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!
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.
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.
Today you’ll journey out in to the countryside surrounding Xi’an (approximately 2 hours) and visit what is undoubtedly one of the man-made wonders of the world – the Terracotta Warriors. You’ll learn all about this incredible archaeological find, discovered after being buried for 2,000 years by farmers digging a well in 1976. These clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots (and originally individually painted) were commissioned by the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi as part of his mausoleum after he ascended to the throne in 264 BC. Three main pits are open for you to view, where over 1,000 warriors are displayed – each individually sculpted from clay, each having a different costume, height, and even facial expressions – stand in battle formation. The scale is incredibly impressive.In the evening the group boards the first overnight train to Zhangye. 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.
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 1000 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.
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 hike around this grand and magnificent area at sunset, and discover that every angle is a photographers dream.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Arrive into Kashgar around midday today. Once a frontier town straddling the crossroads of empires and trading routes, Kashgar is now very much a modern, fast developing city that continues to take advantage of its geographical position near the border of Pakistan and Central Asia. Far from Beijing it may be, but there are still plenty of signs that you are still in China, such as the country's largest Chairman Mao statue. The once extensive Old Town is just about all but gone, with only a few areas still left to be demolished or rebuilt under the guise of it being overcrowded, with poor drainage and vulnerable to earthquakes. There has been a huge loss of culture with Uyghur families being relocated to newly built apartments. 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.
Kashgar's main attraction is undoubtedly its markets, which you’ll visit today. It’s said to have some of the biggest markets in Central Asia, and on Sundays, the main trading day, it can feel like everyone from hundreds of miles around has converged on the city. We first take private transport to just outside the city to the Livestock Market. One of the best known markets of it's kind in the region, it's considered a "must see" sight in Xinjiang. Watch the bargaining and bustle of local herdsmen and farmers as they buy and trade sheep, goats, cows and donkeys. It's a big social occasion for the local community too, as rural families gather to share a meal and a chat. Then return to the city to visit the Grand Sunday Bazaar, open every day but most alive today with traders selling all kinds of wares – rugs, hats, spices, boots, dates, ingredients for traditional medicines, auto parts, brightly coloured material for clothing, electrical goods, household items, you name it and it's probably here. Browse the market at your own pace and a free evening tonight.
There are no activities planned for today and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
Travel on to Bishkek, where you will have free time until you meet your new group and leader at 6pm tonight.
Take a trip down memory lane today with a city tour showcasing the country's fascinating history. The centre of the city is Ala-too Square, which was known as Lenin Square in Soviet times. Lenin used to stand in his concrete overcoat in the middle of this square, proudly gesturing towards the mountains. A great place for a wander is Dubovy (Oak) Park, where you'll find a few open-air cafes. The century-old oaks here and all along Freedom Avenue make Bishkek one of the greenest cities in Central Asia. In the afternoon, you'll have some free time to further explore Bishkek. Quite the contrast to the relaxed quiet streets, square and parks in the city center, Osh Market is noisy, crowded, and a perfect peek into local life. You'll find all kinds of things on sale here from spices and fruits to clothes and carpets. Get together with your travel mates and enjoy an optional final dinner together tonight to celebrate a great journey through Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Drive 60 km to the 11th-century Burana tower, an ancient minaret from the Silk Road period. In the nearby village of Don Aryk, visit a local home. Reflecting the important role horses have played in the traditional Kyrgyz nomadic life style, the country is famous for at least four types of horse games such as odarysh or wrestling, tiyin-enish, where riders try to pick up coins at full gallop and kok buru or buzkashi, a type of goat-snatching polo. We'll take the chance here to watch the how the locals play some of these horse sports here and enjoy a tasty lunch with the family. Continue to Issyk Kul lake – the second largest alpine lake in the world. This beauty is one of the biggest natural water reservoirs in the world, at 170 km long and 70 km wide. A combination of extreme depth, thermal activity and mild salinity means the lake never freezes. Next, continue to Kochkor. Explore a small local market in the centre of the village, and, depending on our arrival time, a local co-op that provides training for local women in traditional handicrafts.
Make the 130 km drive to Son-Köl, one of the largest lakes in the country. 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 the middle of the summer, you'll see nomadic herdsmen and their families watching over goats, sheep, and horses. Enjoy exploring your surroundings for the rest of the day. There are many beautiful lake trails to hike along. Alternatively you may be able to visit some ancient petroglyphs in the local area, or visit a nomad camp for a first-hand look at nomadic life. Simply sit and take in this beautiful corner of the world. Tonight we stay in yurts set up along the lake shore. Made of felt and tarpaulins on a round frame, yurts are the traditional dwellings of the Kyrgyz people. 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, so outdoor toilets are to be expected. Those daring enough for an invigorating morning splash can use the lake nearby. All meals are included during our stay here.
Today you travel along gravel roads to the tiny village of Kyzyl-Oi squeezed between the mountains. On our way, we will pass large coal deposits and travel along the Kökömeren river which feeds into the Syr Darya - one the major rivers of Central Asia that used to fill the Aral Sea. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the river in the shade of the trees and use your free time to explore the village once we arrive.
A full day of driving though big, beautiful landscapes today. As the roads in Kyrgyzstan see little regular maintenance, even short distances on a map can take hours. The road crosses the Suusamyr Valley – a high steppe plateau situated at around 2,200 metres above sea level. The mountainous, lush surroundings are often photogenically dotted with yurts. We then follow the Chychkan river that cuts through the Tien Shan range. Stop here for a while and soak up the amazing scenery. You will arrive at tonight's accommodation in Kok-Bel sometime in the early evening.
After breakfast, get ready for another all-day journey to the second-largest city in Kyrgystan – Osh. Located in the Fergana Valley in the south of the country, Osh is often referred to as the 'Capital of the South'. With a history that dates to the 500 BC. Stop en route at Uzgen, an ancient trading town and handicrafts center on the Silk Road. Although much of the ancient city has been destroyed, a minaret and three mosques that have survived to this day remain important examples of medieval Central Asian architecture.
Rise and shine for a visit to the only World Heritage Site in Kyrgystan – Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain, also known as Solomon's Throne. For centuries Silk Road travellers have sought out the mountain's caves and their petroglyphs in the belief that they would be blessed with longevity. Visit the National Historical & Archaeological Museum Complex. In the afternoon, enjoy some free time. Perhaps visit the Jayma Bazaar, where you might pick up an interesting souvenir or two. Or maybe take a self-guided tour of the remnants of Osh's soviet past with a walk to the giant Lenin statue in the city square. The many murals praising the Soviet Union also give an idea of just how deeply these ties went.
This morning we drive to Kyrgyz – Uzbek border which is just outside of the city. After passing through the border (approx. 1-2 hours), we meet farewell our Kyrgyz guide, meet our new Uzbek guide and transfer to Andijan. From here we take a local train to Tashkent (approx. 5.5 hrs). Arrive at our Tashkent hotel in the evening.
Begin your introduction to Uzbekistan by exploring the capital today. Our sightseeing today in Tashkent will include a visit to State History Museum, the Abdul Khasim Medrassah with its hujra cells used as metalwork craft workshops to produce jewellery and other goods, and the Khast Imom Complex. After lunch, lose yourself in the exciting Chorsu Bazaar, browsing traditional wooden cradles, handmade musical instruments, and the extensive vegetable and spice markets.
Transfer to the station for the high speed train to fabled Samarkand (approx 2 hours). This city is located at the very centre of the ancient Silk Road. Enjoy some free time in the city on arrival, saving some of the key sights for our tour tomorrow. Maybe inspect the remains of the remarkable medieval observatory developed by Ulug Beg, Tamerlane's (Amir Timur) brilliant astronomer grandson. These days, only half of the below-ground semi-circular track can be seen, but there is an the excellent small museum close by. Or visit the Afrosiab Museum with its fine collection of treasures unearthed from the site, including world famous 10th century frescoes.
Be blown away by the sights you'll take in today. First, the great central square of Samarkand, the Registan. Then, Guri-Amir, where Tamerlane is buried, and finally the enormous Bibi-Khanum Mosque. Then we drive to Konigil village in the outskirts of the city for a special lunch with a family who have been making paper by traditional methods as long as they can remember. After lunch we'll learn about this unique way of paper making from mulberry. Returning to Samarkand, visit the impressive Shak-i-Zinda ensemble of mausoleums. This unusual necropolis has monuments from the 14th and 15th centuries, reflecting the development of the monumental art and architecture of the Timurid dynasty and is photo worthy at every turn.
Continue tracing the Silk Road towards Bukhara. One of the most important portions of this ancient route connects these two major cities of the area and takes us through the town of Shahrisabz - the home town of revered national hero Tamerlane. Sadly, Shakhrisabz has recently lost much of its authentic flavour through over enthusiastic restoration works. We make a stop here, visiting the legendery Ak Saray Palace, Dor-ut Tilovat Memorial Complex, Dorus Saodat Complex and Kok-Gumbaz Mosque. Then we'll continue to Bukhara where we we stay for the night.
Today, we'll enjoy a full day of sightseeing in beautiful Bukhara. First, you'll visit the lovely Sitora-i Mohi Khosa, once the summer residence of the last Emir. Designed by Russian architects, it has lavish interiors decorated with traditional filigree plaster, mirrored surfaces and delicate floral wall paintings by local artisans. Then to the peaceful 16th century Chor Bakr necropolis, where you'll enjoy the simplicity of the Khonako-Medressa & Mosque complex that is typical of Bukharian style. In the afternoon, visit the Ark Fortress and Kalon Mosque, the symb of Bukhara, then to one of Central Asia's oldest and most exquisite structures, the 10th century Ismail Samani Mausoleum, whose superb decorative brickwork has survived 1,000 years of rugged history. From here it is only a short distance to the Lyabi-Haus area. After dinner, there's time to wander the small craft studios tucked into the ancient nearby madrassas and trading domes.
Historically, Gijduvan was one of the caravan stops on the way to Bukhara. Ulugbek, the famous astronomer ruler of Samarkand and grandson of Tamerlane, built a medrassah here, just next to the grave of a Sufi saint. The town gained further fame as a centre of glazed pottery production. Visit the private studio of a local ceramic artist, meet the family and watch them at work. Later you can have some free time to explore this small town. For lunch we recommend the juicy kebabs of Gijduvan that are famous throughout Uzbekistan. On your way back, stop to see a minaret from the late 12th century in Vobkent.
Enjoy some free time for your own optional sightseeing in Bukhara. In the afternoon, take a fast train back to Tashkent followed by an optional farewell dinner with your fellow travellers.
There are no activities planned for today until your 6pm meeting to meet your new travel mates.
Take morning flight to Urgench (90 mins) and transfer to colourful Khiva (45 mins). Many global powers have laid claim to this city over the centuries, from khans to Silk Road traders and the Soviet Union. Get acquainted with Khiva on a tour of this walled-city. See the incredible blue-tiled Kalta Minor Minaret and the Mohammed Amin Khan Madressa. Explore the Kuhna Ark, the "citadel within a citadel" which once housed the Khan and his family in the 17th century, then get a good look at this attractive city from the Ak-sheikh Baba Observatory. Finally, visit the Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum, a complex constructed in honour of the famous 13th-century poet, craftsman and fighter. A popular pilgrimage site, the mint-coloured dome that tops the main mausoleum is stunning. Spend the rest of the day as you wish. Maybe ask your leader where to grab the best plov (rice, meat, and carrots). The city is a photographer's delight, particularly in the evenings when the sun begins to set and fading light glints off turquoise tiles, so make sure you have your phone or camera ready to snap some pictures.
Khiva is particularly magic at dawn when the streets are empty. Later, you leader will guide you through some of the city’s other impressive monuments and buildings. Visit the towering Islom Hoja Minaret, the tallest building in Khiva. Explore Juma Mosque, the roof of which is propped up by 212 wooden columns and designed to let in sunlight. If you want a peek at Uzbek luxury, look no further than the Tosh-Hovli Palace, which was built in the first half of the 19th century. Wander through elaborately decorated courtyards connected by labyrinthian corridors. The rest of the afternoon is yours to relax.
Say goodbye to Uzbekistan and cross the border into Turkmenistan at Khodjeyli (Xo‘jayli). Meet the new leader who will be your key to local secrets, food and highlights for the rest of your journey. From the border, make a 1.5-hour drive to the World Heritage-listed Konye-Urgench. Once a centre of the Islamic world, it suffered destruction at the hands of Genghis Khan and the Timurid dynasty and fell into decay until the 20th century. But it still has tonnes of monuments from the 11th to 16th centuries, including a mosque, mausoleum and the 60-metre-high Gutlug Timur Minaret. Continue your journey with a 4-hour drive by 4WD to Darvaza Crater. This astounding 70-metre-wide hole in the Karakum Desert is permanently aflame. Soviet oil prospectors started drilling in 1971 expecting to find oil, and the ground collapsed to form the crater. Worried about the gas released into the air, they deliberately set the crater on fire to burn off the excess, expecting it to last a few weeks. As you’ll see today, they were wrong, and the crater has been burning ever since. Watch the sunset over the 'Door to Hell' from your nearby camp, and enjoy a Turkmenistan-style barbecue for dinner.
Hit the sand again in the 4WD, making the 4-hour drive to Ashgabat with a stop along the way at the tiny settlement of Yerbent. The community here live primarily in yurts that are tucked between the sand dunes. Check out the local monument that pays tribute to the group of socialists that died in the Basmachi Revolt in 1931, then continue to Ashgabat. Little is left of the original Russian Imperial city as most of it was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1948, and today the city centre is a bizarre mix of futuristic and outrageous public buildings. Get a sense of Ashgabat old and new with a tour that takes in both the ancient settlement of Nisa and the National Museum of Turkmenistan. Enjoy a free afternoon in this mind-bending city. Look out for the ornate, golden telephone booths, screens broadcasting official ceremonies on a loop and imposing statues of the president.
Take a full day to wrap your head around this desert city on an immersive guided tour taking in the four pointed minarets atop the Ertugrul Gazi Mosque and the the extravagant Independence Monument. This sculpted park is filled with statues of Turkmen heroes (and controversial politicians) that line paths that lead to a golden dome and a (surprise!) massive minaret. From this lavish ode to Turkmen identity, continue to the Neutrality Arch, which despite its name has a provocative history. Then travel outside of the city to the Turkmenbashy Ruhi Mosque, the mausoleum of former Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov, before heading further out of town to the ruins of Anau. The crumbling remains of the medieval mosque still attract the devout, who come to pray and make offerings. After a day full of sightseeing, maybe spend the evening relaxing at your hotel.
Rise and shine for the 5-hour drive to Mary (pronounced ‘Mah-rih’). The somewhat ostentatious displays of wealth in the city can be traced to the long-running gas and cotton industries. Stop en route for lunch and to roam through the ruins of Abiverd. This fascinating archaeological site was an important trading town from 652 AD until the 12th century, and you can still see ancient shards of pottery scattered on the ground. Arrive in Mary in the afternoon and settle into your hotel.
Take a 40-minute drive to Merv, also known as Margiana or Margush, and enjoy some time to explore Turkmenistan's most recognised site. This sprawling World Heritage site is home to numerous walled structures from various periods spread across a 1200-hectare area. See impressive columns smoothed by wind and time at the Greater Kizkala and walk hills that were once the fortress walls of Erk Kala. While not the most impressive visually, Gyaur Kala dates to 400 BC and has a fascinating history. Spend some time exploring these relics of grand empires and then return to Mary for a free afternoon. Maybe visit the Mary Regional Museum. Housed in a palace of white marble, the museum features archaeological displays and exhibitions on traditional Turkmen life and culture.
Glittering Ashgabat awaits your return today, so make the 5-hour return drive to the City of White Marble. Enjoy a free afternoon to spend as you wish before an optional final night dinner with your group.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the hotel at any time.
|Start date - End date||Trip Status||Price|
|26/APR/2021 - 05/JUN/2021||FS DG||AU$11355 |
(single supplement $2060)
|10/MAY/2021 - 19/JUN/2021||FS DG||AU$11355 |
(single supplement $2060)
|17/MAY/2021 - 26/JUN/2021||FS DG||AU$11355 |
(single supplement $2060)
|02/SEP/2021 - 12/OCT/2021||FS DG||AU$11355 |
(single supplement $2060)
|13/SEP/2021 - 23/OCT/2021||FS DG||AU$11355 |
(single supplement $2060)