This exciting 10-day itinerary traces ancient Chinese trade routes from Shanghai to the western outpost of Kashgar. Along the way, you’ll be immersed in millennia of history, with the chance to see fossils of early man as well as comparatively recent medieval cities, Tang Dynasty relics and fine Chinese art from several eras. Sample the aromatic street foods of Urumqi and ride a camel across the whistling Mingsha dunes of the Gobi in this revealing, culture-rich tour.
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Your journey begins in the dazzling and sophisticated Shanghai, where you’ll check into one of the city’s top-notch hotels. For this itinerary, we recommend the Shanghai Peninsula and the Waldorf Astoria on the Bund - both allowing you direct access to the city’s best entertainment and dining. You’ll also be perfectly-positioned to start the afternoon’s tour of the iconic Bund, with its eclectic array of architecture, high-end bars and restaurants, and beautiful river views. Spend the night in your luxury hotel on the Bund.
Today you’ll fly to Xian, a UNESCO World Heritage city dating back more than 3,100 years and traditionally the last stop on the famed silk road. Just outside Xian is the site of the Terracotta Warriors, a full-sized army of sculpted soldiers, horses and weapons constructed in the 210 BC tomb of China’s first emperor. After exploring the site, you’ll return to Xian to navigate its immense walls. The fortifications surrounding the city are up to 50 feet wide in some parts, and you can bicycle or walk around its 7.4-mile perimeter. Check into a luxury Xian hotel for the night - the Shangri-La Hotel Xian is an excellent option.
Start the day with a trip to the Shaanxi Museum of History, located in a beautiful Tang Dynasty-styled building. There are more than 300,000 items on display, which range from paintings to ceramics to fossils of Lantian Man, dating back nearly a million years. You’ll enjoy more history at the Han Mausoleum, the vast royal tomb of Emperor Han with more than 60,000 burial items shedding light over the complexities of the social hierarchy of the dynasty. In the afternoon, visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a towering structure built in 652 AD, that offers far-reaching city views from its top platform at 610 feet. Enjoy another night in your luxury Xian hotel.
Your next stop on the Silk Road is Dunhuang (a 2.5-hour flight), formerly a major stopping point on the trade route. Here in the “City of Sands” you will discover many historic landmarks, some of which are millennia old. A highlight are the Mogao Grottoes, a network of 735 caves containing Buddhist art and ancient manuscripts - a local expert will guide you through this intriguing historic site. Next, you will enjoy some thrills on the remarkable Mingsha Dunes on the edge of the Gobi desert, where you can sand-toboggan, paraglide or ride a camel. Check into the majestic, traditionally-styled Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel, set against a backdrop of rolling dunes.
Today, you’ll be introduced to another fascinating aspect of Dunhuang - the Huyang Forest. This unusual forest is characterized by its golden poplar trees, many of them hundreds of years old. Next, you’ll visit the White Horse Pagoda, dating back to the 4th century. The pagoda was built in tribute to a monk’s beloved horse, which died after faithfully carrying his master from faraway Kucha, carrying with him important Buddhist scrolls. The bells atop the monument are said to echo the horse’s neigh. In the evening, return to your luxurious hotel in Dunhuang.
This morning, it’s another flight, to the striking inland city of Urumqi. First, you’ll get a feel for Urumqi’s heritage at the History Museum, where a curator will take you on a private tour of the complex. You’ll gain insight into the history of the Silk Road and see 3,000-year-old mummies and other rare artifacts. In the evening, you’ll enjoy the colors and flavors of the night market, with its abundance of aromatic street foods, including Chinese Muslim fare and hand-pulled noodles. You’ll also have the chance to see the Grand Bazaar - the largest bazaar in the world, covering more than 44,000-square-feet and housing an open mosque, a viewing tower and more than 3,000 stalls. Settle into a luxury hotel this evening, the Sheraton Urumqi is a great choice.
Get out into Urumqi’s brilliant outdoors today with a trip to the aptly named Heavenly Lake. This stunning alpine lake is 6,600 feet above sea level, covering an area of nearly two square miles. Its turquoise colored waters contrasted against Mount Bogda in the background provide a truly unforgettable sight. Drive to the outskirts of Urumqi next to pay a visit to a Kazak campsite to learn more about the nomadic lifestyle of these agricultural people. Return to your hotel in Urumqi tonight.
Today, it’s a 2-hour flight to the medieval city of Kashgar, China’s westernmost city. This ethnically-rich outpost has long been a center of trade and today boasts a diversity of cultural influences that make it a delight to explore. To see just some of Kashgar’s charms, you’ll begin your stay here with a walking tour of the city. You’ll also visit Yeksjemba Bazaar, with more than 100,000 stalls from international vendors selling everything from livestock to souvenirs to silk. Check into the Kashi Tianyuan International Hotel tonight.
Today you will be taken on a guided tour of the Mosques of Kashgar. A local history scholar will be your guide, providing insight into the role of Muslim minorities throughout Kashgar history. To completely immerse yourself in the nomadic culture of the Tajik people, tonight you’ll be treated to a homestay in a yurt, a traditional tent dwelling. The yurts are warm and comfortable, and staying overnight on the arid plains of Xinjiang province promotes an unforgettable experience of China’s desert wilderness.
Today you conclude your Silk Road itinerary with a flight back to Shanghai to continue your onward travels.
Located on the Puxi side of the Huangpu River, the Peninsula Shanghai has fabulous views of the Bund, Pearl Oriental Tower and other historic and modern architecture along the Pudong side. Befitting its location in the Pearl of the Orient, the Peninsula’s style is modern while retaining a chic stylistic nod to the city’s Art Deco past. There are 235 guestrooms and suites, which all feature plasma TVs, Nespresso coffee machines, iPod docking stations and wifi access, lending a residential feel to the hotel. Four themed suites – the Astor, Majestic, Palace and Peninsula – set new standards in luxury living. For fine dining within the hotel, Yilong Court for Cantonese cuisine or Sir Elly’s for Western fare in a beautiful setting with views of the Bund are excellent options. The Compass Bar, Lobby and Salon de Ning are lovely places for a night cap. There is a Peninsula spa by ESPA, which offers the brand’s award-winning treatments in a neo-classical setting , indoor pool and fitness center with a DVD library such that gym goers can watch their favorite programs while using the cardio machines. The Peninsula is 40-60 minutes’ drive from the airport, depending on traffic.
The Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund is a true Shanghai landmark, located on the city’s most famous street and offering amazing views of both old and new Shanghai. Its 260 state-of-the-art rooms and suites come with all the latest facilities, including luxury bedding, free internet, cable TV, CD/DVD player and coffee machine. Savor delicious, fresh cuisine from one of six diverse Shanghai restaurants and bars: sip on vintage champagne in the historic Long Bar and relax in plush leather chairs with single malt whiskies and fine Cuban cigars; nibble on modern New York inspired fare at Pelham’s; or indulge in a variety of gourmet Chinese dishes at Wei Jing Ge. The hotel’s fully equipped fitness center offers a fantastic selection of the finest cardiovascular and exercise equipment. Bathe in the hotel’s heated indoor pool or treat yourself to a range of restorative, soothing spa treatments. Relax in the hotel’s sophisticated Library Lounge and unwind in tranquil serenity, or take advantage of complimentary Wi-Fi, available all day, and catch up with work.
The Shangri-La Hotel in Xian is located in the heart of the Gaoxin hi-tech district, just a stone’s throw away from the ancient city walls of the old city. Each of the hotel’s 390 guest rooms and suites features floor-to-ceiling windows and chic modern decor, as well as complimentary Internet access. Dining options include: traditional Thai cuisine at Siam Garden; pan-Chinese cuisine at Tian Xiang Ge; and International cuisine at the Yi Cafe. The hotel also has a state-of-the-art health center, a luxurious spa, and a swimming pool with sauna and steam room. The Shangri-La Xian is approximately 30 minutes by car from the Xianyang Airport (XIY).
Set against the picturesque Mingsha Sand Dunes, the Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel is modeled after Tang Dynasty structures, with large rooftops, long corridors, replica furniture, and the mud walls typical of the buildings of the region. The Silk Road Dunhuang comprises 266 rooms, some set around courtyards, and all featuring air-conditioning, mini-bars, high-speed Internet access, and air conditioning. Culinary selections at the Silk Road Dunhuang include the Deli Chamber, which serves spicy Sichuan and fresh Cantonese fare; the Delights Chamber, which serves Asian and international dishes; and the Starry and Lobby Lounges, two cocktail and sitting lounges set outside and in the lobby, respectively. The Silk Road Dunhuang possesses a business center, sauna and steam baths, meeting rooms, and access to a variety of activities, from camel riding to karaoke lounges. The hotel is located twenty minutes from the airport, and about a half-hour away from the historic Mogao Grottoes.