Before you travel to Mongolia, experience southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. With its deep spirituality and sweeping scenic vistas, many claim that this is the legendary land of Shangri-La. Witness a forest seemingly made of stone in Kunming, discover Bai culture in the walled city of Dali, and explore the splendor of Lijiang, home to one of the best-preserved Old Towns in China.
- It's Included:
- Airfare from Lijiang to Kunming and Kunming to Ulaanbaatar (via Beijing)
- Accommodations for 2 nights in Kunming, 3 nights in Dali, 2 nights in Lijiang, and 1 night in Beijing
- 18 meals—8 breakfasts, 6 lunches, and 4 dinners (including 1 Home-Hosted Lunch)
- 17 small group activities
- Services of an OAT Trip Leader who speaks English and the native language
- All transfers
Since your overnight flight to Beijing, China, departs Los Angeles very early in the morning, travelers are advised to arrive at LAX the night before.
Upon a morning arrival in Beijing, fly on to Kunming where you will be met at the airport by an OAT representative. Then we enjoy an included lunch at a restaurant near our hotel followed by a brief orientation walk. The balance of the afternoon is at leisure to relax after your journey. We gather together this evening for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province and its cultural hub, has a history that stretches back some 2,400 years, when it was a gateway to the celebrated Silk Road. After breakfast, we journey outside the city to witness the remarkable landscapes of the Stone Forest (Shilin in Chinese). Known since the Ming Dynasty as the "First Wonder of the World," the limestone karsts here have been sculpted by nature over the course of 270 million years to form great pillars resembling a forest made of stone. We'll also enjoy an included lunch at a local restaurant in the Stone Forest.
Then, we return to Kunming and visit Green Lake Park, a scenic urban space created in the 17th century that is filled with willow trees and vibrantly colored lotuses. During the winter months, seagulls from Siberia migrate to this lovely park to escape the arctic chill. Dinner is on our own this evening, or you may join an optional Yunnan Cultural Performance & Dinner featuring traditional ethnic folk music combined with modern dance.
After breakfast, we begin our transfer to Dali. En route, we stop at a local tobacco field and visit its roasting house, followed by an included lunch at the village of Yunnanyi. Afterwards, we enjoy visits to the Horse Caravan Museum, which celebrates the ancient tea trade in the region; and the Flying Tigers Museum, which honors the legendary American fighting unit that fought in the skies over China and Burma against the Japanese during World War II.
Dali is an ancient city nestled between the Jade Green Mountains and Erhai Lake, and a center of Bai culture. Upon our arrival, we embark on a walking tour along cobbled streets to observe the lovely stone architecture inside Dali’s walled Old Town. We also visit Foreigner Street, a market area where you can find many traditional Bai handcrafts like marble and batik. Later, we enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we journey to the old town of Xizhou to visit its colorful morning market and view its well-preserved traditional Bai homes, which feature courtyards, marble decorations, and distinctive upturned eaves. Then we hop on a horse cart for a visit to nearby Shacun, a lakeside village with a history of cormorant fishing that dates back thousands of years. Witness this traditional fishing practice handed down for generations during a boat ride on the crystal-clear waters of Erhai Lake.
After lunch at the home of a local family, which includes a traditional three-course tea ceremony, we return to Dali and enjoy a walk along the ancient city walls before returning to our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.
Our Yunnan discoveries continue with a journey through the Weishan Valley, home to Yi, Bai, and Hui (Muslim) ethnic groups. We first stop at Dong Lian Hua (East Lotus Village), which was a renowned Hui caravansary along the ancient tea and horse road. We also walk through Weishan’s Old Town, which contains a wealth of well-preserved ancient structures. Weishan is also renowned for hand-stretched noodles (a chef here holds the record for the world’s longest noodle!), which we may wish to sample during an included lunch.
Then we drive to nearby Weibao Shan, a mystical mountain with Taoist and Buddhist temples circling its peak. We view some of the breathtaking temples carved into the mountainside before returning to Dali.
After breakfast, we journey into northern Yannang to Lijiang, where Naxi culture has thrived for some 1,400 years. Upon our arrival, we enjoy an included lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a drive just outside Lijiang to the small village of Baisha. An ancient capital of the Naxi kingdom, Baisha is home to some stunning temple frescoes painted during the 15th and 16th centuries. Afterwards, we visit the residence of Austrian-born botanist and explorer Joseph Rock, who became a local legend and leading authority on Naxi culture and local flora when he lived in Lijiang from 1922 until 1949. Back in Lijiang, we enjoy an included dinner at a local restaurant.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lijiang is home to what many consider the best-preserved Old Town in China. During a walking tour this morning, we wander through Old Town’s enchanting maze of twisting lanes, crisscrossed by cobblestoned streets, picturesque canals, and stone bridges. The focal point of Old Town is Old Market Square, where there is a constant flurry of activity as locals and visitors shop and Naxi women sometimes gather to dance. Afterwards, we head just north of Old Town to Black Dragon Pool Park, a picturesque wonderland of temples, marble bridges, and serene waters, where we should enjoy splendid views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Inside the park we also have an opportunity to learn about Dongba culture and its unique Naxi pictographs during a visit to the Dongba Cultural Research Institute.
After lunch on our own, we have some free time for individual exploration in Lijiang. Later in the afternoon, we meet up with some local Naxi people who might share some insights with us into their customs, Tibetan origins, and fascinating matriarchal traditions. Dinner is on our own this evening.
After breakfast, we take a short flight to Kunming before flying to Beijing, where we enjoy an afternoon at leisure. Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.
Today we rise for an early breakfast, transfer to the airport, and fly to Ulaanbaatar to begin our Mongolia & the Gobi Desert adventure.