Exploring wild and rugged Yunnan

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, September 18, 2014
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After two motorbike tours of Shanghai by Insiders Expeditions and eyeing their Yunnan trips for three years, my expectations were high when I finally flew to Lijiang to begin a four-night Yunnan getaway.

The trip was part of a "bucket list trilogy" for a friend who will soon be leaving Shanghai. We each suggested things to do and this longed-for trip was mine. So if this proved to be a dud, I would be the one taking the fall from three very disappointed friends.

Insiders Expeditions organizes private journeys into China's interior with vintage vehicles. All tours are tailor-made, all inclusive and hosted by passionate "insiders," expats and returning Chinese who live locally.

Taking us on our little adventure was Kewen. He was the "insider" who took me on my first motorbike tour of Shanghai two years earlier. Kewen has many skills. Not only is he the most dapper man to ever live out of a small sports bag over four days, but he's also the perfect host. I prefer to use the word host rather than tour guide. Kewen ensured we had the best possible time. He tailored our days to suit when we wanted to start (with some compromises bound by the practicalities of distance), what we wanted to do, see, eat ... This included instantly becoming "one of us," either willingly or otherwise, whiling away the hours on the road and at meals, listening to hypotheticals, truth and dares and other endless inanities.

Our accommodation covered all ends of the spectrum. We had opted for premium accommodation and the luxury bivouac in Shangri-La. Having said that, people need to take an open-minded approach to "premium" as you are staying in places relatively untouched by mass tourism.

Our first night in Shuhe was spent at The Bivou. This quiet village was the last place you would expect to find what I can only describe as a designer hotel. The Bivou's contemporary architecture combines white minimalism with natural materials.

In total contrast, the following night we stayed in a 150-year-old hotel in Shaxi. I really loved this quiet town, once an important stop on the old tea road. Our hotel was in the old quarter and opened onto a large, slumbering square. The age of the hotel's Bai architecture was evident, right down to the light streaming through the gaps where the frames of the old wood structure failed to meet. (Don't worry, it had flywire over the gaps and mosquito nets over the beds. Not that we needed them.)

Its location was perfect for a slow stroll around the town's narrow alleys and shady streets, or for a bit of people watching sitting outside at the cafe on the square. The highlight being the woman walking her pig. And no, it did not look like the pig was on its way to meet its maker. You don't usually put that type of harness on an animal who is dinner.

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