Tailor-made Tour 14 days from £3830 per person
Places Visited: Kunming, Dali, Shaxi, Lijiang, Shangri La, Chengdu
Yunnan boasts the most astounding mountain landscapes in China and you’ll experience the finest of them on this 14-day journey. Beginning in the Province’s modern capital, Kunming, you’ll follow the old Tea-Horse trade route up to Dali on Lake Erhui. A feast of traditional architecture and minority cultures ensues in the bucolic Shaxi Valley, then the Naxi town of Lijiang, with its backdrop of shining snow peaks, and Shangri La, home to the region’s grandest Tibetan monastery. Between the two, Tiger Leaping Gorge provides the scenic high point of the trip. A short flight across the mountains takes you back to Chengdu in time to see the pandas before catching your return flight to the UK.
Cultural Tours Walks, Hikes and Rides
Fly from the UK to Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China, on an indirect flight.
On arrival at Kunming airport, you’ll be greeted by your TransIndus guide and escorted to your hotel. Spend the rest of the day recovering from your journey, perhaps venturing out for dinner later.
One of our favourite restaurants in the city is Yíng Jiāng Dǎi Wèi Yuán, 66 Cuihu Beilu. At a pleasant location next to Green Lake, it serves the deliciously hot and sour cuisine of the Dai minority from Xishuangba, in southern Yunnan – a tasty fusion of Thai and Chinese cooking styles, served on fresh plantain leaves. If ‘hote and spicy’ isn’t your thing, try Yì Kēyìn Kūnmíng Lǎo Fángzi at 18-19 Jixiang Xiang, which serves traditional, milder Yunnanese food in a wonderful old courtyard house with wooden balconies and red paper lanterns.
In the morning, drive out to the famous Shilin Stone Forest, an area of blue-grey karst needles worn into extraordinary shapes by 270-million years of erosion. In the afternoon, relax on the shores of Greek Lake Park.
Green Lake is where local people like to relax, do Tai Chi and congregate under the trees with their caged birds. For much of the year, huge flocks of migratory black-headed gulls also gather here, flying over the jade-green water against the backdrop of skyscrapers. You’ll also be able to see the splendid, Tang-era pagodas dating from the 9th century, and the extensive Flowers and Birds Market – a photographer’s dream.
Fly to Dali today, exploring the city’s picturesque old quarter in the afternoon, including the famous Three Pagodas, at the foot of Cangshan Mountain.
With its evocative roofscape of blue-grey tiles, Dali’s walled town ranks among the prettiest in the country. Begin with a stroll down its cobbled main street, Renmin Lu, where shoemakers, tailors and minority people selling fresh produce ply their trade in low, wood-fronted shops. As the shadows lengthen, your guide will lead you the beautiful Three Pagodas complex, whose distinctive profile, framed by a wall of shadowy mountains and reflected in the shimmering waters of the adjacent lake, is iconic of the ancient city. The monuments date from the Tang era between the 8th and 9th centuries AD, when Dali formed park of the Nanzhao kingdom.
Take a walk or cycle ride along the shores of beautiful Lake Erhai after breakfast, followed by a visit to a Bai ethnic minority village. In the afternoon, you can choose from a range of activities, such as visits to tea plantations, a cable car ride up Cangshan mountain, calligraphy classes or even a Dongjing music lesson!
Spend the morning on a half-day excursion to Xihou, a lively market town half an hour's drive north of Dali on Lake Erhai.
Boasting wonderful views over the water and some delightful traditional architecture, Xihou encapsulates the traditional charm of this distinctive, and very beautiful, part of China. You can visit the home of a local cheese maker and a rice noodle factory. And don’t miss the town’s famous milk ice-lolly shop – ‘sticky rice’ flavour is our favourite! Numerous other cultural activities are on offer for the afternoon, arranged through the lovely Linden Centre, just outside Dali, where lots of our clients like to stay.
Visit the region’s most picturesque and interesting fresh produce market at Shaping village in the morning. Later, drive north with your guide to the beautiful Shaxi Valley, an important way stage on the old Tea-Horse road that served as a strategically important source of salt.
Ringed by wooded mountains, Shaxi is carpeted with pretty Bai minority villages that have changed little since Ming times. Its main bazaar, Sideng Street, is centred around a traditional square, and the only one on the entire Tea-Horse Road to have survived the upheavals of past centuries intact. Visit the Ming-era Xingjiao temple, flanked by spectacular Guardian deities, and the old theatre, with its raised stage overlooking the eastern side of the piazza, which fills to bursting point with Bai farmers during the Friday fresh produce market.
You’ll have a full day to explore the valley at your leisure today, with the help of your local guide. Rent a bike for a cycle along the Heihui River and out across the surrounding rice fields to discover Shaxi’s satellite villages.
For lunch, we recommend the wonderful Pear Blossom Organic Temple Restaurant, in the village of Diantoucun, where both the food and traditional Bai décor are exquisite. From there, venture up to see the ancient Tang-era cave temples and Buddhist shrines on Shibaoshan (‘Stone Treasure’) Mountain. If you’re feeling fit, consider the hike back down the pilgrims’ trail to the valley floor, rounded off with a meal in the atmospheric courtyard of the Old Theatre Inn, where if you’re lucky an orchestra of Bai folk musicians will be tuning up ahead of an evening performance.
Today you’ll travel on to the ancient town of Lijiang, at the foot of Jade Dragon Mountain, a shining, ice-capped, outlier of the Himalayan range.
Economic capital of the Naxi minority, Lijiang prospered on the back of the Tea-Horse trade, giving rise to a splendid old quarter. With its maze of winding cobbled streets, wooden houses and willow-lined streams, the area ranks among China’s great sights, despite having been badly damaged by an earthquake in 1996. It has since been extensively rebuilt and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, attracting visitors from across the world. Spend the afternoon wandering around the pretty back streets, canals and market squares with your guide.
After breakfast, your guide will accompany you on the cable car ride up Jade Dragon Mountain, which culminates in spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and snowfields. Later, visit the Black Dragon Pool Park in Lijiang to photograph the iconic view of the mountain.
Visits to outlying minority villages, by car or bicycle, take up the remainder of the day. A favourite of ours is Yuhu, where the Austro-American botanist and explorer Joseph Rock lived during his National Geographic expeditions of the 1920s. Some of the wonderfully evocative photographs he took are displayed in the museum. For dinner, grab a window table at 88 Snack on Wuyi Street – the best restaurant in town for Naxi cuisine. The Dongba spicy chicken is spectacular; we also loved the roasted eggplant salad!
One of China’s most dramatic road journeys awaits you today, as you ascend the formidable mountain ranges of the Three Parallel Gorges region to reach Shangri-La, pausing at Tiger Leaping Gorge on the way.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, where the Jinsha River crashes through a vast canyon nearly 4,000 metres (12,500 ft) deep, is an obligatory stop on the road north from Lijiang. Viewing platforms allow you to admire the ferocity of the raging waters and immense walls rising to a phalanx of snow-streaked summits.
When the highway finally levels off, after a series of tortuous switchbacks, you are geographically in the Diqing Tibetan Prefecture – a fact reflected in the distinctively Tibetan style of the farmsteads glimpsed from the road. Principal attraction of its main town, Shangri-La, is a large and splendid Tibetan monastery. Our recommended hotel here occupies a restored mansion right beside the complex, facing a lake.
After breakfast, climb the great flight of stone steps leading to the Songzanlin Monastery, then complete a circuit of the adjacent lake, before heading out of town to explore some of the wonderful mountain scenery that dominates this enclave in the far north of Yunnan.
In the afternoon, wander around the pretty streets of the Shangri-La’s old quarter, which has been completely re-built since it was destroyed by a fire in 2014 and now hosts a wealth of small shops and cafés, framed with ornately carved wood facades.
Rise early to visit the Buddhist temple overlooking Shangri-La’s old town, where local people go en masse to leave offerings of juniper incense, then transfer to the airport, for your flight over the mountains to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.
Having checked in to your hotel and freshened up, consider an evening foray to the ‘Wide Lanes, Narrow Lanes’ pleasure district in the city, to watch a performance of traditional ‘face changing’ and Sichuanese opera.
Depending on the time of your flight, it might be possible to pay a visit to Chengdu’s Panda Breeding Centre in the morning. Otherwise, it will be time to bid farewell to China as you travel to the airport to catch your plane back to the UK.
Tailor-made Tour 14 days from £3830 per person
✓ International flights from UK in economy
✓ 12 nights accommodation
✓ Domestic flights in economy
✓ All road travel and transfers by private chauffeur-driven vehicles
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Places and Experiences in this tour
Set amid breathtaking scenery on the shores of shimmering Erhai Lake, Dali is the China of the imagination – where pagoda towers nose above skylines of clay-tile roofs, and ancient…
The Shaxi Valley
A 90-minute drive along the new highway from Dali and Lijiang, the Shaxi Valley lies on the route of the old Tea Horse Road connecting Yunnan with Tibet and Myanmar. Screened by fo…
The vision of the Jade Dragon Mountain’s eternal snowfields shining above the elegantly upcurved, pantiled rooftops of Lijiang is one of the most evocative in China. An important w…
In the far north of Yunnan, the town of Shangri-La (or ‘Zhongdian’ as it used to be known) occupies a high, mountainous plateau on the fringes of Tibet. Snow-encrusted peaks, exoti…
On the western edge of Sichuan’s Red Basin, Chengdu is the largest city in Western China, with an ultra-modern, high-rise centre that belies its role as a regional capital for over…
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The Tea-Horse Road
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