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April 20th, 2010

CHINA GREEN video “Fading Shangri-La 失色中的香格里拉” discusses Yunnan’s melting Mt. Khawa Karpo, features WildChina photography

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

Michael Zhao, of New York-based Asia Society’s CHINA GREEN, has produced another incredible video on environmental change in China and its societal and cultural implications for the Chinese people. WildChina was happy to contribute photos for such a meaningful video.


Snow-capped peaks of Mt. Khawa Karpo, also known as Meili Snow Mountain

“Fading Shangri-La 失色中的香格里拉” highlights the rapid change of Mt. Khawa Karpo, or Meili Snow Mountain in Chinese, which is hailed as the most sacred mountain for Tibetans in Yunnan. The video is an important follow-up to Orville Schell’s (also of Asia Society) February 2010 article, “China’s Magic Melting Mountain,” about which we previously blogged.

Visually stunning and more relevant than ever, this video highlights the impending threat of a lost Tibetan religious figure, holy land, and spiritual community in Yunnan as Mt. Khawa Karpo’s glacial peaks continue to melt.

From the CHINA GREEN website:

Mt Khawa Karpo, known by Chinese as Meili Snow Mountain, is among the most sacred mountains in the Tibetan world. It is here in the steep valleys that novelist James Hilton set his Lost Horizon, describing the utopian wonderland of Shangri-La where time stands still. Tibetans have long worshiped this holy mountain, regarded as one of the highest spiritual gods in this mountainous region of China.

Yet as the earth warms, glacier retreat and ice loss here over the last decade have reached alarming levels and the melting is only accelerating. As a result, locals worry that the soul of this holy land – their Shangri-La – is slipping away. With it, a supernatural source of blessing for their people and communities is feared to be disappearing.

Watch a trailer of the video here (and for the full version, go to CHINA GREEN’s website): Fading Shangri-la trailer on YouTube

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February 4th, 2010

Asia Society video: “Why China Why Climate?”

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

On the subjects of climate change, the Tibetan Plateau, and Orville Schell, our friend at New York-based Asia Society, Michael Zhao, recently sent us a video in which he combines and documents all three.

In his 3:35-minute film, Zhao captures the drastic physical changes of Asia’s most famous glacial peaks, shows the importance of glaciers to the livelihood of local cultures, and records Orville Schell’s insights on the importance of Chinese-American collaboration on climate change.

Orville notes in the video, “they’re [the glaciers are] the alarm system, and the alarm system has gone off. The question is, will we hear it?”


Watch the video on Michael Zhao’s YouTube channel. You can also send him a tweet @MikeZhaoYunfeng.

Photo credit: tampabay.com

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February 4th, 2010

Revisiting “China’s Magic Melting Mountain”: A frank look at tourism in Yunnan

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

When reading Orville Schell’s recent article in Conde Nast Traveler, “China’s Magic Melting Mountain,” readers might notice that the destinations in Yunnan he describes seem rather, well, touristy.

Schell is quick to outline the realities of these tourist meccas. Of Mt. Kawagebo, he writes:

“A distant rooster crows, and the sun bursts into full flame over the ridge. As if some switch were thrown to make them artificially glow from within, the mountains’ peaks become tinted with gold and orange. The Chinese tourists around me begin clicking away on their cameras with the intensity of tail gunners whose bomber squadron has suddenly come under attack.”

On Lijiang, Schell is even less forgiving; he calls it a “high-kitsch carnival of Naxi minority culture.”


Lijiang: unforgettable Naxi minority town, or simply a playground for mass tourism?

Comments such as these beg the question: if Yunnan’s Lijiang and Mt. Kawagebo are so kitschy and crowded, then what is the point of visiting them? And, from a potential client’s point of view, why is WildChina still visiting these areas? Don’t they promote “experiencing China differently?”

We, too, have often debated the issue of historical and culture value versus tourist developments and influx in these areas. In the spring and summer of 2009, we wrote a few blog posts on the issue. Our April 14, 2009 blog post, entitled “What We’re Reading: NYTimes Goes to Yunnan,” addresses the struggles of preserving the uniqueness of such a popular destination on our trips:

“For operators like WildChina, it’s always a balancing act to manage sustainable development of a site while promoting its appeal to future travelers. On one hand, you might want to keep small places a secret so that they retain that je ne sais quo that made the place so appealing in the first place. On the other, you want to promote these amazing places and tell everyone about them so that they can share your experience.”

Three days later, we explained our philosophy regarding responsible tourism:

“For WildChina, our goal of responsible travel includes providing travelers a greater understanding of local cultural and environmental issues… It means visiting Songzanlin Monastery, also referred to by Jenkins, but having monks guide us through areas normally off-limits and having tea with a top lama in his private chambers. And it means visiting local families in surrounding Tibetan villages, like Hamagu, where World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working to build support for sustainable tourism as an alternative source of income to logging.”

We at WildChina realize that as more tourists flood these areas, some aspects of local culture and environment are inevitably compromised. However, despite these realities, we strongly believe that we are still able to give our guests a unique travel and cultural experience.

How do we accomplish this? We travel away from the crowds. We engage in people-to-people meetings and interactions so that our travelers experience daily Chinese life. We offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, such as meeting with a Bimo shaman (see our Chinese Treasures itinerary). In smaller, more intimate Naxi villages nearby, we take our guests to local markets and community performances by village elders. It is through these personalized experiences and intimate looks at life in Yunnan that we are able to customize our travelers’ experiences and maintain the wonder of local cultures for our guests.

It’s also important to consider why these sites have become as touristic as they are. Why do thousands flock to Yunnan each year? There is clearly a reason why: Yunnan is one of the most diverse areas of China. Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an absolute must-see; Mt. Kawagebo is a spectacular and breathtaking sacred Tibetan mountain. While we cannot and do not deny that mass tourism does have negative effects upon these areas, the tourist culture in this area reflects the reality of Chinese domestic travel, and, for the reasons mentioned above, is justified.

Orville Schell does not sugarcoat his opinions of Lijiang, Mt. Kawagebo, and the current tourist climate in China. But he is still writing about them. Why? Because regardless of the tourists visiting these sites, they are still simply remarkable.


We invite you to join us in our ongoing rethinking of tourism in China. If you have something to say about this topic, please leave a comment, or email Alex at alex.grieves@wildchina.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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February 2nd, 2010

Interview with Jia Liming, WildChina’s Director of Operations, on travels in Yunnan

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

Orville Schell recently wrote about his journey to Yunnan with WildChina, discussing the climate change issues on the Tibetan Plateau. However, what is beyond the melting glacial peaks in the region?

WildChina’s Alex Grieves sat down with Jia Liming, WildChina’s Director of Operations, to get a sense of the diverse natural and cultural wonders that exist between the Yangtze and Mekong Rivers.

Alex Grieves: How did you initially get involved in Orville Schell’s trip? Why were you a part of this experience?
Jia Liming: In early 2009, Mei [Zhang, WildChina's founder] told me that Orville [Schell, Asia Society's China scholar] wanted to write about glaciers in China. As a member of the Operations team and someone who is quite familiar with Yunnan, I was asked to explore which routes would be most appropriate for the trip and to travel with the group.

AG: What route did you end up taking?
JL: We essentially went in a large loop. We first drove alongside the Yangtze River to Deqin, and then followed the Mekong River south again, first to Cizhong and then to Weixi. We visited the Mingyang Glaciers and Lijiang’s Jade Dragon Mountain, both of which are, or are home to, low latitude glaciers.

AG: What impressions did you take away with you while on this route?
JL: The journey down the Mekong River is simply incredible; it really is as if one is traveling through time. When you’re on the route, you travel through a myriad of contrasts: high to low altitudes; Tibetan to Lisu culture; buckwheat crops to rice fields; different styles of architecture; and colder to warmer climates. It’s amazing what one can see on just one 9-hour drive.

AG: What was your strongest impression from the trip?
JL: Driving past a Lisu village at sunset. As we passed by, I saw farmers singing in the fading light while working with cows in the rice fields. They seemed incredibly content. That was a really powerful moment. More generally speaking, the drive from Cizhong to Weixi is incredibly beautiful – there is no industry in these areas, and the natural beauty is untouched. One thing really interesting about the this area is that many villages are driven by clean energy and sustainable practices. The government subsidizes their bio-gas for cooking and heating, which enables the community to waste less and preserve their natural surroundings. It’s also very well-organized, and should serve as a model for other rural communities in China.

AG: Tell me more about the Lisu minority and their community.
JL: The Lisu people are an intriguing ethnic group, as about 20 percent of them are Catholic. Many can be found in Myanmar, since a large number of them emigrated to that area in the past.


Want to learn more about Yunnan and the Tibetan Plateau? Send us a tweet @WildChina, or email Jia at liming.jia@wildchina.com.

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January 27th, 2010

WildChina in Orville Schell’s Conde Nast Traveler article ‘China’s Magic Melting Mountain’ (February 2010)

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


China scholar Orville Schell recently published a piece in the February 2010 issue of Conde Nast Traveler entitled ‘China’s Magic Melting Mountain,’ in which he discusses China’s lesser-known Tibetan Plateau, the region’s Buddhist culture, and the physical and cultural effects of global warming on the area’s glacial mountain peaks.

WildChina is proud to be mentioned in the article as Orville Schell’s sole operator for the journey. Orville says of WildChina and traveling through the region:

You’re best off booking your trip through a tour operator who can help you navigate the often-tricky logistics in this remote area. The author booked his trip through WildChina—the founder of which, Mei Zhang    , is a Yunnan native and Harvard MBA (888-902-8808; wildchina.com).

Why did Orville Schell decide to travel with WildChina? Find out here.

The February 2010 issue of Conde Nast Traveler is on newsstands now, and you can find the full version of ‘China’s Magic Melting Mountain’ online here.


Photo credit: Abelow PR

For more information about travel to the Tibetan Plateau, please contact Barbara Henderson at barbara.henderson@wildchina.com.

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November 24th, 2009

China Scholar Orville Schell: Why Choose WildChina?

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

For those of us who’ve spent years studying China, Orville Schell is a very familiar name. His books, like The China Reader: The Reform Era, are widely read by students and policymakers alike, and his talks on behalf of the Asia Society’s China Green project are attended by many with an interest in China’s environmental issues.

So we were all thrilled when Orville, who has been to China countless times, not only chose to travel with WildChina to study the effect of climate change on glaciers, but also provided us with rave reviews about his trip to Lijiang and Shangri-La.

Here, in his own words, Orville explains what he sees as the WildChina difference:

“Why choose WildChina? Well, I think WildChina is quite skilled at sculpting trips for people who have specific interests. So, if in fact you’re a bird watcher, a glacier watcher, a river watcher, a minorities watcher – whatever your poison is, they seem to have the ability to highlight that.

I haven’t done many trips like this – but to go to a place like Yunnan and in a week to see a lot, you really do need someone to organize it. You need drivers who know what they’re doing, and cars and land rovers that can go on very rough roads and over landslides.

You want to be with people who you trust, not some crazy cab driver you’ve never met. So it was reassuring to have good drivers, good guides, and to be able to stop in at local people’s houses that these guides knew…and we had a Tibetan guide and a Chinese guide – both very familiar with the area and extremely fun to be around and very much a part of our group – not bored people who couldn’t wait to get off the bus and get everybody back on the plane…and that, I think, made the trip incomparably more meaningful and interesting for us.

I’m not a big tour joiner, frankly, and that would probably be a good reason to have WildChina organize your trips so that it wouldn’t be like a tour. It would be more things you wanted to do, not you fitting into their tour—but them making the tour fit your needs.”

Many thanks to Orville for these kind words! Be sure to view the video on our home page for stunning footage captured during Orville’s trip to Yunnan.

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November 18th, 2009

Asia Society Video: On Thinner Ice

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

There’s a breathtaking video on the Asia Society’s website right now that documents the effects that the melting of Himalayan glaciers will have on the 2 billion people who live in Asia. The video talks about glaciers as “the canary in the coal mine” for climate change, and urges China and the US (the two biggest contributors to global warming) to take decisive action.

One of the directors of the Asia Society, Orville Schell (featured in the video) traveled with WildChina this past spring to research glaciers in Yunnan. It was an amazing trip, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the participants to learn about climate change in Yunnan first-hand. There’s also a video of this trip featuring Orville Schell on our homepage now, which you can see here.

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October 6th, 2009

Environmental Changes in Yunnan

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

Climate change often seems like an abstract concept to many of us. But as renowned China scholar Orville Schell writes in “The Thaw at the Roof of the World,” his recent New York Times op-ed, the effects of global warming can be clearly seen in a part of China close to WildChina’s heart: Yunnan province in the southwest.

WildChina recently ran a trip for Orville and a few of his friends from the Asia Society to Yunnan and the Tibetan Plateau so that they could examine these environmental changes up close. As he writes, most people visit Yunnan’s majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for the beautiful views — unaware that the mountain’s Baishui Glacier No. 1 has receded 830 feet over the last 20 years due to climate change. While in the short run, the melting of the glacier will result in plenty of water, in the long run, it will in fact result in water scarcity – a serious issue, given that the glaciers on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain feed water into the uppear reaches of the Yangtze River, a major water resource for much of China.

Given that water resources are already dwindling worldwide, it’s no wonder that conservationists are drawing more and more attention to the pressing need to solve the climate change problem.  It certainly becomes much less abstract when you think about the people and lives that will be hugely affected, for the worse, by the environmental changes.

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