Day 1 Beijing
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is a food-centric city with ancient sites and modern architecture around every corner. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm this evening. Following the meeting, settle into your hotel and then perhaps get together with your newfound travel crew and head out for dinner – your local leader will have a couple of recommendations.
Day 2 Great Wall
Enjoy a few hours of free time in the morning to explore Beijing before taking a 3-hour private bus to a section of the original Great Wall– the Gubeikou section. Built as a northern defensive line for Beijing (then called Youzhou), this section of the Great Wall was first constructed between AD550 and AD557, then fortified during the early years of the Ming Dynasty. You’ll spend the night in a family-run guesthouse nearby, and while the facilities are more basic than some of the other accommodation on this trip, the homegrown hospitality more than makes up for it. Most travellers tonight choose to eat at the guesthouse for dinner as it's a great chance to sample local produce and delicious home cooking.
Day 3 Great Wall
Embrace an early start and make the trek from the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall to the Jinshanling section. Hike over steep, remote terrain for around 5–6 hours, taking in incredible views along this comparatively quiet trail. Some parts of the wall are unrestored, so you'll need to concentrate hard to keep your footing, while other stretches will take you off the wall to walk alongside it through the countryside. The trek will be challenging, but the sight of the wall snaking through the hills as far as the eye can see and the feeling of being immersed in ancient history will be ample reward for your efforts. After the hike, check-in to a guesthouse by the foot of the Great Wall and put your feet up, have a few beers or maybe learn how to play mahjong with the locals.
Day 4 Beijing - Overnight Train
Take a 3-hour drive back to Beijing before midday and make use of your last free afternoon in the capital. Consider checking out the Temple of Heaven while you're in the city, or tuck into a Peking Duck banquet right in its birthplace. Keep in mind that this evening you’ll board a 13-hour overnight train bound for Xi’an, so maybe stock up on snacks and supplies for the journey. While comfortable, the train isn’t luxurious, but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the vastness of this country. Be sure to have a good book or a device loaded with binge-worthy shows for the journey.
Day 5 Xi'an
Welcome to Xi’an – the capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China. Head to the hotel to freshen up and then head on a leader-led walking tour, uncovering what was once the start of the ancient trading route known as the Silk Road. Choose to visit the Bell Tower, which according to legend was built to restrain dragons that were causing earthquakes, or the Drum Tower, which is full of instruments once used to mark time and warn the population in emergencies. Your leader will also introduce you to the Muslim Quarter, which features narrow streets of quaint shops, lively markets, and a unique mosque. Another option is to explore the 13-kilometre-long City Walls and attached Gates. Xi’an’s Silk Road history means it has an exciting mixture of cultures, especially found in its food options – Muslim dishes are a specialty here. In the evening, perhaps visit the night markets and try local specialties such as pao mo (lamb broth that you break flat bread into), hand pulled noodles, hotpot or barbecue.
Day 6 Xi'an – Overnight Train
Make the 2-hour journey by public transport to the acclaimed Terracotta Warriors. Spend a few hours at this incredible archaeological find, buried for 2000 years before being discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots were commissioned by the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Three main pits are open for viewing, where just under 2000 of the total 6000 warriors – each an individual with a different costume, height, and even facial expression – are on display. Later, return to Xi'an and board your second overnight train bound for Shanghai (approximately 16 hours).
Day 7 Shanghai
Blending 21st-century architecture with old-world character, Shanghai pulses with the beat of contemporary China. Arrive and take the busy subway to your accommodation. Enjoy a full day of exploration, but don't worry if you can't see everything you want to today – you’ll be back later on in your trip. Get a taste of the city during the roaring 1920s with a leader-led walk of the Bund, a strip of spectacular art deco-style buildings. Wander the narrow winding lanes (nongtangs) of Old Shanghai, where you can get a glimpse of local life. Explore the European-influenced French Concession, then pound the pavement along Luwan's Huaihai Road – a busy shopping street. The area's tree-lined avenues and many Tudor mansions earned it the nickname 'Paris of the East'. When night falls, why not get together with a few of your travel pals for a taste of Shanghai’s eclectic food scene.
Day 8-9 Huangshan
Travel into stunning countryside on a 6-hour public bus journey to Huangshan, otherwise known as Yellow Mountain. The 72 sharp peaks of Huangshan provide some of China's most breathtaking scenery, as well as a respite from the bustle of the city. Spend the next two days in a guesthouse with free time to explore the area as you wish. Two popular trails are the Eastern Steps (7.5 kilometres, approximately 3–4 hours) and the Western Steps (15 kilometres). It’s recommended to take the cable car to the summit, explore the area and then descend via the Western Steps. Whatever you choose, the dramatic limestone peaks framing this region make for some breathtaking vistas. After taking in the natural beauty of Huangshan during the day, return to the guesthouse for a well-earned evening rest.
Day 10 Hongcun
Jump on public transport again and travel through Anhui province to the picturesque villages of the Huizhou region (approximately 2 hours). A number of these villages are now World Heritage listed, and you may recognise the ramshackle, ornate buildings from the film ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. Arrive in Hongcun, check-in to your village guesthouse and then set out on a guided tour of cobbled alleys and Ming Dynasty architecture. Following this short walk, you have the rest of the afternoon and evening free to spend as you wish. Perhaps you might like to clamber up into the hillsides for panoramic views over the traditional settlements. Or maybe you'd prefer to explore the surrounding villages on two wheels. Your group leader will have all the information on bicycle hire and other optional activities.
Day 11 Shanghai
Bid farewell to the glorious countryside and make the 6-hour journey back to Shanghai by public transport. You’ll arrive back mid to late afternoon, and if there’s time, consider booking into a traditional tea ceremony to learn how important this drink is to Chinese culture. Tonight is cause for celebration, so why not gather with your travel crew and go all out in one of Shanghai’s great restaurants. If you haven't already, tonight is the perfect chance to try the city's famous xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings).
Day 12 Shanghai
Enjoy another day exploring one of China's biggest cities. Today is an ideal opportunity to check your Lonely Planet app for their recommendations! The world – or Shanghai, at least – is your oyster.
Day 13 Shanghai – Overnight Train
This morning, enjoy some free time to get a bigger taste of Shanghai. You could visit the Propaganda Museum for a fascinating look at China's revolutionary past, get a bird's eye view of the city from the Pearl Tower's observation decks, daydream of a 1920s Shanghai along the Bud, wander the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar, barter in markets, stroll through modern Pudong or the explore ancient longtangs. So much to do! Keep in mind you’ll be boarding an overnight train from Shanghai to Guilin some time this afternoon (approximately 18–20 hours). Train travel in China may not be entirely luxurious but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the country and its people, as it's the main form of transport for locals.
Day 14 Longji Rice Terraces
Disembark the train in Guilin and jump on a bus to Longji. The Longji region has some of the most extensive rice terraces around. These terraces change with the seasons – filled with water from the mountains before planting, becoming green during the growing season and then golden when the rice is ready for harvest. This evening you’ll spend the night in the village of Dazhai, which is home to local Yao communities. The Yao still preserve some of their traditional lifestyle and unique customs. You'll notice women only cut their hair at 16 years old, symbolising their entrance into adulthood. The hair isn’t thrown away but kept by the grandmother. When the woman marries, the hair is made into an ornamental headdress and brought to the husband's home as a souvenir.
Day 15 Longji Rice Terraces
Today you’ll hike through the Longji Valley and its rice terraces, constructed over 500 years ago. This region is often referred to as the Dragon’s Backbone because the rice terraces resemble a dragon's scales, and the mountain ridge provides the ‘backbone’ of the dragon. Walk through stunning scenery, with its unique terraces for growing rice, alongside bamboo trees and chestnut forests. Despite some challenging hills, much of the hike is spent walking around over the stones, passing waterfalls and fields. After a day hiking and admiring the scenery, spend the night in the picturesque village of Ping'an.
Day 16 Yangshuo
This morning, head on public transport towards Yangshuo (approximately 4 hours). Soak up the charm of this town, popular with many domestic and foreign travellers who come for the beautiful landscapes. It's also one of the best places in the country to get a feel for local cultures and traditions. The countryside around Yangshuo is immortalized in many traditional Chinese paintings – artists are drawn to the striking limestone karsts dotting the landscape, towering spectacularly over rice paddies and the meandering Li River. You might be wondering why it all looks so familiar – that’s because it’s pictured on every 20 yuan note.
Day 17 Yangshuo
Today is a free day in Yangshuo. You could begin by focusing your body and mind with a morning tai chi class or kung fu lesson, and then stay active by hiring a bike and cycling past rural Chinese towns. You could climb up to Moon Hill – a limestone pinnacle with a moon-shaped hole penetrating the hill – or take a stroll along the river for some pretty stunning riverside vistas. For something a little less energetic, you could simply sit back and relax as you enjoy a relaxing cruise down the Li or Yulong River. Later, why not book a ticket to watch an outdoor light show staged by 2008 Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony director Zhang Yimou.
Day 18 Yangshuo
Another free day to explore at your leisure in Yangshuo. Freedom and flexibility are key today, and your local leader will be on hand to give you all their suggestions and tips. If you’re still feeling active, then up in the limestone hills are a number of caves that can be explored. If you’d rather see things from a different perspective, kit up in a rock-climbing harness and tackle one of the 300 rock-climbing routes. For a more laidback day, why not visit the local markets and get a feel for what’s grown in the region. You can then put this new knowledge to use in a cooking class at the Yangshuo cooking school if you’d like.
Day 19 Hong Kong
This morning, travel by high-speed train to the Chinese–Hong Kong border at Shenzhen (approximately 4 hours). Walk a short distance from the train station to the border, go through procedures to exit China, and then enter Hong Kong. Once all that's done, you’ll travel on the KCR train to central Hong Kong. Hong Kong made itself known to the world as a British colony and, since the 1997 handover, the city has become a unique and fascinating place to see where the East really does meet West. Hong Kong's cityscape is spectacular, and its modernity and fast-paced way of doing things means it’s become a popular destination for travellers from around the world. Tonight, why not get together with your travel group and find a dim sum banquet to share – a sumptuous meal around a large table is a perfect way to celebrate your Lonely Planet adventure.
Day 20 Hong Kong
With no activities planned for today, you are able to depart the accommodation after checkout. As there isn’t heaps of time spent in Hong Kong, we recommend spending a least an extra couple of days to see what this city has to offer. Yes, you’ve got Victoria Peak and the harbour’s light show, but what about the up-and-coming Sham Shui Po neighbourhood – full of boutiques, open-air street markets and Michelin-star hole-in-the-wall diners, or Tai Kwun – an old prison which has now been converted into a contemporary art and performance space. With so much to see and do, if you would like to spend more time here, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability).
Touring with Intrepid Travel
Intrepid was started by two friends from Melbourne, Australia, in 1988 after embarking on a trip through the wilds of Africa in a modified ex-council truck, crammed with friends, supplies, a handful of aviator sunglasses and a case or two of beer. Could this type of travel be something others would be interested in? The answer was a resounding yes and today Intrepid send 100,000 travellers across the globe each year with the help of a staff of 1,000.
After three decades, founders Darrell and Manch, feel they know what travellers want. They get that it’s a big decision to fly across the world to wander the souks of Marrakech or enjoy a dreamy Angkor sunrise. They understand that you’re looking for a balance of inclusions and free time, a mix of classic highlights and local secrets you won’t find on Google. And of course, an authentic real life experience. Their leaders are born and raised in-country and they know their destination better than anyone. So you’ll do more than just see a place, you’ll live it. Small groups, big adventures and responsible travel – that’s Intrepid’s thing. With 1,000 trips in a variety of styles across 100 countries, you’re sure to find something you like.
Intrepid believe the real magic happens well away from the beaten path. It’s the little noodle bars, hidden galleries and backstreet bodegas and real life experiences you won’t find in a search engine. Real life experiences are those moments you know you’re really alive and experiencing something special. While it could be the instant you see one of the world’s great icons for the first time, it is more likely to be the moment you find yourself in the middle of a village square soccer game, being treated to a home-cooked meal by your new local friends or sharing a laugh with your fellow travellers as you try a new mode of transport … camel anyone? These unexpected moments are what travelling with Intrepid is all about, giving you a trip like no other.
Intrepid realises the world is a really big place. And there’s a plethora of different languages to learn, borders to cross and cultures to negotiate. Small group adventure travel makes these things easy and allows you to maximise your precious time off. Instead of worrying about logistics, you can focus all your energy on having the experience of a lifetime. Their tour groups are small enough to feel like you’re exploring a destination independently, but big enough to create a good social vibe. Group size will vary depending on where and how you’re travelling, but the average group size is about 10.
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