Cross the extent of western China on this 22-day overland adventure from Xi'an to Kashgar, following the ancient Chinese Silk Road. Marvel at the 7,000 strong army of Terracotta Warriors, climb to the summit of holy Mt Kongtong and see the incredible Buddhist artwork in the Bingling Si Caves. Camp by the most westerly point of the Great Wall of China at Jiayuguan, stroll around Heavenly Lake and overland through the incredibl Taklamakan Desert.
Welcome to Xi'an
Welcome to China! On arrival in Xi'an, make your way to our joining hotel. There will be a group Welcome Meeting at 18:00 during which you will meet your group and tour leader. The rest of the day is free to explore the city.
The Terracotta Warriors
Today we climb aboard our overland truck for the first time and enjoy an excursion out of Xi'an to see the incredible Terracotta Warriors. This sculpted army, 7-000 strong, was built to protect Emperor Qin Shihuang in the afterlife in around 210BC. There's a guided tour of the army before we return to Xi'an for a free afternoon.
Overnight: Xi'an | Breakfast
Pingliang & Mt Kongtong
Xian - Pingliang. On day 3 we drive to Pingliang, at the base of Mt Kongtong. The mountain is one of the holiest in Chinese Taoism and we have plenty of time to explore the temples and pilgrimage routes with a full day included excursion on day 4. The rest of our stay in Pingliang is free to relax or explore.
Please note: If the group wishes to split the long drive between Turpan and Dunhuang later in the trip over two days, there will only be one night in Pingliang and a half-day exploration of Mount Kongtong.
Pingliang - Xiahe. We continue to the town of Xiahe on day 5, our base for the next three days. Xiahe is a very rural town and is populated largely by native Tibetans. There’s plenty of time to explore the town - take a guided visit to the Labrang Monastery, a popular pilgrimage destination for many Tibetans. You can also opt for a day trip into the Sangke or Ganjia grasslands on the lower Tibetan plateau.
Xiahe - Liujiaxia. This morning we visit the famous Bingling Si Caves, located along the Yellow River. The main attraction of the site is the centrepiece Maitreya Buddha statue. This 27m-tall statue is dug into the cliff. However, there are over 180 caves and more than 700 statues at the site in total.
After our visit we drive to the small city of Liujiaxia, and the evening is free to head out onto the bustling city streets and explore.
Overland to Zhangye
Liujiaxia - Zhangye. Today is a travel day as we head towards the beautiful Zhangye Rainbow Mountains. We find a suitable spot to camp along the route.
Overnight: Zhangye | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Zhangye Rainbow Mountains
Zhangye - Jiayuguan. Today we drive to the breathtaking Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains. This incredible mountain range has earned its name because of the colours of the rocks in the area. Tectonic movement has led to the deposits of sandstone and minerals over the last 24 million years and the layer cake of rocks has been sculpted beautifully by erosion. Marvel at hills and ravines of red, yellow, blue and green.
After spending some time admiring the scenery of the mountains, we continue to Jiayuguan, where we camp near an adobe (mudbrick) section of the legendary Great Wall of China.
Overnight: Jiayuguan | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Jiayuguan Fort & Dunhuang
Jiayuguan - Dunhuang. On day 11 we visit Jiayuguan Fort. This impressive fortress marks the western starting point for the legendary Great Wall of China. Construction on this mudbrick section of the wall began in 1372 CE and took around 170 years to complete. The fort is well preserved with watchtowers and imposing defensive walls.
After our visit we drive to the city of Dunhuang and there’s an included visit to the incredible Mogao Buddha Caves on day 12. This gigantic complex of caves contains thousands of examples of Buddhist art, spanning a 1,000-year period from the 4th to the 14th centuries AD. During our stay in Dunhuang you can opt for a camel ride to the nearby Crescent Moon Lake.
Turpan & the Jiaohe ruins
Dunhuang - Turpan. On day 13 we have a long drive to the Turpan Basin, the hottest place in China. Average temperatures in summer can easily reach over 30° Celsius but the lack of humidity makes the heat bearable. The oasis town of Turpan was a crucial stop for traders on the Silk Road to rest and resupply their caravans.
During our stay in Turpan we visit the ruins of Jiaohe - a 2nd century fortress and city. We also discover the ingenious irrigation system that allowed Turpan to flourish as a trading town despite the hostile climate. Optional activities in the area include an excursion to see the Emin Minaret, which is the tallest minaret in China. You can also opt to visit the ancient Silk Road trading city of Gaochang.
Please note: If preferred by the group, we may split the long drive (10 - 13 hours) on day 13 into two, wild camping or staying in a local hotel in-between. This will mean reducing the number of days we spend in Pingliang towards the beginning of our trip.
Urumqi & Heavenly Lake
Turpan - Urumqi. On day 15 we leave Turpan and drive to Urumqi, the capital of the province of Xinjiang. We’ll spend two nights here and on day 16 we visit nearby Heavenly Lake. This dazzling lake is surrounded by mountains and is one of the most beautiful spots in the region. There will be opportunities for walking in the area and possibly boating on the lake.
Crossing the Taklamakan Desert
Urumqi - Korle - Aksu. On day 17 we say goodbye to Urumqi and begin our drive through the 250,000 square kilometre Taklamakan Desert. Some Uyghur sources claim that the name “Taklamakan” translates to “once you get in, you'll never get out” due to the size and remoteness of this vast wilderness. It is roughly the size of the entire country of Germany and was once a major obstacle for ancient travellers on the Silk Road.
However, thanks to a modern Chinese highway through the desert, the route will be less hazardous for us. During our crossing of the desert, we’ll stay in local hotels en route, most likely in the towns of Korle and Aksu.
Overnight: Korle (1), Aksu (1) | Breakfast x 2
Aksu - Kashgar. On day 19 we board our overland truck for the final time as we complete our journey to Kashgar, once an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. During our three days in the city there's an included visit to the animal market and the sprawling Sunday Bazaar. Optional activities in Kashgar include a visit to the Id Kah Mosque and the Silk Road Museum, where you can learn more about the diverse history of this part of the world.
You may also use your free time in the city to explore this remote western outpost. Wander through the ethnically diverse old town to see blacksmiths, cobblers and other ancient crafts still being practiced using traditional methods.
Today marks the end of our Chinese Silk Road adventure. If you have time before your flight, there is an optional visit to Shipton's Arch - the tallest natural archway in the world. You may also wish to book some extra nights accommodation in Kashgar to fully explore the city - speak to our sales team for more information.
Is This Trip Right For Me?
Overlanding is not a style of travel that will suit everyone so please carefully read the Trip Notes before selecting this tour and be realistic about your ability and desire to join such a trip. If you’re the adventurous type who’d rather spend a night roughing it in the wilderness enjoying spectacular scenery, than luxuriating in a boutique hotel, then overlanding is for you. You just need the right attitude, an open mind, and a desire to participate fully in the trip.
Overland travelling can be demanding and challenging. The pace of the trip can be tiring at times and facilities can be basic. On your trip you’ll travel in a purpose-built expedition vehicle on an off-the-beaten-track adventure along rugged roads, sometimes across vast distances and at altitude. You will find the drive times noted on the Trip Notes.
On an overland journey you are more than just a passenger, these are full participation trips and everyone gets involved and pitches in! You will also be expected to erect your own tent and help with camp chores including cooking meals for the group on a rota basis. Like all great adventures, the more you put in the more you'll get out!
The type, variety and standard of accommodation can vary greatly from very basic rooms without electricity or running water to comfortable hotels with good facilities. Generally in hotels most rooms will be twin-share, but some may be triple/quad-share. Hostels and yurts are nearly always multi-share and may be mixed sex. On the Trip Notes you will find more information about the accommodation each night.
The campsites we use range from basic to those with excellent facilities, including swimming pools, restaurants and a bar. On occasions we wild camp with no facilities, which means there are no toilets - just the vast expanse of the great outdoors and a shovel!
Our overland journeys are designed to offer freedom, and many of our routes have a large degree of flexibility rather than a strict hour-by-hour or even day-by-day itinerary. We intend to follow the planned route but exact night stops and inclusions cannot be guaranteed and it sometimes happens that we decide to make a change to our planned itinerary.
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.Read More
Local payment - $750pp, paid in USD
Please note that this is payable locally on day 1 of your trip in the currency specified.