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April 30th, 2014

It’s all about the tea…WildChina Expert Jeff Fuchs on the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road

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

Musings from WildChina Explorer and Expert Jeff Fuchs on the importance of the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road, and why we should all bump it up on our travel list…

WildChina Expert Jeff Fuchs chomps on an apple in Yunnan, tracing the Tea & Horse Caravan Road

The Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road has long held the attention of explorers and vagabonds alike for the fact that it represents one of the globe’s great and daunting adventures. A cultural odyssey as much as a physically demanding pathway that brought tea, salt, horses, and all manner of goods from the fringes of the old dynastical empires into and onto the Tibetan Plateau. Pre-dating the Silk Road, the Tea & Horse Caravan Road and its meandering pathways through indigenous zones, ancient tea forests, and stunning geographies offer up a deeper look into the very historical fabric of southwest China, Tibet, and beyond.

Across snow passes, over some of the planet’s great waterways, the route takes in three- dozen cultures, two dozen languages…all with their own histories with tea and the great trade route.

Tea figured greatly upon this ‘highway through the sky’ as it was – and to some extent remains – one of the great panaceas and commodities of time. Tea was more a fuel and medicine to the ancient tribes and its safe transport was one of the great vitals of the trade world.

Tea growing in Xishuangbanna, on the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road

This WildChina journey along the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road seeks to dig into and take the journey back to its roots. Authentic touches of exploration off the beaten path, serious tea-highs from some of the planet’s purest ancient tree teas, and home stays that are entirely integral with delving deeper into a culture and land are on offer. Walking through some of the oldest tea forests on the planet, and then sampling them in a cup bind the leaf to its drinker and by extension to any that partake in a cup.

Xishuangbanna, boiling tea on the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Route.

We’ve enhanced sections to take you deeper still into Yunnan’s diversity and created more of a full-on adventure. Daily tea samplings, from fresh bitter harvests, to locally prepared specialties (including the Tibetan’s famed and pungent butter tea) from local regions.

I’m delighted that this journey has continued and been intensified to add a more authentic feel that reflects life and travel upon the Tea & Horse Caravan Road. In traveling upon this most ancient of trade routes, it is important to retain some of the original feel of travel, life, and interaction for our guests.

It is vital that such a journey keep its vitality and spontaneity. It is only in this kind of travel and attention to detail that a route’s history, legend, and truths can remain intact.

All photos by Jeff Fuchs


If Jeff’s descriptions of tea got your heart beating a little faster, check out the itinerary & October dates for the 2014 trip here. You can also download the flyer to share around here. If you want to read more about Jeff and his travels, check out his blog here. And finally, if you have any questions, shoot us an email here: info@wildchina.com



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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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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


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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August 19th, 2013

The Legend Behind Yunnan’s Famous “Crossing the Bridge Noodles”

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

When you have a cultural and culinary history as long as China’s, you’ll find that a lot of customs and dishes have legends behind them.

One of our favorites is the touching story of the Yunnan dish, guoqiao mixian (过桥米线) or the “Crossing the Bridge Noodles”:


Long ago, just south of the Yunnan city of Mengzixian (蒙自县)….

There was beautiful lake with water as clear as jade. In the center of the lake, there was a small island covered in green bamboo saplings and giant trees whose ancient stalks reached the heavens.

Known for its natural beauty and pleasant atmosphere, the small island drew many neighboring scholars seeking a tranquil place to study for the imperial exams.

Among these scholars was a particularly diligent student who spent many days studying on the island.  Every day, his wife made the long walk to the lake, crossing the bridge to the island to bring him his midday meal.  However, he was frequently so engrossed in his studies that he only remembered to eat long after the food had grown cold.

Due to his irregular eating habits, the scholar became noticeably thin and his warmhearted wife grew very worried.  One day, she had an idea. She butchered a plump hen to make a hot chicken soup, and separately prepared her husband’s favorite local rice noodles, seasonings, and ingredients.

She brought them over the bridge in different bowls, combining them just before he was ready to eat. On it’s own, the chicken broth stayed hot enough to cook the noodles and other ingredients, and created a thin layer of oil that kept the whole bowl piping hot.

It worked. The scholar loved the hot noodle soup, and the wife started crossing the bridge everyday with these bowls.

Eventually, the scholar succeeded in passing the imperial exams and, remembering his wife’s great kindness and hospitality, joked that it was his wife’s wonderful noodles that helped him pass the prestigious and famously difficult exams.


“As a result of their unwavering resolve, the husband became an imperial scholar and great honor and satisfaction was brought to the village.”

过桥米线 - Yunnan Cross Bridge Noodles

Photo credit: Google

As you may have guessed, the wife’s daily walk across the bridge to deliver her husband’s meals inspired the name “Crossing the Bridge Noodles”. The story was passed on by word of mouth through the generations and has come to symbolize affection, endearment, and admiration

Like many legends of its kind, this story helps us understand the values and morals of traditional agricultural society in China. For example, the scholar is always described as diligent and hardworking—willing to embrace solitude and hardship in pursuit of good fortune and future.

The wife is considered virtuous and kindhearted for overcoming difficulty and heartache to care for her husband; her delivery of daily hot meals is used to express deep love and affection.

The story often ends with the line, “As a result of their unwavering resolve, the husband became an imperial scholar and great honor and satisfaction was brought to the village.”

Today, guoqiao mixian (过桥米线) is still considered a Yunnan specialty—and it still comes in separate bowls, allowing you to pick your ingredients and add the hot soup yourself. In Yunnan, this dish is so popular that there are restaurant chains that specialize exclusively in varieties of guoqiao mixian. It can be found anywhere from street-side noodle shops to high-end banquet-style restaurants.

If you’re heading down to Yunnan, this dish is definitely worth a try. Who knows, maybe it’ll be all the inspiration you need to finish that next project, or pass that next exam.

Or, if you’re feeling adventurous and want to try your hand at making this dish yourself, here’s a recipe worth trying from the Australian Gourmet Traveler.


Interested in traveling to Yunnan? Check out our sample journey South of the Clouds to get some ideas. No time to fit Yunnan into your China itinerary? Send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we can recommend great Yunnan restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai.


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March 13th, 2013

Can I breathe that?

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

Stories of pollution in China are all over the news. In the midst of this flurry of information, you probably have a lot of questions about what exactly it all means.

To start, what is the cause of all the pollution?

(Beijing on a clearer day and on a more polluted day)

Although car exhaust does contribute, the majority of the pollution arises from China’s heavy industry–in particular its steel production. Although the tools exist in these plants to limit their emissions, the issue is complicated by the conflict of private and public industry.  While it is difficult to say what steps China will be taking the future, it is definitely not an issue that has escaped the notice, or the ire, of the country’s population which is putting more pressure on the government to figure it all out.

For now though, you are probably wondering–what does this mean for me and my family when traveling to China?  Right off the bat, the best person to give you answers is your doctor. Not only do they know your individual medical history, but they are also trained health professionals who know the ins and outs of the possible effects of air pollution–the rest of us decided long ago that 5+ years of graduate school wasn’t in the cards.

All of China isn’t polluted all of the time.

If you are on a WildChina adventure, chances are you won’t be spending your time where the pollution is at its worst: in China’s 2nd and 3rd-tiered cities (these are cities smaller than Beijing and Shanghai but larger than Shangri-La). The rural provinces such as Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guizhou all boast air clean enough to rival that of the Rockies. In the main cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, it’s true that we’ve had those rare, “crazy bad” days that attracted so much attention, but those are few and far between. Both Beijing and Shanghai have large communities of expats from all over the world who have yet to be turned away by bad air. In fact, most days, Beijing has the capacity to look like the picture below–which is #nofilter and completely unedited.

(Blue skies over the Forbidden City in Beijing)

If you’re planning a trip to China, feel free to contact us for the latest updates on the current environmental situation. We monitor both the current and projected pollution levels and can advise you accordingly. For clients who are interested, we can also provide face masks that cover the nose and mouth in case you hit a bad day during your time here–just let us know in advance so we can have them ready for you when you arrive. Traveling to new places always means new conditions we are not familiar with. We feel the most important thing on any journey is to be informed on your destination before you set out. Our hope is that this post has provided you with useful information.


If you have any other questions about pollution or travel in China, feel free to send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

pollution comparison photo by BBC News, Forbidden City photo by Minnie Kim


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August 23rd, 2012

WildChina’s Teach For China Interns

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

If you have had a discussion with anyone about American education then you probably have heard of “Teach for America.” But have you heard of “Teach for China?” Started in 2008, Teach for China’s website states the organization is, “inspired by the vision that one day, all Chinese children will have access to a quality education.” In order to do this, Teach for China recruits and trains highly qualified college graduates from the U.S. and China to become teachers in the poorer areas of the Chinese countryside. During summer vacation, Teach for China assists its teaching fellows in finding meaningful projects elsewhere in China. This Summer, WildChina was thrilled to welcome two of Teach for China’s finest from Yunnan: Xueling and David Li.

Xueling is a Chinese citizen from Shenyang. Xueling was originally inspired to join Teach for China because she wanted to do something meaningful. For someone who did not have any formal teaching experience prior to joining Teach for China, Xueling took to the program like a duck to water. In her classes, Xueling has even invented a clever point system whereby students are incentivized not only do well, but also to assist their classmates, and to let Xueling know if she makes a mistake on the board. In a country where the sheer size of the population can make for brutal competition, a system that encourages teamwork seems like the perfect cure.

Although David was born in the Chinese city of Qingdao, he moved to the United States when he was two and grew up in West Virgina. David graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011, and decided to join Teach for China because he was looking for a way to gain some international experience. Working for Teach for China has been eye opening for David. Not only has it shown him the incredible discrepancies in educational opportunities between China’s coast and its interior, but it has also given him a new appreciation for the social mobility allowed by the educational system in the United States. One of David’s hopes in working for Teach for China is to help increase the opportunities available to Chinese students to change their lives.

This summer, David and Xueling put their talents to work for WildChina in a whole number of areas from social media to chaperoning trips. Unfortunately, after only five weeks, it is already time for David and Xueling to return to Yunnan. When David and Xueling complete their two year stints with Teach for China in 2013, their personal journeys will continue. David is hoping to enroll in graduate school in the fall of 2013, while Xueling, inspired by her experiences with Teach for China is hoping to go into school management or eventually found a school of her own. With leaders like these, Teach for China’s vision may just come true.


If you are interested in visiting a Chinese NGO when you are in China, send us an email at  at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to try and work one into your journey.  


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August 20th, 2012

Shangri-La Family Style

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

WildChina featured blogger Chelin Miller catches us up on her recent trip to Yunnan:

The Millers (mum, dad and three daughters) spent a week in Yunnan’s Shangri-La, on a relaxing tour of the ‘Kingdom South of the Clouds’. We stayed at the wonderful Songtsam Lodges. It was a perfect trip to visit a part of China that still has not been spoiled by mass tourism, is off the beaten-track, and yet remains very comfortable. We were surrounded by amazing landscape, easily found activities to keep everyone entertained, and enjoyed friendly people and delicious food. Here are each family member’s favorite moments:

Dad: Turning up to a lodge and being welcomed by smiling, friendly faces – every time! Walking through the rain up the mountains to see the golden monkeys in Baima Nature Reserve.

Hannah (17): Hunting mushrooms in the mountainous forests near Benzilan and then BBQ-ing the mushrooms under the stars.

Eli (13): Making moon cakes in Tacheng – and eating them!

Nina (8): Horse riding in Shangri-La and chanting prayers with our guide, Dolma, who also taught me how to turn the prayer wheel in Tibetan temples.

Mum: Getting caught by the rain after picking up watermelons and stopping for shelter at a Naxi household. While waiting for the rain to stop, we sang songs with girls in the lodge, and ate fresh fruit. The best aspect though, was taking wonderful landscape photographs at dawn –in my pajamas, from my bedroom balcony! If you have a chance to come to Yunnan, we can assure you will not regret it.


If you are interested in travel to Yunnan, we would recommend WildChina’s Cultural Family Vacation, or if you are looking for a little more adventure, check out our Tea and Horse Caravan. If you have something else in mind, send an email at info@wildchina.com and we can begin building the perfect adventure for you.

To read more of Chelin’s blogs click here.

Photos by Chelin Miller.

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August 17th, 2012

Backstage pass to Yunnan

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

Although WildChina is proud of all its itineraries, it is not every one that has a National Geographic award. One such lucky trip is WildChina’s Tea and Horse Caravan. Recognized in 2012 by National Geographic Traveler as one of 50 Tours of a Lifetime, the Tea and Horse route is truly spectacular. Led by intrepid explorer and WildChina expert Jeff Fuchs (pictured below), the trip’s course takes an uninhibited look at Yunnan province. Year in and year out, Jeff returns to lead this trip so we sat down with him to find out why. He gave us three reasons:

Unparalleled Access: The path that Jeff takes through Yunnan is one he is intimately familiar with. All along the route, Jeff has cultivated relationships, not only with the locals who live there now, but also with the remaining elders who he notes once “traveled, traded, and gave the ancient journey life.” Jeff has tailored this adventure to cross paths with these individuals, every one of whom is ready to share the oral traditions of their past. Guide books often discuss tired elements of a trip that have long since lost their bite, but Jeff’s ability to speak Tibetan, Mandarin, and Hani open the door for you to enjoy your own original experience. One of Jeff’s favorite aspects of this trip  “is that there is still so much more to dig into, both from a physical sense and from a cultural perspective.”

Historical significance: The Tea and Horse Caravan route is not simply a trip to China’s countryside–it is a journey through living history. Jeff explains that, “The Tea and Horse Road opens up not only Yunnan’s minority regions, but specifically how those minorities are related to tea, the trade route itself, and how they relate to each other. The route follows a path that has been an ancient pilgrimage, trade, and migration route for over a millennium. As each of the layers of the story of this trade route are uncovered, we see one of the most daunting expeditions on the planet, linking Asia’s eternal green commodity, tea, across a huge width of the Himalayas and beyond.”

One of a kind landscape: As you are conversing with locals and and studying the history that surrounds you, what will the surroundings be like? Simply stunning. Jeff reveals a slight smile, and his eyes light up, when he tells us he “would happily wither away in a tea swoon in the tea forests of Xishuangbanna. It is there that a sub-tropical and mystical quality creates a slightly calmer pace that puts one in a pleasant state of bliss.” The mood changes considerably as you move into the Himalayas where “the air clears and becomes sharper, the winds start to buzz and thump, and there is a really tangible sense that one is leaving one sanctum and entering into the mountains’ playgrounds.” Lush forest followed by austere mountains set the scene for getting those “WOW” photos to share with friends and family back home.

If these three reasons are not enough, consider the reviews of two 2011 WildChina travelers Rob and Lynne. Following the expedition they stated, “Getting off the beaten track was number one for us. Jeff and the guides had a unique skill at getting local folk to open up and to share their world with complete strangers.” By the time you finish this trip you won’t feel like strangers, you will feel like you have been walking this route all your life, shoulder to shoulder with those you have met on your journey.


Interested in joining Jeff Fuchs on his next trip to Yunnan? Looking for something else? Send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will start working on the perfect itinerary for your adventure.

Photos by Jeff Fuchs and Paul Mooney.


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August 6th, 2012

Who are China’s Miao people?

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

Unless you are an expert on Asian anthropology, you probably are not aware of the various ethnic communities living in China. Below is a brief introduction to the history, culture, and most importantly, the major festivals of the Miao people, the second-largest population of ethnic communities residing in Guizhou:

Known throughout the rest of Southeast Asia, the Miao people are able to trace their Chinese roots back more than four-thousand years. Though initially, they were located in the western part of Henan province and the eastern edge of Guizhou, both migration and being taken captive have resulted in the scattering of the Miao people to various parts of China’s southwest, including the Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces.

The formation of distinct “pockets” throughout the mainland has led to subtle variations within the Miao culture itself. The disparities between the Miao people of different provinces is most clearly visible in the variation of traditional dress for both men and women. For example, the woolen cloaks and linen jackets that distinguish the Miao men of one province may not even be donned by those of another. Though the differences in male fashion are quite noticeable, they are unsurprisingly out done by the innumerable variations in the overall style and extravagance found amongst female Miao fashion. Even though a skirt is seemingly simple, within the Miao wardrobe, there is a wide selection in terms of pleating, length, hues, and patterns.

Though major festivals are in essence a time for celebration, the fashionable Miao women see these festivities as  somewhat similar to New York Fashion Week. In order to stand out in the crowd, every woman must pull out all of the stops to look her best. Not only do skirts become even more vividly hued and floral patterns even more captivating, the Miao women keenly add an extra element to finish off their already vogue-worthy attire. Whether one lives on the Upper East Side or in a small Guizhou village, every girl knows that no outfit is complete without the perfect amount of sparkle to catch the attention of every pair of male eyes in the room. With their impeccable accessories, ranging from show-stopping head dresses that shimmer in the sunlight to an uncountable assortment of well-crafted silver jewelry, the Miao women are able to give even the most avid collector of Tiffany and Co. a run for her money.

Even though tastes in fashion may differ depending on province, something that remains consistent regardless of location is the overarching love that the Miao people have for both singing and dancing. At no time is this fondness for celebration more clearly evident than during their major festivals, the two most important being the Lusheng and the Sister’s Meal Festivals.

The Lusheng Festival, which takes place during the Fall, is a time of coming together. Miao groups from all over the mainland converge in Guiyang for a wild celebration consisting of energy-filled horse racing, exhilarating bull fighting, and most importantly, entrancing performances of the Lusheng, a traditional wood wind instrument.

The Sister’s Meal Festival, which takes place in early Spring, highlights the undying passion that the Miao people have for singing, specifically through the lively songs that are sung back and forth between Miao men and women. In addition to these beautiful exchanges of verse, lovebirds may also share tokens of love as acknowledgements of their affection for each other. For the younger Miao people, all you really need is love.

Although they may be hidden in the southwest corner of China, the colorful dress, multifaceted culture, and riveting festivals of the Miao people are hands down, some of the most memorable throughout China and definitely not ones to be missed.


If you have any questions about either the Miao people or travel to Guizhou feel free to send us an email info@wildchina.com

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July 20th, 2012

Bakery 88: From Auspicious Start to Dali Staple

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

Coffee, crumpets, and the chance to be cosseted by Karine Kafrell–chemical engineer, entrepreneur, and baker extraordinaire. This is what awaits customers at Bakery 88 in Dali, Yunnan.

A German bakery specializing in organic breads and jams made from locally sourced ingredients, Bakery 88 now resides at Foreigner Street Center 52 in Dali.  Perhaps the bakery’s success and popularity were pre-destined when Karine scored big time with the original address at Yue’erxiaojie No. 88–the number 8 is a lucky number in China (much more so than the 7), and 88 is of course, twice as lucky.  However, to believe this the sole reason for the bakery’s rave reviews is to do a disservice to Karine and her mission of empowerment.


Bakery 88's simple yet classy tables

Karine is German to the core–but also has the warm affection of an Italian mamma, enveloping her customers in hugs and smells of freshly baked bread. A chemical engineer by profession, she traded in her crucible for cookie sheets, and her formulas for recipes (but held on to her thermometer!) to start Bakery 88–simply because she loves to bake.  At 14 years of age she declared herself a baker, but after years of baking solo she now employs a large staff and has customers clamoring at her door.  Bakery 88 is a long-loved staple of the Dali food scene–a feel-good favorite of both locals and expats alike.


Bakery 88 is a home away from home for many of its customers

One of Karine’s aims in opening Bakery 88 was to employ local Yunnanese women who were, as far as the job market was concerned, skill-less. She teaches them to source, bake, and cook all kinds of recipes–including jam. In fact, one of Karine’s staff, after 3 years of working with Karine has succeeded in launching her own line of jam which Karine says is an ingenious combination of peaches, plums and pears–a gorgeous recipe she created on her own. Karine’s mission of female empowerment definitely has our applause at WildChina.


Deliciousness at Bakery 88

We love Bakery 88′s granola bars–a simple choice made with local Yunnan mulberries that just melt in your mouth. Here is to hoping my next journey leads me there sooner than later.


To truly treat your taste buds to Karine’s delicious baking, check out our trip Retracing the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Trail: Yunnan.  Starting in Dali, this journey takes you along (you guessed it!) the 1,000 year-old Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Trail.


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