|May 10 2022||20 nights
How well I remember the year of 2008 and the Global Financial Crisis. The phones were not ringing, the Australian dollar had collapsed and all was despondent. It was in this moment that I decided to go to China, or ‘big China’ as I called it (we had been in southern China, or Yunnan province, since 2003). With the help of Geoff Culnane (a travel industry colleague and committed China-file), we put together an ambitious plan that threw out conventional touring in China and replaced it with destinations like Harbin, Pingyao, Lanzhou, Xia He and Jiuzhaigou. It took some work I must say; China was not easy to navigate in terms of language, visas and distance, but we did it and operated our first departure in 2009 with our trusty partners on the ground, Asian Trails.
We wrapped this journey in the bookends of Chengdu and Shanghai where there are pandas and the old French concession to explore, and included Xian and Beijing to see the Terracotta Warriors and Tiananmen Square. Aboard very fast trains and across vast grasslands this trip has it all; the urban east, the ancient middle kingdom and the pristine wilderness of Jiuzhaigou National Park.
In my view China is misunderstood in the greater world. This journey will give you plenty to think about.
Unlike no other Chinese city Shanghai oozes sophistication and western style. We commence our journey with a stroll through the leafy streets of the former French concession, observing its art deco architecture, before continuing to the Bund and Xin Tiandi. It was here that the Communist Party of China was established in 1921.
We travel into the far north-east and visit Harbin, where Russian influence began in 1895 with the construction of the China Far East Railway. After the 1917 Russian Revolution many Czarist Russians and Jewish migrants brought their style and money to Harbin, building nouveau architecture, cobblestone streets and `onion’ churches.
We take the fast train to Beijing, speeding across the Manchurian plain at 250 kilometres per hour and gliding into Beijing that afternoon. Here we visit the classics including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. You will have a chance to contrast the old with the new at Factory 798, a contemporary art community housed in 1950’s Bauhaus style buildings.
We continue by fast train to the walled town of Pingyao in Shanxi province. Here we find Chinese life as it was before new China. There are wooden halls, Confucian temples and Ming dynasty courtyard houses that tantalise the senses. Here we lodge at the boutique Jing’s Residence hotel and embrace the ambience.
The first dynasty of China was established in Xian around 200BC by Emperor Qin Shi Huang. He immediately began building his tomb. For two thousand years the location was lost until 1974 when a farmer, purely by luck, uncovered the first of the Terracotta Warriors. We will make an extended visit to view these startling figures.
Xian is the heart of the Middle Kingdom and also the burial place of China’s Han dynasty emperors. We will visit these tombs, which in my view, rival the more celebrated Terracotta Warriors and are seldom visited.
We fly to the far west and the old caravan town of Lanzhou. Here we start our three day road journey by comfortable bus travelling along the edge of the Tibetan plateau. This part of the world is rarely visited by foreigners so we are a curiosity amongst the mostly indigenous Tibetan people. Along the way we lodge in the quaint monastery towns of Xia He and Langmusi. On the grasslands there is no urbanisation, just the nomadic Tibetans herding their yaks and living subsistence lives in black tents on endless grassy meadows. The massive grey mountains of the Himalaya are in the distance.
A memorable road journey leads us to Jiuzhaigou National Park set amongst soaring forests of pine, maple and birch, with over 100 pristine lakes and waterfalls. The walking trails here are as good as anything you will see in any national park, with handrails, toilets and rest areas designed to make your experience easy and enjoyable. Our travels conclude for two nights in Chengdu, home of the giant pandas.
On a Goddard & Howse small world journey our hotels are more than just a place to stay. We look for great locations as well as character, service and comfort.
Our partner hotels have been delivering expectation since we began our small world journeys in China and Southeast Asia 20 years ago. And most importantly, our hotels are an enticing place to come home to after a day of discovery.
In the far north-east of China just a few hundred kilometres from the Russian border the industrial city of Harbin rises from the Manchurian Plain. It's cold up here in the winter with the lowest temperature down to minus 20 degrees, cold enough to host the annual Ice and Snow festival that brings visitors from around the world to see spectacular designs of snow art. In the summer the days are mild and the city relaxes, and Goddard & Howse visit on our Manchuria & Yellow River Hinterland China discovery trip. more
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