Day 1-2 - Welcome to Beijing - The private tour departs on a direct overnight flight from London, or via an alternative route at one of the major regional airports in the UK if you prefer. Arrive in Beijing in the morning and be welcomed upon arrival for transfer to your hotel. You will receive a walking orientation tour around your hotel with our guide, familiarising you with the surroundings and answering any questions you may have. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax, or you may prefer to add an afternoon tour.
Day 3 - Special tour: Beijing's Past & Present - Our special tour gives you an in-depth view of the the city's history, culture and modern life. We start amid the Communist-style buildings of Tiananmen Square and walk into the mythical Forbidden City, home to 24 Chinese Emperors. Here you can learn about China's dynastic past, before climbing Coal Hill for an overview of the central Beijing landscape. After lunch in a traditional hutong, enter the Confucius and Buddhist temples to understand China's two most important belief systems and their role in daily life. (B,L)
Day 4 - Temple of Heaven Park & Hutongs - We start at the Temple of Heaven, considered by UNESCO "a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design", to learn about Chinese philosophical beliefs, cosmogony, art, dynastic politics and sacrificial rituals. We visit early to gain wonderful insights into local life, as large groups of elderly Beijingers gather to take communal exercises, sing, socialise and play musical instruments. We take lunch at a family hutong home and then survey the traditional streets from the back of a rickshaw and on foot. Enjoy some cultural activities like calligraphy or paper cutting or perhaps attempt to cook the Chinese way by making some local dumplings. (B,L)
Day 5 - Hike the Great Wall - We drive two hours north of Beijing to access the iconic Great Wall of China to hike a wild section away from the crowds. Here we can truly appreciate its full majesty and savour stunning views of the surrounding mountains, taking the cable cars down from the restored part at Mutianyu, allowing you a look at the Wall in its original state. (B,L)
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Day 6 - Transfer to Kunming - Today you will fly to Kunming ahead of our visit to the Stone Forest. You will be met at arrival by our guide and drive and will be transferred to your hotel for an afternoon at leisure. (B)
Day 7 - Stone Forest & Kunming - Kunming is the capital of the Yunnan province, a modern city with a beautiful urban park at its centre. The reason for our visit here though is to explore the nearby Stone Forest, known as Shilin in Chinese. A sea of limestone pillars, many in weird formations and with wonderfully descriptive names, rise powerfully out of the ground, creating a magnificent karst landscape. Mysterious caves, underground rivers, ponds, lakes and waterfalls only add to the beauty found here. A guided tour will help you understand how they came to be and lead you to the very best viewing points.
In the afternoon we will return to the city to visit the Yuantong Buddhist Temple, at the foot of Yuantong Hill and also the pretty Green Lake Park, for a glimpse into everyday life in Kunming. (B,L)
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Day 8 - Napahai Wetlands & Benzilan arrival - Today you will fly from Kunming to Shangri-La airport, after which we will drive out of town to the ever-changing Napahai wetlands, encircled by mountains. At different points of the year it is possible to sea a huge variety of migrating birds, including the rare black-necked crane and herds of yaks and horses grazing, as the waters recede.
We continue on into the mountains, driving through a dramatic canyon to reach your base for the next three nights; the LUX Benzalin luxury resort. Relax by the pool or roof terrace and enjoy a specially prepared dinner, ahead of tomorrow's exploration. (B,L,D)
Day 9 - Dongzhulin Monastery & Shuibianhe Valley - After breakfast we will drive 30 minutes to the Dongzhulin Monastery and small religious community. We will listen as the monks chant their morning prayers and then take a guided tour of the temple. This particular temple, unlike the more famous Songzanlin Monastery, is not a big tourism attraction and so allows for a far more insightful and intimate experience. You can even speak to the monks to ask them about Buddhist life here.
We depart the monastery, returning later, to drive in to the Shuibianhe Valley to visit the small Tibetan hamlet of Shiyi. Here we will observe the process of making traditional Tibetan incense sticks. We then return to a second hamlet - Bairen - to watch a bell-maker at work. For lunch you can choose between a Tibetan-style picnic lunch or a home-cooked French lunch, made with Tibetan ingredients and served in the home of a local.
After lunch we will return to the Dongzhulin Monastery, enjoying privileged access to a Gelugpa-sect debating session. These debates are lively and expressive affairs, involving much shouting, jumping, dancing and posturing. Following this unique experience we will return to the hotel where you can relax and have dinner, before perhaps watching a movie outdoors under the stars in the LUX's Cinema Paradiso experience. (B,L,D)
Day 10 - Balagezong Canyon & Nixi Pottery Masterclass - The next day we will drive 45 to the Balagezong Canyon, a wonderful place to experience the precipitous gorges and biodiversity of the Three Parallel Rivers area, protected by UNESCO. Following a dramatic ascent, via some 30 switchbacks, we will enjoy panoramic views over the valley below. We continue down the canyon to enjoy a guided nature walk, crossing a spectacular suspended walkway high above the river, before taking to the water itself for a short boat trip.
After lunch we head on-wards to the remote Nixi village of Tangdui, to visit a master potter at work. Luo Sang Enzhu Is recognised as the greatest exponent of black pottery in the surrounding area, following on from the legacy of his father. Learn how the pottery gains its distinct black colour and be taught by the master himself how to mould a Tibetan bowl with your very own hands.
We will then return for a final night at the LUX Benzilan hotel, offering the chance to relax, din...
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
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