Crave adventure? Love pandas? Want unique cultural immersion? Need scenic nature? Seek luxury accommodations? Then this special AFS journey is for you! Come follow the origin of the legendary silk road deep into regions Americans have yet to discover. This is the photographers’ dream with natural wonders and a ton of fun activities along the way. We base ourselves in the Qing Cheng Mountains of Sichuan province, a natural habitat for Pandas. In the bamboo forests of Panda Valley, watch in awe how pandas live and breed freely (as well as cute moon bears, golden monkeys and exquisite birds). Visit the new Giant Panda Research Base which focuses on the rescue, rehab and release of ill or injured pandas. It’s also a breeding center as giant pandas are now endangered species. You’ll love the babies and have the opportunity to hug a panda or even volunteer for a day! In Beijing, ride a rickshaw through the hutongs and spend a day at the exciting part of the Great Wall where we ride cable cars up and toboggan sled down! Fly to Chengdu and Hangzhou, once the playground of Emperors and favorite city of Marco Polo. Hangzhou is all the buzz now as Asia’s most beautiful city! We cruise the Grand Canal, visit UNESCO West Lake, visit tea plantations, stroll through gardens of lotus flowers and see a famous theater performance of music and light under the stars.
You’ve heard of Six Senses Resorts & Spas, right? You’ll get to revel in the award-winning 5-star Six Senses of Qing Cheng with its distinct villas and renowned spa. Aside from pandas, it offers exceptional activities for you here. This area is the birthplace of Taoism and Tai Chi. You can visit a Taoist fortune teller at Happiness Pavilion, hike up Black Mountain to lunch with Chinese family, do ‘moving meditation’ with a Zen Master in a Buddhist Temple, visit ancient villages of minority people along the Tibetan Plateau, take a cooking class in an organic garden and so much more.
At the end we tour Sparkling Shanghai! It’s our 9th trip to China, each one different. This one in the mystical mountains focuses on nature, the people and pandas along with luxury accommodation. I call this “Heaven in the Clouds”. Come unlock the ancient mysteries deep inside the exotic part of China. Here’s an epic vacation far from the ordinary for your bragging rights!
You can arrange your own international air and buy your internal flights from AFS or book AFS Group Air with all legs from LAX. Details later.
Check in Air China counter by 8:30am on Oct 22.
(Cross the international dates line)
We land at 11 AM and are met and transferred to the 4-star Grand Mercure Beijing Hotel. Fabulous location in the heart of the city next to Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City. Perks include heated pool, fitness center, free WIFI, restaurants and bars. Many AFSers have been to Beijing. If you’re a first timer, you may want to go 2 days early to explore!
Welcome to the capital city of China, most populous country on earth. Beijing is the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It’s filled with ancient treasures and modern entertainment delights with new venues opening all the time. Explore Imperial and architectural wonders.
If you feel up to it today, we offer an optional Historic Hutong Tour that our past groups loved. On guided ‘rickshaws’, you’ll be peddled around charming streets and ancient alleys to transport you into the traditional way of life here. Visit a local home for herbal tea and a market. See Drum Bell Tower, Prince Gongs Mansion (royal residence Qing Dynasty), pavilions and Chinese gardens. It’s total cultural enrichment.
Later, revel in the nightlife. Beijing never sleeps and it’s now a Food Haven.
Overnight: Grand Mercure Beijing B, L
After breakfast buffet, we head an hour to the stunning and less touristy section of The Great Wall called Mutianyu. There’s a long history here. This section was constructed in years 550-557, then built up until the 17th century. The Wall is a must for visitors and we make it fun.
Ride a cable car up. Walk along ancient watchtowers for incredible photos of the horizon. It snakes across the tops of impossible steep mountain ridges. Sense the history of 300,000 men who worked 10 years to complete this structure that can be seen from outer space. Hike or stroll at your leisure pace. Ride the cable car down, hike trails down or opt to descend the mountain on the new thrilling toboggan sled!
Delight in a delicious home-cooked Chinese lunch at a local restaurant. Later, with time permitting, we visit the architectural marvels of the famous ‘Bird’s Nest’ and ‘Water Cube’, national stadium and aquatic center to learn about the glorious role of the 2008 Olympics here. A day you’ll treasure forever!
Evening free to play. (Ladies head to the 6-story Silk Market building for endless gifts - from silk scarves to fine jewelry. Buy all your Christmas gifts at ridiculous wholesale prices).
Overnight: Grand Mercure Beijing B, L
Chengdu is my fav city in China. Enjoy a short city tour of this metropolis of 11 million in Sichuan province this is famous for its fiery food and cool Tea Houses. Continue on for an hour to 6 Senses Resort Qing Cheng Mountain where we check in for 3 glorious nights.
The resort was created to compliment the UNESCO World Heritage Site of nearby Dujiang Yan. It’s been brilliantly designed with regional architecture and landscaping to blend in with the surroundings of mystical mountains with wild pandas. Six Senses offers extraordinary activities with expert guides that can be booked according to your tastes. Pandas are just the beginning:
Overnight: Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain Resort B
Just 30 minutes from our resort is Panda Valley.
Today we visit the Dujianguan Panda Base from Six Senses QingCheng Mountain Resort Three areas are dedicated to semi-wild reintroduction, full reintroduction and breeding. (Currently 20 Giant Pandas but wild pandas and babies being added.)
We go on a guided tour with an experienced team member to learn about conservation efforts and education on all things pandas and you can select to hold a pandas for a once in a lifetime photo-ops. Pretty pricey at $350, but worth it.
Holding pandas must be purchased by Final Payment. A completed medical form is also required (see Trip Tips). Additional Panda interaction programs are available in the Six Senses activities menu in the Trip Tips)
Overnight: Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain Resort B, L
Leisure day to play, relax or explore. Resort staff will help you decide on best activity on many choices. Don’t forget to enjoy the unique treatments in the exquisite resorts 6 Senses Spa.
Trip Tips contain the 'menu' of what the resort offers for your leisure day. Spa treatment, hikes, educational programs and if you are an Uber-Panda fan there are additional Panda experiences at different refuges in the area - Panda Ark & Panda Valley Adventure - all Panda activities must be booked & paid for by Final Payment.
Overnight: Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain Resort B
After breakfast, transfer to airport for 3-hour flight from Chengdu to Hangzhou arriving late morning. Check into our beautiful midtown Shangri-La Hotel. This gem has health club, indoor pool, restaurants, bike paths on 40 acres, Spa and just 5 minutes to downtown.
Hangzhou (on my bucket list) is a city of 9 million in Zhejiang province with a historic center. Once a capital of ancient China, Marco Polo described it as “the most luxurious noble city in the world”. Lonely Planet says it’s China’s most popular holiday spot. With dreamy panorama’s, it looks like a watercolor. It’s also the capital of Silk and Tea production.
Renowned West Lake Tour – This afternoon we visit the World Heritage Site of West Lake used for imperial retreats and celebrated by artists since the 9th century. It is sprinkled with stunning islands, gardens, arched bridges, fountains, temples and pagodas. Enjoy a wooden boat cruise to view sites like Flower Pond, Gushar Island, Twin Peaks piercing clouds and more.
Later we visit famous Flying Peak Mountain and must-see Lingyin Temple (Temple of Soul) built in 326 A.D. It’s the most visited Buddhist temple in China with the largest statue of Buddha. If time allows, we’ll visit Wensli Silk Museum which showcases the finest silk items. (On your free time, you can shop 7-story Silk City for amazing bargains on scarves and clothes).
Dinner tonight is served at a lakeside restaurant for great photos. West Lake was selected in Top 12 Superb Sunsets of the World by CNN.
Overnight: Midtown Shangri-La Hangzhou B, D
We begin with a cruise on the Grand Canal, a UNESCO site, built in 486 BC for the Emperor. It’s the worlds’ oldest and longest man-made canal on earth at 1,115 miles long with a history spanning 2,500 years. Imagine, it begins in Beijing and links 5 great rivers from Yangtze to Yellas Rivers. Many consider it the worlds’ greatest engineering accomplishment. The Hangzhou section has the most beautiful scenery lined by old temples, rice fields and tea plantations.
Afterwards we visit Long Jing Tea Plantation where they produce China’s best Dragon Well Green tea. Walk the tea farm and village. Here we lunch at a local restaurant.
On to visit Qinghefang Ancient Street which flourished in ancient times as a commerce center and now well preserved in the historic center. It looks like you stepped into the 12th Century Song Dynasty with such authenticity. It’s a great place to buy unique handicrafts. A million visitors come each year and it’s bustling with artists demonstrating their crafts.
Impression West Lake Theatre Tonight enjoy an evening spectacle never to be forgotten. Created by Zhang Yimou who directed the Opening Ceremony for the Beijing Olympics This large-scale performance of music, light and dance is entirely staged on the beautiful lake with a backdrop of mountains on the horizon. There are rising platforms on the lake, hundreds of actors and world-class musicians. See them dance above the waters like fairies as they depict China’s most romantic love story.
Overnight: Midtown Shangri-La Hangzhou B, L
After a breakfast, we head out by coach to spectacular Shanghai! (2-3 hours depending on traffic) I love this mega-city. We embark on a city tour around the famous Bund and visit the stunning Yu Yuan Garden in the center of Old Shanghai. Yu Yuan was built in the Ming Dynasty 400 years ago. The exquisite layout of scenery and architecture looks like a traditional Chinese garden. Then see the fabulous waterside walkway of the Bund paved in colorful tiles and flowers with a backdrop of the tallest skyscrapers and stunning high-rises.
From here we depart to Shanghai airport for our 4:45 pm flight home.
Group Air flight arrives LAX same day, evening of Oct 30.
2. I have no trouble walking and if necessary, can walk for 3+ miles. Uneven surfaces are not a problem. I do not need a cane or walking device.
A $400 deposit will secure your space. Limited to 36 participants.
Land Price $1998 + air
Included - all services above in first class hotels, guided tours with entrance fees, meals as stated, A/C private coach, AFS trip leader.
Not included – gratuities & optional
We’re finding best price on China Air:
Price: $895 + 189 taxes
PEK = Beijing, CTU - Chengdu, HGH - Hangzhou , PVG - Shanghai via PEK to LAX
This 'option' is a required additional charge for this trip.
Please review AFS Terms and Conditions as well as Heading Abroad with AFS. Group air - Airlines may add surcharges to offset fuel inflation or taxes. The total ticket cost is not final until we receive your final payment and are ticketed. If doing own air, airport transfer may or may not be included depending on your air schedule. Do not buy air until we either group air is set or we advise - dates can change! Itineraries are prepared often a year in advance. Though not likely, AFS and our suppliers reserve the right to change or modify such to meet local conditions. Although rare, hotels can change – all hotel rooms are run of the house. Our prices are based on current taxation structures. In case any revision in taxes, sudden fluctuation in currency levels, change in Visa fees or increase in fuel charges, we will amend our prices and inform you accordingly. Land price is based on minimum number of trip participants.