ANCIENT TOWNS, FERTILE TERRACES, SPIRITUAL HIGHLANDS AND AUTHENTIC VILLAGES; YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA
Day 1 – Arrive Lijiang
There are non-stop direct flights to/from Beijing or Shanghai, China from USA cities, including New York, Boston, Newark, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Upon arrival in the Beijing International Airport, we take a direct flight to Lijiang. Lijiang Sanyi Airport offers convenient and safe taxi services. We arrange our private transfer services through our hotel. The approximately one hour scenic drive to the hotel passes along ethnic villages and valley. The dinner at our hotel’s restaurant gives us a culinary introduction to Yunnan, Cantonese and Sichuan specialties.
Day 2 – Lijiang
A maze of cobblestone alleys, canals, bridges and ancient wooden houses define the cultural city of Lijiang. Our walking tour begins at an outdoor traditional market with vendors selling local produce, traditional Chinese medicine and local specialties. The walk along ancient architecture, traditional guesthouses, spacious squares and artisan boutiques presents Lijiang’s daily rhythm and traditions. The visit to Mu’s Mansion that served as residence and governance center of the powerful Mu Family, presents distinct Naxi architecture. The walk to the Jade Spring Park reveals the scenery of the marble arched Suocui Bridge stretched over the Black Dragon Pool and complemented by the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background. Along the thriving forests, the walking pathway leads to the Lion Hill and the five story wooden structure of Wangu Pavilion, offering magnificent views of Lijiang’s traditional rooftops.
Day 3 – Dali
The agricultural landscape, lakeside scenery, mountain views and Bai minority architecture seduce visitors to Dali. The visit to the small village of Xizhou presents traditional Bai minority court-style mansions accentuated with wood carvings, white exterior and blue tiled accents. The exploration of Dali’s Buddhist landmark reveals the symmetric structures of the Three Pagodas constructed during the Tang Dynasty. The arrival to the ancient town of Dali presents us with the distinct architecture of the Bai minority: stonewalls, grey colored tiled rooftops, wood carved doors and symbolic accents of dragon and phoenix. The walk to the Dali Temple presents a colorful structure culminating with a Dali’ King statue in the center. The drive to Erhai Lake reveals its waterfront scenery, views of the Diancang Mountains and picturesque bike routes.
Day 4 – Shangri-La
The Tibetan artistry, expansive Tibetan plateau and spiritual Buddhist symbols express Shangri-La’s fascinating culture. The approximately four hours’ drive from Lijiang follows a magnificent scenery of Tibetan grasslands, massive wooden houses, Buddhist symbols and even includes a touristic encounter with a Yak, a regional animal native to the Tibetan Plateau. The walks though the Old Town of Shangri-La evoke the feeling of visiting a mountain retreat with the ancient wooden houses, cobblestone alleys, traditional rooftops and artisan shops. Our experience of Tibetan Buddhism in the Yunnan Province continues with a drive to the Songzanlin Monastery, a spiritual place showcasing traditional wooden motifs, Tibetan frescos and colorful symbolic fabrics. The exploration of Shangri-La’s natural landscape guides us to Xiao Zhongdian, a natural paradise of mountains, valleys, rivers, hiking routes, wildlife and unspoiled scenery.
Day 5 – Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
The awakening nature of snow covered mountain peaks, lakeside scenery, vibrant forests and wild flowers reflect the marvels of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The Glacier Park Cableway transfers visitors to a high altitude stop with magnificent mountain scenery, while the Yunshanping Ropeway offers views on Yak Meadow and picturesque hiking routes. At the base of the mountain, the small train follows the route to the Blue Valley (Blue Lake) presenting contrasting views of snow covered mountain peaks, clear waterfalls and blue lake. Panoramic photos with majestic Yaks (native animal of the Tibetan Plateau) memorize our experience. With the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as the backdrop scenery, the dynamic performance: Impression Lijiang educates us about culture, traditions and lifestyle of local Naxi, Bai and Yi minorities.
Day 6 – Tiger Leaping Gorge
The dramatic scenery of mountain edges, steep canyon, river gorge and Naxi villages along green terraces seduce hikers and nature enthusiasts to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The few hours’ route from Lijiang reveals rolling valleys, fruit tree gardens, Naxi architecture, cultivated farmlands and mountainous landscape. At the Tiger Leaping Gorge, multi-wooden zigzagging stairs leads to multiple lookout points offering diverse natural scenery accompanied by the sounds of the rushing water beneath the gorge. The lower lookout point displays the statue of a tiger symbolizing a legend of a tiger leaping across the gorge. The few hours’ drive back to Lijiang offers time for a dinner at Lijiang’s Old Town.
Day 7 – Ancient Villages
The scenic waterways and Naxi architecture of Suhe Village, the undisturbed ancient traditions of Yuhu Village, the Naxi artistry and culture of the Baisha Village reflect the genuine jewels of the Yunnan Province. A short drive from Lijiang leads to the charming Suhe Village, the historic and cultural center of ancient Naxi settlements. The continued drive with beautiful views of agricultural terraces and the Jade Dragon Mountain landscape leads us to the marvels of the sleepy Yuhu Village. Our stroll along the ancient stone houses, mountainous landscape and preserved village life bewitches and surprises us. The exploration of the Naxi minority’s ancient historic and cultural center leads us to Baisha Village. The visit to the Dabaoji Palace exposes the unique Baisha Murals reflecting diverse artistry and multi-religious symbols. We stop at the Impression Baisha Café to sample authentic Naxi culinary specialties.
Day 8 – Lijiang Departure
The sumptuous breakfast buffet offers us a delectable meal. The scheduled hotel transfer takes us to the Lijiang Sanyi Airport for our flight to Shanghai, followed by our international flight to the USA.
Yunnan Province – The natural wealth of mountains, fertile agricultural fields, vibrant forests, abundant rivers and lakes perfectly complement the ancient villages and historic towns. The Yunnan Province, situated in the southwestern part of China, borders with Vietnam, Laos and Burma. The Yunnan Province is a culturally diverse region with preserved ancient traditions practiced by uniquely distinct ethnic groups. Yunnan’s topography includes snow covered mountain ranges, rugged canyon terrain, a scenic Tibetan plateau and fertile farmlands supplying the freshest regional produce. The Yunnan Province’s magnificence is in the history of the ancient towns of Lijiang and Dali; the Buddhist symbols of Shangri-La, the mountainous landscape of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the preserved legends at the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the traditional village life at Suhe, Yuhu and Baisha Villages.
Lijiang – The vision of ancient wooden houses, narrow waterways, quaint bridges, cultural symbols and breathtaking natural scenery define the magic of Lijiang. The Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO Heritage Site, exhibits the preserved ancient architecture, narrow cobblestone alleys, street food stalls, tree-lined canals, open squares and quaint boutiques displaying local artisan products. The numerous cultural monuments and religious symbols reflect the wealth of Lijiang’s traditions, ethnic diversity and ancient history. The Mu’s Mansion represents Mu Family’s residence and governance center during the Qing and Ming Dynasties. The majestic mansion exhibits a unique Naxi architecture accentuated with colorful designs and traditional chambers, such as a boudoir for Naxi unmarried girls. Lijiang’s walking pathway follows along the picturesque squares, traditional Guesthouses, teashops featuring the regional Pu’Er Tea specialty, and meat and vegetable markets that might surprise western tourists. Originally built during the Song Dynasty and the early Yuan Dynasty, Lijiang displays the distinct granite stone streets that transfer its visitors back into ancient history. The Black Dragon Pool, situated in the Jade Spring Park, enchants with its Suocui Bridge, Deyue Pavilion and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background. During our visit, an unusual drought presents us with a different picture of Black Dragon Pool, emphasizing the lush vegetation encircling distinct Naxi architecture of temples, pavilions and the Dongba Museum educating visitors about the unique Dongba Culture. The walk towards the Lion Hill reveals the five story wooden structure of the Wangu Pavilion and offers magnificent views of Lijiang’s traditional rooftops. Atop the hill, the natural forest setting and an outdoor café offer a refreshing pause and lets us fully appreciate the scenery. The Naxi minority represents the largest ethnic group in Lijiang and defines Lijiang as an intriguing center of Naxi music, language, art, culture and cuisine.
Dali – The wheat terraces, rolling valleys, mountain peaks and picturesque lake explain the beauty of the ancient town of Dali. The scenic route from Lijiang ((prominently Naxi) to Dali (prominently Bai) shows a distinct change in architectural styles. On the way to Dali, we stop at an outdoor local market selling regional fruits, vegetables, nuts and Bai minority’s colorful handcrafts. The surrounding farmlands reflect a beautiful balance of colors: greenery of farmlands complemented by multi-colored costumes of villagers maintaining the fields. The route to Dali passes along the small village of Xizhou, a village that retains the traditional Bai minority court-style mansions defined by white colored structures and blue tiled accents. Originally occupied by wealthy land owners, the court-style mansions are occupied nowadays by multiple families and display reminders of the Cultural Revolution through the cut off wooden symbols. Selected mansions, beautifully restored, converted into guesthouses and open to tourists, offer an ambiance of the traditional lodging surrounded by the agricultural and mountainous landscape. We continue our route to the Three Pagodas constructed during the Tang Dynasty that signify the historic impact of Buddhism in Dali. The driving route to the ancient town of Dali presents a picture perfect views of the Diancang Mountains, fertile farm fields and Erhai Lake. The Old Town of Dali is a reconstructed ancient town featuring stonewalls, grey colored tiled rooftops, wood carved doors and symbolic accents of dragon and phoenix. Dali exhibits an interesting balance of preserved Bai architecture, traditional courtyards and gardens, and modern feeling with chic shops, restaurants and cafes. Inside the ancient city, the Dali Temple presents a colorful structure culminating with statue of Dali’ King in the center. The excursion to the waterfront of Erhai Lake offers scenic bike routes along charming villages, lakeside shops and Diancang Mountains in the background.
Shangri-La – The enchanting Tibetan grasslands, mountainous landscape, artistic Tibetan houses, preserved ancient city and spiritual Buddhist Monastery describe the northwestern jewel of Yunnan Province, Shangri-La (previously known as Zhongdian County). The scenic route from Lijiang follows the Yangtze River, rolling valleys, farm fields and a mountainous landscape. The pause at the lookout point offers panoramic views and visit at an outdoor wooden stall to sample regional dried fruits and nuts. The few hours’ route unveils transforming views of the Tibetan plateau and its unique topography. Along the expansive grasslands, the Tibetan architecture, culture and traditions are reflected through striking mansions with massive wooden columns, wooden carvings and colorful designs. The Tibetan plateau serves as a welcoming habitat to the freely roaming black pigs, goats and wild Yak, encountered only in the highlands of the Tibetan Plateau and Himalaya. Some tourist services enable a close encounter with the Yak, a majestic long haired animal of the Tibetan Plateau. The beautiful Old Town of Shangri-La exhibits ancient wooden houses, marvelous boutiques, cobblestone alleys and traditionally designed rooftops. The Shangri-La’s Old Town resembles a mountain retreat with its distinct wooden houses, charming restaurants and outdoor markets where Tibetan women wearing colorful costumes present regional handcrafts and specialty sheepskin products. Since our visit, a large portion of Shangri-La’s Old Town sustained a fire destruction in January 2014. Shangri-La is a fascinating, surprising and spiritual destination. The Songzanlin Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Yunnan Province, is an imposing structure situated atop a hill, encircled by marshlands and accentuated with Tibetan colorful décor and woodwork. The panoramic views of the monastery and the long wooden pathway guide visitors up the stairs leading to the main plaza. The monks’ prayer resonates from the Assembly Hall as we patiently await the completion of their sacred ceremony. The Assembly Hall’s décor reflects traditional Tibetan artistry of wooden carvings, Tibetan frescos and colorful symbolic fabrics hanging from the ceiling. The vision of the monks dressed in red cloth surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist symbols creates a feeling of peaceful spirituality. The desire to discover Shangri-La’s beautiful nature leads us to Xiao Zhongdian, a natural paradise of mountains, valleys, rivers, hiking routes, wildlife and unspoiled scenery.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain – The topography of snow covered mountain peaks, scenic lakes, wild flowers and pine tree forests paint the image of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The route from Lijiang follows lowlands, valleys and mountain tops peeking through the clouds. The “Dongba Valley” sign welcomes visitors entering the natural wonder of lakes, waterfalls, mountains and hidden Naxi architecture in the valley. The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, perched over 5596 meters above the sea, displays 13 mountain peaks and serves as a fertile habitat for wild flowers and animals. The Glacier Park Cableway transfers visitors to altitudes of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 meters above the sea level offering magnificent mountain scenery. The Yunshanping Ropeway travels through the heart of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain offering Yak Meadow’s views and established hiking routes along the changing seasonal scenery. The Yak Meadow (Maoniuping) serves as a home to the Yi and Zang Tibetan minorities. At the base of the mountain, the small train follows the route to the Blue Valley (Blue Lake) and lets us appreciate a perfect balance of colors of the landscape: blue lake, snow covered mountain peaks, clear waterfalls, green forest and pink flowers. In the middle of the shallow stream, the majestic Yaks are a major tourist attraction, while small shop rents regional costumes to let tourists memorize the experience with panoramic pictures. The visitors interested in understanding traditions and lifestyle of local Naxi, Bai and Yi minorities, will appreciate the Impression Lijiang performance, a cultural show with music, dances and rituals performed by minorities along the scenery of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
Tiger Leaping Gorge – The diverse landscape of mountain peaks, rocky canyon, Naxi villages, fertile green terraces and flowing river, offers beautiful scenery and hiking routes. The natural canyon between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (also known as Yulong Snow Mountain) and Haba Snow Mountain separated by the flowing Jinsha River (name used for portion of the Yangtze River) reflects the image of the Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao Gorge). The few hours’ route from Lijiang to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, situated in the southeastern part of Shangri-La County, follows along rolling valleys, blooming fruit trees, Naxi architecture, cultivated farm fields and mountainous landscape. At the entrance to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, stunning views of steep mountains and a gushing river hitting gigantic rocks appears. The wooden zigzagging stairs lead to multiple lookout points offering diverse scenery and the sounds of rushing water beneath the gorge. The local guides offer to transport visitors up the stairs using colorfully decorated hand carried chair. The lower lookout point displays a statue of tiger symbolizing the legend of a tiger leaping across the gorge. The mountain fresh air, sounds of rushing water and sporadic calmness away from the tourists is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a snack along the beautiful views. The few hours’ drive back to Lijiang offers sufficient time for a dinner in the Lijiang’s Old Town.
Discovery of magical ancient villages: Suhe, Yuhu and Baisha Villages.
Suhe Village – The preserved ancient town, wooden architecture, scenic waterways and spirited energy describe the charm of Suhe Village. Situated at a short distance from Lijiang, Suhe Village represents a historic embodiment of Naxi minority settlers and Naxi architecture. The balance of ancient architecture, waterways, mixture of traditional shops and modern boutiques create the atmosphere of an upscale Chinese traditional village. The tree lined canals offer a relaxing space with restaurants and cafes where Asian artists perform western music tunes. The clash of cultures surrounded by nature’s beauty creates a surprising and inviting place.
Yuhu Village – At the base of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain a scenic valley surrounds the enchanting Yuhu Village. The seemingly undisturbed traditional life in the Yuhu Village surprises and charms visitors. Joseph F. Rock, an American explorer and writer, settled in Yuhu Village, recorded Naxi history, traditions and culture, and shared it with the world. Joseph F Rock’s Residence reflects his preserved home. The surrounding agricultural landscape, mountain peaks and brown stone houses create the perfect image of traditional village. The life continues along the cobblestone alleys, beautiful stone houses, carved wooden doors, blooming flowers and villagers dressed in their traditional costumes riding a horse or walking by. A visit to the Yuhu Village surprises the mind: the time seems to have stopped as the ancient life and traditions continue.
Baisha Village – The quaint village, Naxi culture, historic murals, artisan shops and cultivated fields describe the Baisha Village. The half an hour drive from Lijiang leads to the Baisha Village, an ancient governing center of the Mu Family. The summer mansion of the Mu Family, a historic monument, is a symbol of the wealth and political status of this powerful ancient family. The landscape of trees, gardens, farmlands and blooming flowers creates a beautiful setting for this summer retreat. The traditional courtyard design exhibits a fountain in the center, a simple décor and small temple for reflection and prayer. The Dabaoji Palace hosts the cultural jewel of the Baisha Murals that display diverse artistry influenced by Tibetan artists, Naxi Buddhists, Chinese Taoists and Dongba Shamans. Previously colorful Baisha Murals appear today subdued, faded and requiring restoration. The walk along the alleyways and artisan shops of the Baisha Village illustrate the decorative and skillful artistry of local Naxi women. A lunch pause at the Impression Baisha Café impresses us with their wonderful selections of Naxi cuisine and attentive service.
Yak Meat – The highlands of Tibetan Plateau serve as a perfect habitat for the long haired wild Yak. In the Shangri-La County, the Tibetan cuisine features regional specialties: Yak meat and Yak milk. The grilled or lightly seared Yak meat delivers tender textures and uniquely rich flavors. The Potala Restaurant originally located in Shangri-La’s Old Town, offers a diverse menu of Shangri-La regional specialties. At the restaurant owner’s suggestion we sample Yak milk that surprises us with its butter like richness, nutritious value and thick texture. Since our visit, the restaurant relocated to the new area of Shangri-La after the fire of January, 2014 destroyed the larger part of Shangri-La’s ancient town.
Yak Cheese – Tender pieces of Yak cheese lightly breaded and flash fired are served with sugar on the side for dipping. The balance of soft textures and fresh flavors is both surprising and memorable. The Impression Baisha Café, located in the Baisha Village, offers a wonderful selection of Naxi specialties, including Yak meat, Yak cheese and potato pancake.
Pu’Er Tea – Yunnan Province’s mountainous terrain serves as a fertile habitat for the uniquely flavored Pu’Er Tea. The Pu’Er Tea represents a highly valued specialty tea and revered as a health remedy for weight management, heart protection and relaxing sleep. There are two kinds of Pu’Er tea: Raw Pu’Er Tea (also known as Green Tea) delivering fresh, slightly sweet flavor and Pu’Er Black Tea tempting the palate with its distinctively deep, almost smoky flavor. The Raw Pu’Er represents harvested fresh tea, naturally dried, rolled, sun dried and stored. The Pu’Er Black Tea reflects harvested fresh tea, dried, rolled, sun dried, fermented (wet piling process), sun dried and shaped into round cakes. The fermentation process results in deep color, earthy scent and high antioxidant quality. The tradition of Pu’Er tea dates back to ancient times and developed into an expensive commodity and long term investment in the Yunnan Province.
Intercontinental Lijiang Ancient Town Resort – Along the blossoming tree gardens, flowers, walking pathways and bordering the ancient town of Lijiang, Intercontinental Lijiang Ancient Town Resort (previously known as Crowne Plaza Lijiang Ancient Town) recreates the traditions of ancient lodging. The resort’s design includes traditional rooftops, wooden carvings and classic Asian décor. The two storied buildings offer views of the traditional courtyard style architecture and the resort’s gardens. The recommended deluxe second floor room offers spacious vaulted ceiling bedroom setting, quaint living room and a creative bathroom design. The resort’s high ceiling lobby offers amazing views of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The 7 Colors Chinese Restaurant serves a superb Asian and Western style breakfast buffet and sophisticated cuisine for dinner with Yunnan, Cantonese and Sichuan specialties. The hotel is conveniently located on the edge of the Lijiang’s Old Town offering a direct walking access to the ancient town, cultural monuments, beautiful parks, artisan boutiques and lively restaurants and cafes.