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Day by Day Itinerary

In China, terra cotta soldiers guard an ancient emperor’s tomb ... a royal palace forbidden to visitors for centuries opens its doors in welcome ... and the largest dam in the world harnesses the power of a mighty river while flooding thousands of years of history, altering the face of a country forever. In China, the past, the present, and the future are alive, vital, and inextricably mixed. Explore Beijing’s greatest monuments, discover Xian’s Mongolian cuisine, and enjoy a Yangtze River cruise for three nights. Get to know China’s deep humanity from the inside—share dinner with a family in their home, then spend the night with your gracious hosts ... ride on a sleeper train and sail small boats through gigantic gorges ... discover the profound beauty of Tibetan culture during a three-night stay in Lhasa. It’s a grand adventure on an intimate scale.

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    You depart this evening for an overnight flight to Beijing.

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    Explore Beijing on a guided tour

    You fly across the International Date Line and arrive in Beijing in the late afternoon or late evening today. An OAT representative meets you at the airport and assists you to your hotel, where you'll join travelers who have taken the pre-trip extensions to Mongolia, the Gobi Desert & Kharkhorin or Shanghai: China's Historic Gateway to the West.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Beijing, the modern political and administrative center of China, is also the greatest single repository of monuments and treasures from the imperial era. Today you’ll see some of its most notable treasures. But first we enjoy a Welcome Briefing.

    Like the old Chinese puzzles of “boxes within boxes,” Beijing was originally laid out in a series of concentric circles. We focus on the innermost two today: The Forbidden City and the surrounding Imperial City. We begin our exploration at grand Tiananmen Square. At 100 acres, it is the largest public square in the world, capable of holding more than a million people. Each of the cobbles is numbered so that parade units can line up in their assigned spots. But as you explore, you may remember a more somber event: the tragic student demonstrations that took place here in 1989. Lined with official buildings, Tiananmen is presided over by the giant portrait of Chairman Mao, which hangs above the Gate of Heavenly Peace and seems to stare down at the leader’s own Memorial Hall. Mao is entombed in the Hall in a crystal sarcophagus, his body draped in the red flag of the People’s Republic that he founded in 1949.

    Discover the Forbidden City on a tour of China

    Tiananmen is always filled with people, including kite-flying children. Here you’ll see legendary landmarks, including the Great Hall of the People and the towering Monument to the People’s Heroes, a 125-foot granite obelisk honoring those who died in the communist revolution.

    Next, we visit the Forbidden City, or Gugong, a 9,000-room maze of courtyards, palaces, and ceremonial halls, where 24 emperors (“the Sons of Heaven”) and two dynasties ruled the Middle Kingdom. Protected by 30-foot-high walls and a 160-foot-wide moat, the Forbidden City was indeed a forbidden place; commoners were kept out for nearly 500 years. The greatest achievement of the visionary Emperor Yongle, this architectural triumph was completed in a mere 14 years by 200,000 workers. Behind its Gate of Supreme Harmony, which is flanked by bronze lions, you’ll find classic buildings with interiors featuring marble floors and ceilings with grand murals. We view the exterior of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the tallest and largest of the six main palace buildings, and stroll through an open-air exhibition detailing the history and preservation of this famous structure. We will also view two other main halls, the Hall of Central Harmony, or Zhonghe Dian, and Hall of Preserving Harmony, known locally as Baohe Dian.

    We have lunch at a local restaurant and then the rest of your afternoon is at leisure. This evening, we enjoy a Chinese-style Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Explore the Great Wall of China

    After breakfast at our hotel, we’ll visit a factory specializing in cloisonné, the beautiful enamel artwork that predates the Ming Dynasty and is known for its colorful glazes and patterns.

    The first stage of its creation begins by making rough casts of vases, dishes, jars, and boxes with red copper. Then, intricate flower patterns are fashioned with copper wire and welded onto the roughcasts. The resulting designs are inlaid with enamel and glazes, then placed in a special oven to cure. The nearly finished pieces are polished several times to bring out their characteristic brightness and luster.

    Next, we’ll tour the Wild Great Wall, the most authentic sections of the Great Wall, which haven’t been rebuilt for tourism. China’s Great Wall easily qualifies as the world’s greatest civil engineering feat. The massive ramparts were begun in separate strategic sections between 403-221 BC. During the reign of China’s first Qin emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, some 300,000 men were put to work connecting the segments into one huge, snaking fortification. Archaeologists estimate that the wall once ran for 6,200 miles through an expanse that now covers 16 provinces. Today, the wall is still impressive at 3,750 miles in length, stretching from the Bohai Sea to the Gobi Desert.

    Contrary to common belief, the Great Wall was more than just a barrier. Indeed, it served as an elevated highway linking the defensive forces along China’s rugged northern frontier. The roadway atop the wall provided a means of rapid communication and deployment of troops, arms, and food.

    After our visit to the Great Wall, we'll have lunch with a local family. Later this evening, we'll travel to a theater for a Chinese opera performance, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Expeince the unique architecture of China

    This morning, we visit a Beijing carpet factory where the silk carpets are still handmade. We’ll learn about the production process, watch weavers at work, and discover how to distinguish real silk from artificial. Then we continue our cultural discoveries at the Beijing Municipal Opera School (when in session), where we’ll interact with students learning traditional Chinese operas, including singing and dancing.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we head for the Summer Palace, which has the largest and best-preserved royal garden in China. Early in the Jin Dynasty, an imperial palace named Golden Hill Palace was built on the present site of the Summer Palace. Through the centuries, portions of the grounds and buildings were destroyed during warfare, then restored or redesigned. The Summer Palace of today is more or less the same as the palace rebuilt in 1903. After the last Qing emperor, Puyi, was thrown out of the Summer Palace in 1924, the garden was turned into a park. Surrounded by lovely Kumming Lake and classic Chinese gardens, the palace halls and pavilions are filled with ornate furnishings and fine artwork.

    The remainder of the afternoon is yours to explore at leisure, and dinner tonight is on your own. Or, you can choose to join an optional tour to a dazzling performance by local acrobats, with an included dinner.

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    Discover the local cusine of Beijing during a cooking demonstration

    After breakfast this morning, visit the Temple of Heaven. This temple, built between 1406 and 1420 by the same Yongle Emperor who was responsible for building the Forbidden City, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site regarded as a masterpiece of architectural and landscape design. The temple underwent extensive restoration prior to the Summer Olympics of 2008, and the surrounding park is popular with locals who practice tai chi and other forms of exercise on the grounds.

    Then you’ll get a glimpse of ordinary Chinese life on a tour of a Beijing hutong. These old residential neighborhoods consist of acres of low, flat-roofed buildings crisscrossed by narrow lanes. On a guided walking tour, we’ll find everyday life proceeding unconcerned with the great events of nations. Children playing ... the sounds and smells of food being prepared ... merchants setting up shop—all will help you appreciate China's humanity, which is all too often overshadowed by the grandiose monuments that dominate the experiences of most tourists. Our tour also includes lunch in the home of a local Chinese family. There is no better way to experience Chinese hospitality and courtesy toward guests.

    Late this afternoon, we arrive at a local restaurant to rest and savor dinner before departing Beijing. After our meal, we transfer to the railroad station and board a train for Xian, on which we have booked sleeping accommodations. Each sleeping compartment on the train has four berths, two upper and two lower. No single accommodations are available on the train, so solo travelers will share a compartment with one or two other passengers. OAT tries to arrange just two people per compartment, but this is not always possible. The other passengers may be of the opposite sex, and may not be members of your OAT group. Aboard the train, smoking is not permitted in the sleeping compartments, but smoking is allowed between cars.

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    Experience the Small Wild Goose Pagoda while touring China

    Our train arrives this morning in Xian. We transfer to our hotel upon arrival, have breakfast, and check in. After some time to settle in, we have a tai chi demonstration.

    Located in the fertile Wei River valley, Xian was once the largest city in the world during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the capital of eleven dynasties, a major trading hub along the Silk Route, and a center of Chinese civilization. Though its glory days are long over, it is still a cultural and intellectual capital, boasting some eleven universities, a thriving artists' community, and a burgeoning film industry. As we admire the city, be sure to note its symmetrical grid design, considered by scholars as a model of ancient city planning.

    Today’s explorations take us to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Built in the seventh century to house Buddhist scriptures, the pagoda also contains statues of Buddhist figures in Chinese history and notable Tang Dynasty artworks.

    After exploring the pagoda, we visit the Shaanxi History Museum. Considered one of China’s most exceptional museums, the Shaanxi’s exhibits range from ancient bronze tools to Ming and Qing dynasty artifacts. We’ll admire the classic pale-green pottery and Buddhist statues, and enjoy a first glimpse of some of the famed terra cotta warriors.

    Tonight we enjoy a special Mongolian Hot Pot dinner. This traditional group meal originated in the Mongolian city of Hothot and is prepared with a variety of savory ingredients, including beef, chicken, tofu, and vegetables.

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    After breakfast at our hotel, we visit a local factory to learn about the history and importance of jade carving, one of China’s greatest cultural legacies, and a symbol for China—in the 2008 Beijing Olympics all the medals were inlaid with jade.

    See China's Terra Cotta Army while touring Xian

    Afterwards, we marvel at the great ranks of life-sized soldiers, generals, charioteers, and horses of Xian’s Terra Cotta Army. An expert curator will join our group for an illuminating tour of this excavation site.

    Considered one of the foremost archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, the 2,000-year-old Terra Cotta Army was discovered by accident in 1974 by local farmers digging a well. The 6,000-plus life-size figures are arranged in vaults at the entrance to the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Qin emperor, a major architect of the Great Wall and unifier of China. The soldiers are ranked in military order, hold actual spears and swords and, incredibly, have unique facial expressions. There is also an exhibit of a remarkable miniature model of a Qin Dynasty bronze chariot, complete with horses and coachmen.

    Outside the museum, you can peek into the bustling free market, where you’ll find everything from kitchen implements and T-shirts to traditional herbal remedies. Then we’ll head to a local restaurant for a Chinese noodle-making demonstration—which will doubtless whet our appetites for lunch, which we eat immediately afterwards.

    Tonight, we enjoy a cultural show and dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Meet the local school children of the Guang Ming Primary School

    This morning we pay a visit to a nearby lacquerware factory where we learn how raw tree sap is used to create beautiful and durable furniture. Then we explore Xian’s City Wall, one of the most complete structures of its kind in all of China. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty, the City Wall is one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. Afterwards we’ll have an included lunch at a local restaurant.

    Then we travel into the countryside to share A Day in the Life of Donghan, a village where the colorful "peasant" painting style originated in the 1950s. Here we visit the community-founded Guang Ming Primary School, which is supported in part by donations from Grand Circle Foundation—part of the World Classroom initiative. We'll meet students and teachers and gain some person-to-person insight into Chinese culture. Then members of our host families will meet us and we'll proceed to their homes to enjoy their hospitality for dinner—which we'll participate in preparing.

    In the evening, we’ll gather at the village square to dance and sing with some of the villagers. Then we’ll enjoy an overnight stay in the home of the family we joined for dinner. Their houses tend to be small, but clean and tidy. This is a wonderful chance to learn what daily life in China is really like and to enjoy the company of our gracious hosts.

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    Discover Chinese culture and arts at the Beijing Opera

    We have a simple breakfast this morning in the homes of our local hosts. Then we visit a local studio to see some of Donghan's celebrated painters at work. Before we depart, we'll stroll through the older part of the village and see the contrast between its simple adobe houses and the newer houses that most residents have moved into as their standard of living has improved.

    Then we transfer to the airport for our afternoon flight to Chengdu. While waiting for our flight, we’ll enjoy lunch at an airport restaurant. After we arrive in Chengdu, we’ll enjoy dinner tonight in a local restaurant.

    After dinner, you can enjoy the evening at leisure. Or, join our optional excursion: Changing Faces Opera with Backstage Visit. Face changing, or bian lian in Chinese, is an ancient Chinese dramatic art that is part of the traditional Sichuan style of opera. Performers wear brightly colored costumes and move to quick, dramatic music. But what is most impressive is their ability to change from one vividly colored mask to another in magically quick succession. Before the performance, we'll meet the performers backstage and try another Chinese art: hand shadow play done with a sophistication you have probably never witnessed.

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    View pandas  relaxing at the Panda Sanctuary while touring China

    This morning, we visit the Panda Sanctuary, located just outside of Chengdu. Because of its location in Sichuan Province, native habitat of the Giant Panda, this facility has live pandas on display, the largest number you can see anywhere in the world. Here you can see these large, beautiful animals freely roaming and munching on bamboo in a natural environment. There are only 1,000 pandas still living in the wild in all of China, mostly in northern Sichuan and in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, in elevations between 4,000 and 10,000 feet.

    First appearing in the fossil record some three million years ago, the Giant Panda is under siege in this century—from habitat eradication, cyclical starvation, and poachers who get as much as $10,000 for a Giant Panda hide in Hong Kong and Japan. China’s ambitious ten-year conservation plan aims to preserve existing habitats, expand existing reserves, and create new reserves in an international effort to stave off the extinction of this elegant, almost mystical, animal.

    Given the scale of the battle being fought for the panda’s survival, places like the Giant Panda Sanctuary just outside Chengdu are essential. The sanctuary is not a zoo but a simulated habitat, with acres of space for its inhabitants to roam and thrive as nature intended. We’ll take a guided tour through the sanctuary and have the rare chance to see the Giant Panda in a natural environment. You may be touched both by the plight of these loveable creatures and the hope for their recovery.

    We’ll have lunch at a local restaurant today and free time this afternoon before dinner at another local restaurant.

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    Experience Tibetan spinning prayer wheels in

    Early this morning we'll transfer to the airport for our flight to Lhasa, Tibet. We'll arrive in Lhasa this afternoon, check into our hotel and have lunch, where we'll have time to relax.

    As the city is at an elevation of 12,000 feet, you may feel the effects of its high altitude. We strongly recommend that you plan on a minimum of two hours of bed rest upon arrival to help you acclimatize, and be sure to drink plenty of water during your time in Tibet.

    Later in the afternoon, you can join a short walk in the vicinity of the hotel to get oriented. Afterward, a lecturer will enlighten our group about Tibetan history and folk customs.

    For 350 years, Lhasa, the “City of the Sun,” has been at the political and economic center of Tibet. The country itself has existed since the seventh century as a remote mountain theocracy based on the mystical tenets of Lamaism, a form of Tantric Indian Buddhism coupled with Tibetan shamanism. Here, feudal Lamas whose spiritual authority was matched by their complete control of internal affairs ruled the rural population. Some reigns were benevolent, while others were ruthless.

    The autonomy of the Lamas waxed and waned during various Chinese dynasties, with almost complete independence enjoyed during the Republican period (1912-1949). But things changed during China’s Cultural Revolution. In 1951, through military action and pressured negotiation, China re-established its sovereignty. After years of steadily increasing oppression, a revolt broke out in 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India.

    Widespread persecution of the Tibetan people continued, reaching a peak during the Cultural Revolution. Thousands of monks and nuns were sent to labor camps. Hundreds of ancient monasteries were destroyed wholesale. Arbitrary agricultural reforms, such as imposed planting of unfamiliar crops and the collectivization of yak and goat herds, undermined traditional Tibetan life. The population was further destabilized when the Chinese government encouraged non-Tibetan Han Chinese people to settle in Tibet, thereby weakening the cultural foundations of the region.

    In spite of these hardships, Tibetan culture has continued to thrive under the stewardship of the exiled Dalai Lama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. A charismatic figure, he has been able to force the Chinese government into seeking normalized relations, restoring temples, allowing some religious freedoms, and permitting some degree of free enterprise. Attempts by the government to bring the Dalai Lama back to China have been unsuccessful so far. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama, along with a growing coterie of international celebrities and activists, continues in the struggle to safeguard Tibetan human rights.

    This evening, we have dinner at our hotel.

    Please note: Because of the controversial and sensitive nature of Chinese control over Tibet, the Chinese government will occasionally close the border to Tibet without prior notice. Should this occur during your trip, OAT will make alternative arrangements for your group to travel to the historic cities of Kunming and Lijiang, China instead of Tibet. 81% of travelers who have taken this adventure with the Kunming and Lijiang itinerary have rated their trip excellent. The Chinese government may also impose limits on what can and cannot be accessed within Tibet, so there may be need for last-minute changes to the planned activities during your trip. In these cases we ask that you bring an open mind and a sense of humor.

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    See Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama once lived

    Today we see one of the grandest monuments in all of Asia: the extraordinary Potala Palace. Built in the 17th century (atop the original seventh-century site), it boasts more than 1,000 rooms, including the Red Palace (where the Dalai Lama once lived), 10,000 chapels, and a labyrinth of mysterious dungeons. It took 7,000 workers and 1,500 artists and craftsmen more than 50 years to build the adjoining White and Red palaces. This Eastern architectural triumph was the world’s tallest building before the creation of 20th-century skyscrapers.

    During our explorations, we’ll encounter pilgrims who journey to this sacred Buddhist shrine from throughout Tibet. Behold an array of treasures: A grand ceremonial hall with magnificent hanging brocades and painted religious scrolls, vivid murals, statues of Buddha, and a mandala made of 20,000 pearls. Of particular note are the rich gold and jewel-encrusted tombs of eight Dalai Lamas. Perched on Red Mountain, the Palace offers sweeping views of the city and the surrounding immense peaks that are as extraordinary as its interior. We explore the 13-story structure and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

    Then we visit the Tibet Museum, where extensive exhibits on Tibet's history and culture are housed in a building built in traditional Tibetan style. Thousands of years of Tibetan history, politics, religion, and customs are revealed in displays of books, sculpture, art, and daily items like clothing.

    This evening, we'll enjoy dinner and a show at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast today, we head for the Barkhor Bazaar, a section of the oldest part of Lhasa that bustles with marketplace activity and religious devotion.

    We enter the 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple, where we are likely to see Buddhist pilgrims making clockwise circuits on their hands and knees in reverence to one of Tibet’s most sacred sites. Thousands of yak-butter candles flicker inside beneath the enlightened gaze of the golden Jowo Sakyamuni, the seventh-century Buddha statue that the temple was built to house. We then have lunch at a local restaurant.

    Explore Sera and Papungka monasteries during a tour of Tibet

    Later, you may choose to enjoy an optional visit to the Sera Monastery, one of the largest of the Gelugpa sect. In the Tibetan language, sera means “wild rose garden.” The monastery earned the name for the opulent wild roses that grew all around the site centuries ago. At its peak, the monastery was the home for more than 7,000 monks. While the numbers of roses and monks have diminished with the passage of time, the monastery and its grounds have only increased in cultural significance and emotional power. Built in 1419—the year that the sect’s founder, Je Tsongkhapa, died—Sera Monastery features the largest tsokchen (main assembly hall) in the town, four stories high and with nearly 11,000 square feet of floor space. The monastery was built to house precious gifts from the emperor to one of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples.

    Je Tsongkhapa was an extraordinary student and teacher and had remarkable powers of memorization, debate, and meditation. Ordained at the age of three, he traveled widely to study with his era’s greatest teachers and to train thousands of monks. He also undertook extraordinarily rigorous meditation retreats, one of which lasted four years.

    Sera also has three monastic colleges, which served in past centuries as magnets for thousands of monks who traveled from all over Tibet to study, train, and mediate. The chanting halls, chapels, statues, and lovely, undamaged murals have been carefully cared for. The tapestries, scroll paintings, and scriptures written in gold powder still glow, as you’ll see. We’ll also visit the Papungka Monastery, a smaller, off-the-beaten-path retreat with an excellent view over Lhasa. Here we may be able to view a platform of the kind used for a traditional Tibetan "sky burial."

    We enjoy dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

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    Cruise the Yangtza River while touring China

    Today we fly from Lhasa to Chongqing. We have dinner at a local restaurant in Chongqing and then embark our Yangtze River cruise ship and spend our first night onboard.

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    Discover stunning landscape along the Yangtze during a river cruise

    Today our Yangtze River cruise brings us to Wanxian, Fengdu, or Shi Bao Zhai, where we’ll disembark and visit some of the families relocated due to the controversial Three Gorges Dam project.

    While it will provide many benefits, the dam will also submerge many towns and cities. We’ll have an opportunity to discuss this during our visit with a family affected by the dam's construction.

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    Today, our Yangtze River cruise takes us through Qutang Gorge, the farthest upstream of the Three Gorges. Although the shortest of the three, the Qutang is by far the most dramatic, with sheer cliffs and such remarkable features as the Meng Liang staircase, painstakingly carved by a loyal bodyguard attempting to recover his master’s body from the cliff face. On the south bank as we enter the Qutang, we pass Daxi Village, the site of western China’s earliest-known civilization. The 74 tombs here contain archaeological finds up to 6,000 years old. Overlooking the west end of the gorge is Baidicheng, or White Emperor City. Baidicheng dates to AD 25 and has long been a refuge for would-be kings and poets—thanks to its proximity to the spectacular and inspiring Qutang Gorge.

    Explore Lesser Three Gorges on a river cruise along China's Yangtze

    We enter the Wu Gorge, renowned for the quiet beauty of its forested mountains. The Twelve Peaks are ranked alongside the gorge. The great Chinese poet Qu Yuan leapt into the river to his death here in 288 BC, an event marked each spring with dragon boat races.

    At Wushan we board smaller river craft—which we’ll share with other tour groups—for an excursion up the Daning River or the Shennong Stream, both tributaries of the Yangtze. Here we’ll drift through the exquisite Lesser Three Gorges: Dragon-Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge, and Emerald Gorge. We’ll pass between sheer precipices, stopping at sandy shoals and quiet lagoons. (When the water level in the river is low, we make part of this excursion by bus.)

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    See Three Gorges Dam during your Yangtze river cruise

    After breakfast we will disembark for a tour of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest dam, measuring 606 feet high and 6,500 feet long.

    Although a dam was proposed as long ago as 1919 by Sun Yat-Sen, the present site was selected by an American team of engineers in the early 1940s. The project gained momentum in the 1980s and began in earnest in 1990. In 1997, the cofferdam was completed and the main structure begun. The dam has two five-stage locks to raise and lower ships to the different river levels. Each lock in the five stages is 65 feet high and 910 feet long.

    This massive project has pitted China’s economic interests against the concerns of historic preservationists and environmentalists worldwide. In addition to flooding some of the world’s most spectacular scenic areas and rich ecosystems to a depth of 325 feet, the waters submerged some 35 notable historic sites (some of which were relocated). The 632 square miles of terrain being inundated as the reservoir fills include 13 cities, 140 towns, 1,352 villages, 657 factories, and 66,000 acres of cultivated land. Approximately 1.3 million people are being relocated to new towns above the high-water mark.

    The Chinese government points to the benefits of the Three Gorges Dam, including its ability to control the area’s severe flooding, the huge and much-needed hydroelectric potential, the opening of the upper Yangtze to 10,000-ton ships, and the irrigation value of the water.

    We reboard the ship and cruise to Yichang, where we’ll disembark and transfer by bus (approximately 5-6 hours) to Wuhan, enjoying boxed lunches on our way. Upon arrival in Wuhan, we check in to our hotel, where we have dinner this evening.

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    Discover the many sights and sounds of Hong Kong

    This morning we transfer to the airport for our flight to Hong Kong. When we arrive in Hong Kong this afternoon, we'll transfer to our hotel for check-in, and take an orientation walk in which you'll learn about local public transportation. You'll have the rest of the day at leisure.

    Dinner tonight is on your own.

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    Explore Hong Kong while touring China

    After breakfast this morning, we begin a city tour. Our guided explorations of Hong Kong by coach will feature some of this densely populated city’s most famous attractions.

    We’ll explore the city’s traditional Chinatown district, including bustling Ladder Street. From there, we’ll take the Mid Levels Escalator, the world’s longest covered outdoor escalator, which takes about 20 minutes to travel from end to end. We’ll also explore Man Mo Temple and an Aberdeen fishing village. We’ll finish at a well-known jewelry shop with time to hunt for bargains.

    Dinner is on your own tonight. Hong Kong is one of the world’s great culinary capitals, offering a sensational array of restaurants. You can feast on specialties from every part of the world, from curry and dim sum to pasta and shish kebab.

    Or you can join us for an optional Hong Kong by Night & Asian Cuisine tour. After dinner at a local restaurant, we’ll stroll through the Temple Street night market, where you can browse the many interesting shops that feature inexpensive clothing, novelty items, and fortune-tellers and palm-readers. Then we’ll take the Star Ferry across the harbor to Central Pier, where we’ll be driven up Victoria Peak to gaze at the night view. After returning to Happy Valley, we’ll enjoy a streetcar ride through Wan Chai, the famous red-light district. It’s an exciting look at Hong Kong at night.

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    Experience the local culture of Hong Kong

    After breakfast, you have the day free to discover more of Hong Kong on your own. You might take in some of the city’s fine museums, such as the Hong Kong Museum of History or the Museum of Arts. Hollywood Road and “Cat Street” are famous for their many antique and curio shops selling silk carpets and Chinese furniture.

    Tonight, we celebrate our adventure with a delicious Farewell Dinner.

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    Depending on the U.S. city you are returning to, your homeward flight leaves in the morning or early afternoon. Flying back across the International Date Line, you arrive in the U.S. on the same calendar day. Or, if you are taking the Heart of Cambodia: Angkor Wat & Siem Reap post-trip extension, you will fly to Cambodia today.

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    You depart this evening for an overnight flight to Beijing.

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    Explore Beijing on a guided tour

    You fly across the International Date Line and arrive in Beijing in the late afternoon or late evening today. An OAT representative meets you at the airport and assists you to your hotel, where you'll join travelers who have taken the pre-trip extensions to Mongolia, the Gobi Desert & Kharkhorin or Shanghai: China's Historic Gateway to the West.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Beijing, the modern political and administrative center of China, is also the greatest single repository of monuments and treasures from the imperial era. Today you’ll see some of its most notable treasures. But first we enjoy a Welcome Briefing.

    Like the old Chinese puzzles of “boxes within boxes,” Beijing was originally laid out in a series of concentric circles. We focus on the innermost two today: The Forbidden City and the surrounding Imperial City. We begin our exploration at grand Tiananmen Square. At 100 acres, it is the largest public square in the world, capable of holding more than a million people. Each of the cobbles is numbered so that parade units can line up in their assigned spots. But as you explore, you may remember a more somber event: the tragic student demonstrations that took place here in 1989. Lined with official buildings, Tiananmen is presided over by the giant portrait of Chairman Mao, which hangs above the Gate of Heavenly Peace and seems to stare down at the leader’s own Memorial Hall. Mao is entombed in the Hall in a crystal sarcophagus, his body draped in the red flag of the People’s Republic that he founded in 1949.

    Discover the Forbidden City on a tour of China

    Tiananmen is always filled with people, including kite-flying children. Here you’ll see legendary landmarks, including the Great Hall of the People and the towering Monument to the People’s Heroes, a 125-foot granite obelisk honoring those who died in the communist revolution.

    Next, we visit the Forbidden City, or Gugong, a 9,000-room maze of courtyards, palaces, and ceremonial halls, where 24 emperors (“the Sons of Heaven”) and two dynasties ruled the Middle Kingdom. Protected by 30-foot-high walls and a 160-foot-wide moat, the Forbidden City was indeed a forbidden place; commoners were kept out for nearly 500 years. The greatest achievement of the visionary Emperor Yongle, this architectural triumph was completed in a mere 14 years by 200,000 workers. Behind its Gate of Supreme Harmony, which is flanked by bronze lions, you’ll find classic buildings with interiors featuring marble floors and ceilings with grand murals. We view the exterior of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the tallest and largest of the six main palace buildings, and stroll through an open-air exhibition detailing the history and preservation of this famous structure. We will also view two other main halls, the Hall of Central Harmony, or Zhonghe Dian, and Hall of Preserving Harmony, known locally as Baohe Dian.

    We have lunch at a local restaurant and then the rest of your afternoon is at leisure. This evening, we enjoy a Chinese-style Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Explore the Great Wall of China

    After breakfast at our hotel, we’ll visit a factory specializing in cloisonné, the beautiful enamel artwork that predates the Ming Dynasty and is known for its colorful glazes and patterns.

    The first stage of its creation begins by making rough casts of vases, dishes, jars, and boxes with red copper. Then, intricate flower patterns are fashioned with copper wire and welded onto the roughcasts. The resulting designs are inlaid with enamel and glazes, then placed in a special oven to cure. The nearly finished pieces are polished several times to bring out their characteristic brightness and luster.

    Next, we’ll tour the Wild Great Wall, the most authentic sections of the Great Wall, which haven’t been rebuilt for tourism. China’s Great Wall easily qualifies as the world’s greatest civil engineering feat. The massive ramparts were begun in separate strategic sections between 403-221 BC. During the reign of China’s first Qin emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, some 300,000 men were put to work connecting the segments into one huge, snaking fortification. Archaeologists estimate that the wall once ran for 6,200 miles through an expanse that now covers 16 provinces. Today, the wall is still impressive at 3,750 miles in length, stretching from the Bohai Sea to the Gobi Desert.

    Contrary to common belief, the Great Wall was more than just a barrier. Indeed, it served as an elevated highway linking the defensive forces along China’s rugged northern frontier. The roadway atop the wall provided a means of rapid communication and deployment of troops, arms, and food.

    After our visit to the Great Wall, we'll have lunch with a local family. Later this evening, we'll travel to a theater for a Chinese opera performance, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Expeince the unique architecture of China

    This morning, we visit a Beijing carpet factory where the silk carpets are still handmade. We’ll learn about the production process, watch weavers at work, and discover how to distinguish real silk from artificial. Then we continue our cultural discoveries at the Beijing Municipal Opera School (when in session), where we’ll interact with students learning traditional Chinese operas, including singing and dancing.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we head for the Summer Palace, which has the largest and best-preserved royal garden in China. Early in the Jin Dynasty, an imperial palace named Golden Hill Palace was built on the present site of the Summer Palace. Through the centuries, portions of the grounds and buildings were destroyed during warfare, then restored or redesigned. The Summer Palace of today is more or less the same as the palace rebuilt in 1903. After the last Qing emperor, Puyi, was thrown out of the Summer Palace in 1924, the garden was turned into a park. Surrounded by lovely Kumming Lake and classic Chinese gardens, the palace halls and pavilions are filled with ornate furnishings and fine artwork.

    The remainder of the afternoon is yours to explore at leisure, and dinner tonight is on your own. Or, you can choose to join an optional tour to a dazzling performance by local acrobats, with an included dinner.

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    Discover the local cusine of Beijing during a cooking demonstration

    After breakfast this morning, visit the Temple of Heaven. This temple, built between 1406 and 1420 by the same Yongle Emperor who was responsible for building the Forbidden City, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site regarded as a masterpiece of architectural and landscape design. The temple underwent extensive restoration prior to the Summer Olympics of 2008, and the surrounding park is popular with locals who practice tai chi and other forms of exercise on the grounds.

    Then you’ll get a glimpse of ordinary Chinese life on a tour of a Beijing hutong. These old residential neighborhoods consist of acres of low, flat-roofed buildings crisscrossed by narrow lanes. On a guided walking tour, we’ll find everyday life proceeding unconcerned with the great events of nations. Children playing ... the sounds and smells of food being prepared ... merchants setting up shop—all will help you appreciate China's humanity, which is all too often overshadowed by the grandiose monuments that dominate the experiences of most tourists. Our tour also includes lunch in the home of a local Chinese family. There is no better way to experience Chinese hospitality and courtesy toward guests.

    Late this afternoon, we arrive at a local restaurant to rest and savor dinner before departing Beijing. After our meal, we transfer to the railroad station and board a train for Xian, on which we have booked sleeping accommodations. Each sleeping compartment on the train has four berths, two upper and two lower. No single accommodations are available on the train, so solo travelers will share a compartment with one or two other passengers. OAT tries to arrange just two people per compartment, but this is not always possible. The other passengers may be of the opposite sex, and may not be members of your OAT group. Aboard the train, smoking is not permitted in the sleeping compartments, but smoking is allowed between cars.

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    Experience the Small Wild Goose Pagoda while touring China

    Our train arrives this morning in Xian. We transfer to our hotel upon arrival, have breakfast, and check in. After some time to settle in, we have a tai chi demonstration on the hotel grounds.

    Located in the fertile Wei River valley, Xian was once the largest city in the world during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the capital of eleven dynasties, a major trading hub along the Silk Route, and a center of Chinese civilization. Though its glory days are long over, it is still a cultural and intellectual capital, boasting some eleven universities, a thriving artists' community, and a burgeoning film industry. As we admire the city, be sure to note its symmetrical grid design, considered by scholars as a model of ancient city planning.

    Today’s explorations take us to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Built in the seventh century to house Buddhist scriptures, the pagoda also contains statues of Buddhist figures in Chinese history and notable Tang Dynasty artworks. After exploring the pagoda, we visit the Shaanxi History Museum. Considered one of China’s most exceptional museums, the Shaanxi’s exhibits range from ancient bronze tools to Ming and Qing dynasty artifacts. We’ll admire the classic pale-green pottery and Buddhist statues, and enjoy a first glimpse of some of the famed terra cotta warriors.

    Tonight we enjoy a special Mongolian Hot Pot dinner. This traditional group meal originated in the Mongolian city of Hothot and is prepared with a variety of savory ingredients, including beef, chicken, tofu, and vegetables.

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    After breakfast at our hotel, we visit a local factory to learn about the history and importance of jade carving, one of China’s greatest cultural legacies, and a symbol for China—in the 2008 Beijing Olympics all the medals were inlaid with jade.

    See China's Terra Cotta Army while touring Xian

    Afterwards, we marvel at the great ranks of life-sized soldiers, generals, charioteers, and horses of Xian’s Terra Cotta Army. An expert curator will join our group for an illuminating tour of this excavation site.

    Considered one of the foremost archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, the 2,000-year-old Terra Cotta Army was discovered by accident in 1974 by local farmers digging a well. The 6,000-plus life-size figures are arranged in vaults at the entrance to the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first Qin emperor, a major architect of the Great Wall and unifier of China. The soldiers are ranked in military order, hold actual spears and swords and, incredibly, have unique facial expressions. There is also an exhibit of a remarkable miniature model of a Qin Dynasty bronze chariot, complete with horses and coachmen.

    Outside the museum, you can peek into the bustling free market, where you’ll find everything from kitchen implements and T-shirts to traditional herbal remedies. Then we’ll head to a local restaurant for a Chinese noodle-making demonstration—which will doubtless whet our appetites for lunch, which we eat immediately afterwards.

    Tonight, we enjoy a cultural show and dinner at a local restaurant.

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    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    Meet the local school children of the Guang Ming Primary School

    This morning we pay a visit to a nearby lacquerware factory where we learn how raw tree sap is used to create beautiful and durable furniture. Then we explore Xian’s City Wall, one of the most complete structures of its kind in all of China. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty, the City Wall is one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. Afterwards we’ll have an included lunch at a local restaurant.

    Then we travel into the countryside to share A Day in the Life of Donghan, a village where the colorful "peasant" painting style originated in the 1950s. Here we visit the community-founded Guang Ming Primary School, which is supported in part by donations from Grand Circle Foundation—part of the World Classroom initiative. We'll meet students and teachers and gain some person-to-person insight into Chinese culture. Then members of our host families will meet us and we'll proceed to their homes to enjoy their hospitality for dinner—which we'll participate in preparing.

    In the evening, we’ll gather at the village square to dance and sing with some of the villagers. Then we’ll enjoy an overnight stay in the home of the family we joined for dinner. Their houses tend to be small, but clean and tidy. This is a wonderful chance to learn what daily life in China is really like and to enjoy the company of our gracious hosts.

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    • Accommodations:
    Discover Chinese culture and arts at the Beijing Opera

    We have a simple breakfast this morning in the homes of our local hosts. Then we visit a local studio to see some of Donghan's celebrated painters at work. Before we depart, we'll stroll through the older part of the village and see the contrast between its simple adobe houses and the newer houses that most residents have moved into as their standard of living has improved.

    Then we transfer to the airport for our afternoon flight to Chengdu. While waiting for our flight, we’ll enjoy lunch at an airport restaurant. After we arrive in Chengdu, we’ll enjoy dinner tonight in a local restaurant.

    After dinner, you can enjoy the evening at leisure. Or, join our optional excursion: Changing Faces Opera with Backstage Visit. Face changing, or bian lian in Chinese, is an ancient Chinese dramatic art that is part of the traditional Sichuan style of opera. Performers wear brightly colored costumes and move to quick, dramatic music. But what is most impressive is their ability to change from one vividly colored mask to another in magically quick succession. Before the performance, we'll meet the performers backstage and try another Chinese art: hand shadow play done with a sophistication you have probably never witnessed.

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    View pandas  relaxing at the Panda Sanctuary while touring China

    After breakfast, we visit one of the parks in the Sichuan Panda Sanctuaries—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—to see Giant Pandas, the animal that has captured the hearts of the world and become an icon of China. Here you can see several of these large, beautiful animals in large enclosures. There are only 1,000 pandas still living in the wild in all of China, mostly in northern Sichuan and in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, in elevations between 4,000 and 10,000 feet. First appearing in the fossil record some three million years ago, the Giant Panda is under siege in this century—from habitat eradication, cyclical starvation, and poachers who get as much as $10,000 for a Giant Panda hide in Hong Kong and Japan. China’s ambitious ten-year conservation plan aims to preserve existing habitats, expand existing reserves, and create new reserves in an international effort to stave off the extinction of this elegant, almost mystical, animal. We’ll have lunch at a local restaurant in Chengdu.

    We then fly to Lijiang, where dinner is on your own this evening.

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    In the Chinese imagination, a fairy-tale village looks much like what you’ll discover in 2,500-year-old Lijiang: centuries-old traditional buildings clustered beneath snowcapped mountains amid green meadows and crystal streams. Known for its pleasant climate and natural beauty, Lijiang is also praised for its preservation of historic culture; its Old Town, which we tour this morning, is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Explore Lijiang during a tour of China

    After an included lunch at a local restaurant, we explore what is officially known as Jade Spring Park—so named for its sparkling waters—but which everyone calls Black Dragon Pool. Elegant willow trees stud the green lawns of this park just north of Lijiang. Beautiful bridges add to the timeless spell, including the white marble span of the Moon-Embracing Pavilion and the Shuocui Bridge, which rises over a waterfall. While at the park, we visit the Dongba Cultural Center to learn a bit about the Naxi people, one of China’s 55 ethnic groups. Lijiang’s Naxi populace evolved their own culture, known as Dongba, which blends aspects of culture from Tibet, China’s Central Plains, and the Yellow River region. Using its own Naxi form of writing, this polytheistic culture created thousands of scripture books and hieroglyphs, 1,500 of which have been translated here. Scholars from around the world come here to study this completely unique pictographic script. This afternoon, we continue on to the ancient village of Baisha, one of several villages which house what is known collectively as the Lijiang Mural. Originally comprised of 200 frescoes created over 300 years, the frescoes were painted by the most respected artists of various regions of the empire, as well as talented unknowns. The murals were meant to show Lijiang’s growth and importance, while depicting its religious and cultural diversity. Today, only 55 pieces of the mural remain, now preserved in 15 temples spread among the villages. Baisha is home to two of the best-preserved works, the Mural of the Great Treasure Palace and the Colored Glaze Temple Mural. Then we visit the former home of Dr. Joseph Rock, a westerner who brought the Naxi culture to the attention of the wider world.

    This evening, enjoy dinner in a local restaurant.

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    Explore Lijiang’s Old Town

    This morning, you are free to explore Lijiang’s Old Town at your own pace. As you stroll the ancient streets here, take note of the beautiful tile and timber houses, many featuring elaborate carvings or engravings, representative of the Naxi love of decoration. Buildings in Han, Bai, and Tibetan styles line narrow lanes that crisscross the town in meandering fashion. More than 300 carved wooden footbridges span the clear waters which still bisect the town and are responsible for another of Lijiang’s nicknames: the Asian Venice. Unlike many old Chinese cities, there is no city wall here. For 500 years, Lijiang’s rulers were from the Mu family and they were afraid to build one—not because they feared an actual wall but because of what would happen if they tried to record the wall’s existence. The Chinese character for Mu was the official written symbol for Lijiang, and the Chinese character for a city wall is a frame. To write “Mu City Wall” would then require placing the Mu character inside the frame symbol, which unfortunately looks exactly like the existing Chinese character for the word “predicament.” The Mu family was sure that this would curse them and their descendants to a future of being forever trapped and thus unable to prosper. They forbade the building of a wall, which meant the symbol would also never appear. As the city—thus unbound by a fixed border—has spread out from its central square over the centuries, what was once the Mu’s paranoia now looks more like wise urban planning.

    After lunch in a local restaurant, we transfer to the airport for our flight to Kunming. Arriving mid-afternoon, we enjoy free time to explore “The City of Eternal Spring,” as Kunming is known, so named for its mild climate. The capital of Yunnan Province, Kunming’s history goes back 2,400 years, when it was the gateway to the Silk Road. Today, Kunming combines modern city life with a timeless landscape dotted with mystical karst limestone formations. More than 25 ethnic minorities call the city home, each one hosting its own annual festival as a way of preserving their culture. We enjoy dinner together in a local restaurant this evening.

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    Discover Stone Forest while exploring Kunming

    Discover the extraordinary Stone Forest on a full-day tour. Spanning 96,000 acres, the Stone Forest is a stunning landscape of rock formations in which millions of years of erosion have yielded shapes resembling towers, animals, and objects. Since the Ming Dynasty it has been known throughout the region as “The First Wonder of the World.” One local legend (of the Sani people) tells of Asham, a poor shepherd girl who saved a boy from the evil landlord he was enslaved to. The girl and boy grew into adults who fell in love and married. But the landlord’s son also grew and, evil like his father, kidnapped Asham. After her husband saved her—repaying her long-ago act—and killed both the kidnapper and his father, the couple fled into the Stone Forest to make their new lives in safety. The Forest protected them and they gave birth to many children, who are said to be the first Sani people. After we discover this labyrinthine landscape, we’ll enjoy lunch together.

    Tonight join your fellow travelers for dinner in a local restaurant.

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    Cruise the Yangtza River while touring China

    We begin our day at a Kunming flower market. The mild climate here is ideal for growing flowers. In fact, Yunnan province is one of the largest flower exporters in the world. Flower trading starts in the darkest hours of early morning, when farmers from outlying communities arrive by truck and tractor with the latest pick. By the time the sun comes up, the neighborhood vendors have made their selections and their stalls are vividly stocked for the day. You’ll browse the vibrant offerings this morning. Then depart for a visit to Green Lake Park, which originated in the 13th century, when it was known for its camellia trees and surrounding vegetable gardens. Since the Ming Dynasty, pavilions, platforms, dikes, and bridges—with lyrical names like such as Listening Warbler, Swallow, and Lotus—have been added, yielding a blend of natural and man-made beauty. Next we explore the province’s largest and most important Buddhist site, Yuantong Temple, at the foot of Yuantong Hill. You approach the temple from above, descending its garden path among the cypress trees. The center of the complex is Yuantong Hall, which is surrounded by a glassy fishpond. As you walk among the pavilions and archways of the complex, the smoke of incense wafting through the air, 1,000 years of history literally surrounds you. After our visit, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

    This afternoon, we fly to Chongqing and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before boarding our cruise ship, our home for the next three nights as we cruise the legendary Yangtze River.

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    Discover stunning landscape along the Yangtze during a river cruise

    Today our Yangtze River cruise brings us to Wanxian, Fengdu, or Shi Bao Zhai, where we’ll disembark and visit some of the families relocated due to the controversial Three Gorges Dam project.

    While it will provide many benefits, the dam will also submerge many towns and cities. We’ll have an opportunity to discuss this during our visit with a family affected by the dam's construction.

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    Our Yangtze River cruise takes us through Qutang Gorge, the farthest upstream of the Three Gorges. Although the shortest of the three, the Qutang is by far the most dramatic, with sheer cliffs and such remarkable features as the Meng Liang staircase, painstakingly carved by a loyal bodyguard attempting to recover his master’s body from the cliff face. On the south bank as we enter the Qutang, we pass Daxi Village, the site of western China’s earliest-known civilization. The 74 tombs here contain archaeological finds up to 6,000 years old. Overlooking the west end of the gorge is Baidicheng, or White Emperor City. Baidicheng dates to AD 25 and has long been a refuge for would-be kings and poets—thanks to its proximity to the spectacular and inspiring Qutang Gorge.

    Explore Lesser Three Gorges on a river cruise along China's Yangtze

    We enter the Wu Gorge, renowned for the quiet beauty of its forested mountains. The Twelve Peaks are ranked alongside the gorge. The great Chinese poet Qu Yuan leapt into the river to his death here in 288 BC, an event marked each spring with dragon boat races.

    At Wushan we board smaller river craft—which we’ll share with other tour groups—for an excursion up the Daning River or the Shennong Stream, both tributaries of the Yangtze. Here we’ll drift through the exquisite Lesser Three Gorges: Dragon-Gate Gorge, Misty Gorge, and Emerald Gorge. We’ll pass between sheer precipices, stopping at sandy shoals and quiet lagoons. (When the water level in the river is low, we make part of this excursion by bus.)

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    See Three Gorges Dam during your Yangtze river cruise

    After breakfast we will disembark for a tour of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest dam, measuring 606 feet high and 6,500 feet long.

    Although a dam was proposed as long ago as 1919 by Sun Yat-Sen, the present site was selected by an American team of engineers in the early 1940s. The project gained momentum in the 1980s and began in earnest in 1990. In 1997, the cofferdam was completed and the main structure begun. The dam has two five-stage locks to raise and lower ships to the different river levels. Each lock in the five stages is 65 feet high and 910 feet long.

    This massive project has pitted China’s economic interests against the concerns of historic preservationists and environmentalists worldwide. In addition to flooding some of the world’s most spectacular scenic areas and rich ecosystems to a depth of 325 feet, the waters submerged some 35 notable historic sites (some of which were relocated). The 632 square miles of terrain being inundated as the reservoir fills include 13 cities, 140 towns, 1,352 villages, 657 factories, and 66,000 acres of cultivated land. Approximately 1.3 million people are being relocated to new towns above the high-water mark.

    The Chinese government points to the benefits of the Three Gorges Dam, including its ability to control the area’s severe flooding, the huge and much-needed hydroelectric potential, the opening of the upper Yangtze to 10,000-ton ships, and the irrigation value of the water.

    We reboard the ship and cruise to Yichang, where we’ll disembark and transfer by bus (approximately 5-6 hours) to Wuhan, enjoying boxed lunches on our way. Upon arrival in Wuhan, we check in to our hotel, where we have dinner this evening.

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    Discover the many sights and sounds of Hong Kong

    This morning we transfer to the airport for our flight to Hong Kong. When we arrive in Hong Kong this afternoon, we'll transfer to our hotel for check-in, and take an orientation walk in which you'll learn about local public transportation. You'll have the rest of the day at leisure.

    Dinner tonight is on your own.

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    Explore Hong Kong while touring China

    After breakfast this morning, we begin a city tour. Our guided explorations of Hong Kong by coach will feature some of this densely populated city’s most famous attractions.

    We’ll explore the city’s traditional Chinatown district, including bustling Ladder Street. From there, we’ll take the Mid Levels Escalator, the world’s longest covered outdoor escalator, which takes about 20 minutes to travel from end to end. We’ll also explore Man Mo Temple and an Aberdeen fishing village. We’ll finish at a well-known jewelry shop with time to hunt for bargains.

    Dinner is on your own tonight. Hong Kong is one of the world’s great culinary capitals, offering a sensational array of restaurants. You can feast on specialties from every part of the world, from curry and dim sum to pasta and shish kebab.

    Or you can join us for an optional Hong Kong by Night & Asian Cuisine tour. After dinner at a local restaurant, we’ll stroll through the Temple Street night market, where you can browse the many interesting shops that feature inexpensive clothing, novelty items, and fortune-tellers and palm-readers. Then we’ll take the Star Ferry across the harbor to Central Pier, where we’ll be driven up Victoria Peak to gaze at the night view. After returning to Happy Valley, we’ll enjoy a streetcar ride through Wan Chai, the famous red-light district. It’s an exciting look at Hong Kong at night.

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    Experience the local culture of Hong Kong

    After breakfast, you have the day free to discover more of Hong Kong on your own. You might take in some of the city’s fine museums, such as the Hong Kong Museum of History or the Museum of Arts. Hollywood Road and “Cat Street” are famous for their many antique and curio shops selling silk carpets and Chinese furniture.

    Tonight, we celebrate our adventure with a delicious Farewell Dinner.

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    • Meals included:

    Depending on the U.S. city you are returning to, your homeward flight leaves in the morning or early afternoon. Flying back across the International Date Line, you arrive in the U.S. on the same calendar day.

    Or, if you're continuing your adventure with our post-trip extension to the Heart of Cambodia: Angkor Wat & Siem Reap, you'll fly to Siem Reap via Saigon after lunch on your own.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 7 locations in 21 days, including a 1-night stay in family home, a 1-night on sleeper train, and 3 nights aboard a ship
  • One 4-6 hour bus ride and 4 internal flights of 1-2 hours each

Physical Requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 3-5 hours of physical activities each day

Altitude

  • Altitudes of 12,000 feet in Tibet, which may cause some travelers to experience altitude sickness

Climate

  • The hottest months are June to August (mid-day temperatures can reach 95°F); the coolest months are November and March (mid-day temperatures from 40-50°F)
  • Temperatures in Tibet can vary greatly, from cold mornings to cool afternoons

Terrain

  • Walk on city streets, rugged paths, unpaved roads, and steep, uneven stairs at some sites

Transportation

  • Travel by 16-passenger air-conditioned minibus, 208-378-passenger river ship, smaller boats, and overnight sleeper train
  • 4-hour drives, 11-hour rail journeys, and four 1-2-hour internal flights

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotel rooms are smaller than U.S. and offer simple amenities
  • All accommodations feature private baths, except on sleeper train and in family home where there are shared bathrooms

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • China (main trip/Shanghai extension): Visa required.
  • Tibet: Visa not required. An entry permit is required; OAT will obtain this permit on site.
  • Mongolia (optional extension): Visa not required. Travelers taking this extension need a multiple-entry visa for China.
  • Cambodia (post-trip extension): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Yangtze River Ship

    For our three-night cruise on the Yangtze River, we travel aboard an air-conditioned river ship, with all meals included during our cruise. All cabins are outside, with an average size of 157 to 226 square feet, and each features a private balcony and bath with bathtub and shower. The ship’s amenities include a bar, reading room, fitness center, and Internet access. The ships have a capacity of 208 to 378 passengers.

Main Trip

  • Xizhao Temple Hotel

    Beijing, China

    The Xizhao Temple Hotel is in the heart of Beijing, and offers such amenities as wireless Internet access in common areas, a business center, a health club, and on-site laundry service. Your room comes equipped with high-speed Internet access, a microwave, and refrigerator to help you relax and enjoy meals from your room. Or, enjoy the hotel’s room service.

  • Overnight sleeper train

    On our overnight journey from Beijing to Xian by local train, we stay in small sleeper compartments with very small beds and shared facilities. Though the quality of accommodations will be lower than in the U.S., this unique experience gives us a strong sense of local culture.

  • Xian Garden Hotel

    Xian, China

    Designed by Chinese architect Zhang Jinqiu with buildings and grounds reflecting the style of the Tang Dynasty, the Xian Garden Hotel is located next to the Dayan Pagoda and just a 20-minute walk from the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Hotel amenities include four on-site restaurants offering Asian and Western cuisine, a cocktail lounge, a sauna, and a hair salon. Each of the 292 air-conditioned rooms features a TV, telephone, and private bath with shower.

  • Furong Hotel

    Chengdu, China

    The Furong Hotel is centrally located in Chengdu near Tianfu Square and Renmin Park. Each of the 111 air-conditioned rooms has a private bath, telephone, safe, and TV with free cable Internet access. Hotel facilities include an on-site restaurant, two teahouses, and a rooftop garden.

  • Minshan Hotel

    Lhasa, Tibet

    The Minshan Hotel is centrally located in Lhasa, just a short walk from the Potala Palace. Each of its 102 rooms features satellite TV,  telephone, free high-speed wireless Internet access, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer. Hotel facilities include five Chinese restaurants, one Western-style restaurant, a bar, and a fitness center.

  • Gucheng Wenyuan Hotel

    Lijiang, China

    Situated in the center of Lijiang's Old Town near the Wu Palace, the Gucheng Wenyuan Hotel features a large restaurant, teahouse, and lounge. There are 82 rooms at the hotel, each with satellite TV, direct-dial telephone, and private bath.

  • Golden Dragon Hotel

    Kunmig, China

    Located less than a mile from Kunming’s city center, the Golden Dragon Hotel features on-site amenities like room service, a restaurant and bar, and a fitness center. Each of the hotel’s air-conditioned rooms contains a TV, safety deposit box, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with a shower and hair dryer.

  • Central International Hotel

    Wuhan, China

    Wuhan’s Central International Hotel features 120 spacious, air-conditioned rooms with basic amenities, including satellite TV and private bath. The hotel also boasts two on-site restaurants serving Western and Chinese cuisine, as well as a fitness center.

  • Charterhouse Causeway Bay Hotel

    Hong Kong, China

    This centrally located hotel is within walking distance of Hong Kong’s largest shopping mall at Times Square and the Causeway Bay subway station, with many points of interest within a ten-minute ride. A restaurant and two bars are on-site. The 294 air-conditioned rooms feature a private bath with hair dryer, cable TV, broadband Internet access, international direct-dial telephone, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and safe.

Extensions

  • Xingyu Oriental Bund Hotel

    Shanghai, China

    The Xingyu Oriental Bund Hotel is located in Shanghai's Huangpu District, with easy access to the Bund, Yuyuan Garden, the Nanjing Road pedestrian street, and People's Square by public transportation. Hotel facilities include a gift shop, two bars, and a restaurant serving East-West fusion cuisine. Each of the 192 rooms features a telephone, a TV, free Internet access, a refrigerator, and a private bath.

  • You An Hotel

    Beijing, China

    The You An Hotel is in the Xicheng district of Beijing near the Grand View Garden. Each of the 175 air-conditioned rooms features cable/satellite TV, direct-dial telephone, free Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, safe, minibar, refrigerator, and a private bath with hair dryer. Hotel facilities include an on-site restaurant serving Cantonese cuisine, a lobby bar, a fitness center, sauna, and swimming pool, and there is a small supermarket on-site.

  • Palace Hotel

    Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

    The Palace Hotel is located just a 15-minute walk from some of Ulaanbaatar's main points of interest, including the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum, Naadam Stadium, and Zaisan Hill. Facilities include a Japanese-style sauna, fitness center, restaurants serving Mongolian and international cuisine, and a currency exchange. Each of the 74 rooms is equipped with a balcony, TV, telephone, free Internet access, minibar, and private bath.

  • Hoyor Zagal Camp

    Near Kogno Khaan Mountain, Mongolia

    This rural camp is located about 169 miles west of Ulaanbaatar in a natural landscape of wide-open steppes, sand dunes, lush oases, and high rocky mountains. There are 42 traditional ger tents at the camp, with Western-style bath facilities available in the main lodge.

  • Dream Gobi Camp

    Gobi Desert, Mongolia

    Set in the Gobi Desert 39 miles northwest of Dalanzadgad, the Dream Gobi Camp features 40 traditional ger tents, each with private bathroom facilities. When not exploring the surrounding landscape, we’ll enjoy authentic Mongolian cuisine in the large communal dining ger or relax on the terrace with scenic views of the desert landscape.

  • Angkor Home Hotel

    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    The Angkor Home Hotel is located in the heart of Siem Reap. Each of the hotel’s 84 guest rooms has an oversized bed, TV, air-conditioning, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and safe. There is a swimming pool, gymnasium, and spa on the premises, and the on-site restaurant serves Khmer, Asian, and Western cuisine.

  • Hong Kong Regal Airport Hotel

    Hong Kong, China

    Conveniently attached to the airport by an air-conditioned walkway, the Hong Kong Regal Hotel’s 1,171 guest rooms each feature comforts like two-seater sofa set, satellite TV, minibar, refrigerator, tea- and coffee-making facilities, and air conditioning. There are also many amenities designed for your comfort and entertainment here, including six restaurants and bars, a spa, and outdoor and indoor pools.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $3495
w/ standard air $4795
Gateway Travel Time*
Seattle 12hrs
Portland, OR 15hrs
Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC (Dulles) 17hrs
Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Houston, Newark, New York (JFK) 18hrs
Chicago 19hrs
Orlando, Tampa, San Diego 22hrs
Minneapolis 23hrs
Phoenix 25hrs

*Estimated total time including connections and layovers. Actual travel time may vary.

The following information is your approximate flight time to Beijing, China. Routing is based on availability and subject to change. You will receive your final air itinerary approximately 14 days prior to departure.

Solo Traveler Blog-China Beyond the Wall and Behind the Walls of Locals

China Beyond the Wall and Behind the Walls of Locals

By Janice Waugh
Published May 15, 2013 in Solo Traveler, reproduced with permission

There are places where tourists go. All tourists. Those traveling independently and those traveling in groups.

In China I was traveling in a small group with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and such places, like the panda sanctuary and on the Yangtze river cruise, I would see independent solo travelers and slip away from the group to talk with them. I wanted to compare notes. I wanted to see how they were experiencing China compared to my experience of it.

In the end I drew a surprising conclusion. As one who, with the exception of a couple of trips in my teens, always traveled independently, I determined that there are countries, like China, where taking a tour makes sense.

Traveling with OAT, I spent less energy on logistics and more on trying to understand this amazing country. And one of the big benefits of OAT, which specializes in small groups, is that we got to go beyond the usual sights like the Great Wall and behind residential walls to meet people in their homes.

Our hostess at the Hutong in Beijing treated us to a wonderful lunch and history of her family.

A typical morning in a Chinese park. The woman in the foreground is playing hacky sack. The women crouching are doing Tai Chi with fans. There’s another group in the background playing hacky sack. In the same park there was a man practicing with a whip, others doing yoga, badminton and still more taking an art class. This sense of communal activity is wonderful.

Life in a Beijing Hutong home.

Our small group got a glimpse of ordinary Chinese life on a tour to a Beijing Hutong. Hutongs are old, residential neighborhoods with low, flat-roofed buildings crisscrossed by narrow lanes. For lunch, we went into the home of the woman above, where we had wide a variety of foods including lotus flower root and the best vegetarian dumplings I had in China. They were delicate in flavor and absolutely wonderful.

The home had been in her family, whose members had been artists and intellectuals, for over 100 years, surviving different monarchies and regimes. Seeing the model of the original home and comparing it to what she lives in today (just 400 sq ft. or so) was fascinating.

Our hostess shows us a model of the original family home at the turn of the 20th century. They now live in about 15% of the compound.

A rural school visit.

Exploring the countryside and villages is not something that either of the independent solo travelers whom I’d met had done. With enough time in China I’m sure it would be possible but with only three weeks, getting into a small community was a great benefit of being with the group. We went to the village of Donghan where we visited Guang Ming Primary School which is supported in part by donations from Grand Circle Foundation (connected with OAT) and stayed in a guest house overnight.

When we arrived at the school, the children came up to us confidently and small groups of them each took an adult by the hand and led us to their classroom. There they gave us gifts they had made, practiced English and performed a few songs. When they went out for recess we did too and watched the children at play. Table tennis was popular with the boys.

We stopped by the Guang Ming Primary School in the village of Donghan. This little boy took one of our group’s cameras and practiced a new-found skill.

An outdoor gym class at the school

Day and night in the village.

Donghan is known as the village where the colorful “peasant” painting style originated in the 1950′s. Artists were sent to live with farmers for re-education in the 1950s by the Mao Zedong government as a means of neutralizing political opponents. The result –  the artists taught art classes and the  the “peasant” painting style emerged.

That evening we stayed in a guest house and joined our hostess in making the meal. Later, we went out to the community park and line danced. Yes, line dancing is very popular with the Chinese. We saw it in many parks on the trip. It was fun to have our hostess bring us there and teach us the steps. It was a great evening.

At the “peasant” art gallery. Going to such places where tourists can buy locally made products seems to be a requirement of all countries with fledgling economies.

Line dancing at night. This was at the beginning of the evening. By the end, there were at least 100 people dancing.

The relocated (or displaced) in the Three Gorges Dam area.

After one night on the Yangtze river cruise, we docked in Fengdu where we visited a farmer who had been relocated to make the Three Gorges dam possible. Alex, our tour leader, translated a question-and-answer session with the family elder who was 73 years old. According to this man, he was happy to have been relocated. His previous house was 2000 sq. ft made of mud and clay. Located near the river, it was susceptible to flooding. When being relocated, he had a choice – to accept the land he was offered or select his own location and get it approved by the government. He did the latter. He was given 100,000 yuan for the move. Buying his land and building his home cost 150,000 yuan. He borrowed the difference from friends and family and now he is not affected by flooding and has a 5,000 sq. ft. house of cement that is dry. It all seemed a bit rosy but it is also plausible given that it has been five years since the relocation. Perspectives change.

While it was wonderful to be able to ask this man anything, he is only a sample of one. Numbers of those relocated range from 2 to 4 million. Not everyone was happy. Watch Up the Yangtze (a film recommended by the Yangtze River guide) to get another perspective. The conundrum that is the Three Gorges Dam project also makes me think about Japan and the nuclear disaster following the tsunami there in 2011. How does one weigh the disruption of millions of lives against avoiding eleven nuclear power plants (which the dam is supposed to have done) and the risk they represent. Without doubt, the building of the dam and the relocation of millions is a very complex subject.

Our trip leader, Alex, acts as translator for this man whose farm was flooded by the Three Gorges dam project. He answered our questions about what it was like to be moved, how much it cost, the impact on his family and more.

The pond and farm plots outside our host farmer’s home.

These are just a few of the opportunities that Overseas Adventure Travel offered that allowed us get off the beaten path in China. Every day our local guide (we always had a local guide in addition to Alex, our trip leader) shared his or her personal life with us as well as information on their home city.

Every day, we caught another glimpse of real life in China.

My thanks to Overseas Adventure Travel for making this trip possible. While they supplied the trip, all opinions are my own.

About Janice Waugh and her Solo Traveler blog

In 2009, a few years after Janice's husband passed away, facing an empty nest with her children grown up, Janice found herself saying "I'm traveling solo now." And so began Solo Traveler. Resonating with thousands of readers, her blog quickly went from strength to strength as it hit a chord among more and more people. Janice became a central figure for these growing numbers who were finding joy and fulfillment in traveling alone.

Today Janice is author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook, publisher of Solo Traveler, and moderator of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook with over 11,000 fans. She has spoken at The Smithsonian and elsewhere on solo travel and at a number of industry events on travel blogging. She has been quoted in many media outlets including CNN, the Oprah Blog, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and USA Today. On Twitter she is @solotraveler . She is also founder of Full Flight Press, the publisher of The Traveler’s Handbooks series.

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Asia

Here’s how OAT travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Imperial China, Tibet & the Yangtze River adventure. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite OAT trip photos.

  Bicycle rickshaw, China  

“Chengdu rush hour.” Nicely framed by their cyclo-rickshaw, David and Donna Nord, 2-time travelers from San Luis Obispo, California, look back for a portrait by Sharon Steele, 12-time traveler from Springfield, Oregon.

Thumbnail 1 Thumbnail 2 Thumbnail 3 Thumbnail 4 Thumbnail 5

How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: OATtravelerphotos@oattravel.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

Partner since: 2004
Total donated: $252,175

Making a difference in China

Simply by traveling with OAT, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation. Alan and Harriet Lewis created the Foundation with the mission of changing people's lives through travel—which includes both the travelers who journey with OAT, and the local people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Learn more about our work in China, and what you'll experience during your itinerary:

A Day in the Life of Hu Xian Donghan Village

Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, Hu Xian Donghan Village. You’ll meet local people, share a home-cooked meal, and stay overnight in a village home, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist’s version.

Read More

A Day in the Life of Hu Xian Donghan Village

Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, Hu Xian Donghan Village. You’ll meet local people, share a home-cooked meal, and stay overnight in a village home, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist’s version.

"The Day in the Life of Donghan Village was one of the highlights of a fabulous trip. We loved this visit and could have stayed longer. We enjoyed hearing their stories, helping with dinner, being in the house and going to the community park at night."

Lois & Kenneth Germain, 4-time travelers
Cincinnati, Ohio

Meet the People of Hu Xian Donghan Village

Your Day in the Life experience will bring you to Donghan Village, a rural community near Xian. You’ll begin with a visit to Guang Ming Primary School, which is supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation. After spending time with the children and their teachers (except during holidays when school is not in session), you’ll meet the families who will host you overnight in their homes.

You’ll prepare and share dinner with your hosts in their home, with the opportunity to ask questions about their dreams and aspirations. Afterwards, you’ll gather with locals in the village square for singing and dancing.

In the morning after your overnight stay, you’ll visit the studio of one of the village’s celebrated artists. For more than 40 years, painters here have produced colorful works depicting traditional scenes of rural life. You’ll also see the few remaining houses in the old part of the village—charming, perhaps, but symbolic to the villagers of a less prosperous past. Many of those who still live here do so in extreme poverty. In early 2011, a team of 42 OAT associates made crucial repairs to two homes during a day of community service.

By the end of your Day in the Life, we hope you’ll come away with a true sense of what life is like in rural China—and of the warm and welcoming spirit of the people who call Donghan Village home.

Grand Circle Foundation

Supporting a World Classroom: China

By funding improvements in local schools and orphanages, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In China, Grand Circle Foundation supports the Guang Ming Primary School near Xian. Our projects have included classroom renovations, providing physical education equipment, purchasing textbooks, the construction of a new building, purchasing clothing, and more.

Read More

Supporting a World Classroom: China

By funding improvements in local schools and orphanages, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In China, Grand Circle Foundation supports the Guang Ming Primary School near Xian. Our projects have included classroom renovations, providing physical education equipment, purchasing textbooks, the construction of a new building, purchasing clothing, and more.

"We enjoyed meeting the children at the primary school; they were so excited to meet us and show us around ... Grand Circle Foundation should be proud of its involvement there."

Edward Mansfield, 9-time traveler
Paradise Valley, Arizona

Guang Ming Primary School

Partner since: 2006 • Total donated: $56,755

At Guang Ming Primary School, which serves 300 students, Foundation funds have been used to renovate classroom buildings; supplement teachers' salaries; and purchase physical education equipment, books, art supplies, musical instruments, tape recorders, desks, blackboards, and projectors. The Foundation has also supported the painting of murals on corridor walls in the school that reflect the local tradition of rural Chinese art.

School in session:

Late February to June and September to mid-December

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Pens and pencils
  • Drawing paper
  • Educational toys
Grand Circle Foundation

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

Read More

SAVE 10% on any March-April 2015 departure—
a value of up to $1348 per couple. Reserve by 7/23/14.

Simply reserve a March-April 2015 departure of Imperial China, Tibet & the Yangtze River by July 23, 2014 and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer within 14 days of making your reservation.* You’ll save 10% off your adventure, air add-ons, and pre- and post-trip extension price—reserve early for your best choice.

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 4/6/15 departure:

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Maximize your value by using the money you save for an optional trip extension

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Narrowing Lanes

The uncertain future of Beijing’s hutong neighborhoods


These neighborhoods offered a life of material hardship, but they nonetheless came to embody harmonious living.

“Zhiiiii baaaan!” The voice of an unseen woman echoes down the narrow Beijing alley, announcing her presence before she pedals her tricycle cart into view. “Zhiiii baaaan!” Her cry rises like a siren then dies away as she concentrates on maneuvering between the walls of centuries-old homes with a load of cardboard (zhi ban) for recycling. Boys playing ball flatten themselves into doorways to let her pass. At five feet wide, the alleyway of this hutong neighborhood is already tiny—but it’s lucky it hasn’t disappeared altogether.

At the dawn of the 14th century, the Yuan Dynasty began to spread the wealth of the Imperial Court more widely among Beijing nobility in the form of land grants. Forty-nine lucky beneficiaries built elegant siheyuan, homes wrapped around courtyards with wells. Siheyuan linked by narrow lanes were known as hutongs. In the ensuing Ming Dynasty, even more hutongs arose—now smaller and closer together—with alleyways as narrow as a few feet, barely wide enough to allow peddlers to pull their carts through the lanes (as they still do).

Among the working-class hutong residents, the physical closeness fostered a communal bond. The slender alleys became hotbeds of socialization where children played, lovers strolled, and elders gossiped. The rhythm of life as determined by the heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter was in many ways unchanging, so that a 15th-century resident would have felt at home in a 19th-century hutong.

Demolishing China’s oldest neighborhoods

By World War II, the number of hutongs had swelled to 3,000, usually more haphazardly constructed and tinier than their predecessors, the smallest shorter than a football field, with an “alley” only 16 inches wide. Cramped, typically without electricity, and dependent on shared public bathrooms, these neighborhoods offered a life of material hardship, but in the larger cultural imagination, they nonetheless came to embody harmonious living.

Even so, during the communist era, literally hundreds of hutongs were bulldozed to make for wider thoroughfares and high-rises. The demolitions outlived the revolution: the post-Mao government sold parcels to developers who marked gates with the Mandarin character chai, which means “pull down.” As a displaced resident told the New Yorker, locals joked that they lived not in China but in chai nar, which roughly translates as “demolish where?”

The modern state of hutongs

By 2005, only a third of the hutongs remained—and hundreds more were razed to make way for the sky-scrapers which greeted the 2008 Olympics. Evicted residents were given vouchers based on the value of their homes, a poor deal considering that a four-bed multi-family hutong apartment was worth less than half as much as a one-bed apartment elsewhere in the city. Thousands of residents moved beyond city limits, while others—nicknamed “ant people”—rented cheap underground apartments beneath the new high-rises which had displaced them.

For hutong dwellers who didn’t lose their homes, the Olympics brought a few tangible benefits: Larger hutongs saw their communal bathrooms refurbished and smaller neighborhoods were given outdoor exercise equipment to increase fitness. Amusingly, the exercise stations were rarely used for their intended purposes; instead, they became additional gathering places, the equivalent of village squares you could pedal.

With CNN estimating the number of remaining hutongs at 200, Beijing is finally making concrete attempts to preserve its oldest neighborhoods. And fear of hutongs disappearing has made them a greater draw for visitors from China and abroad alike. As a result, an increasing number of developers have chosen less demolition and more incorporation, a mixed-use approach that preserves some of the housing, rents space from current tenants, and adds restaurants and shops which maintain the traditional hutong character, all while increasing local revenue.

For the moment, bicycle vendors wind through the lanes past fewer painted chai warnings. And elderly neighbors congregate where their ancestors did, now pondering a strange twist of fate: being the last of a dying breed may well be what keeps their neighborhood alive.