities. During this trip you will also visit the fascinating Ming Dynasty Tombs and mausoleum. At the Great Wall at Mutianyu, you can go on a cable car up to the top taking in the fantastic views that surround you, before taking the toboggan down - it's great fun! Please ask your travel specialist for more information on our Mutianyu trip.

Day 4: Beijing - Xi'an

It's day four of your China holiday and today you'll have one more day to spend as you please in Beijing. After yesterday's walk, your muscles may be a bit sore. If you'd like to spend the day relaxing, take a taxi to Beihei City Park with its classical Chinese gardens or visit the Summer Palace. If you feel like spending your day more actively, go for a walk or cycle through Beijing's old neighbourhoods; the hutongs. 

Be sure to head back to your hotel around 3pm: you'll be picked up there around 5pm and taken to the train station. We'll arrange a soft sleeper for you in the night train to Xi'an. Once on board, you'll probably fall asleep quite quickly to the rhythmic sound of the train on the tracks.

explore China - sleeper train

explore China - Xi'an market

Day 5: Arrival in Xi'an

Today you'll be awoken from your slumber before arriving in Xi'an where you'll continue to explore China. We'll make reservations for you in a centrally located, comfortable hotel. You'll be greeted in the arrival hall and taken straight to your hotel. The transfer should take approximately 15 minutes. If you'd prefer not to travel by train, there are several daily flights to Xi'an.

Today is free to spend as you please! We would recommend heading to the Muslim Quarter. Here you'll find quaint little tea shops, street stalls selling all sorts of delicious vegetarian food and the Great Mosque of Xi'an. This is a great place to buy souvenirs as it's much cheaper (and more authentic) than the other, high-street shops around Xi'an.

Day 6: Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors Excursion

Today, you’ll be picked up from your hotel at 9am to continue your trip to explore China's famous Terracotta Army. The best way to see this attraction is by private tour without a guide and this is exactly how we’ve arranged this excursion for you. The excavation site is approximately 40 minutes from the city and is located in a large park. On the way you might get to visit a workshop where the staff will show you exact replicas of the Terracotta Army and explain the different rankings of all the figurines that have been found in the excavation site. 

We advise you to start in hall 3, then visit hall 2 and finally hall 1, then this way you’ll save the largest and most impressive part of the excavation site for last. Your trip to the Terracotta Army will last approximately two hours; however, if you include transit time, the excursion will take up half a day.

explore China - Terracotta Army

explore China - sleeper train

Day 7: Xi'an - Lanzhou

You'll have the next morning free to do as you please. If you haven't visited the Muslim Quarter already, we would strongly recommend doing so today. There are also plenty of tea shops in this area so you can sample some of China's famous teas.
In the afternoon, you'll make your own way to the train station ready for your sleeper train to Lanzhou. It might be a good idea to pick up a few tasty snacks from the street vendors in the Muslim quarter, although you can also buy food aboard the train.

Day 8: Lanzhou - Xiahe

After your night aboard the sleeper train you'll awake in Lanzhou. You’ll be picked up by mini van and taken to the city of Xiahe in mid-western China (it's a hefty 5 hour drive). Along the way you’ll pass small Muslim villages and most likely make a stop in Linxia for a meal before heading on.

Xiahe, in the Gansu province of China, lies at an altitude of 3000m. When you get out of the car you’re sure to feel the effects almost immediately. The village is nothing more than a 3km long street with stores and several hotels. The street ends at the famous 16th century Labrang monastery, recognizable by its golden roof. This is the second largest Tibetan monastery in China. You’ll have all the time you need to visit the monastery while you explore China. There is a guided tour every day at 15:15. You’ll spend the night in a simple hotel near the monastery. There is warm water; however the area is known to have frequent power outages. Simple meals are available in the hotel.
explore China - local monks

explore China - Xiahe grasslands

Day 9: Xiahe - Ganjia Grasslands

Xiahe’s surroundings are surprisingly beautiful, and seen close up are sure to be a real highlight while you explore China. If you only stay in Xiahe you wouldn’t expect this, because the elevated grasslands are hidden behind the mountain tops that surround the town. 

A minibus will take you to Ganjia in the morning; the ride will take about two hours. The road will quickly climb into the Mountains and onto the plateau. You’ll cross a landscape full of lakes mirroring clear blue skies, soft babbling brooks, traditional villages such as Eight Corners Village, large herds of sheep and naturally the typical Tibetan yaks. The next stop is at one of the local villages where you can buy some lunch. In the afternoon you’ll head back to the town of Xiahe.

Day 10: Xiahe - Langmusi

You’ll be picked up early in the morning at your hotel today to begin your travels. The Sichuan landscape is hilly and from time to time you’ll see snowy mountain tops and, during the summertime, a sea of flowers over the grasslands. As you explore China you’ll see small villages where half-nomadic Tibetans live with their herds of yak and sheep. You’ll arrive in Langmusi in the afternoon, at an altitude of 3800m, where you’ll spend the night in a basic hotel. Langmusi is home to two large Tibetan Monasteries and therefore most of the population, is made up of Tibetan monks. West of Langmusi, you’ll find the sky burial plateau. A part of the Buddhist religion is the belief in reincarnation, or rebirth of the soul in another human being or animal. In a sky burial the body is offered to the vultures and other birds of prey on a plateau outside the village. This is a very sacred tradition, therefore it is not something that visitors are permitted to see, we therefore ask that you show respect by keeping your distance.

explore China - Langmusi tent

explore China - local temples

Day 11: Langmusi - Songpan

As you explore China on this trip, we recommend that you visit the main monastery in Langmusi. The temple usually has morning services. Your guide will lead you through the prayer hall where the highest priest of the monastery sits on a plateau; a type of throne. Anyone who passes him should bow their head as a sign of respect. 

Afterwards you'll head towards Songpan in the north west of the Sichuan province. Your journey will take you to a few different mountain passes and grassy plains. En route your driver will take a rest stop at a small Buddhist monastery belonging to the order of the Red Caps. The landscape will then change into green valleys, rock formations and farmland. Once you reach Songpan, you’ll say goodbye to your driver and guide and you’ll spend two nights in a small basic hotel. The power supply may falter at times so don't forget your torch.

Day 12: Songpan

Songpan is a small town on the banks of the Min River. The population is a mix of Tibetans, Hui Muslims and Han Chinese. A myriad of religions and traditions coexist here. You'll have the day free to relax and explore China at your own pace. 

The village is friendly and charming with many little wooden houses along small streets. Some travellers visiting Songpan on a China trip to the Sichuan province also explore the hills surrounding the city by horse; this is something that you can easily arrange on the spot. If you don’t feel like going on a horse trek during your travels through China, you could also head to Guanyin pavilion where you will get a great view of the town and of Songpan's surroundings.

explore China - yak herder

explore China - Huanglong views

Day 13: Songpan - Jiuzhaigou - Terraced pools - Huanglong 

This morning, your driver will pick you up from you hotel in Songpan and drive you to the colourful terraced pools of Huanglong. The journey will take about an hour (Y200 entrance). After an early lunch you'll go to the Huanglong valley. In Huanglong we suggest taking the cable car up to the top and then following the trail downhill along the rainbow coloured terraces (Y80 per person).

You’re at 3100m here, so make sure you bring plenty of water and take it slow. The walk takes about two hours down to the bottom of the mountain. At the end of the trail you’ll be picked up again by your driver and driven to your hotel in Jiuzhaigou.

Day 14: Emerald lakes and waterfalls in Jiuzhaigou 

Today you'll have free time to arrange your own visit to the Emerald lakes of Juizhaigou. Your hotel can provide you with any information or tips you need about the park. At the entrance, you'll need to pay an entrance fee (Y220 per person). Once inside the park there are shuttle buses to different points in the park (Y100 per person). You’ll follow a trail along the terraced pools and go trekking to the multi-coloured lakes. There are several different trails so you can decide how challenging you want it to be.

During your time in the park, you can also explore one of the Tibetan communities dotted around the valley, their villages decorated with the characteristic Tibetan prayer flags.

explore China - crystal lakes

explore China - Jiuzhaigou hotel

Day 15: Jiuzhaigou - Chengdu

After a good night's rest, you'll continue your journey. Once you’ve checked out you’ll be picked up by your driver who will take you to Jiuzhaigou airport where you'll board a flight to Chengdu. One of our representatives will be waiting for you on your arrival to transfer you to your hotel. Our hotels in Chengdu are centrally located in town and within walking distance from the backpacker guest houses. Your own accommodation will be more comfortable than the guest houses and you’ll spend the night in a comfortable mid-class hotel with a shower, toilet, telephone, and air conditioning in your room. If you have the time you could explore China's Jinli Street in the afternoon; a charming, pedestrian district next to the Wuhou temple. You'll enjoy walking through the small, traditional streets, having a bite to eat on ‘Snack Street’ and having a drink at one of the lantern lit bars or Chinese tea houses. You won’t know where to look, there’s so much to see!

Day 16: Chengdu panda tour - Research Centre trip

If you’d like to experience China's famous giant pandas during your time in Chengdu, the best place to see them is at the Panda Breeding Research Centre. The Research Centre is a large bamboo filled park where pandas can be seen in large fenced enclosures. This is the only opportunity in China to see these mystical creatures up close. Of course it’s still a zoo; however it’s a very responsible and well maintained one and seeing these giant creatures is extremely moving. You’ll learn a lot about these animals, their breeding habits, their heritage and you might even get to see new-born pandas (depending on the time of year). Your trip is planned for early in the morning which is the best time of day to visit as this is when they are most active. This means that you’ll be picked up at your hotel around 7am. You’ll get to the park in time to see the pandas being fed. After about 3 hours in the park you’ll have seen all you’ll want to see and you’ll be back in your hotel by 11:30.

explore China - meet the pandas

explore China - foot of the Himalayas

Day 17: Chengdu - Zhongdian

Today it's time to head back to the foot of the Himilayas. You'll make your own way to Chengdu airport where you'll catch a flight to the Tibetan village of Zhongdian, at an altitude of 3200m.

Thanks to a Chinese publicity stunt, Zhongdian is also known as Shangri-La. You’ll be met by our driver who will take you to your simple hotel, just outside of town. During your stay in this Tibetan region, it may be a little more difficult to communicate, as fewer people speak English. Patience is a virtue though and perhaps by using your hands to gesticulate or by using paper and pen, you'll get your point across.

Day 18: Zhongdian

The following day is free for you to explore the city. We would recommend visiting the 300-year old Tibetan Ganden Sumtseling Gompa Monastery (also known as the Tsongtam Monastery), located just outside of Zhongdian. The monastery is home to more than 300 monks and is the most important Tibetan complex in south-western China. You can go inside the monastery after paying an 85 Yuan entrance fee. 

China Travel Plan supports a local charity in Napa Village nearby. Donations made by travellers who visit our site are used to build better facilities and homes in the village in order to help develop tourism in the area (which will help the village to support itself). Click here for more information. If you would like to visit the village during your stay then just let us know. 

explore China - friendly locals

explore China - Lijiang lights

Day 19: Zhongdian - Lijiang

Next you'll begin your 200km journey to Lijiang. You’ll travel by bus and experience what it’s like to travel by public transport through China. At times your sitting space may be limited; however you’ll be sitting between locals. During the drive you’ll pass through mountain passes and valleys.

On arrival in Lijiang a transfer will take you to the ancient city centre called 'old town' or 'Dayan'. This part of Lijiang is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list and is pedestrianised. You’ll be dropped off at the square; the last point where cars are allowed. Our representative will accompany you to your court yard hotel in the ancient centre of the city. The Ancient Town Protection Fee is included in the price of this trip. Keep the payment stub that the representative will give to you as you’ll have to present it every time you enter the ancient city centre. 

Day 20: Lijiang - countryside bicycle tour

Today you’ll go cycling and explore the area around Lijiang. You and your guide will travel out of Lijiang and onto a paved road with snow-capped mountains to the left and right of you. After about 45 minutes you’ll reach the traditional Naxi village of Baisha, where you’ll park your bike and go for a walk through the streets. This village is just as beautiful as Lijiang, only less touristy and more genuine and peaceful - a great way to explore China!

Just after noon you’ll arrive back in Lijiang where you’ll have enough time to freshen up at your hotel before having the rest of the afternoon to spend as you wish. We suggest heading to the Black Dragon Pool Park (approx. 60 Yuan). This spectacular man-made park has a lake that reflects the Jade Snow Mountain tops when the sun is shining.

explore China - bicycle tour

explore China - time to head home

Day 21: Lijiang - Chengdu

As your trip starts to draw to a close, you'll arrange your own transfer from your hotel to Lijiang Airport where you'll catch a flight back to Chengdu. When you arrive in Chengdu you'll make your own way to the same hotel you stayed at when you began your China trip.

Day 22: Chengdu - UK

Today is the last day of your holiday. You'll make your own way to the airport for your international flight back to the UK, no doubt with hundreds of beautiful pictures and plenty of fond memories.

A Peek at our Standard Accommodation (click to enlarge)

  • explore China - Xian room
  • explore China - cosy bedroom
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