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The absolute latest updates in China travel information.

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Our tales from the trail and dispatches straight from the source.

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What to bring, where to go, and how to get around China.

Mei Zhang
WildChina founder, entrepreneur, mother.

Chelin Miller
Insider tips on China's finer side

March 21st, 2014

Individual or Group? 3 Surprising Facts About Traveling in China

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

For anyone with an adventurous soul who loves to ditch the map and experience a country on your terms, it’s safe to guess that a group journey would never make it onto your travel radar. Yet when it comes to China—and you’re looking to travel the fine line between luxury and off-the-beaten-path—a group trip might be the best way to experience this enormous country. It can leave you free to focus on the moments, without the confusion and frustration that comes with not speaking the local language, or understanding local customs—both huge hurdles in China!

Making the decision to join a small group journey may not be easy for all travelers so first things first. Be sure that “small” means small because no one wants to be bussed around with 30 other tourists in baseball caps, or embarrassingly follow a tour guide with a megaphone! For discerning travelers, small should mean from around 5 to 16 people in the group, not including the expert or guide dedicated to ensuring you get the most out of your trip. So here’s why small groups work really well in China and why it’s such a benefit, especially for first time visitors:


1)  Travel like you’re eating off a set menu.

When you sign on to join a group journey, it’s EASY. There’s no debate about whether you have enough time to get from Shigatse to Lhasa (Tibet) before your flight—logistics no longer have to fall on your shoulders, which is great because China is huge, and making those decisions and confirming reservations, drivers, and transportation for every leg of your trip can be overwhelming.

If you’re looking for a simple holiday option that you can easily book, traveling in a small group is right up that alley. Most travel companies offer fantastic add-on options to customize parts of your trip, but for the most part, it’s like ordering a set menu—no fuss, and you get to try a bit of everything. Here at WildChina, we constantly hear great feedback from travelers who say there was something on the trip that they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves, but that they ended up loving. It’s all part of traveling to a new place.

2) More takeaways.

China is different. It’s different from the US, from Canada, from Europe, from Australia…you get the picture. But this is why people come—because it’s a fascinating place to visit. A week on the beach in Mexico, China is not…which means there’s a lot to process, a lot to be curious about, and a lot of surprising (hopefully exciting!) experiences and interactions to discuss at the end of the day. Traveling with others, who might have completely different or similar impressions as you, makes for great conversation and insight to take with you at the end of the trip.


All meals are family-style in China--the more, the merrier!

3) Food. Definitely the food.

Eating in China is always a group affair, with large round tables and lazy-susans heavy with the weight of dishes. Some call it “family-style”, others call it “Chinese-style” but dishes are ordered for the whole table and then shared. A basic rule of thumb when eating in China is to order one dish per person at the table—and then throw in a couple extra to make sure no one goes hungry. This is great news for groups because the more people at the table, the more food you get to try and taste.

The key to China travel euphoria is simply to remember the golden rule and join a very small group…that really is our best advice!  Our upcoming trip to Tibet in June accepts a maximum of 16 travelers to ensure that everyone enjoys the best experience possible.  If you have any questions, or want to learn more about your options for visiting China or traveling to Tibet, do let us know, we’d be happy to hear from you!


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March 18th, 2014

Noodle-licious Love! Hand-pulled Noodles of Your Choice at Noodle Bar in Beijing

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Hand-pulled noodles, freshly-made broth, and an open kitchen? Welcome to Noodle Bar, part of 1949 The Hidden City. Enter the tiny room and pick one of only 12 stools around the bar; with so few seats, everyone gets front-row tickets to the noodle-pulling spectacle.



Let the show begin! From your seat you’ll be able to watch the expert whip your noodles into true noodle LOVE!

Noodle Bar only offers one thing: (you guessed it!) noodles. But within that, there are plenty of choices: thick noodles, thin noodles, beef brisket, beef tendon, beef tripe, mushrooms…etc. You get the idea.  And it’s all laid out on single-page menus attached to cute miniature clipboards, for your extreme convenience. Just tick the options you want and no need to fret if you’re coming here on your own—the menu is bilingual.

Read the rest of this entry »

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March 10th, 2014

Enjoy the Suite Comforts of Home at the Hilton Beijing

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

With the large range of accommodation options available to you in Beijing, sometimes it’s the little things that help you decide – like the finishing touches of the Imperial and Chairman Suites at the Hilton Beijing in Chaoyang district. This hotel lives up to the Hilton name, and then some, and is located in the city’s embassy district, not far from Beijing’s financial centers and the bustling nightlife and dining options of Sanlitun.


The Hilton Beijing's Imperial Suite

The Hilton Beijing’s Imperial Suite

The Hilton Beijing offers nine distinct suites–but our favorites are the Chairman Suite and spacious Imperial Suite that even boasts a zen-life relaxation room! These suites each have a large kitchen with separate access for the private chef and staff, available around the clock to prepare everything from an authentic Chinese dinner after a long day, to an opulent formal dinner party for eight people in the Chairman Suite and 15 in the Imperial.

Chairman Suite:

The living area of the Chairman Suite

The living area of the Chairman Suite


Bedroom of the Chairman Suite

Bedroom of the Chairman Suite


Relax in style in this 165m² suite located on the ninth floor of the executive tower, offering executive lounge access and complimentary breakfast. The contemporary design and state-of-the-art amenities convey a sense of blissful comfort, and to unwind you can enjoy a movie on the plasma TV with a heart-pumping Bang & Olufsen sound system that completes the ultimate in-home theater experience.


Imperial Suite:

Living space in the Imperial Suite

Living space in the Imperial Suite


This suite is called Imperial for a reason. At 200m² and located on the top floor of the main tower, this superbly crafted suite offers great views of Beijing, while the interior combines modern technology with a touch of local Chinese flair. The spacious dining and living area is perfect for hosting a private reception, while the separated bedroom and office provides a personal space to recharge from a busy day.

In addition to these suites, the Hilton Beijing offers three dining options, a lounge, and a funky bar serving signature cocktails and delicious Champagnes. There is a large health club, spa, and even a Tony & Guy salon located in the main lobby. For meetings, it is an ideal location with 12 function rooms, including the city’s first 360 degree round infinity ballroom.

We recommend the five-star Hilton Beijing for both business and leisure travelers. It is located a quick 30 minute car ride from the airport and offers easy access to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, major shopping and entertainment and more!


Looking for more hotel recommendations? Don’t hesitate to send us an email with your questions at info@wildchina.com!



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November 29th, 2013

Breaking the Winter Cycle: Tropical Xishuangbanna

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Hammock in Tropical Xishuangbanna 

If cold weather is not your thing, head south to the subtropical region of Xishuangbanna.

Nestled in the southernmost tip of Yunnan province, just between neighboring Myanmar and Laos, this region hosts a vibrant intermingling of cultures and landscapes. With average daily highs of 26 degrees Celsius in January, the forests and villages here are immune to the annual chill that is felt in the north.  It’s no wonder Xishuangbanna was picked as Travel+Leisure’s 2012 Hottest Travel Destinations.

What better way to spend the winter than in the mountains and rainforests of Southeast Asia?

The winter months are the ideal time to visit this part of the world, as they mark the end of the wet season. Imagine finding your inner naturalist as you walk among the regional flora, keeping an ear out for the song of the elusive black-crested gibbon.

The home of peacocks, wild oxen and various primates, Xishuangbanna is also the only place in China that still has a wild Asian elephant population.

Xishuangbanna’s biodiversity is matched by an equally astounding cultural presence. Of more than a dozen different ethnic groups living here, the most prominent is the Dai population, which makes up nearly a third of the region’s one-million inhabitants.

Dai culture is markedly different from that of other Chinese populations. The language spoken here is more similar to that of the Thai, which draws heavily upon Theravada Buddhism and the indigenous practices that predate it. Both geographically and culturally, this is the one part of China that really belongs to Southeast Asia, and that feeling is impossible to miss.

If you are looking to get a taste of this unique cultural identity, your best bet is to take a trip into one of the many villages that dot this region. Here, you experience life as it has existed for centuries – something that is increasingly precious in a country that is rocketing into the 21st century. Visit the age old Buddhist pagodas, or step into a villager’s home for a cup of tea. This is, after all, the corner of the world where tea originated.

If you’d like more travel ideas or to join WildChina on a trip to China’s subtropical south, see our journey:

Pushing China’s Southern Boundary: Trekking in Xishuangbanna.


On the road in Xishuangbanna: Manfeilong Stupas. Photo Credit: Chris Horton

On the road in Xishuangbanna: Manfeilong Stupas.
Photo Credit: Chris Horton



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November 22nd, 2013

Santa Claus is coming to… Hong Kong?

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Hong Kong may not be a place you would think to spend the holidays, but a visit to this historic trade city offers a chance to put an eastern twist on a western tradition.

Hong Kong Skyline

Each year as December approaches its end, Hong Kong’s skyline takes on a festive air. Christmas imagery adorns the towering walls of city skyscrapers, while at street-level holiday decorations abound. It is impossible not to notice the commercialism that drives this activity; it is fascinating to see the degree to which this far eastern metropolis has embraced the “Christmas Spirit”.

One of the most apparent ways in which this spirit manifests is the shopping activity.

Every year, Hong Kong’s famous shopping malls out do themselves with extravagant Christmas displays and holiday sales. Hong Kong’s theme parks also do their best to spread the holiday cheer, with Santa and his reindeer making regular visits at Ocean Park and Disneyland’s gingerbread village.

Although Hong Kong celebrates its annual Winterfest during this period, it really feels more like spring or early autumn. In fact, the cool, dry weather makes winter one of the best times to visit this famously hot and humid city, as you can comfortably enjoy a range of outdoor activities.

While Hong Kong is well known for its densely packed urban landscape, people often overlook the incredible beaches countryside just outside the city. Nearly 40% of Hong Kong’s land has been preserved in the form of parks and nature reserves, making it an unlikely destination for sports such as hiking, surfing and mountain biking.

Hong Kong Beach pic

As no holiday is complete without a proper feast, be sure to explore the rich food culture that has earned this city nicknames such as “Gourmet Paradise” and “World’s Fair of Food”. With the highest concentration of Michelin star restaurants of anywhere in the world, Hong Kong offers fine dining options that range from international cuisine to local dim sum favorites.Whether you’re in the mood for south Asian cuisine or New York style pizza, you can find the best of it here.

If it’s a more traditional Christmas dinner that you’re after, you’re in luck. Every Christmas, Hong Kong’s hotels compete among themselves to see who can provide the most delicious holiday spread.

So this year, why not have a very Hong-Kong holiday?



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November 18th, 2013

2011 WildChina Explorer Jeff Fuchs returns as one of this year’s judges!

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

We are proud to announce that Canadian explorer and tea expert, Jeff Fuchs, will be joining us this year as one of the WildChina Explorer Grant judges.  Having won the grant himself in 2011, Jeff has dedicated his life to adventure and discovery. He is most well known as the first westerner to travel the full length of the Ancient Tea and Horse road that was used for centuries as a trade route between China, Tibet, Nepal, and India. This expedition was extraordinary in that it brought to light a major piece of cultural history and gave voice to the stories of the remaining “muleteers” who would make this arduous journey before the building of roads began to replace this means of transport.

His fascination with old trade routes did not stop there, however, and in 2011 Jeff received a WildChina Explorer Grant to retrace a portion of the old Tsalam Salt Road. Located in the remote highlands of southern Qinghai province (Amdo), this passage sustained many of the nomadic communities that occupy the region which, as Jeff explains, “remains culturally, historically and geographically one of the least documented portions on earth.” In traveling to these lost channels of cultural and commercial exchange, Jeff Fuchs has consistently demonstrated the power of exploration to shed light on the amazing human histories that are embedded in the landscape.

Jeff FuchsFor the chance to win $3000 of funding for your own Chinese adventure, don’t forget to apply for the 2014 WildChina Explorer Grant!



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November 15th, 2013

Global Nomad Kyle Johnson Joins the Explorer Grant Judge Panel!

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Kyle Johnson (Gu Yue) loves to explore.

From the fjords of Patagonia to the streets of the Mediterranean, his travels have taken him across the world. Having left his job at General Electric to pursue a career as a professional backpacker, Kyle has documented his experiences in 2 bestselling books along with a couple of well-received television programs. One of these projects was a series called To Berlin by Thumb, which followed Kyle on a 100 day hitchhiking journey that brought him all the way from Beijing to Berlin, where his girlfriend was residing.

This Kerouac inspired vagabond adventure involved catching 88 different rides that took Kyle and his friend, Liu Chang, through 13 different countries including Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, and Romania. Some of these places were shockingly easy to travel in, while others had no familiarity with the concept of hitchhiking, making things a little more complicated.


Having seen much of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe on this road trip, the next logical step for this perpetual wanderer was to see the Americas. Naturally, Kyle decided to see all of them at once, traveling to Alaska by container ship and then making the world’s longest land journey down to Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia.

During this trip, Kyle and Liu employed all methods of travel, including hitchhiking, boating, hiking, dirt biking; they even managed to get a good deal on a 1991 Volvo, which they drove all the way from Oregon state down to Guadalajara city, Mexico.  This project was captured in the Television program All the Way South, which followed the journey over two seasons: first in North America and second in South America.

In addition to his passion for exploring the world, Kyle also places great value in traveling within his native China. In 2012, he set out on a three month Chinese adventure without a yuan in his pocket. He felt that limiting his travel expenses to this extreme minimum would impose a meaningful vulnerability on the experience and make daily interaction with the people he encountered a necessary fact of survival.

When asked about the WildChina Explorer Grant, Kyle speaks of the importance of a “society where young people have dreams and aspirations, and are not afraid to go after them.” Citing the challenges and pressures that the youth in China face, Kyle explains that the WildChina Explorer Grant “gives them the opportunity… to experience life and explore this wonderful world of ours.”

When he is not on the road, Kyle currently divides his time between Beijing, Berlin, and Oregon state, USA.


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November 14th, 2013

Interview: Discovering the Snow Lotus with Heli, 2013 WildChina Explorer

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

In 2013, the WildChina Explorer Grant was awarded to Heli, a botanist whose passion for rare plants brought him all the way to remote Xinjiang in search of the Tianshan Snow Lotus. This rare flower, which grows in some of the most extreme conditions that plant life can tolerate, has long been the subject of songs, poems, and legends. In China, it is believed to have magical powers that prolong life, and is used as a traditional medicine by the various ethnic groups who inhabit the region. The Uighur word for the Tianshan Snow Lotus is “Tagilis”, which translates as “the king of the plant kingdom.” Heli set out on a quest to find a Snow Lotus the Tianshan wilderness, one of the most remote places on earth, and here he takes the time to describe his experience. 
finding the snow lotus

Tell us about your experience with the WildChina Explorer Grant.

The WildChina Explorer Grant is like a fresh spring that inspires and nourishes young people with passions and dreams. This proposal gives wide range of acceptance, it states: the purpose of expedition is to discover or rediscover certain kinds of culture, history, and biology etc. This enriches the meaning of travel and highly reinforces the idea of high-quality travel that WildChina advocates.

The $3000 funding may not seem like much to people who work, but it is a large amount for us who are studying in schools. This amount is enough for me to search the Tianshan Snow Lotus. People always say one has plenty of time but not enough money to start a journey when he is studying, one has enough money but has no time to travel when he works. So I feel very grateful we have such a wonderful chance to get the supportive funding to start a journey when we are young and passionate.


What inspired you to search forTianshan Snow Lotus? What kind of things inspired you?

I first came across the snow lotus in the television shows of my childhood, which demonstrated the mythical powers that Chinese legends attribute to this flower. In old stories, people would have to brave the snow and rock to find the snow lotus needed to cure a dying friend or break a spell. Due to fateful coincidence, I studied botany. Although I didn’t taste hundreds of herbs like the mythical Chinese Shennong, I have climbed over countless mountains in search of these rare plants.

By chance, I found the Baoye Snow Lotus in Sejila Mountain. It gets harvested in the snows and its flowers are gorgeous. I became friends with this beautiful and magic plant, and afterwards I could always come across the Baoye Snow Lotus in the mountain. This flower reminded me of the Tianshan Snow Lotus, and I thought it would be romantic to find this miraculous plant.


These plants live in a very extreme environment. Had you traveled in this kind of landscape before your expedition?

The Tianshan Snow Lotus is a genus of Saussurea in the family of Asteraceae. Most of Saussurea species are high altitude plants; the Snow Lotus is one of them, growing high on the rocky slopes of Tianshan Mountain. In the past, I went to Xiaowutai, Taibai Mountain, Motuo, Meri Snow Mountain and Aza Glacier for hiking. Though these places are at high altitude, the weather there is not as harsh as in Tianshan, where sleet and snow accompanied us the whole way.

When we found the snow lotus, we could see it was covered by snow… even in July. Growing in such an extreme environment, this plant had taken four to five years to bloom from a seed. Thinking of this, I feel so lucky and think we should treasure this small resilient life.

The camp in TianshanMaking camp high in the mountains

What was the most amazing thing you experienced during your travels?

As we had to carry all of our equipment and food, the traveling was often very difficult. In the first few days, this was made worse by continuous wind, rain, and snow. In the third night, the weather suddenly cleared up. Lying in my tent, savoring this tranquility and watching meteors cross the beautiful sky surrounded by mountains, I nearly forgot where I was. In the next day, the snow lotus burst into bloom under sunshine and blue sky. It was amazing and just like a sweet dreamland.


Did you run into any challenges during the trip?

Climbing over the Baiyanggou Daban and descending into the valley, I was attracted by the boundless meadow and the vagaries of mist surrounding the mountain. Inspired by the gorgeous blooming snow lotus I felt the unknown world in front of me, and wanted to go deep into the Wolf Tower in hopes of encountering an ibex or wolf.

Although we had enough food and goods, I had to consider my teammates’ physical condition and the original expedition plan. Therefore, I faced the challenge of deciding whether we should go into the Wolf Tower. The place was quite tempting for me. I asked myself, “Should I enter the place with another hiking team? Should I ask my teammate to come with me? Or should I just stick to the original plan?” After considering these options, I decided to explore one part of C route of Wolf Tower. Afterward, we returned to our original route.

Tianshan rangeLooking out on the expanse of the Tianshan range 

What was it like to explore rural Xinjiang? Did you meet any interesting people there?

I did some physical training half years ago particularly for this expedition. According to the predecessor’s experience, I wouldn’t feel tired if I run 10km in one hour before getting into the mountain. Even though, hiking would still be hard and tough. We went there in the summer, so there was a lot of run-off from the snow-melt’s increased precipitation. As a result of all this water, parts of the highway into hills had been destroyed. In order to even begin our hike, we had to take two separate cars.

Unfortunately, as the mountain roads were submerged water, we were forced to wade at points. This was extremely freezing. Since our team had only a few members we spent a portion of the journey with another group we had met along the way. When we found the snow lotus, we stopped to re-adjust and take photos. This other team continued to move forward, but later encountered troubles during a crossing of the Pu Xi Ke Horse River. Two of their members were stuck in the middle of the river and almost didn’t make it to the other side.

Despite the challenges that we faced through this particular stretch of the journey, we all feel that it was worth it to take C route of Wolf Tower. Yet, amazing as it was, this passage is a fatal tempting place, and required much determination to complete. I met one man in his 60s who takes the C route every month. His thoughts and experiences must be legendary.


Do you have any adventures planned for the future?

I want to trek the central mountain in Taiwan. I want to have a look different varieties of botany at various altitudes.


Enjoying a well earned meal on the trail

 Heli and his teammates enjoy a well earned meal 

For the chance to win $3000 dollars of funding for your own adventure in China, don’t forget to apply for the 2014 WildChina Explorer Grant!

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November 8th, 2013

Interview: Bill Bleisch, 2012 WildChina Explorer

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Bill Bleisch has been involved in environmental efforts in China and its neighboring countries for nearly two decades. One perennial focus of his work has been the way in which habitat loss stemming from patterns of resource management, industrial development, and environmental degradation has contributed to the rapidly declining state of wild gibbon populations. Once abundant throughout Southeast Asia, this family of apes has become critically endangered. Unfortunately, while much international attention has been given to other endangered animals,  very limited resources have been mobilized in the effort to protect these primates from extinction.
In his efforts to spread awareness about the existence and peril of southern Yunnan’s black-crested gibbon, Bill Bleisch spent time exploring their remaining habitat in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan. In 2012, he received a WildChina Explorer Grant to continue this research in hopes of establishing a trekking route through the Ailaoshan mountain range.
Bill on the trail
Bleisch on the trail

How did you first become interested in China?

Like many American kids, I was first introduced to China through the food.  My mother taught my sister and me to use chopsticks whenever we went to a Chinese restaurant.  People in China ask me how I learned to use chopsticks and I explain that my mother taught me.  Then I have to explain that she is not Chinese.  Later, she took a Chinese cooking class and we used to go to the Oriental market and gawk at all the interesting delicacies.   I had a collection of miniature figures from China – a fisherman, a nine-eaved padoda, an arched bridge, two scholars playing weiqi.

Later, when I was about 12, my father and I made a deal that I could stay home from Sunday school at church as long as I spent Sunday morning reading religious texts.  I happily agreed.  I read the Dao de Qing, the Analects of Confucius, Mencius, the Book of Changes, the Book of Songs,…   I took a Chinese course one summer, but it was too difficult.

It was not until I finished graduate school that I had the chance to come to China.  I received a grant from the Chinese Adventure Capital Fund, a fund managed by the Durfee Foundation and set up in honour of R. Stanton Avery, the inventor of the stick-on label, who had previously travelled in China in 1929 as a young man.  His family wanted others to have the chance that he had had to see China first hand.  I came to China in 1987, to survey gibbons in the Ailaoshan and Wuliangshan Nature Reserves.

BillBleischScouting a route along the ridge of the Ailaoshan range

What was the goal of your expedition in Yunnan’s Ailaoshan region?

My personal goal for these recent trips sponsored by WildChina, has been to bring something back to the Ailaoshan and its gibbons, 26 years after my first visit.  I had the idea that a trekking trail through gibbon habitat could increase public interest and commitment to protecting the gibbons and reconnecting their forest habitat.  The idea of a long trail in China came to me while my son and I were hiking the Appalachian Trail, which is a long trail along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.  The AT, as it is known, was started by local hiking clubs, but is now a National Scenic Trail managed by the National Park Service.  I know that there would be interest in such a trail in China if could be opened. So the goal of the four trips this year was to map out a stretch of trekking trail and start building local support for the idea of a long trail on the Ailao Mountain ridge.


What role does exploration play in spreading awareness about social and environmental issues?

I think exploration, at its best, has always been the key to building awareness of the world beyond our own everyday lives.  European explorers brought back the news that China had an advanced civilization in the 13th  century.  Later, it was the  explorers that convinced people that the world was round, not flat.  In this century, opening people’s eyes to the environmental and social problems that exist in remote rural areas is one of the best things that exploration can do.  That’s why a real explorer must also be a good story teller – either through written word, photographs or film.


Bleisch team on the trailBill and his team blaze a trail through the forest

How would a new trekking trail contribute to the preservation of the black-crested gibbon’s habitat?

I have to tell you that this is controversial.  There are those who are dead-set against opening any habit of endangered species to tourism. There is certainly good evidence that noisy tourists inside nature reserves scare wildlife away from heavily used tourist trails.  That is why the Ailaoshan National Nature Reserve is still officially closed to tourism.  (We work with the Xing Ping Provincial Ailaoshan Nature Reserve for now.) There is another view, however.

Nature reserves need support, both from local people and from the general public. The reserves have a hard time winning that support unless people have first hand experience of benefits.  Trekking by well-informed hikers is a gentle form of tourism that can build that support.  Just look at the passion with which people fought for the completion of the Pacific Crest Trail and its protection in the USA.   Trekking can  also provide direct benefits to local people in remote areas, something they do not see from big hotels or scenic hot-spots.  Local people can sell food and supplies along the trail, or open a nongjiale-style hostel.  Also, in provincial nature reserves, which have little funding, trekkers can serve as the eyes and ears of the nature reserve, reporting illegal hunting or logging that they find inside the reserve.  Their very presence can be enough to scare off poachers.  And experience in the USA has shown trekkers will fight to have protection extended beyond the boundaries of the nature reserves, many of which are too small and isolated from other natural forest.

But it can do more than that.  The trekking movement also taps people’s desire to get bck to our roots, back to basics, back to the wildness.  On a trek, you learn very quickly how to get along without many of the luxuries that we take for granted.  If you don’t really need it, you don’t carry it.  Eventually you ease into a new standard of comfort and start to find joy in the simple beauties along the way.  Many even find a kind of spiritual fulfilment on a long trek.  Tibetan pilgrims do these long walks regularly, Europeans called it the “pilgrim way,” native Americans called it a spirit walk. Perhaps in this is part of the antidote to the pointless conveyer belt of consumerism that is driving unsustainable development, global climate change, and senseless destruction of wildlife habitat.


Group shot by cascadeThe group rests by a cascade

What other efforts are being made to help these primates recover from the brink of extinction?

Many people deserve a great deal of credit for turning things around for primate conservation in China over the last 25 years.  The State Forestry Administration and the Yunnan Provincial Forestry Bureau, and especially the staff on the ground – the nature reserve staff and also the poorly paid and poorly equipped forest guards (hulin yuan) – they are often the real heroes in primate conservation now.  Field researchers, mainly Chinese scientists, have contributed a great deal.  NGOs have also made a big contribution.  They all work together now.  For example, my friend Professor Jiang Xuelong and his students, with support from the China office of Fauna and Flora International, have worked with the nature reserves in Ailaoshan to carry out a complete census of the gibbons there and develop an action plan for gibbon conservation.

All of these efforts are adding up, but there is still more that needs to be done; to protect and restore the forest habitat, and to rebuild forest connections between isolated groups of gibbons, so they can find suitable mates and pair up to breed.  Some of that work must be done outside of nature reserves, and that means that local people and local government must be more involved.


western-black-crested-gibbon- Fauna and Flora
Western black crested gibbon (Photo Credit: Flora and Fauna International)

Have you been involved in any other conservation efforts outside of southwestern China?

WVB: I have had the great good fortune to work in over 25 nature reserves all over China, in Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou, Guangxi, Fujian, Hunan, Hubei, Hainan, Qinghai and Xinjiang.  I have also worked in Vietnam, Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Malaysia at one time or another.  I have been part of teams for conservation research on the Grey Golden Monkeys in Guizhou and the Tibetan Antelope in Xinjiang, but most of my work has been helping local nature reserve staff to develop their skills and to write their own management plans.  That includes helping them to focus on the conservation problems that need the most attention.


What’s next? Do you have any upcoming adventures planned?

There are so many exciting things that need to be done, and I hope I have time for them all.

Right now I am on my way to Luang Namtha in Lao PDR were we have started a project designed to answer the question I posed above – is trekking tourism good for wildlife conservation, or does it just scare the animals away?  I think it may help. Lao is a very poor country that cannot afford the kind of patrolling that China has, so tourist guides and trekkers may be the best defence the animals have there.  The trekking companies provide payments to the villages, which should be an incentive to keep the forest intact.  Most of the trekkers are from Europe or the USA. They are not usually so noisy and they do not ask if they can eat the animals that they see.

I will be back in Yunnan for the official launch of the Ailao Shan Trail in Xing Ping County on November 26 – December 1.  Of course I want to hike the complete Ailaoshan Trail as soon as I am given the chance.  And I want to see it extended, to Dali in the north, where it can connect with the Ancient Tea Horse Trail, and to the south along the spine of the same ridge, where there is more gibbon habitat, but where much forest needs to be restored.  Those are Hani and Lahu minority areas, so very interesting culturally.

I want to be a part of mapping out the trail, and to hike as much as I can.  Perhaps eventually the trail and the forest can stretch all the way from Dali to Feng Shui Lin Nature Reserve and the Vietnam border.  Then China would have a National Scenic Trail to rival the famous long trails in the USA; the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.  I may not live long enough to see the trail completed, but now I am sure it will happen.


Bleisch has been the Chinese program director for Flora and Fauna International, which works to protect some of the most endangered species in the world. He also spent time as the program director of The Bridge Fund, which works to improve the lives of Tibetan communities through their support of various educational, environmental, cultural, and economic initiatives. Now, as program director for the China Exploration and Research Society, he continues to promote the cultural and environmental protection China’s minority regions. 
Don’t forget to apply to the 2014 WildChina Explorer Grant for the chance to win $3000 of funding for your own Chinese adventure!
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November 8th, 2013

Breaking the Winter Cycle: Shanghai

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Ring in the New Year… Shanghai style

Looking for an exciting way to bring in the New Year? While thousands of people are huddled like penguins in the streets of Times Square, you could be singing Auld Lang Syne in Shanghai’s historic Bund district. Though the traditional Chinese New Year does not fall on December 31, Shanghai’s vibrant international community comes out in full force to ring in the end of the annum. As one of the fastest growing cultural and financial centers in the world, Shanghai has cultivated an amazing nightlife. The only challenge this presents is choosing from the multitude of options. Join the party at one of Shanghai’s world-class nightclubs or watch the fireworks and laser show over Pudong’s iconic skyline… depending on where you end up, you could do both at once.

If you are looking for a more traditional way to “ring in the New Year”, make your way to the Longhua Temple located in the city’s southwest. Every year, to celebrate both Western and Chinese New Year, Shanghai’s natives come to the 1,800 year old temple to ring the 3,3000kg Buddhist Bell. Only the first 108 people to make reservations for the event will have a chance to ring the bell though, so plan ahead if you’re set on it. Otherwise, come for the folk performances, fireworks, and lion dances that make this event so spectacular.


Yu Garden
Shanghai’s Celebrated Yu Garden 

If you are in town for the Chinese New Year there are many ways to join the festivities. Fill up on some traditional holiday dumplings and tangyuan, which are said to bring wealth and prosperity into one’s life, or pay a visit to the 600 year old City God Temple near Yu Garden, where locals come to pay for a successful new year. Just be sure not to miss the Chinese lantern festival, which falls on February 14th this year, and is marked by colorful parades and astounding light shows, both traditional and modern. One of the best places to get a sense of traditional techniques and festivities is the Yu Yuan Old Town Bazaar, where conventional lanterns dominate the celebrations.

If you’re interested in a making a winter escape to Shanghai, click here to find out about WildChina’s winter tour of this world-class city.


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