Welcome to Lijiang, home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site - Old Town of Lijiang! Your local guide and experienced driver will meet you at the airport or train station to transfer you by private car to your local hotel and help you check in. You will have a bit of time to refresh yourself before we start exploring the ancient city.
Your exploration of Lijiang begins with a visit to Lijiang Ancient Town, the oldest part of the city that has been preserved much as it has been throughout its 1,000 year history. We will stop at the Ming Dynasty-era Mufu Palace, sometimes called “The Forbidden City of Lijiang”, where you can learn about the ancient rulers of the city and the Naxi people. We can stroll around the ancient alleyways over old bridges and see many shops and bars on our way to Sifang Street Square, an open square where people relax amidst a lively atmosphere. We may be able to join some of the local Naxi people in a nightly dancing ceremony as they dance to native music around a fire in the evening. You may also want to climb up Lion Hill to the top of the Wanggu Tower to enjoy a panoramic view over the entire Old Town with the snow-capped Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance.
Accommodation: Overnight in Lijiang
After a nice local breakfast at your hotel, your tour guide and driver will meet you at your hotel to take you to the Yuhu Village, which is an authentic Naxi village where you can see ancient stone houses, Naxi women in their traditional dress and the peaceful Yuhu Lake. We will have time to leisurely explore the village and visit the home of Joseph Rock, an Austrian-American botanist who lived in the village for 27 years while researching the Naxi minority people.
After Yuhu Village we will travel on to Baisha Village to see and appreciate the ancient Baisha Mural Paintings. The Baishi Village is probably the most authentic ancient village in the area, with its Dabaoji Palace and the Liuli Temple containing murals that were painted more than a thousand years ago in the various styles of Tibetan Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. After a visit to Baisha, we will move on to Shuhe Ancient Town, another ancient and well preserved village about 4 kilometers (2 miles) outside of the Lijiang Old Town. Shuhe was one of the earliest of the Naxi people’s settlements, and it served as an important stop along the Ancient Tea Horse Caravan route.
Our exploration of the Lijiang area continues with a visit to the Dongba Culture Museum. This museum traces history of the ancient Dongba culture of the Naxi minority people with more than 10,000 cultural relics in its collection. After visiting the museum, we can walk over to the Black Dragon Pool for picturesque views in a calm and peaceful setting. During clear weather this is also a great place to see the beautiful Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance.
After we see the Black Dragon Pool, we will take you back to your hotel for the night.
Accommodation: Overnight in Lijiang
This morning we will check out of the hotel and drive around 45 kilometers (28 miles) for a fantastic panoramic view of the First Bend of the Yangtze River, a horseshoe-shaped section of river that bends around a small mountain. We’ll also stop in the town there, Shigu, to see the Iron Chain Bridge and the ancient “Stone Drum”, which is a stone monument with a stone plaque placed there around 500 years ago to commemorate a Naxi victory over Tibetans in battle.
Moving on from Shigu we will visit one of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons in the world at Tiger Leaping Gorge, which was carved by the Jinsha River, one of the major tributaries of the Yangtze River. The maximum depth from the river to the top of the canyon is 3790 meters (12,434 feet), creating some amazing views. Legend has it that a tiger jumped across the river using a rock that is still visible there in the middle of the river, thus the name Tiger Leaping Gorge.
From the magnificent Tiger Leaping Gorge we will travel on to what may be the real life Shangri-La, which is about a 2-hour drive through some beautiful scenery along the way, and then check into our hotel for the night. You will have the rest of the night free to rest and relax in your hotel room or explore the local area on your own.
Accommodation: Overnight in Shangri-la
“Shangri-La” is a fictional place from James Hilton’s classic novel Lost Horizon, but there is evidence to suggest that this area of northern Yunnan Province was Hilton’s inspiration for the place. A National Geographic resident explorer, Joseph Rock (whose former residence we will have visited in Yuhu Village), published articles in the National Geographic magazine about this area in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s that may have influenced Hilton’s book, which was first published in 1933.
To begin our exploration of the “real” Shangri-La, we will first visit the Songzanlin Monastery (Ganden Sumtseling Gompa), an ancient monastery of the “Yellow Hat” sect of Tibetan Buddhism situated at an elevation of 3,380 meters (11,090 feet) above sea level. First built in 1679, it is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan Province with around 700 resident monks at the present time. It is sometimes referred to as “The Little Potala Palace” due to the main monastery’s resemblance to the Potala Palace in Tibet. The main hall also houses an 8 meter (26 feet) tall gilded statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha along with paintings of events in his life and numerous ancient scriptures written on palm leaves. We can explore the three main lamasery buildings to see the various Buddhist treasures and the resident monks going about their daily lives, and if the weather permits, we can walk around the tranquil Lamuyangcuo Lake to enjoy the spectacular natural scenery there.
After our visit to the monastery, we will drive on to Pudacuo (also known as Potatso) National Park, the first national park in China to meet International Union for the Conservation of Nature standards and also a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas. This 1,300 square kilometer (500 square mile) national park reportedly contains more than 20% of China’s species of plants, around one-third of its mammal and bird species and nearly 100 endangered species. The main sections of the park are Shudu Lake, Militang Grasslands and Bita Lake. We will start our exploration of the park by walking along the wooden plank road to enjoy the scenery around Shudu Lake (3.3 km, 1 hour of hiking) and Bita Lake (4.2 km, 1.5 hours hiking) while enjoying the Militang Grasslands between the two lakes.
After visiting the park, we will be welcomed into the home of a local Tibetan family for some special Tibetan snacks and yak butter tea. Fresh off of some authentic Tibetan hospitality, we will drive back to the hotel in Zhongdian to spend the night.
Accommodation: Overnight in Shangri-la
This morning we will wrap up our time in Shangri-La with a visit to the 1,300-year old Dukezong Old Town, where we can climb to the top of Guishan (Tortoise) Hill for a panoramic view over the old town and Shangri-La County. Although the town was mostly destroyed by a massive fire in 2014, the old town has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and it is well worth a visit.
After explore Dukezong, we will take you to the local airport for the short 1-hour flight to Kunming. Upon your arrival at the Kunming airport, your local guide will greet you and escort you by private car to your downtown Kunming hotel to check in. After a bit of time to refresh yourself, we will take you to see the Western Hills of Kunming. Sometimes referred to as “Sleeping Beauty Hills” because of their alleged resemblance to a young lady lying beside the lake, this protected forest area is located about 12 kilometers (7 miles) outside of the city of Kunming. There are numerous ancient cultural sites throughout the Western Hills, with two of the most famous being the Huating Temple (est. 1320 A.D.) and the Taihua Temple. The highlight of the Western Hills is the Dragon Gate Grottoes – a complex of caves, temples and pavilions lying on the western edge of Dianchi Lake. The spectacular Dragon Gate Grotto Complex was created over a 72-year period from 1781 – 1853, consisting of a stone archway, a stone room and a number of stone sculptures all carved out of the same rock at the summit of the hill. From here you will be able to get a panoramic view of the lake while also enjoying the intricate carvings of the grotto.
After the Western Hills and the Dragon Gate, we will travel on to the Yunnan Minority Village to experience the lives of the ethnic minority people of Yunnan. Here we can learn about the different ethnic architectural styles, costumes, music, dances and more while interacting with the local minority people.
After our visit to the Yunnan Minority Village, we will drive you back to your hotel to spend the night.
Accommodation: Overnight in Kunming
After a nice breakfast at your hotel, we will take you by private car about 90 kilometers (65 miles) outside of the city of Kunming to see one of nature’s miracles at the Shilin Stone Forest. These amazing natural karst stone formations were formed over 270 million years ago by the erosion of limestone that left towers of stone rising up from the ground, thus creating the “stone forest”. We will take you to visit both the Greater Stone Forest – where you can climb up to a pavilion for a panoramic view of the fantastic landscape, and the Lesser Stone Forest, where you can learn about the Yi Minority legend of “Ashima” and what happened when she was forbidden from marrying her true love.
From the magnificent landscape of the Shilin Stone Forest, we will drive back to downtown Kunming to see the 1,200-year old Yuantong Buddhist Temple. This beautiful temple was first built in the late 8th and early 9th centuries with major restorations in the late 15th century and again in 1686 A.D. under Emperor Kangxi, leading to its present configuration with covered corridors, bridges and a grand hall surrounded by water that is unique amongst Buddhist temples in China.
After visiting the ancient temple, we will move on to visit Green Lake Park, a hub of local life in urban Kunming. Local people can be found here practicing tai chi and relaxing amongst the year-round green trees and tranquil waters. During the winter, black-headed gulls migrate here from Siberia, entertaining the locals as they feed them bread that is sold there in the park.
From the park, we will take you on to the Kunming airport or train station for your departing flight or train on to your next destination. Please note that this tour requires a departure time after 5 p.m. on this last day, but we can customize a tour to fit your particular arrival and departure schedules. Please contact our friendly travel consultants and we can put together the tour itinerary that best fits your needs.