Embark on 20 days epic expedition on Tea-horse Road – the longest and one of the most legendary trading routes in ancient world. Also known as the South Silk Road of China, ancient Tea-horse road stretches more than 2250km and connects the overland of Tibet with Yunnan and Sichuan. Tea and horse were two major products traded on this remote, harsh trail, hence the name.

Yunnan Discovery expert guide will lead you to follow in the footsteps of ancient caravans on the Yunnan Tea-horse trading tour as they crossed from Pu’er to Xishuangbanna, Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La, crossed mountain passes, greenery valleys, deep gorges and flowing rivers. Visit broad tea farms, Tea-horse Road Museum and old towns that used to be busting trading posts. The Tea-horse Road tour can be tailor-made to meet your travel schedule and style.

Top things to do:

  • Be a real adventurer to experience the rich natural and cultural diversity of Tea-horse Road in a single itinerary that spans Kunming, Pu’er, Xishuangbanna, Dali, Lijiang and mystical Shangri-La.
  • Uncover the authentic villages and towns on Tea-horse Road, such as Nakeli, Shaxi, Nuodeng, Shuhe, Lashihai, Benzilan, etc.
  • Experience for yourself the long-gone lifestyle and centuries year-old traditions, being welcomed into local minority people’s homes for specialty meals and to talk about the ancient caravans’ legends and stories.
  • Discover several thousand year-old tea mountains and gardens, meeting local Hani, Aini, Dai, Jinuo, Bai people. Learn the traditional way to make tea and enjoy peaceful tea drinking time.
  • Marvel at spell-binding landscapes throughout Yunnan, from Stone Forest, tropic forests, Tiger Leaping Gorge to alpine meadows, snow mountains and incredible glaciers of Meili.
  • Explore the much-photographed architectures and cultural sites, such as Sumtseling Monastery, Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple, Shizhongshan Grottoes, etc.
  • Travel style: private tour, original, culture, history, adventure

    Best time to travel: All year round

    Destinations: Kunming, Pu’er, Xishuangbanna, Dali, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La

    Altitude: between 800m (2625ft) and 3900m (12795ft)

    Meals included: no mealsNihao! Welcome to Kunming, China’s renowned Spring City. Capital of Yunnan, Kunming is now a modernized metropolis, however there are still plenty of places, streets and sites that give an insight into Yunnan's ancient past. Be greeted by your Yunnan Discovery tour guide and driver at the airport. Get ready for your Yunnan adventure to travel like ancient caravans along the Old Tea-horse Road hundreds of years ago.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Today navigate to Stone Forest or named Shilin, one of the most spectacular geological parks in China. A notable group of karst formations that consist of limestone spires, pinnacles, stalagmites, etc., Stone Forest has been standing for millions of years, and showcases the uncanny workmanship of nature. It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage in 2007.

    Afterwards, transfer to Kunming airport and fly to Pu’er City.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    This morning, visit Laiyanghe Natural Preserve, where there are 196 families of 1,722 species of plants, including 22 conservative plants, and over 200 species of birds and animals. Venture into the dense virgin forest to appreciate the serenity and beauty of nature.

    This afternoon, travel along a part of the old Tea-horse path. One of the most important producing areas of the famous Pu’er tea and one of the largest tea producing areas in China, Pu’er city was once the starting point of the Yunnan-Tibet Tea Horse Road. Pu’er tea was long traded on this route and brought to Tibet and some other Asian countries.

    Visit Nakeli village, an important site on Tea-horse Road, where there are still cultural traces of this ancient trading route, showcased in old shops, stone cisterns for horses and remains left by merchant travelers.

    Visit the Tea Culture Park (or named Tea Horse Road Village), a great place for you to see the tea trees, taste teas, and experience the unique culture of Pu’er tea.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Depart Pu’er City and drive to Lancang Lahu Autonomous County (so named because of being located to the east of Lancang River). En route visit a traditional Lahu village, where the local Luhu minority people still keep mysterious and primitive cultural traditions, including language, costumes, food, religion, customs, music, dance and handicraft making. Enjoy a specialty lunch at a local Lahu family, and taste tea foods cooked in a traditional clay pot.

    Continue driving and move to Jingmai and overnight in Jingmai.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    The ancient tea plantation on Jingmai Mountain has a history of over 2000 years. Its tea, as one of the raw materials of Pu’e tea, was traded on Tea-horse Road and transported to Burma, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries since the yuan dynasty (1271 - 1368). The villages nestled in the valley have been inhabited by Dai, Hani, Bulang, Wa and Han people for generations. The villagers created the endless tea farms that you see today. Pay a special visit to a Bulang Village and see its tea garden.

    Continue your adventure to Xishuangbanna, another major tea production area of Yunnan, witnessing ancient merchant travelers’ great journey on Tea-Horse Road.

    En route, stop by Manzhao Village in Menghun Town, known as the paper-making village in Xishuangbanna. See local Dai people make paper with tree barks in a traditional way. It takes about 10 procedures to make a piece of perfect paper. The handmade paper was originally used for Buddhist activities, and now is mostly used for tea packing.

    Before arrive in Menghai, visit Jingzhen Buddhist Temple and its Octagonal Pavilion that blends both traditional Chinese and Xishuangbanna architecture style.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    A land of abundance in Yunnan, Menghai is another hometown of Pu’er tea and one of the earliest tea producing areas in China.

    Hike on Nannuo Mountain to visit an 800-year-old tea tree. The teas on Nannuo Mountain, excellent in quality, have been sold to many Southeast Asian counties via Ancient Tea Horse Road. Visit a tea workshop on Nannuo Mountain. Get a rare chance to join the farmers to pick tea leaves during the tea season (normally between March and October), see how the teas are made and sip authentic Pu’er tea of different sorts.

    30 Aini ethnic villages are nestled on the slopes of Nannuo Mountain. Visit a local Aini family and chat with the friendly hosts over a cup of home-grown Pu’er tea.

    Then transfer to the Jinghong city, the autonomous prefecture center of Xishuangbanna.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Visit Jinuo Tea Mountain, celebrated as the best of six ancient tea mountains in Yunnan. Trace the ancient tea trees and be fascinated by the mystique of tropic jungle, and experience the exotic ethnic culture of Jinuo. Jinuo people began to plant tea trees around the 9th Century.

    Also experience a snapshot of Dai people’s life at a nearby Dai village. Dai people are the main residents in Xishuangbanna. Even today, they still preserve their language, dwellings and culture traditions.

    Menglun Botanic Garden is the largest tropical botanical garden in China that features the widest range of plants, including many rare species. Have a relaxing time surrounded by beautiful tropical flowers, plants and rainforest.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Today you journey to Dali by flight. Visit what is undoubtedly one of the most famous pagoda complexes in China – the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple. You’ll learn all about this incredible ancient Buddhist shrine, built in the 9th Century. Once a Buddhist country, Ancient Dali Kingdom had more than 10 kings became monks in Chongsheng Temple.

    Dali Old Town was the political, cultural and economic center of Yunnan for about 500 years and also vital to tea and horse caravans carrying goods from Xishuangbanna to Southeast Asian countries. While exploring the old town you can still find ancient city gates, walls, streets and Bai ethnic architectures.

    Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Today you roam around a more peaceful and more authentic old town – Weishan, an important site and the precious capital of Dali Nanzhao Kingdom. The town's main landmark is the arched city gate tower. The dusty ancient streets and alleyways are lined with Ming and Qing architectures.

    Before arriving at Weishan Old Town, pay a visit to a Muslim village called Donglianhua (East Lotus), with a history of more than 600 years, and famous for its well-preserved Islamic structures and folklores and tea & horse caravan culture.

    In the afternoon, visit a scenic Taoist Mountain - Weibaoshan Mountain, a national forest park dotted with Taoist and Buddhist temples. Visit a time-honored Taoist monastery and learn from a Taoist master about the philosophy of Taoism during tea time and then learn from a mater to practice a set of Taichi moves.

    Return to Dali and have a good rest.

    Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

    This morning, you learn the local way of making tea on Cangshan Mountain – the tea farms stretch over the waist of the mountain. Thanks to Dali’s favorable climate, you can join the tea farmers to pick tea leaves between March and October. Enjoy the delights of making tea and sip the tea by yourself. From the tranquil hillside tea house, you can view Erhai Lake and the old town.

    This afternoon, be active and bike around Erhai Lake. Bike along the countryside paths, through the fishing villages, see local villagers working hard on the rural farmlands and take in incredible views of Erhai Lake. When you feel tired, embark on a boat cruise, relaxing and unwinding. And get in an islet or a peninsula.

    Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    Nuodeng is a primitive Bai ethnic village with a history of more than one thousand years. It was once an important commercial center in Western Yunnan by producing salt and because of the horse and tea trading. Today, there are three to four hundred families living in Nuodeng, who live a lifestyle virtually unchanged for a hundred years. Their houses, scattering in the valley of the village and the northwest slope, were mainly built in Ming and Qing Dynasty. The villagers still keep the tradition to horse-breeding like their ancestors. Find Guzong Ping and Huimin Ping that used to be the bases for Tibetan and Hui caravans.

    Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Have you ever seen a Taichi village before? On the way from Nuodeng to Shaxi, you can see a village shaped in a huge Taichi diagram due to being divided by river bend naturally. Taichi is part of Fengshui (geomantic omen), with Yin and Yang as the two opposite poles. A natural Taichi village is rarely seen and the Fengshui here is thought to be fantastic.

    Continue your way and visit the beautiful lake of Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) hidden in woods. It is a national nature reserve, unknown to the tourists, though, it features intoxicating, untouched natural scenery and is an ideal home for wildlife.

    Arrive at Shaxi Old Town, depicted as “the only surviving bazaar on the Tea-horse road”. Experience the unique charming atmosphere of Shaxi, and soak up the ancient Tea & Horse Road history and culture by wandering the streets and discovering the ancient village gate, temples, Shaxi old theater stage (sometimes there are traditional performances)…

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Wake in the old town of Shaxi as if you travelled back several hundred years ago. Enjoy the carefree life here and then head for Shibao Mountain with a remarkable set of temples hidden in ancient trees. Built in Yuan Dynasty, Baoxiang temple has a history of more than 800 years. With its main buildings constructed on the rocks and cliffs, the temple is known as "Yunnan’s Hanging Temple". The over 1100-year-old Shizhongshan Grottoes are an untouched wonder of Yunnan Buddhist grotto art, and cultural treasures of ancient Buddhist Dali Kingdom.

    Drive all the way to Lijiang. The old town of Lijiang is the best and largest of its kind in China and a UNESCO World heritage site. Tea & horse caravans were used to stop here before moving to Shangri-La and Tibet. Enjoy a walking tour of Lijiang Old Town (Dayan), zigging through the cobbled-paved alleys and cross waterways to admire beautiful Naxi architectures and dwellings, and learn about the history and interesting facts of Lijiang.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Today we trace the Tea-horse Road in Lijiang. Baisha Old Town is a more authentic Naxi village and remains intact. Here you can witness Lijiang’s traditional handicraft like Naxi tie-dye and embroidery.

    Then move to Yuhu Village nested on the feet of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Witness firsthand the way of life in this remote village seldom visited by outsiders - the villagers still breed and ride horses.

    Nearby is Shuhe Old Town, another important town on ancient Tea-horse Road. Visit the Ancient Tea-horse Road Museum, also known as the Grand Jue Palace. It is a beautiful Ming Dynasty architecture and a comprehensive museum themed by ancient Tea-horse Road culture, local customs and pu'er tea culture. It is also China's first museum dedicated to the study and display of Tea-horse Road history and culture.

    Later check and walk a part of the riding tracks around Lashihai Lake. The narrow tracks wind their way up and down the mountains.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Today continue your journey on to Tiger Leaping Gorge and deeper into the Tea-horse Road – Shangri-La section.

    Get in Shigu Town, the best place to view the mighty First Bend of Yangtze River. Then you explore the beautiful wilderness scenery of Tiger Leaping Gorge.The walking trails zig along Jinsha River, through woods and snow mountains. Even today, horses are the main means of transportation along Tiger Leaping Gorge.

    The about 2 hour drive from Tiger Leaping Gorge to Shangri-La. After passing villages and climbing mountains, we finally arrive this isolate habitation for Tibetans.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    Spend a full day exploring Shangri-La, which shares similar religious, culture and even landscape with Tibet – a final destination of Tea-horse Road.

    Pay a visit to Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, a grand palace hailed as the ‘Lesser Potala Palace’. Sumtseling Monastery has far-reaching influence in the Tibetan region with a wealth of Tibetan Buddhist art treasures.

    Then walk the rugged cobbled paths of Dukezong Ancient Town, you may still find the tracks of the horse's hoofs. For the caravans passing through the ancient Tea-horse Road, Dukezong is their first stop after entering Tibetan region with relatively comfortable accommodations and good road conditions.

    After a lunch, proceed to Napahai Nature Reserve to see the highland swamp. Groups of sheep and cattle graze in the grasslands, migratory birds fly in and out, and the big blue sky with snow mountains is reflected calmly on the lake surface.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    This morning start the 5 hours’ drive to Meili Snow Mountain in Deqin County. En route, there are some wonderful scenery and villages to explore. Visit Nixi Tangdui Black Pottery Village to witness firsthand Tibetan pottery art handing down for more than one thousand years. Explore the centuries year-old Dongzhulin Temple and the once prosperous Benzilan Town that was vital to merchant travelers venturing into Tibet.

    Meili Snow Mountain is said ranking the first holy mountain of Tibetan Buddhism and the highest mountain in Yunnan province. Located at the boarder of Yunnan and Tibet, Meili is also the end of the Yunnan part of the Old Tea-horse Path. From here, teas were transported to Tibet so that the Tibetan royalty and nomads alike can enjoy warm tea time.

    Stay overnight in Feilaisi.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

    In the early morning, get up and go to the viewing platform at Feilaisi to catch a sunrise of Meili if weather allows.

    Then drive to Mingyong Glacier, it is the lowest altitude glacier in the northern hemisphere and the largest glacier of Meili, stretching for 11.7km from the mountain top at 6740m to the virgin forest at 2000m. Also pay a visit to the Taizi (Prince) Monastery at the root of the Mingyong Glacier.

    Then transfer back to hotel in Feilaisi.

    Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

    This morning, here’s another chance for you to enjoy the sunrise over Meili Snow Mountain if you like, and then take the land road back to Shangri-La.

    On the way, you can have some breaks and take photos at some beautiful sites such as the Big Bend of Jinsha River (upper reach of Yangtze) and Shusong Nunnery – the only Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Yunnan.

    After get to Shangri-La, spend the remainder of the day free at leisure and stay overnight in Dukezong Old Town.

    Meals included: Breakfast

    Be escorted to airport. Fly from Shangri-La to Kunming to connect your onward flight home – end of your Yunnan Tea-horse Road Tour.

    What's included

    • One-on-one travel counseling service with fully tailor-made itinerary
    • Private English-speaking guide, native-born or with years of local life experience
    • Reservations of domestic flights and trains as listed on your itinerary
    • Private driver, with comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle
    • Entry tickets to all attractions on your itinerary
    • Private transfers to airport/hotels/attractions
    • Handpicked accommodations to meet your needs, with daily breakfast
    • Lunch and dinner arranged at local restaurants, for taste of Yunnan
    • International flight tickets or train tickets
    • China Visa (but we can send you the invitation letter to help you apply China visa)
    • Tips for guides, escort, drives, bellman
    • Personal expenses

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