SEMI INDEPENDENT: Discover the best of China from Shanghai on this 22-day Essentials tour. Enjoy the view over Shanghai from a rooftop bar and explore the lush scenery of Yangshuo by bike and bamboo raft. See giant pandas and other rare species in Chengdu, marvel at the fascinating Terracotta Army in Xi'an and opt to visit the Shaolin Temple. Walk along the Great Wall and camp beside a deserted section, discover the highlights of Beijing independently, learn Mandarin with several included lessons and hike to the top of Jiuyao Mountain in Hangzhou.
Shanghai to Yangshuo
Shanghai - Guilin. Huan ying, Welcome to China! Meet the trip leader and the rest of the group for a quick tour briefing and a welcome drink. We then make our way to Shanghai South Station, where our leader leaves us and we board the night train to Guilin (the journey takes approximately 19 hours).
Please note: The pre-departure meeting is at 12:30pm on day 1, so we recommend that you arrive in Shanghai the day before your tour starts. We can arrange pre-tour accommodation for you.
Overnight: Sleeper Train
Guilin - Yangshuo. Yangshuo is a picturesque resort town, surrounded by dramatic karst mountains and known for its outdoor adventure opportunities. Day 2 is at leisure, with available optional activities including a Chinese cooking class, kayaking along the Li River or a Chinese therapy experience, where you can enjoy traditional hot cupping.
Day 3 sees us heading out to enjoy some included activities. We start the day with a bike ride before transferring to bamboo rafts to cruise down the Yulong River. Later, you can enjoy an optional mud bath, visit a nearby cave complex or enjoy a dip in some hot springs. There's optional karaoke in the evening!
Day 4 is free to continue exploring independently. We strongly recommend hiking amongst the limestone peaks of the area. There is also optional rock climbing, or you can opt to visit your local guide's home village for an insight into traditional life in Yangshuo.
Yangshuo - Chengdu. Our final morning in Yangshuo is at leisure to see any last minute sites before we leave beautiful Yangshuo and our tour leader behind and travel by bus and bullet train to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province and home to the largest and best-known Panda breeding and research centre. On arrival we are met by our tour guide and make our way to our hostel for an evening at leisure.
On day 6 we take a short drive out of town to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, to visit China's animal emblem. We spend the day exploring the grounds, watching the pandas eat their bamboo breakfast and seeing other endangered animals including red pandas, golden monkeys and more. Visit the panda nursery and get close to the new born or infant pandas.
In the afternoon we learn some useful Mandarin phrases in a brief lesson with our tour leader before returning to our accommodation. The rest of the evening is free to relax. For those looking for an authentic experience, there is the optional traditional Sichuan opera.
Day 7 is at leisure to explore Chengdu, and perhaps wander down Jinli street or explore the Tibetan districts. We also have the opportunity to visit Leshan for a visit to see the worlds largest stone Buddha. This evening return to Chengdu for an optional hot pot dinner and a night out!
Chengdu - Xi’an. Our final day in Chengdu is free for you to laze in the hostel or head out for some last minute exploring. Perhaps you would like to visit the Chengdu People's Park? Home to an artificial lake, it is the largest green space in the city, perfect for an early morning stroll or a jog to burn off last night's dinner! There is also an optional visit to a rehabilitation centre for children with autism.
At around 5pm you will board the train to Xian. Your new tour guide will meet you at the other end and take you to the hostel.
The morning of day 9 is at leisure. In the afternoon there is an optional bike ride along the Ming Dynasty Xi'an City Walls, an unforgettable experience which we strongly recommend you partake in! You can also join an excursion to visit the Bell Drum Towers and the Muslim Quarter to learn more about the history of the Silk Road and taste some delicious street food.
On the morning of day 10, we have an included visit to the jewel of Xi’an - The Terracotta Warriors. The army was made to guard Emperor Qin Shihuang in the afterlife after he unified China for the first time in history. Take time to walk through this impressive army and museum, which has been built on top of the emperor’s underground palace and burial site. In the evening, you can opt to watch the music and light show which takes place at the fountain near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, one of Xi'an's most famous landmarks.
Xi'an to Shaolin
Xi’an - Shaolin. Today we leave Xi’an behind and board the bus to Shaolin (approx. 7 hours). On arrival we make our way to our family run guest house, located a stone’s throw away from the Shaolin Temple. This afternoon there is an optional Kung Fu lesson and show at a local children’s home run by a master from the Shaolin Temple. We finish our day with another Mandarin lesson from our trip leader.
Shaolin - Beijing. You can choose from two incredible optional activities today. Visit the Shaolin Temple, the home of Kung Fu. Here you can admire the masters practicing physically impossible moves in the courtyard. Then, hike to Dharma cave, located on Elephant Trunk Mountain, and be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding shrines and landscapes.
Alternatively, you can visit the UNESCO-listed Longmen Grottoes. This is one of the finest depictions of Chinese Buddhist art, with more than 100,000 Buddhas of varying sizes carved into the rock face.
The rest of the day is free. It's an early start tomorrow, so we recommend a quiet night!
Shaolin - Beijing - The Great Wall. We rise early, taking the bullet train to Beijing. You will be met by your local guide and taken to China's most famous attraction, the Great Wall. We’ll stop at a local farming village for lunch (at your own expense) and to gain access to the ‘locals only’ section of the wall; deserted sections where we’ll have the place to ourselves to set up camp. Walk along the wall as the sun sets before returning to camp.
Please note: Due to cold weather bookings made before the end of April and after the end of September will be staying in a guesthouse near the Wall but will return to the Wall to watch the sun rise.
Overnight: Great Wall (camping)
Great Wall sunrise & exploring Beijing
We wake early on day 14 in order to watch the sunrise over the Great Wall. There is a strong possibility this will be the highlight of your trip! Take in your surroundings and appreciate the early morning silence.
At around 9am we transfer back to Beijing. Opt to take a walk-through Tiananmen Square and visit the Forbidden city, the once imperial palace of 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. There's also an optional Chinese acrobatics show and a group dinner for those who would like to sample traditional Peking duck, a meal fit for an emperor!
Day 15 is free. You can visit the fake goods markets or the Temple of Heaven, used by emperors for sacrifices to appease the heavens. There is also an optional visit to Nanluo district, one of the best-preserved historical areas in Beijing, famous for its hutongs and siheyan courtyards as well as an array of bars and cafes.
Beijing - Hangzhou. Our final day in Beijing is free for you to tick off any last sights or experiences. Make sure you have enjoyed a rickshaw ride, or you could head to the imperial Summer Palace. This evening at around 19:30 we board an overnight train to Hangzhou (approx. 13 hours).
Overnight: Sleeper Train
Arrive early into scenic Hangzhou, the southern terminus of the Grand Canal and an important centre for silk, tea and paper-making. After settling into our accommodation, we embark on a scenic boat trip to Lesser Yingzhou Isle on the West Lake which is dotted with various islands and causeways, whilst the shoreline offers wonderful vistas of green trees, hills, flowers, pavilions, pagodas and boats. We take some time to walk around the island and see the three pools mirroring the moon. Return to dry land for some free time to relax or perhaps visit the National Tea Museum or National Silk Museum.
This evening we hike up Jiuyao Mountain to soak up the views of the sunset descending over the lake – a truly breath-taking sight. Return to the city for a group meal and an evening at leisure (not included). Walk along the beautifully lit waterfront or wander through the streets of the Old Town.
Hangzhou - Shanghai. This morning, we kick our day off with a beautiful hike to the Nine Creeks. On the way, meander through the Misty Woods – a truly magical place. Once we’re back at the hostel, there is time to freshen up and grab some lunch before we check out.
This afternoon, we’re transferring back to Shanghai, the final stop on our tour. We’ll arrive in the evening, so there’s enough time for you to explore and grab some dinner.
Enjoy a relaxing morning before there's another Mandarin lesson today. This extra special class will be held by professional teachers, all the way from the Mandarin Garden Chinese Language School!
The rest of the day is free. You could opt to walk to the Yu Gardens, a bustling historical site of a former dignitary’s lavish family quarters. Or perhaps go and see People’s Square, before heading on to the world’s busiest shopping street, Nanjing Road.
Afterwards, you can go for a walk along the Bund, a hub of global architecture. To finish off, head to the top floor of a skyscraper to admire Shanghai’s skyline from a rooftop bar. Enjoy your free evening!
The next two days are at leisure to further explore Shanghai. You could visit the Disneyland theme park, take in the Shanghai Museum or wander down Moganshan Art Street. In the evenings, why not enjoy the company of your fellow travellers in the city's bars and restaurants. There's an optional Huangpu River cruise on day 21.
Sadly, today marks the end of our Shanghai backpacking tour! You’ll bid farewell to your fellow travellers and prepare to head home.
Is this holiday for you?
If you’re the kind of traveller that doesn’t mind time spent travelling independently on public transport and sharing a mixed dorm room with other travellers, then this trip will suit you just fine. There’s plenty of free time on this tour so it’s a great option if you like to explore a city at your own leisure.
Prices & Dates
Departure dates noted with a 'G' are guaranteed to operate. All other departure dates are guaranteed with a minimum of 4 persons. Prices shown are per person travelling and the Dorm prices shown are based on mixed dormitory rooms. There is also a Twin / Double Room Upgrade and a Single Room upgrade for solo travellers. Twin / Double room upgrades are based on two people travelling together and are subject to availability.