After China hosts the 2008 Olympic Games, many operators will be rushing to beef up their Asian portfolios.
But China is vast, and it can be tough plan a good two-week holiday. We break down a typical 14-night China itinerary.
Day one: arrive Beijing
China’s capital is where most key attractions are found and where the majority of tours will start. Holidaymakers will normally make the 10-hour flight from the UK overnight, departing from London.
With an eight-hour time difference, longer itineraries will include some free time to ease you into the city. Walk around, take in the sights and sounds and try some street food. It’s fresh and ridiculously cheap at 15p a piece – you can even watch Peking duck being shredded before your eyes.
Day two: Beijing
Get an early start and head for Tiananmen Square. In 1987 Tiananmen – the largest public square in the world – was the scene of a student uprising that ended in tragedy.
China has come a long way since then, and Tiananmen Square is now synonymous with early morning flag-raising ceremonies and children flying colourful kites just before sundown.
At the top of the square is the Forbidden City, a red-roofed village that was off limits to all but the ruling class. Containing the palatial homes of Emperors from Qing and Ming dynasties, it was laid out in keeping with Yin and Yang principles.
Just outside Beijing is Summer Palace, the former holiday residence of the Emperors. Transfers to this area of parkland, filled with lakes and beautiful buildings, are usually included in escorted tours.
Day three and four: Shanghai
Shanghai, once known as the Paris of the Orient, is just a two-hour flight from Beijing. Its swish department stores sit next to run-down housing estates, while high rises are being thrown up at lightning pace.
Most tours will take in riverside boulevard Naming Road and the Jade Buddha Temple. Shanghai is also well-known for its acrobatics shows so choose an itinerary that includes one, or allow yourself a free evening to go.
Day five: Wuhan
Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province, is the most common gateway for Yangtze River cruises.
The Yangtze, also known as the Yellow River, flows for 3,900 miles, cutting through Tibet and seven Chinese provinces before spilling out into the China Sea north of Shanghai.
Passengers usually arrive in Wuhan the night before their cruise in preparation for an early morning start.
Days six to nine: the Yangtze River
Four-day Yangtze River cruises are popular, with most passengers boarding their vessel at Yichang. Boats feature several different classes of accommodation, from private cabins with separate bathrooms to dorm rooms with shared facilities.
Travel 2’s 14-day China and the Mighty Yangtze cruise is aboard President Cruises’ five-star boat, with polished floors and deluxe rooms, while Magic of the Orient’s vessels have a range of recreational and leisure facilities. There are usually a couple of restaurants on board.
Boats stop to visit towns, cities and tourists sights. Cruises in this direction pass through Xiling Gorge en route to the Three Gorges Dam Project, an engineering venture of vast proportions. Wu Gorge, the Ghost City of Fengdu and Qutang Gorge are other highlights.
Days 10 and 11: Xi’an
Passengers disembark in Chongqing, a small city with a zoo and panda sanctuary. It is worth an overnight stay if clients don’t want to rush.
Many itineraries will stop for an afternoon before transferring to Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors.
Unfortunately, few visitors to Xi’an stop to appreciate anything else in the town. Take a walk to the Jewish quarter night market, with its cobbled streets and barbecues. It makes a lovely alternative to a restaurant.
Day 12: The Great Wall
The Great Wall of China stretches from Shanghai Guan on the east coast to Jiayuguan in the Gobi desert.
It was built as a defence line by hundreds of thousands of workers, many of them political prisoners. Several crumbling sections have sadly been rebuilt to incorporate tourist restaurants and amusement rides, but there are still untouched blocks.
Beijing is a good entry point for Great Wall day trips, many of which include transportation from the hotel and a guide to hold your hand over the crumbly, scarier parts. Don’t rush – the views are spectacular.
Day 13: Beijing
Spend your last morning in Beijing people-watching, or walk to the Olympic site to see how it is developing. You could even bring back some valuable tips for London’s Games…
Cosmos Tourama offers a 15-day China and the Yangtze River tour from £1,604 per person in September including flights, accommodation, escorted touring and most meals.
Magic of the Orient has a five-day Yangtze River cruise heading upstream from Yichang from £362 per person this month including full-board accommodation in a twin-share cabin, private transfers and the services of an English-speaking guide.
Wendy Wu Tours has a 10-day A China Experience tour taking in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai from £1,590 per person this month with flights, three-star accommodation, transfers and all meals.
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