China on a shoestring small group holiday

“For those that want to see the real China, beyond the most famous landmarks, this small group holiday from Beijing to Shanghai via public transport is one to treasure.”


Beijing | Forbidden City | Tiananmen Square | Walk a section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu | Xian | Big Wild Goose Pagoda | Terracotta Army | Tea Ceremony | Three Gorges | Fengdu ghost town | Take the bullet train to Chengdu | Panda Research Centre | Dong village homestay | Trekking in rural countryside | Yangshuo | Shanghai | Yu Yuan Gardens

Description of China on a shoestring small group holiday

Many travellers find that often the most valuable insights into a country’s culture come not from its best-known cities and landmarks, but from exploring the gaps between them. That’s exactly what this China small group tour sets out to do, and if you take the time to read through the detailed itinerary, you’re bound to find it very tempting.

Travel on a shoestring, using public transport and staying in locally owned accommodations, for an authentic cultural immersion that most trips cannot offer.

Naturally, no tour of China would be complete without admiring the ‘big ticket’ sights. In Beijing you’ll have the chance to roam the spectacular Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square, and there will also be a day-trip out for a walk on a section of the Great Wall of China – a bucket list experience for many people. After an overnight train to Xian, you can also see the legendary Terracotta Army, and take part in a traditional tea ceremony.

But then the tour departs from your more standard China itineraries. First, you’ll embark on a stunning four-night cruise along the Yangtze River, one that takes you through some of China’s most bewitching scenery including the Three Gorges, and the haunting ghost town of Fengdu which was abandoned due to the nearby dam project.

Disembarking you’ll take the bullet train to Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan province, where it is thought the southern Silk Road first began and where you will also take an unforgettable tour of the Panda Research Centre. You’ll follow this with several days spent in picturesque border-country, trekking, staying in rural villages, eating delicious homecooked meals and indulging in a rich variety of cultural encounters. You might hire bikes to cycle through quiet country lanes and rice paddies, barter in local markets, or even take a cookery class.

The trip continues to Shanghai, a world apart from the countryside and a city where past and present blend seamlessly – there's no more fitting place to end the tour.

Travel Team

If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. The Travel Team.

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01 Aug 2021
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05 Sep 2021
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10 Oct 2021
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03 Apr 2022
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10 Apr 2022
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08 May 2022
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31 Jul 2022
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04 Sep 2022
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09 Sep 2022
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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 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.

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.

This trip visits much of China, both modern cities and rural areas. The majority of travel is by public transport where we not only mix with the local people but ensure a much lower carbon footprint than if we used our own dedicated vehicle. We also use locally owned hotels throughout the trip, ensuring benefit to the communities we are visiting.

On this trip you will stay in a mixture of hotels and guesthouses with a much more local feel than the many international chain hotels that can be found throughout China. However a real highlight is the 4 nights spent on a river boat on the Yangtse. Not only is this a spectacular way to explore the river it is also a much more sustainable means of transportation, rather than using road transportation.

In addition to the river boat we also spend 3 nights on an overnight train, which is a great way to meet local people and learn about local life. The accommodations are quite basic on the train but allow us to get more quickly to our destinations whilst really getting to the heart of Chinese culture and customs.

As a company we support Cool Earth. Protecting rainforest is one of the most effective actions to tackle climate breakdown. Cool Earth work with indigenous communities empowering them to conserve their forest; keeping CO2 locked in.

The Impacts of this Trip

We use local tour leaders and guides which means that we get in-depth information on the country we are visiting and generate wealth for the local people. China has wealth of history and culture to explore as well as how life is in modern day China; from learning about the education system, to making sure we don’t fall foul of any taboos!

Meeting the people is often a great highlight of a tour and our leaders are real facilitators; enabling us to meet and mix with local people wherever possible – all the more fun when we are travelling off the beaten track. Our local leaders take us to small, locally owned and run restuarants wherever possible throughout the trip, ensuring that small businesses benefit from our visit, and that we enjoy a very authentic experience.

In addition to the above, we are continually looking for ways to improve and are proud to be ‘Responsible in everything we do’. Education is key and so all staff, Tour leaders and partnering suppliers are trained in responsible and sustainable tourism. At our UK Head Office, we continually strive towards a sustainable and planet-friendly working environment, including having solar panels installed and a company commitment to reducing our plastic usage. As well as this, we have valuable and longstanding partnerships with UK charities Toilet Twinning and Send a Cow, plus many smaller initiatives and projects around the world. We’re members of UK travel industry bodies Tourism Concern and AITO because we believe it’s important to share our knowledge and experience, as well as learn from other operators.


2 Reviews of China on a shoestring small group holiday

3.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 05 Nov 2019 by

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

The Li River and Yangshuo.

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

Consider adding some time before and/or after to see more of Beijing and/or Shanghai if you can. Also the operator does not provide local guides at some sites and some sites have limited English info. Having some information with you is helpful.

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

Somewhat, but we also visited a number of government shops. We traveled mostly by train rather than plane, which reduced environmental impact.

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

Enjoyable, but we moved too much. The itinerary is very tight. I would reduce the number of places visited.

Reviewed on 13 Nov 2018 by

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

Knife cut noodle dishes in Xi’an were delicious. Tea houses in Peoples park
looked amazing.

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

Take a free walk up to the TV tower in Yangshuo for amazing views over the
city and lime kast mountains.

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

Not really. There is too much plastic waste in China.

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

You cover a vast area in a decent period of time.
chased response 14.11.18 SJP re plasics

Read the operator's response here:

Hi Dominic thank you for reviewing your holiday and great to hear that you enjoyed the trip and have some good memories to bring home with you. With regards to the environment it is a problem in China and as you have pointed out there is too much plastic waste. From our perspective we try to assist the environment through measures such as using public transport - particularly trains and boats which cuts down on the carbon emissions that would be generated from private vehicles but we are fully aware of the issue with plastics and are working with our local agents to try to reduce this where we can. It is a long haul however! As a company we are very involved with the whole issue of plastic waste and have introduced such initiatives as Water to Go to help reduce the amount of plastic bottles used on trips. Many thanks again for your valuable comments.

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