Day 1: Arrival day. This journey begins in Beijing. If you need advice or assistance getting to Beijing then please contact us. Arrival transfer: You will be met at the airport and taken to your meeting point hotel. Our representative will answer any questions that you may have and ensure that you are checked-in before leaving. Please note: You may only actually be able to check-in after the hotel's standard time. If you will arrive in the morning and want to be able to check-in immediately you should consider booking the previous night as an Extra Service.
After check-in you are free to do as you please. Please do look for a message from your Guide about a Briefing this evening. In the evening, your guide will meet with the group and take you to dinner. After eating the guide will brief you all on some important aspects relating to your Journey. This should only take about half an hour. Meals: dinner.
Day 2: Beijing Sites. Today we visit the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palaces. Yes: there are two. Our visit to the Temple of Heaven will begin at the South Gate and work north. Along the way we will see the Altar for Prayers, try to be heard at the Echo Wall and then gaze at the stunning Hall of Prayers. Our visit will include time to enjoy the parkland surrounding the main site where locals gather to relax. Typical recreation includes chess, mahjong and kite flying.
After lunch we will have plenty of time to visit the Summer Palaces. We will make a shorter stop at the Yuan Ming Yuan (aka the Old Summer Palace) before continuing to the nearby Summer Palace. During the visits you will learn that both sites were ravaged by the British and French troops towards the end of the Second Opium War. In the evening we enjoy a Beijing Opera Show with (usually) three scenes from different operas. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 3: Simatai Great Wall. Today we have a full day excursion by private vehicle to the Great Wall of China at Simatai. Simatai is not the closest section of The Great Wall but is one of the most dramatic. The line of defense was chosen to follow the natural mountain barriers but few were as precipitous as at Simatai. We hike up to the wall and then follow it up along the ridge as far as permitted. Eventually the wall narrows and the sides become sheer; the authorities do not want accidents and a guard prevents passage beyond a reasonable point. There is a cable-car for those not feeling energetic on the day. We return to Beijing and, after a chance for a quick freshen-up we head off for a well-deserved Peking Duck dinner. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 4: Free day and Train to Xi'an. We include a free day here so that you can enjoy those other sites in Beijing that are top of your list at your own pace. We gather again for an early dinner before catching our overnight train to Xi'an. This will be our first overnight train ride. Fear not. We normally travel soft-sleeper class for overnight journeys and soft-seater class for short, day-time trips; both of these are comfortable enough. For more details see Trains in China. Meals: breakfast, dinner.
Day 5: Xi'an Highlights. We head off early so as to be amongst the first to the site of the Terracotta Warriors. This gives us the best chance of getting unobstructed views and photos in the main pits. The site has been enhanced and our excursion will include talks at all major pits and the museum, one cycle of the show at the cinema and some free time for you to revisit your favorite bits or to shop for souvenirs. After lunch we head to the Wild Goose Pagoda once one of the most important Buddhist temples in China. For those who love the TV series "Monkey" it is worth noting that the scriptures collected by the real monk Triptaka (aka Xuanzang) are stored here. Meals: lunch, dinner.
Day 6: Free Day in Xi'an. Xi'an has many worthwhile sites within easy reach of the city center and you can choose your own favorites. Head into the Muslim Quarter where the Hui Minority (descendants of Muslim Silk Road traders) live and ply their trades. At the center of this area is their mosque, a masterpiece of woodwork that incorporates both Arabic and Chinese features. Unlike most other cities in China, Xi'an also has intact City Walls.
These give the center of Xi'an a homely feel and offer the visitors some great views: both inwards and out to the wider city. Taxi is the easiest means to get around outside the city walls. Often walking is quicker within. Xi'an is renowned for its tasty snacks and we gather again in the evening for a rather special treat; a Dumpling Banquet where the various dumplings are shaped according to their filling. Meals: breakfast, dinner.
Day 7: Fly to Chengdu. Tea With Taoists. We transfer to the airport for our flight to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. In the afternoon we visit the Qing Yang Gong, a delightful temple where Laozi is meant to have expounded upon his emerging philosophy/religion: Taoism. Since drinking at a tea-house is a local tradition this is included in our afternoon's activities. In the evening we watch a Variety Performance which includes Chengdu Opera's "Changing Faces", shadow puppets, comedy and many other routines. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 8: Pandas Plus, then Lijiang. We start early to catch the pandas whilst they are still active and because we have much to do today. The Panda Breeding And Research Center on the outskirts of Chengdu is the ideal place to see these wonderful creatures up close. Many visitors also enjoy their lesser known cousins, the Red Pandas. We return to the city to visit Wenshu Temple. This tranquil Buddhist temple seems a world apart from the city outside. There may be some free time before the flight to Lijiang. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 9: Free Day in Lijiang. After a quick orientation walk you will have the rest of the day free to explore the streets and alleyways that make up Lijiang's Old Town. You could arrange an excursion to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for this day. If going with a local travel service group this would normally require an early start. In the evening we gather again for dinner and the Naxi Music Culture Show. Meals: breakfast, dinner.
Day 10: On to Dali. We transfer to the station for the train to Dali. Enjoy magnificent mountain scenery through your carriage window as we take advantage of this new rail service. At the moment the only choice is to buy Hard Seats. If and when soft seats become available we will upgrade without any surcharge. Dali is home to the Bai ethnic group. The old town is situated on the banks of the Er Hai. The station is in the new town (aka Xiaguan) and we have a short transfer around the lake. After check-in you will be given an orientation walk in the Old Town. Make sure you remember where to meet for dinner later. The rest of the time is free. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 11: Cloud Way. Today is the special treat that helped decide the journey's name. We take advantage of a clever mountain trail purpose built for visitors. We take a cable car up to the Cloud Way. The trail is well made and easy to follow in all but the foulest weather. The route takes us almost horizontally around the side of Cang Shan, the mountain that overlooks Dali and Lake Erhai. The views are fabulous in all directions and so we will not hurry. lunch will normally be at a small local restaurant on the mountain. This offers a range of freshly picked edible fungi as well as other delicious local produce.
The descent is by another cable-car close to the restaurant. This arrives almost at the top of the Old Town. The walk down from here is worth doing as you pass through areas you would otherwise miss. Those who are not ready to descend straight after lunch can continue a bit further along the Cloud Way for more spectacular views. You will have to return the same way. A truly momentous day, with minimal effort. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 12: Free Day in Dali. Today is a free day in Dali. You may want to hire a bike and cycle further around the lake (but probably not the complete loop) or take a boat out on the lake for views of the mountains and back to town. We gather again for dinner before we transfer to the station for our overnight train to Kunming. Meals: breakfast, dinner.
Day 13: Temples in the Hills. Today's excursion takes us up into the hills overlooking the city. Our first visit is to the Golden Temple. This Taoist temple on Mingfeng Shan (Singing Phoenix Hill) is actually made of vast quantities of bronze, not gold. Our second stop is at the Buddhist Bamboo Temple. This temple is set amongst dense bamboo groves, though legend assigns another explanation for the temple's name. There will be some free time to explore the city center sites on our return. Meals: lunch, dinner.
Day 14: Rocks Above and Below. Today we head out to Shilin Stone Forest about 90 kilometers outside of Kunming. This area of heavily eroded limestone contains many fantastic rock formations, many with descriptive names. We continue the theme later with a trip down and into Jiuxiang Cave. We follow the river below ground through some impressive caverns and see more of nature's handiwork on a grand scale. For a special dinner we have the famous local dish: Crossing-the-bridge Noodles. The curious name will be explained. Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 15: Journey's end. This Journey ends after breakfast. Check-out is usually 12:00 (noon).
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