Journey to the Heart of China

Medieval Villages, Hanging Temples & Buddhist Caves on the Silk Road
Repertory Trip: No Future Dates Set

Journey to the Heart of China route-map

Trip Details at-a-Glance

Cost From: TBA  
Length: 26 days
Arrive: Beijing, China
Depart: Shanghai, China
Lodging: 24 nights hotel, 1 overnight train
Meals: All meals included except 2 lunches and 1 dinner
Activity: Cultural Adventures
Trip Level: Overland travel with walking tours, cultural explorations, optional light hikes


  • Six spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites in one adventure!
  • Explore the 5th century Yungang Caves, holding 51,000 exquisitely carved Buddhist statues, and see the spectacular murals in Mogao Grottoes at the edge of the Gobi
  • Xi’an’s stunning tomb of Terra Cotta Warriors
  • Join Buddhist Pilgims to walk the sacred Kora at Labrang Monastery on the Tibetan Plateau
  • Walk atop the mist-shrouded peaks of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain)
  • Learn the traditional arts—and savor the fun!—of tea tasting, dumpling making, paper-cutting, woodblock-printing, and more

The itinerary was first-rate—I enjoyed every place we visited!Catherine H.—Cambridge, MA

Choosing the Right Trip

We work hard to help you choose the right trip for you, paying attention to your individual interests, abilities, and needs. If you have questions about the level of comfort or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please contact us.


We are proud to have an exceptionally high rate of repeat travelers. For more information, we would be happy to put you in touch with a client who has traveled with us.

Repertory Trip

This is one of our special Repertory Trips offered every two to five years.  Future dates have not been set for this trip, but you can see the “Itinerary at a Glance” and the “Full Detailed Itinerary” below (there may be small changes to the itinerary for the future departures, and prices will be finalized closer to departure). Contact us to receive early notification of the trip dates. These special trips fill very quickly once the exact dates are set!

China is an ancient land laden with cultural treasures and natural riches, and you simply won’t find an exploration of the “Middle Kingdom” more fascinating than this WT expedition with Roger Williams. We’ll seek out the oldest alleyways of awe-inspiring Beijing, then venture into the heart of China to see the Buddhist cave art of the Yungang Grottoes and sacred Hengshan, a 5th century temple clinging impossibly to a cliff. In the ancient city of Pingyao, we walk atop city walls for bird’s eye views of Ming Dynasty merchants’ mansions, and head back in time to a castle where miles of tunnels lie hidden below ground. Along the Silk Road, we’ll marvel at Xi’an’s formidable Terracotta Warriors, and the remote cliff-set Majishan grottoes that house thousands of Buddhist sculptures. Onward we’ll venture to 18th-century Labrang Monastery, where we meet Tibetan Buddhist monks and learn the ancient art of woodblock printing, then travel to the edge of the Taklamakan desert for an exploration of the legendary Mogao cave complex and a sunset camel ride across the dunes. We’ll stroll the Bund in fashionable Shanghai, then explore the mist-shrouded peaks of evocative Yellow Mountain, the tranquil farm villages of Anhui, and China’s heavenly Yangtze River delta. Throughout our unforgettable journey, you’ll be immersed in the essence of this ancient land, with private tea tastings, local market excursions, dumpling-making lessons, visits with Tibetan families in their grassland yurts, and an itinerary that includes six spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Roger has spent decades exploring the hidden corners of Asia and is the perfect guide for our adventure. Join us to discover the remarkable story of this 5,000-year-old civilization.

Itinerary at a Glance

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Days 1-3
Beijing / Datong

We gather in Beijing for a welcome dinner of roast duck, followed by a full day exploration of the city’s hutongs, markets, lakes, and a special tea ceremony. In Datong, once the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty, we’ll explore China’s best preserved 12th and 13th century temples, and 5th century Yungang Grottoes, holding 51,000 exquisitely carved Buddha statues.

Days 4-7
Hengshan / Yingxian / Pingyao

We’ll marvel at the architectural wonder of Hangshen, a labyrinthine monastery suspended dramatically 200 feet above a gorge and one of China’s hidden gems, then visit Yingxian, the tallest wooden pagoda in the world. On our walks along the cobbled lanes of the ancient city of Pingao, we take a step back in time to explore the courtyard mansions of the wealthy Ming Dynasty bankers that flourished here in the 12th and 13th centuries, and enjoy overnights in a restored courtyard mansion the heart of the old city.

Days 8-10
Xi’an / Terra Cotta Warriors / Han Yanglin

We fly to to Xi’an, cradle of Chinese history and starting point of the legendary Silk Road, where the astounding army of 8,000 Terra Cotta warriors and their steeds were buried in the 3rd century BCE. We’ll roam the Muslin quarter, try our hand at making dumplings, and the next day explore Han Yangling Tombs and Wild Goose Pagoda.

Days 11-13
Tianshui / Maijishan Grottoes / Lanzhou

Following the Silk Road, we’ll see Tang Dynasty royal treasures at Baoji’s Famen Temple, then enjoy a full day exploration (and special access!) to the sculpture-filled caves of breathtaking Maijishan Grottoes. In Lanzhou, our walk brings us along the Yellow River and to the top of White Pagoda Hill.

Days 14-16
Xiahe / Labrang Monastery

We boat up the Yellow River to the Binglingsi Caves, explore the mosques and markets of Linxia, then venture to the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and up to the bustling Tibetan town of Xia’he, where ethereal Lanbrang Monastery (9,850 feet) welcomes pilgrims with miles of prayer wheels. We’ll walk the kora and in the nearby Sangke Grassland, our visits with Tibetan families in their yurts are unforgettable.

Days 17-18
Dunhuang/ Mingsha Dunes / Mogao Grottoes

Arriving by overnight train, we explore the Silk Road city of Dunhuang, the Mingsha Dunes and the oasis of Crescent Lake, with a spectacular camel ride across the rolling sands. On our full day at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mogao Grottoes, we enjoy special access to the intruiguing caves whose treasures once included the Diamond Sutra, believed to be one of the oldest printed books in existence.

Days 19-20

The historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is the perfect base for our adventures in Shanghai, which include walks along the lovely Bund promendade, the car-free district of Xintiadi, and the art galleries of Tianzifang.

Days 21-23
Huangshan / Xidi / Hongcun & Chengkan

Our walk atop the craggy peaks of Huangshan reveals the ancient temples, floating clouds, and gnarled pines dotting China’s celebrated Yellow Mountains, which have captivated artists and poets for centuries. In the tranquil rural villages of Xidi and Hongcun, we see the incredibly well-preserved Anhui houses that have earned these villages a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Days 24-26
Hangzhou / Shanghai / Depart

The intricately painted roof ceilings of Lingyin Temple and the willow-lined shores and ancient bridges of West Lake are a highlight of our visit to Hangzhou, and our walks take you through nearby tea plantations (we’ll stop for a tasting!) and to the home of a local family for lunch. The bullet train whisks us back to Shanghai for our farewell dinner and next day departure.

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

What the Trip is Like

This trip is rated Level 3, Moderate. This is not designed as a hiking trip, but we’ll enjoy full days of exploring sites on foot, with a few optional exploration walks of several hours. We’ve selected a range of accommodations for this expedition, ranging from 5-star hotels in Beijing and Shanghai, to comfortable and ideally-located modern hotels in smaller cities like Dunhuang, to former merchant homes converted to boutique inns in Pingyao and Anhui, and even an overnight train. While this trip is not expected to be physically strenuous, there are six days with drives of 4-5 hours, and transportation conditions may be demanding. Overland travel is in minivans and small buses, depending upon the size of the group. In Xiahe and at the Labrang Monastery, we are at an altitude of 10,000 feet for a few days, with excursions that take us a bit higher. Individuals vary widely in their physical response to high altitude. It is not uncommon to experience mild headaches or sleeplessness for a day or two when you first arrive at high altitude. For your own enjoyment, we recommend that you make a special effort to be in good physical condition. We believe that the most important requirements are a spirit of adventure and the understanding that you are visiting a country where tourism infrastructure can vary greatly between regions.

Explanation of Trip Levels

Roger Williams

In 1986, Roger Williams led his first Wilderness Travel trip. Nearly 30 years later, he shows no sign of stopping, with added trips filling up quicker than the one before. If it isn’t the surplus of knowledge Roger brings when he leads a trip that makes it so unique, including his cultural insight to places like Nepal (where he spent eight years studying Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhist iconographics, Himalayan languages, and woodblock art) and Japan (where he spent another two years studying Japanese woodblock art, Japanese language, and Shingon Shu, an esoteric sect of Japanese Buddhism), then it may be his awareness for cultural preservation that keep clients coming back. In July 2014, he returned from The Great Game journey, a special Wilderness Travel Expedition that included visits to the Wakhan Valley as well as Mazar i-Sharif and Balk (formally Bactria) in northern Afghanistan. Roger has also been working as a technical advisor with USAID consulting in tourism development projects in Mongolia, Armenia, and Croatia. When not leading trips, Roger is the director of Snow Lion Graphics/SLG Books in Berkeley, California, a publishing house specializing in books and calendars relating to Asian cultures. “There should be a rating higher than excellent for Roger,” one client wrote after her Central Asia Explorer trip with Roger. “His knowledge, energy, planning, and attentiveness are superlative.”

Upcoming Trips:

India's Malabar Coast, January 27-February 20, 2016
Iran: In the Footsteps of Kings, March 10-April 2, 2016
Iran: In the Footsteps of Kings, April 7-30, 2016
Trans-Caucasus Adventure, May 20-June 13, 2016
Nagorno-Karabakh: Land of the Black Garden, June 13-22, 2016
The Great Game, July 16-August 10, 2016
The Great Game, August 20-September 14, 2016
Wonders of Nepal: Festival of Lights, October 18-November 1, 2016
Eastern Bhutan and India's Wild Northeast Frontier, November 21-December 17, 2016

Client Testimonials:

Roger is a lot of fun, as well as being extremely knowledgeable! He goes out of his way to make the trip interesting and comfortable for those traveling with him. Catherine H., Cambridge, MA
Journey to the Heart of China
Roger is amazing! His knowledge of the history and culture of the area is extensive and he can recall all sorts of information on any number of subjects. His enthusiasm, kindness, and energy never wane. Jane F., Naples, FL
The Great Game
Roger is a flexible leader who listens to his travelers and absolutely cannot do enough for people. He looked after us well and programmed as much variety into the trip as possible. Mary R., New York, NY
Trans-Caucasus Adventure
Roger was well organized, with careful planning and terrific knowledge of the culture and religion. His interaction with the group was unlike anything we have experienced on prior trips. He is a real treasure for WT, one of your best. Donald H., Farmington, CT
The Best of Southeast Asia
Roger was nothing short of outstanding as a trip leader...managing people as well as logistics of a 25+ day intensive trip. He has a clear desire to share his knowledge, interest, and excitement about Southeast Asia. We've had a lot of good Trip Leaders and I'd rate Roger as #1 on my list. Greg W., Pittsburgh, PA
The Best of Southeast Asia
Roger is an exceptional trip leader with an historian's grasp of the influences shaping this part of the world. Kathe W., Pittsburgh, PA
The Best of Southeast Asia
I'm struck again with the magnitude of the incredible adventure you led us on. I have pretty much traveled the world since that trip, with adventures galore...but nothing has, or ever will, compare to it. Aleen S., Cedar Mountain, NC
The Great Silk Road
Roger is simply a brilliant organizer and always finds the very best services available. He also brings a wealth of knowledge and insights to anything Asian. Elizabeth M., Providence, RI
The Burma Road: Kunming to Rangoon
Roger has tremendous skills as a trip leader. He has a real gift with people and his relationship with local guides enriches the areas we visit. Joan L., Baltimore, MD
Journey to the Heart of China
Roger is the best tour leader with lots of experiece and profound knowledge of the subject area. Kudos to him and WT. Tan Kiet T., Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tribal China
There should be a rating higher than excellent for Roger. His knowledge, energy, planning, and attentiveness are superlative. Debra B., Jackson, WY
Central Asia Explorer
Roger's extensive travel experience and knowledge of Asian culture and Buddhism greatly enhanced the trip. And all the planning he did before and during the trip ensured an excellent itinerary and made everything run smoothly. Nancy R., Walnut Creek, CA
Tribal China
Roger provided a unique and enjoyable travel experience. His knowledge and familiarity with the sites visited and enthusiasm for these countries and peoples made this a great travel experience. Judy A., Davis, CA
The Burma Road: Kunming to Rangoon
Roger is a wealth of knowledge and very well traveled. He takes his duties as trip leader extremely seriously and goes out of his way to please each client. Terri H., Berkeley, CA
Armenia and Beyond
Exceptional dedication, passion, and professionalism. Roger has the right personality and attitude for this. Jonathan T., Boston, MA
Passage to India
Roger is clearly a well-seasoned professional. He is passionate about India and it shows everyday, whether it is interacting with the locals or talking about the iconographics and sites. Grace L., Boston, MA
Passage to India
I can understand why Roger has such a big following. He worked all the time to make the trip the best it could be. Marsha S., New York, NY
The Great Game
Tibet is a place like no other on the planet! Roger’s language skills and knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism opened many doors. Connie D., Alamo CA
Heart of Tibet
Exceedingly knowledgeable, very caring. Priscilla and Franklin O., Malvern PA
Mystical Bhutan
Roger knows how to run a trip. He’s very organized and clearly communicates the daily plan. Also, he's a lot of fun and I was impressed with his expertise on Buddhist iconography. Fran M., Mill Valley, CA
Hidden Himalayas
Roger is remarkable. This trip showed him at his best. We could never have traveled across the roof of the world without his preparation and energy. Thanks for a grand experience! Ruth and Frank H., Edmonds WA
In the Footsteps of the Great Game
Roger takes good care of his travelers and we learned a lot about the people, their culture, and history. His love for this part of the world is infectious. Ruth G., Del Mar CA
In the Footsteps of the Great Game
Roger is great! Hard working, knowledgeable, personable. He really makes a difference. Bill R., Walnut Creek, CA
Passage to India

Client Comments

The itinerary was first-rate—I enjoyed every place we visited! Catherine H., Cambridge, MA
This was another spectacular adventure with Roger Williams. It more than met my expectations. What a wonderful opportunity to travel this part of the Silk Road and better understand the rise of Buddhism in China. Judith M., Albuquerque, NM