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2017 China 15 Day Cultural Journey: Trekking

2017 China 15 Day Cultural Journey: Trekking

2017 China 15 Day Cultural Journey: Trekking

Program Type:Smithsonian Open Enrollment iconOpen Enrollment Learn More

Dates: SESSION CLOSED  |  Tuition: $5,199 Tuition Details

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Dear Families – Welcome to the homepage for the 2017 China 15 Day Cultural Journey: Trekking! If this is your first time on this page, please read through the categories under Pre-Enrollment to learn more about this unique travel opportunity, or peruse the other categories as you like. Once you have enrolled, please check out the Post-Enrollment information. Around one month before departure, we will post the remaining information under Program Prep to review on a call with the entire group. We hope you will join us on the adventure of a lifetime in China!

Program Highlights

  • Climb the Great Wall of China
  • Trek in mountainous Yunnan
  • Explore Tibetan Benzaclin
  • Hike the Sacred Waterfall in Yubeng
View Full Itinerary

Smithsonian Student Adventures was created through a collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution and Walking Tree Travel. Although this video is branded as Walking Tree Travel, it encapsulates the mission and spirit that is present in all SSA programming.

Important Program Details

Click on the sections above to learn more

Program Itinerary

1USA - BeijingFlight to from US to Beijing. In flight
2BeijingWelcome to Beijing! We'll take a bus into the city center and get settled in our quaint, family-run hostel in one of the oldest parts of the city. We will have an orientation meeting and discuss our plans for the coming days. Then we'll stretch our legs and go for a stroll through the historic hutong neighborhoods surrounding our hostel. Most of the homes in this area include traditional courtyards dating to the Ming-Qing dynasties. We'll enjoy our first group dinner nearby and then head to bed to rest up for a big day tomorrow!Drum Tower Hostel or Sleepy Inn
3BeijingAfter breakfast, we'll be on the lookout for local sights and sounds as we complete a hutong photo scavenger hunt, making our way to the historic Drum and Bell Towers via twisting, historical alleyways. We'll ascend the Drum tower, to enjoy the sweeping views of the district and the Forbidden City directly to the south. We'll then hop on the metro and make our way to Tiananmen square, the largest public square on earth. After pausing for photos strolling north through the square and reflecting on the significance of the events that took place here, we’ll arrive at the iconic Forbidden City, home to generations of emperors and located at the center point of Beijing. We'll exit the complex at Jinshan Park, where we'll witness local culture at its finest, including kite flying, group ballroom dancing, Tai Chi and more. After a full day, we'll enjoy a Beijing specialty: Peking Duck!Drum Tower Hostel or Sleepy Inn
4BeijingToday we'll visit one of the most important cultural sites on the planet: the Great Wall of China! We'll start our climb on the Wild Wall in Lotus Pond Village (taking time to get a sense of life in a rural village outside the city) and eventually connect to the restored Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. After taking as many photos as we can stand, we'll have our choice of ways to descend, either via cable car or toboggan ride . We'll enjoy lunch in smaller, family-run restaurants to get a sense of rural home-style Chinese cooking. In the evening, we'll make our way to the Hutong, a neighborhood cultural space, to enjoy a traditional Chinese cooking class. Drum Tower Hostel or Sleepy Inn
5Beijing - Diqing, YunnanToday is a busy day of travel! We'll fly from Beijing to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. We'll then take a quick flight to Diqing/Shangri La.Shangri La Hotel
6Zhongdian, YunnanToday our Yunnan Trekking tour officially begins! We'll be joined by a local guide who will lead us through some of the most pristine and remote countryside in the Tibetan Plateau. We'll spend today in Shangri La, getting further accustomed to the altitude and enjoying a slower pace of life than the hustle and bustle of Beijing. We'll visit Songzanlin Monastery, home to over 700 monks, and go bike riding to the Napa Lake Watershed visiting Hamagou, Xiao Zhongdian and other villages on the way. In the evening, we'll join with the local Tibetans in the town square for some spirited dancing. Shangri La Hotel
7Zhongdian - DeqinToday we'll travel from Shangri La (Zhongdian) to Deqin, traversing several mountain ranges. We'll pass by Benzaclin, a small Tibetan town built by the river and wander around the streets. Further up the road, we will pass what is commonly referred to as the “Omega”, the first bend of the Jinsha River. As we near Deqin, we will enjoy our first views of the Meili Snow Mountains. Guesthouse
8Deqin - Upper YubengWe will wake up early to see the sun rise over the Meili Snow Mountains and then drive to Xidang Village where we will begin our hike to Upper Yubeng Village. Today’s hike will be strenuous as we gain about 1000m of elevation by the time we reach the pass, traversing through a beautiful, pristine alpine forest. (Total distance for the day: 17 km, 6 hours).Guesthouse
9Upper Yubeng - Lower YubengToday we'll break up the day as we first hike to Upper Yubeng Village, then onward to the Ice Lake. After taking in all the natural beauty, we'll hike back down to Lower Yubeng Village. Guesthouse
10Lower YubengAssuming the weather cooperates, we’ll wake up to a clear view of the Mt. Kawagebo glacier. After breakfast we will hike to the Holy Waterfall (7 km, 2-3 hours), from which Yubeng’s name originated. Buddhist pilgrims circumambulate the waterfall 13 times with the belief that this act will set them free from all sins from this life. In the early afternoon we’ll walk back to Lower Yubeng Village (2 hours) where we’ll rest up for the long hike the next day.Guesthouse
11Yubeng - FeilaisiToday will be our most rigorous but rewarding day. We'll set off very early for the long (approx. 10 hours), but amazing walk along the least traveled path of Yubeng , from Lower Yubeng Village back to Xidang, via Ninong. After the day’s trek, we will drive back to Feilaisi for a good night's rest!Guesthouse
12Feilaisi - ZhongdianWe'll set out very early for the five-hour drive back to Shangri La (Zhongdian). On the return journey we will visit the Dong Zhu Lin Monastery, built in the same era as the Songzanlin Monastery, which houses a treasure trove of ancient artifacts.Zhongdian Hostel
13Zhongdian - DaliWe'll say farewell to our trekking guide and hop on the bus from Shangri La to Dali. We'll get settled in to our hotel and unwind a bit from our adventure.Jim's Tibetan hotel
14DaliToday we'll check out the Yi Market, a traveling market frequented by the Yi minority, who live in the mountains and come down to attend the market and buy supplies. We'll also visit a muslim village and a Buddhist temple hidden in the rice fields. Jim's Tibetan hotel
15Dali - Kunming - USAWe will depart for Kunming and prepare for our international flight back to the U.S. 再见中国!Airplane

Philosophy Of Travel

Our mission is to inspire the next generation to become global leaders by taking an active interest in the world around them. With a dedication to learning, along with an enduring passion for exploring the world, Smithsonian Student Adventures designs transformative and meaningful travel programs that uncover the authentic culture of each destination and inspire students to take action in their local and global community.

Smithsonian Student Adventures stands for a more open, curious, and compassionate approach to travel. We partner with select schools around the world to provide memorable small-group experiences, and invest in cultivating and maintaining longterm relationships with our partner communities. If you are interested in our organization and philosophy of travel, click here to learn more about us.


SSA partners with locally-operated, three star or equivalent hotels that are clean, safe, centrally located, and provide modern amenities. Below are a few examples of our partner hotels. Although these are our preferred providers, they are subject to change based on availability. Your final itinerary will provide complete information on your accommodations in the cities you will be visiting.

Chengdu: www.dreams-travel.com/youthhostel/en/

Dujiangyan: http://hotels.ctrip.com/hotel/2216166.html 

Beijing: www.beijing-drum-tower.hostel.com/

Yangshuo, Guangxi: www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g303712-d1143715-Reviews-Fawlty_Towers_Hotel-Yangshuo_County_Guangxi.html

Longji, Guangxi: www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g1159371-d2690690-Reviews-Dragon_s_Den_Hostel-Longsheng_County_Guangxi.html

Dali, Yunnan: www.jims-tibetan-hotel.com/

Kunming, Yunnan: www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Kunming-Upland-International-Youth-Hostel/Kunming/57778

Xi’an: www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g298557-d6395604-Reviews-Xian_Travelling_With_Hostel-Xi_an_Shaanxi.html

Shanghai: www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Le-Tour-Traveler-s-Rest-Youth-Hostel/Shanghai/25664


Standards of Behavior

SSA provides fun, safe, and meaningful programs for our travelers. In order to achieve this goal, it is important that we create an environment of trust, security and respect. All individuals participating in our programs are required to take responsibility for their actions and adhere to a high standard of behavioral conduct. Any of the following are grounds for early dismissal or in-country consequences at our discretion.


  1. Possessing, consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
  2. Associating with participants while they are in possession of or are consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
  3. Behaving in a way that consistently damages the group dynamic or jeopardizes personal or group safety. This includes consistently displaying a negative attitude, intimidating or excluding other participants, sneaking out, disobeying group leaders, and any other behavior that is not conducive to an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.


  1. Getting a piercing or tattoo
  2. Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials
  3. Threatening with or using weapons such as firearms, knives, explosives, etc.
  4. Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle
  5. Being out of designated area or accommodations after curfew
  6. Breaking group rules

These standards of behavior are essential for the successful completion of a travel program. Please take the time to review these rules as a family and make sure everyone understands and agrees to them before choosing to travel with SSA.

Tuition & Fundraising

Tuition Includes:
all accommodations, basic travel insurance, 3 meals per day, drinking water, ground transportation, group activity and entry fees, full time leadership team and taxes and tips.

Tuition Excludes:
 International airfare, baggage fees, airline minor fees, personal shopping, passport or visa fees, and activities not listed on the itinerary.

We believe that cost should not prevent enthusiastic students from having the opportunity to join an SSA program. We are pleased to offer opportunities for fundraising and payment plans to help make this goal a reality. Please visit our Tuition and Funding page to find out more about tuition, fundraising, payment options, referral discounts, and more.

Passport & Visa Check

Passport must be valid for six months after the final day of your travel program, including one open visa page.
A visa is required of all US visitors to China. In order to obtain your Chinese tourist visa, we recommend that you employ an agency to expedite the process. We’ve had success in the past with Flychina.com. A single-entry tourist visa will cost around $200 and this is a process we suggest you begin immediately. A valid US Passport, which will not expire for at least 6 months after your trip date, is required to obtain the visa.

Non US citizens should check with their country’s embassy abroad to verify vaccination and visa requirements.
US citizens traveling from a country other than the United States should check the State Department website (www.travel.state.gov) for more information regarding additional visa or vaccine requirements.

Please contact us for further information regarding vaccination and visa requirements.

Health and Safety

Our in-country staff prepare meticulously for all programs. SSA will register our programs and travelers with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in case of emergency. In country staff also verify the safety records of our partner organizations, vendors, and transportation providers, thoroughly vet homestay families via in depth interviews and home visits, and keep up on important current events in the region.

Program Leaders are seasoned travelers who are CPR and First Aid certified, undergo thorough training in crisis management, and participate in a multi-day leadership training retreat. We do our best to prepare for any eventuality and have detailed emergency protocols for our leaders, in-country staff and U.S.-based staff.

We receive medical disclosures from all participants to ensure we are able to meet every students’ needs during the program. Please inform us immediately of any additional health issues that you did not list during your initial registration process. Program Leaders will also hold an online information session before your departure, as well as an arrival orientation in-country, in order to give participants important instructions on food safety, hygiene and preventing injury and illness. Leaders and in-country staff always respond immediately to any mental, physical or emotional health issues and follow comprehensive emergency protocols.

Vaccination information and requirements can change frequently. Because of this, and for more information, we suggest that you consult your local travel clinic and/or family physician for specific details.

Travel Insurance

Our experience has taught us that international travel can sometimes be unpredictable. As such, SSA will purchase basic secondary travel and medical insurance for all SSA travelers via Travel Insured International. This service provides the following coverage at no additional cost to our participants:


$500 Return Airfare for Trip Interruption
$750 ($150 per day) Trip Delay of six hours or more
$500 (Three or more hours) Missed Connection
$1500 ($250 per article) Baggage/Personal Effects
$300 Baggage Delay – 24 hours
$25,000 Accident & Sickness Medical Expense
$100,000 Emergency Evacuation and Repatriation
Emergency Assistance Non-insurance Worldwide Emergency Assistance Services Included

Once you have been accepted onto your program, SSA will be in touch regarding this insurance and other additional options (see below).


The following additional optional coverage upgrades are available upon request for an additional premium charge to the traveler. For further information on the premiums associated with these optional coverage enhancements, please email your inquiry to our travel insurance program administrator, Hayashi Insurance Solutions: travelinsurance@jshinsurance.com

– Trip Cancellation Coverage – Reimburses the traveler up to the trip cost insured up to a maximum of $10,000 per person if the trip must be cancelled for unforeseeable life events including but not limited to; medical/health reasons, bereavement, etc.

– Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) – Reimburses the traveler for 75% of the non-refundable trip cost. Cancellation must be made 48 hours or more prior to scheduled departure. Must be purchased at the same time as initial plan purchase and prior to final trip payment. *This benefit is not available to residents of New York State.

The Plan is administered by Hayashi Insurance Solutions (CA DOI 0F61680) a licensed Insurance Agency authorized to transact this insurance under the express authority of Travel Insured International, Inc. and its representatives, and on behalf of Walking Tree Travel, Inc. The Plan contains insurance benefits underwritten by the United States Fire Insurance Company. Fairmont Specialty and Crum & Forster are registered trademarks of United States Fire Insurance Company. The Crum & Forster group of companies is rated A (Excellent) by AM Best Company 2015. The Plan also contains non insurance Travel Assistance Services that are provided by an independent organization, OnCall International, and not by United States Fire Insurance Company or Travel Insured International. Review the Plan Document for complete terms, including benefits, conditions, limitations and exclusions that apply. Coverages may vary and not all coverage is available in all jurisdictions.

Global Leadership Curriculum

Walking Tree Travel has developed a curriculum that helps SSA travelers mature as global leaders before, during, and after their travel program. These simple, engaging tools are meant to spark discussion, frame their experience, and prepare them to travel ethically and effectively both on our programs and in the future. For more information about student learning objectives and the format of the Walking Tree Travel Global Leadership Curriculum, click on the ‘learn more’ button below.

Learn More

Language Resources


Want to learn a new language and be better prepared for your travel program? Duolingo is the easiest, most entertaining way to start learning and using a new language right away! The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to communicate with locals in your host country and help your fellow travelers navigate a foreign environment.

Tap the Duolingo owl to get started, or download the app to your mobile phone.


duolingo owl logo

Group Flight Information

In an effort to make the flight booking process as smooth as possible, we have partnered with STA Travel. This partnership provides our participants with discounted fares through STA’s contracts with the top airlines to help our travelers get the best possible rates. To learn more about STA as an organization, please check out their website at www.statravel.com.

STA Travel will help our families and travelers book their round trip travel between their home city and our host countries. We are excited to offer this premium service to our participants so that we can focus on what we do best – providing meaningful adventures around the world.

Open Enrollment participants are responsible for booking and paying for their own international flights. You have two options for making your flight arrangements:

1. (Preferred) Book a seat on the chaperoned international group flight.

Each Open Enrollment program has a suggested, chaperoned, group flight that will depart from a designated departure city in the United States and arrive to the destination country. Participants on these flights will have the support of our on-scene Airport Liaison as well as an accompanying Program Leader, on-flight. The Airport Liaison will help gather, coordinate and direct the arrival and departure of our participants in the airport and the Program Leader will accompany the group to and from the host country while on the flight. The vast majority of our travelers choose this option. 

2. Book your own flight to the host country.

For this option we require travelers to arrive at the same time, or earlier (no more than 3 hours), than the suggested group flight’s planned arrival. We ask participants not to arrive later than the suggested group flight’s time of arrival. If travelers arrive on their own prior to the rest of the group we will arrange to have the second Program Leader or the Country Director meet them as they land in the host country. 

With either option, we strongly encourage you to book your flights through STA, but it is not required.

Please wait to make any flight arrangements until we have sent you our chaperoned group flight information by email, which we will post by April 1, 2017 with instructions on how to proceed. 

Air travel is unpredictable. Although we can ensure that our groups arrive to the airport with ample time and follow all airline instructions, there may still be instances when a flight is delayed or cancelled due to weather, mechanical problems, labor strikes, etc. Please note that in such an event SSA is not financially responsible for unexpected costs incurred by travelers. Our programs officially begin and end in our host countries.  Notwithstanding, our travelers’ well-being and safety is always our number one priority in all facets of our operations and programming, so please know that in case flight delays or cancellations occur we will do everything we can to get travelers home in a timely manner and will keep family members updated on developments as we are able.

Important note: Please make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the final day in country.

SSA is not responsible for fees associated with checked baggage
or for lost or stolen luggage. We strongly encourage all travelers to pack a carry-on bag if possible, or to at least put all valuables and a change of clothes or two in a carry-on along with all important medications and basic toiletries such as a toothbrush, deodorant, glasses, contacts etc.

Please confirm with your air travel provider as some airlines may require that travelers under a certain age have completed an unaccompanied minor parental consent form. Please consult the airline website to confirm whether this is required on your flight.

Leader Profile

SSA will send a minimum of one experienced Program Leader on every program. In addition to this Program Leader, we also have a support staff in our host countries that are available to the group for additional help when necessary. Please read below to see who will be part of the support team on your program.

Group Roster

Please have all travelers check below to ensure their name is spelled exactly how it appears on your passport. For edits, email lacey@SmithsonianSA.com.


Community & Project Details

This is where your host community information will appear, along with your community project, if applicable to your program.

Communication & Blog

The easiest way for students to keep in touch with family and friends at home while traveling will be using Wifi (available at most hotels and some restaurants) via Viber, Whatsapp, Skype, and Wechat for free.

SSA tries to keep families and friends updated as frequently as possible with text and photo blogs. If parents would like updates regarding the group beyond these blog posts and email updates, they should direct all general inquiries to info@SmithsonianSA.com. We are always checking this email inbox and will respond promptly to inquiries. You can also reach us by dialing 303-242-8541 from the U.S.

Here is the link to your blog: -Coming Soon-

Packing List

What follows is a sample packing list, which will be updated for each program. We recommend you bring a larger piece of luggage like a roller, duffel bag, or backpack, as well as a smaller backpack that you can bring on hikes, weekend excursions and shorter activities.

Most importantly, be sure to remember your PASSPORT and STUDENT ID.

China Packing List


7-10 pairs of underwear
5 pairs of socks
1 set pajamas
3 short-sleeved T-shirts
2 long-sleeved T-shirts, preferably light-weight
1 sweater or sweatshirt
2 pair of shorts
2 pair of light-weight pants/hiking pants
1 nice outfit to be worn at community gatherings and final dinner (sundress, skirt, polo, khaki shorts, etc.)
1 rain jacket
1 sweatshirt
1 pair of sneakers (appropriate for hiking/athletic activity)
1 pair of sports sandals or 1 pair flip flops
1 hat or visor
1 swimsuit


Basic toiletries
Sunscreen SPF 30+ (You will use a lot!)
Bug repellent
Hand sanitizer
Tampons/maxi pads (if applicable)
Any necessary medication (TSA requires that pills be properly labeled and in the original container.)


Band aids and neosporin
Dental floss


Bath towel (quick-dry recommended)
Plastic bag for dirty laundry
Alarm clock or watch
$100-200 US dollars in perfect condition (for souvenirs, snacks, optional excursions, etc.)
Visa/MasterCard ATM card We do NOT recommend traveler’s checks, gift cards or credit cards.
Durable water bottle


Small luggage lock
Portable charger (for long train ride)
Journal & writing utensils
Wet wipes
Ziplock bags
Journal and pen
Flashlight or headlamp
Travel pillow
Ear plugs
Chinese/English dictionary
Cards/games/etc (small and easy to carry)
Electrical converter and adapter
**China runs 220V, 50Hz AC electricity. A converter is only necessary if your device does not have 120-220V range.


Tuition Details

Tuition Includes:
all accommodations, basic travel insurance, 3 meals per day, drinking water, ground transportation, group activity and entry fees, full time leadership team and taxes and tips.

Tuition Excludes:
 International airfare, baggage fees, airline minor fees, personal shopping, passport or visa fees, and activities not listed on the itinerary.

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