Pandas and pageantry in China
Departure day, where you will fly to Chongqing with connecting flights along the way.
After arriving in Chongqing, you will pass through immigration before collecting your luggage. You will meet our guide, who will be waiting for you in the arrivals hall holding an Asiatours sign.
Chongqing is the fourth-largest city in China, and the greater Chongqing area is home to around 28 million people. The heart of the city is situated at the point where the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers meet. Chongqing is an ancient city, where the population has always lived in harmony with nature’s riches and the whims of both mountains and rivers. The city is considered to be the birthplace of the Bayu culture, whose people mastered the production of bronze and created an independent, flourishing empire fully 3,000 years ago.
Today, Chongqing is an extremely modern city with tall skyscrapers and a thriving commercial life. It is known to a great many tourists as the starting point for cruises along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, through The Three Gorges reservoir to the giant hydroelectric dam at Yichang.
After arrival, you will be driven to the central square, which is flanked by the Great Hall of the People on one side and The Three Gorges Museum on the other. The Great Hall of the People was modelled on the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Every morning, the central square provides the setting for citizens to train Tai Chi, dance the waltz, and perform gymnastics and other exercises. It is then time to visit the Three Gorges Museum. At the museum, you can learn more about the history and culture surrounding the development of Chongqing and The Three Gorges, all the way up to the construction of the immense dam. One of the highlights is an amazing film of a trip along the Yangtze River, screened in a 360° cinema. From here, you will make your way to the modern centre of the city, where international brand boutiques line the streets – just like in New York, London and Singapore. The Arhat Temple then awaits as a contrast to the hustle and bustle of modern urban life. With a history dating back more than a thousand years, it is one of the oldest temples in Chongqing. The temple was actually home to around 25 families until just a few years ago, when it was awarded museum status.
Overnight stay Wanyou Conifer Hotel
Your guide will accompany you to the coach station and help you board the bus to Leshan. You will be met here by a new guide.
Leshan is the site of the largest stone Buddha in the world, carved from the cliff overlooking a point where three rivers – the Dadu, Minjiang and Qingui – flow together. Towering to a height of 71 metres, the giant Buddha of Leshan is visible from a distance of many kilometres. The work to carve out the statue began in the year 713 and took 90 years to complete. The Leshan Buddha is rightly celebrated far and wide in a host of poems and songs. It features on the UNESCO World Heritage List today.
From the pool of water at the bottom of the cliff, a narrow stairway climbs up the face of the cliff beside the Buddha figure, and for every step you take your admiration of the giant statue increases. At the top of the cliff, behind the Buddha’s head, stands the Lingyun Temple from where you can inspect the details of the carved head. In addition, the temple houses a range of pictures of jolly Arhats in wonderful colours. The Leshan Buddha was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996. Instead of walking to, up and down the statue, you can choose to sail along the river to the site. This will also give you the chance to experience the remarkable place where the muddy yellow river from the plains meets the pure water from the mountains. There is a magnificent view of the statue from the water. In fact, this is the only perspective that lets you see the wonderful work in its entirety.
From Leshan, your trip continues to Emeishan. It is only a short journey, and on arrival you will pass through the tourist village on your way to Baoguo Monastery and Temple, where you will be spending the next two nights.
Overnight stay Bao Guo Monastery
Emeishan is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. The name ‘Emeishan’ means ‘Pretty Eyebrows’ and refers to two peaks that resemble eyebrows. Emeishan is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The mountain rises to a height of 3,099 metres, and is considered the most beautiful in China. It is the destination for a great many Buddhist pilgrims, some of whom climb all the way to the top and down again. From the city, you will catch the standard shuttle bus to Leidongpin, a journey that will take you along the zig-zagging mountain roads. From Leidongpin, you will walk approx. 1.5 km to Jieyin Temple, the last temple before the peak. (The distance from Jieyin Temple to the peak is 6 km). From here, there is a cable car service that will take you almost all the way to the top, and you can then walk the short distance to the incredibly delightful Golden Pagoda and Huazang Si. It is from the top that you may be lucky enough to experience the ‘Sea of Clouds’, which means looking out over the bank of clouds that are lower than the mountain peak. After the visit, you can walk and ride halfway down the mountain, from where you walk the Xiaoping trail to the foot of the mountain. The Xiaoping trail is named after Deng Xiaoping, who worked actively with nature conservation in the Emeishan region in the 1980s. As you walk the path, you are sure to be enchanted by the unparalleled beauty of the mountain, the small villages the Wannian Si Temple with its beautiful Samantabhadra and – a little farther down the mountain – the magnificent Qingyin pavilion.
In the evening you will have the chance to visit one of the bathhouses that have been built up around the hot springs.
Overnight stay Bao Guo Monastery
Leaving Emeishan behind, the first stop on your itinerary is the Tianfu tea plantation where you are sure to marvel at how fast the pickers can nip the new shoots off the tea bushes. It takes a lot of movements to pick a kilo of fresh leaves, which shrink down to just 300 grams of tea after drying.
After this visit, you continue on to Chenjiashan, a local village nestling in the small mountains between Emeishan and Chengdu. Enjoy the feeling of walking among the citrus fruit plantations that cover the hills. Wherever you look you will see orange, lemon, pomelo and grapefruit trees – often weighed down with fruit ripe for picking. You will have the opportunity to visit a local family of farmers on their farm, where you will join the family for a traditional lunch. The practice is for guests and family to sit together around the same table, eating from the same serving dishes. You are sure to feel very welcome, even though the family is unlikely to speak any English. Your guide will be happy to translate, of course.
Following this visit to a very ‘local’ area (i.e. a place seldom visited by tourists from China or abroad), you will make your way to Huanlongxi. This is one of Sichuan’s old cities, which has recently been thoroughly renovated. The original wooden buildings with their black tiled roofs dated back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, but have now been replaced by faithful copies. The streets are paved with black slate tiles. In fact, the whole city can best be compared with a type of open-air museum. A river runs through the centre of the city, with reproductions of the original water wheels lining the banks. As you walk along the streets, you are sure to encounter some of the special delicacies of Sichuan cuisine: deep-fried scorpion and snake wine. You will also experience some other typically Chinese features such as professional ear cleaners, who offer to clean your ears for a small fee.
Towards the end of the day you will arrive in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province in South-West China. Chengdu is one of the most important financial and transport hubs in the region. Sichuan Province lies at the foot of the Tibetan Plateau, and the western part of the province is famous for its numerous ethnic Tibetan villages, traditions and customs. This explains why Chengdu has a large Tibetan quarter. It is a charming city with plenty of cosy tea houses and fine restaurants.
Overnight stay Holly’s Hostel
The day starts with one of the absolute highlights of this tour: a trip to see the pandas at the Giant Panda Base. The centre is one of four that have been set up in China to save the panda from extinction. It is both a nature park and a research centre and lies approx. 10 km from Chengdu. The centre extends over an area of around 300 ha, which is covered with the only food giant pandas eat: giant bamboo. The centre is home to approx. 120 giant pandas, as well as other fascinating animals such as the beautiful red panda, and a variety of birds including the black-necked crane. You will arrive early in the morning so you can enjoy the sight of the charming pandas having their morning feed. The four panda centres have all been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
From here, the trip continues to Dujiangyan to see a very different UNESCO World Heritage attraction. The Dujiungyan irrigation system is 2,200 years old, making it the oldest system of its kind in the world. It does not feature a dam, but uses a system of canals, streams and floods to lead water out over the otherwise dry and dusty plains. It is actually a feat of engineering that came to play a significant role in the development of irrigation systems throughout China. The system comprises three important parts: Yuzui, Feishayan and Baopingkou, which were built to control the water level in the rivers running from the mountains to the plains around Chengdu all year long. The Dujiangyan irrigation system was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000, together with Qingcheng Mountain. Dujiangyan covers a vast stretch of land, and as you walk around the area you will gradually realise what an incredible feat of engineering the irrigation system was – and actually still is.
Overnight stay Holly’s Hostel
The morning is devoted to visiting a number of local markets. The first stop is at a local food market, where you can marvel at all the unfamiliar fruit, vegetables and meat on sale – everything from chicken’s feet to quail eggs. You will also discover how the locals mince meat without a mincer. Next on the list is a street given over to various textiles, with stalls selling everything from bed covers to warm winter coats – all wholesale. Watch the buyers leaving the market carrying heavy loads on their backs or balancing them on oversized trolleys. After the textile market, it is time to visit the spice market, where all kinds of dried spices are sold in bulk. The scent of pepper and chilli is so strong that it will tickle your nose from a great distance.
The visit to the markets winds up at Chengdu’s famous tea market. This is a fine area of charming old shops where you can see different types of tea being sorted by hand. Buyers come here from all parts of China to buy tea, while locals often drop by to pick up a chic tea set. In one of the classic tea houses, you will have the chance to experience a traditional tea ceremony. You will also have the opportunity to buy some tea to take home with you.
As a fitting end to your stay in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, you are invited to enjoy a traditional Sichuan meal: a hot pot. It is a firm favourite in the area, and consists of meat and vegetables boiled in either a mild or a hot and spicy soup. The meat and vegetables are brought to the table raw, and you then skewer what you want and boil it in the soup. It is almost like a Chinese version of fondue. In years gone by, it was a winter meal intended to keep people warm; today, however, the popular and tasty dish is served all year round.
Overnight stay Holly’s Hostel
After breakfast, you will be driven to the railway station to catch the ‘G’ bullet train back to Chongqing. The bullet train plays a key role in China’s modern infrastructure, and in addition to the train ride itself, it is quite an experience to check in for the journey – just like checking in for a flight. (On very rare occasions, the authorities may cancel all seat reservations on the ‘G’ train – if the seats are required for government transport, for example. Should this happen, seats will be reserved for you on a different express train.)
You will reach your destination around noon and head off to Ciqikou, an old town on the banks of the Jialing River. The history of this town is inextricably linked with porcelain production, and it is a popular tourist destination today on account of its charming old streets and alleys lined with small shops and street restaurants. Later in the afternoon, you will make your way to the hotel where you will be spending one night. The rest of the day is yours to do with as you wish.
Overnight stay Wanyou Conifer Hotel
The day is yours to do with as you wish until you are picked up and driven to the airport to catch your flight back to the UK. There will be connecting flights along the way. (You may actually arrive home on the tenth day of your trip).