Family Travels: Yunnan

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Surmounting Mountains and Plateaus

The Trekkers: Swedish couple Thomas and Sanna Jönsson and their children Wilhelm (10), Carl (7) and Amanda (4), were joined by Carl and Elin Christensson, and their sons Hugo (8 ) and Wilhelm (10) on the overland adventure.

The Destination: Yunnan province, China

The Plan: Yearning to explore the great outdoors, the Jönsson family decided upon Yunnan after a friend assured them the trip was possible with young children. The journey took them first to the World Heritage city of Lijiang, then 60km by bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Yangtze River, where they trekked a 22km trail on horseback for two days. They took another two days to drive to Zhongdian, the real life version of the fabled Shangri-La (described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton), stopping at Haba village and other minority townships along the way. From Zhongdian, they flew back to Beijing via Kunming.

How They Did It: Last Frontiers (21 5404 8806) allowed the Jönssons to tailor an itinerary to suit their needs. An agent may cost a little more but the family knew it would be worth it because of the remote location, the organizational challenges and the fact they could contact someone if they needed to. All flights, transport, accommodation, meals and guides were included in the price.

The Sights: Bicycles are easy to hire and ride around Lijiang (Window of Lijiang) and are a good way to soak in the sights. Go to the Black Dragon Pool Park (Heilongtan Gongyuan), a scene that is known as an obligatory photo-op when in southwest China. Take a chairlift up Jade Dragon Snow mountain (Yulongxue Shan). Baisha is a minority village only 30 minutes bike ride from Lijiang. Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest in the world – a yawning 3,900m deep and 16km long - and is a site to behold even if you don’t trek it. When you get to Zhongdian (see Virtual Tourist), be sure to have a yak burger!

Where to Stay: The families stayed at the San He Hotel in Lijiang, a Tibetan-style courtyard lodge (888 512 0891, RMB 350 per night for two people). They pre-booked inns during the gorge trek through their agent (as little as RMB 60 a night) to ensure a place to stay along the way. For a luxurious end to a rudimentary trip, the family separately booked the gorgeous Gyalthang Dzong Hotel in Zhongdian (part of the Banyan Tree group) where the staff wear traditional Chinese dress (8878223646, around RMB 900 per night for two).
What to Eat: The trekkers brought plenty of munchies like chocolate bars, biscuits and nuts. Water bottles and tea are widely available and can be carried on horses. Although the family sampled and enjoyed eating yak, to appease the kidsí yearnings for conventional food, the Jonssons recommend bringing dried meals such as instant noodles and soups.

Survival Tips: The gorge trek is not considered difficult, but some level of fitness is necessary. Although neither family had any problems with altitude sickness, consider taking tablets. Take a rain poncho, a change of well-worn shoes, band-aids in case of blisters and extra camera batteries. But leave your expectations for luxury behind!

First published in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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