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21-Day, Xian, Zhangye, Dunhuang, Turpan, Urumqi, Zhangjiajie, Guilin, Beijing and Shanghai Tour

Classic China Silk Road and Natural Wonders Tour

21-Day Private China Tour: Xi'an– Zhangye– Dunhuang–Turpan–Urumqi–Zhangjiajie–Guilin–Beijing–Shanghai

Immerse yourself in the rich history of Xian, marvel at the surreal landscapes of Zhangye and Dunhuang, explore the cultural diversity of Turpan and Urumqi, and discover the breathtaking beauty of Zhangjiajie and Guilin. Then, dive into the heart of China's vibrant modernity in Beijing and Shanghai. Our expertly crafted itinerary ensures an unforgettable journey, blending ancient wonders with contemporary marvels.

The itinerary below is only one possibility. Tips to tailor-make your trip are offered as inspiration. Send us details of your preferences and our travel experts will customize this trip to suit your interests, tastes, and budget.

Tour 'Wow' Points

Experience the Thrill of Riding a Camel Across the Singing Sand Mountains

Riding a Camel

Witness the Famous Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye

Rainbow Mountains

Witness the Famous Great Wall on the Cliff of Jiayuguan

Great Wall on the Cliff

Marvel at the Famous Hallelujah Mountain in the Movie "Avatar"

Hallelujah Mountain

Explore the Awe-inspiring Li River in Guilin

Guilin landscape

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Itinerary Quick Look

Here is a suggested itinerary. We are happy to customize a tour according to your interests.

DAY 1Xi'an Arrival

Your private guide will be ready to meet and greet you at the arrival hall in Xi'an. A comfortable private car with an experienced driver will transfer you directly to your hotel. Your guide will help you to check-in.

DAY 2 Xi'an| The Terracotta Warriors and Horses

Explore the Terracotta Warriors and Horses: Unearthed by chance in 1974, this awe-inspiring army of over 7,000 soldiers, archers, horses, and chariots, all poised for battle, has been the eternal guardians of Emperor Qin's tomb since 210 BC. Each figure is a unique masterpiece, and ongoing meticulous restoration and excavation efforts are housed in three protected pits within massive hangars. Located just 1.5 hours from Xian, this site also features an exceptional museum and an informative film recounting the vault's history. Feel free to take photos (without flash) and wear comfortable walking shoes for your visit.

Craft Your Own Terracotta Warrior at a Cave Dwelling: Venture into the countryside to visit a family workshop in a cave dwelling and learn the ancient art of crafting Terracotta Warriors from a skilled local artisan. Ever wondered how life-sized warriors were made in ancient times? Discover the intricate steps involved and even try your hand at this ancient art form. Engage in meaningful interactions with the locals, enhancing your cultural experience.

Stroll the Ancient City Wall: Dating back to the 13th century and constructed atop the original Tang Forbidden City foundations, Xian's city wall stands as one of the most well-preserved and comprehensive city defenses in history. Encircling the city center, you have the option to explore the full 14km circuit on foot, rent a bike (CNY 40 per person), or opt for an electric cart (CNY 80 per person) for a leisurely ride. Whichever mode you choose, you'll be treated to spectacular views of the city on both sides of this historic fortification.

DAY 3 Xi'an to Zhangye| The Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Big Wild Goose Pagoda: This significant Buddhist site, home to the Da Ci'en Temple, boasts the elegant Big Wild Goose Pagoda, dating back to the 7th century. It was built to house Buddhist scriptures brought from India by Xuanzang (Tripitaka). Explore the temple's expansive halls adorned with remarkable Buddhist statues and captivating murals. While here, discover your Chinese zodiac sign and peruse a shop with Chinese calligraphy and paintings for unique souvenirs.

DAY 4 Zhangye | The Danxia National Geological Park

Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park (Rainbow Mountains): Located just 40km from Zhangye in Kangle Township, the Danxia landforms found here are remarkable examples of window lattice and palace forms. These unique geological wonders are primarily found in the arid regions of Gansu and Qinghai provinces. The park consists of two parts: Qicai Danxia Landforms and Binggou Danxia Landforms. Qicai Danxia features vibrant, undulating hills with rock strata of varying colors that create a mesmerizing and grand spectacle. This arid landscape, devoid of vegetation, is often referred to by geologists as "window lattice and palace-shaped Danxia topography." It's a newfound treasure for photographers and nature enthusiasts.

Giant Buddha Temple: Situated in the southwestern corner of Zhangye city, the Giant Buddha Temple is home to China's largest indoor reclining Buddha. This magnificent site offers a glimpse into China's rich spiritual heritage.

Wooden Tower of Sui Dynasty: Originally constructed during the Sui Dynasty and later restored in 1926, the wooden tower stands at an impressive height of about 40 meters with nine stories. It is considered a masterpiece among China's wooden towers and was once used to safeguard precious Buddhist relics.

DAY 5 Zhangye to Jiayuguan | The Jiayuguan Pass

The Jiayuguan Pass (including Great Wall Museum): Known as the "First Pass Under Heaven," this historic site is situated at the western terminus of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall (1368–1644). It stands as one of the most magnificent and remarkably preserved passes among the thousands that make up the Great Wall. Perched strategically between two mountain ranges, this fortress offers breathtaking views of the Gansu corridor. The adjacent Great Wall Museum houses a treasure trove of artifacts that trace the rich history of the world's longest wall.

DAY 6 Jiayuguan to Dunhuang | Mogao Caves

Mogao Caves: Explore the mesmerizing Mogao Caves in the company of an expert guide who can communicate in English, German, French, or Japanese. The guided tour typically includes approximately 10 of the 30 caves accessible to the public, carefully chosen to provide a representative glimpse of the entire complex. The selection is curated by your guide, ensuring an informative and engaging experience.

The Singing Sand Mountains and Crescent Spring: Venture 6 kilometers (4 miles) south of Dunhuang to discover the captivating Crescent Spring (Yueya Quan) nestled within the Singing Sand Mountains (Mingsha Shan). This oasis in the desert derives its name from the crescent-shaped lake formed by the spring water, set amidst towering sand dunes. Despite the arid surroundings, the pool remains a permanent fixture, defying the odds.

Camel Ride: Embark on a camel ride through the picturesque desert landscape of the Singing Sand Mountains. Revel in the beauty of the undulating golden dunes against the backdrop of the azure sky, allowing your imagination to transport you back to the days of the ancient Silk Road. Step down from your camel and listen carefully, you may even hear the melodious "singing" of the sands.

Dunhuang Mural Research Institute and Mural Facsimile Experience: Enhance your appreciation for the stunning Mogao Cave murals with a visit to the Dunhuang Mural Research Institute. Engage with experts, gaining insights into the murals' history and significance. Participate in a unique hands-on experience where you can select one of the mural samples and replicate it on a mud slab, using the same materials found in the Mogao Caves. Take home your masterpiece as a memorable souvenir of this cultural journey.

DAY 7 Dunhuang to Liuyuan | The Great Wall of the Han Dynasty

Great Wall of the Han Dynasty: The Great Wall of the Han Dynasty, constructed during the Han Dynasty period (206 BC - 220 AD), served as a formidable defense against the nomadic Xiongnu. This ancient fortification offers a glimpse into China's rich history and its strategic efforts to safeguard its territories.

Yumenguan Pass (30 minutes): Yumenguan Pass, once a vital western gateway during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), has weathered the sands of time. Though now in a state of disrepair due to shifting sands, it still stands as a testament to the enduring splendor of this historical site.

DAY 8 Dunhuang to Turpan| The Ruins of the Jiaohe Ancient City

The Ruins of the Jiaohe Ancient City: Jiaohe, originally built by the ancient Cheshi people during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) and later developed in the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), is a remarkable archaeological site situated in the Yarnaz Valley, just 8 km (5 mi) west of Turpan. This ancient city was carved out of the yellow-gray arid soil on a narrow 30-meter-high, 1.5-km-long island in a river. It offers an excellent vantage point to admire the surrounding landscape, which transitions from lush vineyards and orchards to the vast expanse of desert and rugged mountains.

The Karez Wells: The Karez Wells, an ingenious irrigation system featuring a network of wells connected by underground channels, ranks among China's three great ancient engineering marvels. Located just 3 kilometers west of Turpan city center, the Karez Wells Folk Garden and Museum offer an opportunity to explore this ancient system. These wells, tapping into mountain snowmelt, have played a crucial role in sustaining the famous fruit orchards and vineyards in this hot and arid desert region. You'll have the chance to venture below ground to witness the intricate construction and history of these fascinating channels.

Local Vineyard Visit: Turpan is renowned for its grape cultivation, and we'll take you beyond the touristy Grape Valley for an authentic experience. Visit a local family-run vineyard located at the back of their home, where grapes are a significant source of income. Walk around the farm, engage with the friendly locals, and gain insights into their daily life and grape cultivation practices.

Tuyoq Village and Tuyugou Canyon: Discover the charm of Tuyoq Village, a traditional settlement nestled among vineyards, orchards, and narrow winding streets. Irrigation channels meander between ancient mudbrick houses, creating a picturesque scene against the backdrop of the iconic red Flaming Mountains. Take an easy and scenic walk to explore ancient caves carved into the mountainside. These caves boast well-preserved frescoes with intriguing connections to both Buddhist and Nestorian cultures.

Pass Through the Flaming Mountain: The Flaming Mountains, known as the hottest place in China, dominate the landscape surrounding Turpan. They provide a dramatic backdrop to the region's oases and are steeped in legends, including those featured in the classic tale "Journey to the West." Marvel at the unique geology and vibrant red hues of these iconic mountains as you journey through this captivating terrain.

DAY 9 Turpan to Urumqi | Turpan Museum

The Turpan Museum: The Turpan Museum, ranking second only to the Museum of Uighur Autonomous Region, stands as the largest museum in Xinjiang, boasting an exceptionally rich collection. Located on mid Gaochang Road in Turpan city, it is conveniently situated across from Gaochang Park. This museum offers a captivating journey through the region's history and cultural heritage, making it a must-visit destination.

Erdaoqiao Market: Erdaoqiao Bazaar, the largest market in Urumqi, is a bustling hub where you can explore a vibrant array of goods. From fresh fruits to clothing, crafts, knives, carpets, and a fascinating assortment of items, you'll find almost anything you can imagine here. Sundays are particularly lively, with an even greater variety of stalls and goods to peruse. Don't miss the opportunity to stroll through the charming old streets surrounding the bazaar, where you'll discover a treasure trove of traditional Uyghur cosmetics, especially favored by female visitors.

DAY 10 Urumqi to Kashgar | Kashgar Old Town

Id Kah Mosque: Dating back to the 15th century, the Id Kah Mosque stands as one of China's largest and most vibrant places of worship. On Fridays, particularly at midday, it comes alive with around 10,000 worshippers gathering for prayer and Quranic study. When visiting, remember to remove your shoes before entering the Main Hall, adorned with traditional Islamic pillars, intricate carvings, and rugs strewn across the floor. For respectful attire, women are advised to cover their upper arms and legs, although a scarf is optional. A visit to Id Kah Mosque is a must for anyone exploring Kashgar.

Kashgar Old Town: Stepping into the Old Town of Kashgar is like stepping back in time to the heyday of the Silk Road. This ancient city, with its 500-year-old remnants of city walls, narrow winding lanes, and a diverse tapestry of colorful, multi-ethnic crowds, offers a glimpse into the vibrant history of this Central Asian hub. Stroll through its streets and absorb the ambiance that harks back to an era when the Silk Road thrived.

Handicraft Street: Located near Id Kah Mosque, Handicraft Street is an enchanting old thoroughfare where a remarkable array of handcrafted goods is on display. From practical cookware to exotic musical instruments, everything here is meticulously crafted by hand, as there's very little light industry in Kashgar. You'll marvel at the craftsmanship behind copper, metalwork, porcelain, woodwork, jewelry, and other goods. Keep an eye out for unique items like wooden devices designed to prevent bedwetting in babies.

DAY 11 Kashgar | The Ancient Bazaar

Bazaar: Renowned throughout Asia, this ancient market is a vibrant hub that draws locals and merchants from across Xinjiang and neighboring countries like Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. Here, you'll find a diverse array of commodities, from dried fruits, delicacies, clothing, shoes, leather goods, textiles, and rugs to carpets, scarves, souvenirs, and more, creating an eclectic blend that appeals to both travelers and locals alike. The market is open all week, but Sunday is the main event when farmers come to town and many prefer to shop here rather than in city stores.

Kala Kule Lake: Nestled at the base of the Muztagata Mountains, also known as the "Father of Glaciers," Karakuli Lake is a glistening glacial lake. The presence of a railway connecting China with Pakistan adds to the intrigue of this location. The lake is celebrated for its stunning scenery and crystal-clear waters that shimmer in various shades, from light to dark, depending on the angle of the sun.

Baisha Lake ('White Sand' Lake): Baisha Lake, which is actually a reservoir, is situated in a windswept corridor. Over thousands of years, sand from the Taklimakan Desert has gradually deposited along the lake's mountainous shores. This natural process has created a picturesque landscape where white sand dunes contrast beautifully with the azure waters, offering a dreamlike vista that's perfect for exploration.

DAY 12 Kashgar to Chengdu to Zhangjiajie | Scenic Mountain Viewing

Scenic Mountain Viewing from the Base: If you prefer not to take the cable car to the summit of Tianmenshan Mountain, we understand. There are no alternative transportation options to reach the top. However, we can arrange for you to enjoy scenic mountain viewing from the base. From this vantage point, you'll still have the opportunity to appreciate the breathtaking sights, including the renowned Heaven Hole, without ascending to the mountain's peak.

DAY 13 Zhangjiajie | The National Forest Park

Exploring Zhangjiajie National Forest Park by Shuttle Bus: If the enclosed gondola lift makes you uncomfortable due to your fear of heights, we completely understand. We've got an alternative option for you to enjoy the stunning Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. You can explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site by taking a comfortable shuttle bus.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park: This park, located in Hunan province, is a renowned tourist destination. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, it boasts breathtaking pillar-like rock formations shaped over countless years of erosion. The park, encompassing Yuanjiajie, Yangjiajie, Jinbian Stream, and Wulongzhai, offers over 90% forest coverage. Additionally, nearby villages inhabited by Tujia, Bai, Miao, and Hui communities provide a glimpse into local minority cultures and folklore, making side trips worthwhile.

Travel Tips: While mountain areas like Zhangjiajie and Huangshan offer unique experiences, accommodations and meals here tend to be simpler. We recommend the best available hotels and restaurants, although please note that hotel facilities may be basic, and service levels might not meet some travelers' expectations, especially regarding breakfast. Be prepared for less luxurious options.

Mt. Tianzishan: This mountain is renowned for four natural spectacles: misty clouds enveloping the peaks, breathtaking sunrise views, moonlit nights, and snow-covered winter landscapes. You'll find more than 80 natural platforms to soak in the awe-inspiring scenery. Taking a cable car to Tianzi Mountain provides a comfortable way to enjoy the vistas.

DAY 14 Zhangjiajie to Guilin | Yuanjiajie

Yuanjiajie (Including the Hallelujah Mountains): Situated in the northern part of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Yuanjiajie boasts top attractions like Ecstasy Spot, Backyard, and First Bridge. The Hallelujah Mountain, named after Avatar's floating rocks, is a major draw. Capture stunning photographs of the 'First Bridge in the World' from the 'Viewing Bridge Platform' (Wangqiaotai). For the best photography conditions and to avoid crowds, your guide will take you there around 5:00 PM.

DAY 15 Guilin | Reed Flute Cave

Reed Flute Cave: Just 5 kilometers northwest of Guilin city lies the mesmerizing Reed Flute Cave, named after the reeds growing at its entrance, used to craft flutes and pipes. This is the largest and most impressive cave in Guilin, spanning 240 meters in length. The tour takes you through approximately 550 meters of this magical underground realm filled with stunning stalactites, stalagmites, stone pillars, stone curtains, and captivating shapes and colors of birds, plants, and animals. The visit lasts about 40 minutes and involves some stair climbing, so be sure to watch your step as the lighting is dim. Your guide will provide illumination with an electric torch.

Elephant Trunk Hill: Situated at the confluence of the Li River and Peach Blossom River, Elephant Trunk Hill stands as the iconic symbol of Guilin. Rising 55 meters in height, the hill derives its name from its distinctive shape, resembling an elephant sipping water from the Li River with its trunk. The hill is riddled with caves and crowned by a petite pagoda.

Daxu Ancient Town: Located approximately 18 kilometers southeast of Guilin, near the Li River's banks, Daxu beckons with its remarkably preserved ancient buildings, well-worn bluestone pavements, and rich cultural heritage. In its heyday, Daxu served as a bustling transportation hub connecting Guangdong (Canton) and Guangxi by water. It was once among Guangxi's four renowned ancient towns. Exploring this old town offers a captivating journey into history and typically lasts around 2 hours.

DAY 16 Guilin to Yangshuo | Li River Cruise

Li River Cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo: Embark on a mesmerizing 4-hour cruise along the Li River aboard a 4-star vessel. Admire stunning limestone peaks, tranquil bamboo groves, and scenes of local life as you wind through the picturesque landscapes. Look out for fishermen on bamboo rafts and the graceful cormorants. Departure points vary by season, ensuring the best experience. Our newly launched 4-star boat, accommodating around 80 passengers, offers buffet or semi-buffet lunch options and is the top choice for comfort and service on this journey.

DAY 17 Yangshuo to Guilin to Beijing | The Yulong River

Bamboo Rafting on the Yulong River: Experience the enchanting Yulong River on a bamboo raft ride, one of the must-see attractions in Yangshuo. The landscape is a masterpiece, featuring stunning karst peaks, lush rice fields, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant green bamboo. The gentle river current makes it easy for even novice rafters to navigate, and you'll quickly feel transported to a world away from modern life.

Yangshuo Countryside Exploration: Discover the idyllic charm of Yangshuo's countryside, renowned for its picturesque landscapes featuring uniquely shaped hills reaching for the sky. Here, you'll encounter breathtaking scenery including karst peaks, rice paddies, clear streams, and lush bamboo groves. Your knowledgeable guide will lead you through the countryside, showcasing rice terraces and mountain vistas. This excursion lasts approximately 1.5 hours and covers a distance of 10-12 kilometers by bicycle. If biking isn't your preference, options like electric vehicles or hiking are available at no extra cost.

DAY 18 Beijing | The Forbidden City

Forbidden City Heritage Discovery: Explore the awe-inspiring Forbidden City, the world's largest imperial palace, which served as the residence for 24 emperors during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. Erected in 1420, nearly 70 years prior to Columbus's discovery of America and 144 years before William Shakespeare's birth, the Forbidden City holds a rich history waiting to be unveiled. Your knowledgeable guide will reveal the secrets of approximately 18 significant spots within this magnificent complex.

Tiananmen Square: Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in central Beijing, holds immense cultural significance and played a pivotal role in Chinese history. It derives its name from the Tiananmen Gate, the northern entrance to the Forbidden City. This expansive square is surrounded by iconic landmarks, including the Heavenly Gate, numerous museums, government buildings, and Chairman Mao's Mausoleum. It stands as a symbol of China's national pride and has witnessed pivotal events in its history.

Prince Kung's Mansion: Explore Prince Kung's Mansion, a splendid residence located in western central Beijing, north of Shichahai Lake. This compound boasts remarkable Siheyuan layout mansions and courtyards, making it one of Beijing's most lavish and extravagant residences. Admire the ornate architecture and immerse yourself in the opulent history of this magnificent estate.

Temple of Heaven: Visit the Temple of Heaven, a complex of Taoist buildings dating back to the Ming Dynasty in 1420. Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties held annual ceremonies here to pray for bountiful harvests. The temple's park is vibrant and filled with local life, with elderly locals gathering for morning activities like singing, exercising, and practicing Tai Chi. The park covers 273 hectares in the heart of central Beijing, offering a relaxed stroll of about 1-1.5 hours (approximately 1.5 kilometers). This walk is rated as easy and provides a delightful cultural experience.

DAY 19 Beijing to Shanghai | Beijng City Walk

Beijing Life Discovery Walk: Explore a Beijing neighborhood, uncovering the daily lives of its residents. Begin at Tianning Temple, Beijing's oldest pagoda, delving into local religious beliefs. Discover housing development in a 1990s residential community, and observe senior citizens' park activities, offering insights into retirement in China. Conclude your tour in an authentic, tourist-free hutong, providing a genuine look into local life. The walk covers 3 kilometers.

DAY 20 Shanghai | Yuyuan Garden

Yuyuan Garden: Begin your journey in the heart of Shanghai at the Yuyuan Garden. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, this beautifully landscaped garden offers a serene escape from the city's hustle and bustle. Marvel at traditional Chinese architecture, meandering pathways, koi-filled ponds, and intricate stone sculptures. It's a picturesque oasis where history and nature intertwine.

The Bund: Your next stop takes you to the historic Bund, a riverfront promenade that exudes charm and grandeur. On one side, you'll find a row of magnificent colonial-era buildings, a testament to Shanghai's past as an international trading hub. On the opposite bank of the Huangpu River, the futuristic skyline of Pudong showcases the city's modern face. It's a striking contrast that encapsulates Shanghai's unique blend of tradition and innovation.

Shanghai Tower: To gain a fresh perspective on this dynamic city, ascend the Shanghai Tower. As one of the world's tallest skyscrapers, this architectural marvel provides breathtaking panoramic views of Shanghai's sprawling landscape. From the observation deck, witness the city's evolution unfold before your eyes. It's a chance to appreciate the sheer scale and vibrancy of Shanghai from a bird's-eye viewpoint.

DAY 21 Shanghai Departure

Our guide will help you transfer from your hotel to Shanghai Pudong Airport for departure with independentcar/van and guide.

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Tour Price

FromUS6,300 p/p Based on a private tour for 2 people. Price varies depending on program, travel date, number of people and chosen hotel

Price includes:

  • Private air-conditioned business car with big windows and ample space
  • English speaking local guide
  • Activities, hotels, and meals listed in the itinerary
  • 24/7 helpline for while you are traveling

Tour code: cht-cx-66

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