Photo Explorer Tours:
Custom Tours for Independent Photo Explorers
China's Silk Road & Amdo Tibet

Featuring one of Asia's best photo ops, the Kashgar Sunday Bazaar.

The ancient Silk Road from China to the Middle East and Europe took many routes and crossed many frontiers. This itinerary follows the most famous route in China of the Silk Road from Xian across the great expanses of China's "Wild West" to Kashgar and Lake Karakul on the frontier of central Asia before returning via Qinghai and the Amdo region of outer Tibet. This area comprises vast deserts and mountains and was sparsely populated by minority nationalities of Mongol, Turkic and Tibetan origin but is being rapidly modernized by the Han Chinese. While it is an area in transition, many of the old traditions and lifestyles remain much as they have for centuries and provide ample photographic opportunities.

A price quote will be determined for this tour, based on the size of your group, which will include domestic flights and all ground transportation, hotels (your choice of mainly 3 to 5 star) selected for both their value and strategic access to photo locations, and most meals in China (including mostly western breakfasts, and possible western dinner upon request). It also includes the services of our English-speaking photo guide throughout the tour, photographer Tiger Li, as well as local guides. Not included are the visa for China, personal expenses, and tips, including to the national guide.

International airfare for this tour is available via Northwest, United, and other trans-Pacific airlines with connections from several U.S. and Canadian cities. To save you money on your air booking, we will provide information on reliable consolidators so you may obtain your air tickets. Optional extensions of the tour can also be made to other areas of China and east Asia, or more time can be added to the stays in Beijing or Shanghai. If you are interested in an optional pre- or post-tour extension, please request a price quote

Highlights of the Silk Road Tour include:

Beijing's newest modern architecture and a visit to the center of China's contemporary art scene in the Factory 798 Art Zone. (Note: First time visitors to China may want to visit the traditional tourist attractions such as the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, and Great Wall instead. An additional day or two in Beijing would be recommended for this.)

Xi'an, former Chinese capital and largest city in the world, site of the Qin Shihuangdi Museum with its famous terra cotta army, restored ancient city wall and moat, Huaqing Hot Springs, landmark Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and a colorful performance of Tang dynasty music and dancing.

The ancient grottoes at Dunhuang, gateway on the Silk Road for the transmission of Buddhism into China.

The western terminus of the Great Wall at the fortress of Jiayuguan.

The desert oasis of Turpan, located 505 feet below sea level, with its Flaming Mountains, lushly abundant Grape Valley, Thousand-Buddha Caves, and ruins of the ancient Silk Road cities of Jiaohe and Gaochang.

The high pastures of Xinjiang's Tian Shan Mountains around Heavenly Lake and snow-capped Mount Bogda where nomadic Kazakh herdsmen tend to their sheep and goats while living in portable yurts.

The spectacle of the Sunday Bazaar in the Great Market of Kashgar where gaily dressed and highly photogenic Uyghurs come from miles around to buy and sell livestock from sheep to camels, handicrafts, fabrics and rugs, and food and spices, all in an exotic scene of immense action and color.

Lake Karakul and Mutztag-Ata, the Father of Ice Mountains, in Xinjiang's Pamir Plateau border region.

Qinghai Lake, largest inland salt water lake in China, famous for its migratory birdlife.

Kumbun (Ta'er) Monastery, home to the Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Lamaism.

Labrang Monastery, one of the six great monasteries of Gelukpa Tibetan Buddhism

Silk Road & Amdo Tibet Itinerary

All meals listed as breakfast as B, Lunch as L and Dinner as D.


Clients fly to Beijing and will be greeted by our local guide at Beijing Airport and transfered to our accommodation downtown. After the long flight, clients stay in the hotel for rest until the whole group meets in the lobby of the hotel for trip orientation over a cup of Chinese green tea.

Tonight we will enjoy a delicious Peking Duck Banquet in an authentic courtyard restaurant. Our next three nights will be spent at the Crowne Plaza, located at Wangfujing area, the center of Beijing.

First of three nights at the Crowne Plaza Hotel or Jade Garden Hotel (D)


This Morning, we start our tour with photography of the exterior of the National Grand Theater which was just finished in June of 2007. The main building of the National Grand Theater consists of an exterior shell, which is a shell in the shape of a half ellipsoid. Most of the shell is covered by titanium panels, and it is broken in the middle by a curtain of glass that opens gradually from top to bottom.

Then, we drive by the Olympic Center of Beijing to photograph the two main stadiums of the Beijing Olympics, the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube. Bird's Nest or Beijing National Stadium, will be host to the Opening and Closing ceremonies. The Water Cube, or the National Aquatics Centre, will be one of the most dramatic and exciting venues to feature sporting events for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In the afternoon, we get to Factory 798 Art Zone, the vibrant center of modern art in new China. The area occupied by Factory 798 Art Zone today was once the Beijing North China wireless joint equipment factory. Nowadays, because of the typical modernism Bauhaus style of some factory buildings, the orderly-planned courtyard and the distinctive architectural style, many prominent contemporary Chinese artists have been attracted to settle here to work and exhibit.

After dinner, clients go to explore Wangfujing night market near our hotel. Wangfujing night market is a food street, with different type of food from all over this country.

Overnight Crowne Plaza Hotel or Jade Garden Hotel (B, L, D)



This morning, we take flight CA1231 (08:25/10:15) from Beijing to Xian.

Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, was the capital for the Middle Kingdom for over 1,000 years and there is so much history to learn. And Xian is the starting point of the Silk Road. Our local guide in Xian will meet us and transfer for lunch, then to the famed Terracotta Army, which was made to guard the tomb of Qinshihuang, the first emperor to unite China. This major archaeological discovery consists of three underground vaults containing a collection of nearly 10,000 terracotta figures of warriors and horses, each differing in features and facial expressions.

When we get to downtown of Xian, we come to visit the Big Goose Pagoda, which was built to store the Buddhism scriptures which were taken back to China from ancient India by Xuanzang, the great Buddhism master in 652 of Tang dynasty. The architecture itself is a characteristic traditional Chinese wooden building.

This evening, we enjoy the tasty dumpling banquet in an authentic local restaurant.

Overnight Hyatt Regency or Mercure Hotel (B, L, D)



In the morning, we visit Shaanxi History Museum. This museum has a collection of 370,000 items chronicling Shaanxi civilization from as far back as prehistoric times. This roomy modern museum showcases the largest number of pieces among all the Chinese museums.

After early lunch, we drive to Xian airport for our flight HU7535 (14:20/17:30) to Jiayuguan.

Upon our arrival, we will be met by our local guide and be transferred to the hotel. Time permits, we go to photo Jiayuguan on sunset.

Jiayuguan is one of the key iron & steel bases along the Silk Road, is the western terminal of the magnificent Great Wall and it is a great shot to photo the Pass with the back ground of the mountains..

Overnight Jiayuguan Great Wall Hotel (B, L, D)



From early morning to the noon, we will enjoy photo shooting of Jiayuguan Great Wall, the well-known First Fortress of the Great Wall; the outward flying appearance of the Great Wall. The Great Wall Museum supplies extensive knowledge ; the Black Mountain rock drawings, which show the ancient relics of painting and the Xincheng underground galleries in the tombs of Wei & Jin dynasty, which are about 1500 years ago.

After lunch in Jiayuguan, we start our 4 hours drive from Jiayuguan to Dunhuang. On this drive, we would see some ruins of the Great Wall and Yadan landscape.

Late afternoon, we arrive at Dunhuang.

Overnight Dunhuang Silk Road Hotel (B, L, D)



We will start our tour early today to catch up the sunrise over the Sand Dune.

It is about 2 kms from our hotel to the Sand Dune and we can walk to there. Firstly, we will get to the Crescent Moon Lake, where the oasis meets the desert. We Climb to the top of the Mingshashan Sand dunes, take in a spectacular view of a green oasis surrounded by an endless desert landscape.

Followed with the Sand dune, we visit the Mogao Grottos, Artifacts discovered at Dunhuang span from the Northern and Western Wei to Northern Zhou and Tang dynasties, and include what is believed to be the oldest printed script in the world, dating back to 868 AD.

After the Mogao Grottos, if time permits, we continue our trip to the Western Thousand Buddha Caves. The caves scale is not as huge as Mogao Grottos, but the surroundings of the Western Thousand-Buddha are beautiful and quiet, facing water and standing against mountain. The remaining 17 caverns were made from Northern Wei Dynasty to Song Dynasty. The caverns' artistic style is the same as that of Mogao Caves of the same period.

Overnight Dunhuang Silk Road Hotel (B, L, D)



In the morning, we drive about 2.5 hours, 185 kms to Yadan Land Formation for photo shooting. Yadan," which refers to a precipitous hillock in the Uygur language, is a kind of wind-eroded landform. Yadan landforms rise above the flat Gobi Desert, covering a vast area. Due to its eccentric landforms, the hard-to-spot roads, low-lying terrain, strong magnetism and howling sounds made by the wind, the area is also called "Ghost City" by local people.

En route, we also have the opportunity to see more Great Wall made in Han dynasty. The Great Wall here looks so different from the magnificent one around Beijing.

On our way back, we drop in Yangguan Pass and museum. Yangguan is located 70kms southwest of Dunhuang city. As the main access to West Region and an important conjunction on the south route of the Silk Road, Yangguan Pass was a military stronghold in ancient times. Since the Han dynasty, a large number of forces have been stationed here. We also visit the museum of Yangguan.

After dinner, we take train T216/217 (20:16/08:35) to Turpan with soft berths.

Overnight on the train (B, L, D)


Our train arrives at Turpan at 08:22. Our local guide will meet us and take us for breakfast in a local restaurant.

After breakfast, we will drive to Tuyu Valley, which is called The Oriental Mekka. The architecture is very unique, influenced both by Buddhism and Islam. The grotto has history of over 1500 years. Then visit Karez underground irrigation Channels. Karez systems are the crystallization of ancient people's diligence and intelligence. At its peak, the Karez irrigation system exceeded 5,000 km (3,106 miles) and was also referred to as "the underground Great Wall". Karez is the life source of Turpan.

Sugong Tower, also called "Emin Tower" and "The Turpan Tower" by the local Uygur people, is located 2 kilometers east of the city of Turpan. Built in 1778, it is the biggest tower in Xinjiang and has an architectural style all its own.

After lunch, we visit Jiaohe ancient city, which was the capital of Cheshi Nation thousand years ago and also a great place for photo shooting.

After Jiaohe, we drive about 3 hours to Urumqi.

Overnight Hai Tok hotel or Yilite Hotel (B, L, D)


This morning, we drive 97kms about 2.5 hours to the Heavenly Lake or Tianchi in Chinese. The Heavenly Lake is situated to the east of the Tianshan Mountain range, north of Bogda Peak. Surrounding the Heavenly Lake are snow mountains, glacier forests and grassland alpine lakes. The snow line of Mt. Bogda is 3,860 meters above sea level, making it rich in glacier resource. Numerous super-glacial rivers formed by the melting snow and ice. And it is a lovely place for photo shooting.

We will get to further south of the lake to avoid the crowds.

We spend a half day here to and drive back to Urumqi in the afternoon. Time permits, we visit Xinjiang Museum, which was established in the spring of 1953 in the People's Park in Urumqi City. Anew museum was later built in 1962 at a new site on Xibei Lu. The building occupies a space of 11,000 square meters and is built in a modern style enhanced by local architectural features. The central dome is thirty meters high and from its height one can view the entire city of Urumqi.

In the evening, we take flight HU7479 (22:10/23:55) to Kashgar.

Overnight Taixinan Barony Hotel (B, L, D)



Visit Bazaar or the Sunday Market for the whole morning.

Situated at the foot of the impressive Pamir Mountains, Kashgar was once the key trading post bridging the East and the West. Largely inhabited by the Uygur, this ancient city is dotted with Muslim architecture and still retains the exotic feel of the Silk Road era. We will visit Kashgar's lively markets, which attract thousands of people from the far corners of the region. They come here to sell, bargain and trade everything ranging from camels and donkeys to embroidered caps and ornate knives.

In the afternoon, visit Kashgar ancient City. The ancient city 30 kilometers northeast of Kashgar is about three kilometers long and one kilometer wide. It was a summer palace during the Kalahan Dynasty 1,500 years ago. The Morer Buddhist Pagoda is 7 kilometers to the north of the city.

Tonight, we arrange a Tajic dance, which is very beautiful and unique, during the dinner.

Overnight Taixinan Barony Hotel (B, L, D)



Today, we drive about 4 hours to Lake Karakul, which is with Muztag Ata to its east, Sarkuole Mountains to the west and vast grassland to the south.

Mutztag-Ata, with height of 7,564m/24754ft, has been respected as the Father of Ice Mountains, is located in eastern Pamirs Plateau in Xinjiang, China. It was an unconquered mountain until an ally climbing team of China and former Soviet Union climbed to the summit in 1956.

Upon our arrival, we will check into the Yurt near the lake and start to walk around the lake for photo shooting. The 3 hours walking will provide us uncountable opportunity of beautiful shots. If you prefer, our guide can take you into a world of glaciers, starting at 12,369 feet, climbing through grassland and river valleys to Base Camp at 17,388 feet. At the Base Camp, there are ten glaciers converge in a vast expanse of ice and snow.

Overnight Yurt by Karakul (B, L, D)



This morning, after photography of the sunrise over the lake and the mountain, we drive back to Kashgar and take flight CZ6806 (16:15/17:55) to Urumqi, then connecting flight CA1786 (20:15/22:10) to Xining.

If there is no flight from Urumqi to Xining, we fly to Lanzhou tonight and stay in Lanzhou for one night, next morning, we drive from Lanzhou to Qinghai Lake directly.

Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, is a meeting place of Buddhism and Muslim. Since the Qinghai-Tibet railway has finished, more and more people flow into this city.

Upon our arrival, be met by the local guide and transfer to the hotel.

Overnight Qinghai Holiday Dynasty Hotel (B, L)



Qinghai Lake means green lake in Chinese and this is the largest inland saltwater lake in China. Lying in the northeast of Qinghai Province, approximately 150km (193 miles) from Xining at 3,200 meters (10,500ft) above sea level, the lake stretches endlessly into the horizon. It has an area of 4,635 sq km and is more than 360km (220 miles) in circumference.

The lake has an abundant supply of fish, which in turn attracts large flocks of birds including many migratory breeds.

Today, we spend the whole day on Qinghai Lake, en route, we also will visit sites including Bird Island, Sankuaishi (Three Stones), and Sand Island.

Overnight Qinghai Holiday Dynasty Hotel (B, L, D)



This morning, we drive to Kumbum (also known as Ta'er) Monastery (for the festival if date is proper). Kumbum Monastery is located in a narrow valley about seventeen miles southwest of Xining. It was here that Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism was born in 1357. The sandalwood tree grew on the spot. In any case this tree became known as the "Tree of Great Merit." The leaves and the bark of this tree were reputed to bear impressions of the Buddha's face and various mystic syllables and its blossoms were said to give off a peculiarly pleasing scent. And we spend a whole day in Kumbum to admire the ceremony, particularly the butters sculptures which are appraised as one of the three uniqueness of Kumbum Monastery.

In the afternoon, we drive from Kumbum Monastery to Tongren.

Note: Since Tongren is a small town, the accommodation is to some degree very basic.

Overnight Telecom Binguan or Huangnanzhou Binguan (B, L, D)



Tongren was a place for nomadic ethnic minorities in history. As early as in the Later Han Dynasty (947-951), the place had been a battlefield. In the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), the north of Tongren became the place that had garrison troops or peasants open up wasteland and grow grains. In the reign of Emperor Zhongzong in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), it was a state of Princess Jincheng conferred to Tubo (the ancient Tibet). In the Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, the garrison troops from the central government were stationed here, forming the ruling system that combined Tibetan Buddhism and politics with the Longwu Temple as the center.

Tongren County is also the birthplace of the Regong Art. As an important art school of Tibetan Buddhism, Regong Art has a history of more than 700 years. The Tangka, barbola and sculptures of Regong Art feature refined craftsmanship and fancy colors, and enjoy great fame in the Southeast Asia, America and Germany, etc. Regong, which means "golden valley", is the appellation for Tongren area in the Tibetan language. Most of the murals, barbolas and sculptures in Tibetan areas were the works of Regong artists here.

Tongren is the only national level historical and cultural city in Qinghai Province

Today in Tongren, we will visit Longwu Temple, Upper and Down Wutun for Regong Arts.

Overnight Telecom Binguan or Huangnanzhou Binguan (B, L, D)



Today, we drive about 120kms/60miles to Xiahe from Tongren. The road is not well paved and it will take us about 4 hours to go. The Dalijia mountain pass is also the border of Qinghai and Gansu. And the area we will drive through is the Amdo Tibetan Plateau and unbelievable beautiful. The small Tibetan villages dotted on the green grassland. We will drive by Ganjia Cave which believed the Gongtang Buddha stayed for 8 year to cultivate his pure soul. When we get down the hill, Xiahe town shows up in the valley with Labrang Monastery occupies half of the town. The hotel we will stay in a Tibetan style one.

Late this afternoon, we stroll around the street and join the local Tibetan to pray around the monastery by pulling the paying wheels.

Overnight Labrang Xiling Hotel (B, L, D)



Labrang Monastery, one of the six greatest monasteries of Gelukpa Tibetan Buddhism, was built in 1709, by a monk from the nearby <<village> of <Ganjia>> named E'angzongzhe, who was to become the first of the monastery's Living Buddha (Jiemuyang). The present head monk, 3rd in religious importance behind the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, is the sixth incarnation of the Jiamuyang. Everyday, thousands of pilgrims come to pray in the monastery.

We will spend one day to explore around Labrang and its surroundings. We can rejoin the local Tibetan to pray around the monastery with pulling the paying wheels.

We also could choose different angels to shoot the monastery and visit the main buildings in the Monastery. It is also a day for us to relax in the small town of Xiahe after long days tour.

Overnight Labrang Xiling Hotel (B, L, D)



This morning, we drive out of Xiahe town to Hezuo, where we visit Milariba Temple, which is a renovated one but really a great architecture in Tibetan style.

After Hezuo, we continue our 4-5 hours drive back Langzhou, the capital of Gansu province. Then take connecting flight MU2417 (17:50/20:00) to Beijing.

Today, we will stay in hotel which is close to Beijing international airport.

After the long tour, we enjoy our farewell dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Note: Since it is about 5 minutes drive from the airport to the hotel and the hotel has shuttle bus for clients transfer, our national guide will be in the hotel to arrange the transfers to the airport.

Overnight Sino-Swiss Hotel (B, L, D)



Our national guide will work with the hotel staff to arrange the airport transfer for clients today. Clients take flights back Home. (B)


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