Silk Road adventure holiday

“A hugely interesting historical exploration of some of the Silk Road’s most forgotten cities, this tour is organised seamlessly to maximise your time in each intriguing destination. Staying in hotels and also on sleeper trains.”


Urumqi | Kashgar | Kashgar Sunday Market | Mor Buddhist Pagoda | Artush | Lake Karakul | Visit to the Kyrgyz people | Overnight sleeper train through Tian Shan Mountains | Turpan | Ancient city of Gaocheng | Ruined city of Jiaohe | Jiayuguan | Dunhuang | The Mogao Buddhist Caves

Description of Silk Road adventure holiday

This Silk Road adventure holiday is a two week odyssey around China’s far western corner, an area that is a world apart in terms of both cultural and natural heritage from other more modern parts of China. This region has been influenced by many different ethnicities and traditions as traders from different regions of Asia passed through on the Silk Road. It is, in general, an arid mountainous terrain, and this holiday brings you on a journey that follows in Silk Road traders’ footsteps.

Our carefully crafted itinerary starts in Urumqi, a busy and yet very remote city surrounded by desert but also in the shadow of the Tian Shan mountain range. Nearby Tian Chi Lake, otherwise known as Heavenly Lake, is just one of the many natural heritage highlights on this trip.

We take an internal flight to our next stop in Kashgar, reminiscent of Silk Road times as people from many different Central Asian countries still come here on a Sunday to trade at its world famous market. After a couple of days here to visit its various sacred and historical sites, we take a sleeper train through the Tian Shan Mountains to Turpan. An oasis town and therefore another trading hub on the Silk Road, it is home to ancient ruins rising from the surrounding sands, including a forgotten city and the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves. This is also, famously, the hottest city in China with the Gobi Desert casting a pretty heavy influence. As an oasis, however, it also boasts irrigation systems dating back thousands of years and is a successful wine producing area as a result.

Another sleeper train journey takes us to Jiayuguan, the western terminus of the Great Wall of China as well as being home to ancient tombs and archaeology. Our odyssey comes to an end in Dunhuang, which was also a major stop off point for traders on the Silk Road. One of the greatest sights here, dating back to those ancient times, is at Mogao cave temples which have been ensconced among the sand dunes here as a place of worship for Buddhists since 366 AD. This sacred and spectacular site makes a fine finale on our trip around the region of China that is so often left off the tourist maps, before taking a train back to Urumqi for your flight back to modern times, and home.

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Check dates, prices & availability

07 May 2021
excluding flights
Click here to enquire about or book the 07 May 2021 departure
03 Sep 2021
excluding flights
Click here to enquire about or book the 03 Sep 2021 departure
Our top tip:
Take more memory for your camera than you think you’ll ever need. You’ll need it.
Trip type:
Small group. 4-18 adults, tour leader.
Activity level:
Leisurely. Other than walking, all activities optional.
11 nights comfortable hotel, 2 nights sleeper train.
Solo travellers welcome. Single rooms available.
Accommodation, all transport, some meals, tour leader.
Holiday type
Small group holidays
Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, travelling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week holiday, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.

The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travellers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.

We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.
What are the main benefits?
Big experiences
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.

Make the most of your holiday time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!

Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travellers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your holiday.

Solo travellers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those travelling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.

Less confident travellers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travellers their own room.

“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.

“The accommodation will be basic”
Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.

“I won’t like the other travellers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.

“Will we be following an umbrella?”
Meet a group leader
As well as taking care of all the day-to-day practicalities, your group leader is the one who will turn your trip into an adventure. Leaders are extraordinary characters – the kind of person who has spent 14 Christmas days on the slopes of Mount Everest, runs marathons wearing tiger suits to raise funds for their conservation and thinks nothing of leading an overland trip in Sudan or Afghanistan. Fearless and inspiring, group leaders are as important as the destination itself.

Meet a local guide
No matter how experienced your group leader, they can never make up for the knowledge gained from a lifetime in the destination. That’s why many of our trips work with local guides around the world – who invite you into their homeland with pleasure. As well as doing crazy things like climbing Kilimanjaro 100 times, they also donate their time to local projects supported by travellers – such as rebuilding Sri Lankan villages following the 2004 tsunami.

Responsible tourism

As the pioneers of responsible tourism, we screen every trip so you can travel knowing your holiday will help support conservation and local people.

On this tour we spend a night camping in the Taklamakan Desert, and make a point of ensuring that we do not leave any permanent traces of our stay behind, making sure that we take all litter with us.

We work with our local suppliers to highlight best practice in terms of environmental issues, an important effort in a country where the environment is often taken for granted and green thinking is only just emerging.

The Impacts of this Trip

On this tour through China’s remote western regions, we visit Lake Karakul, a stunningly beautiful region inhabited by Kyrgyz families. We stay overnight in a typical Kyrgyz yurt and have the opportunity to meet local people. Our visit to this region provides vital income to a community that usually sees little benefit from tourism.

At Heavenly Lake we also stay in the yurt of a local family – the money that we pay for this goes directly to the family themselves.

We visit a number of ruined Buddhist cities that formed part of the ancient Silk Road. The entrance fees that we pay at these sites helps fund their preservation and ensure that this aspect of China’s cultural heritage remains for others to enjoy in years to come. In addition to this we visit sites that contain ancient and fragile Buddhist frescoes that are very susceptible to damage. We make a point of advising our travellers not to touch these valuable paintings to ensure that they remain as they are.

On this tour we only use local guides from the regions that we are travelling through, rather than taking one guide for the whole tour. Not only does this cut down on carbon footprints but ensures that revenue is channelled into local communities. It also means that travellers are able to gain unique insights from local guides who really know the areas they are travelling through.

Our philosophy is to only use small and locally owned suppliers, meaning that the income remains within the country and creates a real economic contribution. We also feel that the passion inherent within such suppliers means that your experience will be enhanced. We also try to engage with our suppliers on an equal basis – getting the lowest possible price usually isn’t the best outcome for local communities and is ultimately unsustainable. We aim to always treat our suppliers fairly and with respect; they are after all part of the key to our success and to us working together is much more than just a business arrangement, but an ongoing relationship that we aim to ensure truly benefits everyone involved.

We believe that tourism is a double edged sword that needs to be wielded very carefully. Our philosophy is to have a limited amount of departures – usually between one and three a year - for each of our itineraries. By limiting our presence in areas where local culture can be quite fragile, we hope to avoid as much as possible the phenomenon whereby an area changes in character due to repeated and prolonged exposure to tourism. We want to visit an area as friends, not intruders and to ensure that what we see will also be there for others to enjoy for many years to come.

We only employ local staff and unlike many operators we believe that to send a foreign Tour Leader along to accompany your trip is an unnecessary burden on your wallet and our carbon footprint. We believe that locals know best. Our local operators only use locally owned accommodation. This means your money stays in the area to benefit the local community. When possible we use local transport, (i.e. rail or bus) and we always use local restaurants, markets and shops and encourage our clients to interact both financially and socially with the communities that they are passing through. In doing this your travels are supporting and encouraging the development of local services.

We only work with operators who are as committed as we are to putting something back into the communities we visit. This may include giving a percentage of the profits from each tour to a foundation to help street children or local conservation projects. Furthermore, in order to allow our clients to make an informed decision on where a greater proportion of their money should be spent, we avoid including pre-paid full board meals where possible. Local restaurants and cafes then benefit.

Our groups average only six clients, and many tours operate on a private basis with just two travellers. This has much less impact when travelling through rural areas, reducing our environmental and social affects. Finally to emphasise our commitment to Responsible Tourism all clients will receive a copy of our Travellers Code of Conduct with their travel documents.


5 Reviews of Silk Road adventure holiday

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 21 Sep 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

It was an evenly-paced holiday. The most western part of the Chinese Great Wall was amazing, we loved the Mogao Grottoes and Kashgar old city.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Not sure. you spend 2 nights on a Chinese train - soft sleeper, so bring plenty of wet wipes and earplugs.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Again, not sure. We had local guides at every destination, so they benefitted, and we ate at local restaurants.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

We had 3 guides, each taken us on the train to the next guide. The benefit was that our guides knew their area well. Also, we felt more confident on the
train knowing when to get off (we arrived early at one place and we hadn't realised it was our stop until the guide came and told us to get ready to

The trip was interesting and we learned lots of new things. Because it was a group holiday (we were four in total!), it was hard to be spontaneous. This was
felt most in Urumqi where we had a lot of free time. We did eventually manage to add a visit to the centre of the Asian continent, which we paid for
separately to the driver.

Read the operator's response here:

Thank you for the feedback. We are delighted that you enjoyed the tour. We always use local guides and drivers and make sure that we use local restaurants to make sure that your tourist spend goes directly to local people.

Reviewed on 17 Oct 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Travelling along the Karakoram Highway.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Be prepared for lots of security checks, especially if the guides or drivers are Uyghur. As mentioned in the tour notes some activities may get cancelled at short notice.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Not really, apart from contributing to the local economy. Some of the Uyghur people we spoke to were grateful that Westerners were (a) aware and (b) sympatheic to their situation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Very good, however given the situation in Xinjiang it would be beneficial if alternative arrangements were in place should activities in the itinerary have to be cancelled. The local guides didn't seem to have a Plan B. It was necessary for us to contact the UK office stating our concerns. Their response was excellent, no complaints at all but it would have been easier for all concerned if it could have been dealt with locally.

Read the operator's response here:

Thank you for the feedback. We are delighted that you enjoyed the tour. The local guides do have a large amount of autonomy to change things locally as required. We will be reiterating this to them and making sure that if alternative arrangements are required that they have the authority to do this. Thank you for raising this with us.

Reviewed on 12 Jun 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Kasger sunday market

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

Explore less traveled world

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

very good

Reviewed on 11 May 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

I particularity enjoyed the added insight into every day life the guides were able to give us as they were all local. It was interesting to see the three different
countries and travel through the countryside, mostly in minibuses with commentary by the guides.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

We went in April/May and experienced really hot sunny weather, cold evenings -enough for warmish coats, strong cold winds and some rain, so pack for
all eventualities.

Be prepared for long days with some early starts and to be able to account for all your medicines, jewelry, and exact amount of money in all currencies at border posts. Also practice squatting and getting up again without using your hands as the toilets on the road are pretty grim. Bring tissues and hand gel.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Economically some local people benefited from our purchases and tips, but we had no real impact on environment apart from using minibuses, bottled water
and air con!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

I found the holiday really interesting with well chosen sites, hotels, local guides and itinerary. All the guides spoke good English and went out of their way to
give us an outstanding experience. The second half with one night stays seemed a little hectic, so it may be better to add an extra night somewhere, for example in Dushambe as the hotel there was excellent.

Reviewed on 21 Jun 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?

Mogao Caves

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?

The local food is lovely - go with an open mind

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?

Yes in that it put some money into local companies or people, but no for the
transport required to get there and travel about

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?

Very good

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