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Yunnan Off the Beaten Tracks Tour - 5 Days

Destination: East Yunnan
Duration: Five Day
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Transportation: Vehicle
Best Travel Time:Nov - April
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The trio Hongtudi - Luoping - Puzhehei is a treasure not well known by Westerners. It offers a very wide range and exceptionally colorful landscapes. It is moreover a winter getaway (February and March is the best season to explore the area) in a country where travelers are used to travel during spring and summertime. The module will end on Stone Forest, more famous but not less impressive.
Full price of this tour (per person in US$):
Price Price Instruction
US$1000/persons 1000USD/Person

Day 1 - Kunming - Hongtudi (Read Earth) (L,D)
Departure for Hongtudi, literally translated as ※Red earth§, 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.

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.

Minorities: Hui and Yi

Flower: Colza

Principal Colour: Red

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

Day 2 - Hongtudi - 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.

Flower: Colza/Chrysanthemum

Principal Colour: Yellow

Day 3 - 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. Contrary to popular belief the Chinese do not eat a lot of dog meat, however the Buyi buck this trend and are rather fond of this delicacy. It's not uncommon in some villages to find restaurants which specialise in serving dog based dishes. 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.

Minority: Buyi

Flower: Lotus

Principal Colour: Blue-Green

Day 4 - 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!

Flower: Water-Lily

Principal Colour: Green or White depending on the season

Day 5 - Puzhehei - Shilin - Kunming (B,L)
Departure for a long road day to Kunming, passing by 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.

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