8 Day Yunnan Ethnic Minority Experience Tour


  • For those that suffer from blistering and dreadful winters, this tour to tropical and colorful Yunnan is the perfect cure. You’ll explore the dazzling diversity of Yunnan’s minority ethnic groups at the towns of Dali and Lijiang. For an after-dinner treat you’ll witness the Naxi Orchestral Show, a singing and dancing spectacular that perfectly displays Yunnan’s wonderful charm
  • Yunnan is known for its colorful and intriguing diversity of ethnic minority groups, and in the towns of Baisha and Wenhai, you’ll fully experience this, as these cities are a haven for minority groups, with the Naxi and Bai ethnic groups being especially prevalent
  • At each stop on your tour you’ll have with you a local English-speaking guide, which will ensure you a worry-free, fun, and thrilling experience.

(B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner)

Detailed itinerary:

Day 1 arrive in Kunming-Dali (L, D)

You will fly into Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, and you will be met on arrival by your English-speaking travel guide. We’ll then take a ride to the ancient city of Dali. The Dali Ancient City is widely acknowledged as "Backpackers' Paradise" in China. Foreign visitors like to stay in Dali ancient city. Some of them live there for months or even years, to observe and study the fascinating culture of Bai nationality. In the so - called " Yangren Street (foreigner's street) " in the heart of ancient city where is always full of foreign visitors, there are several dozens of cafes, western style restaurants, and clothes shops offering services to foreign guests. And it seems that every one of local Dali Bai people in the Yangren Street is a multi linguist.

When we arrive we’ll take a stroll through time in the Dali ancient town. The ancient city of Dali is one of Yunnan's most popular tourist destinations. When visiting the area you can see temples and architecture 1000 years old, buy beautiful souvenirs and objects of art, and learn about the history of the area and of the native peoples. The local customs and architecture is distinctive. A stroll through the ancient city with its stone paved streets, traditional style houses, and numerous gardens is an interesting excursion. You’ll also get the chance to walk down Foreigner Street, which contains Western-style restaurants and bars and English-speaking business owners.

Afterward, we’ll head to Xizhou Old Town, which will give you a chance to experience the Bai minority's life. Xizhou is a now a quiet town with a population of about 32,000 people. Though now it is surrounded by rice paddies and is mainly known for the well preserved Bai traditional houses, many times it has been important in Chinese history. During this century, it was a haven for Chinese intellectuals and a leading university was located here, fleeing the Japanese invasion. Before 1949, Xizhou was the main center for Bai commerce, and many families were extremely rich. The best examples of Qing Dynasty era Bai architecture can be found here. Xizhou has about 200 national heritage listed private houses dating from the Qing Dynasty. The houses are among the best examples of traditional Qing architecture in China and are exquisitely detailed. By visiting this small town, you gain a better understanding of the history of this ingenious people and an appreciation of a culture that has been important in Chinese history.

Day 2 Dali (B, L, D)

Every 5/10/15/20/25/30th day of the month there is a local market, selling all sorts of all goods and knick-knacks, and from perusing the bazaar stalls you’ll come to a greater understanding of this region’s culture. Following your visit to the market you’ll get to have dinner with a local family, learning about their daily life and routine in the process. You will spend the night at their house.

If the market is not open, then we’ll make the short drive to visit Erhai Lake. The whole lake area is full of interesting and beautiful sites. Lining its banks in the valley are fishing villages, Bai farming villages, ancient temples, historic towns and the ancient city of Dali. You can watch the people live their daily lives in a traditional way. That is an interesting backdrop for the scenery. The local people feel that this big lake with its clear water and its reflections of land and sky as well as the entire region are unusually beautiful, and is another highlight of a visit to Yunnan Province. At the lake we will visit several villages, temples, and Jinsuo Island. Jinsuo Island (Golden Shuttle Island), and the nearby fishing community of Bai Minority do really deserve a visit with its attractive Bai culture and lifestyle, and because of the rare beauty of the lake and its surrounding scenery.

Day 3 Dali-Shaxi (B, L, D)

Today we will take a bus along the old Dali-Lijiang road in order to reach Jianchuan (also known as Shaxi), and on the way there numerous minority groups can be seen along the road in traditional dress. The high mountain historical villages of Shaxi Town at the foot of Shibaoshan are in a valley that is at an elevation of about 2000 meters or about 6,500 feet. This area lay on trade routes that led throughout Asia, so the ancient remains, frescoes, art and graffiti on the mountains show a mixture of cultural influences from other parts of the world. Shaxi once played an important role as a bustling trade station on the Tea and Horse Caravan Road, an important branch of the Silk Road. Just over one thousand years ago, this ancient trade route connected Tibet with Eastern China. In exchange for teas from Yunnan, Tibetans traded their famous breed of horse to Song Dynasty officials in eastern China, who were busy defending their territory from invaders from the north. Thus the Tea and Horse Caravan was born. Shaxi became the main trade station along this route. The several ethnic groups in the region also have a mixture of Asian influences in their cultures.

Shaxi Town is made up of about 16 villages in the valley. In China, a town is considered to be not only the main village or town but also the surrounding villages and towns. The largest of the villages is Sideng. The World Memorial Fund for Architecture and the local government is funding reconstruction of Sideng Village. The villages have populations ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. The population Shaxi Town is about 23,500, and about 85 percent of the people are ethnic Bai people. Approximately 70 percent of the residents do farm work, and most of the people are quite poor by western standards. The average income of the Bai farm people in the valley is about 140 dollars a year.

When we arrive in Shaxi, we will tour the old town, the nearby Shaxi River, the Xinjao Temple, as well as the ancient courtyards that abound in the town. For the night we will stay at the historic Tea Horse Caravan Hotel.

Day 4 Shaxi-Shibao Mountain-Shaxi (B, L, D)

Today we will take a day trip out to nearby Shibao Mountain. In the mountain there are dense forests and flowing streams, which makes a beautiful picture. And Shibao Mountain is composed of three larges scenic spots—the Haiyun Temple, the Baoxiang Temple, the Shizhong (Stone Bell) Temple. The mountain also features some exquisite Buddhist art. The Shibao Shan rock carvings are over 1300 years old and evidence of the spread of Mahayana Buddhism into Yunnan from Tibet. Representations of the bodhisattva Guanyin and other Buddhist images are carved into the rocky mountainside. Spending a day at the grottoes hiking around the temples through the lush forest - perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to come across a group of monkeys.

After our visit to Shibao Mountian, we’ll return for the evening to Shaxi.

Day 5 Shaxi-Lijiang (B, L, D)

After breakfast we’ll take a bus to the town of Lijiang, Lijiang is a town that is an enclave of ethnic minority cultures, and the Naxi ethnic group is especially prevalent here.

After we arrive we’ll stroll through the old town. The old town is made up of three old districts that retain a special character of Naxi and Han construction and Naxi customs, arts and culture. It was a former trading town and a stop for traders carrying goods on the “Chama Road” trails. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 following an earthquake and reconstruction in 1996 that returned the city to a more ancient look.

We’ll next learn more about the Naxi people at the Dongba Museum. The museum is built completely according to the traditional life style of the Naxi Minority. You can feel the traditional atmosphere of national culture from the layout of its yard, building facilities, tools and details of life.

For the evening, along with dinner you will get to enjoy a traditional performance of Naxi music and dancing at the Dongba Palace.

Day 6 Lijiang-Baishan-Shuhe (B, L, D)

Following breakfast we’ll further explore aspects of Naxi daily life at the Baisha village. Baisha village is one of the oldest towns in Lijiang. It is the earliest settlement of the Naxi people and is the birthplace of "Tusi", chief of the Mu clan. In the town there are many ancient buildings built during the Ming Dynasty, including Dabaoji Palace, Liuli Temple, and Wenchang Palace. The well-known Baisha Frescoes are located in Dabaoji Palace. Because of the white sand on the ground, the town was named "Baisha", which means "white sand". In the Naxi language, it is called "bengshi". The architectural complex is made up of two parts, folk residence and cultural sites. The folk residence is called "pengshizhi" which in the local language means "Baisha Streets". The streets all go from south to north. In the center of the old town there is a square where three thoroughfares intersect. Houses and small stores stand on the both sides of these streets. A crystal clear stream winds around all the houses flowing through the small town from north to south.

The center of town features a beautiful rendering of frescoes religious frescoes. The 44 pieces of Baisha frescos were drawn in the early Ming Dynasty. Most of the paintings are about religious stories of Taoism, Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. The murals embody the artistic characteristics of the Naxi, Tibetan, Han and Bai ethnic groups. Among them the paintings about Kwan-yin and Sakyamuni are the most famous ones. Now Baisha Frescos, also known as Lijing Frescos have become precious data for the study of China's history of arts and religions.

We’ll then make our way to the Shuhe old town, a charming town to visit for all travelers, because there is a traditional Naxi village where you can enjoy Naxi drinking and food at the bank, which is made up of the river and farmland. We will spend the night at an inn in Shuhe.

Day 7 Shuhe-Wenhai (B, L, D)

After breakfast we’ll head on over to the village of Wenhai. Nestled in the valley at the foot of the mountain, this small community of Naxi farmers, along with their goats, pigs, horses and cows, lives on the lush green fields around the lake that fronts their village. A lack of decent roads has kept Wenhai relatively free from the tourist hordes, though in addition to the local Naxi dialect some people do have a smattering of Mandarin.

The Naxis have lived in Wenhai for over 300 years. There are five clans in the Wenhai upper village, whose ancestors were of Tibetan and Han origins. Overtime, however, these people were regarded as Naxi by the other villagers. There are two clans in Wenhai lower village,whose bloodlines are from the Tibetans and the Bais, but are also being regarded as Naxi people now. north of the Wenhai villages is the Xuehua village where there lives a group of yis ,who still maintin their very simple and traditional lifestyle of the yi people.

For the night we will stay at the Wenhai Eco-Lodge, owned and run by 56 local families, each of whom has shares in the business and contributes a percentage of profits to community development.

Day 8 Wenhai-Lijiang-Kunming-departure

Early in the morning we will drive back to Lijiang, where you will make the short flight back to Kunming. From there you will fly on to your next destination, ending your tour with us.

M. Nielsen, Seattle, USA:

I saw China and its complex political system in a whole new light. I was enamored with the sleepy little village of Shaxi and the surprise village of “Guishe”. I would encourage you to always throw a few surprises in a trip-that was a fun moment.

Having the opportunity to sit with the villagers in Shaxi in their kitchen was an experience I will never forget. Because our guide was from their village we were offered a chance to sit and have tea by the fire. I felt I really saw their life from the inside not just watched them chanting. How they stored there food, the furnishings in their living space, how they interacted gave such a broader perspective of life in a small village, regardless of the communication gap.