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Best of China’s Ancient Towns, Cities and Villages

Shaped by thousands years of history, over 50 distinctive ethnic minority groups and countless cultural changes, China boasts a long and diverse list of time-honored towns. This 21 days China itinerary is perfectly designed for you explore the best of China’s ancient towns, cities and villages, and also combines relaxation all the way.

It begins with a magical Chinese cultural essence experience in Beijing and Xian, two of China’s ancient capitals, before moving on to the timeless Tibet and breathtaking Yunnan & Guilin and finishing in a laidback ancient water town of Shanghai.

CCT Advantages:

  • 1. Witness ancient China’s majestic and beautiful architectural wonders: the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace…
  • 2. See the cooler and more primitive side of Beijing on a relaxing hutong rickshaw tour;
  • 3. Be surrounded by history in Xian, visit Terracotta Warriors and Ming Dynasty City Wall;
  • 4. Discover the unique landscapes and ancient Buddhist temples and shrines in Tibet & Shangri-La;
  • 5. Explore the UNESCO-protected Lijiang Ancient Town and cultural Dali Ancient Town to unwind;
  • 6. Encounter lovely giant pandas in Chengdu, where also savor Chinese teas and visit the historic sites;
  • 7. Enjoy cruising from Guilin to Yangshuo and enter the picturesque riverside ancient towns;
  • 8. Experience the traditional Shanghai on a visit to Zhujiajiao Water Town and the Bund;
  • 9. Learn to make dumplings and draw Chinese landscape paintings on a paper fan.

21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

Day 1, Arrive in Beijing

Meals: No Meals

Hello, welcome to Beijing, the capital of modern and ancient China! Meet your guide and driver with a private vehicle for an airport transfer to your luxurious hotel. For your comfort, there’s not site visits arranged today. Relax yourself to counteract jet lag.

Recommended hotels:

  • - Beijing luxury hotels: Four Seasons, Peninsula, Hilton Beijing Wangfujing, Regent Beijing or similar
  • - Beijing boutique hotels: Double Happiness Beijing Courtyard Hotel or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 2, Ancient Beijing’s Imperial Traditions and Folk Life

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Walk amidst the Tiananmen Square as large as 440,000 square meters and see the portrait of Chairman Mao on the Tiananmen Rostrum or named the Gate of Heavenly Peace.

    Enter Forbidden City, named Palace Museum in nowadays. As the palace and home of 24 emperors of Ming and Qing Dynasty, it is the largest and best-preserved ancient architecture complex in China and indeed an unmatched wooden architectural masterpiece. Later reach the top of Jingshan Hill, a private garden of the ancient royalty, to get an amazing full picture of Forbidden City.

    Explore Beijing hutong lanes on old-fashioned rickshaw to see the traditional courtyards, that is, the quadrangle dwellings. Both hutong and courtyard are cultural symbols of ancient China.

    Enjoy a wonderful evening with a show of Kungfu or Peking Opera (optional).

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 3, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall of China

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Feel refreshed and energetic by practicing Tai Chi with a master in the Temple of Heaven. Dating to 1420, it was built with sacred architectures for ancient emperors, “the sons of heaven”, to sacrifice to the Heaven and Earth.

    Get to the Great Wall Mutianyu Section with cableway up and down. The greatest and biggest man-made military project on human history, the Great Wall stretches for more than 20,000km on the mountain summits. Walk on the Great Wall to discover the beacon towers and view the world from the top.

    Feast on Beijing Roast Duck at dinner time (optional).

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 4, Cruising Summer Palace, Beijing to Xian

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Visit Summer Palace, where the imperial family of Qing Dynasty used to enjoy a cool getaway from Forbidden City in the hot summer days. Sit back on a boat cruising Kunming Lake. See the grand ancient towers, pavilions and palaces built against Wanshou Hill.

    Be escorted to the railway station and move to Xian on a high speed train journey.

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Xian luxury hotels: Wyndham Grand Xian South, Gran Meliá Xian, Sofitel Legend Peoples Grand Hotel or similar
  • - Xian boutique hotels: Grand Mercure Xi'an on Renmin Square or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 5, Xian from the 3rd century B.C. to 14th Century

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Explore the mighty tomb of Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses, a great army to be buried with China’s first feudal emperor in the third century B.C. You will see myriad solders of different ranks, such as cavalry, chariots, infantry and crossbowman.

    Witness the grandness of Xian Ancient City Wall of the Ming Dynasty. It is the longest and best-kept ancient city walls in China, 13.74km long, 12m high, and 12-18m wide. Then delight in Muslim Quarter’s casual atmosphere and varied street foods.

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 6, Tang Dynasty Pagoda, Dumpling Making, Xian to Lhasa

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Visit Da Cien Temple and admire the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. The iconic structure of ancient Xian, the pagoda was built in 652 during Tang Dynasty to contain the valuable Buddhist classics and Buddha statues brought back from ancient India by eminent Monk Xuanzeng, who had experienced lots of legendary things along the Silk Road.

    Later visit a local family and learn from the enthusiastic host to make authentic dumplings, a unique traditional Chinese delicacy. Enjoy the dumpling you make for lunch.

    Fly to Lhasa, the heartland of Tibet. Acclimate the new climate, relax, and listen to your guide’s advice on how to prevent altitude sickness.

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Lhasa luxury hotels: Shangri-La, St. Regis or similar
  • - Lhasa boutique hotels: Shambhala Palace, House of Shambhala or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 7, Norbulingka, Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Visit Norbulingka, the Summer Palace in Lhasa for Dalai Lama to cool off in summer. Apart from its beautiful architecture, this Tibetan style garden boasts over 100 species of plants, with some that are transplanted from the Himalaya.

    Then admire Sera Monastery, which is one of the six great monasteries of the gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. There are numerous Tibetan Buddhism relics including thousands of Buddha sculptures. Also visit Drepung Monastery, the biggest temple in Tibet and one of the most beautiful examples of Tibetan Buddhist architecture.

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 8, Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street

    Meals: Breakfast

    Go on a pilgrimage to Potala Palace, the signature highlight of a Tibet tour. It is the largest ancient castle complex in Tibet that incorporates palaces and temples, and has the highest elevation (at 3700m). Walk between its red and white places to appreciate its art and culture valuables.

    Then visit Jokhang Temple. Built 1300 years ago during the Tubo Period, it is the extant earliest civil structure construction, and also blends the architecture style of ancient China, Nepal and India. It is because of Jokhang Temple that Lhasa is honored as the holy city.

    Afterwards, roam around the Barkhor Street, known as the “sacred way” among Tibetans, where the traditional dwellings are well kept and the peaceful traditional lifestyle can be experienced.

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 9, Lhasa to Shangri-La

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Free at leisure at “the roof of the world” – enjoy yourself a delightful morning with freshly clean air and experience local Tibetan way of living.

    Fly to Shangri-La, a hidden paradise gradually known to the world since 1930s when Lost Horizon was published. Pick up and transfer to hotel. If time permits, visit the ancient town of Shangri-La, built based on Shambhala, an ideal land depicted on the Buddhist scriptures. Reach the top of Guishan Park to see the world’s biggest prayer wheel.

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Shangri-La luxury hotels: Shangri-La Resort, Songtsam Lodges, Songtsam Linka or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 10, Sumtsaling Monastery, Potatso National Park

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Visit the hillside Sumtsaling Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Yunnan. There are countless Buddhist treasures are preserved in this imposing Tibetan castle, also known as a Tibetan Art Museum.

    Drive to Potatso National Park with beautiful natural scenery of mirror-like alpine lakes, vast meadows, wetlands full of flowers in summer and birds in winter, and virgin forests.

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 11, Shangri-La to Lijiang, Lijiang Ancient Town

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Drive to Lijiang from Shangri-La. En route, visit Tiger Leaping Gorge, ranking as one of the most majestic gorges on Earth and one of ten best hikes in the world. See the onrushing Jinsha River on the bottom and two huge snow mountains in the distance. Later marvel at the First Bend of Yangtze River.

    Arrive the Old Town of Lijiang dating to the 13th Century – the kingdom of ethnic Naxi people. It was carefully designed, built along the streams and including the palace of ancient Naxi kings. Watch the sunset and get a panorama of Lijiang Ancient Town at the Wangu Pavilion on Lion Hill.

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Lijiang luxury hotels: InterContinental Resort, Hotel Indigo or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 12, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Baisha Ancient Town

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Take cable car up the holy Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, one of the most famous and biggest snow mountains in China, to see its amazing 13 peaks, alpine meadows and even the glaciers.

    Then explore Baisha Ancient Town - the cradle of Naxi civilization. It was the capital of Lijiang before 1383 and remains intact today. Visit Baisha Murals, a splendid religious and art heritage created between early Ming and early Qing Dynasty for about 300 years

    Ramble in Yuquan Park, or known as Black Dragon Pool. See the ancient architecture complex, and more importantly, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain reflected in the pool.

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 13, Lijiang to Dali, Erhai Lake Cruise, Xizhou Ancient Town

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Drive to Dali, inhabited by ethnic Bai people.

    Take a boat to cruise Erhai Lake, enjoy the peaceful and gorgeous scenery, overlook Cangshan Mountain and see quaint fishing villages on the shores. Then visit the mighty Chongsheng Temple and Three Pagodas. This 9th-Century Buddhist heritage site is the iconic landmark of Dali and a masterpiece of ancient Chinese architecture.

    Later, experience profound Bai culture in Xizhou Ancient Town, where the traditional Bai dwelling houses are perfectly kept.

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Dali luxury hotels: Hilton Dali Resort and Spa, or similar
  • - Dali boutique hotels: The Linden Centre, Gurong Hotel or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 14, Dali Ancient Town, Dali to Chengdu

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Once the center of Yunnan Nanzhao Kingdom, Dali Ancient Town still maintains its medieval layout, city gates and residential houses. Experience the special charm with a leisure stroll through the flagstone streets that are lined with all kinds of shops.

    Fly to Chengdu, with history of over 3000 years and known to the world as the hometown of giant pandas.

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Chengdu luxury hotels: The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu or similar
  • - Chengdu boutique hotels: BuddhaZen Hotel or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 15, Chengdu Panda Base

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Enjoy a happy morning with the adorable giant pandas at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center. Get to know the knowledge of giant panda and see them having tasty breakfast and playing freely on the grassland.

    Then visit a Three Kingdom Period (220-280) historical site. The Wuhou Ancestral Hall, a temple to memorize Emperor Liubei and the legendary “Zhuge Liang”, is the only one in China that a monarch and his minster are worshiped at the same temple.

    Thereafter, walk through the Jinli Ancient Street – the Chinese red lanterns and traditional style billboards hang from the eaves of the old buildings.

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 16, Tea Culture Experience, Chengdu to Guilin

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    For hundreds of years, Chengdu people have enjoyed a slow-paced lifestyle. Go visit Chengdu People’s Park, the best place to experience the city’s laid-back ambience and see locals how to spend leisure time – by playing mahjong, dancing, and drinking tea. Sample tea at a quaint traditional teahouse and watch the tea masters to practice fun Sichuan tea ceremony.

    After about 2-hour air journey, arrive in Guilin, where you can delight in picturesque natural scenery and also explore thousand year-old towns.

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Guilin luxury hotels: Shangri La, Sheraton or similar
  • - Guilin boutique hotels: Aroma Tea House, Jolie Vue Boutique Hotel or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 17, Daxu Ancient Town, Guilin Karst Wonders

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Drive to visit Daxu Ancient Town dating to 200AD, favorably located beside Li River. Roam around the village to see the historical city gate, well-preserved Ming and Qing Dynasty residential houses, ancient arch bridge, abandoned wharfs, and meet local craftsmen busy working on their artistic works.

    Afterwards step into Reed Flute Cave and witness the incredibly weird-shaped stalactites and stalagmites, stone waterfalls, striking stone mansions, lifelike stone animals… which are illuminated by dramatic colored lights.

    Climb up Folded Brocade Hill to watch the sun set over the saw-toothed peaks (if weather permits). The hill also offers the best panoramic view of downtown Guilin.

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 18, Guilin to Yangshuo, Li River Cruise

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Board a luxurious ship down Li River to Yangshuo. You’ll cruise the most beautiful section of Li River, pass by numerous limestone peaks, islands, vast farmlands, pristine villages and have the chance to see cormorant fishing.

    Disembark, go through the West Street of a relaxed, bustling atmosphere, and spend a half day exploring the intoxicating countryside of Yangshuo on a bicycle ride or in your private vehicle. Your guide can lead you to visit a local family in an old village. The friendly host will share with you the local life experience.

    When the night falls, enjoy an amazing open-air show – the Impression Liu Sanjie (optional).

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Yangshuo luxury hotels: Banyan Tree or similar
  • - Yangshuo boutique hotels: Mountain Retreat or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 19, Yangshuo to Guilin to Shanghai

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Head for Fuli Ancient Town. Once a trading post along Li River to link Yangtze and Zhujiang River, Fuli was a cultural melting pot in ancient times and still maintains a few primitive cultures. Furthermore, it is reputed as the hometown of Chinese painting fan. Learn how to paint on the paper fan from a local craftsman.

    Fly to Shanghai, where the Eastern culture first met the Western culture in China.

    Recommended hotels:

  • - Shanghai luxury hotels: Peace Hotel, Les Suites Orient Bund, Peninsula or similar
  • - Shanghai boutique hotels: Hotel Indigo on the Bund, The Yangtze Boutique or similar
  • 21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 20, Ancient Zhujiajiao Water Town, the Bund

    Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

    Discover the style and vibe of traditional Shanghai on a visit to Zhujiajiao that thrived in the 17th Century. Enjoy a boat cruise along the streams to see the ancient bridges, riverside dwellings, temples, tea houses… and experience the unique charm of Jiangnan Watertown.

    Walk the Bund to see various styles of colonial architectures converted from early 20th Century banks, hotels, compradors. Stand on the observation deck of Shanghai World Financial Center to witness the ultra-modern China and imagine the tremendous contrast between the old and new.

    Enjoy an eye-popping acrobatic show in the evening (optional).

    21 Days Beijing, Xian, Lhasa, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Dali, Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai Tour

    Day 21, Depart Shanghai

    Meals: Breakfast

    You will be picked up and driven to the airport by private transfer – the end of your 21 days China tour. Board your international return flight home.

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