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The absolute latest updates in China travel information.

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Our tales from the trail and dispatches straight from the source.

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What to bring, where to go, and how to get around China.

Mei Zhang
WildChina founder, entrepreneur, mother.

Andrew Stein
Fulbright scholar exploring environment, agriculture, and tea.

March 22nd, 2011

Time running out to book your 2011 China journey

By: WildChina | Categories: What We're Reading, WildChina Travel Tips

Nobody likes to be hurried, but if you’ve been putting off deciding whether you’re going to travel to China later this year, now is an ideal time to make those plans.

As this recent travel story in the New York Times reminds us all, travel to and within Asia is booming this year – especially here in China.

Bookings this year at WildChina and many travel agencies serving destination in China are up significantly from last year, making 2011 look like it could be the biggest China travel year since the Beijing Olympics.

It’s hard to believe that the first quarter of 2011 is nearly finished, but that doesn’t mean that it’s too late to book an unforgettable China experience for this year. Here’s a short list of some of the journeys we’re offering in the second half of 2011:

The Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Route with Jeff Fuchs

Departs: September 13

Book by: June 13

What you’ll do: Experience Yunnan’s timeless landscapes and cultures as you follow tea’s journey from the plantations of Xishuangbanna to teapots in Shangri-la

China Treasures: Beijing, Xi’an, Yunnan and Shanghai

Departs: October 26

Book by: July 26

What you’ll do: Take in classic sights while getting a crash course in today’s China: urban and rural, old and new, north and south

Suzhou to Hangzhou – The Grand Canal

Departs: Whenever you decide

Book by: Three months prior to your departure

What you’ll do: See the depth and breadth of China’s beautiful watertowns, ancient sanctuary to Imperial elite

To learn more about WildChina journeys, or to tailor your own, contact us today.

Tags: Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan route Beijing China Treasures China's beautiful watertowns Jeff Fuchs NY Times shanghai Shangri-la Suzhou to Hangzhou: The Grand Canal travel to China wild China WildChina WildChina travel Xi'an Yunnan .

March 15th, 2011

Review: Tea Horse Road by Michael Freeman and Selena Ahmed

By: WildChina | Categories: What We're Reading

For many travelers, one of the difficult aspects of setting aside the time and money for a trip to China is that it’s hard to know what you’re getting yourself in for until you’re stepping off the plane — unlike buying a car there is no ‘test drive’ option.

We frequently receive enquiries about our Tea Horse Road journey, an exploration of ancient trade routes in Yunnan from the jungles of Xishuangbanna to the breathtaking Tibetan highlands of Shangri-la.

For 13 centuries, the Tea and Horse Caravan Road was a network of rugged paths linking China with Tibet, Southeast Asia and India through Yunnan. Its name comes from the exchange of Chinese tea for Tibetan horses that formed the backbone of this commercial network connected by fearless caravans. These caravans facilitated the exchange of customs and culture between dozens of different ethnic groups scattered across some of Asia’s wildest terrain.

A virtual trip back in time peppered with some of Yunnan – and China’s – most spectacular scenery, our journey is led by Jeff Fuchs, the first Westerner to travel the entirety of the Tea Horse Road.

It is not easy to fully convey how special places such as Mangang Village or Shaxi are over the phone or in an email. Many places along the old route are simply too unique for words.

That’s why we were excited to happen upon the book Tea Horse Road, an amazing introduction to one of the world’s most beautiful and diverse regions. A joint effort between photographer Michael Freeman and ethnobotanist Selena Ahmed, this incredibly thorough book is the result of years of travel, photography and research.

This attractive 340-page book published by River Books is big enough and has enough photos (more than 270!) to call a “coffee table book”, but that wouldn’t do it justice.

Freeman, who makes great photography seem easy, spent two years on the route getting to know the places and people of the old route through his lens.

Ahmed’s writing – which comes from four years of doctoral research – allows the reader to understand the route as a whole while appreciating the unique role each individual town or ethnic group played within this fascinating trade network.

This September we will travel the Tea Horse Road once again with the incomparable Jeff Fuchs. If you are considering joining us on this unforgettable journey, we highly recommend that you give it a test drive with Freeman and Ahmed’s excellent book.

Tags: Asia's wildest terrain exchange of Chinese tea horse Jeff Fuchs jungles of Xishuangbanna Mangang Village Michael Freeman Selena Ahmed Shangri-la Shaxi tea Tea and Horse Caravan Road Tea Horse Road Tibetan highlands wild China WildChina WildChina travel Yunnen .

January 24th, 2011

Planning a trip to China? Alex Pearson shares her favorite China reads

By: WildChina | Categories: Chinese Culture, What We're Reading

Alexandra “Alex” Pearson knows a few things about China and a few things about books.

Fluent in Chinese, she first moved to Beijing in 1982, when her father was here on a diplomatic post. After spending her university years in her native England, she returned to China in the 90s to eventually became founder of a literary venture known as The Bookworm.

It’s not easy to pigeonhole The Bookworm, which Pearson started as a one-woman restaurant and small library of 2,000 titles tucked into a Beijing courtyard.

In its current incarnation, The Bookworm might be described as a café, restaurant, library, bookshop, literary festival and social club rolled into one. In addition to the original Beijing Bookworm, there are now also branches in Chengdu and Suzhou.

In each of these cities it’s a popular gathering place for anything from lectures by internationally renowned authors to afternoon coffee and snacks—as well as a go-to spot to buy the latest books. Last year, Lonely Planet named The Bookworm Beijing one of the top ten bookshops in the world.

Given her breadth of experience with both China and the literary world, we thought we would help people preparing for a trip to China by asking Pearson to make some recommendations of English-language books about the country. Here are some of her favorites, along with some of her thoughts about each:

Favorite novels about China:
Change, by Mo Yan
“This novella/autobiography details the social and political changes in China over the past few decades, all through a personal lens. Mo Yan depicts his own experiences and the tales of those around him in yet another great book by this master storyteller.”

Three Sisters, by Bi Feiyu
“Three Sisters is a family epic; a tragic comedy that follows the lives of three sisters in late 20th century China. Bi Feiyu’s keen and satirical observations of domestic and rural life is what makes this book brilliant.”

Favorite historical non-fiction book about China:
The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power by Jonathan Fenby
“A comprehensive coverage of 150 years of Chinese history,  Fenby has compiled a really good introduction to modern Chinese history. His content and style are thoroughly interesting and gripping all the way through.”

Favorite contemporary non-fiction books about China:
Factory Girls, by Leslie T Chang
“A truly compassionate portrayal of the lives of two young women who leave their rural home to become part of the migrant population of factory workers in southern China, Factory Girls is the story of a million such women of modern China. It’s an essential read.”

China: Museums, by Miriam Clifford, Cathy Giangrande and Antony White
“This volume also deserves a mention, as it is a fantastic guide on more than 200 museums, small to large, all across China.”

Favorite Chinese cookbook:
Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province , by Fuchsia Dunlop
“More than a cookbook, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook brings the cuisine and legends of Mao’s homeland, Hunan province, to life. It’s full of great authentic recipes.”

Note: If you’re planning on being in Beijing, Suzhou or Chengdu during March 4 through March 18, don’t forget to check out  The Bookworm International Literary Festival 2011—of which WildChina Travel is a proud sponsor. There will also be a prologue to the festival in Beijing January 26 through 29 featuring Dave Eggers and David Sedaris.

Tags: Alex Pearson books about China Chinese history Chinese literature Fuchsia Dunlop reading The Bookworm The Bookworm Beijing wild China WildChina WildChina travel .

January 12th, 2011

South of the Clouds: Shaxi, Yunnan, China

By: WildChina | Categories: On the Road, What We're Reading

Shaxi's cobbled stre

The following post is an excerpt from Catherine Bodry, a writer for AOL’s Gadling Travel Blog.

Once an important market town on China’s ancient tea-horse road, Shaxi is one of seemingly very few Chinese villages that have retained their original feel. Quiet, with cobblestone lanes and courtyard homes, Shaxi is currently undergoing a “remodel” to restore and preserve its historical market square, inner village, and, eventually, ready the entire Shaxi Valley for tourism. Though only a few hotels and shops currently smatter the tiny village, there’s no way a town like this will stay this quiet for long. You’ll be rewarded by visiting soon, as the vibe is sure to change after the completion of a new highway nearby.

Gadling was lucky enough to visit Shaxi in November on a trip with WildChina, during which we traced parts of China’s tea-horse caravan route.

Shaxi sits roughly between Lijiang and Dali, and was a halfway point for tea and horse traders traveling between southern Yunnan and Tibet. The town experienced its prime from 1368-1911, when it flourished as a way station along the tea-horse trading route. When the last of the caravans passed through in 1949, Shaxi settled into relative isolation. In 2001, the World Monument Fund added Shaxi’s market square to its Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites, as the square had its original theater, temple, and guesthouses. All, however, were in danger from neglect and the potential of shoddy restoration. In partnership between the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the People’s Government of Jianchuan County, the first phase of the Shaxi Restoration Project began in 2006, and the village is readying itself for more visitors.

To read full posts from Gadling’s trip to Yunnan, click here.


Contact Catherine Bodry at catherine.bodry@weblogsinc.com. Photo by Gadling.

Tags: off the beaten path travel in China Shaxi wild China WildChina WildChina Collection WildChina travel Yunnan .

December 30th, 2010

China: A bird-watching gem

By: WildChina | Categories: Environment, What We're Reading, WildChina Experts

A photo of a Purple Swamphen taken at Caohai Lake

We read with interest recently that over a five-day period bird watchers found more than 60 different species of birds in a small marshy lake in Yunnan province—one of WildChina’s favorite places to visit in China. Among these species were Tundra Swans, Purple Swamphens, Ruddy Shelducks, as well as species of coot, egret, grebe, goose and duck.

The survey, which was reported by local Chinese-language media, was carried out at Heqing county’s Caohai Lake, in the same area as the popular WildChina destinations of Dali, Lijiang and Shaxi.

The lake is small by local standards, with a surface area of a mere 1.5 square miles. But a dense bird population and stunning diversity of species has nevertheless made Caohai a popular spot for wild bird watching among local Chinese and, increasingly, foreigners on bird watching holidays from abroad.

Reading the news and looking at brilliant photos of some of the species found at this lake reminded us of what a gem of a birding destination China is. This is especially true for North American birders, for whom a birding vacation to China presents the opportunity to see many new Eurasian species.

WildChina’s February lifelong learning trip, Winter Birding in China, for instance, spans the country to seek glimpses several magnificent examples of the birds of China, such as Red-crowned Cranes, White-naped Cranes, Hooded Cranes and many others.

The trip is led by WildChina expert and Kunming Institute of Botany ornithologist Wen Xianji and includes a stop at a different Caohai Lake in Guizhou province that is also a center for birding trips.

Contact WildChina today to inquire about this trip or to custom craft your bird watching vacation of a lifetime.

Photo: Dali Daily Online

Tags: Brahminy Duck china bird watching tour china birding tour Cygnus columbianus Grus japonensis Grus monacha Grus vipio Japanese Crane Manchurian Crane Porphyrio porphyrio Pūkeko Purple Coot Purple Gallinule Purple Moorhen Sultana Bird Tadorna ferruginea wild China WildChina WildChina travel .

October 16th, 2010

China’s domestic tourism picks up – with a new green twist

By: Alex G | Categories: What We're Reading, WildChina Announcements

In Mark Graham’s late September South China Morning Post article, “On the inside track,” the author quotes a Chinese couple expressing their changing thoughts on tourism at home: ”We want to explore [China] more and more; it’s something my parents’ generation could not do.”

The couple’s comments are reflective of a generational shift in Chinese travel. As the mystery, grandeur and beauty of China’s many diverse areas becomes increasingly accessible to its own people, the Chinese are choosing domestic travel over international – and at a rapid rate.

However, these tourists aren’t choosing cookie-cutter tour buses and factory shops – wealthy Chinese now want to explore their roots in an authentic, eco-friendly way, with customized ‘green’ travel.


Photo credit: My Shanghai Noodles

Read what WildChina’s Mei Zhang has to say about the direction of travel for domestic Chinese tourists and how it’s shaping the industry. Download the full article from the WildChina website (listed in ‘WildChina in the News’ under ‘September 2010′), or read it on the South China Morning Post website if you are a subscriber.

Tags: China ecotourism China travel customized travel to China ecotourism Mei Zhang South China Morning Post sustainable travel travel wild China WildChina WildChina travel .

September 27th, 2010

Interview: Graham Earnshaw of Earnshaw Books

By: WildChina | Categories: What We're Reading


When walking around the hutongs of Beijing or the French Concession in Shanghai, it’s hard not to think about the way things were in China before its modernization drive.

Shanghai-based media executive and old China hand Graham Earnshaw first visited China more than 30 years ago and has borne witness to many of the changes that have shaped the country’s recent meteoric rise.

One of Earnshaw’s newest projects is Earnshaw Books, a publishing venture with an extensive catalogue of books about China as it once was, including Tales of Old Peking and Tales of Old Shanghai. WildChina spoke with Earnshaw about his experiences exploring China’s past:

WildChina (WC): How did Earnshaw Books come into being?

Graham Earnshaw: There is something special about books – by which I mean the package of ideas and experiences, not the physical artifact. I also have a lifelong fascination with China. The idea was to create a publishing imprint to provide a view on China’s history and culture, to create a independent China-related publishing house with worldwide visibility and credibility. We’re a short way up the hockey stick at this point.

WC: When you first visited Beijing and Shanghai, how palpable were their pre-PRC histories?

Earnshaw: I first visited Beijing and Shanghai in 1979, and the pre-1949 past was very much visible in both. Most of Beijing was as it had been. The big exceptions were the Tiananmen Square area, which involved the destruction of Qing dynasty palace buildings in the late 1950s and the desperately tragic demolition of the city wall in the early 1970s. But the hutongs and the feel of the streets were, I am sure, very similar to what it would have been like in the past.

Shanghai in 1979 I hated, because it was a city with a magnificent past, clearly visible in its buildings, all of which were slowly disintegrating. Shanghai was full of ghosts of the past. They dominated.

WC: What are some of your favorite tales from old Beijing and Shanghai?

Earnshaw: There are so many great stories from both cities. I am particularly fascinated by the interaction of Chinese and westerners, so the whole Boxer incident in 1900 is fundamental to understanding Beijing. As for Shanghai, there is a memoir from the English writer Aldous Huxley who visited the city in 1926, which for me sums up my of my feelings about China:

“I have seen places that were, no doubt, as busy and as thickly populous as the Chinese city in Shanghai, but none that so overwhelmingly impressed me with its business and populousness. In no city, West or East, have I ever had such an impression of dense, rank richly clotted life.”

WC: What hasn’t changed about these two cities over the years?

Earnshaw: The basic psychology of the people has not changed. And also the feel of the air.

WC: Where are your favorite places in Beijing and Shanghai to connect with history?

Earnshaw: In Beijing I like to walk through Tiantan [Temple of Heaven], starting always at the south gate so the sun is not in your eyes. In Shanghai any back street will do.

WC: Widespread demolition and rebuilding have dramatically changed the faces of these two cities, which one do you think has done a better job of preserving its historical legacy?

Earnshaw: Shanghai for sure. Beijing was a lost cause the moment the wall was gone.

WC: What plans does Earnshaw Books have planned for the coming months?

Earnshaw: We have a number of really interesting books coming up, including two novels, a previously unpublished memoir by English eccentric Edmund Backhouse and a reprint of a fantastic book called Willow Pattern Walkabout, which features drawings by the late Australian cartoonist Paul Rigby from 1958.

WC: What’s the coolest thing about running Earnshaw Books?

Earnshaw: Getting requests to do Q&As like this. Books resonate with people. It is good to bask in the resonance.


Photo credit: The New Yorker

For more information about WildChina’s journeys through old Beijing and Shanghai, contact us today.

Tags: Earnshaw Books French Concession Graham Earnshaw hutongs old Beijing old Shanghai wild China WildChina WildChina travel .

September 24th, 2010

Exploring Joseph Rock’s China

By: WildChina | Categories: What We're Reading

WildChina prides itself in taking its clients to unspoiled, unseen corners of the country, but we also recognize that we wouldn’t know about these places had it not been for the efforts of the old-school explorers that came before us.

One of those explorers is Joseph F. Rock, an Austrian-born American botanist who worked at different times for the US Department of Agriculture, Harvard University and National Geographic magazine from the 1920s through the 1940s while based in western China, primarily Lijiang.

We were reminded of Rock today when we stumbled upon a review of the book Joseph F. Rock and His Shangri-La by Jim Goodman. We read the book a couple years ago and found it fascinating, despite already having been familiar with Rock’s story.

Rock’s story is the stuff of movies. He traveled in a large caravan of men and mules across rugged inhospitable terrain and was often the first white man who had set foot in many of the places he visited. Rock hobnobbed with the local elite wherever he went, but preferred to dine alone, eating European food prepared especially for him by his private chef.

Rock wrote extensively in his diary about his adventures in Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Tibet, and Goodman adds good background to his story with his thorough knowledge of the people and places of western China. Rock’s photos of these regions are an invaluable archive of this area as it once was.

One of our favorite parts of the book is when Rock first comes across Minya Konka the spectacular mountain in western Sichuan known in Chinese as Mount Gongga. Astounded by its massive size, Rock miscalculates the mountain’s height and reports to his editors at National Geographic that it is higher than Everest.

His doubtful editors prove him wrong, and the proud explorer and scientist is humbled, never again to let his emotions get the best of him in his work.

It may not be taller than Everest, but Minya Konka – and nearby places such as Kangding, Yading and Shangri-La – are awe-inspiring nonetheless. Our Western Sichuan to Yunnan journey takes in all of these unforgettable destinations. As the seasons prepare to change, this part of China is at its most spellbinding.


Photo credit (for first photo): Arnold Arboretum

To find out how to find your own Shangri-La in Western Sichuan and Yunnan, contact us today.

Tags: diary Joseph Rock Minya Konka National Georgraphic old-school explorers Shangri-la Sichuan travel to China Western Sichuan wild China WildChina WildChina travel Yunnan .

August 20th, 2010

Sipping on Chengdu’s legendary teahouse culture

By: WildChina | Categories: Chinese Culture, On the Road, What We're Reading

The buzzing metropolis of Chengdu may be most famous for being the capital of Sichuan cuisine, but its identity is not linked to food alone – is also arguably the Chinese city with the most pervasive teahouse culture.

Home to somewhere between four and five thousand teahouses, Chengdu is known throughout China for being a laid-back city where everywhere you go, you’ll find a busy teahouse full of people chatting, talking business or playing majiang (mahjong) – all while sipping on small cups of their favorite cha.

We recently stumbled upon an interview on Chengdu website GoChengdoo with Texas A&M associate professor of history Wang Di, who is researching the role of the teahouse in China during the 20th Century.

The Chengdu native authored the book The Teahouse: Small Business, Everyday Culture and Public Politics in Chengdu, 1900-1950, a look at Chengdu’s teahouse culture in old Chengdu, making several interesting arguments about what led to the popularity of teahouses in Chengdu and its reputation for leisurely locals.


Elderly Chinese man enjoying tobacco pipe in a local tea house, Chengdu

In the early 20th Century, many Chengdu residents lacked access to running water, and water in many of the wells around the city had a bitter alkaline taste, so a stop by the teahouse was important for many people. So important, that being located near a teahouse could push an apartment’s rent up significantly.

In addition to generating plenty of local wealth, the agricultural abundance of Chengdu and the fertile Chengdu Plain also translated to people spending less time in the fields to ensure a good harvest than in other parts of China. No wonder why drinking tea and catching up on the latest news and gossip was the activity of choice for people of all backgrounds in Chengdu.

Whenever we’re passing through Chengdu we always try to squeeze in a visit to open-air teahouse at People’s Park. Undoubtedly the city’s most famous teahouse, it is the perfect place to experience teahouses as they used to be in Chengdu. After a few hot cups of green tea, the tea-fuelled chatter around us fades into the background and we think about how far those little leaves traveled to get there.


Photo credit: IcedTea.com and DailyMail

Tags: Chengdu Sichuan tea teahouses Wang Di wild China WildChina WildChina travel .

August 19th, 2010

Our take on Wendy Perrin’s 6 Travel Agent Tips

By: Alex G | Categories: What We're Reading, WildChina Travel Tips

In addition to being honored to be one of Wendy Perrin’s 135 Top Travel Specialists for 2010, we’re a big fan of the related spread in Conde Nast Traveler‘s August 2010 print issue.Perrin not only describes each selected travel agent, but also provides guidance on how to use the interactive listing on the CNT website, and features sport-and-adventure-themed agent recommendations.Our favorite feature is her 6 Travel Agent Tips – found exclusively in print – which empower travelers to craft the perfect trip with their specialist. Smart and useful, these hints can be applied anywhere in the world. So, we’re showing you how to use them to create a memorable journey in China.

Conde Nast Traveler’s Wendy Perrin

Perrin says: Define trip goals: “The better you are at articulating your needs, the better the travel specialist can meet them.”

We say: Perrin is right on the mark with this first tip. There are many angles from which to experience China, so it is important to know where your preferences and priorities lie. Ask yourself what kind of trip you want to create. To jumpstart your thinking process, here are a few key words to consider: luxury, adventure, local, modern, traditional, cuisine, monument, history, hands-on, expert.

Perrin says: Get personal: “The more information you share, the more potentially spectacular the results.”

We say: Information = customization, and customization = the trip of a lifetime tailored specifically to you. Do you love birds? Try our Winter Birding trip. Are you a self-professed gourmet? We’ll expose you to China’s many local cuisines and flavors. Can’t live without your morning cup of joe? Maybe a trip to get a taste of Yunnan‘s locally-produced coffee is in order. Travel specialists can use your personal interests and preferences to make the trip all the more special.

Perrin says: Be a collaborator: “The best trips spring from a team effort between you and the specialist.”

We say: The relationship between traveler and specialist is incredibly important, to develop mutual understanding and ultimately, an unforgettable journey. We like frequent email communication and phone conversations to build the rapport. These interactions not only give us facts for trip-planning, but help us to understand how the client thinks and interacts. We adapt to their style so that they can trust us – and from trust springs successful collaboration.

Perrin says: Establish a budget: “State up front how much you want to spend.”

We say: This is particularly important with customized travel. China can be explored at all levels, so it’s important to gauge how specialized and unique you want your trip to be. You might want to visit a remote village in Yunnan, but skip on the private visit with the local shaman. Alternately, maybe it’s important to you to try the very best roast duck in Beijing. Whatever your spending preferences, make them known early.

Perrin says: Expect to pay a fee: “A travel specialist’s fee is either a deposit applied to the cost of the trip… or a markup built into the total cost.”

We say: At WildChina, creating customized trips that are perfectly suited to our clients’ interests and needs is of utmost importance. As such, we do not require a fee for your initial consultation. When a client is ready to confirm the trip, we ask for a deposit.

Perrin says: Guide the guide: “It’s your job to communicate your interest directly to the guide.”

We say: We take guide training very seriously, making sure that our guides’ English level, local knowledge, problem-solving skills and flexibility are all up to snuff. They know to observe and adapt to clients’ needs and wants, but you should also never hesitate to let them know what you want. If you prefer your guide to discuss architecture instead of history, describe personal anecdotes on life in China, or just let you roam in peace, let them know.


Photo credit: Titanic Awards

Tags: Best Luxury Adventure Tour Operator China China China's best tour operator Condé Nast Traveler customized trips to China guided tours to China luxury adventure travel China travel in China Wendy Perrin wild China WildChina WildChina travel .


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