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Group at the Great Wall on our Essentials tour | China
FROM: USD $1,935 pp
Essential China Adventure - 18 Days map

SEMI INDEPENDENT TOUR: Our longest China group 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.

Prices & Dates

Trip Highlights

Shanghai - Start your tour with rooftop drinks overlooking the city, and end your adventure back here - opt to extend your stay!
Chengdu - Watch curious and clumsy giant pandas at this important conservation facility, also home to other rare Chinese wildlife
Shaolin - Choose to visit the home of Kung Fu at Shaolin Temple or pay a visit to the UNESCO-listed Longmen Grottoes instead
Beijing - Explore the Chinese capital independently, with optional excursions to the Forbidden City and Nanluo district
Yangshuo - Cycle past karst mountains and lush landscapes and enjoy bamboo rafting on the Yulong River
Xi'an - Marvel at the giant Terracotta Army and enjoy an optional bike ride along the historic Xi'an city walls
The Great Wall - Hike along a deserted section of the wall and camp beside it, waking early the next day to watch the sunrise
Hangzhou - Sail on West Lake and hike to the peak of Jiuyao Mountain, then hike through the picturesque Misty Woods


13 nights hostel dorm, 1-night camping, 3 overnight trains (6 berth hard sleeper cabins): Shanghai - Guilin, Zhengzhou - Beijing, Beijing - Hangzhou
Local guide in Shanghai for tour briefing
Cycle and cruise excursion down Yulong River
Free basic Mandarin lessons
Hiking along unrestored parts of The Great Wall of China
Local guides for scheduled sightseeing in Yangshuo, Chengdu, Xi’an, Shaolin and Beijing. Unescorted travel between cities
All relevant transfer and transportation within China using public transport
Entrance to Giant Panda Research and Breeding Centre
Entrance to Terracotta Warriors museum

Not Included

International flights and visa
Optional activities - paid locally
Tipping - an entirely personal gesture
Airport transfers


Day 1

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 1:30pm 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

Days 2-4

Exploring Yangshuo

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, or you can opt to visit your local guide's home village for an insight into traditional life in Yangshuo.
Overnight: Yangshuo

Day 5

Yangshuo to Chengdu

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 center. On arrival we are met by our local tour guide and make our way to our hostel for an evening at leisure.
Overnight: Chengdu

Days 6-7

Chengdu Pandas

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!
Overnight: Chengdu

Day 8

Chengdu to Xi'an

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 center 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.
Overnight: Xi'an

Days 9-10

Ancient Xi'an & Terracotta Warriors

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 visit 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.
Overnight: Xi'an

Day 11

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.
Overnight: Shaolin

Day 12

Shaolin to Beijing

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.

There's time for a late lunch at the guest house before we check out and travel to Zhengzhou. Here we board the overnight train to Beijing.
Overnight: Sleeper Train

Day 13

The Great Wall

Beijing - The Great Wall. Disembarking the overnight train in Beijing, you will be met by your local guide and taken to a hostel for a rest and to freshen up. We aren't staying the night here so you won't have rooms, but there are showers you can use and a communal area to relax.

Later, we enjoy another Mandarin lesson and your new language skills are put to the test in a series of challenges around Beijing's ancient streets. There is a prize for the winner!

Then it's on 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)

Days 14-15

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.
Overnight: Beijing

Day 16

Beijing to Hangzhou

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

Day 17

West Lake & Jiuyao Mountain hike

Arrive early into scenic Hangzhou, the southern terminus of the Grand Canal and an important center 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 afternoon 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.
Overnight: Hangzhou

Day 18


Hangzhou - Shanghai. We spend out final morning heading to the luscious Misty Forest to hike the Nine Creeks trail, considered one of the best waterscapes in China. We return to the hostel to collect our bags and make our way to the train station. It's a 2-hour train journey back to Shanghai, where our tour ends on arrival at approximately 17:00. Should you wish to book extra accommodation in Shanghai, this can be arranged for you.

Is this holiday for you?

If you’re the kind of traveler that doesn’t mind time spent travelling independently on public transport and sharing a mixed dorm room with other travelers, 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.

Guaranteed Departure
Twin Share
Single Room
USD $1,935
USD $2,095
USD $2,475
USD $1,935
USD $2,095
USD $2,475
USD $1,935
USD $2,095
USD $2,475
USD $1,935
USD $2,095
USD $2,475
USD $1,935
USD $2,095
USD $2,475
USD $1,935
USD $2,095
USD $2,475
USD $1,935
USD $2,095
USD $2,475
USD $1,935
USD $2,095
USD $2,475

Extra Prices

Twin Share
Single Room

At a Glance

Trip Type
Mondays & Wednesdays
Group Size
Min 4 / Max 20
Hotel Rating
Simple accommodation and Camping
Tour Guide
Local guides, unescorted between cities
None Provided
Minimum Age
18 (maximum age 55)
Arr. Transfer
Dep. Transfer
Click to play videoBeautiful mountainous scenery in Yangshuo
The riverside view of Chengdu city with Anshun bridge beautifully illuminated
Click to play videoCyclists on the old city walls in Xian
Click to play videoGreat Wall Highlight
Click to play videoTaihemen gate of the Supreme Harmony Imperial Palace at the Forbidden City in Beijing
Hangzhou Highlight
Click to play videoThe view across the Huangpu River to the modern cityscape of Pudong in Shanghai
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