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12 Days Off the Beaten Track in Yunnan TourEnquiry

This tour will take you to some of the less well known sights in Yunnan including the Yuanyang Terraces and Shaxi. Enjoy these amazing places before the rest of the world discovers them. You will also have the chance to hike through the spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Kunming – Yuanyang – Jianshui – Lijiang – Shangri-la – Tiger Leaping Gorge – Shaxi – Lijiang

Dynamic Yunnan Show, Stone Forest, Yuanyang Rice Terraces, Yi and Hani Ethnic Villages, Jianshui Old Town, Zhu Family Garden, Jianshui Confucius Temple, Zhilin Temple, Green Lake, Flower and Bird Market, Lijiang Old Town, Baisha Old Town, Baisha Murals, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Impressions Lijiang Show, First Bend of Yangtze River, Songzanlin Monastery, Dukezong Old Town, Giant Prayer Wheel, Baishuitai Terraces, Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shibao Mountain, Shizhong Temple, Black Dragon Pool

Itinerary Day By Day

Day 1 – Arrival in Kunming

Attractions: Dynamic Yunnan Show

Our guide will meet you at Kunming Airport and transfer you to your hotel. Kunming enjoys a temperate climate and is often referred to as the ‘Spring City’. That evening you will attend a performance of Dynamic Yunnan.

Dynamic Yunnan is a grand, original ethnic dance musical. It fuses beauty of Yunnan ethnic minorities dance and songs with the power of modern stage exhibition. Through the artistic director’s reorganization and recreation of the essence of traditional songs and dance with the most classic style of folk dance, the richness of the culture of Yunnan minorities is born again on stage with startling effects.

Meals: No meals provided

Day 2 – Kunming to Yuanyang (6 hours driving)

Attractions: Stone Forest, Laohuzui Rice TerracesStone Forest, Laohuzui Rice Terraces

Today you will leave Kunming behind and drive for about one hour to the Stone Forest. The Stone Forest is a fantastic natural phenomenon located 90 kilometres southeast of Kunming where the tall rocks look like trees made of stone. A combination of weathering and erosion has created this strange landscape of rock.

Then there is a much longer drive to Yuanyang where you will have the opportunity to enjoy a sunset view at the Laohuzui Rice Terraces.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 3 – Yuanyang to Jianshui

Attractions: Duoyishu Rice Terraces, Shengcun Rice Terraces and Morning Market, Qingkou Rice Terraces, Yi and Hani Ethnic Villages, Jianshui Old Town.

In the early morning you will watch the sunrise over the stunning Duoyishu Rice Terraces before visiting the Shengcun Rice Terraces and the morning market. You will also see the Qingkou Rice Terraces as well as several Yi and Hani ethnic villages in the area. You will stay overnight in Jianshui and have a chance to explore the old town in the evening. Jianshui is one of the earliest developed cities in south Yunnan and is of historical importance as a center of trade with a history dating back over 1,200 years.
Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 4 – Jianshui to Kunming

Attractions: Chaoyang Gate, Zhu Family Garden, Jianshui Confucius Temple, Zhilin Temple, Green Lake, Flower and Bird Market

Before you leave Jianshui you will visit some of the local attractions beginning at the Chaoyang Gate which was built in 1389. It is the landmark of Jianshui Ancient Town and is the only remaining tower from the original four. It is also called the “Small Tiananmen Tower” because it is very similar to the one in Beijing.

Next you will visit the Zhu Family Gardens which were constructed more than one hundred years ago. There are 42 courtyards plus fish ponds, amazing woodcarvings and wonderful gardens.

The Jianshui Confucius Temple was constructed in 1285 and is the second largest Confucius Temple in China. For centuries the temple was used as a school and a place where exams were done in Confucian Classics. The complex includes a main hall, two side halls, three pavilions, four gates, five clan halls and eight memorial archways. On the western side of the temple, there are two symbiotic trees which were said to have been planted in the Yuan Dynasty. One is a cypress and the other is a banyan and together they are called ”Marshal Wan embracing Miss Bai”.

Your final stop in Jianshui will be at the Zhilin Temple. Built in 1296 it is considered to be the earliest Buddhist temple in southern Yunnan.

You will then be driven back to Kunming to enjoy a stroll through Green Lake Park which is located just opposite Yunnan University and is one of the most picturesque parks in downtown Kunming. The park consists of a group of four small sub-lakes linked by bridges in the traditional style. Brightly painted pavilions on the islands inside the park, tree-lined walks, flowers, and the local populace enjoying themselves by exercising in various specialist groups all add to the appeal of the park. Every winter in November and December huge flocks of red-beaked gulls migrate there from Siberia.

Kunming Flower and Bird Market was originally the site for selling flowers, birds, pets, insects and goldfish. As business prospered and attracted more and more visitors, various tour operators began to bring tour groups to visit the market, and it gradually developed into an enchanting shopping and sightseeing center with a true local flavor. The Flowers and Birds Market is also a popular trading place for antiques. Curios, coins, jade articles, jewelry, ink stones, porcelains, potteries, stone carvings, and marble products are among the arts and crafts to be found there. It is a treasure trove for souvenirs. Beautiful well-preserved old buildings within the market are now home to many Western restaurants and shops.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 5 – Kunming to Lijiang

Attractions: Scenery from the train.

Today you will take the train from Kunming to Lijiang. You will be in a soft sleeper four person compartment. It will be a relaxing day as you just sit back and watch the amazing scenery go by. When you arrive in Lijiang you will be met at the station and taken to your hotel.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 6 – Lijiang

Attractions: Lijiang Old Town, Mu Palace, Lion Hill, Baisha Old Town, Baisha Murals and Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute

The morning will be spent exploring Lijiang Ancient Town which is the cultural center and capital of the Naxi people and is now a Unesco Heritage Site. It was built more than 800 years ago and the original water supply system is still in place. It is a veritable rabbit warren of small alleyways, cobbled pavements and running streams supplemented by innumerable shops, restaurants and guest houses. At the center of the ancient town four main streets radiate in four directions and are connected by many narrow lanes. While walking through the old town, you will immediately get overwhelmed by small bridges, swift streams, cobbled streets and the grey tiled roofs of the local houses. You will also see many local Naxi people wearing traditional costumes and headgear.

Set in the heart of Lijiang’s Old Town the Mu Palace was the home of the Mu clan which led the Naxi people and ruled Lijiang for over 700 years. The buildings and grounds are influenced by an attractive mix of Naxi, Tibetan and Han architecture and design.

Behind the Mu Palace is Lion Hill. Climb up past more than forty ancient cypress trees which are over 800 years old. At the top is the Wangu Tower, the landmark building of Lijiang Ancient Town. This pure wood building is 33 meters tall, overlooking the scenery of Lijiang at its foot, and looking out to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance.

Nearby is the village of Baisha which was the original capital of the Naxi Kingdom before the 12th century. Here you will view the famous Baisha Murals which are the combination of Naxi, Tibetan, Bai and Han artistic designs. Most of the murals vividly describe the religious stories of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. One of its characteristics is combining several religious stories and having them in one painting. Therefore, Baisha murals are quite unique from murals elsewhere.  Figures of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism might appear in one mural and 100 portraits at least would be in each of the murals.  The portraits in these paintings include not only the religious figures but also ordinary people.

End your visit at the Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute with its amazing double sided embroideries. The mission of this institute is to protect, develop and promote the Naxi traditional hand-made embroidery.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 7 – Lijiang

Attractions: Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Spruce Meadow, Impressions Lijiang show, Yuhu Village, Yufeng Monastery, Shuhe Ancient Town

In the morning we will drive to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain where you may take a cable car for amazing mountain views. Be aware that this takes you to a high altitude so oxygen is available if needed.

On the way back we will stop at the Impressions Lijiang Show which combines 500 actors and 100 horses and showcases them in a 360-degree open-air theatre stage with the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as a backdrop. It is a cultural show which aims to provide an insight into the lives of the region’s Naxi, Yi and Bai ethnic groups and all the songs and dances in the show portray the daily life of the local people. It is the second outdoor production (after Impression Liu Sanjie in Yangshuo, Guilin) of famous Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who co-directed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

In the nearby Yuhu Village we will stop to visit the home of Dr Joseph Rock the famous Austro American botanist who wrote extensively about the region’s botany, culture and its people. He lived here from 1922 to 1949 and was the first foreign scholar to introduce Lijiang culture to the rest of the world including publishing many articles in the National Geographic Magazine. Many of his photos are on display in the Exhibition hall.

Next stop is the Yufeng Monastery which is located in a magnificent natural setting. Inside you can see the harmonious mix of various religious and cultural styles but it is most famous for the “Ten Thousand Flower Camellia” which is more than 500 years old.

Finally we will visit Shuhe Ancient Town which is regarded as a living specimen of the Naxi ancestors’ transition from an agricultural civilization to a commercial culture. Similar to Lijiang Ancient City, Shuhe Ancient Town is surrounded by a murmuring river and interlaced with smooth flagging.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 8 – Lijiang to Shangrila (4 hours driving)

Attractions: Mountain Scenery, First Bend of Yangtze River, Shigu Old Town, Songzanlin Monastery, Dukezong Old Town, Giant Prayer Wheel

After breakfast we will follow the Yangtze River north on the Yunnan Tibet road. We will stop along the way and view the first bend of the Yangtze and see the historical village of Shegu. The scenery here is very spectacular as we travel through huge gorges dotted with small villages. After passing the entrance to Tiger Leaping Gorge, the road follows a spectacular valley to a high plateau and on to Shangri-La.

Shangri-la was formerly known as Zhongdian but was renamed in 2001 after the fictional land in the James Hilton novel Lost Horizon. Located at 3,200 metres it is a primarily Tibetan region.

Your tour in Shangri-la will begin with a visit to the biggest Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Yunnan, Songzanlin Temple. Constructed in 1679 it is often called the little Potala Palace because of its traditional Tibetan architectural style. The most famous treasures in the lamasery are the eight gold-covered sculptures of Sakyamuni, bronze sculptures, the Ganzur scriptures hand-written in liquid gold, gold lamps, and many exquisite gilded silver incense burners.
Later you will visit Dukezong Tibetan Ancient Town with its authentic Tibetan style houses. You can climb up to the top of Guishan Hill or Tortoise Hill where you will see the largest Prayer Wheel in the world and have a panoramic view of Shangri-La county and Dukezong Ancient Town.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 9 – Shangrila to Tiger Leaping Gorge

Attractions: Sanba Town, Baishuitai Terraces, Lower and Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge, Trekking to Tea Horse Hotel

This morning you will leave Shangrila and drive about 100 kilometres to the small town of Sanba. On the hillsides above the town are the Baishuitai Terraces. These spectacular limestone terraces were formed when spring water with a high concentration of calcium carbonate flowed down the mountain. The Naxi believe that their oldest Shaman, Dingbashiluo, first practiced and preached the Dongba religion here at Baishuitai.

You will continue on to the Lower and Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. Tiger Leaping Gorge is a scenic canyon on the Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River and located between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain. It is one of the longest, deepest and narrowest gorges in the world. According to local legend a tiger once leapt over its rapids to escape from hunters thus giving the gorge its name.

You will hike for about three hours through the gorge to Tea Horse Guesthouse where you will stay overnight.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 10 – Tiger Leaping Gorge to Shaxi

Attractions: Hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge

Today you will continue your trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge. From Tea Horse Guesthouse the track leads gradually upwards through pine forest to the top of the 28 bends at an altitude of about 2650 metres. Here there are amazing views of the gorge and the Yangtze River far below. Then it is all downhill to the Naxi Family Guesthouse for lunch.

At the end of the hike near Qiaotao the driver will meet you and you will continue on to Shaxi Old Town where you will stay overnight.

Once a bustling marketplace, Shaxi is the last remaining ancient market town of its kind on the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail. This trail is a trading route that connected Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan to other countries in southeast Asia and is sometimes called the Southern Silk Road. Nestled in a flat fertile valley cut through by the Heihui River and surrounded by mountains, Shaxi is now a quiet and relaxing corner that seems to be forgotten. For years it remained a secret retreat for the few who knew its existence. Because of its isolated location much of its culture and historical landmarks have been preserved to this day.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 11 – Shaxi to Lijiang

Attractions: Shibao Mountain, Shizhong Temple, Baoxiang Temple and Ancient Grottoes, Black Dragon Pool, Dongba Culture Museum

After breakfast you will drive for about twenty minutes to Shibao (Stone Treasure) Mountain. The mountain got its present name because there was a reddish purple rock looking like a stone bell standing on the ground in the mountain. Its 16 grottoes and 139 statues make up one of the most beautiful grotto complexes in South China.

The most prominent sight at Shibao Mountain is the Shizhong Temple (Stone Bell Temple) with its 139 well preserved stone carvings. These magnificent stone carvings date back as far as 1300 years to the once powerful Nanzhao Kingdom during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and represent a time when Mahayana Buddhism from Tibet started to spread in the Yunnan area. Another interesting sight is the Baoxiang Temple (Suspending Temple). The Baoxiang Temple was built on a ledge of a nearly vertical cliff and can only be reached by a long flight of stairs. On a clear day the views from the Baoxiang Temple over the Shaxi valley are simply magnificent.

Later you will return to Lijiang and visit the Black Dragon Pool where the imposing snow capped peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain dominates the skyline.

Nearby is the Dongba Culture Museum which contains more than 10,000 Dongba cultural relics. It is also home to the Dongba hieroglyphics which are the only hieroglyphics in the world which are still used.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel

Day 12 – Depart Lijiang

You will have free time in Lijiang until it is time to transfer to Lijiang Airport for your flight to your next destination.

Meals: Breakfast at your hotel