Explore the big cities and quaint villages of China from Beijing to Hong Kong

China really does have it all: tranquil countrysides offering jaw-dropping natural scenery and invigorating hikes, neon cities boasting incredible food and scintillating nightlife and points of historical, artistic and cultural interest at every turn. Get acquainted with this country's complexities and contrasts on this fascinating 23-day adventure that will have you walking the Great Wall, trekking through the Longji rice terraces, idling the hours away in serene Hongcun, drifting along the Li River and living it up in Hong Kong. Jam-packed with colour, culture and zeal, China will astonish you with the levels of diversity and distinction contained within its borders.

Please note the internal flight from Urumqi to Bishkek will need to be taken on Day 14 instead of Day 13 due to a change in flight schedules.

From 1st January this trip will become 29 days to allow more time in Xi'an and conclude the trip in Tashkent. A more detailed itinerary will be released in the coming months.

Beijing, China
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 16
Carbon offset
763kg pp per trip


  • Visit the lesser known Han Yang Ling Museum, of the Han Dynasty, (the other warriors). In our opinion this site is far more authentic and there are less tourists!
  • Visit the incredible UNESCO World Heritage site of the Maiji Mountain Grottoes which include's 194 caves cut in the side of a mountain.
  • Overnight in a traditional Yurt camp, yurts are the traditional dwellings of the Kyrgyz people, made of felt and tarpaulins on a round frame.
  • Uncover all facets of Samarkand's Registan, probably the most recognisable of all Central Asia's monuments


Nimen Hao! Welcome to China.
Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm on Day 1.
Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
We will also collect copies of your passport, visas and migration cards.
The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places to go that will give you a great insight into the nation's ancient past as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture.
If you arrive early, a great way to get started is a metro ride out to the Summer Palace, once an imperial residence, or visit the Silk, Pearl or Panjiayuan markets for some bargain hunting. Beijing's food is a highlight too, from the famous Beijing Roast Duck to dumplings or noodles in a tiny backstreet eatery to some of the best international dining in China there is no chance you will go hungry while here! We definitely recommend arriving a few days early to make the most of Beijing's sights and experiences.
Marvel at Tiananmen Square - apparently the largest down town square in the world. Framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum it's a place of pilgrimage for Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation.
Today is a free day to explore Beijing! There are no activities included in Beijing and we have only limited time here on this trip. Travellers wishing to visit the Great Wall and other Beijing sites are recommended to arrive a few days early. We recommend Urban Adventures for a day trip to the Great Wall and for other day tours around Beijing.

Other things you may like to do during your time here include:
Catch a performance of the world renown Beijing Acrobats.
A trip to the 798 Art District on a Beijing Art and Architecture tour will give you a taste of where art is heading in today's China as you wander the multitude of galleries housed in this old factory complex.
A metro ride can take you to the Summer Palace, once an imperial residence and the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China.
The Temple of Heaven Park is one of the most popular in Beijing and at any time of the day is full of people of all ages taking part in traditional pastimes such as tai chi, fan dancing, diablo, kite flying, water calligraphy and more. Visit beautiful Yonghegong, or Lama Temple, which was built in 1694 and is the largest and best-preserved Tibetan style monastery building in Beijing.

In the evening we depart on our overnight hard sleeper train to Xi'an (approx 12 hrs).
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. Safe hot drinking water is always available for making coffee, tea or instant meals. We recommend bringing 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 are situated at the end of each carriage with toilets and washbasins. Most trains have a dining carriage where meals are available three times a day, and there are often snacks available on the train along the way.
The imperial centre of China for 2,000 years, Xi'an is now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites. A monument pays homage to the fact that this was the start of the famous ancient trading route of the Silk Road and the city is still surrounded by city walls.
Today visit the lesser known Han Yang Ling Museum, of the Han Dynasty, (the other warriors). In our opinion this site is far more authentic and there are less tourists!
The site was built in the year 153 AD and covers an area of 20 square kilometers. It is a magnificent cultural relic, comprising of the emperor's tomb, empress' tomb, the south and north burial pits, ceremonial site, human sacrifice graveyard and criminals' cemetery. We will have a local guide for this visit.
There's a lot to do here in Xi'an and little time so you'll have some tough decisions to make on how to best spend your free time. Some of our favourites include:
For a different view of the city, climb to the top of the Bell or Drum Towers. The Bell Tower is in the centre of downtown Xi'an where the city's four main roads - Bei, Nan, Dong and Xi Dajie (North, South, East and West Avenues) - converge. Originally built in 1582 and restored in 1739, the tower was used to announce the time of day and serve as a watchtower. The previous Bell Tower, dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), stood two blocks to the west.

The Drum Tower marks the entrance to the Muslim Quarter. It no longer contains the giant drum once used to signal the closing of the city gates, though it does retain some good views, including one of the Great Mosque.
One of the oldest mosques in China, the Great Mosque in Xi'an features an unusual blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture. Still in use today, the mosque serves as a place of worship for Xi'an's large Muslim population, made up predominantly of the Hui minority. Although non-Muslims are not allowed within the main hall itself, a visit during one of the five daily prayer times adds another dimension of spirituality, no matter what your religion.
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 and is very popular with locals especially in the evenings when there is a nightly light & music show around the many fountains. The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is inside the Jianfu Temple and Xi'an Museum is also nearby.

Try a leisurely cycle on the Xi'an city wall - a total distance of 13.74 km. The wall, an old fortification surrounding the heart of Xi'an, was established in 1378 AD.
We take a day train from Xi'an to Tianshui.
Situated on the route of the Silk Road and on the Wei River, Tianshui is renowned for its culture and history dating back over 2000 years.
Buddhism was introduced in China back in the mid-5th century and the Majishan Mountains and Grottoes became a major Buddhist temple.

On arrival we take an orientation walk and then enjoy a free evening to spend how you please.
Today we visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Maiji Mountain Grottoes (45 kilometers southeast of Tianshui). While here we take the time to explore some of the 194 caves cut in the side of a mountain with our local guide.
Depending on time perhaps visit the Tianshui Museum or the famous Fuxi Temple, Fuxi was a legendary emperor of the Chinese and the temple was built in 1490 to commemorate his life.
This evening is free to explore Tianshui by night.
Arrive into Zhangye in the early hours of Day 6. Check into our Guesthouse and take an orientation walk around the town with your Leader. Relax with free time for the rest of the afternoon and evening as you prepare yourself for some truly spectacular scenery tomorrow.
Today pack your sunscreen, hat and water as we take off to see the colourful landscapes of Zhangye Danxia Land-form Geological Park.
This 400-square-kilometer attraction is a UNESCO World Heritage site formed over 24 million years ago from a mixture of various minerals and coloured sandstone. The result looks like an oil painting of mountains, with colours ranging from pink, orange to earthy brown.
We take a trek around this grand and magnificent area of which every angel is a photographers dream.
In the evening we begin the next phase of our journey and board an overnight sleeper train to the city of Turpan.
We arrive into Turpan early in the morning, (around 6:45am). 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 country roads on the outskirts are lined with poplars and lovely old mud brick dwellings of the Uyghur people, while the modern 'inner' town has shiny new buildings, spacious streets and public squares.
We visit some of the town's many attractions with our local guide. Depending on the season, these could include the ruined city of Jiaohe, the Bezeklik Buddhist caves and the ancient Karez underground irrigation system, which still provides water for the agricultural needs of the area. We also vist the old Uyghur village of Tuyoq where the grape trellises draped around the city provide welcome shade in the summer months - temperatures can easily reach 45C here!
In free time during the evening, choose to join the locals on the square for socialising or visit one the night market for all the flavours of the region and plenty of interaction. There's also a cultural show held at a nearby hotel where you can witness the fast-paced drumming and dancing traditional to the Uyghur people (and don't be surprised if you are asked to join in!)
Check out the Emin Mosque with its monumental minaret, the tallest in China.
Today we take our last train journey to Kashgar, leaving between 11am and 13:00 (duration is approximately 24 hrs). Please note that 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 our 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.
We 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. From Kashgar, roads lead into Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and beyond. There are few signs that you are still in China - other than the the country's largest Chairman Mao statue, that is. This once ancient city is quickly modernising. In 2011, the Chinese government started rapid demolishing of the Old Town of Kashgar due to being overcrowded, with poor drainage and vulnerable to earthquakes thus relocating Uighur families to newly built apartments. 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, from which dusty old lanes lead off, 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, play a round or two with the lads hanging out at the open door pool tables on Id Kah Square, get lost meandering down lanes and alleyways, stopping at stalls selling tandoori-baked bagels or mulberry juice, learn some funky moves at a Uyghur disco or visit some of the city's holy sites.
Kashgar's main attraction is undoubtedly the Sunday Bazaar, which we'll visit today. Now much modernised, it's 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. We travel by private van, first to the Animal Bazaar to see the frantic bargaining and bustle of local herdsmen and farmers trading and bartering for sheep, goats, cows and even taking donkeys for a 'test drive'. Then return to the city to visit the main bazaar and mingle with the traders and shoppers at your own pace, bringing the legends of one of the world's great trading towns to life.
Free evening.
Today we fly to the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Urumqi. This is a multi-national province with many languages, customs and colourful ethnic traditions. It is also China's gateway to Central Asia, with air links to all the former Soviet republics, and it is widely regarded as the city farthest from the ocean.
Take an orientation walking tour around this diverse city and enjoy your last evening with your group.
Today we fly from Urumqi to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!

As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.

Please note this flight will be unaccompanied as you will farewell your Chinese Leader in Urumqi. You will meet your Kyrgyzstan Leader once you are transferred to your hotel upon arrival into Bishkek.
Today we have a full day city tour of Bishkek.
Bishkek is the relaxed capital of Kyrgyzstan with a pleasant laid-back atmosphere. The city centres around Ala-too Square, previously known as Lenin's Square under the previous Soviet regime. Lenin used to stand in his concrete overcoat in the middle of the square, proudly gesturing towards the mountains. For those interested in their Soviet memorabilia, a larger than life Frunze can also be found still sitting on a bronze horse facing the train station, though his name plaque has been removed - and you can still visit the museum built over Frunze's birthplace. A pleasant place to watch the world go by is Dubovy (Oak) Park, where you'll find a few open air cafes, perfect spot to sit and have a drink and soak up the atmosphere. The century old oaks here and all along Freedom Avenue make Bishkek one of the greenest cities in Central Asia.
A full day ahead as we travel to Song Kol Lake, one of the largest lakes in the country, (approx 350km drive).
The roads in Kyrgyzstan see little regular maintenance so even short distances can take a full day and the pass to Song-Kol is not open all year round. When the road to Song-Kol is impassable we will travel to a different destination today - your leader will confirm this with our local partners on arrival in Kyrgyzstan. All driving times are approximate - weather, road conditions and stops along the way will all vary from trip to trip.
On the way we make a short stop at the second largest alpine lake in the world - Issyk-Kul lake. Issyk-Kul is one of the biggest natural water reservoirs in the world at 170 km long and 70 km wide. Issyk-Kul means "warm lake". A combination of extreme depth, thermal activity and mild salinity means the lake never freezes.
Continue to Kochkor, enjoy lunch and explore a small local market in the centre of the village. Visit a local women co-op that provides training to local women in the field of handicrafts.
Arrive into Song Kol Lake in the late afternoon. This beautiful alpine lake is considered a sacred place for many Kyrgyz people as well as one of the best summer pastures for nomadic herders. In mid summer you will see many flocks of sheep, goats and herds of horses watched over by nomadic herdsmen and their families.
Stay in our first yurt camp tonight. Yurts are the traditional dwellings of the Kyrgyz people, made of felt and tarpaulins on a round frame. Sleeping arrangements are on a multi-share, mixed gender basis with mattresses on the floor. It can get very chilly in the evenings so there's a stove for heating and plenty of blankets. There are no bathroom facilities inside the Yurts. Outdoor toilets are to be expected and you may be daring enough to use the icy mountain stream nearby for an invigorating morning splash!
Today we enjoy a full day exploring our surroundings. Hike along numerous lake trails, see ancient petroglyphs and visit a nomad camp and get a first hand look into local life. Enjoy the rest of the day on the shore of the lake reading or simply just relaxing and taking in your beautiful corner of the world.
Suusamyr valley is one of the more remote and rarely visited regions of Kyrgyzstan. It is a high steppe plateau at around 2200m and the mountainous lush landscape is dotted with yurts.
Just when you think the road couldn't possibly climb any higher, we arrive at our guesthouse for an overnight stay. In the Jalal-Abad Region is Chychkan Gorge. Stop here and soak in the amazing scenery. Surrounded by mountains and rivers flowing below, Chychkan is simply stunning. Spot a wild boar or deer, go for a short hike or pick wild blackberries.
With no cities in the vicinity and the only electricity coming from a nearby hydroelectric dam, if it's a clear night, the stars here are simply stunning.
After breakfast we drive to Arkyt Village, which is located in the Sary-Chelek National Park (a UNESCO international network of nature reserves) and lies 15km before Sary-Chelek Lake. (Driving time approximately 6-7 hours). The reserve was founded in 1959 to preserve the flora and fauna of the walnut-fruit forests and alpine landscapes.
We make a small detour to drive a section around the Toktogul Water Reservoir which supplies electricity and water to 90% of the Kyrgyz population. The Toktogul Dam and Hydroelectric power station actually features on the 100 som banknote!
Tonight we will stay in a local homestay and enjoy more of that Kyrgyzstan hospitality.
An morning drive brings us to Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. Located in the Fergana Valley in the south of the country Osh is often referred to as the "capital of the south". (Approximately 5 hour drive from Sary-Chelek Lake).
Osh is actually one of the real ancient towns dating back to the 5th century BC! While you are here explore the Jayma Bazaar, pop your head into the famous 3 story Yurt, or take in a visit to the Suleiman Too.
A long travel day ahead as we cross the border into Uzbekistan today.
The largest city in Central Asia with a population of over 2 million, Tashkent is a mix of Russian and Uzbek style, an indication of the fact that for many years it was a key city of the USSR. Extravagant mosques, both ancient and new sit alongside modern highways and Soviet monuments.
Uzbekistan offers adventurous travellers the chance to step away from the mainstream and dive in deep. With rugged landscapes, futuristic cities, cultural triumphs and a history that spans epochs, Uzbekistan is a place where you can sleep in a desert-bound yurt, marvel at modern architecture and shop for covetable, bespoke handicrafts.
Today we explore the city with a full day city tour, ticking off the main sites. Explore the maze of dusty streets with their small mosques and mud brick houses in what's left of Tashkent's Old Town.
Visit the Applied Arts Museum for those interested in the carpets, ethnic costumes, embroidery and other traditional arts of the region; the Amir Timur (Tamerlane) Museum which depicts the story of this national hero's life and curiously displays what are claimed to be his actual eyebrows. Visit Independence Square, travel by local metro, and walk on to the opulent Opera and Ballet Theatre, maybe stay on to see one of the performances in the evening.
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Samarkand remains one of the most attractive in Central Asia despite a turbulent history of war and earthquakes.
The city blossomed under Amir Timur, known in the west as Tamerlane, a tyrannical 14th-century ruler. A lover of art, Timur was responsible for the colourful domes and exquisite minarets that now form the city's skyline. Although Samarkand fell into disrepair during the Soviet days, restoration is slowly progressing and the sights here are a photographer's dream.
In your free time here you may like to:
Visit the ruins of the ancient observatory built in the 1420s by the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg. It is considered by scholars to have been one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world at the time and the largest in Central Asia before it was destroyed in 1449.
Gain an overview of the region's history and local art & handicrafts at the State Museum near the Registan.
Marvel at the rate which the remains of the Old Testament Prophet Daniel are believed to continue to grow after death. He now occupies an 18m long tomb!
Today join a local guide for an in-depth tour of Samarkand's sights, first heading to the incredibly extensive Shah I Zindah Mausoleum complex - a holy site for local Muslims and where the Prophet Mohammed's cousin is buried. From there we walk to the massive Bibi Khanum Mosque, no longer functioning but impressive in its proportions and extravagance. We cover the short distance to the Guri Amir Mausoleum by taxi to see Amir Timur's final resting place before finishing at the most spectacular of all - the Registan.
The Registan is probably the most recognisable of all Central Asia's monuments. The facades of the two medressas facing the central square are decorated in elaborate mosaic, tiles and intricate geometric brickwork, flanked by towering minarets and topped by azure-hued domes. The interior of some of the buildings are just as impressive and there's so much to explore, including the many handicraft and souvenir stalls in the courtyards and rooms. We see some of the main rooms and have a chance to ask our local guide for interesting insights before having time here on our own to marvel at our own pace.
Travel by private transport to the town of Shakhrisabz (approx 3 hrs).
Shakhrisabz is the birth place of Tamerlane and while not nearly as spectacular as Samarkand in terms of sights, the ruins of the once immense Ak-Saray Palace will challenge our imaginations to envisage what a truly powerful leader he once was.
Climb to the top of Ak Saray's remaining entrance portal for views of the neatly-laid city stretching into the distance.
Our stay here is a great chance to see typical Uzbek town life as we take a walk around the shady streets and stay overnight in a local Guesthouse.
Take our private van further to Bukhara (approx 4 hrs) - a favourite Silk Road city for many travellers. After check in the hotel your leader can help you to work out the free afternoon in the town as our walking tour with the local guide will take place on the next day.
In the evening you can join the locals and other travellers around Lyabi Hauz, a pool of water surrounded by ancient mulberry trees in the Old Town's centre. Have a meal here of shashlyk (roasted meat on skewers) with non bread and green tea, head to the charming puppet show in the theatre nearby or see tradition meet contemporary culture at the nightly fashion show across the plaza.
Today we will have a walking tour with a local guide. You will have plenty of free time while in Bukhara to explore the artisan shops and wander the narrow twisting streets and alleyways on your own. This is one of the best places to pick up some local handmade souvenirs such as embroidered hangings and cloth, silk, carpets, pottery, woodwork, miniature paintings and jewellery. Don't expect it to be cheap however as each item takes painstaking labour to create and many of the sellers are the artists themselves.
Other things to do here include:
Stop in at the Ark, the old royal town that is Bukhara's oldest standing structure. Inside you can find the Zindon jail where spies of the Great Game era were imprisoned.
Get soaked and scrubbed within an inch of your life in a traditional hammom. You'll feel relaxed afterwards.
Today we take a local train to Tashkent (approx 6 hour journey). Arriving late afternoon, the evening is free to spend at your leisure.
The largest city in Central Asia with a population of over 2 million, Tashkent is a mix of Russian and Uzbek style, an indication of the fact that for many years it was a key city of the USSR. Extravagant mosques, both ancient and new sit alongside modern highways and Soviet monuments.
Some recommendations for things to see in your free time, (if you didn't get time to do them earlier in the itinerary) are the Applied Arts Museum for those interested in the carpets, ethnic costumes, embroidery and other traditional arts of the region; the Amir Timur (Tamerlane) Museum which depicts the story of this national hero's life and curiously displays what are claimed to be his actual eyebrows; a tour of the opulent Opera and Ballet Theatre and maybe staying on to see one of the performances in the evening; or exploring the maze of dusty streets with their small mosques and mud brick houses in what's left of Tashkent's Old Town.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. Please speak to your Leader about storing luggage at the hotel.
View trip notes to read full itinerary


15 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 5 dinners
Overnight sleeper train, Private Bus, Public bus, Train, Metro
Guesthouse (7 nights), Homestay (1 night), Hotel (14 nights), Overnight sleeper train (3 nights), Yurt (2 nights)
Included activities
  • Xi'an - Han Yang Ling Museum
  • Tianshui - Maiji Mountain and Grottos with Local Guide
  • Zhangye - Danxia Landform Geological Park
  • Jiaohe Ancient City
  • Bishkek City Tour
  • Song Kul Lake Hike
  • Osh - Bazaar
  • Suleiman Too Mountains - Osh
  • Samarkand - Shakh-I-Zinda Mausoleum Complex
  • Samarkand - Bibi Khanum Mosque
  • Samarkand - Guri Amir Mausoleum
  • Bukhara City Tour


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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. Some destinations visited on this trip do not have consulates in Australia and New Zealand. Please see Visa section of the Trip Notes for detailed information and allow sufficient time to obtain your visas for Central Asia prior to travel.
4. 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.
5. Please note while traveling through mainland China you will not be able to access some popular internet websites.
It’s important to let your family and friends know that you might not be able to stay in touch over your usual methods, be it – social media or email. Or let them know if you have set up a new email address in which you can access in mainland China.
The Chinese Government control and restrict certain websites. Websites on the blocked list could change at any time, any site could be restricted at any moment. Here are some of the most popular websites around the world that are blocked in China: Google, Dropbox, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, WordPress, LinkedIn,Yahoo Hong Kong, Yahoo Taiwan, Wikipedia and many more.
6. Please make sure you have access to an additional US$500, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster, civil unrest or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
7. Please note the internal flight from Urumqi to Bishkek will need to be taken on Day 14 instead of Day 13 due to a change in flight schedules.

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide 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.

View trip notes