Stunning natural landscapes, 1000-year-old towns, and more than half of China’s tribal minorities make Yunnan one of China’s most beautiful and culturally diverse provinces. Its varied geography meant that travelers could go from the tropical south of Xishuangbanna close to the Vietnamese/Myanmar borders all the way to the soaring snow-capped mountains way in the north, closer to Tibet. Being in the south of China, Yunnan is known for its mild winters, which we thought could offer a nice cool December getaway. Yunnan was always on my bucket list but we just never got down to it. And so when Thai Airways came up with a great offer of SGD360 for an air ticket, that pretty much sealed the deal. We wanted to see as much as we could – from the famed rice terraces in the south to the old towns on the ancient Tea Horse Road to the snow-capped summit of Jade Dragon Snow mountain. Only trouble was – these were largely in two opposite directions with Yuanyang rice terraces being in the south and Dali, Lijiang in the north. Transport was an issue since it took 6 to 7 hours by bus just to get to Yuanyang. Since there were seven of us, we decided it would probably be more economical and convenient to hire a van and driver to bring us around.
I’ll post separately on all the travel arrangements which will include how we found our driver/s, how we got past the Great Firewall of China, our hotel choices and what we learned on hindsight.
But for now, here’s the itinerary which took a long time to plan with multiple iterations especially with input from our driver. But finally, here it is:
Day 1 Flew from Singapore to Kunming via transit in Bangkok. Stayed the night at Kunming.
Day 2 Driver picked us up and drove to Yuanyang. Overnight in Yuanyang rice terrace.
Day 3 From Yuanyang we drove 3 hours to the old scholars’ town of Jianshui. Overnight in Jianshui.
Day 4 We visited the ancient hamlet of Tuanshan before returning to Kunming where we spent the night.
Day 5 Took the bullet train to Dali where we were met by a new driver. Overnight at the Hilton Dali resort outside the old city.
Day 6 Wonderful day visiting the quiet old town of Wenshan and charming little Donglianhua village, a Muslim enclave in the heart of China before returning to Dali to spend the night in the old city.
Day 7 Headed to the three pagodas, iconic of Dali and then spent time in pretty Xizhou. Overnight again in Dali old town.
Day 8 Spent the day wandering the old town, stopping at the old Catholic church before we hit the highway for Shuhe. Overnight in Shuhe.
Day 9 Visited the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Overnight in Shuhe.
Day 10 Headed up to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain national park. Yes a whole day of gorgeous scenery from snowy summit to the turquoise waters of the Blue Moon Valley. Overnight in Shuhe.
Day 11 Spent time in and around Lijiang. Dogs, yak milk candies, pu-er tea sampling, lots of streams and lanterns. Overnight in Shuhe.
Day 12 Morning spent wandering the little alleys of Shuhe before we caught the bullet train to Kunming. Overnight in Kunming.
Day 13 Morning in Kunming before we caught our flight to Bangkok at 3.20pm with a two-hour transit before the connecting flight to Singapore.
Notice that our days are not very packed. Our drivers fretted about this, often remarking that we have come so far but not really utilising our time here. But we preferred it this way, taking it easy and slow rather than having a packed rushed itinerary just to tick off the boxes. In fact if I could, I would have had an even looser itinerary with loads of chill time factored in.
So that’s it – 13 days of the bluest cloudless skies in the bitter cold (nope the ‘mild’ winters never materialised! We’re talking sub-zero temps here!), loads of hearty Chinese ‘farm cooking’, long walks, many cuddly encounters with some of the happiest doggos and kitties we’ve seen, jaw-dropping scenery, some Chinese scams, beautiful old houses and bridges (some crumbling away), friendly (and curious) faces, new friends made and of course, wonderful memories of an increasingly rare opportunity to travel with all seven of us. Flu and busted ear drum not withstanding, it was a great vacation with my brood.