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Travelling Yunnan's Tea Horse Road

Retrace the ancient route of the tea trading caravans across the picturesque province of Yunnan. This 10-day luxury itinerary begins in Xishuangbanna and encompasses the Bai villages of Jinghong, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lijiang and the virtually unchanged Old Town of Shaxi. End your trip in picturesque Shangri-La, hiking to Napa Lake. On this journey, you’ll stay in the province’s best hotels and, of course, sample its famous teas. 

Highlights   Pricing
  • A trip to the Dai Ethnic Folklore Village in the ancient trade link of Xishuangbanna
  • Sampling a wide variety of locally cultivated teas and learning of their cultural significance
  • Time in the Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • A few nights in Shangri-La, visiting the Old Town and enjoying traditional Tibetan cuisine
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Day by Day Itinerary

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Day 1

Your 10-day journey begins in the autonomous prefecture of Xishuangbanna. Located in the very south of Yunnan province, this former trading hub is the perfect launch point for exploring the Ancient Tea Route. Here, you will be greeted at Jinghong airport by your guide who will escort you to your hotel for check-in and brief you on the tour. Tonight, enjoy a welcome dinner and your first taste of local tea. For accommodation, we recommend the superlative Anantara Xishuangbanna Resort and Spa, located in virgin forest on the Luosuo River and sporting luxurious amenities and traditional Dai-style design.

Day 2

Xishuangbanna is home to ethnic Dai, and its culture bears many resemblances to that of Thailand, with whom the region once had close ties. You can see some of these similarities today during a visit to the Dai Ethnic Folklore Village, which stages music and dance performances and provides insight into local customs and tradition. After a day exploring the beautiful gardens and pavilions of the Folklore Village, return to your resort. At the Anantara you can enjoy authentic Dai cuisine, or your favorite Chinese or Thai dishes. 

Day 3

Enjoy an early start today with a visit out of town to Menghai daily market, where local farmers come to sell fresh produce. It’s a colorful affair where you can expect to see a convergence of different ethnic communities, each with their own array of fragrant spices, teas and vegetables. Next, you’ll stop at at ethnic Bulang village, after which you’ll enjoy a leisurely hike, where your guide will lead you to a local monastery. After that, you’ll enjoy locally-grown tea in the home of an Aini family. The Aini have a long history of tea cultivation and their aged Green Pu’er brew is noted for its golden color and mellow flavor. After dinner with an Aini family, you’ll return to your resort. 

Day 4

Today you will fly to Dali, where you’ll stop for a traditional Bai lunch before heading onwards to Shaxi, around three hours away. Shaxi is another major point along the Ancient Tea Route, and little appears to have changed in its Old Town since the days of tea caravans. You have time this afternoon to explore the cobblestone alleys and traditional architecture before checking into your guesthouse-- we recommend either the Laomadian Lodge or the Old Theatre Inn.

Day 5

The tranquil valley that Shaxi inhabits provides a backdrop for the day’s activities, with a morning hike and a picnic lunch. The Bai and Yi ethnic minorities call this area home, and for lunch, you’ll take part in a cooking class where you’ll learn how to prepare some traditional Bai dishes. You’ll return to Shaxi in time for dinner - another authentic local meal featuring fresh produce and plenty of indigenous tea. 

Day 6

Your first destination today is the Jianchuan Shibaoshan Grottoes, nestled in the stunning natural reserve of Shibaoshan mountain. These Buddhist grottoes hail from the Dali Kingdom and feature ancient frescoes, statues and stone carvings. From there, you will hike back to Shaxi and enjoy a hearty lunch before heading to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lijiang, around 2 hours' drive away. In Lijiang, you can wander the streets of its beautifully preserved Old Town, stopping for coffee in an ambient cafe or browsing handicrafts in its boutiques. You’ll stay in Lijiang tonight, we recommend the luxurious Banyan Tree Lijiang. 

Day 7

In the morning, you have time to explore more of Lijiang’s Old Town before driving 4 hours to Shangri-La. En route, you’ll take a break at a viewpoint along the Yangtze River, enjoying the scenery while sipping hot tea. In the afternoon, you’ll arrive in the idyllic town of Shangri-La on the Tibetan Plateau. Tonight, check into your hotel in Shangri-La - we recommend the Banyan Tree Ringha or the Songtsam Shangri-La, both stylish modern properties with a traditional Tibetan design aesthetic.  

Day 8

Today you’ll visit the largest monastery in Yunnan Province, Songzanlin Monastery. This Buddhist center is home to more than 700 monks and during your visit you’ll have the chance to meet with one of them and tour some parts of the monastery not usually open to visitors. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant, then spend the afternoon wandering Shangri-La’s Old Town. For dinner, sample some traditional Tibetan cuisine with yak milk and yak butter tea, and watch a dance performance in the town square. 

Day 9

Continue your journey along the Ancient Tea Road with a hike around Napa Lake where you’ll enjoy a picnic lunch with stunning mountain and valley views. Next you’ll visit Nixi, a village specialising in black pottery, a tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years. When you return to Shangri-La, you’ll be treated to an unforgettable farewell feast, featuring traditional Tibetan delicacies such as yak butter tea and yak cheese. In the evening, enjoy another dance in the town square. 

Day 10

After gourmet breakfast in your hotel, you’ll be chauffeur-driven to the airport for your departing flight.   


Suggested Accommodations

Anantara Xishuangbanna Resort & Spa

Anantara Xishuangbanna Resort & Spa

Nestled in the spectacular, surreal forests of China’s southwestern Yunnan Province, Anantara Xishuangbanna offers first-class comfort and five-star luxury in one of China’s most remote areas. Anantara offers a series of charming villas and guestrooms, all of which feature immaculate bathrooms, plush beds, floor-to-ceiling windows (some with views of the pool, others with views of the gardens and the nearby Luosuo River), dark, wooden furniture, Internet access, mini bar, air-conditioning, and a flat-screen television with satellite channels. In-house restaurants include Manfeilong, an all-day eatery serving breakfast buffets, and Chinese and Western a la carte dishes; Mekong, which offers Thai/Dai and Chinese cuisines; Dai Lounge, a tea and snack space; and Luosuo, a poolside grill. Amenities include a comprehensive spa offering a wide range of treatments, baths, and rooms; a cooking school with lessons in Southeast Asian, Thai, and Chinese cuisines; a central swimming pool, an insightful tea program that immerses guests in the subtleties of tea; and a club for younger guests. The Anantara Xishuangbanna is a scenic, 45-minute drive from Jinghong International Airport.

Laomadian Lodge, Old Theatre Inn

Laomadian Lodge

Situated along the route frequented by trading caravans that runs through Shaxi, the Laomadian Lodge provides comfortable accommodation in an authentic Bai setting. The guesthouse is in a 150 year old wooden house in the Bai style and consists of only 9 private rooms, each with it's own unique theme and decor. The setting is rustic and cozy, and the rooms are situated around courtyards that maintain the feeling that it is an authentic and integral part of the ancient trade route.


Old Theatre Inn

The Old Theatre Inn is the premier choice for discerning travellers visiting Shaxi. The guesthouse aims to provide not only high quality accomodations, but also an experience for their guests in order to impress on them the cultural heritage of Shaxi. With only five guestrooms, the Inn is able to pay a high level of attention to each guest. The Dancing Mule Cafe provides a small, simple menu that showcases local dishes and specialties and only uses ingredients fresh from the gardens and farms local to Shaxi. The architecture and setting of The Old Theatre Inn makes for a wonderful countryside stay in Shaxi.

Banyan Tree Lijiang

Banyan Tree Lijiang

Banyan Tree Lijiang sits just south of the magnificent Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, with 55 deluxe mountain-view villas. The hotel is constructed in the regional Naxi style of architecture with its distinct rooflines and courtyards. Each villa is decorated in contemporary Naxi style and has a heated pool, jet pool and Internet connection. The Bai Yun Restaurant serves Chinese Cantonese banquet style meals with local musical accompaniment. Asian and Western-style cuisine are offered in a choice of indoor and outdoor settings at the Ming Yue Restaurant. The Spa offers treatments featuring Asian healing and relaxation techniques as well as European rejuvenation therapies. There is a business center with fax and Internet services, a fitness center, yoga room, and tennis court. The Banyan Tree Lijiang is an approximately 40-minute drive from Lijiang Airport (LJG).

Banyan Tree Ringha, Songstam Shangri-la

Banyan Tree Ringha

Banyan Tree Ringha is in China’s Yunnan province, in a mountainous area that has been officially designated “Shangri-La” by the Chinese government and is part of Greater Tibet, both historically and culturally. The architecture reflects the local Tibetan culture: the 32 spacious lodges and suites are traditional Tibetan farmhouses with intricate woodcarvings, enormous pine pillars, smoky fireplaces and wooden balconies that have valley or river views. There are three restaurants to choose from: Llamo, which serves Chinese and Western dishes, Chang Sa, for Tibetan specialties, and Jakhang, a cozy teahouse with a large fireplace and an encyclopedic collection of teas. The Ringha has a divine Banyan Tree spa and a business center, but no fitness center or pool. The Shangri-La Airport (DIG) is a half-hour drive from the hotel.


Songstam Shangri-la

Set in the high hills outside Zhongdian, Songtsam Shangri-la brings a new level of five-star luxury to this wind-swept, scenic area. Each of the resort’s rooms feature a collection of hand-made fixtures, from antique furniture to Tibetan textiles and carpets; in addition, all rooms offer amenities such as cable and satellite television, complimentary high-speed Internet access, and large, expansive windows. Songtsam is home to a restaurant serving Tibetan specialties as well as creative, fusion dishes, such as pizza with Tibetan cheese. Additional amenities include a conference room, a rooftop that offers guests wonderful views of historic Songzanlin Monastery, as well as a delightful, spacious courtyard for guests to browse at their leisure. Songtsam Shangri-la lies twenty minutes from Zhongdian’s Diqing airport.

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Our co-founder & CEO Catherine Heald lived in China for 7 years and returns often. She loves trekking in the rice terraces of Ping An, and hugging baby pandas in Chengdu!
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