Take a Silk Road journey from Beijing to Kashgar

Discover the treasures of the Silk Road on this 15-day adventure through China, retracing part of the ancient trade route that linked East and West. An epic journey from bustling Beijing to the frontier city of Kashgar, travel by train across diverse and beautifully rugged landscapes to see some of the country’s most spectacular relics. From dynastic palaces and Muslim minarets to hidden grottoes and rock-cut Buddhist masterpieces, this is an unforgettable Eastern odyssey.


Start
Beijing, China
Finish
Kashgar, China
Country
China
Style
Original
Theme
Explorer
Code
CBSZ
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why we love this trip

  • Follow the route of the ancient Silk Road, travelling in the footsteps of countless generations of nomads and traders

  • Discover the unreal, ancient rainbow-coloured landscape of Zhangye, a UNESCO site that looks like countless pots of bright paint have been spilled across sandstone mountains. You won't be able to put your camera away!

  • Uncover the ‘other terracotta warriors’ in Xi’an’s Hanyangling Mausoleum, an authentic and more personal burial site that’s home to tens of thousands of buried pottery figures

  • Experience the unique atmosphere of Kashgar’s Sunday Market

Is this trip right for you?

  • This trip travels on overnight hard sleeper trains on sections of the journey. Train travel in China may not be entirely luxurious, but it's certainly one of the best ways to travel long distances and come face-to-face with the country and its people. It's the main form of transport for locals, so take the chance to interact.

  • This trip isn’t your average China itinerary, with visits to places that many haven’t heard of, such as Zhangye.

  • You’ll be crossing one of the largest countries in the world, from the west coast along the ancient Silk Road route of the central plains to the remote frontier province of Xinjiang, so be prepared for some long travelling days.

  • This trip finishes in Kashgar. Kashgar Airport is domestic only. For international connections you will need to book a flight from Kashgar to Urumqi, where the closest international airport is located.

Itinerary

Nimen Hao! Welcome to Beijing - the capital of the most populous country on earth. China's capital is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity, however there are still plenty of places that give an insight into the nation's ancient past, as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm today, where your insurance and next of kin details will be collected. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where the meeting will take place – if you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. Any free time today in Beijing is taken at your leisure, so get out and start exploring this vast and amazing city. It's recommended that you arrive a few days early to experience all that Beijing has to offer. Beijing's food is a highlight, from the famous Beijing Roast Duck to dumplings in a tiny backstreet eatery, there’s no chance you’ll go hungry here!
Optional Activities
  • Beijing - Beijing by Bike Urban Adventure - CNY530
  • Beijing - Beijing Foodie Walk Urban Adventure - CNY360
  • Beijing - Great Wall Experience Urban Adventure - CNY900
  • Beijing - Beijing Insights Urban Adventure - CNY490
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Catch the bullet train to Xi'an (approximately 5-6 hours). Once the imperial centre of China for 2,000 years, Xian is now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites to explore. Enjoy a walking tour of the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an with your group. After the walking tour, why not visit the Great Mosque, one of the most important in China. This area has plenty of interesting shops, lively street stalls and roving groups of white-bearded men in skull caps. This evening enjoy some free time to uncover what was once the start of the ancient trading route of the Silk Road.
Included Activities
  • Xi'an - Muslim Quarter Walking Tour
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Enjoy a free day to explore Xi'an at your leisure. Perhaps hire a bike and ride along the city walls, which are the most complete in China, or climb to the top of the Bell and Drum towers for impressive views. Perhaps visit the impressive Tang Dynasty Small or Big Wild Goose Pagodas. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is in a scenic area which also includes the Shaanxi History Museum and Da Cien Temple. It's very popular with locals, especially in the evenings when there is a nightly light and music show around the many fountains. The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is inside the Jianfu Temple and Xi'an Museum is also nearby.
Optional Activities
  • Xi'an - Bell & Drum Towers - CNY50
  • Xi'an - Great Mosque - CNY25
  • Xi'an - Small Wild Goose Pagoda - CNY50
  • Hua Shan day trip - CNY200
  • Xi'an - Karaoke - CNY100
  • Temple of the Eight Immortals - CNY10
  • Xi'an - Cycling on City Wall - CNY80
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today starts with a short drive to the lesser-known Hanyangling Mausoleum with a local guide. This is a Han dynasty tomb of Emperor Jingdi, a burial site that’s more authentic and less crowded than the Teracotta Warriors. Dating from 153 BC, the tomb’s a magnificent cultural relic, comprising of tens of thousands of buried pottery figures, the emperor’s tomb, empress’ tomb, burial pits, a ceremonial site, a human sacrifice graveyard and a criminals’ cemetery. You will head underground and walk through the pits, which have glass floors and walls that enable you to see the on-going excavations up close. In the evening the group boards the first overnight train to Zhangye.
Accommodation
  • Overnight Sleeper Train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Xi'an - Hanyangling Mausoleum
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Train travel in China may not be entirely luxurious but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the country and its people as it's the main form of transport for locals. We use hard sleeper class trains for most of our overnight train journeys. These are not as rough as they sound – compartments are open-plan, clean, with padded three-tiered berths (6 to a compartment). Sheets, pillows and a blanket are provided. Some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Safe, hot drinking water is always available. It is a good idea to bring a mug, spoon, knife and fork if you will be preparing your own hot drinks or food on the train (as these are not provided in cabins). Basic bathroom facilities with toilets and washbasins are situated at the end of each carriage. As toilet paper isn't always available, it's best to bring an emergency supply. Keep in mind general train cleanliness may not be to the same standards you are accustomed to. Food is available on the
Disembark after an overnight train ride to Zhangye, arriving at around midday. Check into your hotel and take an orientation walk with the group leader around this leafy town of temples and parks. The city was established 1,000 years ago as the headquarters of General Huo when he controlled the ‘Hexi Corridor’. Controlling this area meant controlling the lucrative Silk Road, as the corridor is one of the few ways through the Qilian Mountains to the north and the desert and peaks to the south. Zhangye is home to China’s largest reclining Buddha, which would have been visited by Marco Polo in the 13th century while he waited for permission from Kubilau Khan to continue on to the Mongolian capital. Relax with free time for the rest of the afternoon and evening as you prepare yourself for some truly spectacular scenery tomorrow.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today pack your sunscreen, hat and water as you head to see the unreal landscapes of Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, where it looks like millions of coloured paint pots have been spilled across the mountains. This 400-square-kilometer World Heritage site was formed over 24 million - 100 million years ago. The area was originally a lake fed by rivers, which brought many layers of sand and mineral deposits. When the lake dried up the mineral elements oxidised, giving the lake its unique colour palette. The elements then eroded the lake into mountainous shapes and unusual formations. The result looks like an oil painting, with colours ranging from pink and orange to earthy brown. The scale of the formation and the swirling patterns of rainbow colours are stunning. Take a trek around this grand and magnificent area at sunset, and discover that every angle is a photographers dream.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Zhangye - Danxia Landform Geological Park
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today there is an option to rise early and return to the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park for an unforgettable sunrise over the hills. Later at midday the group will catch a day train to Jiayuguan (approximately 1.5-2 hours). Jiayuguan was the last outpost on the edge of the ancient Han Chinese Empire, the last Chinese-controlled stop for travellers and traders before they passed into the uncertain and dangerous deserts beyond. While exploring the city you might notice the growing Muslim influence as we travel further west.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today explore Jiayuguan Fort and a remote section of the Great Wall, which you will either visit today before heading to Dunhuang. The Ming dynasty built a series of forts and towers in Jiayuguan to secure their hold over the area and Jiayuguan Fort, though restored, still offers a feeling of desolation as you look out into the desert from atop its walls. Here we visit a section of the Jiayuguan Pass, which is the western end of the Great Wall built during the Ming Dynasty. Travel to Dunhuang in the afternoon, which is about five hours drive. 
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Jiayuguan - Hanging Great Wall
  • Jiayuguan - Fort
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
This morning the group can decide if they want to drive out of the city and watch the sun rise over the nearby dunes at Crescent Lake. The oasis, which take the shape of a crescent moon, is believed to have existed for around 2,000 years and is surrounded by Mingsha Shan (Singing Sand Dunes). Today you will also visit the nearby Mogao Caves, which house some of the most stunning Buddhist murals in the world, and are perhaps the greatest store of Buddhist art in the world. The first cave was carved out and painted in 366 AD after a Buddhist monk, passing through on the Silk Road, had a vision of a thousand Buddha faces appearing on the cliff. The caves were largely forgotten until a Taoist monk stumbled upon them in 1907. Currently there are more than 492 caves, most containing murals, manuscripts, and over 2,415 coloured statues. Return to your hotel in Dunhuang for the night and perhaps enjoy a drink at the unique beer gardens off the nearby night market.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Dunhuang - Mogao Caves
  • Dunhuang - Crescent Moon Lake & Singing Sand Mountains
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Travel by private bus this morning to Liuyuan train station and board a day train to Turpan (approximately 3.5 hours). A transfer will be waiting in Turpan to take you to the hotel. Once an important staging post on the Silk Road, Turpan is an attractive oasis town famous for its vineyards, stone fruits, melons and the nearby Flaming Mountains. The Turpan Depression is second only to the Dead Sea in Jordan as the lowest point on earth. It's a small city by Chinese standards, but the surrounding area is full of interesting places. The country roads on the outskirts are lined with poplars and the lovely old mud brick dwellings of the Uyghur people, while the modern ‘inner’ town has shiny new buildings, spacious streets and public squares.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Explore Turpan with your local guide. Visit the ruins of the once great Silk Road city of Jiaohe, one of Xinjiang’s best historical sites and one of the most rewarding to visit. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen with you as things will be heating up! During free time this afternoon, choose to join the locals socialising in the square, or visit the market tonight for all the flavours of the region and plenty of interaction.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Turpan - Jiaohe Ancient City
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Take the last train journey to Kashgar, which departs between 11am and 1pm (approximately 24 hours). See mirages in the Turpan basin, then climb through a high mountain pass, switch-backing up the peak of the Tian Shan Mountains. By morning you will have descended down the other side into the Tarim basin, skirting the northern edge of the sandy Taklamakan desert, passing isolated communities eking out a living in a harsh environment.
Accommodation
  • Overnight Sleeper Train (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Turpan - Emin Minaret - CNY45
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
While this is a hard sleeper train journey, the carriages used are often double-decker with compartments for four people. The compartments are smaller than on previous trains with little luggage storage space, so there is a chance that bigger bags will need to be kept on your bed. Sit back, relax and enjoy the journey to Kashgar. Much of the excitement of Kashgar lies in just reaching this remote city, which sits over 4,000 kilometres away from its nominal capital in Beijing.
Arrive into Kashgar around midday today. Kashgar is very much a frontier town, quickly developing to take advantage of its geographical location right in the heart of Central Asia. There are few signs that you are still in China, other than the country's largest Chairman Mao statue, that is. This once ancient city is quickly modernising – in 2011 the Chinese government started rapid demolishing the Old Town due to it being overcrowded. It’s hard to predict what will be left in this area in the coming years. The town's main landmark is the Id Kah Mosque and its surrounding square. The dusty old laneways are crammed full of shops, food stalls and Uyghur locals living a lifestyle virtually unchanged for a hundred years. Take advantage of the proximity to Pakistan by having a meal of curry and chapattis at a Pakistani café or play a round or two with the lads hanging out at the pool tables on Id Kah Square. Alternatively, you can get lost meandering down lanes and alleyways, stopping at stalls selling tandoori-baked bagels or mulberry juice. 
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Kashgar's main attraction is undoubtedly the Sunday Bazaar, which you’ll visit today. It’s said to be the biggest market in Asia, and on its main day it can feel like everyone from hundreds of miles around has converged on the city. It’s alive with traders selling all kinds of wares – rugs, hats, spices, boots, dates, ingredients for traditional medicines, auto parts, you name it. The Bazaar is divided into two sections – the Downtown Bazaar, which sells clothing, household goods, produce and everything else you could imagine, and the Animal Bazaar just outside the city. Taking a private van, first travel out to the Animal Bazaar to see the frantic bargaining and bustle of local herdsmen and farmers (watch as they even take donkeys for a 'test drive'). It’s certainly a memorable scene to see every farmer, handler, sheep, cow, camel, horse and donkey from the surrounding villages packed into a small square overflowing with sound and smell. Then return to the city to visit the main bazaar and mingle with the traders and shoppers at your own pace. Perhaps join the locals in Id Kah Square on this free evening.
Included Activities
  • Kashgar - Sunday & Animal Bazaars
Optional Activities
  • Kashgar - Id Kah Mosque - CNY20
  • Kashgar - Tomb of Abakh Hoja - CNY30
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
There are no activities planned for today and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

No meals are included on this tour

Transport

Overnight Sleeper Train, Private Bus, Public Bus, High Speed Train, Subway, Taxi

Accommodation

Hotel (11 nights), Guesthouse (1 nt), Overnight Sleeper Train (2 nights)

Included activities

  • Xi'an - Muslim Quarter Walking Tour
  • Xi'an - Hanyangling Mausoleum
  • Zhangye - Danxia Landform Geological Park
  • Jiayuguan - Hanging Great Wall
  • Jiayuguan - Fort
  • Dunhuang - Mogao Caves
  • Dunhuang - Crescent Moon Lake & Singing Sand Mountains
  • Turpan - Jiaohe Ancient City
  • Kashgar - Sunday & Animal Bazaars

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. A Single Supplement is available on this trip. See under the Single Traveller section of your Trip Notes for more information.
2. A scanned copy of the personal details page of your passport is required at time of booking in order for us to purchase your train tickets.
3. Overnight train accommodation on this tour is in 6-berth ‘hard-sleeper’ class. Bedding is provided and wash basins and toilet facilities (usually one with a toilet seat and one squat-style in each compartment) are available on all trains, but there are no showers or baths.
4. Please note while traveling through mainland China you will not be able to access some popular internet websites.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

Reviews

Our Travel the Silk Road trips score an average of 5 out of 5 based on 4 reviews in the last year.

Travel the Silk Road , June 2017

Verena Juebner

Travel the Silk Road , June 2017

Anne Bowden