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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 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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November 5th, 2013

Breaking the Winter Cycle: Lhasa, Tibet

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

 
For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this time of year is one of mixed feelings. On one hand, the changing of the seasons is a welcome period of transition, in which we put on sweaters and watch the leaves change. On the other hand, we know that just behind the nutmeg-scented, flannel embrace of fall looms the unforgiving wrath of winter. Forced indoors by the deep freeze outside, we find ourselves confined to a state of seasonal hibernation. For those of us who like to explore, this can be a trying time indeed.
 
This year, why not break the cycle?
 
While people don’t often think of China as a winter destination, reduced crowds, local festivals, and mild weather (depending on your destination) make this season an ideal time to explore the “Middle Kingdom”. That is why we’ve put together a series highlighting some of the best places to visit during this time of year.  
 

Lhasa, Tibet

People don’t often associate Tibet’s capital with winter travel.  Some would argue that the “roof of the world” just doesn’t seem like a good place to be in January. It may come as a surprise, then, that winter is an ideal time to visit Lhasa. Though you’ll still need to bring a jacket, daytime temperatures rarely fall below freezing. If you don’t mind the cooler weather, you will not be disappointed. The light this time of year is nothing short of fantastic, with the low-hanging sun casting long shadows across the markets and monasteries. This luminescence, along with the snow-capped peaks that surround the city, make Lhasa a photographer’s playground in the winter.

 

Potala PalacePotala Palace, former winter residence of the Dalai Lama

In addition to this unique seasonal beauty, another reason to visit Lhasa during this time of year is the significant decrease in tourism that takes place during the winter. This means less crowds, cheaper accommodations, and easier access to train tickets. This also means that you will be able to experience Tibetan culture more freely. As winter puts a break on much of the farming activity in the region, Tibetans use this time to make pilgrimage to Lhasa. This influx of pilgrims will begin arriving in December, and will often stay through the Tibetan New Year, which takes place around late January.

The tens of thousands of Tibetans who descend on this city during this time, along with the reduction in tourism, make winter the one time of the year where locals actually outnumber the tourists from China and abroad. The difference that this makes cannot be overstated. Instead of being surrounded by other foreigners, you can spend your time in Lhasa immersed in the rich cultural and spiritual life that has long made Tibet a focus of the global imagination. If you don’t mind a little chilly weather, winter is the perfect time to gain a truly authentic experience of Tibetan culture.

 

jokhang courtyardJokhang Courtyard, Lhasa
 
If you would like to make your own winter pilgrimage to Tibet’s capital, find more information here.

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September 25th, 2013

Tour Erhai Lake by Bicycle

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

A WildChina employee takes off on an impromptu bike ride…

Escaping Dali

After exploring the bustling streets of Dalizhen in Yunnan Province, we needed an escape to mother nature. With the towering Cangshan Mountains encircling beautiful Erhai Lake, we decided to see what the waterfront had to offer. We considered a leisurely day trip down but, plagued by restless legs, we chose to cycle upwards of 120 kilometers (75 miles) around the lakeshore.

Our tickets to exploration

 Erhai is surrounded by small villages that exist largely oblivious to busy “old town” Dalizhen and the rapidly expanding “new town” Dali. Hopping on rental bikes and heading towards Erhai, we crossed the busy Dali 1st Class road and enter what felt like a different place. Faces changed from chatty travelers to focused villagers working the land and the lake. Once on Erhai Ring road, the road winded through fields, villages and along the waterfront. Taking advantage of August’s fall heat, villagers were drying tiny fish on the roadside. The first time we passed a net full of fish, a heavy scent swept over us, but we soon adjusted after passing net after net.

Roadside drying fish

As we weaved through villages, we were awarded glimpses into the homes of those farmers and fisherman. Small houses and temples hugged narrow roads filled with talkative village elders and children playfully rolling hoops along side us. Really starting to feel the heat, we stopped and indulged in green pea popsicles, a surprisingly refreshing treat.

Homemade popsicles

Erhai Surprises

We discovered Erhai Lake is well known for its cormorant bird fishing. Following what appeared to be other travelers, we rode down through a village to the fishing pier. Fishermen were preparing long canoes full of squawking birds before heading out to local fishing spots. The birds are trained to dive into the water, catch fish with their long beaks and return to the boat where fishermen retrieve the fish from the birds’ throats. Such a interesting process draws quite a crowd, but we were fortunate enough to see cormorants in action at multiple points along our ride. Due to inefficiency, such fishing practice has largely fallen out of use and been replaced by motor assisted net fishing teams which spot the shoreline.

Cormorant fisherman preparing to depart

Each break yielded cheerful encounters. On one particular occasion, we were invited into a Bai (白族) village to celebrate someone’s 80th birthday. In such small villages, reaching 80 years of age is quite a significant event. We were welcomed with many smiles, incredible food aroma and the honor of sitting at one of the high tables with some of the village celebrities.

Being one of China’s 56 diverse ethnicities, many of the Bai people spoke and understood limited Mandarin which made dinner table discussion particularly entertaining. One man excitedly commented that it was the first time he had met Westerners. Countless bowls of food were placed on the table, chopsticks were passed around and the celebratory feast began. Some of the dishes included the small fish we saw drying along the roadside. While they may smell overpowering when drying, they taste wonderful when supplemented with flavorful sauces. The villagers told us the fish are considered a local delicacy. Loose leaf tea was delicately served. We had a blast celebrating 80 years of life and meeting the new faces. We were even offered beds for the night but, having to continue our progress, we left with full stomachs and further invitation to return the next day for a second round of celebrations.

Rest for Day Two

Fortunately with so many towns surrounding the lake, many potential spots exist to stop and spend the night. Shuanglangzhen provided a particularly good spot with many accommodations including lakefront balcony views. Savoring a glass of wine while watching the sun dip below the Cangshan Mountains and the lake reflect a palette of colors, we reflected on an incredible day. Packing up the bikes and eating a big breakfast, we got rolling before noon the next day.

Erhai Lake, Cangshan Mountains and a beautiful sunset

Continuing on the next day along the east side of Erhai, we encountered a bit more challenging elevation change. After sweating up the climbs, we were rewarded with spectacular panoramic views encompassing most of the Dali/Erhai Lake area. After having ridden through historical villages, we approached the outskirts Dali “new town” and its towering modern developments. We could not help but consider the insights offered across China. We just happened to enjoy a 120 kilometer glimpse into the immense contrasts of China.

Erhai island jewel

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Join us on a similar adventure in Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La!

Interested in getting a bike ride in on your trip to China? Get in touch with us at info@wildchina.com!

 

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July 19th, 2013

Get Lost in Gansu

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

It’s not hard to lose yourself in the mesmerizing beauty of the Gansu wilderness… the immense mountains and sweeping meadows of China’s northwest promise a majestic realm far from the hustle and bustle of coastal cities, and offer a tantalizing glimpse into what life is like on the “roof of the world.”

Stay the night at the Norden Camp under the infinite sky, surrounded by a rugged landscape painted in hues of powder blue and lush green. Wander through the Labrang Monastery, passing red-robed monks, marveling at the intricate architectural detailing throughout the vibrant complex. Visit a Norlha workshop and learn how yak wool – khullu – is transformed into luxurious woven textiles as a part of a sustainable social enterprise; venture out to see the striking Milarepa Temple in Hezuo City.

Our WildChina travel consultants especially love trekking to the Sangke Grasslands, vast and breathtaking plains that are roamed by Tibetan nomads. Take a peek into their modest tents and try a bite of what’s stewing in their pots – these intimate interactions are precious experiences that will linger long after you leave the highlands behind.

Under Gansu’s simmering summer sun, there are endless sights to be seen and countless adventures to be had. What are you waiting for?

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Looking for a last minute summer getaway? Contact WildChina about traveling to Gansu! Email us at info@wildchina.com.

All photos by WildChina’s Gloria Guo.

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June 11th, 2012

Next Destination in Yunnan: Gaoligong Mountain Range

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

 

WildChina has always had a knack for predicting the next hot destination in China–for better or for worse.  We were the first to pioneer journeys to Yubeng village in Meili Snow Mountain in 1999 and among the first to bring international guests to Shaxi in 2002– and now the town is charging an entrance fee to walk in the village! We continue to explore, and our Founder Zhang Mei has spent a lot of time recently exploring and trekking in the Gaoligong Mountains. Are Gaoligong and Tengchong the next big thing?  We asked Mei.

 

WildChina Travel: What’s special about Gaoligong?
Zhang Mei: It is a hidden treasure of Yunnan. Although Gaoligong was originally a nature preserve, it has recently been named a National Park.  The location is unique–at a latitude of 24.57 degrees it’s not only quite far south, but also includes peaks with summits as high as 5,128 meters over a very skinny stretch of land.  As you can imagine such sudden elevation creates incredible biodiversity. After only a short walk, one can start to see gibbons and flying squirrels. In addition, the rangers are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. This has been my best wilderness experience in China to date.

 

WCT: What do you do while you are there?
Mei: There are hiking trails all over the mountain range. My favorite activity is traversing the mountain along the ancient Southern Silk Road.  The hike begins near a small ranger station called Baihualing, 2 hours north of Baoshan airport. When we arrived, we enjoyed a delicious local lunch with fantastic fresh produce–wild mushrooms, fresh berries and other treasures from the mountain. After finishing this relaxing meal, we headed off on a short 5k hike through the rare tropical forest. The highlight of this hike is the stop at a remote wild hot spring for a dip in the water. For ornithologists out there, Baihualing is usually a terrific spot.

 

 

 

The next morning, we eat breakfast and then head off. The trail is both winding and timeless with much the feel of a Japanese garden. Everywhere there are Big rocks, ferns, rhododendrons, bamboo, and even bird’s nests.  I feel this is one of the most beautiful trails to hike in China.

 

 When we reach the highest pass – Nan Zhaigongfang- around 1pm I rangers prepared a simple meal of rice and vegetable soup. After some hot tea and coffee, the Tengchong side is downhill all the way. On the western side of the mountain, there are historical sites of bunkers and trenches from WWII to visit.

 

At the trailhead, WildChina’s operations department arranged for a prompt pickup and we spent the night relaxing in a nice hotel in Tengchong.The whole hike is 8-10 hours for a fit hiker. A long day, but absolutely lovely.

 

 

WCT: How do you travel there?
Mei: The hike requires a permit from the Nature Reserve, which is WildChina’s operating partner. We have the ability to put all the details together to create a memorable trip for our clients so we hope you’ll stay tuned!

 

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If you are looking to see other places in China + Yunnan, WildChina suggests taking a look at  Chinese Treasures, a 13-day set group departure. If this is your first and only chance to visit China, then this is the trip. Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai present the classic images of China – imperial palaces stand side by side with skyscrapers. Beautiful Yunnan province in the southwest, known for its ethnic diversity, traditional lifestyles and stunning natural scenery, forms a contrast to the developed parts of China. $4,850 (excluding domestic airfare, with set departures on Sep 3-15 | Oct 12-24 this year.

Questions about Yunnan travel? Please get in touch at info@wildchina.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Photos by: Roger Peng

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October 16th, 2010

Going off the beaten path, safely

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

This past week, China Daily reported that Beijing’s rescue team, “Luye,” responded to four emergency calls during the week-long October Holiday alone – all from travelers who needed assistance in remote areas outside of the city proper.

As, according to the article, this and similar teams received only 9 similar calls for all of 2009, what is causing this rising trend in travel emergencies?

Luye head Lu Zhonghong attributed the increase to lesser-known spots preferred by travelers and lack of know-how, saying, ”Most people who get into trouble those days are travelers without professional knowledge and the equipment they need to hike.” Though “people increasingly prefer to travel in undeveloped areas and in the mountains around the city,”  he said “it can be very dangerous to climb such peaks, especially when people are not familiar with the terrain.”

We’re strong proponents of off-the-beaten-path travel in China – but, safety is also our first priority. Here are our tips for experiencing China’s unique sites without ending up lost, injured, or worse:

1) Choose your destination wisely: Adventure is one thing; danger is another. Research destinations carefully, because someone’s definition of “difficult” might be your idea of certainly unsafe. Consult travel operators, travel review websites, and other travelers.

2) Explore with an expert: Just because you’re a good adventurer doesn’t necessarily mean you can navigate unknown terrain without a local guide. Do your research and make sure that you are traveling with a well-trained, experienced guide who can knows the area, terrain, and routes like the back of his or her hand. (We know plenty – just ask.)

3) Off-road during the off-peak: Holiday periods in China are notorious for logistical issues that may cause delays and cancellations. If you are traveling remotely during a Golden Week or other popular travel period, emergency services may not be able to act as swiftly on your behalf. Choose a time to adventure when rescue teams, hospitals, and police will be less busy.

4) Have connections handy: If you’ve traveled China extensively or live in the country, you might not want a guide to take you beyond the tourist hubs. In that case, make sure that you have plenty of local contacts whom you can call or find in the event of an emergency. Information for friends’ families, local hotel / lodge owners, and regional emergency hotlines should be on hand at all times.

5) And, of course, do not travel alone.

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October 12th, 2010

Mei Zhang’s Opening at the 2010 Adventure Travel World Summit

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

When I first came to the Adventure Travel World Summit in Quebec last year, I didn’t know anyone. I was one of two people from China, and I didn’t know the other. So I had no idea what to expect. I was feeling a bit like an outsider.

Then I went on the beautiful adventure day hike, donning my comfy Eddie Bauer down jacket. On the hike, I met two of my best friends since, Judith Fein and Andy Levine (@Duvine). We shared the joys and pains of running your own business, and shared tips on how to crack the Travel + Leisure A List. I was feeling like, “hey, I like this. This is a bunch of hiker/business people that I could hang out with.” Sort of like my own tribe.

Over the next few days, I met more people and shed tears over other people’s travel stories. Most importantly, I fell in love with adventure travel business again.

I don’t know about you, but for me, when back at home base, I often get bogged down by the mundane details of a cancelled flight, a 3am client phone call or the balancing act of figuring out staff year end bonuses. The business often becomes just another business, with the glamour and fun of adventure already having worn off.  It’s at times like these that I asked myself why I was in this business. It’s a lot of work and it doesn’t pay much. I could have been a venture capitalist in a different life.

Then I come to an event like this one, and realize that I just love connecting with people. I love the great outdoors and enjoy sharing with others what I love. How lucky am I to be able to make a profession out of a passion? And, even better, there are a lot of us like minded people here. We are the lucky bunch, and we just love what we do!

So, when Shannon invited me to join the ATTA advisory board, I was delighted. Now I have more excuses to go on adventures and connect with like-minded people. Just like last night, I met Frank Murphy from Tahiti. How often do you get to meet someone from Tahiti? Not to mention someone with an Irish last name (@tahitimurphy)?

The theme of this year’s Summit is Share & Inspire. I want to remind us all that sharing and inspiring is a two-way street. Everyone has a story to tell, and a simple story may inspire another person in a way you didn’t expect. So, I want to encourage all of you to extend your hand and meet the one next to you. Share your story and enjoy the conference. And who knows, next year, you may be on stage doing what Praveen and I are doing right now.

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Learn more about the 2010 Adventure Travel World Summit, held in Scotland, and read more of Mei’s blog entries on the WildChina blog.

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July 29th, 2010

Conde Nast Traveler names WildChina Founder Mei Zhang “Top Travel Specialist for 2010″

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

We at WildChina are thrilled to announce that founder Mei Zhang has been named by Condé Nast Traveler‘s Wendy Perrin as a Top Travel Specialist for 2010.

For the past 11 years, Perrin has hand-selected a group of elite travel specialists around the globe for her famous list. According to the Perrin’s introduction to the awards, specialists are chosen for offering “the best blend of expertise, access, and good value” all over the world.

Perrin praises Mei’s expertise in creating unique niche journeys in China, saying,

Zhang wants to show you the “authentic China,” beyond anything you’ll find in guidebooks, and—as a Yunnan Province native, Harvard MBA, and former consultant for the Nature Conservancy—she has a vast network of in-country experts in nearly every field that can make this happen… and get you farther off the beaten path than anyone else.

Mei is proud to be a featured travel specialist for the elite international list this year. She says of the distinction,

It’s such a tremendous honor. It was 10 years ago, almost exactly to the day, that I started WildChina. I still go back to Yunnan constantly, searching for those villages, the hidden Daoist temple, the corner noodle shop that smells like my childhood. One would have thought these would be hard to find, given the fast speed of change in China. But, truth be told, it’s not difficult. The idyllic culture of rural China is still there: the villagers still invite me to their homes for tea, the Nature Reserve chief still rolls up his pant legs to accompany me on hikes through the old forest.  It’s those moments that I cherish and long to share with my guests, and I can, thanks to tremendous support from the WildChina team in Beijing.

Mei is incredibly happy to share such passion with this year’s other distinguished leaders in tourism.

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Learn more about Mei’s fellow Travel Specialists across the globe and see why they are experts in their region of travel.

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