Take a Silk Road journey from Beijing to Kashgar

Discover the treasures of the Silk Road on this 13-day adventure through China, retracing part of the ancient trade route that linked East and West. An epic journey from bustling Beijing to the colourful frontier town 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.

TRIP CHANGES FOR 2017:
From 1st January this trip will become 15 days to allow more time in Xi'an and conclude the trip in Kashgar. A more detailed itinerary will be released by October 2016, but the destinations will be as below:

1 Beijing
2 Xi'an
3 Xi'an
4 Overnight Train
5 Zhangye
6 Zhangye
7 Jiayuguan
8 Dunhuang
9 Dunhuang
10 Turpan
11 Turpan
12 Overnight Train
13 Kashgar
14 Kashgar
15 Depart

Start
Beijing, China
Finish
Urumqi, China
Countries
China
Themes
Explorer
Code
CBSA
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
1 244kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Follow the route of the ancient Silk Road, travelling in the footsteps of countless generations of nomads and traders
  • Explore the incredible World Heritage site of Maijishan, and try to work out how statues, reliefs, and 194 caves were carved into the side of this mountain 1,500 years ago
  • 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 warriors’ in Xi’an’s Han Yang Ling Museum, 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, maybe the largest bazaar on the continent

Itinerary

Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. 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 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 at your leisure, so you can start your explorations of this vast and amazing city. Arriving a few days early to experience all that Beijing has to offer is definitely recommended. A great way to get started is with a metro ride out to the former imperial residence of the Summer Palace, or a visit to 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, noodles in a tiny backstreet eatery and some of the best international dining in China, there’s no chance you’ll go hungry here!
Today is a free day to explore Beijing. There are no activities included here, and there's only limited time here on this trip. Those wishing to visit the Great Wall and sites outside Beijing sites are recommended to arrive a few days early. Maybe make your way to the centre of the city – Tian'anmen Square. Perhaps most famous outside of the country for the 1989 massacre, this square is the symbolic centre of Chinese power. Framed by the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its Mao portrait, Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum, it's a place of pilgrimage for the Chinese tourists who consider it the heart of their nation. From here you can enter the enormous Forbidden City – it’s a truly amazing place to appreciate the might and grandeur of the Imperial Chinese court. You can also wander the Temple of Heaven Park, visit the 798 Art District on a Beijing Art and Architecture tour, cycle round the city, or explore the beautiful Tibetan-style monastery of Yonghegong (the Lama Temple). In the evening, take an overnight sleeper train to Xi'an (approximately 12 hours).

Notes: 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 train, but it's a good idea to stock up on snacks for the trip.
Arrive in Xi’an – once the imperial centre of China for 2,000 years, it’s now a vibrant, modern city dotted with many interesting historical sites to explore. Today starts with a short drive to the lesser-known Han Yang Ling Museum 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. Return to Xi’an to enjoy some free time to uncover what was once the start of the ancient trading route of the Silk Road. There’s much to choose from here – the city has a wonderful Muslim Quarter of quaint shops, lively markets, groups of white-bearded men in skull caps sipping tea in cafes, and a Great Mosque, one of the most important in China. You might learn about Chinese dynasties in the Shaanxi history museum, visit the Bell & Drum Towers, climb up the Little Wild Goose Pagoda or walk along the top of the city walls, which are the most complete in China.
Leave Xi’an and climb aboard a day train to Tianshui (approximately 4 hours). Situated on the route of the Silk Road and on the Wei River, Tianshui is located near one of the legendary cradles of Chinese civilisation, renowned for its culture and history dating back over 2,000 years. Buddhism was introduced in China back in the mid-5th century and the Majishan Mountains and Grottoes in the Tianshui area became a major Buddhist temple. On arrival in this town of Gansu Province, take an orientation walk and then enjoy a free evening to spend how you please. Be sure to continue your exploration of Northeast China’s cuisine with noodle shops and stands. There are numerous halal noodle dishes, dumplings, and sweet sesame paste-filled balls (tang yuan) on offer.
The main draw of Tianshui is the World Heritage site of the Maiji Mountain Grottoes (45 kilometres southeast of Tianshui). This is one of the largest Buddhist cave complexes in China, nestled in beautiful surroundings of lush green vegetation-filled forests and hills. One side of Maiji mountain is covered with 194 Buddhist caves cut into the rock, most dating from the 5th and 6th centuries AD. With a local guide you’ll explore this incredible area, somehow constructed into an overhanging cliff face hundreds of metres above the cliff base. There are huge carvings of Buddha cut into the rockface, and thousands of statues and murals – the differences in styles helped archaeologists track the growth of Buddhism and the changes in Chinese sculpture. Climb the stairs and platforms that wind their way up the cliff face connecting the caves. Monks and artists travelling along the Silk Road would stay at Maijishan and offer their skills to help build, maintain, and decorate these impressive grottoes. Depending on time, you might also visit the Tianshui Museum or the famous Fuxi Temple. Fuxi was a legendary emperor of the Chinese and the temple, with a main hall that's one of the most elaborate structures in the province, was built in 1490 to commemorate his life. Around 10pm this evening you'll board an overnight train to Zhangye.
You’ll arrive into Zhangye in the early hours this morning. Check into your Guesthouse and take an leader-led orientation walk around the 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 no doubt been also visited by Marco Polo, who spent a year here in the 13th century while waiting 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.
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 pots of coloured paint have been spilled across the sandstone mountains. This 400-square-kilometer World Heritage site was a formed over 24 million years – 100 million years ago it was the base of a lake and rivers brought many layers of sand and mineral deposits. When the lake dried up the mineral elements oxidised, giving it the unique colour palette, and then the elements eroded it into mountainous shapes and unusual formations. The result looks like an oil painting of mountains, 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, and discover that every angle is a photographers dream. In the evening, begin the next phase of your journey and board an overnight sleeper train to the city of Turpan (approximately 13 hours). You will cross into China’s most north-western province, the vast Xinjiang, which incredibly borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. Turpan is primarily home to the Uyghur people, a minority Muslim group, and when you arrive in the town you'll notice the change in dress, language, signs, the architecture, and the food.
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 Turpan Depression is second only to the Dead Sea in Jordan as the lowest point on earth. The temperature soars here to an average of as much as 40C during summer. 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 lovely old mud brick dwellings of the Uyghur people, while the modern ‘inner’ town has shiny new buildings, spacious streets and public squares. On arrival, explore with your local guide. Depending on the season, this could include the ruins of the once great Silk Road 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. There’s also the old Uyghur village of Tuyoq, where the grape trellises draped around the city provide welcome shade in the summer. In free time this evening, choose to join the locals socialising in the square, or visit 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're asked to join in!)
Today you take your last train journey, to Kashgar, leaving between 11am and 13:00 (approximately 24 hours). 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 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. 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 what some might consider a wasteland.
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, with poor drainage and vulnerable to earthquakes. They relocated 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 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. 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. Taking a private van, first travel out to the Animal Bazaar to see the frantic bargaining and bustle of local herdsmen and farmers trading and bartering – even taking donkeys for a 'test drive' – while their handlers catch up on the latest news and gossip. 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, bringing the legends of one of the world's great trading towns to life. Perhaps join the locals in Id Kah Square on this free evening.
Catch a flight from Kashgar to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (approximately 1 hour 45 minutes). This is a multi-national province with many languages, customs, cultures and colourful ethnic traditions. It's 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. Though close to just-visited Turpan, there's a world of difference between it and Urumqi. The latter is a thoroughly modern city of skyscrapers, shopping malls, and highways; where businessmen from the neighbouring countries are attracted by one of China’s fasted growing cities and economies. Take an orientation walking tour around this diverse city and enjoy your last evening with your group. Perhaps head to the night market, navigate through the hundreds of stalls selling everything and anything you might think of, and have dinner to celebrate how far you’ve come on this journey.
There are no activities planned for today and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. It is possible to extend your stay in Urumqi, please get in touch with your booking agent.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
n/a
Transport
Overnight sleeper train, Private Bus, Public bus, Train, Plane
Accommodation
Hotel (8 nights), Overnight sleeper train (4 nights)
Included activities
  • Xi'an - Hanyangling Mausoleum
  • Tianshui - Maiji Mountain and Grottos with Local Guide
  • Zhangye - Danxia Landform Geological Park
  • Turpan - Jiaohe Ancient City

Dates

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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. 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.
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.

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

Reviews

Our Silk Road Adventure trips score an average of 4.83 out of 5 based on 6 reviews in the last year.

Silk Road Adventure , June 2016

Silk Road Adventure , June 2016