12D11N Silk Road Tour

Retrace the footsteps of ancient caravans through the mountains, oasis and lost kingdoms along the Silk Road. Explore the underground world of Qin Shi Huang with its legions of life-like terracotta warriors. Scale up one of the holiest and awe inspiring mountains in China. Take a glimpse into Tibetan life and culture at Labrang Monastery with its throngs of worshippers and colourful prayer wheels. Peer into the wilderness from the heights of an ancient fortification at Jiayuguan. Climb up a sand dune and listen to the enigmatic roar of its shifting sands. Discover the ancient Buddhist heritage of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang before making your way to the oasis town of Turpan. Culminate the tour with a visit to Tianchi, the stunning alpine lake of Xinjiang.

Day 01


Upon arrival at Xian International Airport you will be picked up by our friendly guide to Shaanxi Provincial History Museum (陕西历史博物馆), one of the largest and most modern museum in China. Its well-stocked artifacts of some 370,000 exhibits with illuminating English explanatory boards in five exhibition halls serves as a good starter to understand the history of this ancient province – the seat of more than 13 dynasties, including the Zhou, Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties. Thereafter you will visit Small Wild Goose Pagoda (小雁塔), one of the most important and well preserved landmark of Xian. The pagoda built in 707 AD during the Tang Dynasty is an exquisite example of early Chinese Buddhist architecture built during the heydays of Buddhism in China. The 13 stories high multi-eave, square, brick structure is believed to be built with earthquake resistant design. It has survived over seventy earthquakes over the centuries. The structure is so resilient that cracks which occurred during earlier earthquakes have been closed by quakes that came later. In the evening, you will visit the night market in the Muslim Quarter for a gastronomic treat of Chinese Islamic cuisine (清真菜). Some of the most representative food include Yangrou Paomo (羊肉泡馍) – a combination of diced Chinese flatbread in an aromatic lamb broth, and served with succulent lamb meat; Rou Jia Mo (肉夹馍) – crunchy pita bread with savory braised pork meat; Biang Biang noodles (裤带面) and Kao Rou Chuan (烤肉串) – grilled meat sticks.

Overnight: Hotel in Xian

Day 02


Step back in time to the short lived but remarkable Qin Dynasty by visiting the Terracotta Warriors Museum (秦陵兵马俑博物院) – arguably the most famous archaeological sites in the world where thousands of life-sized terracotta soldiers arranged in battle formation have silently stood guard over the soul of China’s first unifier for more than two thousand years. The soldiers were perfectly molded in different postures and with extraordinary level of details: the expressions, headwear, armor and even the tread on the footwear are all unique. There are standing infantries, kneeling archers, cavalrymen, charioteers, officers and generals who originally held spears, dagger-axes, swords, crossbows, etc. Despite the sheer number of figures, no two soldier’s faces are alike. Look out for the Qin bronze chariot (秦銅車馬) a pair of half life-size bronze chariots and horses which bear details faithful to full-size examples. As a masterpiece of bronze ware, it is one of 64 government designated historical artifacts that can never leave Chinese soil. After lunch, you will be transferred back to Xian city to visit its city wall, another major landmark of Xian. At 12 meters high, 15 meters wide and 14 kilometers long, Xian City Wall is the most complete ancient city wall in China. Built in the 14th century by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, the moat surrounded fortification which comes replete with intricate drawbridges, watchtowers, battlements, city gates, battlements and even tunnels was once the most impressive military defense systems in the world. Listen to tantalizing tales of the old city while taking in panoramic views of the modern city on bike (or foot). It takes about 1.5-2 hours of leisure cycle to cover the entirety of the city wall. In the evening, you will visit another night market of your choice (Nanshaomen Night Market, Ercun Night Market, Barley Market Street. etc.) for dinner and shopping.

Overnight: Hotel in Xian

Day 03


Today will be the most strenuous but adrenaline filled day of the tour as you embark on an adventure hike up Huashan (华山) – one of the five sacred mountains in China. The mountain which is famous for its steep topography is also known as the “most precipitous mountain under heaven” and possesses some of the most dangerous hiking sections in the world. It consists of five peaks (North- 1,614m, South-2,154m, East-2,100m, West-2,082m, Center-2,042) with sharp ridges and vertical cliffs. This adrenaline pumping and challenging hike will bring you across vertical stone staircases, narrow ledges, and rickety plank walkways supported only by steel pots drilled into the rock bed. After this full day work out, you will be transferred back to your hotel in Xian.

There are three typical ways to ascend the mountains; two via hiking and one via cable car. The first and most common hiking route is the Huashan Gorge trail (approx. 4-5 hrs. one way) which connects the West Gate to the North Peak. The second hiking route – a more difficult but faster route (approx. 3 hrs. one way) – is the Huangpu Gorge trail also known as the Soldier’s Path which connects the North Peak Cable Car Station to the North Peak. The North Peak Cable Car Station is a few minutes shuttle bus ride from the East Gate. The third option is to take the North Peak Cable Car to the North Peak (approx. 10 min one way). There is another cable car line – West Peak Cable Car – which leads to the West Peak (approx. 20 min one way) but it is usually used for descending the mountains. The West Peak Cable Car Station is also a few minutes shuttle bus ride from the East Gate. A recommended way to cover all the five peaks and major sights within a day is to ascend via cable car to the North Peak, explore the various peaks and then down by cable car from the West Peak.

Overnight: Hotel in Xian


Day 04             


In the morning, you will be transferred to the train station for the express train ride to Lanzhou (兰州; approx. 4 hrs. ride).  Thereafter you will leave the desolate loess plateau of Shaanxi for the lush peripheral areas of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (approx. 4 hrs. drive). Along the way, you will pass by a number of Hui Muslim towns with their distinctive Chinese architecture styled mosques and the ubiquitous white prayer caps of their people. The mountainous enclave of Xiahe (夏河)is built along a single street of 3-4km with a Hui Muslim and Han Chinese section on its eastern end, a Tibetan section on its western end and the centuries old Labrang Monastery in between.

Overnight: Hotel in Xiahe

Day 05


Literally the center of town, Labrang Monastery is the largest edifice of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism and home to the largest number of monks outside the Tibet Autonomous Region.  Be in awe by the religiosity of Tibetans as you witness them performing the 3km long physically demanding kora around the temple complex. In the late afternoon, you will visit the 3000m high Ganjia Grassland, a vast expanse of grassy plains where you can do horse riding, watch nomadic yak herders or simple enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Overnight: Hotel in Xiahe

Day 06


In the morning you will be transferred back to Lanzhou via car (approx. 4 hrs. drive). After lunch, you will visit the Waterwheel Park (兰州水车园) a theme park with interesting waterwheels lining the banks of the Yellow River. Depending on time and your interest you can also visit the well-stocked Gansu Provincial Museum to further understand the history of Gansu and the Silk Road. In the evening, you will be transferred to the train station for the express train ride to Zhangye (张掖; approx. 3 hrs. ride).

Overnight: Hotel in Zhangye

Day 07


Wake up early in the morning to catch the beautiful rainbow colour rock formations at Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park (张掖国家地质公园) at sunrise. The unusual colours of the rocks are the result of deposits of red sandstone and minerals that laid down over 24 million years. Thereafter you will drive on to the historically strategic desert pass – Jiayuguan (嘉峪关). The pass situated amidst the forbidding lunar landscape of northern Gansu marks the end of imperial china and the beginning of the back of beyond. “The First and Greatest Pass under Heaven” came to be colloquially known as the “mouth of China”, while the narrow Hexi Corridor, leading back towards the Central Plain was dubbed the ‘throat’. Start off with an educational visit to the Great Wall Museum to learn about its history. Thereafter you will proceed to explore Jiayuguan Fort, a fortification complex that comes replete with moat, city walls, gates, watchtowers, etc. The city walls are almost 11 meters high and comprise of inner and outer walls. There is even a wide horse way that leads up to the top of the city wall. The colossal Jiayuguan Fort standing alone in the great emptiness with the imposing snow peak Qilian Shan in the background is a sight to behold. Unlike the great wall in Beijing, Jiayuguan Great Wall was not built with stone or brick but with rammed earth that forms a natural camouflage with the surrounding desert. If time allows and you are interested, you can also visit the “First Strategic Post of the Great Wall” – a mould of yellow loess which is believed to be the remaining ruin of an ancient watchtower, and the “Overhanging Great Wall” – a 230m long steep section of the wall that winds up the mountain ridge like a dragon.  At its top, you will be rewarded with a 360 degrees view of the desert, oasis and mountain ranges.

 Overnight: Hotel in Jiayuguan

Day 08


After breakfast, you will be transferred to Dunhuang (敦煌; approx. 4 hrs. drive) to visit two of its geological gems: Mingsha Shan (鸣沙山) and Yueyaquan (月牙泉). Experience the desert feeling, compete with your friends to see who can climb up the sand dunes in the shortest time and listen to the roaring sound of Mingsha Shan as you slide down its slope. Located at the foot of Mingsha Shan is the beautiful crescent shaped Yueyaquan. The lake’s emerald waters when juxtaposed against the vast emptiness of the beige sand dunes is a sight to behold.

Overnight: Hotel in Dunhuang

Day 09


Situated at the heart of the ancient Silk Road, on the edge of the Gobi Desert lies a millennium old place of pilgrimage: hundreds of caves hewn from a sandstone cliff containing some of the most exquisite Buddhist frescoes, sculptures and carvings in the world. Cave 302 of the Sui dynasty contains one of the oldest and most vivid scenes of cultural exchanges along the Silk Road, depicting a camel pulling a cart typical of trade missions of that period. Caves 23 and 156 of the Tang dynasty show workers in the fields and a line of warriors respectively. While Cave 61 of the Song dynasty with its celebrated landscape of Mount Wutai is an early example of artistic Chinese cartography, where nothing has been left out – mountains, rivers, cities, temples, roads and caravans are all depicted. Although a Buddhist sanctuary, the art pieces found at Mogao is a testament to the meeting of cultures along the Silk Road, the collection of trade routes that for centuries linked China, Central Asia, and Europe. Discovered at the site were Confucian, Daoist, and Christian texts, and documents in multiple languages including Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Old Turkish and Hebrew.  In the evening, you will be transferred to Liuyuan train station for the express train ride to Turpan (吐鲁番; approx. 4 hrs. ride).

Overnight: Hotel in Turpan

Day 10


In the morning you will visit the ruin city of Jiaohe (交河故城) which dates back to more 2000 years ago. It was the site of a number of ancient Xinjiang kingdoms that includes the Indo-European speaking Tocharians and Jushi people and the Turkic speaking Uyghur and Kyrgyz people. At one point, the city also served as the headquarters of the Tang Dynasty’s Western Army. It was finally destroyed and abandoned after Genghis Khan’s invasion in the 13th century. The city was built on a large inland islet (1.7 km in length. 0.3 km wide at its widest point) between two rivers and surrounded by 30m high cliffs on three sides. Its natural defensive layout had precluded the need for any city wall. Its remote location in the dry arid Tarim Basin has helped to preserve much of its original structure for posterity. As you walk down the designated walkway, you can clearly see that the city was divided into two main section: a residential area and a worship area. Some buildings are extremely well preserved, such as a 50 meter wide Buddhist temple, pagodas, government office and even a cemetery.  Thereafter you will proceed to Tuyok Valley (吐峪沟) where you can witness the culture and ingenuity of the Uyghur people in carving out a fertile landscape in an otherwise hostile terrain. The oasis village with its latticework of mud-brick dwellings seems reminiscent of Sahara Desert except for its interspersing grapevines. This agriculture miracle is made possible by an age-old irrigation method called Karez which diverts water through underground channels from nearby mountains to the farms. Try out the famous sweet and seedless Manaizi grapes (aka mare nipple grapes) and dozens other grape varieties.  Within a pleasant stroll distance, you can find the Hojamu Tomb where the first Uyghur to convert to Islam is said to be buried, a beautiful mosque with its four minarets and even some antiquated Buddhist caves. Along the way, you can also drop by the Flaming Mountains made famous in the 16th century Chinese novel “Journey to the West”. Under the hot afternoon sun, the barren and eroded red sandstones glows with curling heat waves as though it were on fire, hence its name.  It is one of the hottest spot in China with summer temperature reaching as high as 45 degree Celsius.

Overnight: Hotel in Turpan

Day 11


In the morning, you will be transferred to Urumqi (乌鲁木齐; approx. 3 hrs. drive) – the capital of Xinjiang province. Depending on your interest, you can either visit the Xinjiang Museum for a glimpse of the Loulan Beauty – an amazingly well preserved 3800 years old mummy with Caucasian feature or the Erdaoqiao Market (大吧扎) to catch the smell and sight of a traditional Uyghur market. Thereafter you will venture towards the Tianshan mountain range to visit the beautiful Tianchi (天池). The 1910m high alpine lake measured 3.4km long, 1.5km wide, and 105m at its deepest point. The half-moon shaped lake with the mirror like image of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and lush spruce forest will take your breath away. A short hike into the forest brings you to the Lesser Tianchi with a pretty waterfall. You can also visit some Kazah yurts or do horse riding on the prairie.

Overnight: Hotel in Urumqi

Day 12


Free and easy at your own leisure till airport transfer for your flight home.

Package includes:

  • All local land transport including airport transfers and train station transfers
  • All accommodations
  • All meals as specified in the itinerary
  • 2 way Cable car ride at Huashan
  • One way train ticket from Xian to Lanzhou
  • One way train ticket from Lanzhou to Zhangye
  • One way train ticket from Dunhuang to Turpan
  • Entrance fees to all places of interest mentioned in the itinerary
  • English speaking guide and driver in each city as specified in the itinerary (there will be a change of guide and drive in each city)

Package excludes:

  • Return international air tickets
  • Travel insurance
  • Chinese VISA
  • All meals not indicated
  • Bicycle rental at Xian
  • Horse riding at Xiahe and Tianchi
  • Tips for guide and driver
  • All expenses of a personal nature


The tour can also be extended by another 3 days to take in the ancient city of Kashgar and the border town of Tashkurgan. 

Day 12


In the morning, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Kashgar (喀什; approx. 2 hrs. flight). You will visit the beautiful Aba Khoja Mausoleum, the finest example of Islamic architecture in Xinjiang. An imposing central dome flanked by four minarets with cladding of green glazed tiles in arabesque floral patterns. It is also known as the Fragrant Concubine’s Tomb, as it is the burial place of one of Aba Khoja’s descendants, Iparhan, who is believed to be the legendary Fragrant Concubine. Thereafter immerse yourself in the frenzy of activity at the Grand Bazaar whose history can be traced back to the Silk Road era when merchants from India, Persia and Greece bartered goods with merchants from ancient kingdoms in Central Asia. It remains a fascinating blend of cultures; Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Pakistani and Turkish traders can be seen negotiating for deals with their Uyghur counterparts. Maneuver your way through the dazzling selection of goods – sheepskin hats, camel-hide boots, spices, melons, kitchen wares, etc. Time your visit to coincide with a Sunday, you can visit the lively Sunday livestock market where hundreds of Uygur farmers and herders from peripheral areas congregate to sell sheep, camels, horses and donkeys. After lunch, you will wander through the narrow winding streets of the historic Old Town and mingle with the friendly Uyghur residents. Located at the spiritual heart of the town is the centuries-old Id Kah Mosque (艾提尕尔清真寺), the largest mosque in China. You may enter the mosque outside prayer time to view its interior splendor.

Overnight: Hotel in Kashgar

Day 13


Set off early in the morning for your overland adventure along the famed Karakoram Highway towards Tashkurgan (塔什库尔干; approx. 6 hrs. drive), the very last Xinjiang town before the border between China and Pakistan. Raising above 4,500m, it is the highest paved international road in the world. You will stop for breakfast at Opal village, a small Uyghur village and pass by the colourful Oytagh Kunlunshan and Bulungkol Valley (White Sand Mountain) before reaching Karakul Lake (3,600m). The alpine lake which nestles between Mount Muztagh Ata (7546m) and Mount Kongur (7719m) and surrounded on all sides by Pamir, Tian Shan and Kunlun mountain ranges is unarguably one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. After a simple lunch with a local Kyrgyz family, you will continue the journey to Tashkurgan. At Tashkurgan, you can climb up the 2,000 years old stone fort – one of the filming locations for the movie The Kite Runner, for a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. At the nearby Tashkurgan Grassland, you can encounter local Tajiks with their herds and shepherd dogs.

Overnight: Hotel in Tashkurgan

Day 14


In the morning, you will be transferred back to Kashgar (approx. 6 hrs. drive) for your evening flight back to Urumqi (approx. 2 hrs. flight).

Overnight: Hotel in Urumqi

Day 15


Free and easy at your own leisure till airport transfer for your flight home.


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