Ancient royal palaces of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China

The Splendorous Middle Kingdom: Make Your Luxury Travel to China a Holiday of a Lifetime

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For many years, China was “the last great adventure,” even for seasoned Globetrotters. Shrouded in myth and mystery, the Middle Kingdom has intrigued travellers around the globe since the days of Marco Polo. Though China’s influence can now be felt worldwide, curiosity about the country has never waned. If anything, it’s increased. That’s opened the door to large tour groups keen to see the Forbidden City, the famed Terracotta Army, the dazzling skyline of Shanghai, and more, and while most of China’s tourism is still domestic, more and more outsiders are making the trip to see what all the fuss is about. This brings up some caveats for Globetrotters wanting to visit China on luxury travel.

Large group China tours can help you keep the price down, but they can also make you feel like “just another seat on the bus.” Or worse, another head in a crowd of 40+ trying desperately to keep track of your guide’s rapidly departing neon flag. These trips also tend to subsidize their low cost with high-pressure shopping stops at overpriced stores. Then, there’s the inclusions… or near total lack thereof. Keep your wallet handy on those cheap trips to pay for entry fares, meals, tips… the list goes on.

China can be an eye-opening destination to westerners. It moves at its own pace, and certain situations you may find stressful are considered “business as usual” by the Chinese. That means packed trains, cancelled or delayed flights, strikes… It’s not that these inconveniences don’t occur in other destinations, but do you really want to take them on by yourself in a country this large and diverse, whose languages (yes, plural) you don’t speak?

A good multilingual guide and tour director makes all the difference everywhere. In China, most western visitors will find one a necessity. Now imagine one who can not only take care of the tedious logistics and challenges, but open up the unique local charms that only China has to offer. Sure, you’ve read about the best market to haggle over antiques in Beijing or strolling the Bund in Shanghai. But what about in Lhasa, or Chengdu? Which of the dozens of stalls in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter serves the best steamed dumplings or Chinese pancake?

Goway’s Holidays of a Lifetime are all about those little extra experiences, and the sense of camaraderie and fun that can only emerge in a small group. That’s before you get to Goway’s exclusive “Promise of Something Special.” When you touch down in Beijing, ready for the 17-Day Splendours of China & Tibet, you’re in for a luxury travel adventure that opens up the Middle Kingdom in a way few tourists get to see, while perhaps whetting your appetite to return and discover more.

Suggested Itinerary:
17-Day Splendours of China & Tibet: Holiday of a Lifetime

Ancient town of Suzhou, China
Ancient town of Suzhou

Imperial Splendours of Beijing and the Great Wall

Beijing is one of those great world cities that must be visited once during a traveller’s lifetime. The awe-inspiring Forbidden City seems as mysterious today as it must have been to those barred from entry when it was the seat of Chinese power. It overlooks modern-day Tiananmen Square, serving as an eternal connection to China’s past. A half day is spent visiting the “City,” and you’ll need it, not just for discovering the nooks and crannies of this enormous complex, but to people watch. The crowds themselves can be quite a show. Don’t be surprised if a local wants to pose with you for a photo. Not your photo, but theirs! Many Chinese still consider foreign visitors something of a novelty and snaps of friends posing with westerners are quite popular.

Cycle rickshaw in Hutong area, Beijing, China
Cycle rickshaw in Hutong area, Beijing

The size of Beijing makes getting around a little intimidating. An expertly guided tour takes the stress out of moving between the highlights, without leaving you feeling rushed. The Temple of Heaven rises above its surrounding park as one of the most enduring symbols of China. You might even take the opportunity to practice Tai Chi here under the tutelage of a skilled master. Meanwhile, the Summer Palace leaves no doubts as to why it was the preferred escape of the imperial royal family. Perhaps the best way to get a feel for China’s traditions is by roaming Beijing’s Hutongs. These rapidly disappearing neighbourhoods can feel just a little touristy, but locals still live and work in these colourful communities. A pedi cab ride is one of the best ways to get an overview.

Something both Chinese and foreign globetrotters have in common is a fascination with the Great Wall of China. There are several sections of the wall accessible from Beijing, but Badaling is the best preserved, and offers arguably the best experience, unless you go in super high season. That’s one reason the Splendours of China & Tibet departures skip the high summer! Regardless of where on the wall you’re standing, it’s impossible not to be awed by this testament to China’s endurance.

Great Wall of China in Badaling, Beijing, China
Great Wall of China in Badaling

An Army in Stone and a Lion’s Welcome

When you fly to the walled city of Xi’an, it’s usually filled with the anticipation of a day with the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang. That is of course an excellent reason to visit this ancient former capital on your luxury travel to China, but it’s far from the only thing to see and do in the city. Foodies will want to hit up the many delicious flavours of the Muslim Quarter, while active travellers may enjoy the 14 kilometre bike ride around the city wall. Although The Splendours of China & Tibet: Holiday of a Lifetime doesn’t leave too much time for solo exploration here (there’s a lot of China to see!), it does take you to the village of Huxian, where you’re greeted by a traditional Chinese lion dance, and have the opportunity to visit the region’s best known art community.

The Terracotta Warriors themselves don’t disappoint. Divided between three main pits (Pit 1 is the most famous, containing long lines of warriors) and still being excavated today, Qin Shi Huang’s army remained buried for almost 2000 years before finally being rediscovered in 1974 by local farmers. Don’t miss the details of the various warrior figures. Their sheer variety is as impressive as their numbers, which come close to 9000, and every face is unique. One last thing to admire about the warriors? Each one was individually painted in vivid colours before being buried. Now, that’s serious dedication to artistry!

Terracotta Warriors in Xian, China
Terracotta Warriors in Xian

Mysteries of Lhasa and Tibet

Though captured in many beautiful and famous images, Tibet is still one of those great travel mysteries. Often called “the rooftop of the world,” this is a part of your trip unlike any other. A visit to the Potala Palace, easily Tibet’s most recognizable building, is a must. Formerly home to the Dalai Lamas, it is now an immense museum. Another great site to visit in Lhasa is the Jokhang Temple, an important site for Tibetan pilgrims. The Splendours of China and Tibet itinerary takes you to both of these, capped off with a visit to the home of a Tibetan family. It’s these little personal experiences that make all the difference in mysterious Tibet. Experiences like visiting a training centre for Buddhist monks, and strolling the markets of Barkhor Street.

Suggested Itinerary:
17-Day Splendours of China & Tibet: Holiday of a Lifetime

Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

Unveiling the Beauty of Natural China

Three Pandas Posing, Chengdu, China
Three pandas posing, Chengdu

When you consider how rapidly China has emerged as an industrial and economic powerhouse, it’s easy to forget just how beautiful parts of this country really are. Not just the landscapes, but the animals too. Of course, I’m talking about giant pandas, and there’s no better place to see them than in Chengdu. The city is home to the world’s largest panda sanctuary, which  houses around 40 giant pandas and cubs at any given time. Besides being the capital of China’s Sichuan province, Chengdu is leading the charge on work to conserve these incredible animals. When you’re not admiring the pandas, it’s a delightful city to simply explore on luxury travel to China, and of course taste, with cuisine unlike any other in the country. Say hello to delicious, spicy Hot Pot made in the traditional style.

Though the country boasts many geographic highlights, few have enjoyed the fame of the Yangtze River. Rightly so, as this immense waterway sustains life for a good number of Chinese cities and towns, along with countless rural settlements. A downstream cruise on the river gives you a taste of village life in this region. It also includes some more unusual highlights, such as a visit to Fengdu, the fabled “City of Ghosts,” where silent ghost devils are said to dwell in the temples. The route also passes through the famous Three Gorges, and visits the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Balancing the preservation of the river and its surrounding region with China’s ever-growing need for energy is a constant challenge, the enormity and importance of which is fully understood once you visit the Yangtze yourself.

Yangtze River Cruise Scenery and Mountains, China
Yantze River cruise scenery

Shanghai: China’s Space-Age City

The ever-changing skyline of Shanghai has become almost as much a symbol of China as the Great Wall or the Terracotta Army. This China however, is all about the future, from the otherworldly Oriental Pearl Tower to the decorative Jin Mao Tower, to Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest skyscraper, completed in 2013. To see this architectural patchwork in all its glory, take a stroll along the Bund, preferably at dawn, when the image of Tai Chi practitioners exercising under the gaze of these modern giants creates the ultimate “only in China” contrast. Alternatively, come after dark and watch the ever-moving lights of Pudong from across the river. Don’t ignore the buildings on the Bund itself however. These colonial beauties tell the story of Shanghai’s rich and complicated history with the west. Shanghai has been home to the French, Jews, and countless others in its time, and all have left their mark on the world’s largest city.

Yes, that’s the world’s largest city, at least, by population. It’s easy to get lost in Shanghai, and in some areas, such as the beautiful French Concession or the M50 Creative Park (contemporary art lovers, take note), it’s a lot of fun. For others, however, a guide is an invaluable resource, particularly around the more historic parts of the city such as Yu Yuan Garden. Shanghai is also a gateway to some of China’s most beautiful smaller cities, including Hangzhou and Suzhou. The latter in particular has been called the “Venice of the East,” owing to its vast network of canals.

Shanghai skyline and cityscape at sunset, China
Shanghai skyline and cityscape at sunset

The Continuing Journey…

Goway’s 17-Day Splendours of China & Tibet: Holiday of a Lifetime is one of the more comprehensive China vacations out there, covering a wide range of what the country has to offer on luxury travel. But if you still can’t get enough China, or want to see a very different side of it, it’s easy to arrange a stopover in Hong Kong, and see “Two Systems, One Country” in action for yourself.

Suggested Itinerary:
17-Day Splendours of China & Tibet: Holiday of a Lifetime

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Christian Baines
Christian Baines

Globetrotting Contributing Editor -
Christian’s first globetrotting adventure saw him get lost exploring the streets of Saigon. Following his nose to Asia’s best coffee, two lifelong addictions were born. A freelance writer and novelist, Christian’s travels have since taken him around his native Australia, Asia, Europe, and much of North America. His favourite trips have been through Japan, Spain, and Brazil, though with a love of off-beat, artsy cities, he’ll seize any opportunity to return to Paris, New York, or Berlin.

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