Day 1 Arrive Kunming
Arrive this morning into Kunming's airport. Here you are greeted by your local guide and transfer about one and a half hours to the nearby Stone Forest. This towering collection of limestone formations creates the illusion of being petrified trees, and is part of the South China Karst and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If the opportunity arises, we may stop to visit with a local Yi family, the main ethnic group found in this area.
After the visit, drive back to the city of Kunming and settle into your hotel for the evening.
Day 2 On to Dali
Head back to the airport today for a quick flight on to nearby Dali, an old town with beautiful landscapes and a rich history. Upon arrival, meet your local guide and head out to explore Cangshan Mountain. Take a chair lift up the mountain where you set out on a two hour walk along the Jade Trail, which connects to another chairlift station. Enjoy the city views of Dali below and smell the wildflowers that often bloom in the summer months.
Next visit Chongsheng Temple, one of the most popular Buddhist shrines in southwest China. This evening explore the small and charming Dali Ancient Town. Built during the Ming Dynasty, "Old Town" Dali has been kept separated from the "new town" and other modern growth, thereby preserving its traditional architectural style.
Day 3 Weishan County Villages
Today you will drive an hour south to the old village of Weibaoshan (or Weibao). One of the most renowned scenic spots in the Dali area, it is one of China's Taoism holy mountains and the birthplace for the legendary King of the Nanzhao Kingdom, Xinluo. The mountain is home to multiple Daoist temples along the mountain sides that were built during the Nanzhao Kingdom.
After lunch visit the Dong Lianhua Village, a Hui Muslim village located near the Hong He River. The well-preserved ancient town was dubbed a national cultural village in 2008 and its preserved buildings reflect the charm and culture of the Hui people. After your visit here, drive back to Dali for the evening.
Day 4 Xizhou Bai & Shaxi Villages
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch
This morning drive to Xizhou Bai Village, an important town throughout history and the best preserved example of Bai traditional houses and Qing Dynasty architecture. Visit the bustling Xizhou market today where a range of items from groceries to handicrafts are sold. See the traditional dress of the Bai women, visit a local family's house, and see a show called Tea Ceremony of Three Courses - a tradition amongst the Bai people often accompanied with a show that includes singing and dancing.
Continue 2-3 hours to Shaxi Village. Stop en route at Shibaoshan to see the vivid grottos carved during the Nanzhao Kingdom about 1100 years ago. Arrive to Shaxi Village, a once important bustling trade station on the Tea & Horse Caravan that linked Yunnan and Tibet with Southeast Asia, and the world's only surviving example.
Day 5 Lijiang
This morning continue to explore Shaxi before driving two hours north to Lijiang. The road ascends to the higher altitude of Lijiang and offers great countryside views of Yunnan. Lijiang received its name (Beautiful River) by Kublai Khan in 1254 and its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is comprised of an orderly system of bridges and canals and the townspeople still use the water to wash the ground everyday as has been done since the town's founding.
Upon arrival stop for lunch, then spend some time to see some main sights, such as the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain which dominates the northwest horizon and the Museum of Naxi Culture. Explore the ancient town of Lijiang and learn about the history of this town. Climb up Lion Hill and enjoy a panoramic view of the ancient city before turning in for the day.
Day 6 Baisha Frescos & Naxi Culture
Today drive to Baisha Village, located in the oldest zone of the city of Lijiang, to see 44 frescos (murals) that were carved during the Ming Dynasty. Most of the paintings depict religious stories from Taosim, Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism and exemplify the artistic talent of the Naxi, Tibetan, Han, and Bai ethnic groups.
Visit next Yuhu Village, a lakeside town fed by melted snow in the mountains. The mountain is considered holy by locals, and thus the holy water that reaches the village gives it a layer of mystery. This picturesque spot also claims to have been home to the first foreign resident, National Geographic explorer Joseph Rock, who came to live here in 1922 and introduced the outside world to the Yunnan province through his photographs and writing.
Drive next to Shuhe Old Town, a UNESCO component of Lijiang, and an example of a well-preserved town along the tea route. Lijiang is one of the earliest settlements of the ancestors of the Naxi people. Explore this town and enjoy an evening concert of ancient Naxi music, considered to be a "living fossil" of the Chinese civilization. Naxi music is also known as Dongjing music and highlights mystery, calmness, and a detached mood.
Day 7 Tiger Leaping Gorge
Today drive towards Tiger Leaping Gorge. En route, stop to admire Stone Drum Town located at the First Bend in the Yangtze River. This near 180 degree bend is a world-famous geological phenomenon. Enjoy the panoramic vistas and learn of the strategic importance of this site throughout history.
Continue on to Tiger Leaping Gorge, a scenic canyon along the Jinsha River and one of the longest and deepest river canyons in the world. Hike along the upper trail of the canyon here and peer down to the river flowing below. See the Tiger Leaping Stone, where according to legend a Tiger jumped across the river to escape a hunter, thereby giving the canyon its name.
This afternoon continue on to Gyalthang, a Kham Tibetan area that was renamed Shangri-La by the government in order to promote tourism due to its beautiful scenery and similarity to the fictional Himalayan paradise as written about by James Hilton in 1933. The true inspiration for Hilton's portrayal is a subject of hot debate amongst towns in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, with many claiming to have been the basis upon which he wrote. Visit the ancient town before retiring for the night.
Day 8 Shangri-La
Set out today to visit Songtsam Monastery, a spiritual haven for Gelukpa Tibetan Buddhists built in the style of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. This monastery houses more than 700 monks and lamas and is open for visitors to wander its colorful buildings around the multi-leveled grounds.
This afternoon visit Nixi Pottery Village, famous for its black pottery, most of which are fire pans, pots and kettles. The traditional pottery-making technique has been passed down for thousands of years and is still employed by locals today. Using only simple wooden tools such as bats and hammers, the pottery-making process is very complex. Around seventy percent of the families remaining in the village practice this traditional art. Watch the locals carry out their craft during your visit today.
Day 9 Pudacuo National Park
Today explore the Pudacuo National Park, the first of its kind on mainland China. Hike along the path and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Shudu and Bita Lakes and centuries-old oak trees, spruces, and firs. Enjoy a picnic lunch during your hike. The month of May also allows for a variety of azalea species in bloom. After your return explore Shangri-La town some more on your own on your last evening in the region.
Day 10 Return Home
Return to the airport for a domestic flight to connect with your international flights home.