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2017 NEW China's Inner Mongolia & Shanxi: Hidden Gems of the North

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Beijing • Xilamuren Grassland • Hohhot • Datong • Pingyao • Xian • Hong Kong

Courtesy of CNN
Beijing's cultural vibe

See Beijing through the eyes of locals when they show you some of the city’s best kept secrets.

Courtesy of Dimitri Staszewski
Khuukhenduu - Camel walk with mouth harp

Listen closely as a Mongolian local interprets the sounds of a camel walk on a mouth harp.

Courtesy of the Meatmen
Kung Pao Chicken

Learn how to make Kung Pao Chicken, a classic Chinese dish, in a few easy steps

Produced by Lauren Knapp
Mongolian Naadam: Horse Racing

Cheer for 10-year jockey Maralmaa as she races her horse during the Naadam Festival, when Mongolians gather to compete.

Courtesy CNN
Going off the grid in Shanghai

See how innovation and tradition come together in glittering Shanghai.

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Itinerary Overview

Discover a different side of China, where tucked-away grottoes reveal vivid frescoes and monasteries appear to hang hundreds of feet in the air. Meet a Mongolian family and spend the day as a herdsman. Explore a walled city where time appears to have stopped centuries ago. Trace the footsteps of lost dynasties from China’s immense cities to its untrodden villages, and get an inside view of Chinese culture as we meet locals from all walks of life. See what makes China the destination of a lifetime.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 7 nights from only $1595

    In Shanghai, we’ll get a flavor of China’s colonial past, bustling cosmopolitan present, and the enduring serenity of the city’s gardens. In Suzhou, called “the Venice of the Orient,” we’ll wander through perfectly-preserved ancient waterside villages, meet fishermen and monks, and see one of China’s most treasured gardens.

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Beijing Hong Kong Expand All
  • You depart today for an overnight flight to Beijing.

  • Today, you will arrive in Beijing in the afternoon or late evening. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport and assist you with the transfer to our hotel, where you’ll join travelers who have taken the pre-trip extension China Past to Present: Shanghai & Suzhou.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • Today, Beijing is China’s modern political and administrative center, but it’s also the home of a great number of China’s historic imperial monuments and art. Today, we’ll explore some of its most famous treasures, but first we’ll gather for breakfast and a Welcome Briefing at our hotel.

    Beijing was originally laid out according to a series of concentric circles, with its most important—and most secretive—at the center. Those innermost circles, the Forbidden City and surrounding Imperial City, are our first destination. The Forbidden City is a maze of courtyards, halls and galleries that played home to 24 emperors and two dynasties. We must cross a 160-foot-wide moat and enter a gate in the 30-foot-high wall. For nearly 500 years, entry by commoners was punishable by death, but today we will wander the hallowed halls with no consequences. Behind the Gate of Supreme Harmony, we’ll find marble floors, grand frescoes, and a series of main halls.

    Next, we’ll venture out onto Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world at a hundred acres and capable of holding more than a million people. This space is most famous for the tragic student demonstrations that took place here in 1989. Lined with Soviet-era official buildings and a giant portrait of Chairman Mao, each cobble in the square is numbered so that parade units can line up in perfect symmetry.

    We’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, before returning to the hotel for an afternoon that you may spend at your leisure. This evening, we’ll gather for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • After breakfast this morning, we’ll explore one of the most authentic sections of China’s Great Wall, left in its original and unrestored state. Construction on the Great Wall began in 403 BC and continued for centuries; some 300,000 men were put to work connecting the original, separate segments into one huge fortification that archaeologists estimate ran for over 6,000 miles. Today, the wall is still 3,750 miles in length. The wall served an important purpose beyond keeping invaders out: the roadway on top enabled the quick movement of troops, food, and information through the massive Chinese empire.

    After our time at the Great Wall, we’ll go to lunch at a local restaurant before we return to our hotel in Beijing late this afternoon. The remainder of the day is yours to spend at leisure or further getting to know Beijing, perhaps by visiting a local food market, enjoying the evening view of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park, or wandering the city’s narrow hutong, or alleyways, that date back more than 800 years.

  • After an early breakfast this morning, we will depart the hotel for our flight to Inner Mongolia. One of China’s five autonomous regions (similar to a province), Inner Mongolia borders Russia and Mongolia to the north and covers hundreds of thousands of square miles. Inner Mongolia is home to a small Mongol population, many of whom have adopted the modern Chinese way of life and moved to cities. However, the windswept desert and grasslands are still home to nomadic families who each live in a round tent, called a ger, and tend small herds of livestock.

    At the airport in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia’s capital city, we will transfer to a bus for the remainder of our journey. We’ll have lunch in a local restaurant before continuing on to the Xilamuren Grassland. There, we will check in to our own ger and enjoy an orientation walk in the surrounding area.

    This evening, we will enjoy a Mongolian-style dinner.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast this morning, we go off the beaten path for a visit to a local family. They will teach us how to make traditional snacks and the famous Mongolian milk tea, which we will taste before trying our hand at daily chores. As a reward, we’ll enjoy a visit to a nearby pond.

    We will assist our hosts in cooking lunch before sitting down to eat together and discuss what life is like on the grassland year-round.

    This afternoon, we return to Hohhot, where you will have the afternoon to spend at your leisure. If you would like to continue your discoveries of this unique region, visit the strikingly modern Inner Mongolia Museum, where exhibitions cover everything from dinosaurs to Genghis Khan to the Space Age.

    This evening, we will gather for dinner at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning, we will enjoy breakfast at our hotel before departing for the Resonant Sand Gorge, an unusual sweep of sand dunes that are rumored to echo in the wind.

    We’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant near the dunes before returning to our hotel in Hohhot. We will have some time to relax before gathering for dinner at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast this morning, we will set out to discover the 16th century Dazhao Lamasery, Hohhot’s largest temple. The Dazhao complex is an architectural mash-up of traditional Chinese, Han and Tibetan-style buildings thanks to renovations that stretched through the centuries. Inside the imposing temple walls, we’ll find shockingly vibrant frescoes, Buddhist scriptures and relics, and a stunning ten-foot-tall silver statue of Buddha.

    As we leave the temple complex, we will stroll down the Saishang Old Street. We’ll then return to our hotel, where you’ll have some time at leisure before dinner on your own. 

  • We’ll enjoy breakfast at our hotel this morning before boarding a bus for the transfer to Datong (about 4 hours). We’ll have lunch in a local restaurant along the way, and upon arrival we’ll have some time to relax at our hotel.

    Our first discovery in Datong is the Huayan Temple, the best-preserved monastery of the Liao Dynasty (907-1125) in all of China. Originally serving as the ancestral temple for the imperial family, the Huayan complex today is still an active monastery, as well as an excellent repository of Buddhist scripture and sculptures. The temple’s pagoda provides a wonderful view of the surrounding city.

    Tonight we’ll have dinner in a local restaurant.

  • This morning after an early breakfast at the hotel, we head for the Yungang Grottoes. Carved in the fifth century, these 53 caves are home to some of China’s most precious Buddhist artwork—51,000 ancient statues in total. Several caves retain their ancient wooden structures, while many still feature brightly-colored frescoes, animal and angel figures, and statues of Buddha that range in size from the tiny to the massive (the largest is over 55 feet tall). The site extends for an entire kilometer and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

    We’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before departing for our next discovery, the Hanging Monastery. Built over 1400 years ago into the side of a cliff face, the monastery’s pavilions are connected by catwalks and corridors that offer glimpses of the ground 250 feet below. Oak crossbeams fit into holes in the rock and provide invisible support; from below the monastery appears to float alongside the cliff. Inside, Buddhist sculptures share the spotlight with Confucian and Tao imagery in an unusual display of religious coexistence. In its heyday, the monastery served as a waystation for pilgrims from all three of China’s main religions.

    The Hanging Monastery has been well-preserved through the centuries, but eventually the high number of visitors will be too much for its delicate construction and the site will be closed. Our visit will be all the more special because it won't be available to future generations.

    We will return to our hotel this evening and have dinner at a local restaurant.

  • This morning after breakfast, we’ll depart via bus for Pingyao. Lunch at a local restaurant will break up the journey (about 4.5 hours). We will also pause at the Bai Cao Kou Great Wall at Yanmen Pass. An authentic and unrestored section of China's Great Wall, this was an important strategic post during the Ming Dynasty. After a brief visit, we'll continue on our journey to Pingyao. Upon arrival at the gates of the old city, we’ll leave the bus behind and venture into some of China’s best-preserved ancient city streets en route to our hotel. 

    Established 2700 years ago and rising to prominence throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), Pingyao resembles a set from the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A moat and daunting city walls enclose grand old homes, ancient pagodas, quiet courtyards, and alleyways draped with red lanterns. Against this backdrop, locals go shopping, do their chores, and socialize, making Pingyao a living museum that is unique in all of China.

    After checking in, we’ll enjoy an orientation walk in the surrounding neighborhood and you have the remainder of the evening, including dinner, to make your own discoveries. 

  • Today after breakfast, we depart to visit a local village. The lives of the villagers have undergone significant changes through the years, as the Chinese population ages and farmland is developed into growing urban areas. We’ll learn how the members of the Ma Jia Bao community have adapted in the face of these challenges, as we tour the village and visit a mushroom factory.

    We’ll stop by a farming area and a family's courtyard home during a walking tour of the village. At lunchtime, we’ll be invited into a local’s home, where we’ll help prepare the meal, and learn how to cook a local dish. When we sit down to eat with our hosts, they’ll share their own experiences and we’ll have an opportunity to compare daily lives.

    This afternoon, we return to Pingyao, where you’ll have the remainder of the day to spend at your leisure. Dinner is on your own tonight.

  • Today we set out to discover the ancient secrets of Pingyao and its surrounding area.

    First we'll discover the Wang compound outside the city. A luxurious former residence, the compound offers a glimpse into the privileged lives of imperial China’s noble families. Grand halls and courtyards form a labyrinth that houses a magnificent collection of paintings, jade carvings, and porcelain art.

    After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we return to our explorations of ancient Pingyao. Perhaps the best way to absorb the timeless atmosphere here is just to wander the streets of the old city, and that’s what we’ll do, stopping to admire traditional homes, unrestored old shops, and elegant courtyards. Especially impressive are the bank buildings of the 19th century—when Pingyao served as the financial center for all of China.

    After we stroll as a group, you will have the rest of the evening to spend at your leisure, including dinner. This evening, your large suitcases will be delivered to Xian by overnight train, and will be waiting for us there tomorrow.

  • We’ll enjoy breakfast at our hotel this morning before departing the ancient city and catching a comfortable high-speed train bound for Xian. During a journey of approximately three hours, we’ll pass through scenic countryside and enjoy a boxed lunch on board. We arrive in Xian early this afternoon, check into our hotel, and have some time to relax before setting out for the city’s Muslim Quarter and Great Mosque.

    Xian’s mosque is one of the largest in China. The surrounding neighborhood has been home to Xian’s Muslim community for centuries. The alleys are lined with butcher shops, smaller mosques, food markets, and sesame oil factories. It’s an especially distinctive atmosphere after dark. 

    After our evening wandering, we’ll gather for dumplings in a local restaurant.

  • This morning, we’ll have a leisurely breakfast at our hotel before departing to marvel at the legions of life-sized soldiers, generals, chariots, and horses of the Terra Cotta Army, standing guard over Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb. One of the world’s biggest archaeological finds, the massive mausoleum was discovered by accident in 1974 by local farmers who were digging a well. There are over 6,000 life-sized figures arranged in trenches throughout the museum, and no two faces are alike.

     We’ll have lunch at the museum and continue our discoveries before returning to our hotel in midafternoon. You may spend this evening at leisure, and dinner is on your own. Or, join us for the optional tour to the Tang Dynasty theater for a spectacular performance of traditional Chinese song and dance. Dinner is included on this optional tour.

  • After breakfast at our hotel, we depart for an international flight to Hong Kong (about 3 hours). We arrive in midafternoon, transfer to a downtown hotel, and have the rest of the day to spend at your leisure, including dinner. You may choose to join your Trip Leader for an evening walk, take the subway to Victoria Park for a view of the cityscape at night, watch a light show on the waterfront, or take a ferry to Kowloon for a taste of Hong Kong nightlife. The city is yours to discover this evening.

  • This morning after breakfast, we’ll set out to explore Hong Kong as a group. We’ll discover Hong Kong’s traditional Chinatown area, pay our respects to the Cantonese god of literature at Man Mo temple, and ride the world’s longest covered outdoor escalator. Today’s discoveries also include the picturesque Aberdeen Fishing Village and a ride in one of the sampan boats that dot the harbor.

    This afternoon, lunch is at your leisure and you have the afternoon to relax or continue making your own discoveries in Hong Kong. We will gather again for a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:

    Return flights to the U.S. depart throughout the day. If you’ve chosen to join our post-trip extension Paradise Found: Shangri-La & Shilin, you’ll fly to Kunming at midday.

    Heart of Cambodia: Angkor Wat & Siem Reap

    5 nights from only $1295

    Set in tropical forests near Siem Reap, Cambodia, is Angkor Wat—the largest temple complex in the world. On this extension, we'll discover this UNESCO World Heritage Site and also meet the friendly people of Cambodia as we visit a lakeside village, share a Home-Hosted meal, and much more.

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