DAYS 24 – 63: CHINA
Crossing the border from Mongolia into China can be a lengthy process, but once you are through the border you will spend a night in or near the border town of Erlian before heading for China’s vibrant capital, Beijing, the next day.
You will have two nights in Beijing giving you time to explore the city’s main highlights. You will head out on a guided tour taking the Beijing metro to the city centre’s famous Tiananmen Square, which you will walk through and then take a tour of the Forbidden City. You will then have free time to fully explore the many sights, sounds and flavours of Beijing.
From Beijing it is a short drive to Chengde, where you will have a full day to explore the Puning Temple and the famous Imperial Summer Resort.
Another short drive will take you to one of the world’s most incredible sights – the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China! You will have time in the afternoon to thoroughly explore and walk along this beautiful section of the Great Wall.
En route to your next stop, Datong, you will have an included visit to the incredible Hanging Monastery which hangs from a cliff 75m above the ground and was built over 1,500 years ago. While in Datong you will have an included visit to the awe-inspiring Yungang Buddha Caves.
Your overland journey will then continue to the stunning mountainous area known as Wutai Shan, one of the holiest sites of Chinese Buddhism and a major centre of pilgrimage in the country. You will have a full day to explore the area and visit its incredible array of temples and religious sites.
You will then drive to China’s best-preserved ancient walled town, Pingyao where you will have two nights, giving you plenty of time to explore this ancient town and surrounding sites such as the Mian Shan Mountain Resort and the Zhangbi Underground City. From Pingyao, Your next stop will be the ancient village of Lijiashan, famed for settlement of cave dwellers and still home to more than 600 families. In Lijiashan we will stay in a cave room, run by a local family and set up for guests. Enroute to Lijiashan you will have an included visit to the Black Dragon Temple just outside the town.
From Lijiashan you will make your way to the city of Yan’an. Yan’an is famous for being the ending point for those on the ‘Long March’, and became the CCP headquarters for a brief period. During your time here you have an included visit to the Revolutionary museum and the CCP Headquarters site.
Xi’an will be your next stop. This amazing city was the ancient capital of Shaanxi province and the end of the Silk Road. You will have four nights in Xi’an with time to fully explore the city, its famous city walls, Bell & Drum towers, pagodas and Muslim Quarter, as well as the world-famous Terracotta Warriors, where you have an included visit and a guided tour.
From Xi’an you will drive to the small town of Pingliang at the base of the Mount Kongtong, one of the holiest mountains in Chinese Taoism. You will have an included visit to Mount Kongtong, and will have the full day to explore the temples and walk and explore the pilgrimage routes on the mountain.
From Pingliang you will have a stop in Lanzhou, the chaotic capital of Gansu province, where you will have some free time in the evening to explore the city, and then your overland tour will continue to the enchanting Tibetan town of Xiahe for two nights. Your time here is free to explore this beautiful town and surrounding grasslands. You can take a guided visit to the Labrang Monastery where Tibetan monks can be seen doing their daily rituals and chants. There may also be a chance to go trekking, horse riding or exploring the surrounding grasslands, visiting Tibetan families and perhaps trying the local Yak butter tea.
The small town of Liujiaxia on the lower slopes of the remote Tibetan plateau will be your next stop, and enroute you will have an included visit to the incredible Bingling Si Buddha Caves.
You will then drive to the incredible Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains and spend some time exploring the region before heading off to wild camp nearby.
Continuing your journey, you will drive to Jiayuguan, where you will have an included visit to the Jiayuguan Fort – the most westerly point of the Great Wall of China. Please note the Great Wall in this area is adobe, unlike the more famous stone sections which you will visit further to the east. You will camp near an adobe section of the wall.
From Jiayuguan you will head to Dunhuang, an oasis town. The following day you will have an included visit to the awe-inspiring Mogao Buddha Caves in the morning. You will then have a free afternoon to explore this amazing town and its surroundings – there are possibilities for camel rides along the sand dunes and bicycle rides out to the nearby White Goose Pagoda!
From Dunhuang you will travel to the oasis town of Turpan, where you stay for 2 nights exploring the surrounding sites including the famous Jaiohe adobe ruins.
From Turpan you will travel to Heavenly Lake, a beautiful lake set in the Tian Shan mountains. You will stay here for two nights in local yurts and will have many opportunities to relax in the incredible scenery and walk around the lake.
Your overland journey continues westward towards Kashgar through the Taklamakan Desert following the northern branch of the Silk Road. The desert crossing usually takes 3 days / 2 nights and it is intended to wild camp, although at times the police insist that you do not camp and so you will stay in local hotels instead.
Kashgar was once one of the important ancient trading posts on the Silk Road, and you will have three nights here to explore the city including the central Id Kah Mosque, and an included visit to the animal market just outside of town and the famous Kashgar Sunday Bazaar.
While in Kashgar you will also have a side trip to Lake Karakol on a stunning journey along the Karakoram Highway. The drive takes you up past some truly incredible mountain scenery and underneath a few 7,000m peaks including Mustagh Ata. Near Lake Karakol you will stay in local nomadic yurts, sleeping 6-8 people per yurt. Provisions here are very basic, but the scenery is incredible and it is an interesting glimpse into the way of life of the local Uighurs.