From China to Laos: Exploring the Ancient Tea Horse Road

14 Days
from AUD$ 9,100

Highlights

  • Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base
  • Hike Tiger Leaping Gorge
  • Explore ancient time frozen villages and mingle with minority tribes
  • Marvel at the impressive Danxia landform
  • Cycle around Erhai Lake
  • Pluck tea leaves with the locals
  • Participate in morning alms with monks
  • Get hands on in a rural farming experience
  • Swim in Kuang Si Waterfall

An epic pioneering journey of tea, mountains, and memories through China and Laos, opening a rarely acknowledged part of Asia’s ancient past.

Travel on a journey through time, tracing the historical trade route where tea from Yunnan was exchanged for horses in Tibet.

Trek along the remnants of the Tea Horse Road, marvelling at the changing landscapes and exploring tea plantations. Immerse yourself in the vibrant ethnic villages, sharing meals and moments with friendly locals who warmly invite you into their traditions of singing and dancing. Encounter 25 diverse ethnic groups, including the lesser-known Jinuo ethnic group. Uncover the traces of the ancient Tea Horse Road in Yunnan, from the well-restored areas of Dali and Shaxi to the immersive activities of tie-dyeing and tea ceremonies. Marvel at the challenging Tiger Leaping Gorge and experience the daily life of the locals in morning markets.

Cross into Laos with ease, taking a smooth and modern train from Xishuangbanna to the enchanting city of Luang Prabang. Delve into the immersive experiences and serene Buddhist temples this UNESCO World Heritage site has to offer.

Journey map

Fitness level

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Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrival in Chengdu

Welcome to China! Upon arrival into Chengdu, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure. Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province, the home of pandas, face changing and spicy food. Sichuan reflects China’s laid-back lifestyle.

Overnight Buddha Zen Hotel or similar

Day 2 - Lijiang

This morning you will drive to visit the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base for a look at China’s universally adored mascot. The base itself aims to provide an accurate simulation of the panda’s true living environment. Once the pandas are adjusted to living here, the plan is to release them into the wild for the continuation and preservation of this endangered species.

Visit early morning to see them being fed, climbing the trees, and sleeping before eating again in the afternoon. There are open grounds for pandas to roam freely and a nursery where babies are cared for. Spend a leisurely afternoon in People’s Park, the largest green area downtown. With a lake, gardens, teahouses, and monuments, it’s the best place to observe the lives of locals. Stroll along the lake, watch people sing, dance, paint water calligraphy, or take a cup of tea in one of tea houses and learn how to play Mahjong or Chinese chess. In the early evening, transfer to the airport for your flight to Lijiang.

Lijiang, or ‘beautiful river,’ is the capital of a large area inhabited by the Naxi minority people. Before this area was conquered by Mongolian Kublai Khan in the 12th century, it used to be a prosperous kingdom with a very strong culture – especially their unique style of writing Chinese characters. Transfer to your hotel. (B,L)

2 nights Huayudonglin Hotel or similar

Day 3 – Tiger Leaping Gorge

Be an early riser to capture the sunrise at Black Dragon Pool, set against with the backdrop of Snow-capped Jade Dragon Mountain. After breakfast, drive to trace the ancient path of the tea and horse road that winds its way through Shuhe village (10 min drive) – a place deeply rooted in the history of Naxi Ancestry. With its stone paved streets and serene babbling brooks, Shuhe is a snapshot of traditional Naxi life. Imagine a thousand years ago, merchants laden with silk, paper, salt, and above all, tea, halted at this village to rest their weary feet and nourish their horses. Meander through the street, and it feels like you could still hear the exchanges of excited conversations and catch the lingering scent of spirits in the air. After lunch in Shuhe village, embark on your adventure (1 hr) to Tiger Leaping Gorge, renowned as one of the deepest gorges in the world. An ancient legend says that a tiger used this rock as its steppingstone so it could leap across from one side of the gorge to the other, which is how this gorge earned its name. As a rugged and breathtaking natural wonder, it was once a crucial passage along the trading route. Challenging your physical endurance, trek up to the halfway point and down to Tina’s (4-5 hrs) where you will hop in your vehicle and return to your retreat for a sound sleep. (B,L)

Day 4 – Lijiang to Shaxi

After breakfast, continue your road trip to Shaxi, (1 hr drive), once a thriving trade station on the Tea and Horse Road. During the late 19th century, Victorian botanists came to Shaxi to collect exotic plant specimens to ornament gardens that were becoming popular in Europe and America. The plants flourishing in many parks, estates and gardens in the west originally came from this part of the world. But this is not just the botanical legacy that captivates people. Although trade between Yunnan and Tibet no longer traverses this route today, Shaxi retains border-town ambiance. Its cobblestoned alleyways have kept their charm, reminiscent of how they appeared a thousand year ago. Your guide who will give you a good recommendation for lunch where merchants used to consume their food (not included). Visit Sidhenjie, the heart of Shaxi where all the commercial trades were done. Its in a square shape surrounded by a stage, temple, shops, caravanserai, red-rock-roads, aged trees, and camp gates. Stroll through the streets, cross the bridge, and visit the Xinjiao temple. This sacred site witnesses the countless hardship, prosperity, laughter, and tears that are etched into very fabric of the ancient tea horse road. (B)

2 nights Shaxi Bieyuan or similar

Day 5 – Shaxi

Take a thrilling hike and be awed by the mesmerising stone carvings in Shibaozhai, literally Stone Treasure Mountain. It’s a stunning complex of temples perched high on a mountain featuring cascading waterfalls, and enchanting forested trails. The geology here is a known as a danxia landform, made up mainly of red sandstone and conglomerates dating back to the cretaceous period. After viewing the stone carvings, go down to Shilong Village, Bai village, where they have a local produce of bacon. Here you will engage with local people and observe the harmonious life in the village. Continue down to Baoxiang temple, a temple built out of cliff on the side of mountain. Following the steps, we go into the temple – be careful with the monkeys who are never shy to ask for food! Return to your hotel (B, Snack Lunch)

Day 6 – Shaxi - Dali

Hit the road for a two hour driver to Dali, a region known for its Bai ethnic culture. Wander through the streets of the old city, the Bai dwelling area, where you will have a closer look at the Bai people’s traditional residences. Hire a bicycle and pedal around Erhai Lake and soak in the tranquil atmosphere and breathtaking vistas. Marvel at the Three Pagodas, an iconic symbol of the region which stands tall with a rich historical legacy. (B,L)

Overnight Landscape Hotel or similar

Day 7 – Dali - Kunming

An early morning start to experience the morning markets in Xizhou where an array of local produce awaits. Vendors proudly display their variety of fruits, fragrant spices, and other enticing goods. After a short lunch, hop on the fast train to Kunming (2 hr 20 min). Upon arrival, you will ascend the West Hill and be captivated by the grandeur of Dragon gate. This day promises to be filled with delightful encounters, cultural immersions, and self-discovery. (B,L)

Overnight at Xishe Hidden City Hotel or similar

Day 8 - Kunming – Pu’er

This morning drive for 1.5 hrs to the Black Stone Forest. Towering limestones, weathered by time and elements, create an otherworldly landscape. Wander through a labyrinth of stone pillars, and marvel at the natural sculptures that stand before you, each with its own story etched into its rugged surface.

In the afternoon, relax on your 2-hour train to Pu’er, where the ancient tea horse road originally started. This is known as the birthplace of tea and offers a haven for tea enthusiasts and those seeking to explore the depths of Chinese tea culture. (B,L)

2 nights Chayuan Hotel or similar

Day 9 - Pu’er

With anticipation and excitement, we embrace the next leg of our journey, letting the allure of Chashitang section of Tea Horse Road guide you forward. While trekking, witness the remnants of the past, imagining the footsteps of those who traversed this very path centuries ago. The path ahead promises adventure, discovery, and a connection with the deep past of this region.

After the exhilarating trek, rest your weary feet and quench your thirst at Laodabao village, home to the Lahu People, who have a natural talent for singing and playing musical instruments. The village is nestled amongst picturesque surroundings, with lush greenery and rolling hills. Sitting with one of the local families, you have the privilege of listening to family stories which are passed down through generations. Learn about their triumphs, challenges, and accomplishments. Savour the flavours of their homemade dishes, and try the fruits grown in their own yard before bidding farewell to the Lahu people.

Continue on to Wengji Village, inhabited by Jinuo People. Amongst 55 ethnic groups in China, Jinuo is recognised as the last remaining group. The village is home to around 400 individuals whose lives revolve around the tea industry. In addition, you will explore Nuogan village, inhabited by the Dai People, who make up for the majority of the population in the Xishuangbanna area. The Dais here are different from those you will see in Xishuangbanna. Their housing style, colour of their tiles and costumes are heavily influenced by the Jinuo and Lahu. (B,L)

Day 10 – Pu’er - Xishuangbanna

Venturing towards Xishuangbanna, stop at Guangmangshan tea plantation (1 hr drive) where you will join locals to pluck tea leaves. Learn the intricate steps of tea leaf processing, discover how important the factors of temperature and time are to create a perfect blend of flavour. Partake in a tea ceremony. Savouring each sip as you allow the flavours to dance on your palates. Enjoy lunch at the restaurant in the village. In the evening, you will arrive to your hotel in Xishuangbanna, a Dai-inhabited region. (B,L)

2 nights Ramada Encore Hotel or similar

Day 11 – Xishuangbanna

Start your morning with talks with the monks at General Buddha temple, a holy place revered in the hearts of believers in Xishuangbanna. You will be greeted by astonishing blossoms in the nearby Manting park. The air becomes infused with the delicate fragrance of the flowers, and your senses are tantalized by the vibrant colours that paint the scene before you,

Continuing your journey, venture further into the countryside, seeking out the Dai people who have proudly maintained their own way of life. Witness their traditional lifestyle firsthand as you delve into their warm and hospitable culture. Be prepared to be swept away by the vibrant stary night market. This lively market is a feast to the senses, from a wide array of street food that satisfies your taste buds, to meticulously crafted beers, you will indulge in a culinary adventure. (B,L)

Day 12 – Xishuangbanna - Luang Prabang

Today you head to Luang Prabang by train. This direct train started on April 13, 2023. The train stops in Mohan where you are required to go through the customs, after which you board the train again to Boten, where you enter immigration in Laos. Disembark in Luang Prabang. 

Saibadee! Welcome to Laos. Upon arrival at the train station, you will be met by your local guide and transfer to your hotel. The UNESCO World Heritage small city of Luang Prabang is a favourite for many travellers. Nestled in the hills of northern Laos between the Mekong and Khan Rivers it is a wonderful place to explore by foot or jump onto a Jumbo (local transport) to experience a local’s perspective on the town. Tonight, you will experience a Laos feast. Served family style, you will have the opportunity to taste many special local flavours and foods from chunky bamboo soup, to sausages and dips accompanied by sticky rice, herbed fished in banana leaf, lemongrass stuffed chicken, pumpkin with kaffir lime and ginger and a selection of sweet Laos confections. (D)

2 nights Kiridara Luang Prabang or similar

Day 13 - Luang Prabang and Pak Ou Caves

After breakfast, enjoy a short-guided tour exploring the city’s oldest temple of Wat Sene and the magnificent Wat Xiengthong with its roof sweeping low to the ground, which represents classical Laotian architecture. You will also visit the National Museum (former Royal Palace), which hosts a range of interesting artefacts and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre to learn about Laos’ many ethnic minorities.

You then board a cruise upstream on the Mekong River, which provides you with a panoramic view of the tranquil countryside as well as an interesting visit to the mysterious Pak Ou Caves. Two linked caves are crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes left by pilgrims. You might want to climb up to the top of Mount Phousi where you can explore the sacred, gilded stupa as well as take in sweeping views of the city and the Mekong River at sunset. Finish the day visiting the famous Night Market, where you can find a fascinating selection of handmade textiles made by local and hill tribe people surrounding Luang Prabang. (B)

Day 14 - Luang Prabang - Rice farming and Kuang Si Waterfall

An early start this morning as you experience the mystical aura of Luang Prabang and participate in the daily morning rituals of saffron-clad monks collecting offerings of Alms, (often in the form of sticky rice), from the faithful residents.

After breakfast, you head out to the outskirts of town where it is time to get to work with the locals on a working community farm. You will learn all about the rice growing process, and have an opportunity to participate in seasonal farm activities such as identifying viable rice seeds, ploughing with a buffalo, hand planting, weeding and harvesting rice and threshing rice seed. You may be picking vegetables from the organic garden or catching fish to cook for your all natural, organic lunch where there will be a variety of local rice products for you to sample.

Afterwards, you drive to the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfall where you can splash around in the turquoise pools or walk along the forest paths. On the way, you will visit villages of various minorities Laotian (Ban Quay, Ban Ou). There’s also an opportunity to visit the bear sanctuary nearby the waterfall which is run by Free The Bears Fund Inc. This sanctuary protects and rehabilitates the endangered Asiatic Black Bear.

You finish the day with a visit to Ock Pop Tok. This Laos based social enterprise works primarily in the field of textiles, handicrafts and design. Meaning ‘east meets west’, Ock Pop Tok brings the fascinating world of traditional Lao handicrafts alive for visitors. The Living Crafts Centre overlooking the Mekong is the heart of Ock Pop Tok and a fascinating place to visit. Enjoy a drink at Ock Pop Tok Silk Road Café and amazing views over the Mekong here. Transfer to the airport for your evening flight. (B, L)

Driving distance: approx. 30km/way (50 minutes to Kuang Si Waterfall)

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What’s included

  • Return airport transfers throughout
  • 13 nights accommodation
  • Meals as per the itinerary
  • Services of English speaking local guides
  • National park fees and entrance fees
  • Private air conditioned transportation
  • Sightseeing as per the itinerary
  • High-speed trains Dali/Kunming, Kunming/Pu’er, Xishuangbanna/Luang Prabang in second class seats
  • Domestic flight Chengdu/Lijiang in economy class
Exclusions
  • International & domestic air tickets not mentioned above
  • Meals and beverages not mentioned above
  • Early check-in and late check out charges from the hotel
  • Visas
  • Personal travel insurance
  • Expenditure of a personal nature such as drinks, souvenirs, laundry, tipping etc

**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.

* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.

* A minimum of 4 adults is required to guarantee this departure.

A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.

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Availability

Start Date
End Date
Duration
Availability
Price
Start Date
05th Jan 2025
End Date
18th Jan 2025
Duration
14 Days
Availability
Available
Price
$9,100 AUD
Start Date
02nd Feb 2025
End Date
15th Feb 2025
Duration
14 Days
Availability
Available
Price
$9,100 AUD