Take a journey through western China, exploring its history, cultural diversity and extraordinary achievements. The region’s most famous monuments – the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors – are certainly highlights, but they are just a small part of what western China offers the cultural traveller. This 21-day tour explores the region in depth, revealing a wealth of treasures and giving you insight into the complex histories, peoples and cultures of China. The tour includes visits to the brilliantly decorated Buddhist monasteries at Mogao Grottoes, the Silk Road market towns of Turpan, Urumqi and Kashgar, and Islamic Linxia.
The Great Wall outside Beijing, a lasting monument to the achievements of China
The overwhelming sight of over 8000 Terracotta Warriors, lined up in rows ready for battle since the 3rd century BC
Remarkable Buddhist sculptures and over 1000 square metres of murals, carved into the mountain face at the Maijishan Grottoes
A day immersed in the bustling Sunday markets at Kashgar, and an encounter with Urumqi’s well-preserved mummies
The ubiquitous red sandstone of the Flaming Mountains gorge in the Mutou Valley outside Turpan
Days 1–3: In Beijing, explore the Forbidden City and visit the Great Wall.
Days 4–6: Fly to Xi’an to encounter the Terracotta Warriors and explore other sites.
Days 7–10: Admire Buddhist sculptures at Tianshui. Travel to Lanzhou; discover the Bingling Grottoes and Islamic Linxia. Survey the Gansu Museum; visit Tibetan Xiahe and the Labrang Lamasery.
Days 11–13: Fly to Dunhuang, explore the famous Buddhist Caves.
Days 14–17: Cross the Taklamakan Desert to ancient Turpan. Meet Urumqi’s mummies.
Days 18–21: Explore remote Kashgar, its vibrant markets and extraordinary mosque complex.
The tour begins at our hotel in Beijing and ends at our hotel in Chengdu. Singapore Airlines offers flights into Beijing and out of Chengdu from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the letters B, L and D.
Thursday 10 October: Arrive Beijing
The tour begins at the hotel in Beijing. Ben Churcher will meet group members arriving on early flights this evening in the lobby for drinks and introductions. Overnight Beijing
Friday 11 October: The Imperial Capital
Beijing was founded as a capital by a Mongol conqueror in the 14th century. From the 15th century until recent years governance in Beijing and for China took place within the Forbidden City which we visit this morning. This afternoon we visit the National Museum located on Tiananmen Square, which contains over five thousand years of Chinese art and cultural heritage. Overnight Beijing (B, D)
Saturday 12 October: The Great Wall and Ming tombs
Today we visit a section of the Great Wall that is accessible from Beijing and is the most impressive having been built out of stone. After lunch, we visit the subterranean Ming Period tombs where 13 Ming Dynasty emperors were buried in the same area after the capital was moved from Nanjing. Overnight Beijing (B, L)
Sunday 13 October: Forest of Stone Tablets
This morning we fly from Beijing to Xi’an and visit the Forest of Stone Tablets, an art treasure-house containing over 1,000 memorial tablets. We also visit the Silk Road Museum known as the Tang West Market Museum. Overnight Xi’an (B, L, D)
Monday 14 October: Banpo Village & Terracotta Warriors
Travelling out from Xi’an we visit the Banpo Village Museum that houses the remains of a 6,000 year-old village. The site was discovered by accident in 1953 and archaeologists have since uncovered thousands of artefacts. Following lunch we visit the Terracotta Warriors, depicting the armies of the first Emperor of China. Dating from around the late third century BCE, they were discovered in 1974 by local farmers. Overnight Xi’an (B, L)
Tuesday 15 October: Wild Goose Pagoda
In the morning we visit Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, a Buddhist structure built during the Tang Dynasty and rebuilt again during the Ming Dynasty. The pagoda held sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought from India by the Buddhist translator and traveller, Xuanzang. Early this afternoon we board the train from X’ian to Tianshui arriving in the late afternoon. Overnight Tianshui (B, L, D)
Wednesday 16 October: Maijishan Grottoes
This morning we visit the Maijishan Grottoes on Qinling Mountain. Over 7,200 Buddhist sculptures and over 1,000 square metres of murals, dating from the Later Qin era, are carved into the south-western face of the mountain. In the afternoon we take the train to Lanzhou. Overnight Lanzhou (B, L, D)
Thursday 17 October: Bingling Grottoes
Today we visit Bingling Grottoes consisting of 183 caves, containing 694 stone and 82 clay sculptures. Situated in a large natural cavern is the giant Maitreya Buddha that stands more than 27m tall. In the afternoon we visit Linxia, one of the main religious, cultural, and commercial centres of China’s Muslim community, earning itself the nickname of “the little Mecca of China”. Overnight Lanzhou (B, L)
Friday 18 October: The Tibetan Plateau
Our morning commences at the Gansu Provincial Museum, home to the world-famous bronze statue, Galloping Horse’s Hoof Stepped on a Flying Swallow. After lunch we travel by coach to Xiahe located on the northern fringes of the Tibetan Plateau. Overnight Xiahe (B, L, D)
Saturday 19 October: Labrang Lamastery
This morning we visit the Labrang Lamastry, one of great monasteries of the Yellow Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism. It is situated at the strategic intersection of four major Asian cultures—Tibetan, Mongolian, Han Chinese, and Chinese Muslim. After a break for lunch we visit the nearby Sangke Farm, situated amongst the steppe grasslands that surround Xiahe. Overnight Xiahe (B, L, D)
Sunday 20 October: To Lanzhou
After a leisurely morning, we return by coach to Lanzhou stopping for lunch along the way. Overnight Lanzhou (B, L)
Monday 21 October: To Dunhuang
Fly to Dunhuang, a major commercial hub on the Silk Road. This afternoon we travel to the Echoing-Sand Dune and Crescent Lake, a permanent spring in the shape of a half moon that has existed as an oasis for at least two thousand years. Overnight Dunhuang (B, L, D)
Tuesday 22 October: Mogao Grottoes
Visit Mogao Grottoes, or the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. The World Heritage site forms a system of 492 temples that contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years. An important cache of documents was discovered in 1900 in the so-called “Library Cave”, and are now found in Beijing, Paris, Berlin and the British Library. In the afternoon we travel to the western most portions of the Great Wall. Overnight Dunhuang (B, L)
Wednesday 23 October: To Turpan
Today we travel by train from Dunhuang to Turpan which lies at the second lowest spot of the earth’s surface within the Taklamakan Desert. Overnight Turpan (B, D)
Thursday 24 October: Around Turpan
We explore the archaeological sites of Jiaohe and Gaochang, ancient centres on the northern branch of the Silk Road that were both destroyed during the Mongol incursions of the 13th and 14th Centuries. The ruins at Jiaohe consist of temples and stupas, notable graveyards and a large government office of the town. Gaochang was initially built as a garrison town in the first century BCE. By the 14th century, the city was damaged and abandoned due to warfare between Mongolian aristocrats and Uigurs. After lunch we visit the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves situated in the Mutou Valley in the Flaming Mountains. Overnight Turpan (B, L, D)
Friday 25 October: To Urumqi
This morning we have the opportunity to explore Turpan with traces of human habitation dating back as far back as 6,000 years. The oasis here owes it surprisingly lush green environment to the karez (qanat) system of supplying water. This afternoon we travel by coach to Urumqi. Overnight Urumqi (B, D)
Saturday 26 October: To Kashgar
This morning we visit Urumqi’s Archaeological Museum home of the well-preserved Taklamakan Mummies. The features, tattoos and clothing of the 1,500 year old corpses are easily distinguishable and provide a wonderful insight into the people who inhabited the area before later waves of migration. This afternoon we fly to Kashgar, once a great Silk Road trading centre located between the Pamir Mountains and the Taklamakan Desert. We familiarise ourselves with a city tour following arrival and before checking into our hotel. Overnight Kashgar (B, L, D)
Sunday 27 October: Kashgar Bazaar
Today the busy Sunday markets are on and there is the opportunity to immerse ourselves within the hustle and bustle and soak up some of the trading flavour that has been a feature of the city for millennia. Overnight Kashgar (B)
Monday 28 October: Around Kashgar
Today we explore the environs of Kashgar including a visit to the Id Kah Mosque, the largest in China where up to 10,000 worshippers attend prayers every week. Just outside of the city is the Abakh Khoja or fragrant concubine’s tomb, a mausoleum dedicated to the ruling Islamic family of the 17th century. There is time this afternoon to further explore the local market and handicraft stores before we gather for our farewell dinner this evening. Ovenight Kashgar (B, D)
Tuesday 29 October: To Chengdu
Transfer to the airport for our flight from Kashgar as we return to the eastern seaboard via Urumqi. Overnight Chengdu (B, L)
Wednesday 30 October: Depart
The tour concludes after breakfast. (B)
An educator and practicing archaeologist, who works both in Jordan and with Aboriginal sites in Australia.
Ben Churcher is an archaeologist who works both in the Near East, as well as with Aboriginal archaeology in Australia. He has a strong personal interest in history and archaeology, primarily of the Muslim world, but not exclusively. Ben holds the position of Field Director at the University of Sydney’s archaeological excavations at Pella in Jordan.
Ben holds a BA (Hons) from the University of Queensland and a Dip. Ed from the University of Sydney. In 1983, Ben received a travelling grant from the Alumni Association at the University of Queensland to participate at the excavations at Pella in Jordan and he has been involved in archaeology ever since.
In between digs, Ben worked as a secondary teacher for five years at both public and private high schools and in 1993 he brought together his love of teaching and archaeology by founding Astarte Resources, a company producing and distributing educational resources specialising in history. While running Astarte Resources, Ben has been involved with adult education lecturing on a range of historical subjects and graduate teaching duties at the University of Canberra in their cultural heritage degree.
Since 2002 Ben has worked extensively in Aboriginal archaeology in Australia, working with a small firm undertaking heritage assessments and management. This work has taken him from western NSW, into the Snowy Mountains and onto the coalfields of the Hunter Valley.
Ben has continued his association with the excavations at Pella in Jordan throughout this time and he has participated in most seasons of excavation at the site. This work has involved excavating most major Near Eastern periods from the prehistoric Natufian period, through to the Islamic period.
Ben is a life member of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation at the University of Sydney and he currently sits on the board of the Foundation.
Ben has also travelled widely beyond the destinations to which he takes tours, has taught English in Japan for six months and has sailed on a dhow to Zanzibar. The consequence of this experience is that Ben is an adept traveller, unfazed by what the world may throw at him, and someone who has managed to amass a lot of information from various places and time periods that he is only too happy to impart.
Ben led his first tour to Jordan and Syria in 1993 and has gone on to take travellers to an eclectic range of countries including Mali, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Iran, Central Asia, China and Mexico. The common thread has been Ben’s interest in global history and the interconnections between both historical periods and cultures. How these interconnections are expressed in architecture, religion and governance is an abiding interest of Ben’s.
We asked Ben, what do you think clients get from travelling with you?
“I feel the people I travel with enjoy the way I can place great sweeps of history into context for them. On tour people often want to know what was happening elsewhere while such and such a building was being constructed. Fortunately I can use the experience I’ve built up over the years to answer such questions and then tie the particular culture we are looking at into the broader picture so that it links with things already known by the people in the group.”
Hotels have been selected principally for their central location.
Beijing, Beijing Hotel Nuo on Chang’an Ave (3 nights)
Xi’an, Hilton Hotel (2 nights)
Tianshui, Jiafu Hotel (1 night)
Lanzhou, Crowne PlazaHotel (3 nights)
Xiahe, Jiusheng Hotel (2 nights)
Dunhuang, Silk RoadHotel (2 nights)
Turpan, Metropolo Jinjiang Hotel (2 nights)
Urumqi, Grand Mercure Hotel (1 night)
Kashgar, Radisson Blu Hotel (3 nights)
Chengdu, Crowne PlazaHotel (1 night)
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.