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Overview

Fall in love with the wonders of Yunnan. Take an epic trip through breath-taking landscapes, from towering stone castles to remarkable rice terraces. Get a taste of Yunnan’s diverse cultural make-up while mingling in the local markets and meeting hilltribes in their remote rural villages.    

Trip Highlights

Yunnan: Garden of Eden – Winter Package

Get an in-depth look at Yunnan

Spend 17 days exploring Yunnan province, covering the highlights and many hidden gems in between.

Encounter unique cultures

Step in to small villages to learn about the lives and culture of Yunnan’s 25 different ethnic groups.

See Yunnan’s geographical wonders

Trek, bike and boat through spectacular landscapes which vary from tranquil countryside lakes to soaring, snow-capped peaks.

Itinerary

1

Arrival in Kunming (altitude: 1900m)

Upon arrival, a guide and driver will be waiting to provide and welcome and transfer to the city & hotel. In order to ease into the Yunnan tour, there is a relaxing massage planned just after check in.

Overnight in Kunming

2

Kunming

Begin the first full day of this Yunnan tour with a stroll through  Green Lake Park. This visit provides some unique insight into the everyday occurrences in a traditional Chinese park. Early birds start their day with tai chi, qigong, or a similar type of physical exercise considered vital to health and well-being. Others begin the day in a friendly game of Chinese chess, Go (an ancient Chinese board game), or Mah-jong. 

After a stroll through the park, pay a visit to the Yuantong Temple. Founded during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), this temple is one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in Kunming. Sitting in a natural valley, the temple’s unique location contributes to its peaceful atmosphere, which is still regularly visited by pelerine monks. Continue on to the pine and cypress-surrounded Golden Temple (which takes its name from the gold leaf which covers the main pavilion). Despite clear Buddhist influence, this temple is dedicated to Taoism, providing a glimpse into another fundamental pillar of traditional Chinese belief. From here, move on to the Haigeng Ethnic Minorities Museum, an essential stop for anyone wishing to truly understand the characteristically multi-ethnic nature of this region.

Dinner will be in Stone House restaurant, a beautiful stone dwelling that has been converted into a restaurant serving both local and Italian specialities.

3

Kunming - Hongtudi (red earth)

Begin the morning with a departure for Hongtudi, which is located around 200km to the Northeast of Kunming. The region takes its name (meaning “Red Earth) from the rich minerals found in the earth, in particular, iron. Due to the oxidation process, the iron gives this region its characteristic red-orange colour.

En route, stop off in Tangxun at a Hui Muslim minority restaurant. The Hui are indirect descendants of Persian and Arab merchants who started to trade with the Chinese in the 7th century and who settled more permanently in the 13th century. They practice a moderate form of Islam, celebrating Ramadan, abstaining from the consumption of alcohol and pork, and wearing some traditional attire. 

Following the lunch, the drive will pass by some quaint local villages along the way.

Arrive in the small hamlet of Huagou, check into the hotel, and then set off for the spectacular views at Yuepu’ao: a photographic highlight of this Yunnan tour. Photographers are particularly drawn to the region in spring (especially in February and March), when the flowers are in bloom.

Heading to Damaka, there will be a brief  drive through Jinxiuyuan, where peaceful countryside illustrates the route. Watch along as locals work in the fields (many of which are from the Yi Minority). Upon reaching Damaka, admire a stunning sunset from nearby Luoxiagou, a small village in a valley whose colours are particularly vibrant in the evenings. Dinner will be served here.

Note: according to the weather forecast, places to watch sunset or sunrise can be modified

4

Hongtudi - Luoping

For those who don’t mind early rising, begin the day with a sunrise at Jinxiuyuan. Despite being here the night before, the landscapes will look entirely different drenched in the blue dawn light. It’s recommend to wrap up warm for this experience, as the nights and early mornings are particularly fresh in this region.

Head back to the hotel for a well-earned breakfast.

Before noon, we will set off for Luoping (located around 300km / 185 miles away, taking at least 6 hours dependant on traffic). The first hour of the journey will provide further appreciation of the unusual countryside of the region. A short photo opportunity break will be made at Yueliangtian, where the panorama is particularly stunning. There will be a lunch stop made in the early afternoon in Qujing, the biggest town along the route.

Upon arrival at Luoping, we will either visit the town of the nearby village of Jinji, or there will be an opportunity to climb the steps of the Golden Rooster Peak. Before ascending the peak, pay a visit to the small Lingyi Temple. A sort of makeshift Buddhist temple, the views from the promontory just below the temple is stupefying. (The views are particularly beautiful between January and March when the hills are adorned by fields of vibrant yellow colza flowers, or in summer when chrysanthemum are in bloom.) This is also a great spot to take in a beautiful sunset from.

5

Luoping - Jiulong - Puzhehei

After breakfast, take a walk to the colza fields, accented by the surrounding rock formations. For this part of the journey, it’s advisable to wear a strong pair of shoes.

Continue on with a visit to a factory specialising in the production of canola honey, famous in the region. Visitors beware: some vendors along the road sell fake honey… so save your purchases for the factory.

Continue into the countryside with a visit to a tobacco field. The Chinese are big smokers and the tobaccos of Yunnan and the neighbouring Guizhou province are some of the most sought-after in China.

The Yunnan tour continues onwards to Niujie, home of the “snail-shell shaped fields.” Another eccentricity of the region, these fields are of interest between January-March when the colza is in flower. Locals farm the colza flower in small, circular terraces, which when viewed from afar, strangely resemble the shells of snails.

Afterwards we will head to the Jiulong Waterfalls, some of the most beautiful falls in the country. It will take around half an hour to get there if the traffic is clear. Head into a region populated by the Buyi Minority, who number at around 3 million and are mostly concentrated in the province of Guizhou. The clothing of the Buyi people is coloured indigo and white, reflecting their belief of the two principal colours of the heavens above.

Take a cable car ride in order to get a better view of the biggest waterfall (ten falls in total), known as the “Spiritual Dragon Waterfall.” The fall measures in at 56 metres high and 112 metres wide. Ride the cable car about 3 km upstream where it’s possible to appreciate the beauty of the falls, villages, and colza fields below.

Travel on to Puzhehei, which is located around 170 km (100 miles) to the south (between 3 to 4 hours by car.) The first part of the journey, which passes through heavily wooded areas, is referred to by the locals as the “Guilin of Yunnan”- the subject of the following day’s explorations.

We will spend the night in a typical village in the heart of countryside just a few kilometres away from local mass tourism in the region.

6

Puzhehei

Begin the day with a bike ride in the surrounding countryside.                    

The cycle will pass along a number of “sugar loaf mountains,” (local karst formations), traditional red brick houses and through vibrant paddy fields.

Take a refreshing stop at a peach farm, where there will be a chance to sample some local produce.  Peaches originate from China; the peaches of this region are particularly succulent, thanks to the fertile soils.

Return to Puzhehei to enjoy a pleasant boat trip on the lake, lasting around an hour. Marvel at the natural beauty of the water-lilies covering the lake, which bloom in the summertime.

End the day with a walk along the embankment, admiring the sun gently setting over the lake and reflecting the “sugar loaf” hills. Arched bridges and traditional wooden houses punctuate this superb walk through the beautiful natural settings. The walk can last anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, depending on personal pace. For those who would prefer not to walk, an electric car can run alongside the nearby flagstone paths. Arrive at a small fishing village to check out the beautiful catch of the day; the catch will later be served for dinner. 

7

Puzhehei- Yuanyang

Set off in the morning for the rice terraces at Yuanyang. It will take around 6 to 7 hours to cover the 300km (185 miles), part of which is on a well-maintained, fast-moving motorway.

En route, a stop will be made at a Hui restaurant for lunch, before arriving at our destination in the afternoon.

The Yuanyang rice terraces, which are currently being registered for UNESCO World Heritage status, are undoubtedly the most beautiful in China, and debatably some of the most beautiful in all of Asia. Water cascades down the mountainside through bamboo canals, transforming the face into a spectacular sight. From a distance, the terraces almost appear to be steps for giants leading to the mountain’s summit. For photographers, the spring (between March and April) is the best time to visit, as the sky is reflected in the paddy fields full with water. In summer, the fields turn an emerald colour, and from October onwards they look like pools of honey. It is not advised to visit between December and January when the fields are dry.

For the more adventurous in the group, there will be an option to savour a local delicacy, which is used during the rice harvest: eel! Just before the rice is harvested, eels are added to the paddy fields saturated with water to facilitate the harvest.

Stop at the hotel and head to Laohuzui, literally “The Tiger’s Mouth”, to enjoy the sunset. Here rice terraces continue as far as the eye can see, and the panorama is breathtaking. 

8

Yuanyang

Set off quite early in the morning to admire the sunrise at Duoyisu. (For those who have chosen a specific hotel option, it’s possible to view the sunrise from the room’s terrace.) Again, it is recommended to wrap up warm, as the early mornings of this wintertime Yunnan tour can be rather fresh.

Breakfast at the hotel.

After breakfast, we will visit a local market in a Hani Minority Village (held daily, in rotating villages in the region.) The Hani, otherwise known as the Akha in Southeast Asia, number around 1.5 million and are mainly found in Yunnan. The Hani are famous for they mastery in the art of rice terrace sculpting and drainage systems; it is believed they were the first people to implement this rice production method. Often living in rugged areas where fertile land is hard to come by, the Hani have adapted their farming methods, transforming 12,000 hectares of hillside into arable land.

It is mainly the Yi and the Hani who come to the market to buy their supplies for the week or to sell their produce. The busy market is to be savored for its traditional hustle and bustle and its bright and vivid colors.

Continue with a walk through the rice terraces starting at Duoyishu and finishing at Bada, taking around 4 to 5 hours depending on personal pace. Without disturbing their toil, it will be possible to see locals and buffaloes working in the nearby fields.

The efforts will be rewarded upon arrival in Bada, where a beautiful sunset awaits. While the viewpoint is less elevated, it provides a unique, up-close glimpse to the surrounding terraces.  

9

Yuanyang - Jianshui

Begin the day with a visit to the traditional Chinese garrison town of Jianshui (the drive takes between 2 and 3 hours to cover 90km/55 miles.) Yunnan, much like the majority of the regions on the peripherals of China, is stuck between two worlds, a kind of time warp between central China and its bordering nations. Not until the Mongols conquered China (13th century), was Yunnan fully truly integrated into the Empire.

Pay a visit to a Confucius Temple. Despite its remoteness from the heart of “Classical China,” this temple is considered one of the most beautiful in the country. It is particularly known for its green lotus pool which poetically symbolises the “immense scale of knowledge.” Whilst there, absorb the unique ambience of Chinese parks, filled with the elderly chatting and playing Mah-jong.

Additionally, the region is known for housing the residences of two families built in the 19th century, The Zhang Family Estate and The Zhu Family Estate.

The Zhu Estate is located at the heart of the old town and is one of the most stunning examples of traditional housing in the entire country. An intricate labyrinth of more than 2 hectares of bamboo groves, pavilions, courtyards and bandstands, it is entirely concurrent with one’s mental image of Imperial China. The Zhu brothers were rich merchants from Hunan province, and their estate took 30 years to complete. Though the estate today is a hotel, it nevertheless retains its old world charm.

The Zhang Estate is located at Tuanshan, around 15km (10 miles) from Jianshui. This seemingly timeless village is an interweaving lattice of avenues that hide the stunning former residences of merchants, who made their money in the salt trade. These houses are interspersed with the more common ochre houses of the village, which are often left unoccupied. The Zhang Estate, with its square courtyards, sculpted doors and richly decorated friezes is the best example of such a house.

Before returning to Jianshui, there will be a final visit to the Twin Dragon Bridge. Taking its name from  the two rivers which weave a serpentine, dragon-like shape through its 17 arches, it is one of the oldest bridges in all of China and is a wonderful piece of stonework.

Wrap up the day heading back to the hotel. 

10

Jianshui - Shilin - Kunming (altitude 1750m) - Lijiang (altitude 2500m)

The next stop on the Yunnan tour will be the county of Lunan, where the iconic Shilin or Stone Forest is located. The journey here will take around 3 to 4 hours, covering 275km/180 miles. Due to its proximity to Kunming, Shilin can become a bit of a tourist trap. However, only a small part of the 26,000 hectare site is crowded, and it is easy to escape the hordes of package holidaymakers. Avoiding the crowds, we will head to the quieter and less frequented Black Stone Forest, which is roughly 10km away from the main site but is equally as impressive.

A veritable labyrinth of “stone trees,” it’s quite easy to get lost; it’s imperative to always follow the guide!

Shilin is an endless maze of rocky peaks, crafted into an intriguing array of shapes and sizes from thousands of years of erosion. Weather impending, there will be a picnic lunch in the middle of the “forest,” providing not only beautiful scenery, but also avoiding the inflated prices of the tourist region’s restaurants.

En route to the Kunming airport (around 100km away), the aforementioned old French train tracks can be seen. Departure from Kunming to Lijiang.

Overnight in Lijiang

11

Lijiang

Welcome to Lijiang!

The UNESCO city is a magnificent labyrinth of traditional redwood and brick houses topped with grey slate roofs, surrounded by canals, stone bridges, and cobbled streets; a true paradise at the heart of Naxi culture.

Originally coming from Tibet over 2,000 years ago, the Naxi first lived as nomads in Sichuan before settling in Yunnan. There are around 300,000 Naxi People living in China, found mostly in Yunnan and Sichuan. They are most notable for their expertise in canal building, which assures each home has running water. Lijiang and its Naxi inhabitants are also known for their unique social hierarchy, which is both “matrilocal” (whereby couples move in with the wife’s family) and “matrilineal” (where succession favours females over males). Additionally, the Naxi’s script (Dongba) is considered the only pictographic writing still in use in the world.

It is recommended to start the day quite early in order to enjoy the peaceful surroundings of Lijiang in the morning. Cross over the labyrinth of alleyways to arrive at “Lion Hill,” which offers fantastic views over the village below. At the top, there will be a chance for a quick coffee break on the terrace to relax after the morning’s ascent.

Afterwards, pay a visit to the Mu Palace, which is named after the Chinese Empire warlords who ruled from this magnificent residence in this region during the Mongol Dynasty (13th century). The palace is a vivid example of Ming and Qing architecture, based on the same style of architecture as the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Following the visit to the palace, head to the edge of town where a local market will provide a true glimpse into the ‘real’ Lijiang. Here locals still don traditional clothing and sell teas, vegetables, fruits, and even daily tools in a very vibrant and animated atmosphere.

Continue on with a walk to the Black Dragon Pond Park in the north of the town, which offers, on a clear day, a panoramic view of the famous Jade Dragon Mountain.

Head back to the Old Market Place, at the vibrant heart of the old town.

Enjoy a free evening exploring the charming, red-lantern lit old town.

Note: This day will be spent entirely on foot. As the cobbled streets can sometimes be slippery, it’s advised to wear a sturdy pair of shoes. The order in which we visit the sites may be modified depending on the hotel in which we stay. 

12

Lijiang - Shaxi (altitude 2200 m)

Begin the mountainous stage of the Yunnan tour with a trip up Jade Dragon Mountain, which stands majestically to the north of the city. The mountain, also called Satseto in the Naxi language, takes its name from the God of War in the Dongba religion. As the number of visitors to the site is rather high, we will instead visit an area less well-known called the Yak Prairie. The view from here over the glacier is as equally as stunning as from the more popular destinations.

For those interested in climbing to the highest point (5600m) at Ganzidou, please consult us for further advice.

Lunch will be had en route to Shaxi, which is 150km/90 miles southeast of the Mountain. The drive will take around 5 hours, reaching Shaxi by the evening.

Shaxi is a traveller’s oasis that used to be a major stop on the Old Tea Horse Road that ran through the region, forming a major part of its heritage and history. Less well known than the Silk Road, it still remains a key trade route between the most remote areas of Xishuangbanna, Tibet, Nepal, Laos, Burma and India. It was during the Tang dynasty (618-907), when the Tibetan interest in tea grew rapidly, that the route become famous. Tibetans would trade their horses for this typical Chinese export on a complex, high-altitude trade route on which Shaxi became one of the major stops.

Nowadays Shaxi is a subtle blend of an oasis, a kind of western cowboy town, a backpackers’ haunt and a typical Chinese village that is unlike anything else in China. Ancient stables have been perfectly renovated and transformed into charming hotels, whilst traditional wooden homes have been changed into restaurants and cafés, where travellers can enjoy the relaxing ambience of the village and recharge their batteries.

Overnight in Shaxi

13

Shaxi

Enjoy a free morning exploring Shaxi, wandering along the old town’s maze of paved avenues or by discovering the surrounding ochre countryside. By simply crossing the bridge to the south, one will be transported into the ancient countryside that once served as a major caravan route.

Additionally, pay a visit to the dramatic Three Terraced Pavilion, an extremely rare building in such a remote area. Whilst there, it is worth taking the opportunity to visit the nearby Buddhist Temple.

If the day falls on a Friday, guests will be lucky enough to experience one of the unique Shaxi markets. Attracting many Bai and Yi peoples, the two major ethnic groups that populate the region, locals come down from remote corners of neighbouring mountains to exchange all types of food products and day-to-day necessities.

After lunch, head to Shibaoshan, an impressive collection of 9th century temples, caves, and stone sculptures. Take note of the religious effigies in the region, most notably the statue of Guanyin (goddess of mercy) or the renowned black Stone Treasure, which is said to increase the chances of fertility.

The visit will also offer spectacular views of the surrounding valley and villages… but watch out! The area is home to monkeys who like to liberate passers-by of all of their snacks.

After the walk, return to Shaxi for a free evening. 

14

Shaxi - Shuanglang (Dali) (altitude 1900m)

Day 14 heads out to Dali, which should take around 4 to 5 hours (excluding breaks) to travel the 160km/100 mile journey. Dali is home to the Bai minority and was a stronghold of the kingdom of Nanzhao (738-902) and epicentre of the Dali Kingdom (937-1253). The region, or more specifically the shores of the Erhai Lake, is famous for its discoveries of bronze artefacts dating back to 1000 BC- a strategic discovery for Yunnan’s history. The Bai people are most distinguishable by their clothing, predominantly white, and their homes, which are very particular to this region.

Dali is also well known for its marble. Extracted from quarries in Mount Cangshan, the marble is exported in massive quantities to other countries throughout Asia. For those interested, we can arrange a visit to a local marble factory. 

Over the years, Dali has been developing into a major tourist destination. As such, we will base this visit in the less-touristic Shuanglang, which lies on the western bank of Erhai Lake. This lakeside stay will add another theme to the trip, which hasn’t been extensively seen: water!

Spend the evening in a famous local artist’s house in the village. A number of other artists, especially from Kunming, have relocated to the village to enjoy its pleasant atmosphere including the famous choreographer Yang Liping.

Continue on by bike to the little village of Wase, which is about 13km from Shuanglang. Cycle along the shores of the lake, discovering the daily life of the Bai fishermen set against the background of the impressive Cangshan Mountains. The pace of life for most local people hasn’t changed much in decades; this region beautifully reflects this more laid-back lifestyle- something not experienced as much in Dali. In the same way as in Yuanyang region, local markets pass through here on a daily basis. If the itinerary coincides, enjoy a shop at the Shase market, which takes place on every 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th of the month.

15

Shuanglang - Dali - Yuanmou

Begin the morning with a trip out to the Three Pagodas at the Chongsheng temple, situated around 40km/25 miles away on the other side of the lake (taking around 1.5 hours to circumnavigate). The temple is a mystical emblem of the town and stands proud at the foot of the Changshan Mountains. The three pagodas were part of a vast monastic centre, which unfortunately, was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake. The remaining temple was restored and transformed into a museum, which can be visited during the day. The site is particularly impressive when the sun sets behind the mountains and illuminates the ochre colour of the pagodas.

Continue on to the old town of Dali, 2km to the south, where typical Bai homes can still be found. A relaxed, warm atmosphere seems to ooze from these white walled homes, which are often decorated with paintings representing mountains, running water, birds and flowers.

Lunch will be eaten in Dali before heading on to Yuanmou Earth Forest, which is about 270km/160 miles away and will take 5 to 6 hours to reach. Yuanmou Earth Forest is one the “Three Forests” that are notable in Yunnan, (another being the previously visited “Stone Forest”.) 

16

Yuanmou - Kunming

Begin the day with a visit to the Earth Forest. This unique site is comprised of a collection 50km2 of rocks eroded over the course of 2 million years, creating an exceptionally stunning forest of columns, clay, and sand. With some reaching around 40m in height, the formations are equivalent to a building of 10 stories.

In addition to their unique shape, the slow erosion of the rock formations has also left beautiful strips of colour, which create a real visual treat: starting with violet at the top, the colours go grey in the middle and yellow at the base. The colours are further intensified by the sun shining upon them.

The region is also known for its archaeological digs which took place in 1965, leading to the discovery of human fossils dating back 1.7 million years. The fossils, known as the “Yuanmou Man”, are the remains of the first Homo erectus ever found within the boundaries of China.

After this visit, transport will be provided back to Kunming.

Overnight in Kunming

17

Kunming

Wrap up this Yunnan tour after breakfast in Kunming; transport will be provided to the airport for the departing flight (or to the hotel for the next experience.)

Important Information

Our services include:

  • Accommodation in selected hotel
  • Meals as mentioned (B= Breakfast, L= Lunch, D= Dinner).
  • English speaking guide without shopping (for other languages supplements apply)
  • Tours and transfers as mentioned by private air conditioned vehicle
  • Entrance fees for mentioned visits

Our services do not include:

  • Other meals not mentioned
  • Visa of China
  • Other services than mentioned
  • International and Domestic Flights
  • Laundry, telephone calls and expenditure of a personal nature
  • Tips, Travel insurance

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