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Welcome to China's sprawling, high flying and innovative capital city, Beijing. With one foot in the future and the other in the past, Beijing is nothing if not unique. An impressive six UNESCO World Heritage sites and a splurge of temples make the city a historian's dream, whilst modern masterpieces like the CCTV Building and the Galaxy Soho ensure Beijing is a city taking its place as one of the front runners in contemporary design. Arriving today, you'll transfer to your hotel and meet up with your Travel Director before getting to know the rest of your group over a welcome dinner this evening.
Today's sightseeing tour will see you dive straight into the magic of Beijing, kicked off in the world's largest public square, Tiananmen Square. Claiming an incredible 440,000 square metres of space and flanked by Soviet style buildings, the square was the brain child of Chairman Mao and flexes some serious Communist design ideals. Next up, you'll head over to the UNESCO listed Forbidden City, the largest palace complex is the world featuring courtyards, palaces, pavilions and gardens all ringed by 3.5km of scarlet coloured citadel walls. Take your time exploring this impeccably preserved complex, imagining what life would have been like for the 24 emperors who ruled here during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. This afternoon enjoy some free time at leisure and perhaps explore the enchanting hútòngs or alleyways that crisscross the city. This evening you could opt to join us for the spectacular 'Legend of Kung Fu' show. Mixing traditional martial arts with modern theatre, watch as Kung Fu artists from all over China display an art form that is utterly synonymous with Chinese culture.
Widely considered a Top 10 life experience, today's the day you'll be able to tick off 'visiting the Great Wall of China' on your lifetime to-do list. China's greatest feat of engineering and one of the most famous sights in the world, the wall stretches some 21,000 km from East to West China, snaking its way like a dragon through deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus. Walking along this impressive piece of history, be sure to take in the views of the wall snaking off into the distance and appreciate the sheer will and determination of the millions who helped to create this incredible fortification, the greatest relic of the Ming Dynasty. Lunch today will be in a local restaurant, then this afternoon, and after some much needed downtime, why not see out your time in Beijing with an optional dinner, a sumptuous banquet of local specialitites including Beijing Kao Ya or Peking Duck to the rest of the world.
Waking up to a final free morning in Beijing, make the most of your final hours here by choosing to join our optional trip to the UNESCO listed Temple of Heaven. A vast religious complex in the old outer city and one of the country's most important Imperial temples, this place is widely considered one of the greatest achievements of traditional Chinese architecture, with a layout that displays the belief that the earth is square, and heaven round. This afternoon catch a flight to the historical city of Xi'an. Once home to emperors, warriors and the Chinese elite, Xi'an is the kind of place that keeps historians up at night, imagining what could have been. It's one of the few cities in China that's still managed to hold on to its imposing 12 metre high city walls, and is of course best known as the home of the magnificent Terracotta Army. This evening and with time to yourself, perhaps head out to explore the busy lanes of the Muslim Quarter.
We hope you're prepared as today's visit to the Terracotta Army may just knock you over backwards. One of the greatest archaeological discoveries of recent times, it's incredible to think that this life size army of thousands of warriors, each with a face different to the next, was discovered completely be accident by some fortuitous peasants drilling a well. Standing in battle formation and positioned according to rank, the warriors have silently guarded over the body of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, for an astounding 2000 years. Learn about the discovery and history of the army and take your time exploring here before heading on for a local style lunch. This evening and no doubt hungering for more Chinese history, perhaps opt to join our Tang Dynasty dinner and show. Tuck in to a delicious dumpling banquet, then enjoy the vibrant costumes, colourful dances and traditional music of this eight part show that brings to life the culture and lifestyle of the great Tang Dynasty.
Heading for the airport this morning, you'll catch a flight bound for the booming city of Chongqing. As one of the most densely populated cities on earth it's little surprise that Chongqing throbs with life and energy, but the many, many people who live here are welcoming and friendly, and the vision of the city spilling over onto both banks of the Yangtze River is a real sight to behold. Speaking of the Yangtze, catch your first glimpse of the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world as you arrive here, then after dinner get even better acquainted as you board your river cruise ship, your home for the next three nights.
Slowly journeying down the sublimely scenic Yangtze River, otherwise known as the 'Chang Jiang' or 'long river', be sure to make the most of your surroundings. Sit back and relax on deck, cold drink in hand, and simply enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Your first port of call today will be Shibaozhai, or 'Precious Stone Fortress', an incredible 12 storey, 56 metre high wooden pagoda built on the top of a cliff and an impressive relic of the Xianfeng Emperor. Reaching the temple via a red pavilion masterfully built into the rock face, take your time exploring before cruising on to the shrines, temples and monasteries of Fengdu's 'Ghost City', a two-thousand-year-old complex located on the Ming Mountain that its dedicated to all things afterlife. Explore the vividly depicted images that reflect the notion of good and evil, then retire back to the ship.
The scenery gets even more beautiful today as you cruise through the Three Gorges region. Hold your breath as you squeeze through the steep precipices of the Qutang Gorge, the river swirling and frothing beneath you, then breathe a sigh of relief as you enter the Wu Gorge, where the famous forest covered peaks of the Wushan Mountains are guaranteed to take your breath away. No doubt keen to get a closer look, it's here you'll board a small motor boat that will take you to Goddess Stream, a place that absolutely lives up to its otherworldly name. Utterly gorgeous, the steep cliffs and deep valleys of this region create a sense of real serenity, so soak it all up before getting back on board to visit the final gorge, Xiling, another beautiful area of tumbling rapids, karst caves and soaring cliff edges.
Make an early start this morning and ascend to the top deck of the cruise ship to enjoy the views of the vast Three Gorges Dam - the largest dam in the world and a serious labour of love with a production timeline that spanned decades. After disembarkation at Maoping Port there is another great photo opportunity to get shots of the Dam before transferring to Yichang Airport to catch your flight to the stunning city of Shanghai.
Diving into all that Shanghai has to offer, this morning's sightseeing tour will start off at The Bund, the city's famous waterfront hub. Once a place of fast paced trading akin to New York's Wall Street, today The Bund is the place to be in Shanghai. All the top restaurants, hotels and shops can be found on this exclusive patch of real estate, where art deco and neoclassical buildings rub shoulders with monolithic skyscrapers. Continuing on to a silk museum where vibrant colours are the aim of the game, you'll then stop off at Shanghai's premium shopping destination, Nanjing Road. Stretching out over three miles and housing over 600 businesses, it won't be hard to see why shopping is serious business in Shanghai. Go wild in the stores selling high end couture and vintage finds alike, then this evening perhaps opt to join our visit to a daring acrobatics show.
With a full day to explore your way and your last day of the trip, be sure to make the most of it! If it's culture you're after, you're in the right place; Shanghai has one of the most revered cultural scenes of any city in the world with a wealth of museums and galleries showcasing contemporary and historical treasures alike. You may choose to take our optional trip to the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao with its 36 bridges built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Or if you prefer to explore on your own, you could head to the Old Town for a glimpse of Shanghai of old or visit Yùyuán Garden; a true delight with its shady alcoves and fish filled pools. Eating is a hugely important social activity in China and undoubtedly one of the best ways to experience the culture, so be sure to sample all the wonderful delights that cross your path.
With memories of ancient kingdoms, serene landscapes, tasty local delicacies and feats of engineering wizardry still fresh in your mind's eye, your incredible odyssey through the vast and beautiful land of China will come to an end today. Saying goodbye to your fellow travellers and transferring on to Shanghai International Airport, you'll catch your onward flight to your next destination.
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