A journey to the northern part of Yunnan province, one of the most impressive and diverse regions of China. Deep gorges, rapid-flowing rivers, hidden monasteries, impressive glaciers and snow-covered peaks dominate the landscape of this multifaceted journey through Yunnan. You travel along the Yangtze  and Mekong rivers and move in the footsteps of Swiss and French missionaries who labored here 200 years ago.

Your host, Adrian Stalder

Adrian Stalder

A Swiss National, passionate traveler and outdoor expert. He graduated from the Swiss business school of commerce and was supposed to start a banking career soon after. More out of curiosity he took an interim job as a tour guide for one of the leading tour operators in Switzerland and that is when he discovered his love and affection for foreign countries and their fascinating cultures and history. In between his assignments he shouldered his backpack and started to explore the remotest corners of the Asian continent. After one year in Thailand he then moved to neighboring Myanmar where he worked as the country manager for a German tour operator for almost 5 years.

He then decided to move on to Kunming, where he realized a long time dream by starting his own travel company, and to share with others his extensive travel experience and profound knowledge about China and South-East Asia. Chinese is just one of 5 languages he speaks fluently. In his spare time he is practicing Tai Ji and studies the Chinese history.

Tour Information

Travel the fascinating mountain landscape of northern Yunnan


Travel the Yunnan Province in South-West China

The north of Yunnan province, still largely undiscovered by Western tourists, was for a long time regarded as one of the most remote corners of China. Deep valleys, fast-flowing rivers, and snow-covered mountain peaks up to 6700 meters high shape the landscape.

In the first part of this fascinating journey through Yunnan you move along in the footsteps of the old tea caravans: you travel on a part of the legendary “Tea and Horse Road” that stretches from the idyllic village of Yiwu in south Yunnan up to the Tibetan Highlands. Old villages, splendid temples and richly-colored markets still today bear witness to that once important but long forgotten trading route.

In addition you meet many ethnic minorities of Yunnan province in Southwest China.

Travel along the wild rivers of south-west China


The Mekong River in Yunnan Province, China

Three of China’s most important rivers,  the Mekong, the Salween, and the Yangtze, flow for about 300 kilometers parallel coming from Tibet through this part of Yunnan province, till the Yangtze turns north at the so-called “first bend” at Shigu, while the two other rivers continue their way south to the Bay of Bengal or to the South Chinese Sea.

That unique natural landscape was recently placed on UNESCO’s list of world natural heritage sites as the “Three Parallel Rivers National Park”.

In the heart of the “Three Parallel Rivers National Park” is situated the village of Liming. The main attraction of Liming and of the “Three Parallel Rivers National Park” is the seldom visited Lao Jun Shan (Mount Laojun), which excites visitors with its gigantic red Danxia sandstone rocks. The Danxia sandstone formations are among the most beautiful and spectacular sandstone formations of their kind in China.

In Liming there are plenty of attractive places of accommodation where you can spend the night.

Journey to the holy mountains of Yunnan, south-west China.


Kawa Karpo (Meili Mountain) in Yunnan, China

The second leg of the journey takes you for the most part along the headwaters of the two rivers Yangtze and Mekong. Both ethnically and from the point of view of the landscape the traveler is immersed in what seems a new world.

The Buddhist monasteries, brightly-colored prayer flags, and decorated stupas along the route are clear signs that we are now moving on Tibetan soil, and they make a beautiful contrast to the majestically looming peak of Mount Kawa Karpo further north.

At 6700m Kawa Karpo (also called Mount Meili) is the highest peak in Yunnan province, and at the same time one of the fourteen holy mountains of the Tibetans. Mount Meili – or Kawa Karpo – is one of the few peaks in the world that has yet to be scaled. In an attempt in 1991 seventeen climbers met their death. Out of respect for Tibetan culture and religion the Chinese government has since then forbidden further attempts to climb the Kawa Karpo mountain.


Cizhong Village, Yunnan China

Yunnan journey to Cizhong in the Mekong Valley

On your Yunnan journey along the Mekong you spend the night in the idyllic village of Cizhong.

The village of Cizhong is situated on a sunny terrace high over the Mekong River. 150 years ago French and Swiss Jesuit missionaries of the „Mission Etrangère de Paris“ settled in Cizhong and built a Catholic church which still today is used and maintained by the Christian community.

Since then about 80% of the population of Cizhong belong to the Catholic faith. The missionaries of that time quickly noticed that the climate of Cizhong is perfectly suited to cultivation of vineyards.

Until recently wine was being produced in Cizhong from vines brought in by the missionaries. Because the vines gave less and less of a harvest they were replaced by younger local varieties.

So, apart from Christianity, the missionaries also brought with them good wine to Cizhong in the Mekong Valley.

Journey to Shangri-La in Yunnan province, China


The majestic Songtsam Monastery in Shangri La

Through the fascinating landscape of northern Yunnan your journey continues in the direction of Zhongdian. The city of Zhongdian is situated at 3,300 meters on the south-eastern end of the Tibetan Plateau.

Not least for reasons of tourism the city of Zhongdian was recently renamed Shangri-La, an allusion to the Shangri-La described by James Hilton in his novel The Lost Horizon, which appeared in 1933.

On a trip to Shangri-La a visit to Songtsam Monastery should not be left out. Shangri-La’s Songtsam Monastery is a little to the north of the city. It is also recommended that you spend a night either in Songtsam Retreat Hotel or in Songtsam Lodge, both of which are within sight of Songtsam Monastery.

Songtsam Monastery was built in the 17th century and is one of the biggest Tibetan monasteries in Yunnan province. Likewise, you should also visit the old town of Shangri-La.

The beauty of the landscape and the variety found on this journey through Yunnan cast a spell on even visitors who have seen a lot of China. On top of that, you are lodged partially in tastefully furnished boutique hotels that give an additional panache to this journey through Yunnan.

 

Customer Reviews

"...the scenery was out of this world..."
   Mike from Scottland
 


"...everything went smooth, we had a great time...the view from our hotel room in Deqin was fantastic..."
   Denise from Germany

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Tour Itinerary


Travel to Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China

Day 1: ARRIVAL IN LIJIANG

Arrival in Lijiang in the beautiful Yunnan Province in China's Southwest. Transfer to your hotel in Shuhe.

Shuhe was once a busy trading station on the “Tea and Horse Road”, an extension of the southern Silk Road. A small river flows right through the middle of the idyllic village, and many of the ancient wooden houses have been meanwhile renovated and converted into elegant bars or restaurants.

Check-in in the hotel. After that you go for a stroll through Shuhe.

Overnight stay in Shuhe old town.

Day 2: LIJIANG


Lijiang, Yunnan: Naxi ethnic group

Drive to Lijiang.The old town of Lijiang center is in Yunnan province at the foot of the snow-covered Jade Dragon Mountain. You take your first stroll through the wonderful old town with its innumerable narrow laneways and canals. As we do so we learn more about the distinctive features and mysteries of the mystical Naxi culture.

Almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1996, Lijiang was after its rebuilding placed on UNESCO’s list of world cultural heritages.

A visit to the romantic park called “Black Dragon’s Pond”, from where, if the weather is good, you have a great view of “Jade Dragon Mountain” (Yu Long Shan). Return to Shuhe by taxi.

An optional tour in the afternoon:
In the afternoon you ride a bicycle for 5 km through Lijiang Valley in a northerly direction toward Baisha. Baisha was once the capital of the Naxi Kingdom and the birthplace of the first Naxi king. You go to look at Liuli Temple, where there are still beautiful, well-preserved wall paintings from the late Ming Dynasty to be admired.
After that you ride your bike to Yufeng Temple. The lama monastery Yufeng was built in 1756. Inside is a 400-year-old camellia tree which still shows off its wonderful blossom garments in spring. From there you ride the rest of the to the village of Yuhu, a romantic village where the famous Austro-American botanist Joseph Rock lived from 1922 to 1949. Late in the afternoon you ride back to Shuhe.

Day 3:  LIJIANG – LIMING – TACHENG


Laojun Shan National Park in Yunnan Province

Today’s trip takes us over long stretches along the headwaters of the Yangtze River. You follow the valley to Shigu, where the Yangtze, coming from the north, makes a turn of 180 degrees and flows practically parallel to the north again.

Continue your journey to Liming. The main attractions of the seldom visited Lao Jun Shan (Laojun Shan) are the gigantic red Danxia sandstone rocks which are among the most beautiful and spectacular sandstone formations of their kind in China. On the new cable car you go up to the peak of Mount Qian Gui. At the peak erosion over millions of years has left us with a glorious and fascinating landscape which looks like an over-dimensional turtle shell. The view from Mount Qian Gui is overpowering.

Further travel (about 1 hour) to the idyllic village of Tacheng lying in a tributary valley of the Yangtze River. Overnight accommodation is at Tacheng.

Day 4:  TRAVEL FROM TACHENG TO CIZHONG


Yunnan Travel: Yunnan Snub Nosed Monkey 

In the morning you visit Tacheng Nature Reserve, the home of the golden Yunnan snub-nosed monkey. That rare breed of monkey lives exclusively in the remote forests of south-west China and in northern Myanmar. You leave the Yangtze Valley, and crossing the watershed reach the fertile Mekong Valley. This region is predominantly inhabited by the Lisu ethnic group.

You follow the Mekong River northwards. Just after Weixi you visit the hidden Gagyu monastery Khampu Shou Guo Si, which is situated high over the Mekong Valley, and it enthuses you with beautiful wall paintings (being renovated at the moment).

You travel on along the Mekong River to Cizhong, an idyllic village where French and Swiss Jesuit missionaries of the „Mission Etrangère de Paris“ built a well-preserved Catholic church 150 years ago. It is still used and maintained today by the Christian community. About 80% of Cizhong’s population since then has belonged to the Catholic faith. Stroll through the village. Overnight stay in Cizhong.

Day 5:  CIZHONG – FEILAI SI


Yunnan Travel: Mingyong Glacier in north Yunnan

Straight after Cizhong the road winds out of the Mekong Valley up to 3,000 meters above sea level. The view of holy Kawa Karpo (6,700m) and of the whole Mekong Valley is overpowering and one of the highpoints of this journey.

With a bit of luck en route you can watch how daring locals with the help of a simple pulley cross over the Mekong River hanging onto a rope. Check-in at the hotel.

Afterwards you go down into the scraggy and wild Mekong Valley. The landscape is spectacular! After arriving at Glacier Park you go in a small park bus about 4 km to the starting point of your hike. From there you hike about 1 hour up the mountain to Taizi Monastery situated at the foot of Mingyong Glacier. People who still feel energetic can hike on to the viewing platform

Trip back to Feilai Si for overnight accommodation.

Day 6: FEILAI SI – BENZILAN – ZHONGDIAN

If the weather is fine early birds experience an unforgettable sunrise against the impressive mountain background of Kawa Karpo. After a last glimpse of holy Kawa Karpo the road winds once more high up to Ya Kou Pass, 4,292 meters high, over into the valley of the Yangtze.


Yunnan Travel: Spectacular landscape of the Yangtze Valley

About 10 km before Benzilan, which is already in the Yangtze Valley, you visit Dhandrumping Monastery, one of the most significant monasteries in the region.

Dhandrumping Monastery, finely spruced up, which had its origins in the 17th century, was totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and was then reconstructed on this site and today it accommodates 300 monks once more. You travel on to Benzilan.

The city of Benzilan is situated on the bank of the Yangtze River and was once an inconspicuous trading post where Main Road G214 meets Highway X041 from Xiangcheng. The Yangtze gives Benzilan a very temperate and fertile climate with mild temperatures. It is said that on the slopes around Benzilan Yunnan’s best apples and pears are growing.

Continue your journey to Zhongdian / Shangri-La

Day 7:  ZHONGDIAN / SHANGRI-LA

A trip by public bus to Songtsam Monastery, a 300 years old Tibetan monastery. The Songtsam Monastery is important from an historical point of view because in the 17th century it was personally consecrated by the 5th Dalai Lama. Songtsam Monastery is about 3 km north of Zhongdian. Damaged during the Cultural Revolution, it is now again one of the biggest and most influential monasteries in the area.


Songtsam Monastery, Zhongdian, Yunnan Travel

Trip back to Zhongdian where you pay a visit to the old town. In doing so you will climb up “Turtle Mountain”. Whoever wants to do something good for his karma tries simply to turn the gigantic prayer wheel three times in a clockwise direction. Time at your disposal. (Tip: from October till April warm winter clothing is necessary. A wind breaker/raincoat is recommended during the summer months as well).

Optional:
In the afternoon you can undertake a bike tour around Lake Napa. Lake Napa is situated somewhat outside Zhongdian. In the winter months you can observe around Lake Napa black-throated cranes which make a break here on their long flight from south to north. En route you cycle past many Tibetan villages whose houses are built till today from traditional adobe. (Bike tour: flat, about 37 km with a short climb at both the start and the finish of the tour).

Let your day be rounded off with a delicious Tibetan dinner in an authentic 200-year-old Tibetan house (at your own expense).

Day 8:  ZHONGDIAN – BAISHUI TAI – TIGER LEAPING GORGE

On a winding road through breathtaking landscapes you reach Baishuitai. The impressive tufaceous limestone terraces of Baishuitai have been formed by constantly flowing water over a period of 250,000 years.


Yunnan Trip to the Sinter Terraces of Baishuitai

In the afternoon the journey continues in the shadow of Haba Ranges through a charming landscape to Tiger Leap Gorge (Hu Tiao Xia), where the masses of the Yangtze’s waters are squeezed through a narrow ravine, in places only 15 meters wide. Especially during the summer months that is an impressive natural spectacle.

Your driver will take you into Tiger Leaping Gorge as far as the road that leads up to the Tea Horse Guesthouse. On foot you follow the small road up to the Tea Horse Guesthouse.

Already from there you have a unique view down onto the Yangtze. After a walk of an hour you reach the Tea Horse Guesthouse high up over the gorge. You spend the evening on the terrace and enjoy the glorious view of Jade Dragon Mountain.

Overnight stay in a simple guesthouse high over Tiger Leaping Gorge with a marvelous view of Jade Dragon Mountain.

Day 9: TIGER LEAPING GORGE (Hike) –  LIJIANG/SHUHE


Hike Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province while on a trip to South-West China

You leave the Tea Horse Guesthouse and walk on a splendid high track for a good 2 hours along the slopes of Haba Mountain through Tiger Leap Gorge.

During the whole hike you have a spectacular view of Tiger Leaping Gorge and the “5 fingers” of snowy Jade Dragon Mountain.

The walk is mainly flat as far as the village of Bendiwan, where you take a break and will want to enjoy the beautiful view. Afterwards the walk is mostly downhill for another 1,5 hours as far as Tina’s Guesthouse, where your driver is waiting for you.

Drive to Lijiang/Shuhe (2 hours).  

From Lijiang there is an evening flight to Beijing, Chengdu, or Kunming, or you spend a night in Lijiang. Or you take the night train from Lijiang to Kunming.

 

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Review

Mighty Rivers & Holy Mountains

Duration:
9-11 days
Travel the remote parts of the Yunnan Province
Tour Type:
Private Tours