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October 22nd, 2014

Our Shared Experience in Yunnan

By: Megan McDowell | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Education Travel

studentshike1
A group of students hiking in the Abujee mountains

Adventure offer an opportunity for personal growth at any age. When we create a trip, we want it to be a meaningful journey. Here at WildChina, we strive to see people learn and grow from their experiences with us. Recently, we led a brave group of international high school students and teachers on an educational adventure in Yunnan province. Our guides shared the highlights, cultural exchanges and WOW moments of their moving education trip.

Farmwork
Community service at a Tibetan family farm

Informed that one afternoon of community service at a local family farm would help complete a few days worth of hard work, the students and teachers weren’t hesitant to roll up their sleeves and help out the Tibetan family. They jumped right in and with a few instructions, chopped down barley with sharp sickles, secured their big bundles with barley ties, and put the golden barley on an old tractor to be hulled away
 to the barn.

Most Tibetans speak in Tibetan languages, so our local WildChina guides usually translate, but on this occasion, the quick-witted students took communication into their own hands. They worked side-by-side with the local Tibetan family while using universal hand motions and facial expressions to communicate. They used arm motions to signal strength, smiles to exchanging gratitude and appreciation, and big waves of goodbyes and thank yous. After seeing the huge loads of barley they harvested, the students, teachers, and guides directly saw the true value of their work at the family farm. The students’ feelings of accomplished glowed on their young, tired faces.

Tibetanfieldwork
Students working hard in the barley field

Spending an evening at a Tibetan home gave the students another opportunity for a shared cultural experience. After a tasty Tibetan meal, the family preformed a lively traditional dance, and then asked the high school students to join. After dancing around the room with the locals, the students decided it was time the switch things up and teach the kind family some Western dance moves.

The energetic students choose one of the most iconic 1990s dance hits, the Macarena. A student played the song from their iPhone as they taught the family the catchy dance. The Tibetan women and children had a blast! Seeing the huge smiles on the family’s faces, sharing laughs and exchanging dances, taught the high school students that while it’s great to go and experience new culture, it’s also rewarding to share yours along the way.

familydance
Sharing dances at a Tibetan family home

Along their adventure in the Tibetan plateau, the high school students were taking trip notes of their exciting learning experiences for a paper they would create after the Yunnan trip. One student had another idea for the project; instead of writing a conventional paper, he would capture the magic of Yunnan with a video compilation. He video recorded the community service, the strenuous hikes in the Abujee mountains, the tour of a local school and villages, and every smile and struggle in between.

On their last night camping,sitting around a bright,warm fire in the Abujee mountains, the student volunteered his video for viewing. Projected onto the ceiling of the tent, the students, teachers, and guides watched their life-altering journey together. Mixed emotions overcame the group as they watched their trekking voyage unfold in front of them.

studentscamp
Wildlife visiting the campsite

Outside the tent, local Tibetans who were assisting the trip, caught a view of the video as well; this was the first time some of them saw themselves on video. They were in awe at the technology and thoroughly enjoyed seeing themselves, some even wondering, ‘Do I really look like that?!’
After viewing the touching video, one of the teachers told a WildChina guide that she loved being a teacher because she can guide students to learn, but it’s breathtaking seeing students take their learning into their own hands. On this expedition, the students stepped out of the classroom to learn about Tibetan people and experience the culture hands on, changing themselves and the Tibetans they befriended along the way.

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Students’ campsite

If you would like to Experience China Differently with us, contact info@wildchina.com.


Tags: educational travel China .







September 10th, 2014

Reasons You’ll Love Our Tea Travels

By: Megan McDowell | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, China tour

We focus on taking people on exciting, new adventures. Our Tea Travels with Jeff Fuchs is a trip designed to take you on a journey to experience local culture, ancient teas and tasty cuisines. Here are some highlights of the trip!  

1.Jeff Fuchs.
Jeff Fuchs, our 2011 WildChina Explorer grant winner, will be leading this trip. He is a well-known explorer, writer, and photographer and the first Westerner to have ever traveled the entire Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road. He has over a decade of tea exploration under his belt! Read an interview with Jeff Fuchs here.

tea
(Photo by Jeff Fuchs.2010 Xishuangbanna.)  

2.Homestay
While in Xishuangbanna, you’ll stay at an Aini village for one night. Here you will get a chance to spend time with the locals and see how they live. Village homestays are unique opportunities that give our clients a chance to experience local culture first hand. WildChina staff scouts out the villags in advance, ensuring they are clean and safe. Read about one of our experiences with a home stay here.

3.Chinese Cuisine
Adventurous Eater? During this journey, many meals will feature ethnic minority cuisine. In Xishuangbanna we will have dinner with Hani villagers and in each place we visit, we will try new teas, including those from ancient tea trees. We will taste the local flavors of Fujian by eating freshly caught fish and sweet, locally grown taro. You probably don’t eat like this at home but we like to give our guests the opportunity to experience this dynamic part of the region’s culture. In addition to local specialties, we make sure you’re provided with familiar Western food such as cereal and fresh coffee and tea for breakfast. (We can also provide special meals to those who have food allergies or special requirements.)

Teapicking
(Photo by Jeff Fuchs.2013 Yunnan.)

4.The locals
A trip favorite is interacting with locals. We go to minority villages where we eat and drink tea with local people. For example, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the lives of the She ethnic group and join them in the tea fields as well as visiting a Bulang village where we’ll meet the descendants of the first tea cultivators.

5. Knowledge
You’ll learn a lot about tea: its origin, how to pick it, and how to participate in a proper tea ceremony. You’ll also gain insight into the local culture and religion. After this trip, you might become a tea expert yourself!

Tea Travels with Jeff Fuchs leaves in March 2015, perfect for a spring getaway! If you would like more information, contact us at info@wildchina.com.


Tags: China tours Jeff Fuchs tea tour .







September 5th, 2014

8 Tips for Your Tibet Trek

By: Megan McDowell | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Tibet Tips

WilChina prides itself on journeys that go above and beyond the typical itinerary. Some of our trips include more active adventures including hiking and trekking, so here are some tips to help you prepare for a trek.

hikinh

 

1.Prepare for Altitude Changes
You can climb high, but go slow! When hiking in the mountains, people can experience acute mountain sickness (AMS). People respond to changes in altitude differently – both experienced hikers and first timers can get altitude sickness. Some people don’t have a reaction while others react with symptoms such as headache, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, and loss of appetite.

To avoid these unwanted symptoms and possibly a day in bed, it’s important to hike slowly when changing altitude. When going up, plan a practical journey that allows you to adapt steadily to the high altitude. Altitude sickness is not an issue when going down, so go as fast as your heart desires!
When WildChina travels to high altitudes, we plan time for rest and elevation adjustments. In the event of altitude sickness on one of our trips, our guides take hikers to a lower level to rest. Usually after some rest and water, symptoms go away.

2.Use Local Guides
In order to get a local experience during a trek (and to not get lost!), it’s important to travel with a local who knows the land and language. Also, be sure to do your research or ask family and friends to find someone you can trust.

Here at WildChina we combat such issues by hiring local, responsible, and friendly guides that will add a personal touch to your already epic trekking adventure!

mountain

3. Do Your Research
From our experience, it’s important to read about the places you’ll visit, even if it’s a simple Google search! Before going on a Tibet trip, WildChina recommends reading these books.

4. Be Prepared for the Worst

Rainstorms every night? Unexpected injury during the trek? You don’t know what’s going to happen! So, put this in mind when preparing for your hike.

Some things that WildChina recommends to bring for those unexpected disasters: itching cream, waterproof everything (jacket, shoes), extra batteries, headlamp, and first aid kit

5. Have Good Hiking Boots
Do your research in buying a great pair of hiking boots. These shoes become your life (and sometimes even life saver). Yes, a good pair of hiking boots is expensive, but the money spent will be worth it during long, enduring treks when your shoes are the only thing separating your feet from rain and/or snow.

 

hikinh2

6. Pack Light, but Pack Right
When it comes to trekking, you must find a balance between packing enough and not too little or too much.

WildChina provides you with top camping gear and cooking supplies, however, you’ll need to prepare some things yourself. We send out a detailed list to all of our clients beforehand to make sure you’re well prepared.

7. Prepare Your Body!
Depending on the route, some hikes can be physically challenging. To get your body ready for a long hike, it’s recommended to exercise before. It doesn’t have to be strenuous – you can do small things like climbing steps instead of taking the elevator. This is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to get ready for high elevation trekking. It’s best is to climb up a tall building’s staircases.

8. Have the Time of Your Life!
You may be one of the few to have trekked this route, so enjoy it! Take pictures and share your tales of chatting with nomads or running into a herd of domesticated yaks with your friends and family.

WildChina ventures to Tibet frequently. We explore the land with experienced guides and high quality equipment, allowing clients to experience active adventure with more comfortable travel conditions. We have two trips that are considered moderate,Expedition to Tibet’s Far West (Winner of National Geographic’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2014) and Journey to Tibet’s Mt. Kailash Guge Kingdom.These journeys are designed for you to discover the hidden sites that the scenic land Tibet has to offer. For more information contact us at info@wildchina.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tags: China travel tips hiking in Tibet Tibet tips trekking .







August 29th, 2014

Along China’s Silk Road

By: Megan McDowell | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, China Travel

 

When you first heard of the Silk Road, you might have had romantic ideas of a smooth road made out of silk. In reality, the Silk Road is not even a road at all but an ancient network of trading routes that linked China all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Also, the road is not paved in silk and was far from a smooth journey in historic times. Judy Bonavia describes it well below:
“The early trade in silk was carried on against incredible odds by great caravans of merchants and animals traveling over some of the most inhospitable territory on Earth, including searing, waterless deserts and snowbound mountain passes. Beginning at the magnificent ancient Chinese city of Chang’an (Xi’an), the route took traders westward along the Hexi Corridor to the giant barrier of the Great Wall, then either orth or south of the Taklamakan Desert to Kashgar before continuing on to India and Iran, or farther to the great cities of Constantinople, Damascus and Baghdad. For today’s traveler, it is not only the weight of history that makes the Silk Road intriguing, but the incredible diversity of scenery and ethnic people along the way.” -The Silk Road: Xi’an to Kashgar

The Silk Road earned its title because silk made up a large proportion of trade along this route. Originating in China, silk-making was China’s well-guarded secret for almost 2,000 years. Silk was so valuable to people that prices were calculated in lengths of silk, just like they had been calculated in pounds of gold. It even became a currency used in trade with foreign countries.

Silk was not the only good traded on the Silk Road-people traded bronze, bamboo products, teas, medicine, and porcelain. There were many available routes to travel; ome were shorter and more dangerous, while others were longer and safer. Most of the things traded along the Silk Road were luxury items because the profit, to some, was worth the risk.

silkroad3

People exchanged religion, culture, philosophy, and art along the Silk Road. The route connected merchants, monks, and nomads from around the world and was an ancient highway for globalization. Innovative ideas that were traded along the route, like grape winemaking and paper money, are still in use today. By allowing people to make their first contact with distant civilizations, the Silk Road helped lay the foundations for the modern world.

Today, these ancient routes aren’t used to trade goods and ideas with other countries. Instead, the Silk Road is traveled by people who want to see the land and learn about the history and culture of the region. Most of the Silk Road is located in Xianjiang province in northwest China. Xianjiang is home to 47 ethnic minorities, including the Uygur, the major ethnic group living here. Uygur are the second largest Muslim ethnic group in China. They have their own Islamic culture and Turkic language, which uses a modified form of the Arabic alphabet.

silkroad

China’s northwest region is home to the beginning of the old, dangerous route, earning the nickname, “Wild West of China”. Today the region is safe and more accessible. While in this part of the country you feel like you are in Central Asia, not typical China. The people, clothes, culture, and cuisine are influenced from the ancient trade routes. Those who visit are fascinated by the diverse culture, people, and landscape.

 

 

If you are interesting learning about the Silk Road, we recommend reading, The Silk Road:from Xi’an to Kashgar, by Judy Bonavia. For a hands on experience, WildChina offers a trip, Along the Silk Road, departing in October.

 

 


Tags: ChinaSilkRoad .







August 27th, 2014

6 Facts About Tibet

By: Megan McDowell | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, China tours, Tibet Travel

Nature and religion define Tibet, so if you’re interested in viewing sacred sites or beautiful nature, it  should be on your list of travel destinations. Tibetans have a distinct culture and religion that sets them apart from the rest of the world. Along with rich history, Tibet has some of China’s most striking natural scenery, including vast grasslands, blue lakes and sky-high mountains.

tibet road to gyantse

1.Foreign travel to Tibet used to be restricted.
Tourists were first permitted to visit Tibet in the 1980s. Since then, people have been traveling to Tibet to learn about Buddhism and see the pure nature. The main tourist attractions are the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple , Namtso Lake, Samye Monastery, and Mt. Everest. Some areas remain restricted to tourists.

2.Tibet is considered one of the most secluded regions on earth.
Tibet is the least populated province in China, mostly due to its mountainous and harsh geographical features. The mountain ranges that surround Tibet create a barrier from the rest of the world, leaving some places in Tibet uninhabited. The mountains in Tibet average 22,960 feet high, earning the nickname “Roof of the World”. In Tibet, there are five mountains over 26,240 feet, including the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. Tibet is a great playground for hikers. Also, frequent flights to Lhasa, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and several highways to Tibet have made Tibet easily accessible.

Tibetmonks

3.Buddism is the foundation of Tibet’s culture and everyday life.
In Tibet, Buddhism is not just a religious belief, it is a  way of life. You can see the influence of Buddhism throughout this region. Tibetans view the environment as a place where humans and nature coexist, therefore most of their land is colorful and pure. There are a great  amount of sacred sites, such as monasteries, nunneries, and palaces, to explore while in Tibet.

4.47% of the world’s population depends on the flow of fresh water from Tibet.
The Tibetan plateau has the third largest store of water and ice in the world. Tibet is the sources of many of Asia’s rivers. Tibet’s glaciers, rivers, forests, lakes, and wetlands provide key environmental resources to Asia.

5.Tibet is sometimes called the “Sea of Dances and Songs”.
Tibetans love music and dancing. Every night local people get in a circle around a fire and dance the night away. While visiting Tibet, you can participate in a nightly dance while sipping on one of their  national drinks, salted butter tea or Tibetan chang. Chang is an alcoholic drink that is made of barley, rice or millet. Tibetans of all ages drink chang at funerals, dinners, and celebrations.

tibetlhasa

6.Tibetan people believe Lake Yamdrok carries deep spiritual meaning.
Many pilgrims visit the lake prior to making important decisions, they believe the turquoise water of Lake Yamdrok carries deep spiritual meaning. Lake Yamdrok is one of the many beautiful place to visit in Tibet. Clear blue lakes, deep valleys and rivers, snow covered mountains, and green forests can all be found across the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tags: adventure travel China China travel Tibet .







August 24th, 2014

Stand In The Majestic Roof of the World:Tibet

By: Megan McDowell | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, China Travel, Tibet Travel

Why Tibet?
People have many kinds of travel styles and adventure levels: some people like to get away and relax on a beach, some seek thrills like bungee jumping or scuba diving, while others enjoy visiting historic sites and learning new information. Here at WildChina, we like to keep our adventure level high and our travel style a mix of exploration and luxury. One place that brings out our adventurous side is Tibet.
Tibet is not the first place that pops in your head when planning a trip to China. It is very different from the China you see on TV or in the media. The mountain ranges that surround it make it one of the most secluded regions on earth, giving this region its own cuisine, faith, and landscape. Along with rich history, Tibet has some of China’s most striking natural scenery, including vast grasslands, blue lakes and sky-high mountains as well a great amount of sacred sites, including monasteries, nunneries, and palaces. If you’re interested in viewing sacred sites or beautiful nature, Tibet should be on your list of travel destinations.

“Rich or poor, all come full of devotion and with no inner misgivings to lay their offerings before the gods and to pray for their blessing. Is there any people so uniformly attached to their religion and so obedient to it in their daily life? I have always envied the Tibetans their simple faith, for all my life I have been a seeker.”
― Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet

Religion-Tsedang:
Buddhism developed in Tibet and the surrounding Himalayan region in the beginning of the 7th century. Tibet’s long history of Buddhism has inspired the building of many religious sites. In Tibet’s largest city, Tsedang, you can find Buddhist monasteries, monuments, tombs and royal burial sites. Samye Monastery, the oldest standing Tibetan Buddhist monastery, is a Tibet highlight. Samye is both a monastery and a village and used to be a school for Tibetan Buddhism. Some Tibetan Buddhists travel on foot for weeks to reach this popular pilgrimage destination.

Note: Out of respect, always walk around Tibetan Buddhist religious sites or monastery in a clockwise direction and don’t climb onto statues or other sacred objects

Tibetanmonks

“Tibet has not yet been infested by the worst disease of modern life, the everlasting rush. No one overworks here. Officials have an easy life. They turn up at the office late in the morning and leave for their homes early in the afternoon.” ― Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet

Culture-Lhasa:
Tibetans live a easygoing life. They like music, games, and dancing. In Tibet you can participate in a nightly dance with locals, sample yak cheese, yoghurt, or butter, while sipping on the national drink, salted butter tea.
Tibet’s richest cultural marvels are found in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa. Buddhism is not just a religious belief, for many it is a way of life. Lhasa has been the center of Tibet’s political, religious, economic and cultural activities since the Fifth Dalai Lama moved the capital here in 1642.
This city is home to Potala Palace. This palace has served as both the winter residence of each Dalai Lama and the religious and political center of Tibet for 300 years. In 1645, it was built without either nails or the use of wheeled equipment. Today, it provides dormitories for the staff of the Dalai Lama schools, chapels, print house and tombs.

 Lhasa

“The country through which we had been travelling for days has an original beauty. Wide plains were diversified by stretches of hilly country with low passes.We often had to wade through swift running ice-cold brooks. It has long since we had seen a glacier, but as we were approaching the tasam at Barka, a chain of glaciers gleaming in the sunshine came into view. The landscape was dominated by the 25,000-foot peak of Gurla Mandhata; less striking, but far more famous, was the sacred Mount Kailash, 3,000 feet lower, which stands in majestic isolation apart from the Himalayan range.”
― Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet

Landscape-Gyantse:
Tibetans view the environment as a place where humans and nature coexist and overconsumption of resources is looked down upon. Because of these Buddhist beliefs, the nature in Tibet is pure and well preserved. Gyantse is a great city to visit if you enjoy nature. Located 14,500 feet above sea level, the turquoise Yamdrok Lake is a famous stop for Tibetans and travelers. While visiting Yamdrok Lake in Gyantse, you can see views of Mount Donang Sangwari (17,400 feet) and the white peaks of Nojin Gangzang (23,000 feet). Be careful of altitude sickness; the mountains in Tibet average 22,960 feet high, earning the nickname “Roof of the World”.

The land, faith, and culture make Tibet an unforgettable experience.

In October, WildChina is going on a journey to Tibet. On our Soul of Tibet trip, we explores sacred sites and nature, while experiencing Tibetan Buddhism. Want to up your adventure level? Contact info@WildChina.com for more information.

 


Tags: China travel Tibet .







August 15th, 2014

Yunnan’s Ancient Tea&Horse Caravan Road

By: Megan McDowell | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Best China Tour Operator, China travel guide

Where in China can you experience a mix of history, culture, and nature?      
You can explore some of China’s most diverse cultures, ecology, and landscapes in Yunnan Province, just south of the Tibetan Plateau. Yunnan features green low-lying valleys, white-capped mountains, and a vast assortment of ethnic communities. This diverse terrain is home to the beginning of The Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road, or “The Silk Road of Southern China”.

The 3,100-mile route of the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road started in Southern China, passed through Tibet, Burma, Nepal, and ended in India. China’s desire to import horses from Tibet and Tibet’s desire to import tea from China was the main motivation of the trade along the Tea and Horse Caravan Road. Traveling this route was difficult due to its diverse terrain, and one minor misstep could be fatal for both trader and animals.

H&TCRoad

Today, the Tea and Horse Caravan Road attracts people from all over the world with its assorted teas, mixed cultures, stunning landscapes, and ancient centers of trade. By traveling along this route, travelers can experience both ancient and modern China by learning about the culture of local ethnic communities, hiking in the ancient tea tree forests, and exploring the scenic mountain, rivers and valleys.

How can you get there?
WildChina can take you on a 13 day journey along the route of the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road in Yunnan. The first stop, Xishuangbanna, is the original place of pu’erh tea production. In Xishuangbanna, you can buy premium pu’erh tea at Menghai market, meet the descendants of the first tea cultivators, and stay in an Aini Village homestay. We pass through Dali as we follow the route through sloping valleys, golden barley and canola fields to Shaxi. After Shaxi, we see Lijiang’s Old Town and the legendary Yangtze River on our way to Shangri-La. In Shangri-La, we explore Songzanlin Monastery, the largest Tibetan lamasery in Yunnan, the Napahai Lake, and visit a nearby artisan village.


TeaAndHorseMap

Are you a spontaneous planner?
Join us this October in Yunnan! This is our last small group trip of the year, led by Jeff Fuchs, the first Westerner to have ever traveled the whole road. Our journey to China’s  Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road begins October 15 and ends October 24. If you’re interested in retracing the steps of those who traveled this ancient road, contact info@wildchina.com.

Like to make plans in advance?
If you’re interested in tea or Yunnan cuisine, keep your eyes open for our 2015 small group departures which include a tea-based journey of China and Taiwan with Jeff Fuchs and a special gastronomic tour of Yunnan with expert Fuchsia Dunlop.

 

 

 

 

 


Tags: China tours China travel china travel guide .







April 30th, 2014

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

By: WildChina | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, WildChina Experts

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

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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

 

 


Tags: Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road China travel Dali Jeff Fuchs Lijiang october 2014 Shaxi Tea & Horse WildChina WildChina expert Xishuangbanna Yunnan .







November 29th, 2013

Breaking the Winter Cycle: Tropical Xishuangbanna

By: WildChina | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Exclusive Access China, On the Road, WildChina Travel Tips

Hammock in Tropical Xishuangbanna 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pushing China’s Southern Boundary: Trekking in Xishuangbanna.

 

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

 

 


Tags: adventure travel China Dai people Manfeilong Stupas travel to Yunnan WildChina travel WildChina Travel Tips Xishuangbanna .







November 8th, 2013

Interview: Bill Bleisch, 2012 WildChina Explorer

By: WildChina | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Sustainable Travel, WildChina Causes & Partnerships, WildChina Experts, WildChina Explorer Grant

 
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!


Tags: adventure travel China sustainable travel China travel in China WildChina WildChina Explorer Grant WildChina travel WildChina Travel Tips Xishuangbanna Yunnan .








 

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