• We returned from our holiday last Wednesday and I just wanted to say a big thank you for organising our tours in Beijing last week.
  • Thank you for making possible an enjoyable trip for us. We learnt about Shanghai’s people, history and culture.
  • I am writing to you to thank you very much for our wonderful trip to Xian. The tour that you organised was fantastic.

Overview

Days Description Overnight  
Day 1 A warm welcome to the capital of Yunnan province –
Kunming

Explore the City of Eternal Spring – Yunnan’s laid-back capital.

Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province, is one of the most livable cities in China, and a must-see on any trip to the region. Located in the north of Yunnan, it has a population of 6.8 million and an urban area of 6,200 square kilometers. While it is the outlying parts of Yunnan that are most popular among tourists (such as the Western Hills, Erhai Lake and Stone Forest), the city itself has some fantastic sights and sounds. The province has the highest ethnic population in China, with 26 of the country’s 55 minorities living there. This adds a certain color and culture to Kunming, and an overall atmosphere of good-natured inclusivity. A temperate climate all year round has earned it the nickname “City of Eternal Spring”.

There is evidence of human settlement in the Kunming area dating back to Neolithic times. Since the era of the Silk Route, trade has passed through Yunnan to Tibet, India, Myanmar and the rest of Asia, and the opening of the Hanoi railway in 1910 put Kunming on the path to development. The city was used as a US airbase during World War II, and is now the main hub for transport, economics, and culture in this part of China.

The golden horse and green rooster of Kunming’s emblem refer to the two hills that flank Dianchi Lake – Jinma and Biji. The mythical creatures also lend their name to the city’s main plaza – Jinma Biji Square. Five main roads fan out from the square, and there are pedestrian areas like Nanping Avenue and the Flower Market that are worth strolling.

Kunming is one of China’s most interesting cities thanks to its location, surrounding attractions, and unique ethnic mix of its population. However long you stay, the City of Eternal Spring is sure to make its mark.

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. Upon arrival we will visit the flower market (
Bird and Flower Market

See Kunming’s official flower in bloom and listen to the chirp of birds as you stroll through this bustling market.

Since 1983, the Jingxing Bird and Flower Market in Kunming’s old town has attracted millions of shoppers – both local and from abroad – to browse the blooms, admire the singing birds, and pore over antiques and curios.

The camellia was designated as Kunming’s official flower in 1983 so it’s no surprise that there are plenty for sale in the market. They jostle for space with orchids, lilies, tulips and roses, creating a wonderful aroma that fills the market. In counterpoint to this smell is the chirping of birds – mynahs, thrushes, cuckoos – which are all for sale. Keeping birds in cages on verandahs is a common practice in China, and one that adds an atmosphere to Kunming’s streets.

Also for sale at the market are antiques and curios like jade, porcelain, ink stones, and jewelry, as well as handicrafts made by the stallholders. Look out for brightly colored ethnic headdresses and costumes, and don’t be afraid to haggle if you see something you want to buy. The area directly surrounding the flower market is home to some old buildings containing Western restaurants.

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) and take an evening stroll down the local pedestrian shopping street.
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Day 2 During our first day in Kunming we will visit a variety of interesting attractions. We’ll start at the picturesque and unique
Stone Forest

Walk around a mystical forest made of stone, and explore underground caves bristling with stalactites.

The saying goes that if you visit Yunnan without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted you time. The incredible karst formations jutting up from the earth make up one of the most unusual and eerie landscapes on earth. Situated 85 kilometers from Kunming in the Lunan Yi Autonomous Region, the forest (known as Shilin in Chinese) was formed 270 million years ago during the carboniferous period of the Paleozoic era. Back then, the area was covered by a huge sea that, when it retreated, left behind limestone that eventually eroded into the shapes we see today.

The Shilin National Park covers 350 square kilometers and is split into several parts. These include the Greater and Lesser Stone Forests, Long Lake, Moon Lake, and Zhiyun Cave. The Strange Wind Cave is one of the most striking of the forest’s underground sites; a subterranean river winds through Penfeng Cave, fed by Hongxi Spring. Between August and November, a huge gust of wind rushes through the cave every half hour for two to three minutes at a time. Another highlight is Long Lake, which is three kilometers long but only 300 meters wide.

With its vista of craggy pillars and network of grottoes, this eerie landscape is one of the most unusual on earth.

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, and end at the
Western Hills

Explore the forests and temples of these rolling hills outside Kunming.

In the western suburbs of Kunming lies a range of hills known as Sleeping Buddha Hills thanks to their resemblance to a reclining Buddha. They are also called the Sleeping Beauty Hills, as some people think they look like a girl lying beside Dianchi Lake. However they are named, they provide visitors to Kunming with a great introduction to the beautiful scenery that awaits them in the rest of Yunnan Province.

The hills are covered in dense forest and replete with rare and beautiful plants. Tucked among the trees are ancient temples, grottoes and pavilions. The oldest of the temples is Taihua Temple, on the hill of the same name. It was built in the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) and is surrounded by hundreds of wild flowers. The Huating Temple is one of the largest Buddhist places of worship in Yunnan, and includes a Hall of Guanyin, three golden Buddhas, and clay carvings of animals.

Another treasure of the Western Hills is Sanqing Pavilion, which is built on a cliff 300 meters above Dianchi Lake. According to Taoism, “sanqing” means the loftiest stature, so climbing up to the pavilion signifies reaching a high point. Seeming to float in the air above the lake, the pavilion is known as the “castle in the sky”. Dragon Gate is a carved stone structure also overlooking the lake. It includes grottoes, stone rooms and carvings.

. In the evening we will take a flight to Dali where we will spend the night.
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Day 3 Our exploration of Yunnan continues with a trip to
Erhai

Cruise on this beautiful ear-shaped lake stunned with islands, where cormorants help locals catch fish.

Erhai earned its name (which means Ear Sea) thanks to its distinctive shape. Just eight kilometers wide and 40 kilometers long, it is the second largest alpine lake in China after Dianchi, and one of the nation’s seven biggest freshwater lakes with an area of 250 square kilometers.

The banks of Erhai were used as a deer ranch during the Nanzhao Kingdom of the 8th and 9th centuries. The lake is located two kilometers east of Dali city at the foot of Cangshan, and its green waters contrast with the snow-capped peaks. The view of both is known as “Silver Cangshan, Jade Erhai”. The Miji and Mici rivers feed into the lake from the north, and the lake drains into the Mekong River.

One of the most arresting sights on Erhai is local fisherman catching fish with the help of cormorants. Each fisherman has several birds, and he ties a ring around their necks before sending them underwater to catch fish. Unable to swallow their quarry, the cormorants bring it back to their masters and are rewarded at the end of their shift with a hearty meal.

Also notable are the many islands that dot the late, such a Xiao Putuo with its Buddhist temple, Nanzhao Fengqing, and Jinsuo or “Golden Shuttle”.

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Lake where we will enjoy a cruise, and visit some of the local villages that surround it. This will be followed by a visit to
The Three Pagodas

Visit the iconic white pagodas that were built to drive away a colony of dragons.

One of Yunnan’s most photographed historic monuments is the trio of pagodas on the west shore of Erhai Lake in the shadow of Mount Cang. The pagodas date from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and are made of brick covered in white mud.

The pagoda in the middle is called Qianxun and is 69 meters tall. It was built between 824 and 840 (apparently to dispel a group of breeding dragons), and is made up of 16 square stories. On the façade of each floor is a white marble sitting Buddha. The interior of the pagoda is hollow, but unfortunately it is not possible to climb it. The two smaller pagodas to the right and left of Qianxun are solid octagons of eight stories, and were built a century after their larger cousin. Junying Pool behind the pagodas acts as a mirror, reflecting the three towers for one of China’s best photo opportunities.

Qianxun pagoda was built to store Buddhist statues, readings and medicinal herbs. Miraculously, it survived the 1925 earthquake in which one in 100 buildings in Dali were destroyed. An excavation in 1978 uncovered countless precious artifacts including copper discs and gold sculptures.

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at the Chong Sheng Temple and a tour of the local markets.
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Day 4 This morning we will explore
Dali Ancient City

See the traditional homes of the Bai minority, and admire the old gates of the city that was a military base in ancient times.

The city of Dali 300 kilometers north-west of Kunming is unique for the fact that its old and new quarters are separated. The new part, Xiaguan, is divided from the ancient part by 13 kilometers. Xiaguan is a glittering new metropolis filled with administrative buildings and commercial streets, but the old town provides a portrait of how Yunnan used to be. The Bai people settled in this area 4,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) that it became part of the Chinese empire. The Ming emperor Hongwu (1368-98) established the city we see today, including a vast city wall. The North and South City Wall Towers were restored in 1982 and are among Dali’s most beautiful historic buildings, along with the Wuhua Tower.

Other highlights of the town are the traditional Bai minority homes with their courtyards and sun-filled rooms. The houses are highly decorative, with pointed eaves and engraved wood. The people of the Bai ethnicity make up 67% of Dali’s population. Their annual folk ceremonies add color to the town, such as the March Street Festival and Butterfly Festival.

Particularly popular with visitors is the aptly named Foreigner Street, where stallholders sell local handicrafts and snacks.

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and Xizhou Town (
) before driving to our next destination -
Lijiang

Witness ancient culture in action, walk through China’s best-preserved old town, and see a breathtaking natural gorge.

Located close to where Yunnan Province borders Sichuan and Tibet, Lijiang is perfectly positioned to soak up the culture of each place. This remote city of just over a million people is home to the best-preserved ancient town in the whole of China, and is the gateway for the stunning Tiger Leaping Gorge – one of the biggest draws to Yunnan.

Historically speaking, Lijiang dates back to the Warring States Period (476 – 221 BC), and flourished under the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) after the Ancient Tea-Horse Road was built to ease trade between Yunnan and the rest of China. The old trade route linked Sichuan, Tibet and Yunnan both commercially and culturally, and Lijiang thrived.

The Lijiang Autonomous County of the Naxi Ethnic Minority (to give it its proper name) is home to the Naxi ethnic group – one of China’s 55 minorities. Their Dongba culture originated in Tibet, and is still practiced today. Many of the most popular souvenirs in Lijiang are engraved with Dongba heiroglyphs.

Lijiang town covers 21,219 square kilometers and is split into four counties and an old town paved with local bluestone. It is this old town that is the main attraction, as well as the many beauty spots in the surrounding countryside such as Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the Ming Dynasty frescoes at Baisha, and Tiger Leaping Gorge.

With its ancient streets, stunning scenery and wide skies, Lijiang sums up the essence of Yunnan.

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Day 5 We begin our tour of the beautiful city of Lijiang with a trip to the Black Dragon Pool. We will then explore the rich history and culture of China’s ethnic minorities at the Museum of Naxi Dongba Culture and Lijiang Ancient Town (
Lijiang Old Town

Find out why this old town has no city walls, learn about Lijiang’s ancient water system, and buy colorful souvenirs from the Naxi people.

The best-preserved ancient town in all of China, Lijiang Old Town was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997. The 3.8 square kilometer area is flanked by the Lion Mountain to the west and Elephant and Golden Row Mountains to the north, and lies on a plateau 2,400 meters above sea level. When it rains, Lijiang’s blue-stone streets look like a wet ink block, giving it the nickname “Town of the Big Ink Slab”.

Lijiang Old Town can trace its history back 800 years to the late Song and early Yuan Dynasties. The first Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan set up his court there, making it a center for culture and trade. The colorful mix of minorities – Naxi, Bai, Tibetan, Han – makes for a unique culture, while the stunning geography of the surrounding region only adds to Lijiang’s appeal.

Curiously, Lijiang Old Town has no city wall, which is incredibly rare for a settlement of its era. The story goes that the ruling family, Mu, thought it would bring bad luck if they erected a barricade around the city. This is because the Chinese character for Mu becomes “kun” meaning “predicament” when drawn inside a wall. Another unique feature of the town is the ancient water system that drained down from the Black Dragon Pool via a series of aqueducts and bridges. Lijiang Old Town’s main square is Sifang Jie, from which four streets fan out. Every night, a sluice is opened in the square from which water pours to wash the street surface.

Many of the buildings in Lijiang Old Town are built of decorated timber, and have a garden inside the complex. The streets are narrow and winding, and the architectural style is free and diverse.

Lijiang is the ideal place to see some of China’s most vibrant minority culture, and view the human face of Yunnan between admiring its scenic beauty.

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Day 6 Our day begins with a chairlift ride to a meadow on the impressive
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Admire thirteen snow-capped peaks and explore a vast meadow at the southernmost glacier in the Northern Hemisphere.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain stands 5,600 meters tall at its highest point, and consists of thirteen peaks, the tallest of which is Shanzidou. The peaks stretch for 35 kilometers, and look like a dragon reclining in the clouds.

The Naxi people were the first to notice this likeness to a slumbering dragon, and told stories and legends about how it came to be there. The most vibrant is the tale of two brothers named Jade and Haba who made their living panning for gold in the Golden Sand River. One day a demon took control of the river and the brothers tried to fight it off. Haba was killed in the battle and became a mountain, but Jade Dragon overwhelmed the demon, using thirteen swords to see it off. Forevermore he stood, brandishing his weapons, which became the thirteen peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

As well as the peaks, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is home to many plateaux and meadows, such as Spruce Field which is dotted with trees, and Dry Sea Meadow which is flat terrain. The area is popular for hiking, mountaineering and skiing, and a cable car takes visitors up into the clouds to enjoy the snowy view. One quarter of all plant species in China are found here, making it a rich natural landscape as well as an area of scenic beauty.

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where we will watch Impression of Lijiang – one of the highest open-air live performances in the world. This will be followed by a visit to the Baisha Murals (
Baisha Frescos

See Lijiang’s famous frescos at this ancient village.

Located eight kilometers outside of Lijiang Old Town, the village of Baisha is home to Yunnan’s most celebrated murals, depicting daily life, deities, and demons in one fell swoop. The great Lijiang Mural was begun in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and took 300 years to complete. At the same time, a series of temples was being built in the towns surrounding Lijiang, like Baisha, Shuhe, Xuesong and Dayan. The fresco originally had over 200 pieces, but only 55 of them survive. They are divided among the temples, and the best are in Baisha.

The Lijiang Mural was painted to commemorate daily life in the area, and to celebrate rapid economic development. Subject matter ranges from Buddhist, Taoist and Lamaist imagery to Naxi Dongba traditional folk beliefs and local townspeople. The artists behind the frescos include anonymous local muralists, the Taoist painter Zhang from the Central Plain, Lama artist Guchang from Tibet, and Han painters Li Zeng and Ma Xiaoxian.

The skill and vibrancy of these gorgeous frescos provides a glimpse of local Naxi talent, as well as presenting a historic record of the Lijiang region.

) and the Ancient Shuhe Village of the Naxi People. In the evening we will attend the world famous
Naxi Ancient Music Show

Hear the music of the Naxi people, and experience how Chinese music sounded in ancient times.

Maybe it has something to do with the inspiring scenery of their land, but the Naxi people has always been known for its artistic talent. Whether painting, singing, dancing, or making calligraphy, the members of the Yunnanese ethnic minority have exceptional talent. Luckily, they are more than willing to perform for visitors, and some of their music groups have toured as far afield as the USA, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, and Norway.

Traditional Naxi music is split into three groups. Baisha consists of ancient orchestral scores from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) consisting of 24 melodies, choral segments, and dance. The Dongjing style came from Central China in medieval times and mixed with Naxi traditional tunes to create a meld of Taoist rites and Confucian ceremonial songs. The third style, Huangjing, has been lost. Lijiang’s position on the Silk Route and Ancient Tea-Horse Road mean that it has always been open to the influence of passing traders. This can definitely be seen in the music that has evolved among the Naxi people. Thanks to the area’s remoteness, the music has stayed in tact for many centuries, making what is known as a “living fossil of music”.

Naxi musical performance follows the three “old” rules. The musicians, instruments, and songs must all be old. Thus, most performers of Naxi music are elderly, and the instruments date back over a century. Orchestras are made up of traditional lutes, zithers, drums and flutes, which are played either sitting down or walking.

Listening to a concert of Naxi music helps you gain an understanding of this artistic people, and gives a taste of what music was like in China many hundreds of years ago.

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Day 7 Today we travel to Zhongdian - also known as Shangri-La. En route we will visit the
Tiger Leaping Gorge

Visit the deepest gorge in the world, and watch the churning Golden Sands River slice through the snow-capped mountains.

Legend has it that a tiger escaping from a hunter used a rock to help him leap across the gorge, lending the world’s deepest canyon its poetic name. Tiger Leaping Gorge, located 100 kilometers north-west of Lijinag Old Town, lies between Jade Dragon and Haba Snow Mountains. At its lowest point, the river crashes 200 meters below the cliffs, whirling through 18 rapids for 15 kilometers. As with much of Yunnan Province’s mind-boggling scenery, Tiger Leaping Gorge is breathtaking.

The narrowest section is at the start of the Golden Sands River, and has the rock that inspired the legend. The water is calm and quiet here, making it ideal for rafting. In the middle section, the river drops 100 meters and quickens, passing sharp rocks and huge boulders as it goes. The third and lowest section is flanked by steep, dangerous cliffs.

The gorge is part of Yunnan’s Protected Areas World Heritage Site, and was opened to foreign tourists in 1993. It is an unmissable feature of the provinces landscape, so make sure you have your camera with you.

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and the first bend of the Yangtze River.
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Day 8 Our Shangri-La experience begins with a trip to Bitahai Lake, followed by a tour of the Napahai Reserve. Finally we will pay a visit the famous monastery at the Songzanlin Lama Temple. Zhongdian tl_files/china-packages/icons/sightseeing.png
Day 9 Morning transfer to Zhongdian airport for flight to Kunming.
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