Stunning Off the Beaten Path China Tour

A 16 day trip to China 
4.62 out of 5 stars
53 reviews

This private tour takes you to the awe-inspiring parts of China that most tourists don't see. From the unique Red Lands in Dongchuan to the endless serenity of a Himalayan monastery, China is a land of stunning beauty. With China's rapid modernization at an unprecedented pace, we recommend visiting these off-the-beaten path destinations before they are changed forever.  Whether you’re interested by her incomparable scenery or her captivating citizenry, her storied past or her exciting future, there’s just no time to embark on this China journey like the present.

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General Information

The incomparable Red Lands in Dongchuan
Songzanlin Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in Yunnan
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Shanghai, Guilin, Yuantong Temple, Dongchuan (Red Lands), Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Ideal Travel Months: From late April to early June, September to late October

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Over the Pacific

Today sees you embarking to your unique and fascinating tour of the hidden gems and quickly disappearing cultural and environmental charms of China. Due to the International Date Line, you lose a day when crossing the Pacific, but have no fear: you’ll get this day back when you turn west and head back home.

Day 2: Welcome to China!

You touch down today at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, where a car will be waiting to transfer you to the incredible Peninsula Shanghai, where the black marble of the lobby imparts a feel of inimitable luxury and the stunning views of the city from your deluxe room gear you up for further explorations. Filled with the sophistication of Art Deco stylings and excellent amenities, with a friendly and helpful staff that are dedicated to making your stay as memorable as possible, you might find it hard to ever leave your hotel room. 

This evening, join your fellow travelers for your first meal together, a welcome dinner composed of some of Shanghai’s finest cuisine, where your Chinese Tour Manager will brief you on your upcoming tour of Yunnan.

What's Included: transfer, dinner, accommodation

Day 3: Culture and Speed in Cutting-Edge Shanghai

Following breakfast at the hotel, you’ll tour the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, where you’ll learn about the Jewish experience in Shanghai, from its cultural contributions to the day-to-day life of Jews in Shanghai. Then you’ll soar more than 1,500 feet above the city streets, as a high-speed elevator takes you to the Observation Deck of the Shanghai World Finance Center, the fourth-tallest building in the world by some standards and a one of a trio of super tall skyscrapers that compose Shanghai’s iconic skyline. While the view may not be for those afraid of heights, the incredible luxury of the complex is sure to impress even the staunchest acrophobe.

Lunch is at the famous Dingtaifeng Restaurant, where you can sample the delicious Shanghai Soup Dumplings before boarding the Shanghai Maglev Train to Shanghai Pudong Airport.  One of the first trains in the world to operate using magnetic levitation as opposed to traditional wheels and rails, this is the first and only commercially operated high-speed Maglev train in the world, catapulting through space at an astounding 250 miles per hour while retaining the smooth and effortless ride that comes from floating on air. You can enjoy the incredible surroundings and the luxuries of this feat of technology while your bags follow you to the airport, where you’ll board a flight that will take you to Guilin.

Upon arriving in Guilin, you’ll be escorted to the magnificent Shangri-La Hotel, where you’ll have your breath stolen from you by the amazing Chinese-style architecture and a staff that is friendly, helpful and attentive. With sensational views of the serene Li River lazily winding its way through the countryside or the verdant and pristinely manicured gardens, you’ll find beauty and elegance everywhere you look, from the awe-inspiring rise of Diecai Mountain to the sweet and fragrant scents of the Sweet Osmanthus blossoms that can be found throughout the city.

What's Included: breakfast, tour, lunch, transfer, accommodation

Day 4: Art and Scenery in China’s Shining Pearl

Today gives you a chance to soak up the incredible culture of this phenomenal city, as well as the opportunity to take in its gorgeous scenery. Begin at the sculpture garden at the Hotel of Modern Art, a one-of-a-kind property that functions as a haven for local artists as well as a gallery space where they show off their eclectic and inspiring work. Then you’ll take in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the area aboard a cruising vessel on the Li River, taking you from Yangshuo to Fuli and displaying some of the region’s geographical highlights, from its limestone peaks and caverns to the brilliant blue waters of the river.  

After alighting, turn to the old Fuli Village where you can take in the splendor of the surrounding countryside, from the unbelievable circular gap of Moon Hill to a 1,500-year-old Banyan tree that sweeps across the horizon. It’s natural beauty like this that has earned Guilin its reputation as one of the most beautiful spots in China, the inspiration of countless scroll paintings and other timeless works of art. 

Perambulate along the noteworthy West Street in Yangshuo, where you can enjoy a dinner of delicious local cuisine, full of fresh ingredients that are perfectly prepared. The evening features a stunning performance of the “Impression Liusanje Light and Sound Show,” directed by Zhang Yimou—of Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony fame—and taking place on the Li River. With dazzling sights and beautiful expressions of Chinese culture, this is sure to be a show you’ll never forget.

What's Included: breakfast, cruise, evening performance, accommodation

Day 5: Turning to Yunnan’s Fascinating Capital

Following a delicious breakfast, you’ll visit the nearby Giant Panda Garden, where you’ll get a chance to interact with these iconic and charismatic megafauna, undeniably adorable and unfortunately endangered. Their sweet faces and gentle dispositions will almost certainly steal your heart and warm your spirits. Then travel to the fecund and altitudinous Longsheng County to catch a glimpse of the spectacular rice terraces of Longi. You can’t miss the “Dragon’s Backbone,” whose undulations and elegant lines have captivated viewers for centuries. The gentle ridges and slopes of these incredible fields give way spectacularly to the rising hills beyond, presenting a picture that is one of the most fantastic on Earth. 

This evening sees you back in Guilin, where you’ll enjoy a local Chinese dinner before being taken to the airport, ready to board a flight that will take you south to the borderlands of China and the provincial capital of Kunming on the northern edge of Lake Dian, a City of Eternal Spring surrounded by limestone hills and the blossoms of hundreds of flowers. A trading hub for centuries, Kunming is intricately linked to the countries that border it, and its incredible success as host of the World Horticultural Exposition in 1999 has helped turn this into an up-and-coming tourist destination. 

Your accommodations while in Kunming are at the Green Lake Hotel, perfectly situated within an attractive part of Kunming’s urban center and staffed by friendly and attentive people who go above and beyond for their guests, from late check-ins to personal requests and everything in between.

What's Included: breakfast, dinner, transfer, accommodation

Day 6: The Beauty of the City of Eternal Spring

A hearty hotel breakfast this morning gets you prepared to explore the incredible sites that surround this beautiful city. Voyage to the Stone Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most unique and otherworldly features on Earth. Here, limestone formations rise from the ground like stalagmites, with winding paths showcasing their seemingly organic forms. Part of the larger South China Karst, this magical landscape is unlike any in the world and permeates the land with a sense of magic and mystery. 

Following a delicious lunch, you’ll visit an ethnic Sani village and stroll past the stalls of their local market, where you’ll be impressed by the charm and wisdom of the artisans and the intricate and gorgeous designs of the embroidery they produce. Then head back to Kunming City for a leisurely walk through the old city center, taking in the horticulture that fills the landscape, from the elegant trees that line the city streets to the many offerings at the city’s bustling flower market. Dinner is an exercise in authentic Yunnan cuisine that is sure to delight your taste buds. An exceptional contemporary dance performance caps off an incredible day and evening of Yunnan culture.

What's Included: breakfast, lunch, evening dance performance, accommodation

Day 7:  Yuantong Temple and Excursion to Dongchuan Red Land

This morning, after a hearty and traditional breakfast, you’ll venture out to witness the incredible grace and serene splendor of the Yuantong Temple, the most famous Buddhist temple in Kunming and one of the most unique in China, noted for its recent expansion and its relatively unorthodox architecture. After touring the grounds of this amazing site, you’ll ride for about three hours until reaching the Dongchuan Red Land Scenic Area, a scenic hideaway in the Wumeng Mountainous region. 

After enjoying lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll stop to admire the awe-inspiring landscape at Yueliangtan and explore the many gorgeous vistas at Damakan village, Qicaipo and the splendid Jinxiu Garden. Then in the evening, enjoy the one-of-a-kind experience that is Dongchuan at sunset, as you perambulate terraced fields until arriving at Luoxiagou, where the entire area is cast in a vivid and rugged shade of red and filled with visions of color and light unlike any on Earth. You’ll return to Kunming for the evening.

What's Included: breakfast, transfer, accommodation

Day 8: Traveling to Dali

Sleep in late this morning after yesterday's long excursion to Dongchuan.  After breakfast, check out of hotel and transfer to airport for a noon or early afternoon flight to Dali, a town filled with cultural and natural treasures that are still relatively unknown. Once the capital of the independent and Buddhist Kingdom of Dali, Dali City is a one-of-a-kind mix of ancient and modern, a thriving trade market town and the cultural heart of the Bai people. You will have the chance to tour the remarkable monuments and the twisting streets of Old Dali, where life continues much as it has for centuries and where the infectious charm of the people and the undeniable beauty of the countryside sweeps visitors off their feet. 

You’ll spend your evenings at the unparalleled Linden Centre, a boutique hotel of only 13 rooms that has been converted from an aristocratic courtyard home into one of the finest hotels in the area. You’ll feel like you’re a part of the ancient and venerated history of this incredible area, as the staff at the Linden Center excel at providing an authentic setting from which to explore and enjoy this amazing region. Dinner comes at the hotel, and a stirring and traditional performance from local musicians offers the perfect end to your day of Chinese culture.

What's Included: breakfast, transfer, dinner, musical performance, accommodation

Day 9:  Discovering Dali

After breakfast in your boutique hotel, tour the awe-inspiring Three Pagodas. Built on the corners of an equilateral triangle and soaring hundreds of feet in the air, these fantastic structures have stood for more than a millennia, withstanding the rolling tides of war and powerful earthquakes. Climb up into the marble hills onboard a cable car to the Qingbixi Scenic Park for a spectacular view of the city and its environs before cruising the sapphire blue of Erhai Lake, the second largest highland lake in the country, where you might find a few trained cormorants of the Bai fisherman who have worked the waters for generations. 

You’ll then visit the Shuanglang Village to witness life much as it has gone on for generations in this part of China, touring arts and crafts workshops, restaurants and food stands run by local families, before heading to an ethnic art gallery for a fun and informative introduction to the local history and culture. The night sees you in Xizhou, enjoying a delicious and unforgettable dinner of local cuisine at the Linden Centre. 

What's Included: breakfast, tour, dinner, accommodation

Day 10: Drive to Lijiang, and A Visit Shaxi Old Town

Depart this unforgettable region and climb through the soaring Canshan Mountains, riding the ancient route of tea traders past jagged cliffs of tumbling stone and climbing foliage. With towering crags and swiftly sinking valleys, the gentle spilling of waterfalls and some of the most beautiful flora imaginable, this is a drive you will not soon forget, with cultural stops that only add to its undeniable allure. 

Spend some time at the Shaping Monday Market, where trading and bartering has been the mainstay for centuries; then stop in Shaxi Village to experience the primeval market place, the remarkable statuary at Shizhong Temple and the incredible stone carvings at the Shibaoshan Grotto. With all this unmatched scenery, it’s no wonder that this was the road of choice for silk and tea traders for centuries.

Bed down beneath the singular roof of the Crowne Plaza Lijiang Ancient Town Hotel, an inspiring mix of the conveniences of the modern world and the sumptuous luxuries of the old, from the restorative herbs that pervade the menu of their world-class spa treatments, to modern cocktails and views of the incredible landscape on the outdoor terrace of their lounge.  The striking lattice work and wood trim of the gorgeous lobby contrasts with the chic surroundings at the onsite bar, while large and inviting windows offer the perfect vista of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. And, of course, the guest rooms provide all of the modern comforts to help you enjoy every minute of your time in Lijiang.

What's Included: breakfast, transfer, accommodation

Day 11: Exploring Lijiang

Break your fast on a traditional meal before venturing out into the Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than 800 years of history and culture. Once an important stop along the Southern Silk Road, the Old Town is now famous for its system of waterways and bridges and its winding, labyrinthine collection of cobblestone streets. There is a unique past here, as the town is recognized as the heartlands of the Naxi people, known for their handmade embroidery, their matriarchal social structure and their own writing system, a pictographic script that is mainly the purview of elders. 

Following the tour of the Old Town, turn to the beautiful and tranquil surroundings of the Black Dragon Pool, where you’ll find a Naxi Cultural Center, an elegant white marble bridge, several small temples and pavilions, and a spectacular view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, perfectly reflected in the pool’s calm waters. Your day ends at the Shuhe Naxi Village, where you’ll have the opportunity to experience the richness of Naxi culture even further. Catch a glimpse of Naxi women in their traditional dress, take some tea and griddlecakes at one of the renowned tea houses of the area, and see if you can spot Naxi falconers practicing an art that has been part of their culture for centuries. The afternoon is left to your leisure, giving you ample opportunity to investigate all of the unique offerings of the Naxi people.

What's Included: breakfast, tour, accommodation

Day 12: A Trip Into the Mountains 

Today, visit the Baisha Village to meet a Naxi family, and take in the incredible murals on the walls of the town’s temple, which are hundreds of years old and offer incredible insight into the village’s past. Then head to the Yufeng Tibetan Monastery, set in the scenic foothills of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and home to a famous camellia tree that has stood for half a millennia, making it centuries older than the temple itself. An incredible fusion of two separate trees indelibly entwined like life-long lovers, this remarkable specimen is known for its vibrant pink and white flowers, casting a crimson hue when the sun slices through their beautiful blossoms. 

Your next stop is high above the Earth’s surface, riding a cable car through the spectral air and up the soaring summit of Yulong Snow Mountain and Yak Meadow, situated more than two-and-a-half miles above the verdant plains below. Marvel at the incredible views over the southern Chinese countryside before returning to lower altitudes to take in an evening show called “Impression Lijiang.” This spectacular performance is a celebration of the lifestyles and traditions of the Naxi, Yi and Bai people, choreographed by the famous Zhang Yimou and set amidst the spectacular scenery of the mountainside, with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain itself providing the main backdrop. Following the show, you’ll dine at Mishi Mishi, widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Lijiang, before returning to the elegant comforts of your hotel.

What's Included: breakfast, tour, cable car, evening performance, dinner, accommodation

Day 13: Through the Himalayas to a Legendary City

This morning sees you leaving Lijiang to brave the foothills and lower peaks of the ponderous Himalayas, past plunging gorges and snow-capped peaks until you reach Shangri-La County. Despite the powerful allure of this mythical utopia, you’ll find that the journey is just as memorable as the destination. Your senses will seem to fail as you pass the tumbling slopes of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a canyon cut from a tributary of the Yangtze River that plummets more than ten thousand feet from the peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountains to the roiling river bed below. 

After lunch in Xiao Zhongdian Village, the late afternoon sees you in Shangri-La County, thrilled from your mountain excursion and anxious to check-in to your secluded and scenic setting at the Banyan Tree Ringha, where relocated and refurbished Tibetan farmhouses create a complex that is as romantic as it is exotic. This remarkable 5-star resort is truly one-of-a-kind, nestled between the rising peaks of the mighty Himalayas, and filled with facilities and dining options that are among the world’s best, like the Chang Sa Bar and Restaurant or the scenic and unforgettable yoga sessions. You’ll be wowed by the luxurious accommodations as well as the serene and unforgettable landscapes that surround you, ready to sink into the tranquility of a stopover in Paradise. 

Dinner is a celebratory affair, with food and drink in the resort’s world-class restaurant, certain to enhance your already remarkable experience in your one-of-a-kind lodgings.

What's Included: breakfast, transfer, lunch, dinner, accommodation

Day 14: A Tour of Tibetan Culture

Spend some time in the morning to meditate on the voyage that has brought you here, these fecund meadows and vibrant valleys that are synonymous with heaven on Earth, a modern-day utopia where Tibetans, Naxis, Lisus, Bais, Huis and many other ethnicities work, play, live and love in harmony. Then venture out to see some of the finest works of architecture that Tibetan Buddhism has to offer at the Songzanlin Monastery. Completed by the legendary Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century, this unbelievable complex is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan province and the most important in all of southwest China. You’ll be entranced by the surrounding countryside, the imposing yet elegant exterior walls, and the total sensory experience that is the monastery’s interior, from the opulent and massive statue of the Buddha, standing more than 25-feet tall, to the flickering light and pungent smell of yak butter lamps. 

Walk the old town of Dukezong to sample the wares of the various Tibetan artisans whose stalls line the ancient streets, and enjoy a lunch of local fare that has fed the inhabitants here since time immemorial. Then it’s on to Bitahai Lake in Pudacuo National Park, where you can traipse through high meadows and observe the diverse collection of wildflowers that gently give way to the meanderings of yaks. Return to the Banyan Tree in the afternoon, where you can enjoy some of the spa’s unique services based on traditional Himalayan practices or sample one of literally hundreds of teas at the Jakhang Lobby Lounge.

What's Included: breakfast, transfer, accommodation

Day 15: Back to the City

Today sees you leaving the idylls of southwest China to return to one of her great cities near the coast, the vibrant, commercial metropolis of Shanghai. Once you land in this bustling city—the largest in China and a centerpiece of its most recent economic development—you’ll be transferred to your magnificent room at the Pudong Shangri-La Shanghai, an oasis of calm and an escape from the fast-paced urban settings outside the hotel’s lobby. You’ll ogle at the incredible views that your room offers, overlooking the teeming banks of The Bund, as well as the myriad services that the hotel offers, including reinvigorating services at the CHI, The Spa to the gorgeous, indoor swimming pool and sauna. 

Spend the rest of your day exploring this iconic city, taking in the sights of Old Town Shanghai, where the 19th century splendor of this famous port is still evident, shopping at Xujiahui or on Nanjing Road, or simply walking the river’s shore past the colonial buildings that line The Bund. Dinner tonight is on your own, with the entire city offering a panoply of options. 

What's Included: breakfast, transfer, accommodation

Day 16: Returning Home

After a quick breakfast at your hotel, you’ll be taken to Shanghai’s sleek and modern Pudong Airport to return home or, if you’re feeling adventurous, to turn south to Hong Kong for a post-tour extension.

What's Included: breakfast, transfer


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.