Price

$10,578 AUD per person

$1237 AUD single supplement

Inclusions

  • Return airport transfers
  • 23 nights accommodation including 2 overnight trains
  • 23 Breakfasts, 22 Lunches, 21 Dinners
  • Trains from Dunhuang to Liuyuan (Express train, second class seat), Lanzhou/Xi’an (Soft sleeper), Xian/Beijing (Soft sleeper))
  • Private transfers throughout and sightseeing as per the itinerary
  • Transportation in an air conditioned vehicle
  • Local English-speaking guides
  • Entrance fees as per the itinerary
  • All currently applicable taxes
  • Scrubba Wash Bag

Exclusions

  • International & domestic flights
  • Visas
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • All services, meals other than those indicated above
  • Any changes to the proposed and confirmed program.
  • All items of a personal nature e.g. drinks, laundry, telephone calls, tips etc

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Following Marco Polo

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In past centuries, the vital Silk Road used to be the link between the East and the West. Merchant caravans carrying silk, gold, ivory, exotic animals, plants and other precious commodities used to travel from Europe via Central Asia to the heart of the Empire. The Silk Road was not only about trading goods, but also about exchanging ideas and religious beliefs. This trip will allow you to traverse the footsteps of the original route of one of the most famous travellers ever, Marco Polo.

Day 1 - Arrival in Kashgar

Welcome to China! Upon arrival into Kashgar, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Kashgar is an important trading town in the far west of China, close to the borders with Pakistan and Kirgistan. It has been the epicentre of regional trade and cultural exchange for more than two millennia.

The remoteness has helped to preserve the unique character of the city. Explore the streets of the old city centre, which is unfortunately becoming smaller and smaller with the development of new housing. This small section of the ‘real’ Old Town is unlikely to survive for much longer.

Despite these changes, the spirit of Kashgar lives on. Uighur craftsmen and artisans still hammer and chisel away as they have done for centuries, traders haggle over deals in the boisterous bazaars and donkey carts still trundle their way through the narrow alleyways. Enjoy dinner tonight at a local restaurant. (D)

3 nights in Kashgar Bangchen Hotel or similar

Day 2 - Kashgar

This morning after breakfast, set out to explore the local Bazaar, the bustling meeting point for the many nomadic people who venture here to barter, buy and sell produce, animals, the necessities of daily life and everything in between.

Continue on to the centre of Kashgar, where you will discover the largest Mosque in China. Built in 1442 the Id Kah Mosque complex now occupies nearly 17,000 square metres, and is surrounded with fascinating handicraft streets.

Visit Abakh Hoja Tomb of Xiangfei, an Uygur woman who was married as a concubine to one of the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. After she died her body was transferred back to Kashgar and buried in the family tomb, built in 1640 its construction is heavily influenced by Islam architecture.

In the afternoon, explore a nearby village on foot for a chance to mingle with the locals before assisting with the preparation of a traditional Uighur dinner. (B,L,D)

Day 3 - Karakuli Lake – Kashgar

Today you will make your way to the biggest alpine lake in the world, Karakuli Lake (approx. 200km). Karakul means ‘black lake’, in referance to the dark colour reflected on the lakes surface when he sun is hidden by cloud. At an altitude of 3,600m, it is the highest lake of the Pamir Plateau, near the junction of the Pamir, Tianshan and Kunlun mountain ranges. The lake has two basins separated by a peninsula from the south and an island in the north. The three highest peaks visible from the lake are the Muztagh Ata (7,546m), Kongur Tagh (7,649m) and Kongur Tiube (7,530m) which remain snow-capped throughout the year. You will also have the opportunity to walk to one of the settlements on the shore of the lake and visit the Kerkezi stone houses and the people who live in these remote areas.

Return to Kashgar in the evening. (B,L,D)

Day 4 - Kashgar - Hotan

Today is a long drive day to Hotan (approx 650km) via the ancient Chinese cities of Yacant and Yecheng, where you will have the opportunity to stretch your legs and visit the local mosque and bazaar. (B,L,D)

Overnight Hotan Mushitage Hotel or similar

Day 5 - Hotan - Keriya (Yutian)

Hotan, also known as Khotan, is a typical Silk Road town with a large bazaar. Today you will visit a paper making workshop to learn of the ancient techniques used to produce paper from the bark of Mulberry trees, a practice that only exists in the Hotan area of China. Continue on to explore the bazaar before stopping at a silk factory to witness the tradition methods for producing traditional woven silk. Hotan is also one of the largest Jade production centres in China, and you will have the opportunity to visit a Jade Carving factory to see the local craftsmen at work.

Take a walk along the banks of the White Jade River, which begins in the Kun Lun Mountains on the border between Tibet and Xinjiang and flows north. It joins the Black Jade River to form the Khotan River, which flows on north across the Taklamakan Desert to the Tarim River, although it often dries up completely before actually reaching the Tarim. The river supplies most of the water for the very extensive irrigation system around the Khotan oasis (some water comes from wells).
You will also visit the once prosperous town of Jiya, which slowly declined from the 2nd to the 10th century, where you will explore the unique ‘Gandra’ style (similar to an Indian temple) Rawak Temple, its remote desert locatation has ment the ruins have been quite well preserved. (B,L,D)

Overnight Yutian Zhejiang Hotel or similar

Day 6 - Keriya – Korla via Qarqan

Today is a long drive day as you drive through the desert south to Korla. This is a day you can enjoy fabulous views of the Taklamakan Desert while driving the Desert highway crossing the heart of the Taklamakan desert, you will enjoy the scenery of spectacular sand dunes. With a total area of 337.6 thousand square kilometres, Taklamakan lies in the centre of the Tarim Basin; it is the second largest desert on the earth just next in area to the Sahara Desert in Africa. It is 1000km long and 400km wide. Enjoy the scenery on the way and if you are interested, you can stop to explore some of the typical villages that we drive through. (B,L,D)

Overnight Tianhong Hotel or similar

Day 7 - Korla-Turpan

Today you drive to Turpan. On the way you will visit Jiaohe Ancient Ruins and Karez Underground Irrigation System.

Jiaohe is the remains of an ancient walled capital of the Uighur with its large monastery and palace. The dry weather has helped the city preserve its cityscape. It is a life-sized model of a Tang Dynasty city. After your visit, move on to visit an Ancient Karez system (Karez Well). The entire Turpan region has for 2000 years relied upon the Karez underground irrigation system for sustenance. Underground channels take the water from the nearby mountains to the oasis for irrigation. (B,L,D)

2 nights Turpan Jiaohe Hotel

Day 8 - Turpan

Today you explore Turpan and its surrounding area. Visit an oasis town, one of the few places with the lowest altitude in China. Part of the region is even below sea level.

On the way you will pass a huge wind power station in the desert the largest wind-power station in Asia— Chaiwopu Wind-power station, as wind is a cheap and environmentally friendly source of energy in the region.

Visit more ruins of the ancient city Gaochang, an oasis city built in the desert. It was a busy trading centre and a stopping point for merchant traders travelling on the Silk Road. It was destroyed in wars during the 14th century. Even though deserted since several hundred years, many buildings and streets are still visible.

Visit the Bezkelik Thousand Buddha Caves. Once an important Buddhist site with many caves covered with brightly painted murals, Bezeklik means “place of paintings” in Uighur. The caves were hewn into the cliffside, Monks used to live inside the caves and the frescoes here clearly represent the life work of generations of devotees.

An architectural highlight of Turpan is certainly Emin Minarett. Built in a simple Islamic style, the whole place is composed of the pagoda and a mosque. The Emin minaret tower was built in 1778 by the local Muslim ruler, Emin Hoja.

In the afternoon, visit Xinjiang Regional Museum, the most important museum of the region. It shows Buddhist and Islamic artefacts from many different dynasties in China as well as some corpses that were very well preserved in the dry desert climate. (B,L,D)

Day 9 - Dunhuang

After breakfast, take the express train to Dunhuang , D2704 (10:18/13:57) in a second class seat. The remainder of the day is free at leisure. (B,L,D)

2 nights in Dunhuang Yueya Guesthouse or similar

Day 10 - Dunhuang

Be prepared for another highlight of the trip – the Mogao Grottoes which contain priceless paintings, sculptures, some 50,000 Buddhist scriptures, historical documents, textiles, and other relics that first stunned the world in the early 1900s. It has some of the finest examples of Buddhist art in a period of 1,000 years.

From here you will visit Crescent Lake whcih is a crescent-shaped lake in an oasis. Just as oil and water don’t mix, so do springs and deserts. But Crescent Spring is an exception. Having been lying among these sand dunes for thousands of years, although given many surprise attacks by sandstorms, Crescent Spring still gurgles clear, and still remains worthy as the first spring in the desert. (B,L,D)

Day 11 - Dunhuang-Jiayuguan

Today you will drive to Jiayuguan. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure. (B,L,D)

2 nights in Jiayuguan Great Wall Hotel or similar

Day 12 - Jiayuguan

Jiayuguan Pass, located in the southwest part of Jiayuguan City, is 6 km from downtown. This was the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall, and also one of the main passes of the Great Wall. Among the passes on the Great Wall, Jiayuguan is the most intact surviving ancient military building.

This part of the Great wall was built by using local gravel and yellow earth, layer upon layer, and it consists of the main path, battlements and three observation posts. Its imposing appearance and manner are very much like those of Badaling Great Wall in Beijing, so it is reputed as ‘the Western Badaling Great Wall’. (B,L,D)

Day 13 - Jiayuguan-Zhangye

Today you continue with a visit to Jiuquan. The city’s name came from a legendary tale of the young Han general Huo Qubing, who poured a jar of precious wine into a local creek in order to share the taste with his troops, in celebration of their crushing victory against Xiongnu forces. The creek was later named Jiu Quan (“Wine Spring”), which became the name of the Han prefecture established there. It was an active military garrison during the later Han Dynasty.
The area was the frontier for much of China’s history, forming a natural passage to the Central Asian portion of the empire. The Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan is said to have been born in the Dafo Temple.

From here you will visit the Tombs with Murals of the Wei and Jin dynasties. Continue your journey to Zhangye, (approx. 4 hours driving) via Gaotai and the Linze Danxia Colourful Hills.

Zhangye Danxia is known for the unusual colours of the rocks, which are smooth, sharp and several hundred metres tall. They are the result of deposits of sandstone and other minerals that occurred over 24 million years. The result, similar to a layer cake, is connected to the action of the same tectonic plates responsible for creating parts of the Himalayan mountains. Wind, rain, and time then sculpted extraordinary shapes, including towers, pillars, and ravines, with varying colours, patterns, and sizes. (B,L,D)

Overnight in Zhangye Jingdu Hotel or similar

Day 14 - Zhangye-Wuwei

Visit the Giant Buddha Temple (Dafo Temple) which contains the largest reclining wooden Buddha in China, and is the reputed birthplace of Kublai Khan. In the afternoon, drive to Wuwei ( approx. 3.5 hours), historically the only route from central China to western China and the rest of Central Asia. (B,L,D)

Overnight in Wuwei Tianma Hotel or similar

Day 15 - Wuwei-Lanzhou

Start your day in Wuwei with a visit to Leitai Han Tomb, named as there was a temple built to honour the Chinese god Leishen on the ten-metre high earth platform that was erected during the middle Ming Dynasty. The most important is the Bronze Galloping horse which is the symbol of China Tourism.

Visit Wenmiao, the local Confucius Temple, before driving to Lanzhou in the afternoon (approx. 5 hrs). Lanzhou is situated on the upper reaches of the Yellow River where it emerges from the mountains. (B,L,D)

2 nights in Ruida Hotel or similar

Day 16 - Lanzhou

Visit the Gansu Provincial Museum in the morning. The museum has an excellent selection of exhibits relating to Gansu and the Silk Road. In the afternoon, take the sheepskin raft on the Yellow River with stops at Zhongshan Bridge and Waterwheel Exhibition Park. (B,L,D)

Day 17 - Lanzhou-Xiahe

Drive to Linxia (150 km, approx. 3 hrs) which is home to the Hui ethnic group. For centuries, Hezhou/Linxia has been one of the main religious, cultural, and commercial centres of China’s Muslim community, earning itself the nickname of “the little Mecca of China.”

Visit Linxia Dagongbei The Great Gongbei, an Islamic shrine complex centered on a grave of a Sufi master. The grave itself is usually topped with a dome; Nanguan Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the Lingxia.
Continue your journey to Xiahe this afternoon. Xiahe is home to the famed Labrang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The town is populated largely by ethnic Tibetans, as well as some Hui and Han Chinese. The area is highly rural and pastoral where you will see yaks grazing and other pastorals animals. (B,L,D)

Overnight in Xiahe Baoma Guest house or similar

Day 18 - Xiahe

Today enjoy a full day excursion to Labrang Monastery and Sangke Grassland.

The Labrang Monastery is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery boasts tens of thousands of statues of Buddha made of gold, silver, copper, and aluminium. There are statues with ivory, sandalwood, jade, crystal and clay as the basic materials. These Buddha statues are all lifelike with kind-looking faces. In addition, the monastery possesses many Buddha hats and many Buddhist treasures adorned with pearls, jadeite, agate and diamonds. (B,L,D)

Overnight in Xiahe Baoma Guest house or similar

Day 19 - Lanzhou to Xi’an

Today you will drive back to Lanzhou with a visit en-route to Bingling Temple Grottoes by boat. Bingling Temple is a series of grottoes filled with Buddhist sculptures carved into the natural caves and caverns in a canyon along the Yellow River. It lies just north of where the Yellow River empties into the Liujiaxia Reservoir.

From the boat, you can see the Jishi Hill where the caves are excavated. Upon arrival in Lanzhou, you will be transferred to the train station for your overnight train to Xi’an. (B,L,D)

Overnight train

Day 20 - Xian

Upon arrival in Xi’an, you will be met and transferred to your hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, take a walk along the ancient city walls which is not only the most complete city walls that has survived in China, but also one of the largest ancient military defence systems in the world. You also have an opportunity to ride a bicycle (not included) around the city walls if you wish.

This afternoon, walk through the lively Muslim Quarter to visit the Grand Mosque. The 60,000 strong Muslim community that lives and works today in Xian traces its history back to Arab and Persian merchants who, after travelling the Silk Road, became permanent residents here for 13 dynasties. Enjoy watching a puppet show in the Muslim Quarter.

For dinner this evening, enjoy a dumpling banquet, where you’ll taste dumplings of many different shapes, sizes and flavours. (B,L,D)

Overnight in Xi’an Aurum International Hotel or similar

Day 21 - Xian to Beijing

Today enjoy the last highlight of Xian: the Terracotta Warriors & Horses where you will see the life-sized defending army to the first emperor of China, Qinshihuang. Discovered by local farmer in Lintong, it is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

This evening, board an overnight train to Beijing. (B,L)

Day 22 - Beijing

Upon arrival in Beijing, you will be met and transferred to your hotel for breakfast. The day starts from the centre of Beijing – Tian’anmen Square with a walk to the Forbidden City. This was once the Chinese Imperial Palace and has a history of almost five hundred years. It is said to be the world’s largest existing palace complex with 999.5 rooms. Whilst walking in the city, you can retrace the Chinese history from Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.

Experience Beijing and its food in a more modest way by walking through the Hutongs, the narrow alleys in old Beijing, on a “Hutong foodie walk.” This will include traditional local dishes from other parts of China. Start at the centre of Beijing at the Bell Tower to taste Beijinger’s traditional dishes before walking through the market and enjoying lunch at an authentic Uighur restaurant. Finish at Houhai Lake where you will have free time to explore. (B,L,D)

2 nights in Beijing Dongfang Hotel or similar

Day 23 - Great Wall Hike

In June 1644 the Ming Dynasty fell after ruling China for 276 years and so too ended the national strategy of building long defensive structures. The ramparts were left to the ravages of nature, man and time. The elements changed such structures into a wilderness Great Wall (Wild Wall), overgrown and crumbling from century to century since the 1500s. Today you will hike along the unrestored structures of the wall. Through crumbling watch towers, uneven steps and with not another tourist in sight, truly allowing you to appreciate the Great Wall for what it was and what it is today. (B,L,D)

Day 24 - Departure

This morning is yours at leisure until it is time for you to transfer to the airport for your onward flight. For those looking to extend their time, why not continue on Marco Polo’s route and add on our extension to Xanadu. (B)