Xinjiang’s Tianchi (Heavenly Lake)

Xinjiang’s Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) is quite heavenly don’t you think?

Tianchi, or “Heavenly Lake”

The lake is about 28 miles outside of Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Province. For those who don’t know where that is, imagine China’s shape as a giant rooster. Xinjiang would be the rooster’s backside. It’s the largest province in China, and was the entry point for the Silk Road for Eurasians.

Tianchi is surrounded by the Tian Shan (Heavenly Mountain) mountain range. That’s the mountains in the back. The lake is 6000 ft above sea level and about 1.9 square miles. You can take a boat cruise around the lake, and there’s even a monastery on it’s banks.

Damuo Monastery on the banks of Tianchi

Our 14 and 16 day Silk Road tours take you to see this beautiful lake, along with a plethora of other places. For more pictures of what you’d see, visit our Facebook.


Packing for the Frozen North

For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s almost time again for China’s Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. This takes place every year in Harbin, China, located up north (it’s actually at the same latitude as Montreal). The festival is basically an ice wonderland: there’s going to be hundreds of ice sculptures and performances throughout the festival. Officially, it starts January 5th and lasts for one month, although some exhibits open earlier and close later than that.

Ice Sculpture

If you go at night, they actually light up the sculptures, which gives everything another dimension.

An ice bridge at night

Temperatures can get to -30°C (-22°F), so obviously it’s going to be ridiculously cold. I’ve heard stories about people touching doors and windows and having their hands get stuck, as well as cameras freezing. Sounds crazy right? Not if you pack right.

So, what do you pack for this frozen journey? I’m going January 8th on our ICE9 tour (points if you can make a reference out of the tour code) for 9 days. This is what I’m bringing:

  • Heavy winter coat: I recently bought a thick knee length coat. It’s roomy enough for layers while being fashion forward.
  • Down Jacket: I’m also bringing a thick down jacket that has a faux fur collar.  It’s so warm that when New York City was hit with a blizzard 2 years ago, I was actually sweating while wearing it.
  • Snow Boots: I have a pair of mid-calf Sketchers snow boots. Very warm, waterproof, and the inside is fur-lined.
  • Sneakers: I used to wear sneakers in the snow in NYC. I don’t get cold very easily.
  • Lots of sweaters and long sleeve shirts
  • Jeans and long underwear
  • Thick socks
  • Knit hats: I have a love affair with beanies.
  • Knit gloves
  • Scarf: quite essential if you think about it. Don’t want a cold neck and it can also block wind.
  • Laptop computer
  • Cell phone: if you have an unlocked quad band cell phone, you can buy a SIM card in China and have your family call you. Or, if you have a smartphone, sign up for Skype calling and use that instead.
  • Those hand warmers you snap to activate.

Of course, since I’m on a tour the festival isn’t the only thing on the itinerary:

Day 1: USA-Shanghai
Day 2: Shanghai-Shenyang
Day 3: Shengyang
(Sights: Shenyang Palace and Chang Tso-Ling Mansion)
Day 4: Shengyang-Changchun-Jilin-Changchun (Sights: North Mountain Park, Songhua River)
Day 5: Changchun-Harbin (Sights: Ice and Snow Festival)
Day 6: Harbin (Sights: Ice and Snow Festival, Flood Control Monument, Russian styled Center Street)
Day 7: Harbin-Shanghai
Day 8: Shanghai
(Day on your own or visit the World Financial Center, Shanghai Expo Memorial Park, The Bund)
Day 9: Shanghai-USA

A detailed itinerary can be found here. It’s in Chinese though. The tour is entirely in Chinese, but you shouldn’t be deterred. We’ve had non-Chinese speakers on our Chinese language tours, and they’ve always had either the tour leader or another member of the tour translate for them.

Anyway, if you want to head on over to the extremely frozen north, give us a ring. Or, just pack all your thermals and go!

New China Tour Itineraries

Sorry about the lack of recent posts. I was having trouble with my WordPress account, but now everything is fixed so we can get on with the show!

We recently released a couple new tour itineraries for November and December with land only prices starting at $399. These are special rates that include airfare, hotel, and tour fees.  Jump the cut to see details.

The Great Wall of China (Tours B8RE and B8SE)

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Highlighting Classic China in 12 Days

I’ve decided that as a continuation of the previous post that I should talk about all the tours we offer. I’ll start providing links to these posts on our Tour Itineraries page after they begin to move down the list of blog posts.

So. The next most popular tour we have is our 12 day Classic Highlight Tour, which covers Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Guilin, Xi’an, and Beijing.

Like before, I’ll only introduce the cities in this post. For an actual day-by-day itinerary and pricing info, visit our website.

I’ve talked about Shanghai and Beijing quite a lot in the past and I gave a brief overview of Suzhou and Hangzhou in the previous tour post. So here I will focus on the cities of Guilin and Xi’an.

The city of Guilin is located in southern China on the banks of the Li River. It’s known for it’s natural scenery along the river. Cruising the Li River is a must for any visitor, as is seeing the Reed Flute Cave and Elephant Trunk Hill.


The Li River



The Reed Flute Cave (from Wikipedia)



Elephant Trunk Hill


Fun Facts: Guilin was used as a backdrop to the film/novel The Painted Veil. It was also the inspiration for the design of the Wookie Planet in Star Wars III.


Of course, Xi’an is famous for the Terra Cotta Army. The army was created to protect the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, and consists of over a thousand soldiers, horses, and chariots. All the statues have unique faces, since the people that created them used their fellow co-workers as models for the warriors.


The Terra Cotta Warriors



Close Up of the Warriors


This tomb was discovered in 1974 after a farmer came upon it while digging a well. Since then scientists have been continuously  excavating the rest of the tomb.

Interesting note: The warriors were once entirely painted, but time has worn off the colors, leaving them the color they are today. Only a handful of warriors still show signs of their original colors.

Other than the Terra Cotta Warriors, Xi’an is also famous for the Wild Goose Pagoda, which is over 1000 years old, and it’s traditional Tang Dynasty folk performances.


The Wild Goose Pagoda (from Wikipedia)



Tang Dynasty Dance Performance


So that wraps up my brief intro to our 12 day tour. Prices this fall start at $2,499. For more details, check out our website (link above).

Day-by-Day Itinerary in a Nutshell

Day 1: USA->Shanghai

Day 2: Shanghai->Wuxi

Day 3: Wuxi->Hangzhou (highlights: Liyuan Garden)

Day 4: Hangzhou->Suzhou (highlights: West Lake, local teahouse)

Day 5: Suzhou->Beijing (highlights: Panmen Scenic Area, Garden of Master Net, Silk Weaving Workshop)

Day 6: Beijing (highlights: Great Wall of China, National Stadium/Bird’s Nest, )

Day 7: Beijing (highlights: Palace Museum/Forbidden City, Qianmen District)

Day 8: Beijing->Xian (highlights: Temple of Heaven, Capital Museum)

Day 9: Xian (highlights: Terra Cotta Army, Tang Dynasty Stage Show)

Day 10: Xian->Shanghai (highlights: Wild Goose Pagoda, Shaanxi History Museum)

Day 11: Shanghai (highlights: Old Town, The Bund, Shanghai World Finance Center, Shanghai World Expo Memorial Park)

Day 12: Shanghai->USA

Spend 9 days in China’s biggest cities (G9E)

I was asked to talk about one of our tours. Our Classic Highlight Tour (tour code G9E) takes you through in China’s biggest cities. It’s a 9 day tour, with prices starting at $849 for the fall season. Call or check out our website. Continue reading