Yunnan Budget Tour: The Tea and Horse Road
Travel the Yunnan Province along a long lost trade routeMap
Yunnan Budget Tour: Tea Horse Road
The Tea Horse Road is an old trade route, which connected south of the Yunnan province to the Tibetan highlands. Right up until the Tibetan highway was built, tea, salt and sugar were transported along this important trade route and Tibetan horses were brought to China in the opposite direction.
The hardy Tibetan horses were particularly valuable trading assets during the Tang dynasty, as they were used as war horses against the wild nomadic tribes from the North.
The Tea Horse Road ran through one of the most beautiful, yet also most inhospitable areas of China. Often the horse-drawn caravans were ambushed and robbed by bandits along the way from the Yunnan province to Tibet.
With all of the trading, some of the places along the Tea Horse Road became considerably prosperous. Even today, the aura of former times can still be felt and seen in the villages nestled into the mountainsides and valleys. On closer inspection, in Lijiang, Shuhe and Shaxi, you can still find old caravansaries, where caravan drivers would enjoy a well-earned rest after the long, and sometimes dangerous, journey with their horses.
On this Yunnan Budget Tour, you will travel along the tracks of these old tea caravans. From Kunming, the trip will take you through Dali and Shaxi along to the old town of Lijiang. The wonderful hike through the Tiger Leaping Valley is without a doubt one of the highlights and a brilliant end to this adventure-packed Yunnan tour.
This Yunnan Budget Tour offers an excellent balance between price and quality and will amaze you with beautifully diverse landscapes and fascinating encounters with the local population.
Yunnan Travel: Kunming, capital city of the Yunnan Province, China
Your Yunnan Budget Tour will begin in Kunming, the capital city of the Yunnan province, in Southwest China. The 7 million inhabitant city of Kunming is located 1900 meters above sea level and has a pleasant, spring-like climate throughout almost the entire year. For this reason, it is often referred to as “China's city of eternal spring”.
This mild climate undeniably makes Kunming one of the most pleasant and easy going cities in China, with a very high quality of life. This well-being can also be seen amongst the Kunming population: In comparison to other cities, the people of Kunming are much more relaxed and life is visibly more laid-back than elsewhere in China.
The area around the Green Lake can easily be discovered by bike. Kunming also has a modern Subway networt and a very efficient bus system, which make it very easy to discover the city by public transport.
Around 1.5 hours by car from Kunming lies the Stone Forest of Lunan, one of the most famous tourist attractions of Kunming. The bizarrely-shaped, pointed stone needles are some of the most remarkable stone formations in China. Numerous winding paths twist and turn around the Stone Forest, which are very pleasant for extensif walks. You can reach the Lunan Stone Forest from Kunming by train, taxi or with a private rental car.
Dali, former capital city of the Nanzhao Kingdom
Early in the morning, the train will arrive in Xiaguan train station. With a local taxi, you will then travel from Xiaguan to Dali old town.
Dali's old town lies on the western bank of Lake Erhai, below the 4000m high Cang Mountains, 1,900 meters above sea level.
During the Tang dynasty, Dali was the capital city of the Nanzhao Kingdom. In its golden years, the Nanzhao Kingdom stretched all the way to Tibet, Burma and Thailand. Later, Dali became the capital city of the Dali Kingdom, which was brought to an end in 1253 by the Kublai Khan army. Kublai Khan made Dali an important military base for the Yuan dynasty. With the fall of the Yuan dynasty, Dali fell into oblivion for the next 200 years.
Only much later, Dali became an important trading post for items carried along the Tea and Horse Road from Yunnan to Tibet.
During your stay in Dali, you will be able to organise your day by yourself. You can visit Chongsheng temple with its 3 remarkable towers or take a bike tour from Dali along the banks of Lake Erhai to Xizhou. For those who wish to spend their time a little more creatively, the best option would be to take part in our Dali cooking class. With expert guidance, you will be able to learn the secrets of the most excellent Yunnan cuisine.
Travel the Yunnan Province: Trip from Dali to Shaxi
From Dali, your trip will continue on to the tranquil village of Shaxi. Shaxi village was formerly one of the most important and prosperous trading posts of the Tea Horse Road. The “Tea Horse Road” was a network of trading routes for transporting goods between tea production areas in South Yunnan to Tibet. Primarily tea from Xishuangbanna was transported along this trade route to Tibet and salt and horses were transported to Yunnan in the opposite direction.
On the way to Shaxi, you will make a stop in Shibaoshan. You will visit the Shizhong monastery, where there are many Buddhist stone sculptures to be admired in numerous caves. The stone sculptures in the Shizhong monastery are over 1500 years old and date back to times when Buddhism began to spread in the area. A well-kept hiking trail will bring you to Shaxi in less than 2 hours. In Shaxi there are now many guest houses. Staying overnight in one of these rustic boutique hotels is a unique experience.
Lijiang old town and Shuhe village
On first glance, it would seem surprising that we have booked your accommodation for the Yunnan Budget Tour in Shuhe village rather than Lijiang old town. However, Shuhe village is far less touristic than its big brother Lijiang. Shuhe is located 9km north of Lijiang and is a wonderful base to discover the area of Lijiang on your own. Lijiang old town can easily be reached from Shuhe in around 15 minutes with the public bus service.
From Shuhe, you can enjoy wonderfully beautiful bicycle tours. One of the possible bicycle tours begins in Shuhe and leads you, in the shadow of the snow-covered Jade Dragon Mountain, to Baisha, birthplace of the first king of the Naxi Kingdom.
After a short ascent, from Baisha you will then reach the 250-year-old Yufeng monastery. Inside the Yufeng monastery stands a 400-year-old Camellia tree, which blooms a beautiful coat of blossom in April. A quick descent will take you from the Yufeng monastery to Yuhu village. Yuhu village renowned botanist Joseph Rock’s base at the beginning of the last century for his botanical expeditions.
Finally, you will be able to pedal back to Shuhe. There are plenty accommodation options available in Shuhe. The options range from rustic, simple accommodation, to a boutique hotel, to luxury 5-star accommodation.
Hiking through the Tiger Leaping Gorge
The highlight of this Yunnan Budget Tour is without a doubt the hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Wedged between the Haba Mountain in the West and the Jade Dragon Mountain in the East, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world.
Over the course of 2 days, you will hike along a mountain path above the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The views of the Jade Dragon Mountain and far down to the Yangtse River flowing below are breath-taking.
Proficient hikers will begin the trail through the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Qiaotou and hike to the Tea Horse guest house in around 5 hours, where you will stay high above the valley overnight in a simple guesthouse.
On the second day, you will continue for 4 hours until reaching the Tina guest house, where you will then take a public bus to return to Lijiang. Less experienced hikers can also easily take a local taxi to the Tea Horse guest house and then walk for 2 hours along a flat trail to the Half Way guest house.
"....it was a great trip with a lot of impressions. I thought it was great that we were allowed to create the program ourselves at the different locations..."
Deborah / Switzerland
"...the accommodations were all quite basic, but clean and above our expectations. We are happy to come back on day to China and explore more of this beautiful country..."
Family Wiedmer / Switzerland
Day 1: KUNMING CYCLING TOUR
Optional bicycle tour in Kunming:
After lunch, you are picked up at your Kunming hotel by our guide.The best way to explore the city of Kunming is on a bike.
This rather easy Kunming bicycle tour gives you a good insight of the daily life in Kunming. You first cycle to Cui Hu (Green Lake Park). Relax in a local tea house and observe the locals playing Ma Jiang, cards or practicing Tai Ji.
Ride through the beautiful campus of the Yunnan University, one of the first Universities in China. Continue to the Tang Dynasty Daoist Temple Yuan Tong Si, one of the biggest and busiest temple complexes in Kunming.
On our way back you stop at the former bird and flower market and visit an old Chinese pharmacy in the area. Continue to the East/West Pagodas from the 9th century. Return your bicycles.
Day 2: KUNMING - TRAVEL BY HIGH-SPEED TRAIN TO DALI
Transfer to Kunming train station. You board the modern highspeed train to Dali. Pick up at the train station. Continue by public transportation to old town Dali.
Dali is situated on the western shores of the stunning Erhai Lake on the foot of the 4000m high Cang Shan mountain range and is mainly inhabited by people of the Bai ethnic group, which is renowned for their handicrafts.
During the 9th century Dali served as capital of the once powerful Nanzhao and later the Dali Kingdoms. Upon arrival in Dali we take a walking tour around the old town.
Visit the Catholic Church in Bai-style architecture, the former city gates and the local market.
Time at leisure to explore the old town Dali by yourself.
Optional for the afternoon:
You can take the cable car to the Zhonghe Monastery, which is located half way up Cangshan Mountain. From there a well- maintained walkway called the "Jade-Belt-Path" follows along the Eastern slope of the mountain for 11km and offers spectacular views over the Dali valley and the Erhai Lake below.
Day 3: YUNNAN BUDGET TOUR: DALI OLD TOWN
Today you choose your activity:
Dali optional tour 1:
Prepare your own delicious Yunnan lunch and get to know more about the diversity of the Yunnan cuisine! During the morning, you will visit a cooking school where you will learn how to prepare your own delicious Yunnan meal.
Together with your host you will visit the local market to get your fresh ingredients for the cooking class. Your host will introduce you to the various vegetables of the region. Under her guidance, you prepare your own, delicious Yunnan dish!
At the end of the course you take home with you not only the good memories but also the recipe in written form.
Dali optional tour 2:
In the afternoon, you undertake a beautiful cycling tour along the Erhai Lake to Xizhou, a village located about 18km north of Dali. The village of Xizhou is famous for its well- preserved architecture. Your fist cycle through the fertile Dali plains to the Erhai Lake for about 30 Minutes.
You continue cycling along a small but good road that follows more or less the shore lines of the Lake. Along the way, enjoy the beautiful views of the Lake and the urroundings.
Never mind if you can not make it all the way to Xizhou, just cycle as far as you like, take in the scenery and cycle back to Dali.
(Total cycling about 50km / flat / easy cycling)
Dali optional tour 3:
Visit the 3 Pagodas of the San Ta Si Monastery (Chongsheng Temple) from the 9th century.
The Chongsheng Temple with its characteristic three Pagodas (San Ta Si) is located about 3km north-east of Dali old town. The Monastery was built in the 9th Century, when Dali was the capital of the once powerful and influential Nanzhao Kingdom.
During the Nanzhao Kingdom the Chongsheng Temple was a significant religious center for the fast-expanding Buddhism in the region. Head back by a local taxi to Dali Old Town.
The above tours can also be combined
Day 4: TRAVEL FROM DALI TO SHAXI
In the morning drive by private car through an everchanging landscape towards Shaxi.
The picturesque old village of Shaxi was once an important stop on the Tea and Horse trail from Yunnan to Tibet. The decline of Shaxi came when the water level in Erhai Lake dropped, enabling a quicker and safer passage to the east of the Cang mountains. Shaxi (Sideng) fell into oblivion and was only recently lovingly renovated with the support of the Swiss government.
On the way to Shaxi you make a stop at Shibao Mountain. The impressive rock carvings of Shibaoshan are over 1300 years old and are testimony of the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in the region during the Tang Dynasty.
You can either walk back to Shaxi (2 hrs.) or take the car back to the hotel. You stay overnight in a guesthouse very close to the village square.
Day 5: SHAXI – SHUHE
By private car, drive to Shuhe.
For those who find Lijiang too much of a tourist place, Shuhe might be just the right place to visit. Located 10 minutes’ drive north of Lijiang, this laid back, sleepy Naxi village is a good place to stay a few days.
Shuhe was once an important trading post on the “Tea & Horse Road” for tea on the way from Southern Yunnan to Tibet. An idyllic river runs through the middle of the cobble stoned village, and many of the old buildings where carefully renovated and turned into tastefully decorated restaurants, bars or guesthouses. Upon arrival check-in at your guesthouse. After that you take a walking tour around Shuhe. Time at leisure.
Day 6: SHUHE – VISIT LIJIANG OLD TOWN – SHUHE
By public bus you head for the old town of Lijiang.The best time to discover Lijiang's old town is early in the morning, before the invasion of the Chinese tour groups. At this time of day you will have the old town of Lijiang almost to yourself.
Walking tour along the captivating confusion of alleyways and canals leading through the well-preserved old town. You learn more about the mystic Dongba religion, an ancient cult still practiced today.
You climb Lion Hill to catch a birds-eye view of the roofs of the old town. Visit the local market and taste some of the local snacks.
The city of Lijiang was destroyed by an earthquake in 1996. After the reconstruction, the old town of Lijiang was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. After lunch you can either head back to Shuhe together with your guide or you explore the old town by yourself and head back to Shuhe on your own.
Day 7: SHUHE – BAISHA – YUHU VILLAGE – SHUHE
Day at leisure in Shuhe.
Optional cycling tour:
By our rental-bikes you ride to Baisha located about 5km north of Shuhe. Visit the Liuli temple with beautiful wall paintings from the late Ming Dynasty, which, miraculously, survived the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.
Continue riding to the Yufeng Monastery which is famous for the over 800-year old Camellia Tree.
Continue cycling through the magnificent countryside of the Lijiang valley past Jade Water village to Yuhu, a village where the Austrian-American Botanist Joseph Rock used to live from 1922 to 1949.
You can visit his house, which has been transformed to a small museum about the live and work of Joseph Rock.
After that you cycle back to Shuhe.
(Total cycling distance about 30km, mostly flat with a short incline, rather easy)
Day 8: LIJIANG – QIAOTOU – HIKING TIGER LEAPING GORGE
By public bus you head for Qiaotou, the starting point of your hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Reputedly the deepest canyon in the world, the Tiger Leaping Gorge measures 16km long and a staggering 3900m from the waters of the Jinsha (Yangtze) River to the snow- capped mountain tops of the Haba Mountain Range to the West and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the East.
The path climbs steadily while it follows the hillside in a north-eastern direction into the gorge. There are already some spectacular views of the Yangtze River below. After two hours, you arrive at the Nuoyu Village.
After lunch, we head out to face the “28 bends”, the steepest and toughest part of the trek. Once arrived at the top you are rewarded with spectacular view of the Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao Xia) and the “5 Fingers” of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. From there the path is mostly flat or downhill along the hill for another 1 hours until we reach the Tea Horse Guesthouse, where we stay for the night. (Should you decide not to walk the entire Tiger Leaping Gorge, then you can hire a local taxi at Qiaotou and drive to the Tea Horse Guesthouse).
Day 9: TIGER LEAPING GORGE HIKING – LIJIANG
After a good breakfast, you leave the Tea Horse Guesthouse and walk along the slopes of Haba Mountain to Bendiwan village. The trail is mostly flat and easy to walk. After 1.5 hours, you reach Bendiwan.
Take a rest, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and take in the beautiful scenery. From here you walk past a waterfall before heading down into the gorge. Take a last look at the magnificent scenery. This part of the trail is mostly flat and downhill. The walking time is about 2 hours.
Once you reach Tinas Guesthouse you can have lunch there. After that you head back to Lijiang by public bus.
Another option is to continue your journey from Tiger Leaping Gorge to Zhongdian by public bus.