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Kunming Dongchuan Luoping Puzhehei Yuanyang Jianshui Kunming Shilin Lijiang Shaxi Shuanglang Yuanmou Kunming Tour - 17 Days

Destination: Kunming - Hongtudi - Luoping - Jiulong - Puzhehei - Yuanyang - Jianshui- Kunming - Shilin - Lijiang -Shaxi - Shuanglang - Yuanmou - Kunming
Duration: Seventeen Day
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Transportation: Vehicle
Best Travel Time:All year
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US$3800/persons
 
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Yunnan offers an exceptional array of natural and cultural delights and is considered by many as the most beautiful region of China. Staggering karst formations, red soils, giant waterfalls, expansive rice terraces, ancient villages and sacred mountains over 6000 metres high make up the unique landscape here. At the crossroads of Southeast Asia, Tibet and &Classical* China, Yunnan has been able to conserve its own identity thanks to a vibrant and diverse cultural make-up where a number of minorities still practice their own cultural traditions.
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US$3800/persons 3800USD/Person

Day 1 : Kunming (D)
Welcome by your guide and transfer to the hotel.

Welcome to Kunming, capital of Yunnan province! In order to get you in the holiday mood, you will be treated to a massage upon arrival.

Dinner will be at the 1910 South Railway Station Restaurant. We have chosen this incredibly pleasant colonial style restaurant in order to highlight an oft forgotten period of this province's history. China was never fully colonised (at least by Western powers) unlike some of its neighbours in South-East Asia, but Concessions were granted to Western powers during the 19th century, one of the best known being in Shanghai. In 1910 the French launched a mammoth project in order to advance their expansionist desires by linking Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and at the time a French protectorate, to Kunming. They laid more than 450km of rail track, built more than 3500 bridges and 170 tunnels, requiring a workforce numbering more than 60 000 often working in extreme conditions. What remains of this epic project is one of the most significant traces of the French presence in China and you will have the chance at the end of your trip to ride on a portion of this line still in use by freight trains to this day.

 

Day 2 : Kunming (B,D)
Your day will begin with a short walk in Green Lake Park (also known as Cuihu Park), letting you get a feel for the atmosphere of Chinese parks in the morning. The real early birds start their day with taiqi or qigong, both types of physical exercise which they consider vital to their health and well-being. Others engage in a friendly game of Chinese chess, Go (an ancient Chinese board game), or Mah-jong: a piece of true theatre on the banks of the lake which in summer is covered by lotus-flowers and in winter flooded with seagulls. For those who have been to China before, you have probably experienced Chinese park culture in Beijing or another major Chinese city.

Afterwards you will visit the Yuantong Temple (literally meaning ※the Temple of understanding everything§). Founded during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the temple is one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in Kunming and is known for its unique location. It is situated in a natural valley, contributing to the peaceful atmosphere of the temple which is still regularly visited by pelerine monks. You will then visit the Golden Temple (which takes its name from the gold leaf which covers the main pavilion), which is perfectly located on a small hill surrounded by pine and cypress trees. Despite its Buddhist influence the temple is dedicated to Taoism, letting you take a peek at another fundamental pillar of traditional Chinese belief. From here, you will 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. China has 56 different officially recognised minority groups, but during this trip you will mainly learn about the Yi (the largest minority in Yunnan), the Hui Muslims, the Buyi, the Bai, the Hani and the Naxi. The museum has a beautiful collection of finery and traditional dress along with a relatively clear explanation of popular art forms.

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

 

Day 3 : Kunming - Dongchuan (Red Earth) (B,L,D)
Departure for Dongchuan, which is found around 200km to the Northeast of Kunming. It takes its name from the rich minerals found in the earth, in particular iron which, due to the oxidation process, gives this region its characteristic red-orange colour. This is exactly the same process that causes rust but on a much grander scale, and much more pleasing to the eye. On a much smaller scale the same process gives blood its red colour, but that's enough for the science lesson.

En route you will stop off in Tangxun at a Hui Muslim minority restaurant. The Hui minority numbers around 10 million scattered all over China but with their principal base in Ningxia Autonomous Region, which is their traditional home. 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, mixing with Uyghurs (Muslims from Northwest China), Han (the principal Chinese ethnic group) and the Mongols. They practice a moderate form of Islam, celebrating Ramadan, abstaining from the consumption of alcohol, and not eating pork. Hui men can be recognised by their white skull caps and the women by their headscarves and conservative dress. The Hui, like a majority of Muslims, are very concerned by cleanliness, and locals thus consider Hui restaurants as some of the most trustworthy and hygienic on offer. Some of you may have already had the chance to visit the large Hui district in Xi'an, if you have engaged in other trips prior to this one.

You will also pass through some villages with traditional houses are made of mud bricks, totally surrounded by paddy fields, carefully designed by man's hand and the hooves of water buffalo.. Arriving in the small hamlet of Huagou, you will check into the hotel and then set off for the spectacular views at Yuepu'ao, one of Yunnan's many perfect photo opportunities. This is one of those marvels of nature and wondrous cultural sites that we wouldn't have in the world if it weren't for the harmony and creativity of man and Mother Nature. This harmonious blend is no better witnessed than at Hongtudi where the combination of the natural oxidation of iron and the manmade rice terraces and other fields give this region its superb rainbow of colour, encompassing the bright red earth, the green and white crops such as wheat, potatoes and corn, and the yellow colza flowers.

Here you will start a one hour walk through the local countryside.

Photographers are particularly drawn to the region in spring, especially in February and March, when the flowers are in bloom providing a marvellous array of colour.

Head to Damaka, passing through Jinxiuyuan, you will enjoy a relaxing journey through the peaceful countryside, far from the hustle and bustle of modern Chinese cities. Not only can you appreciate the spectacular views Hongtudi has to offer as the fields of wheat and flowers cover the hills as if they were a giant carpet, but you also hear the beauty on offer as the wind gently caresses the fields, making the ears of wheat sway majestically back and forth.

You can watch the locals working in the fields, the majority of who is from the Yi Minority 每 otherwise known as the Lolo and who number almost 8 million in China, the largest grouping to be found in Yunnan Province. They are often considered to be the original inhabitants of the region and their ※Torch Festival§, which takes place at the end of the 6th lunar month, is a major festival celebrated throughout the province. The Yi society still practiced slavery until the 1950s when Communist forces brought an end to that particular tradition during the early years of the Republic.

Your driver will bring you back to Damaka from where you will go just a few kilometres away to admire the sunset from Luoxiagou, a small village in a valley whose colours are particularly vibrant in the evenings, where you will enjoy dinner.

 

Day 4 : Dongchuan - Luoping (B,L,D)
If we find the time and you have the desire to do so, the day will start rather early to watch the sunrise at Jinxiyuan. Although you will have already been there the night before, you may not recognise it in the blue dawn light. This mysterious hue slowly gives way to the bright rays of sunshine the illuminate the colourful fields, all the while accompanied by bird song. We recommend that you wrap up warm 每 the nights and early mornings are particularly fresh in this region. We will then head back to the hotel for a well-earned breakfast.

Before noon we set off for Luoping (located around 300km / 185 miles away, taking at least 6 hours dependant on traffic). The first hour of your journey will allow you to further appreciate the unusual countryside of the region. We will take a small photo opportunity break at Yueliangtian where the panorama is particularly stunning. We will then stop for lunch 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 you will climb the steps to the top of Golden Rooster Peak, which takes its name from the village it surrounds. You will firstly visit the small Lingyi Temple which is more of an improvised place of worship for the locals than an official Buddhist site. The view from the promontory just below the temple is stupefying, in particular between January and March when the green-black Karst formation hills are adorned by fields of vibrant yellow colza flowers, or in summer when chrysanthemum are in bloom. From here you can admire the sun setting over this astounding vista.

 

Day 5 : Luoping - Jiulong - Puzhehei (B,L,D)
After breakfast you will take a walk to the colza fields, dotted with the rock formations typical of Southern China, and equally of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. It is advisable to have a good, strong pair of shoes with you.

You will then visit a factory specialising in the production of canola honey, famous in the region. However beware the roadside canola honey hawkers as some of them have been known to sell fake honey!

Your countryside jaunt will continue 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. It is common to see local farmers smoking their water pipes at all hours of the day. Maybe you'll be tempted to have a try#

Onwards to Niujie, where you will see the ※snail-shell shaped fields§ 每 another eccentricity of the region that is only really of interest during the January-March period when the colza is in flower. The local country folk 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, Jiulong meaning ※Nine Dragons§,  which are counted amongst the most beautiful in the country. It will take around half an hour to get there if the traffic is clear. You'll 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 majority of the Buyi are Animists (believing that all natural objects have souls or spirits), contributing to their respect of nature. The clothing is coloured indigo and white, directly reflecting the two principal colours of the heavens above.

Like the Han they follow the lunar calendar and their New Year celebrations are large gatherings providing an opportunity for the young to take part in various singing competitions and look for their soulmate.

The local authorities have recently constructed a number of traditional homes on the site, which are principally constructed using bamboo.

You will take a cable car ride in order to get a better view of the biggest waterfall, known as the ※Spiritual Dragon Waterfall§, measuring 56 metres high and 112 metres wide. Climbing on board the cable car you will be taken around 3km upstream so that you can truly appreciate the beauty of the falls, villages and colza fields below.

 The site is made up of 10 different waterfalls, all of around the same size. The ※Lovers' Fall§, the ※Wandering Stone Dragon Fall§ and other such evocative names give this place a particularly mysterious charm.

We will then travel on to Puzhehei which is located around 170km (100 miles) to the south and will take between 3 to 4 hours by car. The first part of the journey which passes through heavy wooded areas is referred to by the locals as the ※Guilin of Yunnan§. You will have the opportunity to discover this area in more depth the following morning.

A vast lake marks the centre of this area and is also the epicentre for mass tourism in the region; as such we will instead spend the night in a more typical village in the heart of countryside just a few kilometres away.

 

Day 6 : Puzhehei (B,L,D)
You will start the day with a bike ride in the surrounding countryside and you will even have the choice between riding a traditional bicycle, a tandem or even a three-seater bike.

The route will pass through a number of ※sugar loaves§ (the poetic name given to a specific type of karst formation), patches of private land, past traditional red brick houses and through paddy fields that are almost fluorescent green due to a combination of the sunlight as it illuminates the crops. The sound of the workers in the fields, the laughing of children in the villages and the almost deafening sound of hammers working in improvised forgeries almost transports you to another world. This incredible spectacle is only disturbed by the hysterical barking of a well-trained guard dog protecting his master's home.

You will take a refreshing stop at a peach farm where you will be able to try some of the local produce. Peaches originate from China, and those from this region are particularly succulent thanks to its especially rich soils.

We will then return to Puzhehei to enjoy a pleasant boat trip on the lake lasting around an hour. You will be able to marvel at the natural beauty of the water-lilies covering the lake, which bloom in the summertime.

Your day will end with a walk along the embankment admiring the sun gently setting over the lake and reflecting the ※sugar loaf§ hills. Arched bridges and some traditional wooden houses where people come to play Mah-jong punctuate this superb walk through a beautiful natural setting. The walk can last anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on your speed, and runs alongside a perfect flagstone path upon which electric cars run for those who are tired from the day's activities. You will finally arrive at a small fishing village and there be able to feast your eyes and your stomach on the catch of the day, which you can later try for your dinner. In the language of the Yi (one of the principal minorities in the region), Puzhehei means ※the lake with many fish and prawns§. Bon appetit!

 

Day 7 : Puzhehei- Yuanyang (B,L,D)
We will 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, but the final stage will be considerably slower.

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

It is hard to describe in writing the Yuanyang rice terraces, which are without a doubt the most beautiful in China and possibly the most impressive in the whole of Asia. Even UNESCO recognises the natural beauty of the rice terraces and is in the process of registering them as a World Heritage Site. Cascading down the mountainside through bamboo canals, the water transforms the mountain face into a truly wonderful vision giving the impression that the rice terraces are steps for giants leading to the mountain top. In spring (between March and April), considered by photographers as the best time to visit, the sky is reflected in the paddy fields full with water, resembling a never-ending mosaic of mirrors. In summer they turn an emerald colour and from October onwards they look like pools of honey. Other than in December and January when the fields are dry, each season offers something different but equally breath-taking.

From here we will visit a Hani Minority Village. The Hani, otherwise known as the Akha in Southeast Asia, number around 1.5 million and are mainly to be found in Yunnan. In spite of their modest numbers (compared with the scale of the Chinese population as a whole), they are famous for they mastery in the art of rice terrace sculpting and drainage systems. It is believed that they were the first people to implement this rice production method. Often living in rugged areas where fertile land is hard to come by, throughout the centuries the Hani have adapted their farming methods and have transformed 12,000 hectares of hillside into arable land making rice production their principal source of income. Nowadays tourism brings much money to the region, also considerably improving the local infrastructure. The Hani, also found in Xishuanbanna in the Southwest of the region, are well known for their tea culture.

For the more adventurous in the group you will be able to savour the local delicacy of eel, easily found in many local restaurants, and which are used in the rice production process. Just before the rice is harvested they are added to the paddy fields saturated with water to aid in this process. We will eat fairly early in the evening in preparation for a heavy day to come.

 

Day 8 : Yuanyang (B,L,D)
We will set off extremely early so as to be able to admire the sunrise at Laohuzui, literally ※The Tiger's Mouth§. Here rice terraces continue as far as the eye can see, and the panorama is breath-taking, even dizzying for some. It is recommended to wrap up warm as the early morning can be rather fresh.

We will head back to the hotel for a short break and breakfast before visiting a local market. The market is held daily, rotating between the villages of Niujiaozhai, Shengcun, Panzhihua, Yuanyang, Huangcaoling, Laomeng# depending on a complex system based on the lunar calendar. On ※dragon sign§ days the market is held in Yuanyang, but if it's a ※pig sign§ day the market will be held in Shengcun and so on#

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

Afterwards we will head on to the viewpoint at Duoyishu where the rice paddies seem to melt into the valley floor. It is sometimes difficult to see the hilltops, especially when the cloud base is low and they mix with the crops in their terraces, giving photographers the chance to snap one of nature's real masterpieces.

You'll then walk through the rice terraces starting at Duoyishu and finishing at Bada, taking around 3 hours depending on your speed. You will be able to see, without disturbing their toil, some of the local men and the buffalo working the fields while the women pick the rice.

You will be rewarded for your efforts upon your arrival in Bada from where you can enjoy the sunset. Although the view from Duoyishu and Laohuzui are more impressive, the view from Bada is special for its visceral beauty. Your view is from a less elevated vantage point, you are much closer to the terraces themselves enabling you to take in the full glory of the work of the Hani. Depending on the season you may be able to enjoy the sun sparkling on the water in the rice paddies and the crickets chirping in the trees. It's an unforgettable experience.

 

Day 9 : Yuanyang - Jianshui (B)
We will travel to the ancient Chinese garrison town of Jianshui, taking us back to a more traditional age (it should take between 2 and 3 hours to cover the 90km/55 miles dependant on traffic). 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. Lots of the local members of ethnic minority groups have ※cousins§ in Laos, Vietnam and Burma. Yunnan, just as in the neighbouring regions of Guangxi and Guizhou, has long represented the rebellious or ※separatist§ part of China, in part due to its inaccessible location far from the Empires' powerbases, and its rugged landscape. The ancient kingdoms of Nanzhou and Dali, the best known from this region's history, for a long time controlled the trade routes between Imperial China and Southeast Asia. Not until the Mongols conquered China (13th century) was the region truly integrated into the Empire, later becoming a place of refuge for members of the ruling class of the Ming Dynasty fleeing the Manchus. Jianshui was a centre for the military and politicians of the Yuan (Moongols) who sent their Hui soldiers here, going some way towards explaining the Muslim influence on and presence of the Hui in this region.

You will visit the Confucius Temple, which despite its remoteness from the heart of ※Classical China§ is still considered to be 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 you can absorb the unique ambience of Chinese parks, filled with the elderly chatting and playing Mah-jong.

The region is equally as well known for 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 每 and this at the heart of a border region! The Zhu brothers, rich merchants from Hunan province, took 30 years to complete the complex and quickly became noted celebrities in the south of Yunnan. The estate is today a hotel, but its old-worldly charm is well protected, and this tourist role will probably protect it against an uncertain future.

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 we will visit the Twin Dragon Bridge, taking its name from the two rivers which weave dragon-like through its 17 arches. It is one of the oldest bridges in all of China, and is a wonderful piece of stonework. After this stop we will head back to the hotel.

 

Day 10 : Jianshui - Shilin - Kunming - Lijiang (B,L)
Next on our itinerary will be the county of Lunan where we will discover one of the major attractions of the region and a must see, Shilin or literally The Stone Forest. 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. We therefore will take you instead to the quieter and less frequented Black Stone Forest, which is roughly 10km away from the main site but just as impressive.

According to legend, the immortals (divine beings worshipped by Taoists) created the Black Stone Forest by cutting up mountains into a maze of rocks so that they could offer them as gifts to loved ones. This maze of ※stone trees§ is therefore fascinating, but it's also easy to get lost, so it's very important that you follow your guide!

Shilin is an endless maze of rocky peaks in an intriguing array of shapes and sizes that are a result of chemical erosion of the rock over time caused by rain and wind. Depending on the weather, you will be able to enjoy a picnic lunch in the middle of the ※forest§ which will not only give you the opportunity to enjoy the scenery but also to avoid the rather high prices of the restaurants on-site.

En route to the Kunming Airport (around 100km away), you will be able to see some of the old train tracks that we first met at the start of our trip. From Kunming, we will fly to Lijiang where we will end our day. You will be met at the airport by your local guide, and transferred to the hotel.

 

Day 11 : Lijiang (B)
Welcome to Lijiang! This magnificent labyrinth of traditional redwood and brick houses topped with grey slate roofs, canals, stone bridges and cobbled streets in 1999 was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Small interior courtyards are furnished with flowers and bushes to which the locals tend and that give this town its beautiful, and special, aroma. It's a real paradise at the heart of Naxi culture. Originally coming from Tibet over 2000 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 being a perfect example, their literature, religion, and by their social organisation structure which is both ※matrilocal§ (whereby couples move in with the wife's family) and ※matrilineal§ (where succession favours females over males).

The Dongba script is the keystone of the Naxi culture, supposed to be the only pictographic writing still in use in the world, and whose shamans (we are now on the fingers of the hand) are the guarantors. The Canon Dongba is a veritable encyclopaedia of over 1000 volumes that describe the Naxi mythology and deal with cosmology and astronomical treaties.

In Naxi culture, there is no marriage as sexual liberty takes precedence over formalised unions. Children, who do not know their fathers, are raised by their mothers, aunts and maternal uncles. Additionally the Naxi are split into 2 groups, including the Na (eastern branch) who live near the Lugu Lake and whose society still operates based around matriarchal clans.

We recommend an early rise to enjoy the peace and quiet of the early morning. Lijiang is also known as the ※Big Inkpot§ due to the network of canals which flow through the village resembling an inkpot that has been knocked over. Crossing over the labyrinth of alleyways you will arrive at the ※Lion Hill§ which offers you a fantastic view over the village below. At the top, there will be a chance for a quick coffee break on the terrace so you can relax after your ascent to the top.

Afterwards, we will visit 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 we will head to the edge of the old town where you will be able to enjoy the local market and get a feel for the &real' Lijiang, where you will see locals still dressed in traditional clothing selling teas, vegetables, fruits and even daily tools in a very vibrant and animated atmosphere.

From here we will 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 which you will visit the next day.

We will then head back to the Old Market Place, at the vibrant heart of the old town.

You will be free to enjoy the evening yourselves, wandering around the town as the night falls and red lanterns are placed outside people's homes.

This day will be spent entirely on foot, and as sometimes the cobbled streets can sometimes be slightly slippery we recommend wearing sturdy shoes. The order in which we visit the sites may be modified depending on the hotel in which we stay.

 

Day 12 : Lijiang - Shaxi (B)
The trip up Jade Dragon Mountain, which stands majestically to the north of the city, will be the &mountainous' stage of our stay in Lijiang. The mountain, also called Satseto in the Naxi language, takes its name from the God of War in the Dongba religion. The number of visitors to the site is rather high and so we will instead visit an area less well-known, but quieter and more rural, called the Yak Prairie. The view from here over here over the glacier is as equally as stunning as from the more popular destinations.

If you wish to climb to the highest point (5600m) at Ganzidou, please consult us for further advice.

We will eat lunch en route for Shaxi, which is 150km/90 miles southeast of the Mountain and which will take around 5 hours to reach depending on the traffic. We should arrive by the evening.

Shaxi is a traveller's oasis that used to be a major stop on the 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 (in the far south of Yunnan) known for its pu'er tea, Tibet and, by extension, Nepal, Laos, Burma and India where other goods are traded. 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 caf谷s, where travellers can enjoy the relaxing ambience of the village and recharge their batteries. It's common in Shaxi to just sit on a bench all day, appreciating the peace and quiet, as village life slowly passes by.

 

Day 13 : Shaxi (B)
Shaxi is typically the kind of place that you ※relive§ after your visit. You can enjoy a free morning here by exploring the maze of paved avenues that make up the heart of the old town, or equally by discovering the surrounding countryside that is notable for its okra earth that you also find, logically, in the houses in the village made of earth-bricks. Cross the bridge to the south and you will be in the heart of the local countryside, an ancient caravan route#

Additionally, you could visit 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 you are lucky, your time in Shaxi will fall on a market day. Held every Friday, the market attracts many Bai and Yi peoples, the two major ethnic groups that populate the region. They often come down from remote corners of neighbouring mountains to exchange all types of food products and day-to-day necessities.

Shortly after lunch we will take you to Shibaoshan (literally &stone treasure mountain') , an impressive collection of temples, caves and stone sculptures, the most ancient of which date from the 9th century, and which detail the life of important figures from the Nanzhao kingdom (8th-9th century). You will also notice some religious effigies, such as the statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, or the renowned Stone Treasure, a striking black rock that symbolises the female genitalia that many women come to touch to improve their chances of conceiving a child.

The visit will also allow you to take a walk offering 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 we will return to Shaxi, where you will have a free evening.

 

Day 14 : Shaxi - Shuanglang(B,L)
We head off to Dali which will 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, notably the shores of the Erhai Lake (literally the Ear Shaped Lake), and the surrounding areas where bronze dating back to 1000 BC has been found, played a strategic role in Yunnan's history. The Bai (who nowadays number less than 2 million) first settled in the region more than 3000 years ago and their first dwellings surrounded the lake. Following their victory against the Tang Empire in the 8th Century, they founded the Kingdom of Nanzhao, which you will have already heard mentioned throughout your trip. The Bai are most distinguishable by their clothing - predominantly white (from which the Bai take their name, ※Bai§ means white in Chinese) and by their homes, which are very particular to this region and you will be able to see example of these in Dali old town.

Dali marble is so well known and of such a high quality that, in Chinese, marble is literally translated as ※Dali stone§. It is extracted from quarries in Mount Cangshan and exported in massive quantities to other countries throughout Asia. You will have the option to visit a marble factory en route. The Chinese particularly appreciate the mountain, river and cloud like patterns which appear in marble when it is polished.

For a number of years Dali has been in the tourist spotlight and the number of visitors is growing every year. In order to avoid these crowds, therefore we have decided to stay in Shuanglang which lies on the western bank of Erhai Lake. This lakeside stay will add another theme to our trip which we haven't yet come across as extensively, water! In fact, people from Yunnan often say that their province has everything but the sea, but with the 250km2 of lake on offer here, you could even say that Yunnan even has a little interior sea.

You will stay 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 who organises the show ※Dynamic Yunnan§.

We will then travel by bike to the little village of Wase which is about 13km from Shuanglang. You will travel 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 and you will get a real sense of the local culture that you won't be able to find in Dali. In the same way as in Yuanyang region, local markets pass through here on a daily basis. If you are lucky you will be able to shop at the Shase market which takes place on every 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th of the month.

Depending on the weather you will be able to enjoy a barbeque in the evening and enjoy some of the fresh fish caught from the lake.

 

Day 15 : Shuanglang - Dali - Yuanmou (B)
We will set off for 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 Pagoda of the Thousand Awakenings was built in the ninth century and designed by an engineer from Chang'an (nowadays known as Xi'an) and is characterized by its square plan, similar to that of the Wild Goose Pagoda found in the ancient imperial capital, symbolising the influence the Chinese Tang Dynasty in the region. 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 you have the opportunity to visit if you wish to do so. The site is particularly impressive when the sun sets behind the mountains and illuminates the ochre colour of the pagodas.

We will then head on to the old town of Dali, 2km to the south, where you can still find some typical Bai homes. A relaxed and warm atmosphere seems to ooze from these white walled homes, on which you can find paintings representing mountains, running water, birds and flowers. Their front porches, famous throughout the country, are distinguished by their beautifully carved arches.

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 depending on traffic. Yuanmou Earth Forest is one the ※Three Forests§ that are notable in Yunnan, one of the others being the ※Stone Forest§ that you will have already visited. The third forest is the Sand Forest, and is not as interesting as the first two and so will not form part of our itinerary.

 

Day 16 : Yuanmou - Kunming (B)
We will start the day by visiting the Earth Forest, which is made up of 50km2 of rocks which for over 2 million years have been eroded down, creating an exceptionally stunning forest of columns of clay and sand. Some people compare these columns to church organs, whilst others think they look like giant natural castles that can reach around 40m in height, equivalent to a building of 10 stories. Just as in the west some people wile away the time by comparing the shape of the clouds to living beings or objects, the Chinese like to give landmarks and buildings imaginative and sometimes slightly offensive nicknames (such as the "bottle opener" in Shanghai or the "Great Underwear of Beijing"). Many of the rock formations have too been given nicknames; some are relatively straightforward such as "Romanesque cathedral" whilst others will probably leave you a bit more confused#

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, then 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 and led 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.

From here we will head back to Kunming.

 

Day 17 : Kunming
Upon arrival in Kunming you will be taken to your hotel and from which you will be able to travel onward to your next destination. 

 

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