Day 1 - Kunming
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please have these ready to provide to your leader. If you arrive early, go for a stroll and get acquainted with this pleasant 'eternal spring city', so called for its temperate nature. Perhaps head to Green Lake Park where you can see locals spending their leisure time on all kinds of activities and games. Check out The Loft, a disused factory area west of the city centre, home to many small galleries and cafes. Or perhaps visit Yuantong Temple, the grandest Buddhist temple in Yunnan province.
Day 2 - Nuodeng
Embark on a long day of travel (approximately 10 hours). There will be three changes of buses to get to your destination – the intriguing, reclusive Nuodeng village. This place has sat hidden in the mountains for over a thousand years. While the journey there is long, the views of the lovely countryside, and the friendly locals you will get to interact with along the way, make it worthwhile. On arrival, check into your guesthouse and enjoy some local cuisine for dinner.
Day 3 - Nuodeng
A key trading village on the ancient salt trading routes, Nuodeng has been through a long, varied history and remains authentic and unique among the villages in Yunnan. Today you will take a guided tour of this gorgeous ancient village, stopping to visit some local temples and museums along the way. The remainder of the day is yours to explore as you please. There's much to like about the slow pace of life here. You can sit in the sun and chat with elderly locals, explore the local museums and temples on your own, or perhaps learn more about the town's history of salt production, the longtime lifeblood of the community.
Day 4 - Dali
Travel by public bus to your next destination, Dali (approximately 3–4 hours). For many years this spot has been a favourite destination for foreign travellers and backpackers, thanks to its laid-back atmosphere and spectacular surroundings. There are snow-capped mountains on one side and the vast Erhai Lake on the other, making for an impressive sight. This afternoon you will take a guided walk around Dali's ancient town with your leader. Present-day Dali is a city that combines history with modern convenience. It is divided into two areas: the Ancient City and the New District (widely known as Xiaguan). After your tour, enjoy a free evening to make your own discoveries in this picturesque town. Perhaps circle back to the famous Foreigner Street in the Ancient City, where handicrafts and local culinary delights rightly attract many visitors.
Day 5 - Dali
Take a private bus to Xizhou, around 23 kilometres north of Dali on a day trip today. Xizhou is famous for its Butterfly Spring and Bai architecture. Enjoy a guided tour of the town and the local markets – a great chance to learn more about Bai architecture. Interact with some local families living in the traditional courtyards to get a feel for local life. Be sure to try some tasty local snacks such as baba (fried rice cake) or the local cheese. Upon returning to Dali you can enjoy some free time.
Day 6 - Shaxi
Travel by public bus to Jianchuan, then by private van to Shaxi (approximately 3–4 hours). Much of Shaxi's charm lies in the fact it has been restored rather than rebuilt, and being off the main highways it hasn't seen the rapid development of the tourist industry that other places like Lijiang and Dali have. Here you can still find the Yi and Bai ethnic minorities living their traditional lives, farmhouses lining the country roads, and the original walled town gates and market square that prove Shaxi was once an important stop on the old Tea Horse Trail. Here you will stay in a local family-run guesthouse in twin, triple or multi-share rooms. The accommodation is very simple and bathroom facilities are basic and shared, but the warm hospitality makes for a memorable experience. Most travellers choose to eat their meals at the family guesthouse, which offers a great range of regional cuisine; it's also a great chance to further interact with your hosts.
Day 7 - Shaxi
Today you will stroll through the stunning mountain trails with a local guide. Your destination is Shizong Temple (approximately 4–5 hours return). It's a good idea to pack a lunch to enjoy along the way, as the beautiful 'danxia' landscape will make a nice backdrop for a picnic. Be sure to bring your camera too so you can snap a few pictures of these gorgeous surrounds. Feel free to ask your leader more about this part of China. In the evening, take the opportunity to mix with the locals out on the town square. Here you'll likely encounter dancing, singing and various traditional games. Perhaps try your hand at some of them yourself.
Day 8 - Tiger Leaping Gorge
Travel by private bus back to Jianchuan and then public bus to Qiaotou (approximately 3 hours), the starting point for your trek through the magnificent Tiger Leaping Gorge. This is one of the deepest and most spectacular gorges in the world. The entire canyon is 16 km long and rises up to 3,900 metres above the waters of the famous Yangzi River. Though the gorge has become very popular in recent years, and the area is rapidly developing, it's still an incredibly rewarding travel experience which many cite as a highlight of their trip to China. Prepare a day pack (your larger luggage will be stored for two nights) and embark on your hike. There will be regular stops to have a rest as needed. The first part of the trek is quite arduous – this is not flat terrain by any means. After a slow and steady climb you will reach the 24 bends (the most challenging part of the trek), a steep and twisting path where you'll really gain some altitude. After stopping for a break, continue along the flatter section of the gorge to your accommodation. This is a simple but comfortable guesthouse with shared facilities (upgrades to private facilities at your own cost may be possible, depending on availability).
The area is subject to dramatic changes in weather. There are scheduled departures for this trip in the more stable seasons, but it's still possible that conditions may make travelling through the gorge dangerous. In this case an extra night each will be spent in Shaxi and Lijiang. Should the weather be deemed by your leader and guide as too rainy or foggy to safely complete the trek once in the gorge area, an alternative walking route will be taken or a minivan will be used for transport between stops.
Day 9 - Tiger Leaping Gorge
Your second day of trekking starts with a nice, easy flat section that has spectacular views. There are only a few uphill battles, and one last downhill stretch which is long and slippery, before you reach your destination for the night – Walnut Grove. Those with the energy can enjoy further hikes to some excellent lookout points from here. Otherwise, this a tranquil place to simply sit back, relax, enjoy the scenery and rest your weary legs.
Day 10 - Lijiang
Travel by private transport to Lijiang (approximately 4 hours). This World Heritage-listed town is home to the Naxi people, a matrilineal society, the descendents of Tibetan nomads. You can still see Naxi folk around town in their distinct blue clothing, especially at the morning markets. Today you will enjoy a guided walking tour around Lijiang and visit the Wangu Pagoda. The pagoda is situated at Lion Hill in a small park and has amazing views over Lijiang. In town, during the day, you'll see the traditional side of Lijiang: cobbled streets, tiny alleyways and quaint wooden bridges that run over the canals. This is what attracts many (mostly Chinese) tourists every year to the Old Town. By night, flashing lights and kareoke bars spring to life, turning this idyllic town into something very different. It's a fascinating transformation to watch.
Day 11 - Lijiang/Overnight Train
Today is a free day for you to explore Lijiang. Later in the afternoon, you'll transfer to the station an overnight sleeper train to Kunming (approximately 8-9 hours). First, though, you might like to explore Mu Palace or wander around the old town and make a wish like the locals do – by sending a candle down a canal on a flower-shaped boat. A Naxi Orchestra performance is highly recommended, famous around the world for its unique instruments and sounds. A day trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is another great option, though travellers on a budget might like to view the peak from afar to avoid the expensive cable car fees. This town is also great for cycling – jump on a bike and head to Baisha or Shuhe, two pretty local villages.
Day 12 - Kunming
Our train arrives in the capital of Yunnan, Kunming, early in the morning. We transfer from the station back to our hotel. The whole day is free for you to spend as you wish. We suggest rewarding yourself with a foot massage! Meet up in the evening for an optional final dinner out on the town with the group, your last chance to enjoy Yunnanese cuisine.
Day 13 - Kunming
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Flights, Travel Insurance, Visa, Vaccinations or Personal Spending Money