Adventure through China from Xi'an to Kunming

Discover hidden China on this adventure beyond the tourist trail. Journey through the Yunnan and Sichuan regions and discover a fascinating mix of people all the way to the final destination, Kunming. See breathtaking sights like the Terracotta Warriors, the Three Gorges and the Tiger Leaping Gorge and have an unforgettable encounter with China's iconic panda. This trip from Xi'an to Kunming is an incredible introduction to the region.

Xi'an, China
Kunming, China
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Min 18
Group size
Min 4 Max 19
Carbon offset
0kg pp per trip



Nimen Hao! Welcome to China.
The trip starts with a welcome meeting at 6pm in our joining point hotel in Xi'an:

Xi’an Garden Hotel西安唐华宾馆
40 Yanyin Road (to the east of Dayan Pagoda), Xi'an
+86-29-87601111 Fax: +86-29-85261998
You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If your flight arrives too late, we recommend that you consider arriving a day early and book a night's accommodation prior to the trip so you are able to attend. If you are 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 details on hand to provide to your leader.
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.
The next day we have an organised visit to see the Terracotta Warriors.
The most popular attraction in Xi'an, and the place that has made the city most famous around the world, is the Terracotta Warriors. The Warriors are certainly an incredible archaeological find, discovered by farmers digging a well in 1976 after being buried for thousands of years. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots all standing in battle formation were commissioned by the emperor of the Qin dynasty as part of his mausoleum and a number of pits are now on view to the public. More pits were recently opened so you may even be lucky enough to see archaeologists at work, carefully unearthing and restoring these ancient relics.
Drive to Wudang Shan Mountain Reserve. We will spend some time either today or tomorrow exploring Wudang Shan. Overnight in local hotel.
Wudang Shan is an important site for followers of Taoism; a 1600 m mountain, liberally dotted with Taoist temples. To really understand this place you need to understand the principles of Taoism, which would realistically involve a huge amount of careful study - but the basic underlying principles are the "Ways of Nature", essentially the bond that unites man and nature. Taoists believe in "Wu Wei", which roughly means that no action can be done that runs contrary to nature. This is a pretty wide remit, subject to many interpretations, but it's core principles can be seen clearly at Wudang Shan. Here man lives in harmony with the mountain. This is a great place for a hike, exploring the mountain, visiting the temples and meeting some of the Taoists who have made the pilgrimage here. Wudang Shan is also famous for its martial arts; Wudang boxing was created here and subsequently developed into the modern Tai Ji. It may be possible to organise a visit to the local martial art school situated at the base of the mountain.
The second morning here is free to further explore this area, before a short drive on to Xiang Fan. Depending on time, we will also try to stop at the Purple Cloud Monastery en route.
Half day drive from Xiang Fan to Yichang, where we will catch our first glimpse of the mighty Yangzi river. Yichang is a pleasant city and we will stop here for 1 or 2 nights, depending on the ferry schedule. Either way we will have time to explore a little. Whilst in Yichang we stay in a friendly local hotel.
We arrive in Yichang, a relatively small city by Chinese standards that offers a great chance to see typical everyday Chinese life and to really get inside the urban culture.
The second day here is free to explore Yichang and the surrounding area, preparing for our 3 day Yangzi River Cruise.
You can checkout a local produce market, visit a park, have a traditional reflexology foot massage or a great value manicure or pedicure, get your hair washed the local way at a neighbourhood barber (with a head massage included) or play table tennis at an outdoor court.
Overnight in local hotel or on ferry.
We travel on a local ferry boat used by local people, a much more authentic and interesting way of travelling than on a tourist cruiser. But this definitely doesn't mean slumming it, as most of the local ferries have now been upgraded to good quality accommodation and are often retired cruise boats. We stay in shared cabins (4 members of the group to each cabin) with private bathrooms and air conditioning where possible.

The journey itself is along this great river through the most stunning scenery of the Three Gorges, the Qutang, Wu and Xiling Gorges. The boats usually stop at the Fengdu (Ghost City), Shibaozai Tower, home to the Lanruo Dian (Orchid-like Temple) and at the three Lesser Gorges. However due to local conditions, stops cannot always be guaranteed.
Disembarking from the ferry first thing in the morning, we re-join the truck. Then it's a short drive to Dazu, where we visit the Bei Shan and Baoding Shan caves, famous for their brightly coloured friezes and carvings. We will stay in a comfortable hotel overnight.
Today it's another short drive on to the city of Chengdu, where we stay for the next 2 nights in a comfortable local hotel.
It might be one of China's biggest cities but Chengdu has preserved plenty of its traditional flavour and visitors can still find famous tea houses, numerous markets and some of the most interesting food in China. If you like it hot then this is the place to be as Sichuan food is known the world over for its spicy flavours. Must tries are huoguo (hot pot) and mapo doufu (spicy tofu).
Visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding - a non-profit organization engaged in wildlife research, captive breeding, conservation education, and educational tourism. There are about 50 giant and red pandas at the base, some of which can be viewed by the public.
After our early morning visit to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Centre the afternoon is free to explore the city.
Today leave Chengdu behind as we make our way to Emeishan visiting Leshan to see the Dafo Buddha on the banks of the Min River en route.
Leshan is home to the world's largest outdoor seated Buddha. 'Da Fo' - the Buddha - is carved into a cliff face and is 71 metres tall.
Arrive in Emeishan in the late afternoon. We stay here for the next 2 nights in a local hotel.
Emei Shan is one of the holiest places in China. At just over 3000 m high, this mountain has been a centre of pilgrimage for over 1800 years.
The next day is free to relax and explore Emeishan. There is the option of a hike up the holiest mountain in China.
Today we start our drive south towards China's Yunnan Province. We camp en route tonight in or near Panzhihua.
Located in the upper region of the Yangtze River, is the Industrial city of Panzhihua. The mining operations in this city are nothing short of magnificent. It is a contrasting place, as it is surrounded by rolling hills and lush forests, which make Panzhihua a great place for exploration.
Arriving in Panzhihua in the early morning on the train, we re-join the truck and continue on to Lijiang, arriving in the late afternoon or early evening. We stay in Lijiang for 3 nights in a friendly local hotel.
The World Heritage-listed town of Lijiang is home to the Naxi people - a matrilineal society descended from Tibetan nomads. You can still see Naxi around town in their distinct blue clothing, especially at the morning markets.

By day Lijiang shows its traditional side - cobbled streets, tiny alleyways and quaint wooden bridges across the canals - which attract literally millions of (mostly Chinese) tourists a year to the Old Town. By night, the contrast with the timelocked surroundings couldn't be more stark as the town becomes party central with karaoke bars and flashing lights!

Explore the Mu Palace, enjoy a traditional Naxi music culture show or wander around the old town and make a wish like the locals do - by sending a candle down one of the many canals on a delicate flower-shaped boat.
The second day in Lijiang is free to relax and explore. You may wish to take an optional trek in Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world. The entire gorge is 16 km long and rises up to 3,900 m above the waters of the Yangzi, one of the most important rivers in China.
It is usually possible to organise a 2 day trek through the gorge, staying overnight in one of the local guesthouses. It’s a beautiful trek that is achievable by most active people. The highlight for many if staying in the homely guests houses along the route – a great place to relax in the peace of the mountains.
If you do not chose to trek, you'll spend these nights in our friendly local hotel.
Drive from Lijiang to Dali. We stay in Dali for the next two nights in a friendly local guesthouse.
Dali has long been a favourite destination for foreign travellers and backpackers, the laid back atmosphere is enhanced by the spectacular surroundings - snow capped mountains on one side and the vast Erhai Lake on the other.

While much of the old town is being renovated to improve the living conditions for locals, there are still enough cobblestone streets and original stone buildings lining the alleyways inside the old city walls to make wandering around here a real pleasure. Many have been converted into little shops, cafes and bars so you never have to go far to find a place to chill out with a drink.
The next day in Dali is free for activities and giving more time to explore the town and surrounding area.
Morning drive from Dali to Kunming. The trip finishes on arrival in Kunming. We anticipate arriving early afternoon but suggest that you don't book an onward flight until the evening to allow for any delays.
Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, is known in China as "the city of eternal spring" due to its temperate climate. It's a thoroughly modern city, home to a population of about 6 million - but despite it's size it's actually pretty laid-back - so it's an enjoyable place to while away an afternoon. The Yuantong temple is definitely worth a visit, at over 1000 years old it is the largest Buddhist temple complex in Kunming, or treat yourself to a hair cut from one of the outdoor barbers who offer their services around the Tang Pagodas.
View trip notes to read full itinerary


Ferry, Overland vehicle
Bush camp (no facilities) (1 night), Guesthouse (2 nights), Hotel (14 nights), Overnight boat (3 nights)
Included activities
  • Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors guided tour
  • Wudang Shan - Purple Cloud Monastery
  • Wudang Shan - National Park
  • Yangzi River - Three Gorges boat cruise
  • Dazu - Bei Shan & Baoding Shan Caves
  • Chengdu - Panda Breeding Centre
  • Leshan - Giant Buddha
  • Emei Shan - Day trek
  • Lijiang - Optional Tiger Leaping Gorge trek


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Important notes

Please note that this trip requires minimum numbers to depart, and may be cancelled up until 56 days prior to departure. The places showing on the dates and availability page are an indication only so please contact Intrepid to check if your preferred date will depart before making any final arrangements, such as booking non-changeable flights.

Local Partner:
Please note this Intrepid trip is operated by our experienced local partners Dragoman Overland. Your departure will be run in a Dragoman vehicle with a Dragoman crew.

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