Imperial China, Tibet & the Yangtze

Grand Circle Travel

Imperial China, Tibet & the Yangtze (2005), 22 days

Pre-trip extension: Shanghai: China's Historic Gateway to the West, 4 nights



Day 1, Depart U.S. (Thu, May 11)
Depart for Shanghai, cross the International Date Line, and arrive on Day 2.

Day 2, 上海 Shanghai, Park Hotel (Fri, May 12) ()
An OAT representative will greet you at the airport and assist you to your hotel.

Day 3, Tour Old & New Shanghai, Enjoy home-hosted lunch (Sat, May 13) (B,D)
Today we visit the historic Bund of Shanghai, known for its landmark skyline as well as the lovely Yu Garden. Satisfy your hunger for local cuisine at our home-hosted lunch. Dinner tonight is at your hotel.

Day 4, Visit Zhu Jia Jiao village (Sun, May 14) (B)
Today, we’ll visit the ancient river town of Zhujiajiao village, a maze of canals and narrow streets. We’ll cruise in a traditional boat, stopping at an arched bridge, rice store, and other highlights. We’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

Day 5, Day at leisure, Optional Suzhou tour (Mon, May 15) (B,L,D)
Today you are free to explore on your own. Or, you may choose to join us on our optional full-day tour of Suzhou.

Day 6, Visit Shanghai Museum, Depart for 北京 Beijing, 宁夏 Ningxia Hotel (Tue, May 16) (B,D) After breakfast in your hotel, experience ancient treasures and trades today as we explore the Shanghai Museum. We then enjoy an authentic Mongolian barbecue lunch. Afterwards, you’ll depart for your flight to Beijing.

Day 7, Explore Beijing: 天安門 Tiananmen Square, 紫禁城 Forbidden City (Wed, May 17) (B,L,D)
Beijing is not only the modern capital, but also China’s greatest repository of imperial treasures. We’ll begin exploring at the Forbidden City, a stunning 9,000-room maze of courtyards, palaces, and storehouses. We’ll also visit Tiananmen Square. Tonight, enjoy a Peking Duck dinner at the hotel.

Day 8, Visit the 長城 Great Wall (Thu, May 18) (B,L)
Today, we’ll visit the most authentic sections of the Great Wall that haven’t been rebuilt for tourism. Later, we’ll tour a cloisonne factory before enjoying lunch at a local restaurant.

Day 9, Interact with students at 頤和園 Beijing Opera School, Optional 頤和園 Summer Palace Tour, Optional Beijing Opera (Fri, May 19) (B,L)
At the Beijing Municipal Opera School, funded in part by the Grand Circle Foundation; we’ll mingle with students learning traditional Chinese operas. After lunch, we visit a carpet factory. This afternoon, join us on an optional tour of the Summer Palace. Tonight you may choose to attend an optional dinner and a performance at the Beijing Opera.

Day 10, Optional Temple of Heaven, Discover Beijing’s hutong neighborhoods, Board train for Xian, Accommodations: Overnight sleeper train (Sat, May 20) (B,L,D)
This morning, you may want to join an optional tour of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. Later, you’ll get a taste of real life in one of Beijing’s hutong (“small alleys” or “neighborhood”). Built centuries ago to house Beijing residents who were not royal subjects, the hutong is a labyrinth of narrow lanes and courtyards lined with flat-roofed houses.

After a traditional Chinese lunch with a local family, we board a local overnight sleeper train for our journey to Xian.

Day 11, Explore 西安 Xian, 宁夏 Xian Garden Hotel (Sun, May 21) (B,L,D)
Arrive in Xian in the early morning. In the afternoon, we’ll explore the Shaanxi History Museum and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. We’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Tonight, indulge in a dumpling dinner and enjoy a cultural show at our hotel.

Day 12, Enjoy a 太極拳 tai chi demonstration, Discover the 兵馬俑 Terra Cotta Army, (Mon, May 22) (B,L,D)
We’ll watch and participate in a tai chi demonstration in the morning, and then behold Xian’s famous Terra Cotta Army. At the restaurant where we’ll take lunch today, we’ll enjoy a noodle-making demonstration. Tonight we share a special Mongolian Hot Pot dinner

Day 13, Visit Farmers’ Painting Village, Accommodations: Village homestay (Tue, May 23) (B,L,D)
We’ll spend the morning at leisure. After lunch at the hotel, we’ll travel to the Hu Xian Farmers’ Painting Village. Here, the colorful, “peasant” painting style originated in the 1950s. We’ll spend time in the new village with a local farmer and view his painting studio. Then we’ll visit the old village, and purchase fresh vegetables from the farm to be used in our home-hosted dinner. Following dinner, we’ll enjoy the hospitality of an overnight stay in a local family’s home.

Day 14, Xian to 成都 Chengdu, 锦江宾馆 Jin Jiang Hotel (Wed, May 24) (B,D)
We have a simple breakfast this morning in the homes of our local hosts, then transfer back to Xian and go to the airport. We then fly to Chengdu, arriving in mid afternoon. Chengdu has been known as the “City of Hibiscus” for 1,000 years, ever since its tenth-century ruler, Chang Meng, ordered hibiscus planted on the city walls. We take a walking tour and have some time to take in the bustling scene at the city’s bonsai and flower market, which is a great place to shop for typical Sichuan handicrafts including brocade and bamboo.

We check into our hotel where we enjoy a Western-style dinner.

Day 15, Chengdu/Giant Panda Sanctuary (Thu, May 25) (B,L)
We have breakfast and then visit the Panda Sanctuary just outside the city. Because of its location in Sichuan Province, native habitat of the giant panda, this facility has about eight pandas on display, the largest number you can see anywhere in the world. Here you can see these large, beautiful animals freely roaming and munching on bamboo in a natural environment. There are only 1,000 pandas still living in the wild in all of China, mostly in northern Sichuan and in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, in elevations between 4,000 and 10,000 feet.

First appearing in the fossil record some three million years ago, the Giant Panda is under siege in this century—from habitat eradication, cyclical starvation, and poachers who get as much as $10,000 for a Giant Panda hide in Hong Kong and Japan. China’s ambitious ten-year conservation plan aims to preserve existing habitats, expand existing reserves, and create new reserves in an international effort to stave off the extinction of this elegant, almost mystical, animal.

Given the scale of the battle being fought for the Giant Panda’s survival, places like the Giant Panda Sanctuary just outside Chengdu are essential. The Giant Panda Sanctuary is not a zoo but a simulated habitat, with acres of space for its twelve inhabitants to roam and thrive as nature intended. You’ll take a guided tour through the sanctuary and have the rare chance to see the Giant Panda in a natural environment. You may be touched both by the plight of these loveable creatures and the hope for their recovery. We have lunch at a local restaurant.

The evening is free for you to discover a local eatery for dinner, and to prepare for our flight to Lhasa, Tibet tomorrow morning.

Day 16, Fly to 拉薩 Lhasa, Tibet, Dhood Gu or ShangBala Hotel (Fri, May 26) (B,L,D)
We take an early morning flight to Lhasa, Tibet. Later today, we hear an enlightening talk on Tibetan history and culture, then dine on Western cuisine.

Day 17, Visit 大昭寺 Jokhang Temple, and 八角街 Barkhor Bazaar, Optional 色拉寺 Sera Monastery and Tibetan village tour (Sat, May 27) (B,L,D)
Today we explore the Jokhang Temple and browse the Barkhor Bazaar. Later, join us for an optional tour to the impressive 15th-century Sera Monastery and a typical Tibetan mountain village for a glimpse of everyday life.

Day 18, Eplore 布達拉宮 Potala Palace (Sun, May 28) (B,L,D)
Today we discover the spectacular Potala Palace. Built in the 17th century, it boasts more than 1,000 rooms, including the Red Palace where the Dalai Lama once lived. After lunch, we’ll meet the children at De Ji Orphanage, which is supported by a donation from the Grand Circle Foundation.

Day 19, Lhasa to 成都 Chengdu, Victoria Cruises Ship (Mon, May 29) (B,L,D)
We have an early breakfast in Lhasa this morning, and then make a flight lasting a bit under two hours to Chengdu. Upon arrival, we transfer to a local restaurant for lunch. Chengdu has been known as the “City of Hibiscus” for 1,000 years for the fragrant trees planted along its streets during the 9th century. In spite of modern development, Chengdu maintains its traditional ways; this relaxed 2,000-year-old city offers a glimpse of old China.

In the afternoon, we transfer to 重慶 Chongqing or 石宝寨 Shibaozai (depending on the water level), where we will board the cruise ship. We have dinner at a local restaurant and then board our ship, settling into the quarters where we will stay for the next three nights.

Day 20, 長江 Yangtze River Cruise, 石宝寨 Shi Bao Zhai, Visit Relocated Families (Tue, May 30) (B,L,D)
This morning we set sail on one of the world’s great river journeys. The staff of our cruise vessel will welcome us with a briefing about the three major gorges of the Yangtze, which total about 115 miles and were formed by the river carving through limestone highlands. We then tour the ship’s bridge. Our voyage takes us deep into the heartland where cities give way to remote villages and towering cliffs. We’ll have ample opportunity to stroll through charming rural towns, marvel at incredible scenery, browse among the shops and stalls of local market areas, and to see an otherworldly place that will soon be gone forever. A wonderful book about the Yangtze is The River at the Center of the World by Simon Winchester.

Flowing eastward for 3,900 miles from snow-covered mountains in southwest China to the East China Sea near Shanghai, the Yangtze is the world’s longest river. Your voyage will be an adventure in contrasts, as China old and new emerges in landscapes of ethereal beauty, industrial ports, battle sites, and thousand-year-old cities being rebuilt on higher ground. And you’ll cruise past a tranquil countryside of orange groves and small villages, where life goes on as it has for centuries.

This morning, we’ll hear an informative introduction to the mighty Yangtze River and the extraordinary Three Gorges Dam project. And after lunch, we’ll attend a lecture on traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and acupressure, along with the benefits of therapeutic massage.

Then, we’ll cruise to Shi Bao Zhai, where we’ll disembark and visit some of the families relocated due to the controversial Three Gorges Dam project. While it will provide many benefits, the dam will also submerge many towns and cities. We’ll have an opportunity to discuss this with the families.

This evening you’re invited to the Captain’s Welcome Reception aboard ship.

Day 21, Cruising 瞿唐 Qutang Gorge, Wushan, Lesser Three Gorges, Wu Gorge, 四陵 Xiling Gorge (Wed, May 31) (B,L,D)
This morning we enter the first of the Three Gorges, the Qutang. Although the shortest of the three, the Qutang is by far the most dramatic, with sheer cliffs and such remarkable features as the Meng Liang staircase, painstakingly carved by a loyal bodyguard attempting to recover his master’s body from the cliff face.

Then we dock at Wushan. If it is dry, we disembark for an excursion along the Danning River or 神農 Shennong Stream via bus and sampan boats to see the exquisite Lesser Three Gorges: Dragon-Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge, and Emerald Gorge, their steep rock walls rising dramatically along a narrow passageway. Each is more spectacular than the one before. We’ll pass between sheer precipices, stopping at sandy shoals and quiet lagoons. If you look closely, you may catch a glimpse of wooden coffins, left behind by the ancient Ba people, tucked into the mountain ledges.

Should the river be at a flood stage, we continue sailing.

We continue down the Yangtze and through Wu Gorge, renowned for the quiet beauty of its forested mountains. The Twelve Peaks are ranked alongside the gorge. The great Chinese poet Qu Yuan leapt into the river to his death here in 288 B.C., an event marked each spring with dragon boat races.

Later in the afternoon, as we approach Xiling Gorge, the ship’s kite master gives a kite-flying demonstration on the Observation Deck. We reach the ship locks of the Three Gorges Dam at the end of the day, then gather for dinner at the Captain’s Farewell Banquet.

Day 22, 三峡 Three Gorges 大坝 Dam Site, 四陵 Xiling Gorge, Disembark at 宜昌 Yichang, 武漢 (武汉) Wuhan Jianghan Hotel (Thu, June 1) (B,L,D)
After breakfast we will disembark for a tour of the Three Gorges Dam project. When it is completed in 2009, this will be the world’s largest dam, measuring 606 feet high and 6,500 feet long.

Although a dam was proposed as long ago as 1919 by Sun Yat-Sen, the present site was selected by an American team of engineers in the early 1940s. The project gained momentum in the 1980s and began in earnest in 1990. In 1997, the cofferdam was completed and the main structure begun. The dam will have two five-stage locks to raise and lower ships to the different river levels. Each lock in the five stages will be 65 feet high and 910 feet long.

This massive project has pitted China’s economic interests against the concerns of historic preservationists and environmentalists worldwide. In addition to flooding some of the world’s most spectacular scenic areas and rich ecosystems to a depth of 325 feet, the waters will submerge some 35 notable historic sites (some of which will be relocated). The 632 square miles of inundated terrain will include 13 cities, 140 towns, 1,352 villages, 657 factories, and 66,000 acres of cultivated land. Approximately 1.3 million people will be relocated to new towns now being constructed above the high water mark.

The Chinese government points to the benefits of the Three Gorges Dam, including its ability to control the area’s severe flooding, the huge and much-needed hydroelectric potential, the opening of the upper Yangtze to 10,000-ton ships, and the irrigation value of the impounded water.

After the tour, we’ll board the ship and continue cruising the eastern section of Xiling Gorge. Shortly before lunch, we’ll arrive at Yichang and disembark to transfer overland to Wuhan.

Upon arrival in Wuhan, your Trip Leader will offer an orientation walk in the vicinity of our hotel. We’ll visit Wuhan’s Provincial Museum if time permits.

Dinner is at our hotel this evening.

Day 23, Fly to 香港 Hong Kong, L'Hotel Causeway Bay Harbour View or Empire Hotel (Fri, June 2) (B)
Today you fly from Wuhan to Hong Kong, where you’ll have time to explore on your own. You may wish to browse the traditional Chinese shops at Bonham Strands, hunt for bargains on Hollywood Road, or simply enjoy the many culinary delights of this multicultural city.

Day 24, Discover Hong Kong, Optional Night Market & Asian Cuisine (Sat, June 3) (B)
This morning, we visit Hong Kong’s traditional Chinatown district, including the bustling Ladder Street, where we’ll explore Man Mo Temple. Later, we’ll visit an Aberdeen fishing village. You also have the option of joining our Night Market & Asian Cuisine tour.

Day 25, Explore Hong Kong, Optional Half-Day Kowloon & New Territories Tour (Sun, June 4) (B,L,D)
Join our optional half-day tour of Kowloon and the New Territories, or explore Hong Kong on your own. Tonight we enjoy a farewell banquet.

Day 26, Depart Hong Kong, Fly to U.S. (Mon, June 5) (B)
Transfer to Hong Kong’s airport for flight home.