The most important and well-connected old city of Yunnan is not the capital Kunming. It is located right where the lush and fertile banks of the Erhai Lake meet the southernmost outliers of the great Himalaya mountains, in a place called Dali. Throughout history, many different tribes have flocked to the diverse lands of Southwest China. Unsurprisingly, the Dali valley was instrumental in the originating of the most important and biggest local empire, the Nanzhao. For many centuries, kings in Dali have controlled areas ranging from Burma to Sichuan, intermittently forging alliances or waging bloody wars with the Tang dynasty and the Tibetan empire. Long after the Nanzhao kings were eventually outsmarted by the Mongolians, this region is still a lush playground for anyone into remote old trading towns, unique Daoist and Buddhist artifacts and outdoor adventures. And we are there to create the perfect mix for each individual traveler.
Map | Destinations (Illustrated) | Price
This is what the standard (5-day) version of this itinerary looks like this:
DAY 1 – Arrival in Weishan
Arrival in Weishan by high-speed train/car. We’ll visit some interesting Yi villages. We are invited for a nice home-cooked lunch in the village, after which we’ll hike over some remnants of the old tea horse trading road. We’ll explore a deserted village with a Tang-dynasty street pattern in the afternoon before getting to Weishan.
DAY 2 – Weishan
Visit Weibao Mountain after a very local breakfast. Then visit a Muslim area, learn how to make some amazing halal food and explore some fabulous architecture to travel back in time.
DAY 3 – Weishan – Dali
Transfer to Dali in the morning, do some sightseeing in the periphery. Then visit the old town of Dali. We can arrange an exclusive tea tasting session, but there are many other options.
DAY 4 – Dali – Shaxi
Erhai lake kayaking session for sunrise. We’ll visit a traditional tie-dye family and have lunch in one of the greatest Bai restaurants of the valley. Then transfer to Shaxi, and have some leisure time to explore the old town by ourselves.
DAY 5 – Shaxi
Visit Shibao Mountain for some ancient stone carvings and many local myths. There are many nice trails to walk and ancient stories to discover!
Please contact us for a tailored itinerary with many more details!
We always recommend our guests to be as active as possible. But obviously we stay within the limits of everyone’s ability. This route is extremely flexible and can be done almost entirely without any hiking or cycling.
But it is just gorgeous to hike on the Weibao mountain and Shibao mountain, fresh air and lots of temples to visit. So if you are up for it, we can definitely schedule many day hikes throughout this route!
Also, we can arrange cycling. Amazing views of Cangshan Mountain and Erhai lake! We can do cycling as a half-day activity or arrange it throughout the whole trip. The amount of kilometers is completely flexible, from 20 kilometers up to a 100!
We can also arrange kayaking to see sun-rise or sun-set on Erhai lake!
We’ll be staying in a very beautiful and relaxing courtyard in the old town of Weishan.
The hotel in Shaxi is run by the best hoteliers in Yunnan province, you’ll be in for a treat!
For single travelers or couples, we will arrange an SUV or spacious sedan with a driver-guide if available.
for 3-4-5 guests, we will use a Buick GL8 or Chinese brand “DaTong”.
For 6 guests and up, we’ll be traveling with an 18-seat officially registered tourist van, operated by one of the best drivers in Yunnan, Dali local Yin Guangtao.
The one-strand-of-noodle is really famous in Weishan. They make fresh noodles every morning and will be sold out by noontime.
PICTURE OF A MAP
If you walk around in Weishan, it will not be a surprise for you that the Nanzhao kingdom has its earliest roots here. This is one of the most authentic and spectacular old towns in the entire province. Weishan has a lovely local bustle, with almost all shops and eateries catering to locals. The best thing about it is that at some times you have the old street completely to yourself because all the other tourists cluster in Dali. So many things to explore, not only in the cultural-historic sense but also in terms of cuisine!
In and around Weishan, we will take you to some lovely Yi communities and introduce you to our friends. We will be initiated in village life in the courtyard through plenty of tea and scrumptious home-cooked meals. We will explore some of the old trails that connect the villages and can bring us to some excellent viewpoints. Some of the villages don’t have people anymore, just the barren old courtyards are left. This will not stop us from exploring the cobbled streets, old wells, and lavishly decorated facades.
A cluster of villages around the source of the Red River, south of Dali, has a very active Muslim community. Because the Muslims have controlled many of the trading routes going into all the different directions, there has historically been a lot of wealth and power in these villages, making for some stunning architecture and intriguing stories. The people are absolutely lovely, as is the cuisine, and learning how to cook some fabulous local dishes will be a perfect break in our history-focused excursion.
Going up in the morning to visit Weibao Mountain will inevitably through you back to a few centuries. If you want to learn something about uniquely Chinese spiritualism, Daoism is where everything starts. We will visit some gorgeous temples, and walk through some beautiful forests. We’ll meet some Daoist masters in the temple and even get some hands-on advice on how to do Chinese energy exercises back home.
The Nanzhao capital soon moved from Weishan to Dali for strategic reasons, because the town is sandwiched by the Cangshan mountains and the Erhai lake. This not only makes for many opportunities for outdoor activities, but it also gives us a well-connected historic walled city. It has become a bit of a hot location recently because of its resort-town qualities and high-speed railway connection. Still, there are many nice things to be found here, like really good (vegetarian) restaurants, a lively Chinese hippy community, and fabulous architecture.
Reaching up to 4122 meters, the Cang Mountain crest is a serious wall standing to the west of the Dali valley. Temples and pagodas large and small are nestled in the forests and gulleys. There are lifts and cablecars up and down, but there are many pristine undiscovered trails to explore the amazing fauna on this mountain. The forests are home to some elusive wildlife like the red panda. And the view over Dali is just gorgeous!
As the second biggest lake in Yunnan, the Erhai is getting cleaned up. The water is traditionally been a fantastic source of fresh water and fish. Slowly this is all coming back. Boat traffic is extremely restricted, but we found a place where kayaking is allowed.
Bai villages are best when the weekly market has come to town. No better way to know about people’s habits and livelihoods. It’s not only about economical transactions in these markets, but a great opportunity to experience the social cohesion of these places. We’ll taste street snacks, buy exotic fruits and joke with the village kids. We’ll bring you to some Bai villages where we can visit Tie-dye workshops in old courtyards, where we can learn to make our own. Some of the best local restaurants are out in the villages. For cyclists, we always recommend connecting a few Bai villages on a route along the Erhai Lake.
Shaxi is on the trading route network mostly for the salt wells just south of it. Over the centuries, it has grown as a really important outpost of the Nanzhao kings, as a station to guard the Tibetan borderlands. This has resulted in a rather cultured community of merchants here in this still predominantly agricultural community. Shaxi is by far the best protected and most carefully restored old town of Yunnan, if a bit small. Nowadays, the tourists are coming, but Shaxi is still an interesting stop, especially considering most of the visitors don’t go to the best places.
In China, it is really unique to have cultural artifacts of more than a 1000 years old still intact. This makes the Shibao Mountain special. It is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country, and the geography makes for such nice walking. To be honest, nobody who comes to Shaxi should ever miss the Shibao Mountain!
2 PAX: $ 290 USD
4 PAX: $ 186 USD
6 PAX: $ 160 USD
8 PAX: $ 143 USD
We came to Yunnan Province to experience China being China. Zouba Tours delivered in every way, providing a custom tour for the two of us. We wandered through vibrant, traditional markets that catered to local customers, not tourists. (We had been there three days before we saw Westerners, a single family in a shop). Except in a few hotels, every transaction was in Chinese. Not being speakers, we would have been totally lost. Anna was a wealth of knowledge about Yunnan cultures and traditions. We never would have found the out-of-the-way restaurants she selected, and would never have known what to order. The food was incredible; we told Anna and Frank they could promote this simply as a food tour. They had great relationships with their vendors: small restaurants, crafts people. We felt like we were visiting friends, an advantage of being a very small “tour” group. Dahua was an expert and careful driver. Zouba Tours is a small operation. If all the staff are out with clients, they probably won’t respond promptly to e-mails. Plan ahead and be patient. It’s worth the wait.
Zouba Tours delivered everything they promised: off-the-beaten track tour, delicious food, tasteful small hotels, flexible itinerary, and outstanding guides. My husband and I traveled with them in June 2019 on a custom tour for 10 days from Dali to Lijiang, including three nights of camping and hiking in the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain area. Anna, Dahua, Frank, and Yang Xiao were all superb guides: knowledgeable, good-natured, and adaptable. We walked to mountainside temples, did a tea tasting, kayaked on Lake Erhai, explored local markets, tried our hand at traditional Bai tie-dying, and ate amazing food in places we never would have found on our own. We rarely saw other tourists. During our three days of hiking/camping, we walked along “forager” trails, occasionally passing local people gathering wild plants and mushrooms. My husband and I typically travel independently, but getting around in Yunnan without speaking Chinese and knowing the lay of the land would have been very difficult. Frank worked closely with us to set up a custom trip that met our interests and needs. We learned so much about Yunnan and China during our 10 days. It was the best decision we made to travel with Zouba Tours. Highly recommended!
We travelled with Zouba Tours in August 2018. It was a fantastic trip –
one we think is the best we’ve yet taken. The area around Dali and Erhai
Lake is so rich in natural and cultural beauty. Weishan, Dali and Shaxi
each have their own special character. People are very welcoming there.
They seem to be quite used to tourists.
The food is a glory in itself! The variety and freshness of ingredients
is astounding. You won’t forget the eating adventures.
I can’t say enough good things about the Zouba Tours team. They know
this rich, complex area of Yunnan very well and they know how to make it
accessible to visitors. Travelling with them felt like being hosted by friends
in their home country. We followed an itinerary of course but they were always
attentive to our interests and suggested opportunities as they arose.
We are grateful for the many good memories from this trip.