Begin this classic Yunnan tour with a 400-km transfer from Kunming to Dali. Dali is home to the Bai minority and was a stronghold of the kingdom of Nanzhao (738-902) and epicenter of the Dali Kingdom (937-1253). The region, notably the shores of the Erhai Lake, played a strategic role in Yunnan’s history, with unique artifacts found in the region dating back to 1000 BC. The Bai, who settled in the area over 3,000 years ago, are most distinguishable by their predominantly white clothing and by their distinctive homes, which are very particular to this region
Dali is also very well known for its marble. Extracted from quarries in Mount Cangshan and exported in great quantities, marble, in Chinese, literally translated as “Dali stone.” For those interested, there’s an optional visit to a marble factory en route to Dali.
Upon arrival in DALI, check into your hotel. After that, travel by bike around Erhai Lake, where beautiful lakeside vistas are abundant and local Bai fishermen sit against the background of the impressive Cangshan Mountains.
Overnight in Dali.
Following the breakfast, begin the Yunnan tour today with a visit to the old town of Dali, where a few typical Bai homes can still be found. A relaxed, warm atmosphere seems to ooze from these white walled homes, generally adorned with paintings representing mountains, running water, birds and flowers. Their front porches, famous throughout the country, are distinguished by their beautifully carved arches.
From the Dali old town, head out to the Three Pagodas at the Chongsheng Temple. The temple is a mystical emblem of the town and stands proud at the foot of the Changshan Mountains. The 9th century Pagoda of the Thousand Awakenings is characterized by its square plan, similar to that of the Wild Goose Pagoda found in the ancient imperial capital, symbolizing the influence the Chinese Tang Dynasty in the region.
The three pagodas were part of a vast monastic center which unfortunately was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake. The remaining temple was restored and transformed into a museum, which will be featured during the visit. The site is particularly impressive when the sun sets behind the mountains and illuminates the ochre color of the pagodas.
Enjoy lunch en route to SHAXI, a five-hour drive southeast of Dali. Shaxi is a traveler’s oasis that used to be a major stop on the Tea-Horse Road that ran through the region, forming a major part of its heritage and history. Less well known than the Silk Road, it still remains a key trade route today. It was during the Tang dynasty (618-907), when the Tibetan interest in tea grew rapidly, that the route become famous. Tibetans would trade their horses for this typical Chinese export on a complex, high-altitude trade route on which Shaxi became one of the major stops.
Arrive in Shaxi in the evening. Relax and soak in the authentic atmosphere of this unique town.
Overnight in Shaxi.
This morning, enjoy a leisure walk along the old streets to the lively Sideng Square, the center of trading paved with red sandstone and surrounded by old locust trees. During the walk we will visit the dramatic Three Terraced Pavilion and its nearby Xingjiao Buddhist Temple; the former being an extremely rare building in such a remote area.
Alternatively, head into the surrounding countryside that is notable for its ochre earth and traditional village houses made of earthen bricks. Crossing the southern bridge, enter into the heart of the local countryside, a former ancient caravan route.
NOTE: If the itinerary falls on a Friday, enjoy the buzzing experience of visiting the local market. Attracting many Bai and Yi peoples, visitors come from remote corners of neighboring mountains to exchange all types of food products and day-to-day necessities.
After lunch, head to Shibaoshan, an impressive collection of temples, caves, and stone sculptures. These magnificent stone carvings date as far back as 1300 years to the once powerful Nanzhao Kingdom during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Take note of the religious effigies representing Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, or the renowned Stone Treasure, a black rock that is believed to increase fertility.
Wrap up the day with a visually stunning walk that offers spectacular views of the surrounding valley and villages. Visitors beware! The area is home to monkeys who like to liberate passers-by of all of their snacks…
Overnight in Shaxi.
Continue the Yunnan tour experience to Lijiang (about 97 kilometers, 2 hour drive). Known for its magnificent labyrinth of traditional redwood and brick houses topped with grey slate roofs, this region is known for its canals, stone bridges, and cobbled streets which, in 1999, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Particularly beautiful are the town’s small interior courtyards, furnished with flowers and bushes- a real paradise at the heart of Naxi culture. Originally coming from Tibet over 2000 years ago, the Naxi first lived as nomads in Sichuan before settling in Yunnan. There are around 300,000 Naxi People living in China, found mostly in Yunnan and Sichuan. They are most notable for their expertise in canal building which assures each home has running water, Lijiang being a perfect example.
Upon arrival in LIJIANG, embark on a walking tour on the maze-like, 800-year-old streets of Lijiang Old Town. Crossing over the labyrinth of alleyways, we arrive at Lion Hill, which offers fantastic views over the village below. Here, you can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea on the terrace while enjoying fantastic views over the town; a welcomed rest after the ascent to the top.
Continue on to the Mu Palace, a vivid example of Ming and Qing architecture. The palace complex covers 16 acres and contains nearly 100 separate buildings, in a style matching Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Following the visit to the palace, head onwards to the edge of the old town where the local market will provide a unique feel for the ‘real’ Lijiang. It is a great opportunity to see locals still dress in traditional clothing, selling teas, vegetables, fruits, and even daily tools in a very vibrant and animated atmosphere.
Journey on to the Black Dragon Pond Park in the north of the town which offers, on a clear day, a panoramic view of the famous Jade Dragon Mountain. This pond also provides a haven for bird and water-life, with spectacular plants. After this visit, head back to the vibrant heart of the old town.
NOTE: This day will be spent entirely on foot. As the cobbled streets can sometimes be slightly slippery, it’s recommended to wear sturdy shoes.
Overnight in Lijiang.
Conclude our Yunnan tour with a trip up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the most southerly snow-capped mountain in the Northern Hemisphere. The mountain, also called Satseto in the Naxi language, takes its name from the God of War in the Dongba religion.
As the number of visitors to the site is rather high, a visit to the less-visited Yak Prairie area will be arranged to avoid the mass tourism. The view from here over the glacier is as equally as stunning as from the more popular destinations. Moreover, it is the right place for shooting the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and watching its thirteen peaks which are covered with snow all year round.
After the visit, you will be transferred to the Lijiang or Kunming Airport to catch you departing flight.