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Mei Zhang
WildChina founder, entrepreneur, mother.

Chelin Miller
Insider tips on China's finer side

May 30th, 2014

What is Luxury Travel in China?

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

There is significant variations in development among China’s different regions. Because of this, few countries in the world can offer the breadth and variety of luxury experiences that China can. From gilded 5 star services in the bustling world cities of Shanghai and Beijing, to the rustic charm of mountain retreats in rural Yunnan and Guilin, China has much variety to offer the luxury traveler. Understanding the different styles of luxury experiences available will help you get the most out of your visit to China.

Tier 1 cities – world-class 5 star luxury
Tier 1 cities in China: BeijingShanghai, Guangzhou & Shenzhen. These 4 cities are the country’s major economic centers. These cities host millions of visitors every year and have all the luxury offerings that would be expected of any world city.

Sir Elly's Terrace, atop The Peninsula Hotel, Shanghai
SIR ELLY’S TERRACE, ATOP THE PENINSULA HOTEL, SHANGHAI

Shanghai is often touted as the Paris of the East and has 5 star experiences to match. All the major 5 star hotels have set up shop there including 2 Ritz-Carltons, 2 Four Seasons, and 2 Hyatts (Park and Grand). Service levels in the hotels are on par or above their international counterparts but the price is generally lower, so luxury accommodation in China offers great value for money.

China’s tier 1 cities also sit comfortably on the world stage where cuisine is concerned. Shanghai in particular has a superb selection of high-end dining experiences by world-class chefs ranging from top Chinese, to classic French, to modern multi-sensory affairs.

Yunnan, Sichuan and Guilin :rustic rural retreats
Venturing outside of China’s tier 1 cities will bring you a richer cultural experience. The best way to enjoy authentic luxury in these areas is to go boutique.  Although 5 star hotels can still be found in some bigger cities in these regions, they are often lesser specimens of their international counterparts and close to the tired, commercialized areas of town.

Views from the Songstam Meili, Deqin County, YunnanVIEWS FROM THE SONGSTAM MEILI, DEQIN COUNTY, YUNNAN

Everything moves much slower outside of China’s big cities and staying at retreats, resorts and boutique lodges is the best way to enjoy this relaxed atmosphere. Immerse in village life in Yangshuo at the Moondance resort with a cooking lesson using ingredients purchased from the local market. Retreat to Songtsam Meili Lodge in the mountains of Shangri-La to take in its serenity away from the tourist traps. Conventional luxury dining experiences in these areas will be very hard to come by. However, the unique local flavors and fresh produce these regions offer will more than make up for it.

Xinjiang, Tibet, and other frontiers – ultimate adventure
China’s frontier regions offer ultimate adventure experiences, which can be found nowhere else in the world. However, accessing these experiences often requires traveling to remote and undeveloped areas where little to no conventional luxury comforts are available.

The Yushu Horse Festival on the Tibetan PlateauTHE YUSHU HORSE FESTIVAL ON THE TIBETAN PLATEAU

Luxury in these regions is defined more around premium activities. For example, VIP access to restricted sections of Mogao caves in Dunhuang, or expert guided tour of the Xinjiang Museum’s mummy collection. Many of these experiences are not openly advertised so it is important to work with a good China ground operator with the knowledge and networks to find them and make them happen.

If you are searching for ideas to be  impressed, China’s frontier regions is where you will find one-of-a-kind experiences with serious bragging rights. Imagine an exclusive luxury eco camp on the Tibetan Plateau to witness the Yushu Horse Festival, one of the last remaining horse festivals in China. This is something that WildChina dreamed up and arranged for clients in 2007-2009.

 

 

 

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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 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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November 25th, 2010

Wild no more? Beijing’s ‘Wild Wall’ to open to the public

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

Huanghuacheng, or the “Yellow Flower” Great Wall, has long been a lesser-known section to visitors.  Often been referred to as the “Wild Wall,” Huanghuacheng‘s remote location and disrepair made it  mysterious to those looking to visit China’s architectural wonder.

This will all change when local government approves access to the Wild Wall that, the Global Times reports, recently underwent a (now complete) five-month repair project.

Huanghuacheng‘s appeal lies in its unique “lake and mountain scenery,” and of course, scores of yellow flora. However, the section has historically been plagued with issues ranging from “landslide-induced collapses, earthquakes and cracks,” which prompted its closure to the public from 2004 onward.

The impending re-opening of the section makes us contemplate the fate of the Wall’s wilder side. With increasing damage and commercialization of the other sections, it would be in the best interest of cultural preservation to limit the traffic and development in the area. (After all, the government allegedly took drastic measures to ensure historical authenticity.)

But, with the prevalence of mass / “fast” tourism in the area, and across China in general, this may not be an immediate concern. We hope that for the sake of the wall’s cultural integrity, and the preservation of Huanghuacheng‘s “wild” nature, local officials carefully and thoughtfully plan the re-introduction of the Wild Wall to the public.

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August 30th, 2010

Autumn destinations: Xinjiang

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

If you’ve been thinking about an autumn getaway in China, now is the time to make plans for an unforgettable trip. Not too hot and not too cold, fall provides ideal weather conditions to see almost every part of the country. We’ve compiled a shortlist of our favorite fall spots in which to enjoy the lesser-known travel gems that China has to offer.

 

Our first pick is Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a perennial favorite known for its diverse landscapes and rich Uighur culture, which is closer to Turkic culture than Han Chinese culture. Xinjiang is home to a diverse array of lakes, mountains and deserts offering incredible sights, sounds, and a comfortable climate to boot.

No trip to Xinjiang is complete without sampling the region’s remarkable cuisine, which features rich stews, tasty breads and a mind-boggling variety of noodles from flat and wide to easily spoonable diced noodles if you’re still working on your chopstick skills.

Mutton is the meat of choice in Xinjiang, where it is generally barbecued or stewed. ‘Big plate chicken’ is one dish not to be missed – it is a mountain of tender chunks of chicken with potatoes, peppers and garlic cloves in a fragrant curry-like sauce, all served on – you guessed it – a very large plate. There are also plenty of delicious vegetarian options not found in Chinese cuisine – our favorite is the spicy Tiger Salad, which is typically made with fresh slices of tomato, bell pepper, purple onion and cucumber, all in a spicy vinegar sauce with sprigs of coriander. Wash it all down with the non-caffeinated tea drunk by the Uighurs, a local beer or a delicious glass of fresh cherry or pomegranate juice.

Most people living in Xinjiang follow a very moderate strain of Islam and are very open to visitors from afar. Their physical appearance is also quite different from what you might be expecting – don’t be surprised to meet locals with blonde hair and blue eyes. At the crossroads of Asia and Europe, Xinjiang never fails to provide a bit of the unexpected.

In early autumn, Xinjiang’s sky is deep blue and the cooler breezes blow the scorching summer away. Kashgar itself has a desert climate with long periods of sunshine and little rainfall. It also has sunshine much later into the day than the rest of China, a result of the entire country running on Beijing time. Although you haven’t left the country, a trip to Xinjiang can often make the rest of the country feel very far away.

Destinations

Very hot in the summer and bone-chilling cold in the winter, Xinjiang is at its most pleasant in the autumn. During the fall months, we suggest that you venture to the Taklamakan Desert for an overnight outdoor adventure. Don’t forget Xinjiang’s current must-visit destination – Kashgar’s historic old town, which was once a vibrant outpost on the Silk Road. Sadly, 85 percent of the old town is slated for demolition, so if you’ve ever considered visiting this storied Central Asian trading town, this may be your last chance.

Activities

While soaking in the rhythmic and passion-filled music of the Uighurs, enjoy the immense vastness of the Taklamakan at dusk and watch the clear sky gradually fill with stars. For the complete experience, ride a camel there and back. In Kashgar’s old town, be sure to visit Id Kah Mosque, Abakh Khoja Mausoleum and the city’s old handicrafts street, as well as the Sunday livestock market and bazaar.

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Stay tuned for our next featured fall favorite for more ideas on autumn trips.
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August 26th, 2010

Introducing…The WildChina Collection

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

Throughout WildChina’s years of pioneering sustainable off-the-beaten path travel in China, we have been impressed and encouraged by our encounters with visionary individuals who are trying to push the boundaries of traveling in China, creating unique boutique hotels integrated into local communities in the most remote and beautiful regions.

 

Huilaotang's Ming Style VIP Room

They care passionately about revealing the depth and breadth of natural and cultural beauties to their visitors in a way that is respectful of local traditions, and thus inevitably find themselves spending a lot of time acting personally as travel guides for their guests, and/or dealing with the minutiae of logistics planning in regions where travel infrastructure is patchy or non-existent.

Over time, many of these individuals began to feel that the original impetus which propelled them into the travel industry – whether it was creating eco-lodges from sustainable materials,  transforming and restoring ancient landmarks into museum-hotels or creating opportunities for local communities – was becoming bogged down in the exhausting details of operations management.

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we heard over and over again, if someone could train trekking guides, bring in anthropologists and historians to act as cultural guides, and take over logistics management?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to create alliances with other like-minded hotels in the region, passing guests along a circuit, thus exponentially expanding their appeal to travelers interested in exploring an entire province? Wouldn’t it be wonderful, they started to ask us, if you at WildChina could address these issues to free us up to pioneer new boutique hotels in the untouched hinterlands?

The WildChina Collection is the result.

The WildChina Collection is a unique alliance of boutique hotels in the most beautiful, un-spoilt and remote regions of China. Passionately committed to heritage conservation and ecological and sustainable lifestyles, our independent partners are not just hoteliers but enablers of a truly immersive experience in their local environs. The Collection is designed to allow our guests to share in this passion and the unique experiences it offers.

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Curious? Learn more by browsing the WildChina Collection hotels and circuits on our website. For more information, send us an email at collection[at]wildchina[dot]com.

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August 17th, 2010

Is it safe to go on a Yangtze River cruise this summer?

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

According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, China’s Three Gorges Dam, the country’s “largest construction project since the Great Wall,” is showing signs of strain. A summer of record-breaking rains and floodwaters has “severely tested the project’s capacity to control the surging Yangtze, the world’s third-longest river.

 

Yangtze River, Yunnan

Given these conditions, a concerned traveler recently asked us if it would be safe to embark on a Yangtze River cruise in 2-3 weeks. We consulted our local partner in Yichang, where the cruises are run, to get the most up-to-date advice.

The verdict? Our partner gave travelers the green light.  Noting that flooding in the area has gradually subsided, our partner said that cruise operations have returned to normal. In 2-3 weeks’ time, travelers should have no problem embarking on a cruise.

That being said, we advise travelers to stay current on the latest information regarding travel conditions in China. Watch this space for any new developments.

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Have a question about travel in China? Email us or send us a tweet.

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August 17th, 2010

Sign of the times: Lonely Planet goes Chinese

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

 

Around a decade ago Yunnan was still a bit off most travelers’ radar, but today it is one of China’s top draws for both international and domestic travelers.

For international travelers, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that the main factor that put Yunnan on the map toward the end of the 90s was the opening paragraph of the province’s chapter in Lonely Planet’s China guidebook:

“Yunnan is without doubt one of the most alluring travel destinations in China. It’s the most geographically varied of all of China’s provinces, with terrain as widely divergent as tropical rainforest and icy Tibetan highlands. It is also the sixth-largest province in China and the home of a third of all China’s ethnic minorities and half of all China’s plant and animal species. If you could only go to one province, this one might well be it. [emphasis added]”

It was one of the most succinct (and accurate) summaries of what is one of China, Asia and the world’s most topographically, biologically and ethnically diverse regions. It was only a matter of time before the world realized how unique Yunnan is. Domestically it is already well on its way to becoming a “brand” of sorts like California or Tuscany.

Which brings us back to domestic tourism – and again to the Lonely Planet, who recently published it first Chinese-language guidebook introducing a part of China to Chinese people. What was it? Not surprisingly, Yunnan.

Former Lonely Planet contributor Chris Taylor’s recent review of the LP’s Chinese-language guide to Yunnan captures the through-the-looking glass feeling we had when we got our hands on a copy of the book:

“There is perhaps no greater irony of modern travel than being photographed by the natives with digital SLRs. Times have changed and now foreigners are part of the colorful backdrop for Chinese on personal journeys of discovery in their homeland. Add another layer of irony: in Yunnan, some of those Chinese travelers are now armed with a Chinese-language Lonely Planet guidebook to the province.”

As recently discussed in this blog, the popular destination of Lijiang is now held up as a model of how to not use tourism to develop a city. But that’s not to say Lijiang isn’t worth visiting. It’s all about knowing where and when to go to avoid the crowds.

The LP Yunnan guide won’t affect Chinese travel habits the way it did with laowai (foreigners) but it is still noteworthy in that it shows how important Yunnan already is to China’s domestic travel market.

This no doubt means that there are plenty of destinations overrun by unsustainable commercial tourism, but these places are all connected to a tight network of agents, shops and “scenic areas” operating on a code based upon kickbacks. Unfortunately for the Chinese market, there are no domestic WildChinas offering real off-the-beaten path options.

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Photo credit: Amazon

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August 13th, 2010

Travel Tip: Dining with Allergies in China

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

Dining in China is a fantastic experience for the palate, with a myriad of new flavors, textures, and aromas to enjoy.

 

Don't let allergy fears get in the way of enjoying Chinese cuisines.

However, it can be a horrifying experience for travelers with allergies. If you don’t speak Chinese, cannot understand the menu, and have no one to ask, what can you do? Trying your luck is terribly risky; on the other hand, limiting yourself to, say, hotel restaurants with English-speaking staff is both boring and inauthentic.

We’ve compiled a list of useful tips and tricks for enjoying Chinese cuisine, without the stress of dietary restrictions gnawing at your plate:

1) Keep a multi-lingual allergy card handy. Companies like SelectWisely can easily customize a card with your allergy and dietary restrictions for $7.50 – $9.50 (between ~50 and ~64 RMB) per card. Be sure to specify simplified Mandarin characters when traveling to Mainland China, and traditional characters if you visit Hong Kong or Taiwan.

2) Pack your Benadryl. Be sure to have your medicines and epi-pens on hand when dining out. In addition to the language barrier, there may be some cultural misunderstandings in smaller areas. For example, nut allergies aren’t common in China, so there may be less awareness in smaller cities and towns about how severe reactions can be.

3) Know your local China healthcare information. Your tour operator can provide you with contacts and policies for the nearest hospital, doctor, or other healthcare provider to where you are traveling in China. Keep this information handy, should an emergency arise.

4) Study Chinese cuisines. Chinese cuisines are quite different from American Chinese food, so do a little research on culinary traditions for areas of China that you will visit. Get a sense for what ingredients and flavors are prominent, and brainstorm which dishes would best suit your restrictions. When traveling, you’ll have a better sense of what foods are safe choices.

5) Stock up on your favorite foods (just in case). Coming prepared with your favorite snack foods will ease the stress of a restaurant successfully accommodating your needs. If you begin your China trip in Hong Kong, Shanghai, or Beijing, you can  purchase many popular Western food products from local Western-style grocers. Ask your tour operator for suggestions, and for starters, consult HK Magazine (Hong Kong) and CityWeekend (Shanghai, Beijing).

6) Ask your tour operator to organize special meals in advance. Any good tour operator in China will be able to accommodate your needs and requests with restaurants. Let them know what you prefer to eat, which foods you must avoid, and any additional information they should know.

While the above tips may give you the impression that those with allergies have quite the struggle in China, don’t fret! Finding dishes in China that meet your dietary needs is truly easier than you might think. A young British China economist living in Beijing who is allergic to eggs, seafood and nuts had this to say about dining in the Middle Kingdom:

“Before coming to China, I assumed that Chinese food would be largely off-limits, as I believed that all ingredients were mixed together. In fact, it has been quite easy for me to avoid these foods.

Fish and seafood usually merit their own dishes, and are not mixed in with other foods – the one exception being small shrimp sometimes turning up in zhou [congee].

The worst has been nuts because of their prevalence in many Chinese dishes. However, I was relieved to find that fewer cooks use peanut oil because of the higher price. Most prefer soybean-based oils.

Chinese dishes are generally quite straightforward, and with an allergy card and/or guide to help, you shouldn’t have much problem navigating your meals.”

What Chinese dish do they suggest? Mapo doufua Sichuan-style mixture of tofu, spicy chili and bean oil, and minced meat.

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Have questions on travel in China? Send us an email or a tweet.

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