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HIDDEN CHINA II

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HIDDEN CHINA II
A Jack Wheeler Adventure
Saturday February 15 – Saturday March 01, 2014
$7750

 

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Last September, we had our first adventure to Hidden China.  It was absolutely extraordinary.  Breathtakingly memorable. 

Yet China is a gigantic country – far bigger than the US minus Alaska – with a multitude of hidden wonders, way too many to see in just one excursion.

Further, you have to pick the right season.  In winter, it’s freezing cold in most of China – but down south, in the province of Yunnan bordering Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Tibet the weather is delightful.

So it is here we are having our next adventure into the China that is unbelievable and unknown: Hidden China II.

In many ways, Yunnan is China’s most stunning and fascinating region.  It has a multitude of incredibly colorful ethnic cultures that are not Han Chinese and have preserved their traditions.  And it has places that will completely blow you away – like Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Dongchuan Redlands, or the thousand year-old Hani Rice Terraces pictured above, clearly one of the great wonders of the world.

We go in February, the best time to see them – and a lot more. Note, however, this is an adventure.  We stay in the best hotels and dine in the best restaurants when we can – but that’s not always.  We’re going to places where tourists aren’t.  And our schedule is demanding so we can see them all in two weeks.  Let’s get started.  And yes, the pictures are real.

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Day 1, Saturday, February 15

Note: We begin in Kunming, capital of Yunnan, China.. All participants are responsible for arriving in Kunming by Saturday, February 15. There are numerous non-stop flights to Kunming from virtually every major city in Asia.

Arrive at Kunming Changshui Airport.  You will be met at the airport and transferred to the Green Lake Hotel, a 5-Star facility and Kunming’s best*.  Day at leisure in China’s "City of Eternal Spring."  Welcome reception and dinner at Kunming’s famous Jiayan Restaurant.

(*It’s #2 on TripAdvisor with 478 reviews.  Note how some Chinese gamed TripAdvisor to make some dump of a hotel rated #1 with 12 laudatory reviews – all in Chinese!)

Day 2, Sunday February 16

Our first unbelievable day.  We’re off after an early breakfast driving to a remote mountainous region north of Kunming, the Dongchuan Redlands (see Yunnan map above).  It is as yet unknown to the outside world.  The intense concentration of iron oxide in the soil results in the reddest earth on the planet. 

The Yi farmers have built thousands of terraces on the steep slopes over a dozen centuries, creating such a multicolored masterpiece of fiery red soil, emerald green barley, yellow buckwheat, and snow white oil flowers it’s called God’s Palette.  It is achingly beautiful:

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We’ll stop where the views are the most spectacular – Jinxiuyuan Brocade Garden, Yueliang Moon Field, Lepuao Emerald Terrace – and ending at the Luoxiagou Sunset Glow Valley:

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We stay at the Redlands Image Guesthouse.  There are no hotels here for there are no tourists, but we’ll be ok.  We get to bed early.

Day 3, Monday, February 17

We are up before dawn at 5am to see the sunrise at Damakan village:

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Then we go to the Qicaipo Seven Color Slopes:

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After a visit to a Yi village and a hearty lunch, we head back to Kunming, perhaps in a state of shock over what we’ve seen, and in time for a rest before dinner.

Day 4, Tuesday, February 18

This morning we set off for the World Heritage Site of the Shilin Stone Forest.  Roaming among the gigantic limestone pillars of the Stone Forest is like being a kid again in Disneyland.  And at every moment there’s an incredible picture:

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After our fill of being a kid in the Stone Forest, we drive to Luoping in eastern Yunnan, arriving at Jinjifeng – Golden Rooster Hill –before sunset (7pm).  This is to capture one of the great sights in Asia, the Luoping Rapeseed Fields in full golden bloom:

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The rapeseed fields have been carefully cultivated by the native Buyi people for many centuries.  After sunset, we check in to the #1 rated Cloud Luoping Hotel.

Day 5, Wednesday, February 19

Rapeseed produces a very healthy oil that marketers did not want to sell as "rape oil," so they changed it to canola oil.  Luoping is China’s largest producer, with an ocean of brilliant golden flowers and islands of chocolate hills.  Late February is the peak bloom, so we’ll be up early to catch the sunrise at Jinjifeng for a different perspective:

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We then troop off to the "Snail Farms" of Luositian – concentric rings of rapeseed fields following the hill contours, they look like the rings of a snail’s shell:

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After lunch, we go to the Jiulong Nine Dragon Waterfall:

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Then visit a number of Buyi villages along the Duoyi River.  And yes, we’ll be back for sunset photos at either Jinjifeng or another location, the Hundred Thousand Hills.

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Day 6, Thursday, February 20

We devote this morning to revisiting everyone’s favorite photo spots, walk through the golden flower fields with the Buyi villagers, and sample the famous Buyi dish of colored rice during lunch at their village:

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Then we hit the road.  It’s too long to reach the Hani Terraces in one day, so we take a break in Ancient Jianshui (john-shwee).  We stop to see the amazing Alu Caves at Luxi:

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In Jianshui, we stay in the Mansion of the Zhu Family Gardens, a five-acre complex of Qing Dynasty private temples and buildings, ponds, gardens, and courtyards full of flowers and sculpted trees built by a wealthy merchant family in the 19th century.  A wonderful place for peaceful reflection and relaxation.

Day 7, Friday, February 21

Jianshui is renowned for being China’s "Museum of Ancient Architecture," with over 100 temples and 50 bridges up to 1,200 years old.  We’ll take a look at the best, including the most famous of all, the Wen Miao Temple of Confucius built in 1275, where pilgrims come from all over China to pray to the spirit of the sage:

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After lunch, we’re off to a small village called Yuanyang, arriving mid-afternoon, and you had better be prepared to be stupefied.

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This is real.  For 13 centuries, the Hani people have been growing rice on countless terraces cascading down the steep slopes of their mountains. The light reflecting off the terraces create an unearthly beauty.  The World Heritage Site of  the Hani Rice Terraces is one of the great photographic paradises of our planet.  The Hani people call their terrace system The Ladder of the Sky.

We’ll head immediately for Laohu Zui, The Tiger’s Mouth overlook for what many consider the most memorable sunset of their lives:

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Our hotel is the 3 star Yunti, which is the best available.  We’re in a remote place rarely visited by Westerners, with most visitors Chinese shutterbugs.

Day 8, Saturday, February 22

This will be a memorable day – and we start early, before dawn.  That’s to see the unforgettable sunrise at Duoyishu:

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Then the morning light on the Ba Da terraces:

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We’ll also visit Hani villages like Qingkou with their "mushroom houses":

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The Hani are wonderfully friendly and love to dress colorfully – especially the young ladies:

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Then all afternoon until past sunset we’ll be exploring the best photo ops of the area, up on the ridges for vantage points, or hiking through the terraces with the villagers.  These pictures only begin to hint at what we’ll see – and remember, we are here in late February when the Hani terraces are at their peak and most of these photos were taken:

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Day 9, Sunday, February 23

The surrealism continues, starting with arising again before the crack of dawn.  This is the world’s paradise of photography at sunrise and we won’t miss it.  It will be hard to part from the magic changes of light as the morning progresses, but after an early lunch we return to Kunming.

On the way, we’ll stop at the Mongol village of Xingmeng.  750 years ago, Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan (Genghiz’s grandson) garrisoned his soldiers here and they stayed.  5,000 of their descendents live in Xingmeng today, carrying on Mongolian traditions:

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Back in Kunming at the Green Lake Hotel, we’re free to relax or explore – one option being the huge Yunnan Nationalities Park on Dian Lake, with villages of all 25 of Yunnan’s ethnic minorities – their homes, temples, costumes, dances and traditions.

Day 10, Monday, February 24

This morning we fly (less than an hour) to the World Heritage Site of Ancient Lijiang.  We stay at the five-star Crowne Plaza, the only luxury hotel inside the ancient city itself.

Lijiang is one of China’s most enchanting cities – and it is not Chinese.  It is the capital of the Naxi people of Tibetan origin, whose Dongba script is the only pictographic writing system still in use in the world today.  Lijiang is a city of canals with shops, restaurants, and homes along them – it is utterly captivating.

We’ll visit the Palace of the Mu, where the Mu family ruled during the Ming and Ching dynasties:

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And what many consider the most scenic spot in all of China, the Black Dragon Pool.  Lijiang is at the base of the 18,360′ Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and the view from the Black Dragon Pool is stunning.

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We’ll explore the canals and have dinner alongside one of them:

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Day 11, Tuesday, February 25

This is a day of cultural immersion. We first make a morning visit to the Naxi village of Yuhu at the base of Jade Dragon Mountain.  The homes are made of a stone called monkey head, with the village looking like it did when the famous explorer Joseph Rock lived here in the 1920s.  We visit his home:

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Then get a glimpse of Naxi culture visiting Dongba masters:

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The Naxi religion of nature worship focuses on Shu, the God of Nature:

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As northwest Yunnan borders Tibet, many Tibetans live near Jade Dragon mountain, and we visit where they pray, the Yufeng Lamasery:

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The lamas here belong to the Nyingmapa or Red Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism.  We’ll attend one of their chants:

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We visit two other ancient Naxi villages, Shuhe and Baisha (each are over 1,000 years old), then return to Lijiang for a demonstration of Naxi music and exploring Dayan, the Naxi cultural center in the city.

Day 12, Wednesday, February 26

Today is special:  we go to Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is part of the World Heritage Site of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan. This is where the Upper Yangtze River slithers between two mountain giants, Jade Dragon at 18,630′ and Mount Haba at 17,703′ for 22 miles at an elevation of 5,400′ – making Tiger Leaping the deepest gorge (12,300′) on earth, and one of the narrowest. 

At one point, the gorge is only 82′ across.  In the middle of the river here there is a large rock – Tiger Leaping Rock.  The legend is that centuries ago, Naxi hunters had chased a tiger into the gorge, and he escaped by leaping across the river onto the rock and thence to the other side.

We walk along the gorge at the most beautiful time of year, when China’s greatest river is not a raging boiling muddy brown but sparkling turquoise:

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All the way to Tiger Leaping Rock:

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Guiding us will be the gorge’s most beloved resident, Xia Shan Quan, whom everyone calls Sean of Tiger Leaping Gorge.  As eccentric as he is knowledgeable and friendly, he’s been called "the most interesting man in China."  He’s not Chinese, though – he’s Tibetan-Naxi.  We’ll have lunch at his guesthouse.

This will be a long exciting day.  Returning to Lijiang in the early evening, everyone will be free to find their own dinner hideaway on the canals.

Day 13, Thursday, February 27

For the finale, this morning we fly direct from Lijiang to the bottom of Yunnan, the land the local Dai people call Sip Song Panna.  The Chinese insist on spelling it Xishuangbanna (see-schwang-bahna, see map above).  Everyone just calls it Banna.  Once here, you won’t want to leave – especially as we’re staying at the brand-new 5-star Crowne Plaza Resort Spa Xishuangbanna:

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This is a place of incredibly fascinating variety.   A welter of distinct ethnic peoples, extraordinary temples, a profusion of jungle wildlife, ancient history, and the world’s most legendary tea.  You’ve heard of the "Golden Triangle" – well, this is the region of the Triple Triangle. 

There are three.  To the east is Vietnam-Laos-China.  Banna is on the Mekong River.  Just to the south, China-Burma-Laos meet on the Mekong.  Follow the river further, and Burma-Laos-Thailand meet – the famous Golden Triangle.  China on the map is lavender, Vietnam is lime, Burma is khaki, Thailand is lemon:

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What the mélange of cultures here have in common is ascribing to the oldest form of Buddhism, Theravada.  Thus in Banna, adjacent  to the Crowne Plaza, there is the astounding Mengle Giant Buddha Temple Complex, the largest Theravada monastery in the world:

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After exploring it, we retire to the centuries-old Tong Qing Hao tea house set in a beautiful garden with streams full of koi for a cup of the world’s most legendary tea.

Day 14, Friday, February 28

Tea connoisseurs consider Pu-er Tea to be the finest and thus the costliest tea in the world.  It is grown only in this region by the hill tribes, which is why Banna is where the famous Tea Horse Roads radiated out through Asia.  That’s what we had yesterday.  Now we visit the hill tribes who grow it.

According to researchers, tea was originally grown by the Aini and Jinuo people.  This morning, we first visit the Aini living on the slopes of Nannuo mountain:

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Where they show us how they grow and produce Pu-erh.  Then we cross the Mekong to the mountain Jinuo villages.  It takes a rope bridge to reach them, but we’ll find the colorful Jinuo very hospitable:

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There is so much more that we’ll let you choose what to see this afternoon – Wild Elephant Valley, a Canopy Sky Walk through the tree tops among monkeys and gibbon apes, the Bamboo Shoots Pagoda, the Tropical Nature Reserve, Peacock Garden, visiting other ethnic minority villages such as those of the Bulang, Lahu, Yi, Wa and Yao – it goes on and on.

Whatever you choose, you’ll find it extraordinarily memorable.  And so we return to the Crowne Plaza full of these amazing memories for our Farewell Dinner.

Day 14, Saturday, March 01

Departure day.  You have many options.  You may fly back to Kunming (the flight cost is included) and connect onward.  There are international flights from Xishuangbanna Jinghong Airport to Bangkok, and Luang Prabang in Laos.

There’s coach service on good roads to Laos, and a ferry down the Mekong (Burma on one side, Laos on the other) to Thailand.  You can even drive through the Shan state of Burma now, via the border town of "Burma’s Las Vegas," Mongla.  You can go all the way to Thailand and the Golden Triangle, or fly from Kengtung to Rangoon.

This is an astounding part of the world, and now it will be a part of our lives.  We say goodbye until the next adventure.

HIDDEN CHINA II DETAILS

Dates:  Saturday February 15 to Saturday March 01, 2014

Cost per person: $7,750

Deposit, Payment, Cancellation and Refund

*Non-refundable deposit of $775 per person due December 15, 2013

*Balance in full – $6,525 – due by January 10, 2014.

*Refund of balance in full on the condition of a fully-paid acceptable replacement for you. Note: you may want to consider trip cancellation insurance.

Cost includes:

*Domestic flights Kunming-Lijiang, Lijiang-Jinhong, Jinhong-Kunming. 

*All ground transportation, transfers, tours and activities as specified in the itinerary with local English-speaking guides in private air-conditioned vehicles. Bottled water on the vehicles.

*All meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner including bottled water, juice, or a soft drink) with group from dinner Saturday Feb 15 to breakfast Saturday Mar 01, with the single exception of the one free night in Lijiang.

*All accommodation from the night of Saturday Feb 15 through the night of Friday Feb 28.

Cost does not include:

*International airfare to/from China;

*Visa fees;

*Single occupancy accommodation. Single supplement surcharge is $1,608 – what the Chinese charge us.

*Meals, services, and activities not with group or in itinerary; personal expenditures, such as laundry, camera fees, communications, gratuities, etc., beer, wine, or alcoholic drinks.

Important caveat: Every effort will be made to adhere to the itinerary above. Due to the vagaries of travel in this region and of adventure travel in general, the itinerary may be altered in any way necessary. Participants are expected to accept this, and to maintain a cheerful attitude on an adventure such as this.