Go behind the modern energy of China and discover Yunnan’s ancient cities. Step back in time in charming Lijiang, Shaxi and Dali and appreciate the locals’ traditional lifestyles and deep-rooted customs. Travel overland to embrace the tranquillity and beauty of rural China at a slower pace.
Explore Lijiang, Dali and Shaxi where ancient cultures and historic buildings can be discovered.
Bike the shores of massive Ehrai Lake, wander the caves of Shibaoshan and gaze upon majestic Jade Dragon Mountain.
Meet people of the Naxi and Bai ethnic groups, learning of their rich tradition and ways of life.
Yunnan Ancient Cities, Dali - Shaxi - Lijiang - 5 Days / 4 Nights
Begin this classic Yunnan tour with a transfer 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 (many in the Dali old town.)
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.
For a number of years, Dali has been in the tourist spotlight and numbers keep growing every year. To avoid these mass numbers, accommodation will be planned in Shuanglang, which lies on the western bank of the 250 km2 Erhai Lake.
Optional: Stay in a famous local artist’s house in the village. A number of other artists, especially from Kunming, have relocated to the village to enjoy its pleasant atmosphere including the famous choreographer Yang Liping who organises the show “Dynamic Yunnan.”
Travel by bike around Shuanglang, where beautiful lakeside vistas are abundant and local Bai fishermen sit against the background of the impressive Cangshan Mountains.
Soak in the slower pace of this unique destination, an atmosphere that hasn’t changed much through the decades. If the visit falls on the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th of the month, there is a local market (Shase) that’s well worth a visit.
Note: It can be cheaper to take a plane to Dali if only 1 to 4 pax are travelling, please consult us in advance
Continue the Yunnan tour 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 (optional.) 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 the Mountain. Arrival will be in the evening.
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.
Relax and soak in the authentic atmosphere of this unique town.
Enjoy a free morning in Shaxi by exploring its maze of paved avenues that make up the heart of the old town. 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.
Optional: Visit the dramatic Three Terraced Pavilion and its nearby Buddhist Temple; the former being an extremely rare building in such a remote area.
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.
Shortly after lunch, head to Shibaoshan (literally ‘stone treasure mountain’), an impressive collection of temples, caves, and stone sculptures, the most ancient of which date from the 9th century. 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…
After the walk, return to Shaxi for a free evening.
Continue the Yunnan tour experience to Lijiang. 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.
Start the morning early to enjoy the peace and quiet of the town. Crossing over the labyrinth of alleyways, arrive at the “Lion Hill” which provides fantastic views over the village below. At the top, there will be a chance for a quick coffee break on the terrace; a welcomed rest after the ascent to the top.
Continue on to the Mu Palace, a vivid example of Ming and Qing architecture, based on the same style of architecture as the Forbidden City in Beijing.
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. Here 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. After this visit, head back to the vibrant heart of the old town.
Evening can be spent in leisure wandering the red-lantern lit town.
Note 1: This day will be spent entirely on foot. As the cobbled streets can sometimes be slightly slippery, it’s recommended to wear sturdy shoes.
Note 2: Accommodation can also be organised in the less crowded Baisha village (located 25 min away from Lijiang, on the way to Jade Dragon Mountain)
Conclude the Yunnan tour with a trip up Jade Dragon Mountain, which stands majestically to the north of the city. 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 will be arranged to the less-visited Yak Prairie area. The view from here over here over the glacier is as equally as stunning as from the more popular destinations.
Transfer to the airport for departing flight.
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