The Yunnan Grand Budget Tour (Group Tour)
The big Yunnan Journey for the small budget with fixed departure dates from KunmingMap
Yunnan Budget Group Tour: The big tour for the small budget!
Scroll at the end of the text for 2020 departure dates from Kunming.
A trip through one of the most beautiful areas in China at an affordable price! Come and join us for a tour of the Yunnan Province in a small group of like-minded people! We deliberately avoid luxury comfort, sometimes traveling by public transport, on foot or with bikes. This way, you will be able to experience an authentic and deep insight into the way of life of the local Yunnan people and their customs and traditions.
The Yunnan Budget Tour is also designed to allow you to have enough time to explore different places on you own. All hotels are centrally located, so that you can easlily take time off from the group and discover things for yourself.
The Yunnan Province is located in the south-west of China and presents itself to the visitor as one of the most varied, exciting and lush provinces of China. With an area of 394000 km², the Yunnan Province is about the same size as Germany and Holland combined.
This exciting journey leads you through the charming landscapes of the Yunnan province. From the colorful rice terraces of Yuanyang, recently protected by UNESCO, you drive up to the eastern Tibetan plateau at 3'300m. In Shangri-La you will get an insight into the Tibetan culture and drive through one of the deepest gorges in the world - the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Along the ancient “Tea Horse Road”
The Tea and Horse Route was an extensive network of ancient trade routes that until 60 years ago connected the important tea growing areas in Yunnan and Sichuan with the Tibetan highlands. The horse caravans on the tea and horse routes mainly transported tea from Yunnan, which was exchanged for Tibetan horses and salt.
On your Yunnan Budget tour you will visit historically important, little visited villages along the old Tea and Horse Road, where even today you can feel a breath of the golden age. On closer inspection you will still find the old caravanserais and inns, where the horse caravans took a well-deserved break after the long and sometimes dangerous journeys.
The journey is arranged in such a way that you also have enough time to explore the individual villages on your own.
Hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge
A highlight of your Yunnan Budget Tour through Southwest China will be the fairly easy hike along a scenic mountain path through the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
A public bus will bring you from Lijiang to Qiaotou, the starting point of your visit to the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Wedged between the 5490m high Jade Dragon Mountain in the East and the Haba Mountain in the West, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world! The height difference between the Yangtze River in the valley and the highest peak of the Jade Dragon Mountain is almost 4000m.
According to legend, a tiger once escaped from his hunters here by leaping across the Yangtze River in one bound to the other side. Hence the name “Tiger Leaping Gorge”.
The hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge offers unforgettable views of the Yangtze River, the gorge and the snow-capped peaks of the Jade Dragon Mountain.
The hike through the Tiger Jump Gorge does not require any special physical condition and is suitable for children from 8 years and older people.
Yunnan Budget Tour: Travel via Baishuitai through the back door to Zhongdian/Shangri-La
You continue your journey and travel from the Tiger Leaping Gorge to Baishuitai. The limestone sinter terraces of Baishuitai are about a one hour’ drive north of the Tiger Jump Gorge.
The "white water terraces" - so the literal translation of Baishuitai - were created by lime deposits from the clear water, which flows constantly over the terraces.
Over thousands of years, numerous limestone pools have been created in which the sunlight is reflected in different shades of blue. From Baishuitai you can also enjoy a magnificent view of the surrounding mountain landscape.
From the road you reach the Baishuitai via a wooden path and numerous stairs on foot in about 20 minutes. One can also be carried up by a mule. The entrance fee is to be paid at the entrance, directly opposite from the staircase.
In the village near Baishuitai there are also a few catering facilities before you continue the journey to Zhongdian.
Yunnan Budget Tour: Zhongdian town (Shangri La)
The trip in the shadow of Haba Mountain from Tiger Jump Gorge to Zhongdian is a scenic treat. The road winds endlessly from the Tiger Leaping Gorge up to the Tibetan Plateau.
The city of Zhongdian, which is often called Shangri La, is located at 3'200m in the northern Yunnan province. The name Shangri La is probably an allusion to Shangri La, which is described by James Hilton in his novel "The Lost Horizon".
The friendly Tibetans, the constantly spinning prayer wheels and drums and the dark blue sky are clear indicators that you are now on Tibetan soil.
In Zhongdian (Shangri-La) you can visit the Tibetan Songtsam Monastery, which was inaugurated in the middle of the 18th century by the 5th Dalai Lama himself.
You will have enough time to take an extended stroll along the cobble stoned alleys of Old Town Zhongdian.
In the afternoon you can take a wonderful bicycle tour around the beautiful Napa Lake from Zhongdian. Napa Lake is located just outside Zhongdian and is surrounded by a quiet road. The distance of the bicycle tour around the Napa Lake is about 30km and is easy to manage.
Shaxi village and Shizhong temple in Shibaoshan:
On your Yunnan Budget trip you will stop in Shaxi. The idyllic village of Shaxi was an important and prosperous trading station on the "Tea and Horse Road", where mainly tea from Xishuangbanna was transported to Tibet and vice versa salt and horses (hence the name "Tea and Horse Route") were transported to the Yunnan province.
Through the whole trade Shaxi reached a certain prosperity, there were numerous mansions, caravanserais as well as temples and bridges. When Mahayana Buddhism began to spread in the area in the 7th century, some Buddhist temples were built.
The lowering of the lake level from Erhai Lake near Dali opened up a new, shorter route for the tea caravans through the neighboring valley. As a result, the village of Shaxi lost its importance and fell into a 200-year slumber. In the 1990s, the village of Shaxi was lovingly restored in various phases with the help of the Swiss government and the Technical University of Zurich and is now shining again in its former glory. The surroundings of Shaxi can be explored very well during a bicycle tour.
From Shaxi it is only a short side trip to the Shizhong Temple, where you can admire over 1500 years old Buddhist stone sculptures. The stone works at Shizhong Temple originate from the Tang Dynasty, when Mahayana Buddhism began to spread in the area around Shaxi. From Shizhong Temple you can walk to Shaxi in 1.5 hours on a well-maintained hiking trail.
Yunnan Tour: Dali
Your Yunnan Budget Tour would not be complete without stopping in Dali. The old town of Dali is located at the foot of the Cang Mountain, a 4000m high mountain range, which Dali owes its pleasant and fertile climate.
During the Tang Dynasty, Dali was an important trading centre and capital of the influential Nanzhao Kingdom. The Nanzhao Kingdom stretched north to Tibet and south to Burma and northern Thailand. Around 932 the warlord Duan Siping brought down the Nanzhao kingdom and founded the Dali kingdom, which ended with the invasion of Kublai Kham around 1252. During the Nanzhao Kingdom the Mahayana Buddhism spread in the area, from this time also the 3 towers of the Chongsheng monastery originate.
East of Dali is Erhai Lake, which can be reached by bicycle in about 20 minutes. Around the Erhai Lake there is a beautiful, little used road, which invites to a scenic bicycle tour.
If you like you can take the chairlift up to the Zhonghe Monastery on the slopes of the Cang Mountain. From there an 11km long, well-developed and flat "Jade belt hiking trail" leads along the slope with a wonderful view of Lake Erhai and Dali. On the other side you take a cable car back to the valley and continue to Dali.
Or you visit the Chongsheng monastery with its striking 3 towers (San Ta Si). The San Ta Si Monastery (Chongshen Monastery) is located just north of the old town of Dali and has a small museum with artefacts from the Tang Dynasty.
Yunnan Budget Tour: Jianshui
One of the highlights of the Yunnan Budget tour is undoubtedly the trip to the rice terraces of Yuanyang.
On the journey to the rice terraces of Yuanyang you will spend the night in Jianshui. The beginnings of the historic city of Jianshui go back to the Jin Dynasty (256 - 420). During the Tang Dynasty, Jianshui (Lin An) was part of the once influential Nanzhao and later the Dali Kingdom before it was overrun by the Mongols.
The highlight of a trip to Jianshui is a visit to the former residence of the Zhu family, an ensemble of interlocking rooms and courtyards. A stroll around the glorious residence of the Zhu family is a very special experience. In addition, Jianshui inspires with the 3rd largest Confucius temple of China. The Confucius Temple of Jianshui dates from the 13th century.
Beside numerous antique buildings and temples one finds in the Confucius temple of Jianshui a small lake ("the lake of wisdom") which in the early summer months is full of beautiful lotus flowers. Of the city walls that once surrounded Jianshui, only the Chaoyang Tower has survived. The Chaoyang Tower was built in the Ming Dynasty (1389) and served as the east gate of the city. At the top of the striking "Chaoyang" tower there used to be two large copper bells which were struck when the gate to the old town of Jianshui was opened.
Yunnan Budget Tour: The magic Yuanyang Rice Terraces
From Jianshui your journey continues to the captivating rice terraces of Yuanyang. Probably the most impressive rice terraces in China, the Yuanyang Rice Terraces are located about 300km south of Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province.
For hundreds of years, the rice terraces of Yuanyang have been carved out from the slopes of the Ailao Mountains by local farmers. Your Yunnan Budget trip will take you to the most beautiful vantage points, from where you will enjoy a wonderful view of the rice terraces of Yuanyang. Since June 2013, the rice terraces of Yuanyang have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Accommodation in Yuanyang is now abundant. Most travelers prefer accommodation in the numerous villages around Yuanyang which make excellent starting points for exploring the rice terraces of Yuanyang. Those who prefer to stay closer to the rice terraces of Yuanyang should stay overnight in a hotel in Duoyishu or near Shengcun.
The best time to visit the rice terraces of Yuanyang is between November and March, when the rice terraces are filled with water. Yuanyang is also worth a visit during the harvest season in September, when the rice terraces present themselves in their yellow autumn colors.
Kunming, capital city of the Yunnan Province in China
The starting point of your Yunnan Budget trip is the 7 million city of Kunming. Kunming is often called "the city of eternal spring" because of its year-round pleasant climate. Kunming is located at 1900 meters above sea level on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau.
Thanks to the efficient public transport it is quite easy to find your way around Kunming.
The actual centre of Kunming is the Green Lake Park. It is worthwhile to visit the Green Lake Park in Kunming in the morning hours, when the locals prepare for the day with all kinds of sportive activities. On Sunday, ethnic minorities often gather for dancing. You can also take a tour of Kunming's Green Lake Park on your own before engaging on your Yunnan Budget trip. During the winter months, the park serves as a winter home for thousands of seagulls from the cold north. Feeding seagulls in Green Lake Park during this time is a popular pastime for older people and families.
Next departure dates from Kunming:
March 09 - March 20, 2020
March 23 - April 03rd, 2020
April 13 - April 24, 2020
April 20 - May 1st, 2020
October 12 - October 23, 2020
October 19 - October 30, 2020
It is recommended that you arrive in Kunming at least one day ahead of above departures. The tour is in English language. Min. participants 4 Persons. Price: USD 950 per person in a shared twin room. Price includes transportation, entrance (excl. optional tours), train, English guide accommodation. Ask for the detailed travel itinerary.
"...the organisation and the realization of the tour where both fantastic!..."
Christel from Germany
"...the tour offered enough free time to explore the towns on our own..."
Anna from Switzerland
Day 1: KUNMING TRAVEL TO JIANSHUI
Pick up at your hotel around 8h30. Drive to Jianshui. On the way stop at Tonghai where you visit Mount Xiushan with an array of traditional Temples and Pavilions in various styles of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism some of which are from the late Jin Dynasty (265-420). You take a 1-hour walk around the Xiushan before continuing to Jianshui.
Upon arrival in Jianshui visit the recently renovated Confucius Temple „Wen Miao. After Qufu and Beijiang, the Confucius Temple of Jianshui is the 3rd biggest Confucius temple in China. Within the temple compount there is a beautiful lake – the “Lake of Wisdom” – which in summer is covered in lovely lotus flowers.
Continue to the “East-Gate” and we also pay a visit to former residence of the once wealthy an influential Zhu family.
Overnight accommodation is at Jianshui near the old town.
Day 2: FROM JIANSHUI TRAVEL TO THE UNESCO YUANYANG RICE TERRACES
Drive to the Zhuang-Village of Tuanshan with its unique and well preserved Qing-Style architecture. Visit the "Twin Dragon Bridge", an ancient stone bridge from the Qing Dynasty.
You leave Jianshui towards the Swallow’s Cavern, a magnificent cave that has been dug out by the Lu River. The Lu River still runs through the lower part of the cavern. During spring and summer hundreds of thousands of Swallows can be seen flying around inside and outside the cave.
Continue through magnificent scenery towards Xinjie, the gateway to the stunning and spectacular rice terraces of Yuanyang. The Yuanyang rice terraces have been carved out of the Ailao Mountains over hundreds of years by Hani farmers living in the area.
Day 3: YUNNAN BUDGET TOUR: THE MAGNIFICENT YUANYANG RICE TERRACES
The rice terraces of Yuanyang are located in the southeast of the Yunnan Province and where painstakingly hacked out of the Ailao mountains by the resident Hani and Yi ethnic minorities.
In September 2013 the rice terraces of Yuanyang where added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Early-risers witness an unforgettable sunrise over the rice terraces. If possible visit one of the bustling weekly local markets in the area and observe the local people from various ethnic groups doing their weekly shopping. Many of them still wear their traditional costumes.
In the afternoon, scenic hike through the magnificent rice terraces of Yuanyang to a nearby Hani village.
Day 4: YUANYANG RICE TERRACES - STONE FOREST - KUNMING
You leave Xinjie and the Yuanyang Rice Terraces and drive north towards Mile. The fertile land and the mild climate make this part of the Yunnan province ideal for cultivating tobacco.
Continue via the newly constructed highway towards Lunan and the nearby Stone Forest, where we arrive in the afternoon.
Visit the Stone Forest, one of Yunnan's most popular tourist attraction. Years of rain and erosion left behind a bizarre and impressive landscape of limestone pillars which, with a little imagination, indeed resemble a Forrest. You have a walk through the maze of paths and walkways leading through this natural wonderland. Continue drive 1.5 hrs. to Kunming. Check-in at your hotel. Overnight accommodation takes place in the capital of the Yunnan Province, Kunming.
Optional and recommended for the evening: You can visit the Cultural Dance Show “Dynamic Yunnan”, a song and dance medley organized by renowned dancer, Ms. Yang Liping. It shows the different dances of the minority tribes in Yunnan province. It is both vibrant and colorful as the dancers energetically perform in their traditional costumes.
Day 5: YUNNAN BUDGET TOUR: THE OLD TOWN OF DALI
Transfer to the Kunming railway station. Board the fast train, which takes you in about 2 hours to Dali. Pick-up at Dali train station by your guide.
Head by public transportation to Dali Old Town.
Dali is situated on the eastern shores of the stunning Erhai Lake on the foot of the 4000m high Cang Shan mountain range.
During the 9th century Dali served as capital of the once powerful Nanzhao and later the Dali Kingdoms, before the historical town was overrun by the Mongols about 400 years later.
Check In at the hotel.
You take a walking tour around Dali Old Town, you visit the local market, the former city gates and the Bai style catholic church.
In the afternoon you have the choice of the following optional tours:
By local taxi you head for the Cang Shan cable car station. Take the cable car to the Zhonghe Monastery that 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.
Head back down to Dali by another cable car. (Walking time: ca. 2.5 hrs. / flat / easy and safe walking)
Visit the recently renovated 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 taxi to Dali
Day 6: TRAVEL FROM DALI OLD TOWN TO SHAXI VILLAGE, YUNNAN PROVINCE
In the morning drive by private vehicle towards Shaxi. Make a stop at Xizhou. The village of Xizhou if famous for its well-preserved Bai-style architecture. Walking tour around Xizhou. If you like you can visit the magnificent former residence of the Yan family.
Travel to Shaxi. Shaxi village was formerly an important stop along the Tea and Horse Raod from Yunnan to Tibet. The Tea and Horse Road was an extensive network of trade routes connecting the tea-growing areas in southern Yunnan and Sichuan with Lhasa in Tibet.
Visit Shibao Mountain with the Shizhong Temple. The impressive rock carvings of Shibaoshan are over 1300 years old and are testimony of the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in the region. If you like you can make a walk (1.5 hrs.) back to Shaxi with magnificent views over the Shaxi Valley below.
There is time at leisure so you can explore the cobble-stone alleys of Shaxi on your won. Overnight accommodation at Shaxi in a rustic guesthouse near the old town of Shaxi.
Day 7: SHAXI - LIJIANG / SHUHE
Drive to the village of Shuhe. For those who find Lijiang too much of a tourist place, Shuhe might be just the right place to visit.
Shuhe is located 9km north of Lijiang and attracts much less tourists than it’s “big brother” Lijiang. Still, Lijiang can easily be reached by public bus or taxi in no time.
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. There is also a little temple at the back side of the village which is open for visitors.
Check-in at the hotel. You take a walking tour around Shuhe Old Town. Overnight accommodation in Shuhe.
Optional tour for the afternoon: (entrance fees and bicycle rental to be paid extra)
By our rental bicycles, You ride to Baisha (5km). The Baisha village used to be the birthplace of the first king of the once powerful Naxi Kingdom. You visit the Liuli temple with beautiful wall paintings from the late Ming Dynasty.
Continue riding to the Yufeng Monastery. The Yufeng Monastery was built in 1756 and is famous for the over 800 years old Camellia Tree.
You cycle 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. His house has been transformed to a small museum about the live and work of Joseph Rock. After that you cycle back to Shuhe.
(Today’s entrance fees and bike rental are ca. USD 30.-). Distance about 30km, mostly flat with a short incline, easy.
Day 8: SHUHE - LIJIANG - SHUHE
You take the public bus to Lijiang. The pleasant old town of Lijang lies in the shadow of the Jade Dragon Mountain in a fertile valley at about 2’400 meters above sea level.
Like Shuhe, Lijiang used to be a pivotal stop for the horse caravans traveling along the “Tea and Horse Road”.
You take a stroll through the apparently countless and, on first sight, confusing narrow lanes and canals crisscrossing the picturesque old town. Climb Lion Hill to get a bird’s eye view over the roof tops of the old town.
Visit the local fruit and vegetable market and relax at one of the many tea and coffee shops. You can head back to Shuhe together with your tour guide or explore the old town of Lijiang a bit more on your own and head back to Shuhe on your own.
Overnight accommodation is at Shuhe.
Day 9: LIJIANG - HIKING THE TIGER LEAPING GORGE IN YUNNAN PROVINCE
Drive by public bus to Qiaotou, the starting point of your 2 days walk through the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Wedged between the Jade Dragon Mountain and the Haba Mountain range the Tiger Leaping Gorge is reputedly the world’s deepest canyon.
By local taxi you proceed into the gorge. You walk uphill along a small side road for about 1 hour. Along the way, you will enjoy spectacular views of the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the “5 Fingers” of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
After lunch you walk along a high trail along the Eastern slopes of the Haba Mountain range for about 2 hours to Bendiwan village where you spend the night in a simple guesthouse. The views of the Jade Dragon Mountain and the gorge are fantastic!
You spend the night in Bendiwan high above the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Day 10: TIGER LEAPING GORGE - BAISHUITAI - ZHONGDIAN / SHANGRI LA
You leave Bendiwan village and walk for approximately 2 hours down into the gorge. The trail is mostly flat and downhill. We recommend to have lunch at Tina’s Guesthouse before continuing your trip.
You drive in the shadow of the Haba Mountain Range through stunning scenery towards the impressive Baishuitai (White Water Terraces). The natural Limestone-stepped terraces where formed over a period of 250’000 years by the water that is constantly flowing over the terraces. You take a short walk around the terraces.
Continue travel along a curving road, once again through breathtaking landscape, in the Shadow of the Haba Mountain up towards the Eastern Tibetan Plateau to Zhongdian.
The city of Zhongdian is situated amongst a stunning landscape on the eastern Tibetan plateau at about 3300 meters above sea level. It recently changed its name and is now called "Shangri-La", after the Shangri-La that the British writer James Hilton described in his Novel "The Lost Horizon". Overnight accommodation in Zhongdian.
Day 11: ZHONGDIAN
You take a walking tour around the old town. You climb Turtle Hill and spin the giant prayer wheel three times for a good karma. (From October to April temperatures in Zhongdian can get quite cold and warm clothing is required. A windbreaker or a sweater is also recommended during the summer months).
Create your program for the afternoon: (options can be combined)
You visit Ganden Sumtseling Gompa, (by public bus 10 Min. & mandatory park bus) a 300 years old impressive Tibetan Monastery which was inaugurated personally in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama.
Destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa is now again one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in the area.
During a wallking tour through the monastery compound you will learn many interesting facts about Tibetan Buddhism.
(Price for entrance fee ton Songtsam Monastery and bus: ca. USD 12 per person)
Cycling tour around the beautiful Napa Lake. Napa Lake is a natural lake located on the outskirts of Zhongdian.
During the winter month many black-necked Cranes can be found around the lake. These rare birds come to Napa Lake in-order-to escape the cold winter months of the northern parts of China. You will come across several Tibetan villages with their traditional Tibetan houses build out of compressed earth and wood.
(Cycling tour: 34km mostly flat / easy. Cost for bicycle rental ca. USD 12 per person)
Finish the day with a delicious Tibetan Dinner in an authentic 200-years-old Tibetan House. (won cost: ca. USD 18 per person)
Day 12: ZHONGDIAN DEPARTURE
Transfer to Airport for individual departure. End of your Yunnan Budget Tour.