Travel the magnificent south-west of China: Sichuan and Yunnan
Journey though Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in South-West ChinaMap
Travel the Sichuan Province in China: Sanxingdui Museum near Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province
The starting-point of this journey through the south-west of China is the city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.
The founding of Chengdu dates back to the 4th century BC. Excavations north-west of Chengdu, at Sanxingdui, prove that Sichuan province was already settled more than 4,000 years ago. In 1986 excavations at Sanxingdui brought to light many bronze masks and statues and valuable objects made of gold and jade that date from the ancient kingdom of Shu.
Not much information on the kingdom of Shu has been passed on, but there are indications that Sanxingdui was the center of a rather large kingdom in the present Sichuan Province. Among experts Sanxingdui is therefore regarded as one of the most significant archeological sites in China. Sanxingdui is situated about 40 km north-west of Chengdu in the magnificent Sichuan Province.
Most recently Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has become something like a trading capital for South and West China. Many international companies have set up offices around Chengdu. In addition, many countries have established consulates in Chengdu, among them Australia, Germany, England, France, and Switzerland.
Thanks to modern means of transport it is quite easy to get around in Chengdu. There is both an efficient bus system and a modern and extensive subway network. And if you get completely lost in the confusing entanglement of streets and laneways in Chengdu, you can always flag down one of the many taxis and have yourself driven back to your hotel. Since 2017 the airport of Chengdu has been linked to the subway network.
Travel to Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China: Giant Panda Bears and much more
A trip to Chengdu would not be complete without a visit to the Giant Panda Research Station which is situated about 10 km north of Chengdu city center. The Panda Research Station of Chengdu was founded in 1993 with the help of WWF. The generously laid-out grounds give the visitor a unique chance to observe those sedate creatures at close range in an almost natural environment. It is best to visit Chengdu Panda Breeding Station early in the morning. That is when the Pandas are fed their bamboo breakfast and are particularly active.
Of course, Chengdu and the Sichuan Province have much more to offer than the Giant Panda Bears.
Once you have got used to the gigantic dimensions of this megacity, Chengdu reveals itself on closer examination as a very attractive city with many enthralling temples and lively laneways rich in history, as well as cozy street cafés where you can relax after a strenuous tour of the city.
The city of Chengdu is also known for its wide range of restaurants and snack bars. In the Sichuan province eating is something very important, and you cannot help feeling that in Chengdu eating takes place at every street corner at every hour of the day and night. In the Sichuan cuisine Sichuan pepper and dried chili play a very important role. Even if it is called pepper, Sichuan pepper has a lemony taste and causes a tingling numbness in your mouth. While in Chengdu you must try a spicy Sichuan hotpot, a “ma la huo guo”. A literal translation of “ma la huo guo” is more or less “numbing sharpness”, which is derived from the tingling sensation on the lips caused by Sichuan pepper.
Travel the Yunnan Province: Nuodeng Village, China
The magnificent landscape makes the trip to Nuodeng near Yunlong in Yunnan Province in itself a very special experience! The Bai village Nuodeng is situated 155 km from Dali in a parallel valley on the western side of Cang Range. From Dali you reach Nuodeng via the highway and then along main road S227 in a northerly direction as far as Yunlong. Nuodeng is a little further north of the city Yunlong on the bank of Bijian River, and it enthuses the visitor with its well-preserved Bai architecture.
At one time Nuodeng in Yunnan province was a trading post on the Tea and Horse Road. The Tea and Horse Road was an extensive network of trading routes for the transport of goods between the tea-growing areas in the south of Yunnan and Tibet.
The surroundings of Yunlong were once a rich source of salt and were known for the mining of salt. Especially the village of Nuodeng made a name for itself because of the outstanding quality of its salt. In Yunnan province salt was regarded as a source of energy and the value of salt was higher than that of gold.
If we can believe the accounts of Marco Polo, in old China salt was even pressed into coin form and could be interchanged for gold. According to Marco Polo’s accounts 60 grams of salt were worth about 10 grams of gold. In addition, the salt found at Nuodeng was much more pure than sea salt because it was not polluted by maritime minerals. Through trading and transport of that salt Nuodeng Village became considerably affluent.
When you stroll through the paved laneways and stairways the former prosperity of Nuodeng is still be felt and seen. The entries to the houses, many of them ornate decorated, are silent witnesses to the former wealth of the families which once owned these houses.
In Nuodeng there is plenty of simple accommodation where you can spend a night. From the village of Nuodeng you need about four hours of travel to reach Shaxi, another village on the former Tea and Horse Road.
Travel to Nuodeng: The famous Nuodeng Ham from Yunnan Province
The village of Nuodeng is known as well for the production of “huo tui”, an air-dried ham. The dried ham of Nuodeng is one of the best “huo tui” in Yunnan province. Still today the dried ham of Nuodeng is produced in practically the exact same way it once was, by hand in back yards or in small family enterprises.
Roughly speaking, production of Nuodeng ham can be divided into four phases. After the haunches have been separated and cooled to low temperatures the remaining blood is squeezed out. After that the ham is cured in coarse-grained Nuodeng salt and stored for a few days at cold temperatures. After being stored in salt the ham is washed in a maize distillate (maize liquor) to remove excess salt from the surface. Afterwards the Nuodeng hams are dried for 12 to 24 months.
The quality of Nuodeng ham also depends greatly on the feeding of the pigs and on climatic conditions. Cold winters and mild summers are ideal for the production of Nuodeng ham.
Sichuan Travel: the city of Chongqing, China
The old center of Chongqing lies on a hilly peninsula at the junction of the Yangtze and Jialing River in the province of the same name, Chongqing.
When you travel to Chongqing you are first struck by the dimensions of that megacity and Chongqing appears anything but attractive. That presumably also is linked to the uninviting weather: the foggy winters are moist and cool, while in summer the winding laneways of Chongqing are converted into a humid furnace.
Chongqing is a city of great contrasts: on the one hand you find moldy Chongqing with its somber alleys and steep stairways. But if you go a few steps further you feel like being in an American city or at Hong Kong harbor.
The ultramodern architecture makes an exciting contrast to the traditional houses and the time-honored temples in Chongqing.
Journey to Chongqing, China: the Sichuan hot pot:
Chongqing is a hectic city. Everywhere people are doing business and on every corner there is a food stall or a restaurant. Generally, you get the impression that eating is the main activity for the people in Chongqing. The greeting “Have you already eaten?”, common throughout the country, receives a totally new significance in Chongqing.
Especially the Sichuan hot pot enjoys great popularity. When and how the Sichuan hot pot originated is not documented exactly. According to legend poor harbor laborers are said to have dunked fish waste in an extra sharp broth to disguise the aroma of the already rotting flesh.
The Sichuan hot pot is a form of fondue, where you sit as a group around a pot in which various ingredients, such as vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, innards and meat are cooked on the table. The ingredients and the degree of sharpness of the Sichuan hot pot you can choose when you order the hot pot. If not everybody at the table is used to spicy food, you can order a so called “Yuanyang” hot pot. In a Yuanyang hot pot the spicy broth is on one side and on the other the non-spicy broth. The recipe for the broth for a spicy Sichuan hot pot is a well kept secret of the restaurant.
When the ingredients have been cooked you stir the broth with chopsticks until you find something you want. A further important part of the Sichuan hot pot is the sauce which you can put together yourself in most restaurants. Basically, there are two kinds of sauces with the Sichuan hot pot. One consists of soya sauce, peanut cream, chili, vinegar, and sesame oil. In the other sauce the ingredients consist of oyster sauce, garlic oil, Sichuan pepper, and a type of white wine. Basically with the Sichuan hot pot everyone can put together his/her own sauce according to taste.
Of course, in Chongqing there are also less spicy joys for the palate, for example dim sum, in which small delicious specialties are handed round in little baskets.
Travel to Chongqing: a bit of history
During the Song dynasty (17-11 BC) Chongqing was the capital of the once influential Ba kingdom. Some traditions from that time are extant to this day, for example the famous “hand dance” of the Tujia, who form one of the biggest minorities in the Chongqing municipality. During the Second Chinese-Japanese War (1937-45) Chongqing served for a while as the capital of Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang government and suffered considerably from bombardment by the Japanese air force.
The two provinces of Sichuan and Chongqing, which till then had been united, were split apart at the National People’s Congress of 1997. Chongqing was joined with Wanxian, Fuling und Qianjing and received the status of an autonomous municipality under direct administration from Beijing (like Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai).
Not least because it has the biggest inland river harbor in all of China, Chongqing had developed in recent years into the biggest and most important industrial and trading city in western China.
Today the city of Chongqing is happy to call itself the world’s biggest city. That is probably correct if you count all of its approximately 32 million inhabitants. But that is deceptive, because the province Chongqing does not only consist of the one city Chongqing but includes also many smaller towns in the hilly countryside. Many of these towns are engage in agriculture.
Chongqing is also the starting point for the well-known three-gorges cruise on the Yangtze River. In Chongqing a sub-tropical monsoon climate is predominant, with very hot and wet summers and relatively mild winters. Chongqing is a fascinating, pulsating city and is an ideal starting point for exploring south-west China.
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Day 1: YOUR JOURNEY TO SOUTH-WEST CHINA STARTS IN CHENGDU, CAPTIAL OF SICHUAN
Morning arrival in Chengdu and transfer to your hotel.
Chengdu, the modern and pulsating capital of Sichuan had developed in recent years into the economic center of western China.
A modern ambitious metropolis with high buildings made of glass, Western fast food restaurant chains, and many modern shopping centers is waiting its visitors.
On the other hand there is also the “old” China with its innumerable small brightly colored side streets with traditional flea- and street markets, typical hairdressers and local restaurants that stand in an interesting contrast to the modern Chengdu.
Overnight accommodation in Chengdu.
Day 2: SICHUAN TRAVEL: CHENGDU - PANDA BEARS - BAOGUANG MONSTERY - CHENGDU
Travel to Giant Panda Breeding Station outside Chengdu. In the morning the Giant Pandas are particularly active, and you have the chance to observe those astonishing animals in an almost natural environment while eating their bamboo breakfast.
Trip to Baoguang Monastery, situated in the northern district of Chengdu. The origins of Baoguang Monastery go back to the eastern Han dynasty. During the Tang dynasty (618-907), when Buddhism started to spread in China, Baoguang Monastery gained importance and became a Buddhist center in the region. The 13-story pagoda, 30 meters high, dates from that time.
The trip continues to Sanxingdui. The spectacular archeological site at Sanxingdui is situated 40 km north-east of Chengdu and is regarded by experts as one of China’s most important archeological sites. Sanxingdui has a history of more than 3,000 years and was presumably at that time the capital of a state with the name “Shu”. In 1986 excavations revealed many masks and statues made of bronze and many valuable objects made of gold and jade. You visit the Sanxingdui museum.
Travel back to Chengdu.
Day 3: TRAVEL FORM CHENGDU TO LESHAN GIANT BUDDHA AND ON TO QIANWEI IN SICHUAN PROVINCE
Trip to the Giant Buddha of Leshan.
At 71 meters high the colossal and impressive Buddha of Leshan is regarded as the biggest Buddha sculpture in the world.
The Giant Buddha of Leshan was chiseled out of a stone wall in more than 90 years of work in the 8th century. You visit Dafo Park, from where the incredible dimensions of the Giant Buddha of Leshan appear even more impressive.
After lunch you take a short boat trip on Min River. From the boat you have the best view of the whole Buddha of Leshan.
The trip continues to Qianwei. Overnight stay in Qianwei.
Day 4: QIANWEI - TRAVEL BY JIAYANG STEAM TRAIN TO HUANGCUNJING - ZIGONG SALT WELLS
Your Sichuan journey continues to Shixi near Qianwei, the starting point for your train journey to Huangcunjing. At a leisurely pace the trip by steam train takes you through the picturesque landscape to Huangcunjing. To transport coal from the coal mine in Huangcunjing, in 1938 a narrow-gauge track was built to Mamiao.
In July 1959 a new stretch from Huangcunjing to Shixi was opened up. The rail track, about 20 km long, at that time served only to transport coal and the mine workers.
Later the local people profited from the narrow-gauge track when, from the 1960’s on, the Jiayang coal mine connected passenger wagons to the coal trains. A short hike to the village Bajiaogou. Trip by the electric cart to Baima Miao, where the driver is waiting for you for the journey to the Zigong Salt Wells.
Trip to the salt well at Zigong. En route you make a stop at Xianshi. The village of Xianshi is situated on the bank of Fui River and has a long history of salt mining. During the Qing dynasty the idyllic village was an important trading post and harbor town where the excavated salt was weighed, cleaned, traded, and finally loaded onto ships. Travel on to Zigong. Check-in at the hotel.
Day 5: SICHUAN TOUR: TRAVEL FROM ZIGONG SALT WELLS TO CHENGDU
The city of Zigong is situated far south in Sichuan province in the Sichuan Basin. Especially during the Ming und Qing dynasties Zigong developed, thanks to its underground salt reserves, into an important and wealthy trading town. The beginnings of salt mining in Zigong go back to the Eastern Han dynasty, when the first salt wells were drilled for Emperor Zhangdi.
You visit the Shenhai “salt wells”, where salt is mined till today by the old method used a century ago.
You visit the museum that presents the history of salt mining in Zigong. The interesting exposition gives information on the technique of salt mining, salt trading, and the working conditions in the salt mines of Zigong.
From Zigong you travel back to Chengdu.Che ck-in at your hotel in Chengdu.
Day 6: SICHUAN TOUR: TRAVEL BY HIGH SPEED TRAIN FROM CHENGDU TO DAZU AND CHONGQING
Transfer to the high-speed railroad station of Chengdu and trip by bullet train to Dazu.
You will be met by your guide at the Dazu railway station. From the Dazu railway station it is only a short trip to the stone sculptures of Dazu situated about one hour west of Chongqing.
That extraordinary collection of stone sculptures originated between the 9th and 13th centuries and consists of more than 10,000 figures which have all been chiseled out of the sheer rock.
They are among the world’s most impressive stone sculptures of their kind. In 1999 the stone sculptures of Dazu were placed on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
Afterwards travel to your hotel in Chongqing. Overnight stay in Chongqing.
Day 7: TRAVEL BY HIGHSPEED TRAIN FROM CHONGQING TO KUNMING, CAPITAL OF YUNNAN PROVINCE
Transfer to the high speed railroad station of Chongqing. In the comfortable highspeed train you travel to Kunming in Yunnan Province in about four hours.
Arrival in Kunming at the high-seed train station at Chenggong in the south of Kunming. You are met at the station in Kunming by your Yunnan tour guide.
Travel from Kunming to Jianshui. Near Tonghai you explore Mount Xiu Shan, which is waiting with an interesting collection of temples and pagodas from various dynasties.
Continue your journey to Jianshui. Late in the afternoon you visit the impressive Confucius Temple with its lovely gardens and many temples and pavilions. Towards the evening you take a stroll in the streets of Jianshui; and in doing so you visit the well-preserved old eastern city gate from the 15th century.
Day 8: YUNNAN TRAVEL: JIANSHUI – SWALLOW CAVES – YUANYANG RICE TERRACES
In the morning you visit the traditional house of the once wealthy Zhu family from the Qing dynasty. (Zhu Family Garden)
Continue to the “Twin Dragon Bridge”. Its 18 arches span over a river bed that meanwhile has become dry. The river has only recently been rediverted to its former river bed.
Afterwards you travel on to the traditional Zhuang village called Tuanshan, which is waiting for you with its unique and well-preserved wooden architecture.
In the afternoon travel in the direction of the fascinating rice terraces of Yuanyang.
En route you visit the Swallow Caves situated about 20 km outside of Jianshui. Over millions of years Lu River has created this impressive system of caves. In spring and summer hundreds of thousands of swallows make their nests in the caves: hence the name Swallow Caves. Continue your journey through a beautiful landscape to the rice terraces of Yuanyang.
Day 9: TRAVEL TO YUANYANG, THE MOST IMPRESSIVE RICE TERRACES IN CHINA
Early birds experience an unforgettable sunrise over the rice terraces.
In June 2013 the rice terraces of Yuanyang were placed on UNESCO’s list of world natural heritage sites.
If possible, visit a colorful markets in the Yuanyang area, where members of the Yi, Lisu and Hani ethnic groups do their shopping in their traditional costumes.
The Hani is one of the 26 ethnic minorities in Yunnan Province in southwest China. Most Hani inhabit mountain areas between 800 and 2500 meters above sea level and are mainly engaged in agriculture.
In the afternoon you undertake a two-hour hike with breathtaking views of the rice terraces of Yuanyang and the surrounding villages. Travel back to your Hotel.
Overnight accommodation takes place in Yuanyang in a hotel near the Rice Terraces.
Day 10: TRAVEL FROM YUANYANG RICE TERRACES TO STONE FOREST OF LUNAN AND KUNMING
After breakfast you leave Yuanyang in a northerly direction via Mile to the Stone Forest of Lunan (Shilin).
The often changing landscape along the highway compensates for today’s somewhat longer trip.
About midday you arrive at the Stone Forest of Lunan. In the afternoon you visit the Stone Forest (Shilin) of Lunan, located about 100km east of Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province.nThe Stone Forest of Lunan is one of the best known and most popular attractions in Yunnan province in China. Over millions of years rain and erosion have formed a uniquely impressive landscape.
You take a walking tour of about 1.5 hours around Stone Forest of Lunan before continuing your trip to Kunming. Check in at your hotel in Kunming.
Day 11: TRAVEL BY HIGH-SPEED TRAIN FROM KUNMING TO DALI AND VISIT THE VILLAGES OF DONGLIANHUA , WEISHAN AND XIZHOU IN YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA
Your journey continues by high-speed train from Kunming to Dali. You are met by your guide at the Dali train station. Travel to Weishan. On your trip to Weishan you make a stop in Donglianhua. The inhabitants of Donglianhua are descendants of Muslim soldiers who conquered Yunnan province in the 13th century for the Mongolian armies of Kublai Khan. Till today most inhabitants of Donglianhua belong to the ethnic group of the Hui.
The Hui are the biggest Muslim ethnic group in China. After the Ming takeover from the Mongolian Yuan dynasty in 1386 many of the soldiers stayed in Donglianhua Yunnan. Gradually the former riders became peasants and traders.
Continue your journey to Weishan. The town of Weishan is situated 52 km south of Dali and was once an important and prosperous trading place during the Nanzhao Kingdom in the 8th and 9th centuries.
You take a stroll through the idyllic old town of Weishan. In the afternoon you make an excursion from Weishan to Mount Weibao, a holy mountains in Taoism. On the beautiful hike through pine forests you explore some of the many temples.
Travel to Xizhou. Check-in at the hotel. The village of Xizhou is known for its well-preserved Bai architecture. Todays overnight accommodation is at Xizhou.
Day 12: YUNNAN TRAVEL: XIZHOU TO DALI OLD TOWN
Travel to Dali Old Town. Dali is situated on the western bank of Lake Erhai at the foot of the impressive Cang mountain range. In the 9th century Dali was the capital of the gigantic Nanzhao Kingdom before the historic city was overrun 400 years later by the Mongols.
Take a stroll through old town Dali. In doing so you visit the market, the Catholic church, and the old city gates.
Trip by chair lift up to Zhonghe Monastery. From there a marvelous simple hiking path over 11 km long leads along the eastern flank of Cang mountain range and opens up a glorious view of the Dali Valley and Lake Erhai.
Return to Xizhou. Overnight accommodation at Xizhou village.
Day 13: TRAVEL FROM XIZHOU TO YUNLONG AND NUODENG VILLAGE IN YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA
Today’s trip takes you into the remoter parts of the Yunnan Province to the small town of Yunlong situated in a western valley parallel to Dali Valley on the shores of the Bijiang River.
The area around Yunlong was once known for salt mining.
Especially the village of Nuodeng made a name for itself because of the outstanding quality of its salt, and through trade and transport of that salt it achieved significant affluence. You make a walking tour Walk through Nuodeng.
Likewise, there are many well-preserved wind and rain bridges in the area around Nuodeng and Yunlong.
Overnight stay in a rustic guesthouse in the middle of Nuodeng village.
Day 14: TRAVEL FROM NUODENG TO SHAXI IN YUNNAN PROVINCE, SOUTH-WEST CHINA
Travel through a lovely landscape of western Yunnan Province over a winding road to Shaxi.
Over 1,000 years ago goods were transported on the “Tea and Horse Road” between Tibet and China. In the main those goods were Tibetan horses and salt exchanged for tea from Yunnan.
Shaxi was an important and affluent trading station on that route. In the 1990’s Shaxi was lovingly restored with help from Switzerland.
Walking tour through the idyllic village of Shaxi.
Check-in at your hotel or guesthouse in Shaxi. You will spend the night in a guesthouse near the village square.
Time to explore Shaxi on your own.
Day 15: VISIT SHAXI, SHIBAOSHAN, YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA
In the morning you undertake an excursion to nearby Mount Shibao (Shibaoshan) near the village of Shaxi.
You explore the many temples and pavilions from various dynasties and admire the rock drawings that are over 1,300 years old – witnesses from a time when Mahayana Buddhism began to spread in Yunnan.
A simple 1.5 hour hike along the old “Tea and Horse Road” brings you back to Shaxi.
The rest of the day is at your disposal. You can undertake a cycling tour from Shaxi to the surrounding villages.
Overnight accommodation is near the village square in Shaxi.
Day 16: HIKING THE TIGER LEAPING GORGE: SHAXI – QIAOTOU – HIKE UP TO TEA HORSE GUESTHOUSE IN YUNNAN PROVINCE
Today you travel mostly along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, which here is still called “Jin Sha Jiang” (Golden Sand River), to Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Wedged between Haba Range in the west and the snow-capped peaks of Jade Dragon Mountain in the East, Tiger Leaping Gorge is among the world’s deepest gorges. The difference in height between the Yangtze in the valley and the highest peaks of Jade Dragon Mountain is an incredible 3,900 meters.
According to legend a tiger once escaped from his hunters here by saving himself by leaping to the other side. Hence the name “Tiger Leaping Gorge”.
On the scenic trail you hike for about two hours until you reach the Naxi Family Guesthouse. The views are simply breathtaking!
After that you attack the steepest and most strenuous part of the hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge with its “28 bends”. The exertion is compensated again by a glorious view of Jade Dragon Mountain.
After about 3 hours you arrive at your guesthouse situated high over the Tiger Leaping Gorge. You spend the evening on the terrace and enjoy the magnificent view of Jade Dragon Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Day 17: HIKE TIGER LEAPING GORGE – TRAVEL TO LIJIANG / SHUHE IN YUNNAN PROVINCE
After breakfast you leave your guesthouse and continue your hike on a scenic trail high above the Tiger Leaping Gorge for a good 2.5 hours along the slopes of Mount Haba.
During the whole hike you have a marvelous view of Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao Xia) and the “Five Fingers” of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
The path is mostly flat as far as the village of Bendiwan, where you take a short break. From there the way leads mostly downhill into Walnut Grove Tina’s Guesthouse, where you can have lunch.
You can cast a last glance into the valley. At Tina’s Guesthouse at the botom of Tiger Leaping Gorge your driver is waiting for the trip to Lijiang.
Continue your journey to Lijiang or Shuhe. Check-in at the hotel.
Day 18: OLD TOWN LIJIANG / SHUHE, YUNNAN TRAVEL, CHINA
Together with your tour guide you go on a comprehensive walk through the well-preserved old town Lijiang with its network of innumerable narrow laneways and canals.
On this occasion you also get to know more about the specialties and mysteries of the mystical Naxi-Dongba culture.
Almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1996, Lijiang was placed after its reconstruction on UNESCO’s list of world cultural heritage sites.
You ascend Lion Hill, from where you have a wonderful view of old town Lijiang. After that a visit to the romantic park “Black Dragon’s Pool”, from where you have a fine view of Jade Dragon Mountain.
Overnight accommodation is at Lijiang or Shuhe
Day 19: OLD TOWN LIJIANG / SHUHE DEPARTUE
Travel to Lijiang Airport. From Lijiang there are direct flights to Chengdu and other major cities in China. End of your journey through south-west China from Sichuan to Yunnan.