China always impresses a sense of inimitability. This is a country that nobody forgets and nothing is quite as you imagined. Unique experiences can be found everywhere, hidden down 12th-century back-alleys, celebrated on deserted landscapes, written into the daily encounters with locals. All our private China tours are centered on the idiosyncrasy of the experiences, using the insider’s perspective to reveal more about the country. On this page you’ll find some ideas, some suggestions for a luxury China tour. But they’re just the starting point as there are hundreds of angles and experiences we can provide.
An emperor's army is buried beneath the ground on the outskirts of Xi'an. It's still being excavated, row after row of life-sized models coming out from the dirt. They stare back at you, each face unique, every model marked by detail. After the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors are China's most unmissable sight. After exploring the army and the details of the Chariot Museum, our guides take you behind closed doors at the nearby Shaanxi Provincial Museum. This exclusive access provides a rich insight into a little known but highly informative side to the army and its time: the Tang Dynasty murals. Stretching across the walls, expertly lifted from sites across the region, they help you follow the folklore storyline behind the emperor's wish to be buried with his army.
In a city where the common greeting is “sik tzo fan may” (have you eaten?), it's obvious that food is more than mere sustenance. Eating out is a communal affair and dim sum is the quintessential dish. Servers stroll with trolleys stacked high with bamboo canisters. Just point and try; spare ribs in black pepper sauce, steamed shrimp dumping, mango pudding and hot egg tarts. While dim sum is a food of the streets it has evolved into a defining marker of culinary quality. Chefs compete to create the defining mouthful, restaurants innovate and experiment, dim sum has been transformed into an icon of fine dining. This isn't a surprise to those in the know, because this staple has always been a work of art.
But with so much dim sum to try, where do you start? Our local guides include some of Singapore's master chefs, intriguing figures that navigate your journey through creating the world's best dim sum.
Remarkable encounters define Sichuan Province. This is the natural home of the giant panda, gentle characters that wrap their arms around children for a hug and a photo. It's also a home to people who change face, a mystical tradition that's as baffling as it sounds. Other perplexing customs are on show at the Sichuan Opera, iconic home of the weird and wonderful. So much of China is unique but few provinces present such local inimitability, your entire stay in Sichuan dictated by experiences you can't find anywhere else in the world.
A Li River cruise is a window onto the heart of China, a seductive journey through village life and industrial towns, natural wonder and artificial creations. The Three Gorges Dam is a remarkable insight into mankind's ability to tame nature. It contrasts long sections of the river where nature continues undeterred, with villages clinging to steep eroded banks. Settling into the cruise you find that the luxury vessel offers an uninterrupted view onto China's contradictions, with so much to see every time the boat turns a bend.
This is an adventure, meandering through the country, exploring with your eyes. Yet a tranquil drift on the Li River is also one of most relaxing things you can ever do in China. At the time you'll note the sheer physical beauty of the surroundings.
China is an unparralleled shopper's paradise. History sprawls across the lanes of China's markets, trinkets spilling onto the floor and terracotta sculptures returning your gaze. Some items are shrouded in dust, like battered copies of the red book of Quotations from Chairman Mao. Others shine, polished and buffed in an attempt to get a sale. In traditional towns like Pingyao it feels like every other shop specializes in antiques; explore with a guide and you'll see the distinctive centuries, how each stall relates to a different period. This treasure hunt for antiques and souvenirs is a real charm of China, such a contrast to the high-street shopping experience at home. It doesn't matter if you're not buying – it's easy to think of these markets and stores as living museums.
Scents float across the room, fragrances meeting in the space around your seat. A choreographic ritual of preparing is under way. Serenity dominates the atmosphere as porcelain cups are expertly filled. The traditional Chinese tea ceremony isn't just about the taste, but the exoticism of the old world and the connection with a culture unchanged. Tea ceremonies aren't hard to find in China, particularly the now highly commercialized Gongfu ceremonies in overpriced tea shops. We seek out the true traditions, leading you to tea shops that have hardly changed for centuries. This isn't just a ceremony but a work of art, impossible to imitate. From the hutongs of Shanghai to 13th-century village stores, you learn the secrets of one of the world's oldest ceremonies.
Spice stalls carry flumes of color above the waters of Zhujiajiao. Carved stone bridges connect the canal sides and there's a distinctive clip-clop as you wander amongst a wealth of crumbling architecture. At first glance you want to call this town the “Venice of the East.” But Zhujiajiao far outdates Venice, a postcard-perfect town of temples and trading, hidden in a just an hour away from Shanghai. Take a day trip from the bustle of the city and lose yourself in the soft atmosphere of thse canals. Or spend the night and appreciate this wondrous town after all the day-tripping visitors have disappeared.
China's backstreet medicine industry has a bad reputation, not least for suggesting rhino horn is an aphrodisiac. But beneath the odd, mad claim, a world of herbs and medicines continues to influence most of the country's population. In Hong Kong, an expert guide leads you around a backstreet market, smelling all the herds as the echo of traders' shouts floats above your head. In Beijing and Shanghai you follow the alleyways of tradition, discovering tiny medicine stores that have been in the same family for over 200 years. While you might not be interested in trying the potions and spices, exploring this world is a fabulous insight into an unchanged side of China.
Dim sum in Hong Kong and dumplings in Shanghai, two historic dishes written into Asian culinary folklore. Guided by Los Angeles impresario Neal Fraser, our unique Iron Chef itinerary explores the tastes that fuel these two cities. Master cooking classes are led by by television chefs, markets are crawled for the freshest ingredients, tables are booked at legendary restaurants. While our Iron Chef Indochina tours leave on fixed dates, the Iron Chef experience can also be incorporated into your luxury China tour. It's not just Hong Kong and Shanghai, but the imperial cuisine of Beijing and the fiery hot pots of Sichuan, to name just two. View Iron Chef Asia