1. Make waves on the Yangtze
The longest river in Asia, the Yangtze flows nearly 6,437km from the northern Tibetan Plateau to the East China Sea. Cruising specialist Scenic offers a four-night sailing trip from Yichang to Chongqing, on the five-star Yangzi Explorer, passing through the steep-sided gorges of Xiling, Wu and Qutang, with an excursion through Shennong Stream by sampan. Part of a longer two-week package, the itinerary also includes the top sights in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai.
2. Gorge on a gourmet tour
Chinese cuisine ranks among the best in the world, but tracking down the local secrets can be a challenge without a guide. Adventure operator Intrepid Travel reveals the country’s culinary secrets on a food-focused, expert-led tour of Beijing, Chengdu, Xi’an and Shanghai, sampling spicy Sichuan flavours, Peking duck and the Muslim-influenced food of Xi’an, plus a lesson in making dumplings in Shanghai. Travel is by rail and includes two overnight sleepers.
China Real Food Adventure from about Dh7,760 for 11 nights, including some meals. Excludes flights and transfers. Departures October 2019 to November 2020. Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com).
3. Go wild for tigers
Remote and little-visited, the southern province of Xishuangbanna is home to endangered wildlife and rare plants. Tailor-made operator Pettitts offers an itinerary that travels to this far-flung region after a stopover in Kunming on the Yunnan plateau and three nights of sightseeing in Beijing. Tiger, leopard and rare Asian elephants inhabit the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, and Menglun’s Botanic Garden protects around 13,000 tropical-plant species. The tour rounds off in Bangkok.
Xishuangbanna and the Gardens of southern China has departures March to April and September to October. Pettitts (pettitts.co.uk).
4. Seek surprises in Sichuan
In the upper reaches of the Yangtze valley, and skirted by forests and mountains, Sichuan is home to many mammals and birds. Expert guides lead tours to the region, in groups organised by Wildlife Worldwide, visiting the Labahe, Wolong and Tangjiahe Nature Reserves. Look for red pandas, Pallas’s cat, Himalayan marmot and Tibetan fox along with black-necked crane and firethroats.
Sichuan’s Sensational Mammals & Birds departs April 4 2020 and Oct 31 2020. Wildlife Worldwide (wildlifeworldwide.com).
5. Hit all the highlights
Architecture, sculpture, garden design and martial arts are among the many facets of Chinese art and creativity explored on a fast-moving itinerary offered by small group operator Ace Cultural Tours. Sinologist and Chinese speaker Elizabeth Morrell unravels the early dynasties of China with overnight stays in Beijing, Pingyao, Xi’an, Luoyang and Shanghai. Travelling by high-speed train, further highlights include a visit to Nanjing on the Yangtze River and to Hangzhou for a boat ride on West Lake.
Chinese Civilisation departs April 11 2020. Ace Cultural Tours (aceculturaltours.co.uk).
6. Go solo on a cultural trip
Departures aimed at single travellers deliver all the benefits of an escorted group without additional supplements to pay for hotel rooms. Long-haul specialist Cox &Kings offers autumn departures to groups of up to 18, staying in four-star accommodation. The itinerary covers Beijing, Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors, Chengdu and Shanghai, and includes lessons in Chinese cooking and calligraphy, an excursion to the giant panda research base, and a river cruise.
Classic China departs Sept 6 and 20, Oct 9, 2019. Cox and Kings (coxandkings.co.uk).
7. Think big with giant pandas
Native to central China, the giant panda is among the world’s most endangered species and the rarest member of the bear family. Far East specialist Wendy Wu includes a visit to Dujiangyan Panda Base in the Sichuanese countryside, just over an hour’s drive from Chengdu, where visitors can see these creatures. This tour also includes a tour of Beijing, a trip to the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, a Chinese acrobatic show and a Peking duck dinner.
In Pursuit of Pandas departures on March to November. Wendy Wu (wendywutours.co.uk).
8. Hike the Great Wall
The best-known sections of the Great Wall were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and at one point it extended 8,369km from Jiayuguan in the northwest to Hushan in eastern China. Most tourists visit the restored parts from Beijing, but operator World Expeditions offers a more immersive trip to this landmark. Travelling to a less-visited section in the Hebei province, hikes range from 6-16km, with overnight camping and meals hosted by locals.
Great Wall Trek from about Dh5,750 for seven nights, including all meals. Excludes flights and transfers. Departures April to October. World Expeditions (worldexpeditions.com).
9. Explore rural backwaters
Away from the big cities and tourist sights, rural China offers spectacular scenery and ancient villages. For a glimpse of these peaceful backwaters, adventure operator Wild Frontiers takes a group tour from Guilin in Guangxi province to experience a raft river trip on the Li River, hikes to the rice terraces at Longsheng, and stops in Miao villages. Travel is by road and foot, and a pottery lesson and musical performances are included.
Walking in China: Hill Tribes of Guangxi and Guizhou from about Dh16,000 for 11 nights including transfers and most meals. Departs April 6 2020. Excludes flights. Wild Frontiers Travel (wildfrontierstravel.com).
10. Journey along the Silk Road
Combine a stay in Beijing and Xi’an with a journey along China’s trading routes in the company of Ming Dynasty expert and historian Dr Jamie Greenbaum. This small-group tour offered by cultural specialist Martin Randall travels west, taking in the markets of Kashgar and Bulaksu and the trading city of Gaochang. The Mogao Caves with their cave paintings are a highlight.
China’s Silk Road Cities – The Northern Route through Shaanxi, Gansu and Xinjiang from about Dh27,000 for 12 nights, including one transfer and most meals. Excludes flights. Departs Oct 17 2019, and Oct 15 2020. Martin Randall (martinrandall.com).
The Sunday Telegraph