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Chinese Silk Road Taklamakan Adventure

Group Tour

18 Days From £4,100

Overview

The Silk Road has long passed into lore and legend. Connecting China with the unknown lands to the west, it once spanned great swathes of Central Asia, crossing nearly 6,500 kilometres of burning deserts and high mountain passes. This exceptional adventure takes us through some of the most culturally and geographically diverse landscapes along the Chinese section of the Silk Road; travelling through the harsh Taklamakan Desert to pick up both the more regularly travelled northern route, as well ...

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HIGHLIGHTS

At a glance

MEALS

17 x Breakfasts
16 x Lunches
17 x Dinners

TRANSPORT

On this tour we will use minibuses & trains.

GROUP SIZE

Maximum: 12

CARBON CONTRIBUTIONS

A carbon-offsetting contribution to Eco Act for all bookings

EXPERT TEAM

The full services of a Wild Frontiers Tour Leader with local guides where appropriate

ACCOMMODATION

All accommodation as outlined in the itinerary

ACCOMMODATION

As an overall ethos, wherever possible we aim to use characterful accommodation that enhances the overall travel experience, not just offers a bed for the night. This can obviously vary dramatically from country to country and from trip to trip. In China this can be a big challenge as many hotels have been built to similar standards. So on this trip you can expect comfortable stays in good hotels that offer high levels of service, although they may lack individual character. Please note that the accommodation mentioned in the itinerary is intended as a guide only and is always subject to availability.

ENTRANCE FEES

All entrance fees for sights mentioned in the itinerary

FITNESS RATING

Low / Moderate

FITNESS RATING

LOW: You should be comfortable walking around towns and cultural sites. May include some optional walks (typically 1-2hrs).

LOW/MODERATE: May be of a long duration and/or involve numerous border-crossings. May include easy/moderate day walks (up to 2-3hrs/day). You should be relatively fit and lead a generally active lifestyle.

MODERATE/HIGH: May include several easy/moderate day walks (up to 2-4hrs/day) possibly at altitude. You should be relatively fit and lead a generally active lifestyle. Previous experience of similar trips helpful.

HIGH: May involve several days of moderate hiking (up to 3-5 hrs/day) possibly at altitude. You must be a fit and active traveller with appropriate trekking experience.

VERY HIGH: May involve several days of moderate/strenuous trekking (up to 5-7 hrs/day) possibly at altitude. You must be a very fit and active traveller with appropriate trekking experience.

Map & Itinerary

Individual departures may vary so please refer to the information in the tour specific links in the Dates and Prices section below

Chinese Silk Road Taklamakan Adventure
EXPAND ALL ITINERARY DAYS
COLLAPSE ALL ITINERARY DAYS

DAY 1: TOUR STARTS IN XI'AN

DAY 1: TOUR STARTS IN XI'AN

Tour starts in Xian: After a quick freshen-up, you may wish to explore the local area and have lunch in one of the many restaurants before the tour starts this evening in the fabled city of Xi’an, once considered to be amongst the greatest cities in the world and the easternmost point of the Silk Road.

Hotel Grand Dynasty or similar
Dinner

DAY 2: IN XI'AN

DAY 2: IN XI'AN

We have the whole day to explore this ancient city today. We will take in the Wild Goose Pagoda, formerly the Temple of Great Maternal Grace, a well-preserved ancient building and a holy place for Buddhists. We’ll also head to the old town where we will be able to see the massive city walls, which are 14km in length and up to 12m high, enclosing the historic centre. We’ll wander through the narrow streets of the Muslim Quarter and visit the Great Mosque, one of the oldest, largest and best

Hotel Grand Dynasty or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 3: TERRACOTTA ARMY; BULLET TRAIN TO LANZHOU

DAY 3: TERRACOTTA ARMY; BULLET TRAIN TO LANZHOU

A highlight of any visit to Xi'an is a visit to see the Terracotta Warriors – one of the greatest archaeological finds of the last century. Amazingly nothing was known of the existence of the life-size soldiers of the Terracotta Army until a peasant digging a well in 1974 stumbled upon them. The Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di spent most of his life until his death in 210BC constructing his burial place, conscripting thousands of people to build his tomb and the terracotta army that would guard him in the afterlife. The underground battle formations of life-sized pottery warriors, archers, horses and chariots have been left in situ in three large excavated pits. Pit number one contains over 6000 soldiers, each with its own individual facial features, and pit number two contains almost a thousand warriors and half the number of horses (also life-size). Later in the day we’ll return to Xi'an to board an early evening bullet train heading west and arriving in Lanzhou where we’ll overnight.

Hotel Legend or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 4: LANZHOU - XIAHE

DAY 4: LANZHOU - XIAHE

The capital of Gansu Province, Lanzhou was once an important link along the Northern Silk Road and a major crossing point of the Yellow River. Today it provides us with our gateway into the culturally rich landscapes of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Our first stop is at the Gansu Provincial Museum which exhibits over 350,000 artefacts of Buddisht Art, Fossils, Pottery and Silk Road Civilisation. We then continue on to Xiahe by road. Home to the famous Labrang Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, one of the largest outside Tibet, the town of Xiahe sits alongside the Daxia River, amidst a rural mountainous landscape populated largely by ethnic Tibetans.

Nirvana Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 5: IN XIAHE

DAY 5: IN XIAHE

One of the six great monasteries belonging to the Geluk (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism, Labrang Monastery was founded in 1790 by the first Jamyang Zhaqypa, Ngawang Tsondru. Situated at the intersection of four major Asian cultures - Tibetan, Mongolian, Han Chinese and Chinese Muslim, during the 20th century it was one of the largest Buddhist monastic universities in the world. Located at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain, the monastery boasts a collection of Buddha statues that number in their tens of thousands and is still an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists across the region, with the largest number of monks in residence outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. We’ll have the whole day to explore this fascinating place as well as the nearby Sangke Grasslands.

Nirvana Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 6: XIAHE - LANZHOU; OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO JIAYUGUAN

DAY 6: XIAHE - LANZHOU; OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO JIAYUGUAN

Returning to Lanzhou today, we catch the onward train to Jiayuguan, where we will find the first pass at the western end of the Great Wall. Before taking our train we will pay a visit to the Binglingshi Caves on the Yellow River, which have Buddhist carvings dating back over 1500 years. The overnight journey will be in soft sleeper class compartments, arriving in the city of Jiayuguan early tomorrow morning.

Overnight Train
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 7: ARRIVE JIAYUGUAN

DAY 7: ARRIVE JIAYUGUAN

Arriving in Jiayuguan early this morning, we transfer to the hotel first to check in, after which the rest of the morning is free to relax at leisure. Later we’ll drive out of the city to visit the Overhanging Wall, located just a short distance to the northwest of the city’s famous fort. Located at the foot of the Black Mountains, this section of wall forms part of the defensive ramparts that once protected the extreme western edge of China. A mix of partially restored fragments and original wall, today it provides an excellent venue for a walk, providing some stunning views out across the barren emptiness of the surrounding countryside. We’ll also visit the Wei-Jin tombs that date back to 220-420 AD. Inside the tombs we can see some of the original wall paintings, depicting various social activities such as fishing, farming, hunting and drinking, including a very controversial depiction of ancient Chinese using knives and forks.

Jiayuguan International Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 8: JIAYUGUAN - DUNHUANG

DAY 8: JIAYUGUAN - DUNHUANG

Jiayuguan marked the western end of the Great Wall and today it is still a symbol of the western boundaries of China. It is located at the end of a strip of land known as the Hexi Corridor. In ancient times Jiayuguan was known as the 'mouth' of China while the Hexi Corridor was referred to as the 'throat'. Jiayuguan Fort is one of the quintessential images of western China and was built in 1372 to guard the pass between the snow-capped Qilian Shan and Hei Shan peaks. It is a splendid construction and has been considered the last outpost of the Chinese Empire since the days of the Han Dynasty, when the Great Wall reached as far as the Yumen Pass, about 90km northwest of Dunhuang, our next destination.

Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 9: IN & AROUND DUNHUANG

DAY 9: IN & AROUND DUNHUANG

Dunhuang was once a very important staging point, and the last stop for the camel caravans before the gruelling journey through the desert. It was from here that the Silk Road divided into its northern and southern routes. Dunhuang's fame, however, is largely due to the Mogao Grottoes, which are one of the world's richest treasure troves of Buddhist manuscripts, wall paintings and statues known as the Thousand Buddha Caves. The site was first carved out of the cliffs in 366 AD, with more caves being hewn out of the rock up until the 14th century. The honeycomb of caves runs along the cliff face and contains some 2,415 coloured clay sculptures and more than 45,000 square metres of mural paintings. Many of these were paid for by pious travellers facing the perilous journey across the vast desert, or as thanks upon their safe return to Dunhuang. The colours have remained lively due to the extremely dry climate, but natural and electric light and the humidity caused by the breath of thousands of visitors is slowly fading the precious art, and some of the caves are periodically closed. About 25-40 caves are open to the public at any one time and although guides carry a torch, it is also a good idea to take your own.

Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 10: IN & AROUND DUNHUANG; AFTERNOON TRAIN TO TURPAN

DAY 10: IN & AROUND DUNHUANG; AFTERNOON TRAIN TO TURPAN

Early in the morning we’ll head out to a wonderfully iconic spot – the singing sand dunes of Crescent Moon Lake. Here we can climb to the top of the enormous dunes for amazing views of the crystal-clear spring hidden amongst the sands, and enjoy the stunning views of the sunrise in the desert. We then return to the hotel to freshen up and have a leisurely morning. After having an early lunch in town, we will transfer to nearby Liuyuan to catch a train to Turpan where we stay the night.

Hotel Houzhou or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 11: IN & AROUND TURPAN; OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO KUQA

DAY 11: IN & AROUND TURPAN; OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO KUQA

Turpan is one of the lowest places on earth, where rain never falls and summers can be scorching hot. It was once an important staging post on the Silk Road and its large oasis produces the best grapes in China. Here we can see the ancient karez system of irrigation whereby the melted snow from the surrounding mountains is brought down to the town in underground channels, all dug by hand and stretching some 3000km. This is similar to the Arab falaj system or the Iranian qanat. We’ll also visit the 18th Century Emin Minaret built in Afghani style. During our time here we’ll visit the fascinating ghost city of Jiaohe, the ancient capital of the Jushi people, a city founded in the 2nd century BC but abandoned in 14th century AD, following its destruction by the Mongols. It stands on an isolated plateau and has a haunting silhouette and atmosphere. Among the ruins are remains of a large Buddhist stupa and headless stucco figures are set in niches adorning the central part of the main temple. From here we take our final overnight train all the way out of Gansu Province into Xinjiang, once known as Chinese Turkestan.

Overnight Train
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 12: IN & AROUND KUQA

DAY 12: IN & AROUND KUQA

This morning we arrive in the Uighur town of Kuqa, part of an ancient Buddhist kingdom that was located along a branch of the Silk Route that ran across the northern edge of the Taklamakan Desert. Birthplace of the 4th Century linguist Kumarajiva, one of Chinese Buddhism’s most revered scholars, it prospered from the wealth of the trade caravans. Huge monasteries were built here and during the Tang dynasty it was one of the ‘Four Garrisons’ of An-hsi, the ‘pacified west’. The extensive ruins of the ancient capital (Subash) lie to the north of modern Kuqa. On arrival we’ll make a tour of the city, taking in the 2nd and 3rd Century ruins of Subash, as well as parts of the old town.

Lidu Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 13: KUQA TO AKSU

DAY 13: KUQA TO AKSU

Leaving Kuqa this morning we head west towards the famous Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves. Dating back to the 5th and 6th Centuries, this remarkable series of caves are said to be the earliest major Buddhist cave complex in China, older even than those at Mogao. Filled with frescoes and sculptures, the caves have been linked to the ancient Tocharian Kingdom and of the original 235 caves, some 135 remain still relatively intact. After our visit we then continue on to the oasis city of Aksu on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin. Lying at the crossroads of trade routes, the city was fought over for centuries by the Chinese Tang, the Tibetan Tufan and the Uighurs, before falling to the forces of Genghis Khan in 1208.

Hongfu Jinlan Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 14: AKSU - MAKIT

DAY 14: AKSU - MAKIT

Leaving early this morning, we take the Taklamakan desert road to Makit County, situated amongst one of the most arid and desolate climates anywhere on earth. The Taklamakan covers an area of some 337,000 square kilometres and translates as ‘The Desert of Death’ or ‘The Point of no Return’. One of the highlights of our journey, today’s drive takes us through just a small portion of this incredible landscape, offering a chance to experience for ourselves something of the harsh reality that faced the caravans of old as they made their way towards the markets of Yarkent and Kashgar. We will explore Kumikisa Village and then take our own ‘ships of the desert’ – the camel – and ride into the desert to enjoy the remote beauty of this area.

Makit Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 15: MAKIT - KASHGAR

DAY 15: MAKIT - KASHGAR

After breakfast we will continue across the Taklamakan Desert to Kashgar, an oasis city with approximately 500,000 residents. Kashgar’s Old Town is a traditional Islamic city, though much of it has sadly now been destroyed by the Chinese. Kashgar sits today, as it has done for centuries, at a major crossroads of trade routes. We will of course see the somewhat controversial statue of Chairman Mao in the city centre, as well as visiting the green-tiled Abak Hoja tomb in the quiet suburbs. We visit the huge Id Kah Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Central Asia, is located in the heart of the city. There will be ample time for personal exploration of this ancient Silk Road city.

Qinibagh Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 16: IN KASHGAR

DAY 16: IN KASHGAR

This morning we will leave this bustling city for a few hours and head towards the Irkeshtam pass to visit Shipton’s Arch. This amazing natural rock arch is named after Eric Shipton, who served as the British consul in Kashgar in the 1940s. He visited the arch in 1947 and wrote about it in his book, Mountains of Tartary. Shipton’s Arch is often considered to be the highest in the world, though its exact height depends on how it’s measured. For many years, Shipton’s Arch was forgotten by the outside world, though it was brought back to the world’s attention in May 2000 with a National Geographic expedition. We will hike up the gorge and then climb to the arch, where we will be rewarded with spectacular views across the Tien Shen mountains.

Qinibagh Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 17: IN KASHGAR

DAY 17: IN KASHGAR

This morning we will visit the famous Yakshambe Bazaar, or the Sunday Market as it’s otherwise known. Here we spend the morning watching the locals trade everything from woodwork and iron wear to sheep, donkeys, cattle, horses and camels. The afternoon will be free to explore the city or maybe take a cup of tea in one of the old chaikhanas, watching the locals going about their everyday lives in the street markets.In the evening we will regroup to head out for our final night in China.

Qinibagh Hotel or similar
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 18: TOUR ENDS IN KASHGAR

DAY 18: TOUR ENDS IN KASHGAR

The tour ends after breakfast.

Breakfast

PRIVATE HOLIDAYS: DATES DON’T FIT?

All group tours can be taken on a private basis.

Additional Details

Responsible Travel

Responsible travel and sustainable tourism are fundamental ideas that Wild Frontiers has been committed to since our birth. It is our strong belief that these words should not be simply ‘tagged on’ to itineraries and websites but should be at the very core of each trip, and our adventures are therefore designed with the local people, culture and eco-system in mind. We believe that a successful trip not only delivers a unique and unsurpassable journey for our clients, but that it also benefits the peoples whose lands we are privileged to visit. For more information, please see our responsible travel page.

Getting There

If you would like us to send you a quote for the suggested tour flights or on any alternative flight that may suit you better, please let us know, noting that for our US clients, we will most likely refer you to one of our preferred partners. For this trip our suggested flights from the UK (subject to change) are shown below.

If you wish to arrange your own flights you are completely free to do so and in this case we can arrange any transfers or supplementary accommodation that you may require. However please note that if you are planning on making your own flight arrangements, we recommend that you first check with us to see if the trip is guaranteed. We then suggest that you purchase flights that are flexible and ideally refundable as due to the nature of adventure travel, itineraries and destination accessibility can change at any time. For more information, please refer to our booking conditions.
 

Flight Code Departing Arriving
CZ 674 London Heathrow (LHR) 22:10 Wuhan Airport (WUH) 15:35
CZ 3889 Wuhan Airport (WUH) 17:30 Xi'an Airport (XIY) 19:05
CZ 6885 Kashgar Airport (KHG) 11:40 Guangzhou Airport (CAN) 19:40
CZ 307 Guangzhou Airport (CAN) 00:50 Schiphol Airport (AMS) 06:45
CZ 7858 Schiphol Airport (AMS) 08:35 London Heathrow (LHR) 09:00

Visas

Visas are necessary for many of the destinations we travel to and while we aim to provide you with the most up-to-date information, requirements frequently change and as such for the latest advice we advise that you check with the relevant embassies or contact our recommended visa agency, Travcour www.travcour.com 

For this tour UK passport holders currently require a visa for China.

Non-UK passport holders or non-UK residents should contact the relevant embassies for individual requirements.

Further details will be sent out to you on booking, however ensuring that correct and valid visas are obtained remains the sole responsibility of the client.

Extensions

If you have more time available, why not arrive early to adjust to a new time zone or just to get a feel for the country before your tour starts? Or alternatively you might choose to allow a few extra days after the tour to relax or to undertake some further exploration.

The choice is completely yours and we can usually arrange anything from simply additional accommodation and transfers to full tailor-made itineraries.

Below is just a small sample of what you could do. Please contact the office for more details and to discuss your individual requirements.

Beijing

If you’ve never been to Beijing before then why not take this opportunity to spend an extra couple of nights here and pay a visit to the astounding Forbidden City and the nearby Great Wall. Allow 2-3 days.

Kazakhstan

Why not visit one of Central Asia’s least known countries with a visit to the capital, Almaty, and the stunning Charyn Canyon where you can marvel at the rock formations. Allow approx.2 days

Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan: If you have the time, then why not continue in the footsteps of the old Silk Road travellers and cross the Irkeshtam Pass* to Kyrgyzstan and on to Osh, the Ferghana Valley and the wonders of Uzbekistan. *This pass is subject to sporadic closure so please check with us first if considering this option. Allow approx. 10 days.

Governmental Travel Advice

Many governments issue advice which highlights potential hazards their citizens might experience when travelling abroad. We strongly suggest you refer to your country’s particular advisory site before booking and contact us if you have any queries or concerns. Click to follow links to the advice of the British Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) or the US State Department.

Non-UK citizens should consult the travel advice of their respective governments.

Key Information

CLIMATE

As this trip covers such an extensive range of terrain, it is hard to summarise what climate can be expected. However, in general spring and autumn are considered the best times for this journey as it avoids the desert extremes that both summer and winter bring, and at the same time offers a good chance of many fine sunny days.

IS THIS TRIP FOR ME?

It may sound obvious but Wild Frontiers tours are not always for everyone and it is important to us that the tour you choose is the most suitable. All our tours have a fitness rating as a guideline but you should check the day-by-day itinerary carefully. In certain instances we may ask you to complete a travel questionnaire before confirming your booking in order to ensure your suitability. Should you have any concerns about your ability to partake in any aspect of the tour then please contact the office.

KEY ASPECTS TO CONSIDER

Anyone in a reasonable state of health, with an open mind and a sense of adventure should be perfectly able to cope with this tour, as many of the activities are optional. However, please note that although this is not a physically demanding trip, it is a BIG journey including two overnight train journeys and as such can be tiring.

THE NATURE OF ADVENTURE TRAVEL

We feel that it’s worth pointing out that while we will always strive to stick as close to the stated itinerary as possible, it may be necessary from time to time to make changes to our itineraries or services (due to weather, political and religious influences etc.) and this can happen with little or no notice. This unpredictability can be one of the most exciting aspects of adventure travel and for many of our clients often leads to unexpected highlights as the tour-leader necessarily adapts the tour to the changing conditions. However we are aware that this lack of assuredness may not suit everyone. As such, with the greatest respect, if you are someone who needs to know that everything will happen exactly as planned, we would kindly suggest that perhaps our tours are not for you. Adventure travel can be infectious and once you’ve caught the bug, it is likely to never leave you, but especially if this is your first such tour we would strongly urge you to give us a call if you have any concerns whatsoever about your suitability for this trip.

TRAVELLING SOLO AND SINGLE SUPPLEMENTS

As a company approximately 70% of our clients are solo travellers, so it’s very unlikely you’ll be alone!

Our prices are typically based on twin-share accommodation but single supplements are not compulsory for any Wild Frontiers tour. If you prefer not to pay a single supplement we’ll pair you with someone else of the same sex for you to share with throughout the trip.

On this trip, if you do opt to pay for a single supplement then please note that it will cover you for all nights of the tour.

Please note that paying a single supplement entitles you to lone occupancy of a single room. In many cases these rooms will be of the same size as a double/twin room, but in some cases they may be smaller.
 

INSURANCE

Insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all tours. You should be aware that due to some of the geographical areas visited and some of the activities included on certain of our trips some standard insurance policies may not always provide adequate cover. As such we strongly recommend that you purchase a policy that adequately covers your trip. If you choose to purchase the Wild Frontiers bespoke policy through Travel & General (currently available to UK residents only) then please note for this trip the minimum required level of cover will be the Standard policy. Please see the Insurance section for more details.

General Information

TOUR PRICE

All our tours are priced on a land-only basis, giving you maximum flexibility when deciding how to get to and from your tour.

DEPOSIT

A £500 (or equivalent) deposit is required to confirm your booking. In addition, due to the particular nature of this trip, an interim deposit of £600 (or equivalent) per person will be required within 30 days of booking a guaranteed departure, or subsequently within 30 days of receiving confirmation from us that the trip has been guaranteed.

PROTECTION FOR YOUR MONEY

For further details please see our travelling with peace of mind page

WILD MILES

This tour will earn you 10276 Wild Miles

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

We believe in a completely transparent approach to pricing with no hidden extras. As such, please note that the following are not included in the cost of the tour.

Visas & Travel Insurance: Visas will always be tour/nationality dependent but travel insurance is mandatory
Tips: Always optional but some guidance will be given in the pre-departure information documents
International Flights: Please ask us for an obligation-free quote for flights which originate in the UK
Beverages & any costs of a personal nature: This will include items such as laundry and souvenirs

WILD FRONTIERS COMMUNITY

If you’re still not sure if this trip is right or just want to see get some different perspectives, then why not have a look at the wide variety of resources we have on our website? Browse our community section to read our blogs, watch videos and find out about our events. 

WHY WILD FRONTIERS?

We are frequently asked what makes Wild Frontiers different from other tour operators. Visit our Why Wild Frontiers page to find out.

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