WESTERN YUNNAN; THROUGH DALI TO TENGCHONG
Day 1 Weishan
Upon arrival in Xiaguan, we will drive 50 km south to Weishan, birthplace of the ancient Nanzhao Kingdom that ruled over Yunnan 8th-10th centuries. On the way we will make a stop at Donglianhua, an attractive old Muslim village with a nice Chinese-style mosque, restored traditional courtyards and a caravan museum. We then proceed to Weishan. With a well-preserved old town, featuring workshops with traditional local products like noodles and straw sandals, and several Ming and Qing Dynasty towers and temples. Weishan is one of the most attractive cities in the province. The massive Gongchen Tower stands at the top of the old town, originally built in 1397, and the street from here to the smaller Xinggong Tower is lined with traditional red wooden shop-houses with tiled roofs.
We will spend the rest of the day exploring the old town, the Confucian Temple, parks and historic neighborhoods. The city also has a Nanzhao Museum and a more interesting Folk Custom Museum. Weishan is the administrative seat of a Hui ad Yi Autonomous County, and besides local Bai and Hui residents, the city also sees Yi visitors, from the Tuli branch of the Yi, also observed in Xiaguan and Dali markets, whose women dress in spectacular, brightly embroidered clothing. We will stay in Weishan two nights.
Day 2 Weibaoshan
Weibaoshan is a sacred mountain just south of Weishan city, 2509 meters high, site of many Ming and Qing Dynasty temples, set in thick forests of pine and cypress. We will visit the compound dedicated to the Nanzhao kings, with sculptures of the rulers and information about the dynasty. Then we will visit some of the attractive temples above the compound, including Wenchang Palace, featuring a pavilion with an 18th century mural of a Yi ring dance. In the afternoon we will return to our exploration of Weishan and in the evening sample the social scene of the grilled kebab shops.
Day 3 Around Erhai Lake
In the morning we will drive to Xiaguan’s Erhai Park, for a look at the lake stretching north, bounded by the forested, 4000 meters+ Cangshan Mountains to the west and the lower, more barren Phoenix Mountains to the east. Then we will drive around Erhai’s eastern shore, passing through Bai minority villages that live by both farming and fishing. Our first stop will be Golden Shuttle Island near Haidong, which used to be a summer retreat for the Nanzhao Kingdom’s royal family. Then, just beyond Haidong, we will stop at the Sky Mirror Pavilion and Guan Yin Temples, on a lakeside promontory directly opposite Dali.
We will continue north to Wase, with a look on the way at the island temple of Xiaoputao. After Wase we proceed to Shuanglang, then we round the northern tip of Erhai and turn south, stop at Xichou for a look at old merchant houses, then go on to Dali, where we will spend three nights. Dali is a major tourist destination, always crowded, but the main historic monuments are illuminated at night and many restaurants serve authentic Bai dishes. We will spend three nights here.
Day 4 Three Pagodas, Guan Yin Temple and Dali Old Town
In the morning we will visit Dali’s iconic image--the Three Pagodas. Dating from the 9th century, they stand in front of the reconstructed Chongsheng Temple. After this we will go to the Guan Yin Temple just south of Dali. Guan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, is the most important deity of the Bai people. The temple was originally constructed in 900, but has been renovated and expanded many tines since then.
In the afternoon we will return to Dali for lunch and visit various sites in the old town. Among the attractions are the old city walls, the imposing gates at the north south, east and west entrances, the Lone Pagoda near the South Gate, mountain streams that run through the town, stone and wood houses along the narrow lanes, the Tower of Five Glories, parks, old churches, the city museum that was once the palace of the 19th century rebel leader Du Wenxiu, and the presence of colorful Bai women in their traditional clothes and ornate headdresses.
Day 5 Mountain Temples and Dali Old Town
In the morning we will take the cable car from the west side of Dali up one of the Cangshan mountain peaks to Zhonghe Temple, sited in a mountain forest with a splendid view of Erhai Lake and the Dali plain. Built in the late Ming Dynasty and later expanded, the compound includes temples to both Taoist and Buddhist deities, plus a building called a ‘meeting hall for angels.’
From Zhonghe Temple a trail runs south along the mountain slopes, keeping at the same level, affording more wonderful views of the scenery, and ends just above Gantong Temple. We descend to this Buddhist temple for a visit, then drive a short distance south to the Snake Bone Pagoda, also a Nanzhao era relic. After this we return to Dali and resume out exploration of the old town.
Day 6 Dali to Shaxi
On our sixth day we drive north to Jianchuan and then down to Shaxi, with stops along the way at Bai-inhabited towns and scenic lakes. The first is Zhoucheng, a Bai town on the Dali plain, full of traditional stone houses and famous for its tie-dyed cloth production. Next we cross into Eryuan County and make a short detour to West Lake for its rural scenery and Bai villages.
Returning to the main road, we drive north to Sword Lake and then a little further to Jianchuan. This is a Bai-dominated town with much of its old quarter intact or restored and a reputation for its woodcarving skills and elegant furniture. From here we retrace our route back to Sword Lake and then turn down another road to Shaxi, which in the past was a major stop on one of the Tea and Horses Road routes from Xiaguan to destinations further north. We will spend two nights in Shaxi.
Day 7 Shibaoshan and Shaxi Old Town
In the morning we will visit Shibaoshan, (Stone Treasure Mountain) just north of Shaxi. One of Yunnan’s sacred mountains, the complex contains temples and sculptures dating back to the Nanzhao area. We start at the Ming Dynasty Xingjia Temple, featuring a rare set of interior wall frescoes. Then we climb up to Stone Bell Temple, built in Nanzhao times and the grottos above the temple. These contain stone sculptures, some 1200 years old, of the Buddha and Guan Yin, as well as King Xinuluo and his family and a large stone vagina, where women wanting children come to leave offerings. Weather permitting, we will walk down from Shibaoshan to Shaxi, via another temple complex at Shadeng.
In the afternoon we will see the attractions of Shaxi old town, which lies in a scenic valley along the Heihui River. It has retained its traditional architecture and layout and restored its classic public buildings. We will see stone streets, mud-brick and tile houses, neighborhoods divided by arched passages, the ancient market square, the Qing Dynasty theater, the Peach Orchard Temple outside of town and the arched stone bridge that crosses the river.
Day 8 Changxin and Yunlong
On this day we will drive to Yunlong County from Shaxi via Xiangtu. We will reach the road to the county seat north of Changxin, and see a few of the covered bridges in the district. Called Wind and Rain Bridges (fengyoqiao) in Chinese, they were intended as a refuge in bad weather for both travelers and farmers in the vicinity. Then we will go on to Yunlong, an attractive city on the Pi River set in the lap of surrounding mountains. Although Yunlong is a Bai-dominated city, the local Bai do not dress in the ethnic style, but the city’s architecture utilizes Bai motifs. The city also features a few Qing Dynasty buildings and parks along the stream coming down from Dragon Head Mountain and on the edge of town with a view of Stone Gate Pass. After exploring the city we will take a short drive to Nuodeng, where we will spend two nights.
Day 9 Nuodeng
Nuodeng is a sprawling, ancient, hillside Bai village adjacent to salt wells. In the old days before the introduction of refrigeration, salt was the only preservative for meat and fish. Production was limited to a few places in the province. Nuodeng was the prime source for salt in western Yunnan since the Tang Dynasty and the village’s fine old traditional houses reflect its former prosperity. The village also features classic temples, recently renovated, a folk museum, pleasant walks and good views all around.
Day 10 Lujiangba
Leaving Nuodeng, we head south for the ancient caravan route into Baoshan Prefecture. We cross the Lancangjiang (Mekong River) and visit Shuizhai, formerly an important stop on the Bonan Road. After Shuizhai we drive to Lujiangba, a valley next to the Nujiang (Salween River), noted for its coffee plantations, tropical gardens and mixed ethnic population. We will spend the night at a resort beside White Dragon Pool.
Days 11 and 12 Tengchong
In the morning we will drive to Tengchong, formerly a major post on the Southern Silk Road, the last stop before Burma. After we arrive early we will visit the Ming Dynasty monastery on Laifeng Hill on the eastern side of town. Besides the elegant old temple, the compound includes a hall of historical figures, a museum of the city’s history and a photo exhibit of the county’s attractions. We will also see the former British Consulate and Dieshuihe Waterfall, site of a notorious revenge massacre at the end of the Muslim Rebellion in 1879.
On our last full day we will begin with a visit to nearby Heshun, a small, old-fashioned town famous for the large number of its native sons who became successful Oversea Chinese. Some of them sent money back to Heshun to sponsor public buildings and parks. Traditional style characterizes Heshun’s buildings, the most striking being the multi-gabled library, built in 1921, as well as those in the ascending courtyards of the Yuanlong Temple.
Tengchong County is also noted for its geothermal attractions. In the afternoon we will wander through Rehai--Hot Sea Park, an area full of bubbling hot springs and spouting geysers. Afterwards we will drive up to see one of the county’s volcanoes, a little west of Tengchong and then return to the city.
Day 13 Return
From Tengchong we will return to Kunming by air.
Xiaguan-Weishan 55 km, Weishan-Dali around Erhai 120 km, Dali-Shaxi 130 km, Shaxi-Yunlong 206 km, Yunlong-Lujiangba 183 km, Lujiangba-Tengchong 86 km