Contrasting Worlds: The Signature China Tour

Essential yet Authentic—this signature journey explores the heart and soul of China

Visit China and you can see the sights. Explore China's contrasts and you get to feel the country, from the compelling contradictions to the harmony of old-world traditions. This signature tour connects yesteryear with tomorrow, revealing the atmospheric balance between iconic history and contemporary innovation. It explores the best of the country, covering a series of famous highlights, along with destinations and experiences that love to surprise. Nature, culture, ancient capitals, colorful cities, serene river journeys...these 17 days open all your senses.

This signature tour connects China's classic destinations and unique experiences. You'll start in Beijing, city of icons, both old and new. Travel to Xi'an, where you wander the early-Ming city walls and admire the terracotta army behind the scenes. On day six you connect ancient Shaanxi with modern Shanghai, just one example of how this tour celebrates the country's wonderful contrasts. Spend a day amidst cobblestone bridges and labyrinthine waterways in Zhujiajiao, then relax into the opulence of a four-day cruise on the Yangzi River. Guilin continues your journey into remarkable nature before the 17-day tour concludes in Hong Kong, a city that you can explore from many contrasting angles.

Unearthing the Atmosphere of China's Living History

Some of China's iconic sites need little introduction: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, an emperor's army of Terracotta Warriors. Yet they don't feel like museum pieces. As this signature tour explores the historical highlights, you're slowly immersed in the atmosphere of a distant time. Hear your footsteps echo through the Temple of Heaven, explore the mythology of Guilin's limestone pinnacles, and discover ancient hutongs (alleyways), where locals natter besides fragrant tea stalls.

So much tradition lives on and at the archaeological sites you'll find a surreal connection with the past. This signature tour cover over 5000 years of history and the expert local guides help you make sense of all its subtleties. These aren't merely photogenic sights, but stories as elegant and endearing as the local calligraphy.

Exploring the Destinations of Tomorrow

China loves to innovate and cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong feel like odes to tomorrow. Yet journey beneath the forests of neon and you discover that these cities are about so much more than famous, panoramic skylines. Uncover boutique markets and sprawling antiques stores. Wander through colonial history, then find ambient markets just steps from glistening city lights.

Contemporary art, floating communities, stalls of traditional medicine, acrobatic shows, operatic performances...China's cities have always made their own way and specialist guides ensure you experience the hidden corners, those that only the locals know about. And when this tour takes you to ancient capitals and cute old towns, you'll also find distinctive examples of innovation. When wandering millennium-old streets, you can feel how they were also once the destinations of tomorrow.

A Rich Tapestry of Contrasts That Makes China so Unique

This tour celebrates China's contrasts. Yet one destination isn't just contemporary and the next focused solely on tradition. Each destination has been handpicked as it can reveal many different stories in one place. History, culture, nature, famous sights and surprising experiences...these 17 days will uncover China's remarkable tapestry, covering 5000 years and all the creativity of a country leaning towards future. It celebrates the feeling of a country that can only be understood when you're immersed in its atmosphere.

Highlights and Experiences

  • Explore the icons of Beijing, from its legendary sites to its flashy, contemporary architecture.
  • Journey through Ming history by walking Xi'an's city walls and discovering where the emperors went on summer vacation.
  • Discover the canal city that predates Venice by millennia, cute Zhujiajiao the serene contrast to your time in Shanghai.
  • Spend four days cruising the Yangzi River, an experience that is both an interlude to classic China and the quintessence of the country's allure.
  • Uncover the secrets of Hong Kong and Shanghai with expert local guides.
  • Celebrate the mythology of nature by cruising amidst the limestone karsts and rice paddies of Guilin.
  • Feel the country's history with behind-closed-doors access to the Terracotta Warriors and finding parts of the Great Wall away from the crowds.

Day by Day

Day 1

Arrival in Beijing

Welcome to Beijing, a city of icons that's lit up on the transfer from the airport. History stands untouched at its heart, legacies left behind by over five centuries of Ming and Qing dynasties. Odes to the future dominate the sky, the innovation of modern China rising proudly across the city's sprawling suburbs. Luxury and indulgence connect the contrasts, your China experience starting with a palatial hotel that's rooted in tradition, then enhanced by the contemporary. Settle in, explore our handpicked dining recommendations, and savor Beijing's sense of surprise.

Day 2

Imperious Icons of the Capital City

The remains of Beijing's history introduces a world undaunted by time. The Forbidden City, centerpiece of culture, masterpiece of imperial excess. The Temple of Heaven, pioneer of perfection, icon that even the emperors bowed their head before. Stalls at the open-air Panjiayuan Antiques Market are laden with history's forgotten trinkets, while those in Hongqiao Market celebrate the atmosphere of traditional trade. And as time stands still you stroll across Tiananmen Square, the enduring symbol of a country that can be understood in so many different ways. World-famous Peking duck completes the day, feasting the senses with its time-honored tradition.

Day 3

Scale and Intimacy: The Great Wall

Section of Great Wall of China with fort

Marvel at how the Great Wall of China cascades, rolling and snaking over the hills. The steps are steep and they never seem to end; majestic blocks of stone covering a thick green landscapes seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Explore the panoramas then listen to your footsteps, your guide leading you away from the amassed crowds into spaces that are adorned with detail. It's not just the Great Wall. So many other treasures occupy the north of Beijing, from Ming Tombs to the Spirit Way, where statues stand guard beneath willow trees. Back in the capital city, later in the afternoon, we will continue to find new angles to discover, just away from the crowds. We have intimately tailored local experience to your interests, from contemporary art to operatic classics, modern design, to a food crawl cooking in Beijing's ancient alleyways (hutongs).

Day 4

From Imperial Gardens to Xian's City Walls

Cruising across Kunming Lake is Beijing's timeless escape, introducing you to the vacation habits of China's imperial rulers. The Summer Palace stands resplendently above the lake-water, leading the eye across a wealth of halls and pavilions, temples and bridges. You explore these late-Ming “Gardens of Nurtured Harmony” (颐和园) then journey back in time, a domestic flight transporting you to the early-Ming City Walls of Xi'an. This Middle Kingdom city is China's showpiece ancient capital and the city walls are a celebration of both its scale and detail. Wander around them, discovering the turrets and gates where the Great Silk Road originated. Savory dumplings are on the menu later, one of those insatiable treats passed down through the centuries of emperors that ruled from Xi'an.

Day 5

The Terracotta Warriors and More in Xi'an

Terra Cotta warriors in Xian, China

An army fit for an emperor, buried beneath the ground and famously unearthed as the one of the greatest archeological finds in history. Imagine the shock when a farmer stumbled across the statuesque figures of terracotta with his hoe. And imagine the atmosphere that emanates from these life-sized models, with their contrasting expressions and alert stares. Discover all the exquisite details at the Chariot Museum then go beyond closed doors with exclusive access to the Tang dynasty murals. The Terracotta Warriors are a work of harmony, a site of congruity however bizarre they initially seem. The other sites you see today reveal contrast, such as the elegant Great Mosque and the unusual Small Wild Goose Pagoda. The Terracotta Warriors are Xi'an's unmissable highlight but there's so much more to find in this remarkable city.

Day 6

Connecting Worlds: Ancient Shaanxi to Modern Shanghai

Perhaps no day epitomizes the journey through Classic China more than this one. Shaanxi Provincial Museum stitches together the tapestry of the past, encompassing all the legendary names that were first spelt out by a master calligrapher. Nowhere else in China holds as much history and as many stories in one place. That's the morning. Now the afternoon. Shanghai doesn't look back, the waterfront skyscrapers symbolizing the design of tomorrow. It's big, bustling, and bafflingly futuristic at times. Yet look between the lines and you'll see that there are apparitions beneath both the tapestry and skyline, sights and attractions that show how nothing is completely clear cut in China.

Day 7

Shanghai: So Much Beneath the Skyline

Nanjing Road in Shanghai

Beneath the famous skyline comes surprise. Wander the lanes of the Old Town, where men natter in tea houses and steam rises from dumping carts. Getaway into the elegance of Yu Yuan garden, pervader of serenity amongst the sprawl. Lose yourself in classical art, where deft brushstrokes remain as vibrant as ever. And watch the city glimmer with pride, from towers reflecting in the water to the old-world grandeur of the French Concession. This day explores the highlights of Shanghai. In the morning you are seeing the city. By the afternoon and evening you're feeling its unique ambiance, one that directs you towards a unique Chinese acrobatic show and some sumptuous dining.

Day 8

Traditional Zhujiajiao River Life to Colossal Towers

Photogenic cobbled bridges flow over the labyrinthine waterways of Zhujiajiao, the historic river town an hour's travel from Shanghai. Some call it the “Venice of the East.” But it dates back many millennia, so it's more accurate to call Venice the “Zhujiajiao of the West.” Rice stores are housed in crumbling stone buildings, spice stalls send fragrant scents across the waterways, and a wealth of old architecture can keep your camera occupied for hours. Back in Shanghai there are also areas that have escaped development, areas that continue your immersion in the China of yesteryear. But then what about the future? What about that expression of contemporary innovation? Ascend the world's third tallest TV tower and watch the city lights turn on, the start of an evening that leans into tomorrow.

Day 9-12

Escapism on a Yangze River Cruise

Cruise through the Three Gorges on the Yangtze River in China

A Yangze River Cruise is both the quintessence of, and interlude from, the classic China experience. You drift along the iconic waterway, nestled within the opulence of the river's finest vessel. Tranquility reigns, the sense of escapism heightened by the grandeur of the Three Gorges. Natural excess takes over and you watch the world float by. This is a getaway within a getaway, four days to rest and recuperate, plenty of time to gaze out from your deluxe cabin.

Yet a Yangze Cruise is also China in all its untrammeled glory. Admire the life along the riverbanks, gaining insight into a world that isn't broadcast beyond the walls of the Three Gorges. Take in the enormity of the dam, how it redefines notions of scale and design. Join the chef and take a dumping lesson, explore the sensual art of tea, and learn the curves of local calligraphy. These four days are filled with excursions and on-board activities, allowing you to escape while maintaining your immersion in the country.

Day 13

Immersed in the Colorful Chaos of Chongqing

Chongqing keeps extending, suburb after suburb after suburb. Chaos defines the impression at first glance. However, like all things in China, there's a nuance to uncover when traveling beneath the surface. Hidden temples, historic tales, traditions undaunted and modernity redefined, there's so much to experience on your Chongqing city tour. When there are 33 million people in the vicinity, there's always something to satisfy the most idiosyncratic of tastes. You just need to know where to look, which is where the guide comes in. After lunch you travel onwards, back into the serenity and surreal landscapes, into the hypnotism of Guilin.

Day 14

Lost Amongst Rice Paddies and Limestone Pinnacles in Guilin

China farmer

Every Guilin panorama tells a story. Each of the pinnacles comes with a legend and every limestone cavern holds its own mystery. On a private Li River cruise the guide reveals more of the area's unique narrative, the vessel elegantly takes you through nature's extravagance. There's the history provided by geologists, one that mentions baffling figures like 200 million years. But then there are also the local myths, those more suited to Guilin's appearance. When you're surrounded by limestone peaks, and consumed by nuances of green, these contrasting tales come together in harmony. Other stories also feature today, like those of the traders you meet in Yangshuo's traditional market, or of the farmers that dot the region's iconic rice paddies.

Day 15

Nature's Extravagance to Hong Kong's Indulgence

In a world of magical scenery there is no wrong place to be. A final morning in Guilin gives you time to explore more angles, from ethereal caves away from the crowds to legendary vantage points with 360-degree panoramas. There's also no wrong place to be in a world of color and charm. Fly to Hong Kong this afternoon, where the narrow streets of Kowloon submerge you in the endless poetry of details. Hawkers bartering traditional medicines, stalls spilling jewelry and jeans onto the alleyways, designer boutiques hiding in skyscrapers. Our recommendations help you navigate Hong Kong's forest of neon, right down to where to find the best Dim Sum on the planet.

Day 16

What Lies Beneath Hong Kong's Evocative Skyline

Explore Hong Kong today. But which Hong Kong? Perhaps the city of influential art galleries and chic antiques? Maybe the street feast of food and drink? It could also be the photogenic visuals, from the tram ride up Victoria Peak to the towers glistening in the bay. This city of islands exudes both the iconic and the original. It can pull you in so many directions, then push you towards the land of the ethereal, for nothing is quite as it seems when you explore beneath the skyline. The day's tour is carefully tailored to your interests, providing an in-depth exploration of Hong Kong's distinctive scenes, while also ticking off the icons you deem to be unmissable. A sampan cruise into a floating community? Michelin-starred dining on the top floor? Temples and markets and Hollywood Road?

Day 17

Departure From Hong Kong

A final morning and time to celebrate. Bask in the opulence of the hotel, recounting the other handpicked accommodation choices that have graced your journey. Recall the icons and recollect the surprise, from the tradition that resists change to the culture that moves with the times. Somewhere in there is the moment that tied China's contrasting experiences together, the single snapshot that embodies your experience over the last 17 days, the feeling that stitches together the icons of yesteryear and tomorrow.

INDOCHINA Travel Company

1283 12th Avenue San Francisco, California
Phone: (415) 418-6800