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Last February, we had our adventure to Hidden China II.  Like Hidden China I the previous September, it was absolutely extraordinary.  Breathtakingly memorable. 

So much so that Hidden China III is similar to its predecessor – similar, but not the same.  It’s been upgraded, and includes a visit to the tribal peoples of North Vietnam – the young ladies above are Red Zao – plus a luxury overnight cruise in the World Heritage Site of Vietnam’s spectacular Ha Long Bay.  In fact, all told we go to six World Heritage Sites.

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

We go in early March, the best time to see them in 2015, when the crowds from China’s National Holiday have vanished and the weather is perfect. 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.

A Jack Wheeler Hidden Adventure
Saturday February 28 – Saturday March 14, 2015


Day 1, Saturday February 28

Note: We begin in Kunming, capital of Yunnan, China. All participants are responsible for arriving in Kunming by Saturday, February 28. 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.

Day 2, Sunday March 1

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.  As are the Naxi – here are two Naxi ladies who were happy to have us take their picture:


We first linger at 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.


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


We then get a glimpse of Naxi culture visiting Dongba masters:


We’ll explore the canals of Lijiang’s Old Town and have dinner alongside one of them:


Day 3, Monday, March 2

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. 

Adjacent to Yuhu is the Naxi Dongba Holy Land.  We walk up along a series of cascading pools to the sacred spring, where we find the Shrine of Shu, the Naxi God of Nature.


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

The lamas here belong to the Nyingmapa or Red Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism.  The Lamasery is famous for its centuries old Ten Thousand Bloom Camellia Tree.  It’s been under the care of a lama for all of his life – he’s now over 100 years old.


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 4, Tuesday, March 3

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:


All the way to Tiger Leaping Rock:


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.  Here I am with him:


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 5, Wednesday, March 4

After a short return flight to Kunming, we drive to a region of the Yi tribal people called Jiu Xiang (joo-shang).  Upon arrival, we have a sumptuous lunch of Yiliang Roast Duck and the famous Yi libation of Block-the-Way Rice Wine.


We now spend the afternoon with your eyes not believing what they are seeing.  We explore the Jiu Xiang Karst Caves, one of the most dazzlingly beautiful cave systems on earth.  We’ll venture through this entire underground wonderland – the Lovers’ Twin Waterfall, the Goddess Cave, the Lying Dragon Cave, the White Elephant Cave, and the Fairy Terraces.


Then at day’s end, we have a short drive to the Shilin Stone Forest where we spend the night at the Yinruilin International Hotel.

Day 6, Thursday March 5

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:


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:


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 7, Friday March 6

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.  Early March is the peak bloom, so we’ll be up early to catch the sunrise at Jinjifeng for a different perspective:


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:


It was here I took my favorite photo of Luoping, of these two adorable Buyi children:


Next, we visit a number of Buyi villages along the Duoyi River, walk through the golden flower fields with the Buyi villagers, and sample the famous Buyi dish of colored rice during lunch at their village:


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


There are nine waterfalls in row, with the biggest 360 ft wide and 80 ft high.  You can stand under it if you want to!.  And yes, we’ll be back for sunset photos at either Jinjifeng or another location, the Hundred Thousand Hills.

Day 8, Saturday March 7

We have a morning drive past a series of small tribal villages to an extraordinary valley called Puzhehei (poozh-a-hey).  Our first sight of it will take our breath away:


The best way to experience this utterly peaceful and charming place is by canoe paddled by one of these friendly Zhuang ladies:


When we do, we’ll quickly grasp why Puzhehei is known as the Land of Serenity


We’ll stop by villages of the Zhuang, Black Yi, and Flowery Miao, getting a taste of their unique cultures.  They are as beautiful as they are friendly, like this Flowery Miao lady:


Puzhehei means "Pond teeming with fish and shrimp" in the Yi language, so we’ll be treated to a sumptuous lunch.  Regretfully, we must leave.  We’ll reach the historic town of Jianshui (john-shwee) at day’s end.  We stay at the 5-star Lin An Hotel.

Day 9, Sunday March 8

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:


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


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:


Our hotel is the Flower and Horse Inn, directly overlooking a marvelous view of the terraces at Duoyishu. 

Day 10, Monday, March 9

This will be a memorable day.  Most visitors have to begin it in the dark, to drive all the way for the unforgettable sunrise at Duoyishu.  But not us, for we are already there.


Then we’ll move to the morning light on the Ba Da terraces:


Afterwards, we’ll visit Hani villages like Qingkou with their "mushroom houses":


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


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 early March when the Hani terraces are at their peak and most of these photos were taken:



Day 11 Tuesday, March 10

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 hard to part from the magic changes of light as the morning progresses, but by mid-morning we must be on our way – to Vietnam.

We drive to the border town of Hekou, and after lunch, cross into Vietnam.  Northernmost Vietnam is populated by tribal peoples, such as the Hmong, Zao, Giay, Pho Lu, and Tay.  It’s a short drive to the utterly charming town of Sa Pa, built by the French in the early 1900s, at the head of the Muong Hoa Valley.


After checking in to the 4 star U Sapa Hotel in the town center, we’ll visit the Sa Pa Cathedral constructed by French Catholic missionaries in 1895.  The Hmong are predominately Catholic, and have in recent years been allowed to worship freely by the Communist government in Hanoi.  The church has been refurbished and now has a pastor designated by the Vatican.


We’ll spend most of our afternoon at the incredibly colorful Bac Ha open air market…


 …and getting to know local villagers – a surprising number of whom speak English, like these Red Zao ladies:


Day 12, Wednesday, March 11

We spend this day exploring the spectacular Muong Hoa Valley.  The scenery is gorgeous, and the villages with their rice terraces are breathtaking…


…but it is the people who are the most interesting.  The Black Hmong are dramatic…


…the Flower Hmong are stunning…



…the Zhuang are elegant… while the kids, of course, all love to laugh and give you a friendly smile:


The day will pass too fast among them.  We return to Sa Pa for dinner, then board the luxury overnight train to Hanoi.  We’ll sleep in our own private 2-bed cabins.

Day 13, Thursday March 12

We arrive at the Hanoi railway station very early, transfer to the Silk Path Hotel for a shower and breakfast, then drive to the World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay.  We arrive late morning to board our luxury junk, the Dragon Pearl.  We cruise among the thousands of limestone karst pillars and crags of Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bays in awe:



We can kayak…


Swim to secluded beaches…


Or simply relax with a glass of wine and enjoy one of the world’s special places glide by.

We’ll watch a glorious sunset during a gourmet dinner aboard…


Day 14, Friday, March 13

We wake up moored in a pretty little cove where we can start the day with a morning swim. 


On our way back to Hon Gai harbor, we visit the floating fishing village of Vung Vieng…


The kids here even have a floating school.  We’ll select our lunch from the catch of the morning.  After lunch, we disembark and head back to Hanoi, arriving mid-afternoon in time to visit the World Heritage Site of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel.  Yes, our 6th World Heritage Site.

We check in to our Premium room at the famous Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel.  We’ll meet at the Bamboo Bar where Charlie Chaplin and Somerset Maugham imbibed in the 1930s, then stroll over to the nearby Press Club Restaurant for our Farewell Dinner.  There’s a strong possibility we’ll end the evening back at the Bamboo Bar for a Farewell Nightcap.

Day 15, Saturday, March 14

This is Departure day.  You have many options.  There are flights to every major city in the region such as Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo – and to smaller places such as Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat if you want to continue your journey.

We have experienced an astounding part of the world, and from now on it will be a part of our lives.  We say goodbye until the next adventure.


Dates:  Saturday February 28 to Saturday March 14, 2015

Cost per person: $7,750

Deposit, Payment, Cancellation and Refund

*Non-refundable deposit of $775 per person due November 10, 2014

*Balance in full – $6,975 – due by December 28, 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-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 28 to breakfast Saturday Mar 15, with the single exception of the one free night in Lijiang.

All accommodation from the night of Saturday Feb 28 through the night of Mar 14.

Cost does not include: International airfare to/from China; visa fees; single occupancy accommodation. Single supplement surcharge is $1,371 – 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.

Please send all inquiries and make payments payable to:
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Suite 120-333
Alexandria, VA 22315
phone: 202- 656-3008   email:
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