Land of Pandas
With the vibrant Beijing, historical Xi'an, amazing Shanghai, and the only metropolitan city in the world that is close to giant panda habitats plus the spectacular Yangtze River, this tour leads you to the top destinations you can't miss for your first China trip. You will have the opportunity to discover the charm of Chinese culture and history as well as to enjoy the country's beautiful natural scenery.
This sample itinerary provides inspiration, yet your preferences design the real journey. We are happy to make any changes to better fit your travel goals.
We have just returned from an amazing trip to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Our travel adviser Albee Ning prepared a wonderful itinerary taking us to great locations with creative activities highlighting local culture.
We traveled with Asia Highlights (Lissie was our agent) several years ago when we went to Saigon, and the experience was so positive, we automatically went to Asia Highlights again for an extensive trip to Southeast Asia.
"Ni hao and welcome to China!" When you arrive in Beijing, you will be met by your guide in the arrivals area and then taken to your hotel in a private car. After you have checked in, you can spend the rest of the day relaxing in your hotel to decompress after your long flight.
After breakfast, your guide will meet you in the hotel lobby. Warm up with a short visit to Tian'anmen Square. Within walking distance, you will reach the largest imperial palace in the world — the Forbidden City. You will explore hidden halls and absorb interesting background stories.
Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant where you will have the chance to order food by yourself based on your preferences.
This afternoon is designed to help you experience authentic Beijing life from various aspects, such as the daily food, local markets, and residential community. Find traditional local families who have lived in their hutong houses for generations (not those staged for tourists). The walking distance is about 3 kilometers. Every step lets you discover the authentic lifestyle of the locals.
In the morning, you will visit the Temple of Heaven, where the emperors of the past would go to pray for a better harvest. Nowadays, it's famous for its incredible architecture and is a gathering place for locals to indulge in different kinds of folk entertainment, such as morning exercises, tai chi, and disco dancing. It is a good chance to mix with the locals.
"Complete your trip to China with an unforgettable visit to the Great Wall at Mutianyu." Recommended by the Lonely Planet, the Great Wall at Mutianyu offers a magnificent landscape of well-preserved walls and towers as well as splendid surroundings. It's about 1½ to 2 hours' drive from central Beijing and is suitable for hiking, being of medium difficulty.
After a leisurely breakfast, you will stroll through the Summer Palace, a serene space where you can see the imperial garden and all its glory. Enjoy the natural beauty coupled with some great cultural relics and get away from the busy center of Beijing — it is worth every step!
Your Beijing tour is about to end so you will be treated to a great lunch and you can taste the famous Peking roast duck.
Your tour guide will see you off at the airport for your flight to Xi'an. You will be picked up by your tour guide at the airport in Xi'an and escorted to your hotel.
Freshen up in the morning and start your day at the site of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses — the burial place of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. You will also have the opportunity to visit a traditional cave dwelling nearby, a type of dwelling that disappeared elsewhere in the process of modernization. You can try to make your own clay warrior and take it away as a souvenir at no extra cost.
Enjoy an authentic lunch and witness the most undamaged ancient Chinese city wall in existence. Renting a bicycle to ride on the wall is a good way to spend some free time.
Take an educational trip to Shaanxi History Museum, which has more than 370,000 cultural relics, and head to Big Wild Goose Pagoda, followed by the Muslim Quarter. Time will steal away as you walk along the lively streets full of delicious local snacks.
Later in the afternoon, your guide and driver will transfer you to the train station so you can catch the high-speed train to Chengdu (about 4 hours). Upon arrival, you will be welcomed by your local tour guide in Chengdu.
Have you been searching for a place to join a panda volunteer program? Head to the "real hometown of giant pandas", Chengdu, and join the honorable volunteer program to make a meaningful difference! During the keeper program at Dujiangyan Panda Base, you will see as many pandas as possible, clean the pandas' enclosures, prepare special panda food, chop bamboo, and, most importantly, personally feed the cute pandas with their delicious cakes and fruits.
(Please note: There is a daily quota for the Panda Keeper Program. Since July to August is the peak season for doing a panda volunteer program for students during their summer vacation, it is highly advised to book at least 3 months in advance if you want to secure your booking for the program during those months.)
The citizens of Chengdu are born epicures and they are particularly fond of dining and drinking.
Be like a native as you enjoy a leisurely morning in Jinli Old Street. Admire the wooden steles, brick walls, and buildings, browse casually among stores selling Shu embroidery, folk handicrafts, or calligraphies, and go snack hunting. Next, you will visit Shui Jing Fang Museum. It's the oldest winemaking workshop in the world with a 600-year history and it is still in operation. Watch the traditional process of making liquor and learn something about the world-famous distilled spirits. Of course, if you like, you can have a taste of "Chinese whiskey" — baijiu (for free!).
Finally, your tour guide will take you to the train station to catch the bullet train to Chongqing (about 2 hours). After arrival, you will be escorted to Chongqing Chaotianmen Port to board your Yangtze cruise ship between 18:00 and 20:00. It is better to arrive in Chongqing before 16:30 on the departure day. Normally the 4-day and 3-night relaxing downstream Yangtze River cruise sails at 21:00.
(Please note: The boarding time and pier change depending on the Yangtze cruise ships, water level, season, and weather. You will be informed about the time and pier before you board.)
Enjoy some free time in the morning. You will be relaxed but never bored as various kinds of activities are held on board every day. You can consider doing some tai chi, attending the Chinese cultural lectures, experiencing a Chinese massage, or just taking a rest on the sundeck or in a lounge with your friends and family.
Next, follow a local guide and take the arranged shore excursion to Shibaozhai Pagoda, which means Stone Treasure Fortress. It was built upon a rectangular rock with sheer cliffs of 56 meters in height and 12 stories. Every floor of the wooden structure contains interesting artifacts.
If you like, you can take the optional excursion for an extra charge to Fengdu Ghost City to learn more about the culture of ghosts in China.
The Captain's Welcome Reception will be held in the evening.
- There are many stairs to climb to reach Fengdu Ghost City / Shibaozhai Pagoda / White Emperor City. Comfortable shoes are highly recommended to visit these sites.
- The optional sites will be visited depending on the number of travelers who want to go.
- Dress code for parties: Travelers who attend the Captain's Welcome / Farewell Reception and night show should wear smart casual or formal clothes.
You will sail through the most impressive sections of the Yangtze River: Qutang Gorge and Wu Gorge. The dramatic scenery and rushing waters of the river have been inspirational for many of China's painters and poets.
As well as taking a shore excursion to Shennong Stream via a small boat, you can appreciate the primitive simplicity and the mysteriousness of this place. It is picturesque everywhere and each scene is related to a wonderful fairy tale or a moving legend, which will make you think about the distant past.
The Captain's Farewell Reception will be held in the evening.
The morning's excursion is to another highlight of this trip — the Three Gorges Dam. Walk up to the dam park for a panoramic view of this incredible feat of engineering.
After visiting the dam, you'll take the shuttle bus arranged by the cruise company to head to Yichang Three Gorges Center Cruise Terminal for your departure. There, you will be picked up by your local guide and transferred to Yichang Sanxia Airport for your onward flight or to Yichang East Railway Station to catch a high-speed train to Shanghai.
Discover Shanghai starting from the Bund, where foreigners first landed in Shanghai hundreds of years ago. During our In-Depth Bund Culture Discovery Tour, you will see features hidden in the architectural complex — each building tells a story of its golden age.
Then, reach "the crown of beauty in Southeast China" – Yu Garden – and the "little eastern gate" — Shanghai Old Street.
Sit down for a break and have lunch. Feel excited as you ascend to the highest observation deck in Shanghai Tower to get a bird's-eye view of the whole city.
Your guide and driver will escort you to the airport. Have a pleasant journey home with good memories!
Price from: $3,239 (Tour code: gh-cht-pd-01)
Every element of the tour above can be tailored. Feel free to tell us yourideas and we will be happy to make adjustments for you.
1. Hassle-free Visa
From now on, travelers who enter China at selected cities with Global Highlights can benefit from our Hassle-Free Visa.
All you need to do is provide us a photo of your passport and make sure there are at least 2 people in your party, and we'll handle your visas.
Inquire to get more information.
2. Extend the Tour
- Guilin and Yangshuo: add 2-3 days — Li River cruise and idyllic countryside
- Suzhou and/or Hangzhou: add 1–4 days — water towns, gardens, the Grand Canal, and West Lake
- Zhangjiajie:add 2–3 days — The Hallelujah Mountains in Avatar; karst landscape
- More destinations: Huangshan, Yunnan and Tibet. Inform us of your interests and we will offer you some recommendations.
Various types of accommodation are available, including famous 5-star hotel chains, 4-star hotels in the best locations, good value 3-starhotels, or boutique hotels that reflect the style of the region.
Whatever your accommodation preferences are, our travel experts will seek out and find the perfect one for you.
China is a huge country, so to make your travel experience more efficient, we usually arrange flights to connect your destinations.
China's high-speed rail network is afast-paced way to travel. We recommend taking high-speed trains for journeys of less than 6 hours to interested customers — please tell us if you are one of them.
Lunches at popular local restaurants areincluded for you so you can taste authentic Chinese food. Your guide will assist you with ordering the dishes.
Vegetarian, halal, kosher, Indian, or gluten-free — all your dietary requirements can be taken care of by our experienced private guides. Let us know if you have any of these dietary requirements during your booking.