April 30th, 2014
WildChina | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, WildChina Experts
Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road China travel Dali Jeff Fuchs Lijiang october 2014 Shaxi Tea & Horse WildChina WildChina expert Xishuangbanna Yunnan .
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…
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
March 10th, 2014
WildChina | Categories: WildChina Corporate Travel, WildChina Travel Tips
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With the large range of accommodation options available to you in Beijing, sometimes it’s the little things that help you decide – like the finishing touches of the Imperial and Chairman Suites at the Hilton Beijing in Chaoyang district. This hotel lives up to the Hilton name, and then some, and is located in the city’s embassy district, not far from Beijing’s financial centers and the bustling nightlife and dining options of Sanlitun.
The Hilton Beijing’s Imperial Suite
The Hilton Beijing offers nine distinct suites–but our favorites are the Chairman Suite and spacious Imperial Suite that even boasts a zen-life relaxation room! These suites each have a large kitchen with separate access for the private chef and staff, available around the clock to prepare everything from an authentic Chinese dinner after a long day, to an opulent formal dinner party for eight people in the Chairman Suite and 15 in the Imperial.
The living area of the Chairman Suite
Bedroom of the Chairman Suite
Relax in style in this 165m² suite located on the ninth floor of the executive tower, offering executive lounge access and complimentary breakfast. The contemporary design and state-of-the-art amenities convey a sense of blissful comfort, and to unwind you can enjoy a movie on the plasma TV with a heart-pumping Bang & Olufsen sound system that completes the ultimate in-home theater experience.
Living space in the Imperial Suite
This suite is called Imperial for a reason. At 200m² and located on the top floor of the main tower, this superbly crafted suite offers great views of Beijing, while the interior combines modern technology with a touch of local Chinese flair. The spacious dining and living area is perfect for hosting a private reception, while the separated bedroom and office provides a personal space to recharge from a busy day.
In addition to these suites, the Hilton Beijing offers three dining options, a lounge, and a funky bar serving signature cocktails and delicious Champagnes. There is a large health club, spa, and even a Tony & Guy salon located in the main lobby. For meetings, it is an ideal location with 12 function rooms, including the city’s first 360 degree round infinity ballroom.
We recommend the five-star Hilton Beijing for both business and leisure travelers. It is located a quick 30 minute car ride from the airport and offers easy access to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, major shopping and entertainment and more!
Looking for more hotel recommendations? Don’t hesitate to send us an email with your questions at email@example.com!
November 8th, 2013
WildChina | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Sustainable Travel, WildChina Causes & Partnerships, WildChina Experts, WildChina Explorer Grant
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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.
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.
Scouting 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.
Bill 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.
The 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 (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!
November 8th, 2013
WildChina | Categories: Chinese Culture, Exclusive Access China, Luxury China Travel, On the Road, WildChina Travel Tips
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Ring in the New Year… Shanghai style
Looking for an exciting way to bring in the New Year? While thousands of people are huddled like penguins in the streets of Times Square, you could be singing Auld Lang Syne in Shanghai’s historic Bund district. Though the traditional Chinese New Year does not fall on December 31, Shanghai’s vibrant international community comes out in full force to ring in the end of the annum. As one of the fastest growing cultural and financial centers in the world, Shanghai has cultivated an amazing nightlife. The only challenge this presents is choosing from the multitude of options. Join the party at one of Shanghai’s world-class nightclubs or watch the fireworks and laser show over Pudong’s iconic skyline… depending on where you end up, you could do both at once.
If you are looking for a more traditional way to “ring in the New Year”, make your way to the Longhua Temple located in the city’s southwest. Every year, to celebrate both Western and Chinese New Year, Shanghai’s natives come to the 1,800 year old temple to ring the 3,3000kg Buddhist Bell. Only the first 108 people to make reservations for the event will have a chance to ring the bell though, so plan ahead if you’re set on it. Otherwise, come for the folk performances, fireworks, and lion dances that make this event so spectacular.
Shanghai’s Celebrated Yu Garden
If you are in town for the Chinese New Year there are many ways to join the festivities. Fill up on some traditional holiday dumplings and tangyuan, which are said to bring wealth and prosperity into one’s life, or pay a visit to the 600 year old City God Temple near Yu Garden, where locals come to pay for a successful new year. Just be sure not to miss the Chinese lantern festival, which falls on February 14th this year, and is marked by colorful parades and astounding light shows, both traditional and modern. One of the best places to get a sense of traditional techniques and festivities is the Yu Yuan Old Town Bazaar, where conventional lanterns dominate the celebrations.
If you’re interested in a making a winter escape to Shanghai, click here to find out about WildChina’s winter tour of this world-class city.
November 5th, 2013
WildChina | Categories: Adventure Travel in China, Exclusive Access China, On the Road, WildChina Travel Tips
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For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this time of year is one of mixed feelings. On one hand, the changing of the seasons is a welcome period of transition, in which we put on sweaters and watch the leaves change. On the other hand, we know that just behind the nutmeg-scented, flannel embrace of fall looms the unforgiving wrath of winter. Forced indoors by the deep freeze outside, we find ourselves confined to a state of seasonal hibernation. For those of us who like to explore, this can be a trying time indeed.
This year, why not break the cycle?
While people don’t often think of China as a winter destination, reduced crowds, local festivals, and mild weather (depending on your destination) make this season an ideal time to explore the “Middle Kingdom”. That is why we’ve put together a series highlighting some of the best places to visit during this time of year.
People don’t often associate Tibet’s capital with winter travel. Some would argue that the “roof of the world” just doesn’t seem like a good place to be in January. It may come as a surprise, then, that winter is an ideal time to visit Lhasa. Though you’ll still need to bring a jacket, daytime temperatures rarely fall below freezing. If you don’t mind the cooler weather, you will not be disappointed. The light this time of year is nothing short of fantastic, with the low-hanging sun casting long shadows across the markets and monasteries. This luminescence, along with the snow-capped peaks that surround the city, make Lhasa a photographer’s playground in the winter.
Potala Palace, former winter residence of the Dalai Lama
In addition to this unique seasonal beauty, another reason to visit Lhasa during this time of year is the significant decrease in tourism that takes place during the winter. This means less crowds, cheaper accommodations, and easier access to train tickets. This also means that you will be able to experience Tibetan culture more freely. As winter puts a break on much of the farming activity in the region, Tibetans use this time to make pilgrimage to Lhasa. This influx of pilgrims will begin arriving in December, and will often stay through the Tibetan New Year, which takes place around late January.
The tens of thousands of Tibetans who descend on this city during this time, along with the reduction in tourism, make winter the one time of the year where locals actually outnumber the tourists from China and abroad. The difference that this makes cannot be overstated. Instead of being surrounded by other foreigners, you can spend your time in Lhasa immersed in the rich cultural and spiritual life that has long made Tibet a focus of the global imagination. If you don’t mind a little chilly weather, winter is the perfect time to gain a truly authentic experience of Tibetan culture.
Jokhang Courtyard, Lhasa
If you would like to make your own winter pilgrimage to Tibet’s capital, find more information here.