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Exploring Xinjiang's Ancient Cities

Trip Length 16 days

From $4,795

  • Immerse yourself in the epic history and rich cultural tapestry of China's ancient Silk Road on this inspirational adventure in Xinjiang
  • Step into China's "New Frontier" to see some of the most dramatic and remote mountains and lakes in China, and get a genuine insider perspective from local guides
  • Ride camels, enjoy a family homestay, and camp overnight in the immense Taklamakan Desert—a rare opportunity and an MTS exclusive!

Nestled in the farthest western reaches of China, Xinjiang Province has served as a cultural and commercial crossroads for centuries. This land of tribes and clans of at least thirteen different ethnicities is still rooted in tradition. And as the heart of the Silk Road, their warmth and hospitality remains as timeless as ever. Traveling through beautiful landscapes of forest, steppe, grassland, and desert, and framed by the dramatic backdrop of the snowy Tian Shan Mountains, you’ll see firsthand a vanishing way of life and marvel at the cultural and natural riches to be found on China’s “New Frontier.” We’ve put a strong emphasis on cultural encounters by combining visits to colorful markets, local artisans, and ancient villages with a couple of overnight homestays, folk performances, and tons of regional cuisines to offer you genuine and educational interactions with the local people. Topped off with a distinctive desert camping experience—one you can only get with MTS—and even a night in a traditional yurt, you’ll go home with an insider’s perspective of this raw, remote land the way few Westerners have a chance to see it!
 

Day 1: Welcome to Beijing

Arrive in Beijing and take the complimentary Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel shuttle to the hotel to check in. Enjoy a relaxing evening.

  • Accommodation:Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel

Day 2: Fly to Dunhuang and visit the UNESCO-listed Mogao Caves

Today we'll fly from Beijing to Dunhuang, once a frontier town on the Silk Road. On arrvial in Dunhuang, we'll check into the comfortable Silk Road Hotel—the top hotel in town, set amid amazing scenery. We'll enjoy lunch before setting out for afternoon sightseeing, beginning at the impressive UNESCO-listed Mogao Caves. Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Road, the Mogao Caves are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art, and are the best preserved Buddhist caves in China. This evening, we'll return to Dunhuang and visit the bustling night market, where we'll also enjoy dinner.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Silk Road Hotel

Day 3: See Crescent Moon Lake and the dunes of Ming Sha Shan

After breakfast, we'll visit the scenic Crescent Moon Lake, which is fed from spring water and surrounded by desert! We'll also see the incredible sand dunes of Ming Sha Shan—the highest reaches 5,600 feet—and take in the stunning view from the top! Enjoy lunch after working up an appetite on the dunes and, if time allows, we'll visit Yumenguan (or the Pass of the Jade Gate). We'll finish the day with a 40-mile drive to the train station in Liuyuan, where we'll catch our overnight, soft sleeper train to Turpan. 

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Overnight Train (soft sleeper)

Day 4: Explore the sights of Turpan

Early this morning we'll arrive at the Turpan train station and take a one-hour drive to Turpan. Upon arrival at the hotel, we'll have time to shower and enjoy breakfast before setting out for our day's activities. We'll begin by visiting the world famous Karez irrigation system (this system is unique to dry, arid areas such as Xinjiang, Afghanistan, and Iran) as well as the ancient city of Yargul (Jiaohe). Yargul (Jiaohe) was established during the Han Dynasty (206BC–220AD), but was decimated by Genghis Khan, so little remains except ruins atop a leaf-shaped plateau. We'll enjoy a traditional lunch in a local restaurant, then explore the local market for handicrafts and local products.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Tuha Petroleum Hotel

Day 5: Visit the Astana Tombs and travel to the remote Tuyuk Village

Today we'll visit Idkut (Gaochang), which was founded in the 7th century and still boasts the remains of a large Buddhist monastery. Afterwards, we'll explore Astana Tombs, where the dead of nearby Gaochang were buried, and learn about acient artifacts in the tombs dating from the 3rd to 5th centuries. Next, we'll enjoy a unique experience in the remote Tuyuk Village, the oldest known Uyghur town. Here we'll visit village markets, learn about the locals, and experience an overnight stay with local families.

Please note that the homestay is subject to change depending on the current political situation.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Homestay

Day 6: Fly to Kuqa and enjoy tea with locals

After breakfast, we'll drive 140 miles to Urumqi to catch our flight to Kuqa. Upon arrival in Kuqa, we'll check into our hotel and freshen up before driving to Kuqa old town to visit a Uyghur family and enjoy tea with them. After our visit, we'll explore the old town and visit various shops, among them a traditional pharmacist. Enjoy dinner in a local Uyghur restaurant.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Kuqa Fandian Hotel

Day 7: Discover the Kuqa Grand Canyon and 1,000 Buddha Caves

Today we'll drive through amazing rock formations in Tangritagh Mountain Range as we head for the beautiful Kuqa Grand Canyon. We'll hike for 2 hours in the canyon before driving to Kizil, where we'll enjoy lunch and explore the 1,000 Buddha Caves—the largest of the ancient Buddhist cave complexes in Xinjiang. The caves date back to the 11th century and the paintings inside hail from a pre-Islamic Buddhist civilization that existed in this region from the 5th century until the 11th century

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Kuqa Fandian Hotel

Day 8: Cross the Taklamakan Desert to Hotan

Today we'll cross the Taklamakan Desert, one of the biggest and most mysterious deserts in the world. Taklamakan means “those who go in will not come out” attesting to its emptiness and remoteness. Our drive takes over 10 hours, including occasional stops and a picnic lunch along the way. We'll arrive in Hotan in the late afternoon and check into our hotel.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Xi Hu Yin Duo International Hotel

Day 9: Ride camels and camp in the Taklamakan Desert

After breakfast, we'll set out to explore the oasis town of Hotan, including visits to the Jade River and a traditional clothing factory for an insight into local culture. Next, we'll drive to the epic Taklamakan Desert (4,500') for an amazing desert experience! By camel and foot, we'll embark on our trek across the desert for a few hours before building our camp (our gear will be carried by more camels). For dinner, we'll roast lamb kebabs over the fire before settling into our overnight desert camping experience.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Camp — Taklamakan Desert

Day 10: Experience the sights of Hotan

Return to Hotan and our hotel to clean up before visiting a local carpet factory, where will learn how the local women have made carpets by hand for hundreds of years. Enjoy a leisurely afternoon and overnight in Hotan.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Xi Hu Yin Duo International Hotel

Day 11: Take the Southern Silk Road to Yarkent

Today we'll take a 5- to 6-hour drive from Hotan to Yarkent on the Southern Silk Road—the famous ancient trading route between East and West. Along the way, we'll pass villages that were used as caravanserais for the merchants (many of these old caravanserais are now big towns and cities) and stop for lunch. After arrival in Yarkent, we will visit Amanisahan Tomb, the tomb of a famous Uyghur musician and Queen of the Yarkent Kingdom.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Yarkent Hotel or Yarkent Delong Hotel

Day 12: Journey from Yarkent to Kashgar

Today we'll take a 5- to 6-hour drive from Yarkent to Kashgar, stopping in Yinggisar to see expert Uyghur knife makers at work. We'll have lunch along the way and check into the Qinbagh Hotel upon arrival in Kashgar.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Radisson Blu Hotel

Day 13: See the sights of Kashgar

Today we'll rise early to catch the famous Sunday market, when the population of Kashgar swells by 50,000! This market is still one of the most amazing bazaars in the world and photo opportunities abound amid the labrynthine chaos. Next we'll visit the Old Town and stop at a Uyghur home for a delicious lunch. Afterwards we will visit the Apak Hoja Tomb where there are 58 tombs and 5 generations buried. Our guide will relay the differing legends of the "Fragrant Concubine" related to this site.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Radisson Blu Hotel

Day 14: Travel on the Karakorum Highway

Enjoy an early breakfast before departing at 7am on our 120-mile (5-hour) drive to Karakul Lake via the famous Karakorum Highway which extends from outside Kashgar to Pakistan. En route we'll stop at Opal Village to buy fruit and fresh bread as well as some gifts for the Kirghiz students at Karakul Lake. Our second stop will be Oytagh Mountain, where we'll be treated to the amazing scenery of the colorful Kunlun Mountain range. Just before Karakul, we'll stop at the Gez checkpoint, where we'll disembark from the bus to have our passports checked. 

Upon arrival at Karakul Lake, we'll have lunch in a traditional Kirghiz yurt and visit local shepherds' homes. After lunch we'll stretch our legs as we hike about 3 miles to Subash Village, where there is a local elementary school. The hike is flat, but the elevation is a lofty 12,000 feet! After we reach the village and visit the school, our driver will meet us and transfer back to Kashgar.

  • Breakfast
  • Accommodation:Radisson Blu Hotel

Day 15: Fly back to Beijing

Take the earliest flight to Beijing and transfer to the Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel by airport shuttle for an overnight stay.

  • Breakfast
  • Accommodation:Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel

Day 16: Fly home

Bid farewell to China and transfer to Beijing International Airport by hotel shuttle for your homeward-bound or onward flight.

  • Breakfast

Jun 28, 2016 - Jul 13, 2016

Sep 06 - 21, 2016

Aug 15 - 30, 2017

Sep 12 - 27, 2017

pricing

2016 Prices

$4,795 (8-16 members)
$5,195 (4-7 members)

$1,100 internal airfare – Beijing/Dunhuang, Urumqi/Kuqa and Kashgar/Beijing - subject to change
$900 single supplement

2017 Prices

$4,995 (4-16 members)

$1,100 internal airfare – Beijing/Dunhuang, Urumqi/Kuqa and Kashgar/Beijing - subject to change
$1,300 single supplement

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Homestay


Kuqa Fandian Hotel — Kuqa


Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel — Beijing


MTS Camp — Taklamakan Desert

Overnight Train (soft sleeper)


Radisson Blu Hotel — Kashgar

Silk Road Hotel — Dunhuang


Tuha Petroleum Hotel — Turpan


Xi Hu Yin Duo International Hotel — Hotan


Yarkent Hotel or Yarkent Delong Hotel — Yarkent


  • Immerse yourself in the epic history and rich cultural tapestry of China's ancient Silk Road on this inspirational adventure in Xinjiang
  • Step into China's "New Frontier" to see some of the most dramatic and remote mountains and lakes in China, and get a genuine insider perspective from local guides
  • Ride camels, enjoy a family homestay, and camp overnight in the immense Taklamakan Desert—a rare opportunity and an MTS exclusive!

Nestled in the farthest western reaches of China, Xinjiang Province has served as a cultural and commercial crossroads for centuries. This land of tribes and clans of at least thirteen different ethnicities is still rooted in tradition. And as the heart of the Silk Road, their warmth and hospitality remains as timeless as ever. Traveling through beautiful landscapes of forest, steppe, grassland, and desert, and framed by the dramatic backdrop of the snowy Tian Shan Mountains, you’ll see firsthand a vanishing way of life and marvel at the cultural and natural riches to be found on China’s “New Frontier.” We’ve put a strong emphasis on cultural encounters by combining visits to colorful markets, local artisans, and ancient villages with a couple of overnight homestays, folk performances, and tons of regional cuisines to offer you genuine and educational interactions with the local people. Topped off with a distinctive desert camping experience—one you can only get with MTS—and even a night in a traditional yurt, you’ll go home with an insider’s perspective of this raw, remote land the way few Westerners have a chance to see it!
 

DAILY itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Beijing

Arrive in Beijing and take the complimentary Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel shuttle to the hotel to check in. Enjoy a relaxing evening.

  • Accommodation:Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel

Day 2: Fly to Dunhuang and visit the UNESCO-listed Mogao Caves

Today we'll fly from Beijing to Dunhuang, once a frontier town on the Silk Road. On arrvial in Dunhuang, we'll check into the comfortable Silk Road Hotel—the top hotel in town, set amid amazing scenery. We'll enjoy lunch before setting out for afternoon sightseeing, beginning at the impressive UNESCO-listed Mogao Caves. Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Road, the Mogao Caves are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art, and are the best preserved Buddhist caves in China. This evening, we'll return to Dunhuang and visit the bustling night market, where we'll also enjoy dinner.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Silk Road Hotel

Day 3: See Crescent Moon Lake and the dunes of Ming Sha Shan

After breakfast, we'll visit the scenic Crescent Moon Lake, which is fed from spring water and surrounded by desert! We'll also see the incredible sand dunes of Ming Sha Shan—the highest reaches 5,600 feet—and take in the stunning view from the top! Enjoy lunch after working up an appetite on the dunes and, if time allows, we'll visit Yumenguan (or the Pass of the Jade Gate). We'll finish the day with a 40-mile drive to the train station in Liuyuan, where we'll catch our overnight, soft sleeper train to Turpan. 

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Overnight Train (soft sleeper)

Day 4: Explore the sights of Turpan

Early this morning we'll arrive at the Turpan train station and take a one-hour drive to Turpan. Upon arrival at the hotel, we'll have time to shower and enjoy breakfast before setting out for our day's activities. We'll begin by visiting the world famous Karez irrigation system (this system is unique to dry, arid areas such as Xinjiang, Afghanistan, and Iran) as well as the ancient city of Yargul (Jiaohe). Yargul (Jiaohe) was established during the Han Dynasty (206BC–220AD), but was decimated by Genghis Khan, so little remains except ruins atop a leaf-shaped plateau. We'll enjoy a traditional lunch in a local restaurant, then explore the local market for handicrafts and local products.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Tuha Petroleum Hotel

Day 5: Visit the Astana Tombs and travel to the remote Tuyuk Village

Today we'll visit Idkut (Gaochang), which was founded in the 7th century and still boasts the remains of a large Buddhist monastery. Afterwards, we'll explore Astana Tombs, where the dead of nearby Gaochang were buried, and learn about acient artifacts in the tombs dating from the 3rd to 5th centuries. Next, we'll enjoy a unique experience in the remote Tuyuk Village, the oldest known Uyghur town. Here we'll visit village markets, learn about the locals, and experience an overnight stay with local families.

Please note that the homestay is subject to change depending on the current political situation.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Homestay

Day 6: Fly to Kuqa and enjoy tea with locals

After breakfast, we'll drive 140 miles to Urumqi to catch our flight to Kuqa. Upon arrival in Kuqa, we'll check into our hotel and freshen up before driving to Kuqa old town to visit a Uyghur family and enjoy tea with them. After our visit, we'll explore the old town and visit various shops, among them a traditional pharmacist. Enjoy dinner in a local Uyghur restaurant.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Kuqa Fandian Hotel

Day 7: Discover the Kuqa Grand Canyon and 1,000 Buddha Caves

Today we'll drive through amazing rock formations in Tangritagh Mountain Range as we head for the beautiful Kuqa Grand Canyon. We'll hike for 2 hours in the canyon before driving to Kizil, where we'll enjoy lunch and explore the 1,000 Buddha Caves—the largest of the ancient Buddhist cave complexes in Xinjiang. The caves date back to the 11th century and the paintings inside hail from a pre-Islamic Buddhist civilization that existed in this region from the 5th century until the 11th century

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Kuqa Fandian Hotel

Day 8: Cross the Taklamakan Desert to Hotan

Today we'll cross the Taklamakan Desert, one of the biggest and most mysterious deserts in the world. Taklamakan means “those who go in will not come out” attesting to its emptiness and remoteness. Our drive takes over 10 hours, including occasional stops and a picnic lunch along the way. We'll arrive in Hotan in the late afternoon and check into our hotel.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Xi Hu Yin Duo International Hotel

Day 9: Ride camels and camp in the Taklamakan Desert

After breakfast, we'll set out to explore the oasis town of Hotan, including visits to the Jade River and a traditional clothing factory for an insight into local culture. Next, we'll drive to the epic Taklamakan Desert (4,500') for an amazing desert experience! By camel and foot, we'll embark on our trek across the desert for a few hours before building our camp (our gear will be carried by more camels). For dinner, we'll roast lamb kebabs over the fire before settling into our overnight desert camping experience.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:MTS Camp — Taklamakan Desert

Day 10: Experience the sights of Hotan

Return to Hotan and our hotel to clean up before visiting a local carpet factory, where will learn how the local women have made carpets by hand for hundreds of years. Enjoy a leisurely afternoon and overnight in Hotan.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Xi Hu Yin Duo International Hotel

Day 11: Take the Southern Silk Road to Yarkent

Today we'll take a 5- to 6-hour drive from Hotan to Yarkent on the Southern Silk Road—the famous ancient trading route between East and West. Along the way, we'll pass villages that were used as caravanserais for the merchants (many of these old caravanserais are now big towns and cities) and stop for lunch. After arrival in Yarkent, we will visit Amanisahan Tomb, the tomb of a famous Uyghur musician and Queen of the Yarkent Kingdom.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Yarkent Hotel or Yarkent Delong Hotel

Day 12: Journey from Yarkent to Kashgar

Today we'll take a 5- to 6-hour drive from Yarkent to Kashgar, stopping in Yinggisar to see expert Uyghur knife makers at work. We'll have lunch along the way and check into the Qinbagh Hotel upon arrival in Kashgar.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Radisson Blu Hotel

Day 13: See the sights of Kashgar

Today we'll rise early to catch the famous Sunday market, when the population of Kashgar swells by 50,000! This market is still one of the most amazing bazaars in the world and photo opportunities abound amid the labrynthine chaos. Next we'll visit the Old Town and stop at a Uyghur home for a delicious lunch. Afterwards we will visit the Apak Hoja Tomb where there are 58 tombs and 5 generations buried. Our guide will relay the differing legends of the "Fragrant Concubine" related to this site.

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner
  • Accommodation:Radisson Blu Hotel

Day 14: Travel on the Karakorum Highway

Enjoy an early breakfast before departing at 7am on our 120-mile (5-hour) drive to Karakul Lake via the famous Karakorum Highway which extends from outside Kashgar to Pakistan. En route we'll stop at Opal Village to buy fruit and fresh bread as well as some gifts for the Kirghiz students at Karakul Lake. Our second stop will be Oytagh Mountain, where we'll be treated to the amazing scenery of the colorful Kunlun Mountain range. Just before Karakul, we'll stop at the Gez checkpoint, where we'll disembark from the bus to have our passports checked. 

Upon arrival at Karakul Lake, we'll have lunch in a traditional Kirghiz yurt and visit local shepherds' homes. After lunch we'll stretch our legs as we hike about 3 miles to Subash Village, where there is a local elementary school. The hike is flat, but the elevation is a lofty 12,000 feet! After we reach the village and visit the school, our driver will meet us and transfer back to Kashgar.

  • Breakfast
  • Accommodation:Radisson Blu Hotel

Day 15: Fly back to Beijing

Take the earliest flight to Beijing and transfer to the Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel by airport shuttle for an overnight stay.

  • Breakfast
  • Accommodation:Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel

Day 16: Fly home

Bid farewell to China and transfer to Beijing International Airport by hotel shuttle for your homeward-bound or onward flight.

  • Breakfast
lodgings

Homestay


Kuqa Fandian Hotel — Kuqa


Langham Place Capital Airport Hotel — Beijing


MTS Camp — Taklamakan Desert

Overnight Train (soft sleeper)


Radisson Blu Hotel — Kashgar

Silk Road Hotel — Dunhuang


Tuha Petroleum Hotel — Turpan


Xi Hu Yin Duo International Hotel — Hotan


Yarkent Hotel or Yarkent Delong Hotel — Yarkent


Dates and Pricing

Jun 28, 2016 - Jul 13, 2016

Sep 06 - 21, 2016

Aug 15 - 30, 2017

Sep 12 - 27, 2017

pricing

2016 Prices

$4,795 (8-16 members)
$5,195 (4-7 members)

$1,100 internal airfare – Beijing/Dunhuang, Urumqi/Kuqa and Kashgar/Beijing - subject to change
$900 single supplement

2017 Prices

$4,995 (4-16 members)

$1,100 internal airfare – Beijing/Dunhuang, Urumqi/Kuqa and Kashgar/Beijing - subject to change
$1,300 single supplement

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