Brimming with ancient monuments and skyscrapers alike, China has catapulted into the 21st century as a major economic power that is often associated with its growing cosmopolitan cities. Yet a timeless way of life continues in a countryside carved with rugged mountains and deep gorges, and speckled with traditional farming villages. Explore China’s contrasts on a journey from the pandas of Sichuan to the Silk Road in Dunhuang and the pulsating cities of Hong Kong and Beijing.

Days 1-5: Hong Kong

An international metropolis bursting with futuristic skyscrapers and framed by lush hills, Hong Kong is one of the world’s most important financial centers. Discover this vibrant coastal city from our base in Victoria Harbour, and take in postcard-perfect views of the glittering skyline from a ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui. Learn about Hong Kong’s colonial past and connection to mainland China, and try maneuvering a traditional dragon boat on the waters of the harbor with your group. Hike to Victoria Peak—the highest point on Hong Kong Island—for spectacular views of the city; stretch out on the nearby beaches, or take a dip in the sea; and explore the buzzing streets of Kowloon, one of Hong Kong’s most fascinating neighborhoods.

Days 6-10: The Pandas of Chengdu

Transfer to the lively city of Chengdu, where we’ll have a behind-the-scenes visit at the internationally renowned Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, guided by local conservationists. Spend a day feeding and caring for the bears and observing these gentle giants up close in their enclosure. Then delve into Sichuanese culture at a traditional tea ceremony, while concocting spicy regional dishes at a cooking class, and on a backstage visit following an opera performance.

Days 11-15: Gansu Province

Fly to Dunhuang, an oasis city bordered by the Kumtag Desert. Once an important hub of China’s famed Silk Road, this ancient garrison town is still watched over by the crumbling ruins of the Han Dynasty-era Great Wall. Visit the Singing Sands dunes, and explore the Mogao Caves—also known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas. Carved by monks on pilgrimage, these caverns are home to some of the most precious Buddhist art and manuscripts in the world. Peruse the Dunhuang night market, go on an overnight trek by the shores of nearby Crescent Lake, and learn about efforts to understand and prevent encroaching desertification.

Days 16-21: Beijing and The Great Wall

Beijing is a city of color and motion: Bicycles blur past crimson-walled temples, crowds bustle down neon-flanked shopping streets, and new buildings and businesses seem to sprout up on a daily basis. But Beijing’s ancient roots are still visible among the modern high-rises and the flashy billboards. We’ll explore the city in all its guises, from the ornate courtyards of the Forbidden City to the avant-garde studios of the 798 art district. Partake in the popular pastime of flying kites in historic Tiananmen Square; and in the gardens of the Temple of Heaven, join in on a game of checkers and rhythmic gymnastics. Bike through a hutong, a neighborhood of Ming dynasty courtyard homes, and watch acrobats spin and climb through the air at an evening performance.

Venture outside the city to a farming village next to a seldom-visited section of the Great Wall. We spend two nights at a simple guesthouse here and enjoy meals prepared by our hosts. See the Great Wall as few visitors do: experiment with nighttime photographic “light painting” on the ruins of an ancient guard tower, or wake up early for a hike to watch the sun rise over the wall.

Pull Quote
China is a vast and amazing country with a civilization more than 5,000 years old! This region is steeped in history, and we'll celebrate its past as we embark on countless adventures.
Ian Teh, National Geographic Expert