Discovering Rural China
China shouldn’t just be known for its raging economic development, ancient civilisation dating back thousands of years and it’s fiery and flavourful foods. For those clients looking for a little more, away from the big cities, southern rural China offers an enchanting cultural adventure, where local life remains unchanged over the centuries. Yunnan, South of the Tibetan Plateau, is the most diverse province in China, and home to an extraordinary mix of ethnic minorities, cultures, incredible landscapes and a thriving artisanal culture, which I was fortunate enough to experience on my recent trip. With so much on offer, for couples and families alike, this region would be unmissable in any first trip to China.
Yunnan is a province like no other, totally capable of captivating our clients with its majestic scenery, particularly for those looking for a countryside experience and to be immersed in rural China’s culture. Our adventure began with meandering up the mountain roads 11,000ft above sea level to the Wenhai Valley, lying in the foothills of Jade Dragon Mountain. It was here where we had the most surreal experience encountering the living history and traditions of the nomadic Yi people, who have been settled here since the 1950s. We were also lucky enough to be blessed for safe travels by the village shaman and spiritual leader in an intimate ceremony at his home. With just a scattering of village houses, surrounded by endless green pastures and mountain peaks, we felt extremely privileged to have found a fascinating village with no other tourists in sight; a feat which I once thought would be impossible in modern day China.
From here, I suggest navigating the quiet cobbled back streets of Baisha village, packed full of charming courtyard homes, local artisans and the Baisha murals; a heaven for any local artisan enthusiast. The little copperware workshop, which made durable pieces for the horsemen on The Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road is a hidden gem, and the intricate embroidery found in this region is testament to the skills of the Naxi who have been making handicrafts for many generations. For an opportunity to sample the distinct Naxi cuisine, we can arrange for our clients to visit a multi-generational Naxi family in their courtyard home to taste the delicious homemade fresh and spicy dishes, infused with mushroom flavours, typical of this region. Without a doubt, I left Baisha with the feeling that I had been transported back to life in ancient China.
A great way to break up the scenic drive to Dali is to stop en route at Shaxi, the historical market border town which once connected Tibet and Eastern China during the The Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road era. After exploring the 1,300 year old magnificent rock carvings at the Shiboashan Grottoes, we set off by foot on a quiet trail through untouched woodland, ancient abandoned temples and verdant foliage on a beautiful walk down to the ancient tree-lined streets of Shaxi. If our clients happen to visit the village on a Friday market day, farmers and locals come from neighbouring villages to sell and purchase produce, creating a fun and lively atmosphere for any visitor. With many a workshop crafting intricate wood carvings dotted through the village (a speciality for this region), and plenty of local restaurants serving delicious local fare, I highly recommend a day trip to Shaxi as you travel through the Yunnan province.
Rural China came alive in Dali, and one of my fondest memories was waking up early to view the most spectacular sunrise over Erhai Lake with a cup of fresh coffee, where a kaleidoscope of colours reflected on the great expanse of water and on the mighty Cangshan Mountains. A great way for our clients to experience the traditional Bai villages on the shores of Erhai Lake would be to walk through the local farmland and crops of fresh vegetables, wheat, garlic, and beans, to the morning market in Longkan, a lively and bustling hub for the those purchasing their daily provisions.
The villages of Xizhou and Zhoucheng, just on the outskirts of Dali Old Town, are home to Yunnan’s biggest concentration of Bai architecture, made up of exquisite courtyard homes and intricate carvings. Once a military fortress, Xizhou village has now transformed into a peaceful Bai minority town which offers up its quiet streets for a peaceful stroll, traditional tea ceremonies and tie dye products and handicrafts. So far removed from any commercialism, this is a fantastic chance to see how local life is played out in rural China.