Arrive in Beijing and be greeted by a Uniworld representative who will escort you to the opulent Ritz-Carlton, Beijing.
Your adventure begins with two quintessential experiences in China’s capital of Beijing. Off limits to commoners for 500 years, the Forbidden City was once considered the cosmic center of the universe (and for good reason, as you’ll see for yourself). Peking Duck is another cultural gem you’ll get to experience today, a complex dish originally prepared for Chinese emperors.
The political and cultural capital of China and home to more than 20 million people, Beijing exemplifies everything visitors find most intoxicating about China: Spectacular ancient monuments contrast with ambitious modern high-rises, and traditional crafts flourish alongside booming international businesses. Exquisite art, stunning UNESCO sites, serene parks, and teeming streets all contribute to the unique flavor of this astonishing city.
Delve into the mystique and majesty of China’s imperial legacy today, beginning in Tiananmen Square. The center of contemporary civic life in Beijing, the square was first laid out in 1651 during the reign of the first Qing emperor. Over the centuries the enormous square has been the
scene of imperial ceremonies, political demonstrations, parades and, in 2008, the Olympic opening festivities. Now surrounded by Communist monuments, including Mao Zedong’s mausoleum (note the long line of people waiting to get in for a brief glimpse of the Chairman’s
remains), it is the gateway to the Forbidden City. Take a moment to pose with your fellow guests for a complimentary group photo to commemorate your visit.
As you pass through Tiananmen Gate, also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace, you step into one of Beijing’s treasures, the Forbidden City. For over 500 years the Forbidden City was home to the emperors and empresses of China, a place none could enter without imperial permission (hence its name), but in 1925 it became the Palace Museum—an institution noted for its unparalleled collections of Ming and Qing Dynasty treasures. The UNESCO-designated palace complex, with its temples, pavilions, courtyards and gardens (covering some 100 acres), offers visitors a glimpse into the lives and rituals of China’s imperial families, as well as some of the world’s most outstanding architecture and design.
Relax after your exploration of the Forbidden City with a festive lunch of Beijing’s succulent signature dish, Peking Duck. Emperors were the first to enjoy this classic preparation of slow-roasted, crispy-skinned duck; in fact, the first mention of this delicacy dates back to the imperial kitchens in 1330, and it became eponymous with Beijing—or Peking, as it was then known—in the 1450s.
After lunch, visit a UNESCO-designated site completed in the 15th century, the Temple of Heaven (or Altar of Heaven), which symbolizes the relationship between heaven and earth—and the emperor’s place within that cosmography. Over the centuries, 22 Ming and Qing emperors fasted within these precincts and made ritual sacrifices at the Altar of Heaven for good harvests. The layout of the 92 buildings—containing some 600 rooms—and gardens that make up this complex had a symbolic function; the shapes (mostly circular) gave physical expression to aspects of traditional Chinese philosophy and political worldview. Set amid beautiful parkland and a lush pine forest, the buildings are masterpieces of design that exerted a profound influence over all later architectural styles in China. The area became a public park in 1918 and is popular with nearby residents; pause for a moment to admire the fleeting calligraphy painted on the pavement with water or watch the graceful movements of the many locals who practice the ancient art of tai chi here.
Expand your experience of Beijing’s amazing culture with a visit to the hutongs, the historic residential neighborhoods that developed around the Forbidden City during the 15th century. Traditional multigenerational homes built around courtyards line the narrow lanes, along with tiny shops selling everything from luxury goods to everyday necessities. Not only are the sights along these winding streets fascinating, but you’ll get to see them in the most traditional way—via rickshaw. You’re in for another taste of tradition as you take a seat at a teahouse and breathe in the delicate aromas of China’s most famous export, savoring a cup of tea that comes with a ceremonial presentation.
Though the Great Wall stretches 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) through northern China—for comparison purposes, remember that the United States is about 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) wide—part of it is surprisingly close to Beijing. You’ll head off to see the longest man-made structure on Earth this afternoon. The wall was begun in the third century BC as a way to keep out hostile invaders from the north; it proved so stalwart a defense that generations of warlords and emperors maintained and extended it, although it was never a continuous barrier. The section north of Beijing dates mostly to the Ming Dynasty. Now that its military purposes are firmly in the past, you may clamber up the steps and take a memorable walk along this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its stone and tamped-earth pathway offers an extraordinarily peaceful and awe-inspiring setting with expansive mountain views.
Leave the hustle and bustle of Beijing behind today and head north to the serenity of the Summer Palace, home to one of China’s most beautiful classical gardens. From there, plunge into the past in China’s first capital, Xi’an, where you’ll be treated to a traditional (and incredibly labor intensive) dumpling banquet.
You have one more special excursion to enjoy in Beijing this morning, then you’ll fly to Xi’an for the next leg of your Chinese adventure.
Even emperors suffered in Beijing’s summer heat, so they built a lake just north of the city and then added a series of palaces and pavilions on the banks of that lake (it also provided water for the city), where they could enjoy cool breezes off the water. Over the centuries emperors turned their Summer Palace into one of China’s most beautiful gardens, incorporating elements from myth (the three islands in Kunming Lake represent the three divine mountains in the East Sea), philosophy and other exquisite gardens, including those in Suzhou. Stroll along the Long Corridor, decorated with some 14,000 paintings, and step aboard a small boat to float out onto the serene waters of Kunming Lake. As you take in the views of Longevity Hill, with its temples and pavilions, and the 17-arch bridge, you’ll see a perfect example of Chinese garden design.
Leaving Beijing behind, you will fly south to Xi’an, China’s first capital, home to the Terra-cotta Army— and to one of China’s culinary delights. Check into your hotel and then savor a traditional Xi’an dumpling banquet. Traditionally reserved for special occasions (perhaps because making them can be so labor intensive), each little dumpling is a delectable work of art—and, after all, your visit to Xi’an is surely a special occasion, so you deserve every one of the 16 different kinds of dumplings that will be served.
Xi’an’s famous terra-cotta army has been called the 8th wonder of the world, and it’s certainly the most extraordinary archeological find of the 20th century. Prepare to be amazed! You’ll also enjoy a traditional Tang Dynasty dinner show with fabulous food, music and flamboyant costumes.
The imperial capital for 10 ancient dynasties, Xi’an achieved its greatest renown under the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), when it was a great international metropolis and the eastern terminus of the legendary Silk Road. Today it is the capital of Shaanxi Province and most famous for a museum devoted to the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses.
In 1974, a farmer digging a well stumbled upon one of the 20th century’s most astonishing archaeological finds: a massive army of terra-cotta figures that stand guard over the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC). Though thousands of members of this army have been excavated so far, many more remain; work uncovering the tomb complex continues, with the emperor’s tomb chamber itself yet to be revealed. Terra-cotta acrobats, musicians, and officials were also created to accompany the emperor in the afterlife; all are now on display at a museum devoted to this incredible find. Each life-sized figure is unique—no mass production for those ancient craftsmen!—and as you explore the museum, you’ll be amazed by the intricacy of the workmanship. This terra-cotta army was by no means Qin Shi Huang’s only bequest to China: It might be fair to say that he created the nation of China itself. He unified a vast swath of the country and established the administrative systems that governed China until 1911. In fact, he even gave his dynasty’s name to the nation. Qin is pronounced “chin,” and it is from this name that the modern word “China” comes.
End your day with a colorful entertainment that pays tribute to the city’s history. Xi’an reached its apex during the Tang Dynasty, when Tang emperors laid out a city that became a model for Chinese urban development, so the era holds a special place in the hearts of Xi’an’s citizens. A traditional Chinese dinner, complete with a milky rice wine that is served warm, is accompanied by a lavishly staged cultural performance that draws on the music, folk dance and beautiful silk costumes of the Tang era. The performance you’ll see is rooted in early folk celebrations that honored the harvest, and it blends ancient music and movements to visually express the splendor of the Chinese civilization.
Today you’ll fly to Lhasa, the ancient cultural and religious epicenter of Tibet, where the majestic Himalayan peaks will make you feel like you’re on top of the world—figuratively and literally—in the world’s highest capital city.
Upon arrival in Lhasa, you’ll check in to the Shangri-La Lhasa Hotel, where dinner comes with amazing views of the world’s highest city.
Enter the hushed inner sanctum of the spiritual heart of the city, Lhasa’s holiest temple, where you will have a rare opportunity to gaze upon the most sacred icon of Tibetan Buddhism—an ancient statue of the Buddha that legions of devout pilgrims journey vast distances to see in person.
High on the Tibetan Plateau, Lhasa, the cultural and historical capital of Tibet, is both a thriving modern town and a mystical destination of pilgrimage.
Gold-domed Jokhang Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the holiest temple in the holy city, contains the most revered icon of Tibetan Buddhism, a seventh-century statue of Buddha known as the Jowo Shakyamuni. Throughout the day you can see Tibetan pilgrims following the sacred circuit, some prostrating themselves every few feet, that leads to this statue. Inside this beautiful building, which incorporates Indian, Chinese and Nepalese architectural elements, you’ll find restored sculptures (a reminder of the struggles Tibet has endured), ritual paintings on silk called thangka, and 18th- and 19th-century murals. The extraordinary beauty of the place is made all the more ethereal by dramatic views of Potala Palace looming above the temple and the surrounding snowcapped mountains.
You’ll learn more about the history of the region and traditional Tibetan life as you tour the Tibet Museum, which houses a rich collection of prehistoric artifacts, some dating back 50,000 years. The museum is a modern building (it opened in 1999) that fuses traditional Chinese and Tibetan architecture.
Tibetan Buddhism is inextricably associated with Lhasa; the temporal head of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism—the Dalai Lama—governed Tibet for 300 years. Potala’s two palaces, the Red and the White, perched 12,100 feet (3,700 meters) above the valley floor, dominate the city just as the Dalai Lama did until the mid-1950s. Originally built in 637, the existing palace— vast and beautifully preserved—dates to the 17th century. Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was the seat of Tibet’s government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lama for centuries. As you wander through its rooms (there are over 1,000), you’ll discover chapels, prayer halls, tombs, altars (where pilgrims still make offerings) and priceless collections of jade, porcelain, silver and paintings.
Founded in 1419, Sera Monastery, located just outside Lhasa at the base of Mt. Phurbuchok, once housed more than 5,000 monks, who traveled from all over Tibet to study at one of the monastery’s three great colleges. The monastery was shut down in 1959 and used for a time as an army barracks, but monks were permitted to return to Sera in the 1980s. They have rebuilt much of the monastery, and today they conduct daily philosophical debates under the watchful eye of Manjushri, the God of Wisdom, in the courtyard of Sera Je Tratsang temple. As you tour the monastery’s numerous temples—each filled with amazing collections of carefully preserved murals and statues of Maitreya, Bodhisattva and Arhat—you may begin to share the mystical sense of peace espoused by the Buddha and his disciples.
The word of the day is “panda.” Pandas are one of China’s most beloved (and adorable) cultural symbols, and you’ll get to see some of these gentle giants today at the Chongqing Zoo.
Check out of your hotel and fly to Chongqing, the booming capital of western China. Although Chongqing is a major metropolis, the area is known chiefly for its mountainous landscape and the dense forests that shroud temples, tombs and caves. Your elegant ship, the Century Legend, awaits you here.
Do you believe in magic? The bright red Shibao Pagoda was originally built into the side of a mountain peak, but that peak became an island after the completion of the Three Gorges Dam. Step ashore to do some exploring, perhaps climbing to the top to ensure that all your dreams come true (or so an ancient legend says).
Relax and prepare to be dazzled as your ship carries you through some of the most glorious scenery in the world. Limestone cliffs, sheathed in greenery, loom above the water; mountains, wreathed in mist, tower in the distance. The river itself, deep and powerful, busy and serene, will work its enchantment as it carries you past bucolic fishing villages, hillside rice paddies, ancient cliff carvings and historic temples.
Shibao Pagoda is a temple built directly into the side of a steep peak that is now an island, a result of the rising waters from the Three Gorges Dam. Painted a bright red (the color associated with happiness and good fortune) and featuring an elaborately carved entrance and unusual round windows, the 12-story pagoda is yours to explore. At one time the temple consisted of just the top three stories; the other nine stories were constructed essentially to house the ladder-like staircase that leads up to the top. It’s something of a challenge to climb, which may be why legend says reaching the top will make your dreams come true—by your being here, we’d like to think they already have. (Don’t worry— there’s another, less strenuous way to get to the top: You can take a path up the hill and cross a bridge to the temple.) Shibao Pagoda is, quite simply, magical.
Once back aboard your ship, you will begin sailing toward the Three Gorges, where you’ll encounter some of the most celebrated scenery in all of China—including cliffs that rise above you to heights of up to 4,000 feet (1,219 meters). This is a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the ship’s decks for unimpeded views of the spectacular surroundings.
Climb aboard a small motorboat and enter a magical landscape today as you drift quietly along the Goddess Stream, a tributary of the Yangtze that flows through some of the most extraordinary scenery in the Three Gorges region. Pristine turquoise waters shimmer and bubble between the sheer cliffs that rise high overhead. Mysterious traces of ancient peoples appear in the cliff faces, including coffins suspended among seemingly unreachable rocks. There are those who believe the goddess of the stream created some of the ravishing peaks you can see from your boat: Does Feifeng Peak look to you like a phoenix about to drink from the stream’s waters? Legend says that the goddess transformed a golden phoenix into the mountain. Whether you recognize a similarity or not, there’s no denying the enchantment of this region.
Note: Due to water conditions, we may substitute a Shennong Stream boat tour if the Goddess Stream is not available.
Get an up-close view of a contemporary man-made wonder as your ship navigates the five-stage locks of the massive Three Gorges Dam, located in Yichang. Known the world over, the dam harnesses the power of the mighty Yangtze in order to provide electricity to ever- growing China; it is the largest hydropower project ever undertaken. Talk of building such a system first began in 1919, but it wasn’t until 1992 that the Chinese congress gave it the go-ahead. It opened in 2006, with the final generators being installed in 2012. The dam is also intended to control flooding on the Yangtze, which has been a severe problem for many centuries. It has not been without controversy, but it is an unparalleled expression of national ambition and a major new national landmark.
After your visit to the dam, you’ll fly to Shanghai, where you’ll settle into your room and then choose a place for dinner on your own. You may opt to dine at the hotel, but you are in the heart of bustling Shanghai, which brims with culinary destinations.
After days of panda bears, ancient warriors and timeless Chinese landscapes, Shanghai and its futuristic skyline can be something of a shock to the system. Yet beyond the building boom and the avant-garde architecture, you can still find traces of Shanghai’s colorful and fascinating colonial-era history. Enjoy a taste of both old and new today, including the city’s famous delicacy—dim sum—and a performance by the gravity-defying Shanghai acrobats.
Nearly 24 million people live in Shanghai, China’s largest city. An international economic hub, it has drawn entrepreneurs from all over the world for 150 years. But while Shanghai may be the “city of the future,” you can still find remnants of its history in Old Town and the area known as the concessions, which were controlled by European interests in the 19th century.
Call it the once and future boomtown. Shanghai, China’s onetime window to the West, is once again its commercial capital, and this morning’s tour will take you to some of this engaging city’s most impressive sights. Begin with a ramble through Old Town—the original walled city, where you will find traditional tea houses, temples, narrow alleyways and markets—for a taste of historic Shanghai. When you stroll along the Bund, Shanghai’s famed waterfront promenade along the Huangpu River, you encounter the heart of the old colonial concessions: Buildings here pay tribute to the English, French or German consuls and businessmen who owned them. A plethora of art deco buildings demonstrate why Shanghai was known as the Pearl of the Orient in the 1920s. Today’s Bund features exuberant street life as well as beautiful architecture. It’s also an ideal spot for admiring the views of the Pudong district and its spectacular skyscrapers, among them the tallest building in Asia. What would a visit to Shanghai be without a traditional dim sum lunch? Relax at your hotel over a delectable selection of savory dumplings, steamed buns and rice noodle rolls with a variety of fillings, then go out and explore a little on your own. You might visit Yu Garden, a lovely traditional garden first laid out in 1559, or check out one of the nearby shopping streets for a taste of Shanghai’s famous shopping scene.
After dinner on your own, experience spinning plates, flying knives, and whirling hula-hoops as agile acrobats dance across swaying tightropes and perform death-defying leaps. You’ll be truly dazzled as the famous Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe performs their astonishing, gravity-defying routines.