Monthly Archives: April 2017

When is a photo more than a photograph?

The interview wasn’t going to plan. I was talking to two young people, Hugo (11) and Astrid (8), who joined our first family photography trip a year ago. The thing was, they couldn’t remember very much about it. I had arrived with a neat set of questions: Were you interested photography before the trip? What was the most memorable part? Astrid remembered a friendly dog; Hugo a young boy playing with blocks.

We began to look through photography coach, Ron Yue’s photographs from the trip. These jogged their memories, and more details began to emerge – though seldom the ones I expected.


The itinerary starts in Kunming before heading to north-west Yunnan, taking in Dali, Shaxi, Lijiang, Tacheng before it ends in Shangri-La. I know the route very well, having driven it maybe twenty times, and love it for the vernacular architecture, minority cultures and beautiful scenery en route. But Hugo and Astrid had experienced the trip quite differently.

We laughed at pictures of people taken down pipes, Ron’s many photographs of old people (“So old!”), and cooed over pictures of the snub-nosed monkeys that live in the hills outside Tacheng (“So fluffy!”).

As we turned to look at the photos the children had taken themselves, funnier and more personal stories surfaced; one about Astrid riding a goat, another about someone photo-shopping pimples all over a photograph of his friend’s face, before Hugo turned the boy’s picture purple.

They each picked out specific photographs – Hugo had taken a clutch of photos in Lijiang on a setting that turned the evening sky electric blue, leaving the streetlamps shining a warm orange light onto the crowds below, Astrid had spent time trying to capture a beautiful lock from an interesting angle. We oohed and aahed over some more great shots of the monkeys, and found a picture of Astrid’s friendly dog.

Our conversation made me realise how much I expected them to trot out the same things that I find noteworthy about the itinerary. It was refreshing and interesting to see familiar places in a new way, and a valuable reminder that we all see and experience the world differently. And that comes through in all our photographs, whether we’re young or old, novice or seasoned professional.

On every photo trip I’ve hosted, the final night wrap-up session, where everyone shows their best photos from the trip, has led guests to ask one another “Where did you take that?” – because it shows an aspect of something they didn’t notice themselves.

But, equally, another thing that I appreciate again after talking to Astrid and Hugo is just how effective photographs are at capturing a moment, a mood and a feeling. Of course, looking at their shots reminded them of what was shown in the photograph itself, but it also helped them to recall other stories and moments from the trip. When I spoke to Ron about this, he agreed; “I think I can remember the circumstances behind almost every photo I’ve taken – the back story, a general feeling,” and this from a man who takes pictures for a living.

So there it is; each of us puts more of ourselves into our photographs than we might realise, just as we get more out than we might expect. My thanks to Astrid and Hugo for reminding me of this – as well as for proving that it is, indeed, possible to ride a goat.


Our journeys for family and kids…

Start your holiday with a Family Adventure with Master Photographer Ron Yue

Where do we go?

Day 1: Arrive in Kunming
Day 2: Dali & Xizhou
Day 3: In Xizhou
Day 4: Xizhou to Lijiang
Day 5: In Lijiang
Day 6: Lijiang to Tacheng
Day 7: In Tacheng
Day 8: Tacheng to Shangri-La
Day 9: Shangri-La
Day 10: Shangri-La to Kunming

What you will discover

⦁ Experiences, not things

⦁ Give your children the gift of
photography…to see beauty

⦁ Come home with wonderful
photography memories of a
great time spent together


Journey Dossier

View here


Go on a Family Holiday you will never forget!

Where do we go?

Day 1: Arrive in Kunming
Day 2: Dali & Xizhou
Day 3: In Xizhou
Day 4: Xizhou to Shaxi
Day 5: Shaxi to Tacheng
Day 6: In Tacheng
Day 7: Tacheng to Shangri-La
Day 8: Shangri-La to Lijiang
Day 9: In & around Lijiang
Day 10: Departure from Lijiang

What you will discover

⦁ Introduce you and your
children to a different world
from your everyday

⦁ Come up-close-and-personal
with the endangered Golden
Snub-Nosed Monkeys

⦁ Practice your Mandarin…
nothing a like haggling in
local markets!

Journey Dossier

View here



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Yunnan’s food is one of China’s most delicious surprises, yet Yunnanese cuisine is not well known outside China. Why is this the case? We look at six foods that define this fascinating and beautiful province.

blogToo often, Yunnanese cooking overseas is reduced to a single dish – “crossing bridge noodles” (see below for the story behind this dish’s name). Individual bowls of piping hot broth are served along with plates of raw meat, vegetables and noodles that diners tip into the soup to cook. While people from Yunnan certainly do love a bowl of rice noodles, there’s much, much more to food here.

Thanks to Yunnan’s varied topography and climate, the province’s markets are filled with a huge range of fresh, seasonal produce. Exotic fruit thrives in the warmth of tropical Xishuangbanna; huge ears of corn ripen in the fertile land around Dali; Dongchuan’s rust red soil produces wonderful potatoes; sweet, crisp apples grow around Lijiang, and fungi with fantastic names (termite mushrooms, anyone?) are dried and exported from Yunnan across Asia.

Each of Yunnan’s ethnic groups puts its own twist on the preparation of these local ingredients. Around Shangri-La, Tibetan cooks flavor dishes with dried peppers and cumin; the Drung of the Salween Valley traditionally cook on heated stones; Xishuangbanna’s Dai people enjoy a combination of intense chili heat and pickled sourness that can make a good Dai meal feel like an assault on the tastebuds.

All this variety makes Yunnanese food tricky to define. Indeed, one reason why Yunnanese food is little-known outside its home territory is that there’s little agreement over what exactly Yunnanese cuisine is – besides crossing bridge noodles, that is. Another reason is that many of the more unusual ingredients are downright impossible to find outside of south-west China – from fishwort roots (折耳根) to bee pupae. However, such exotic things don’t really tell the story of the province. These, more humble, everyday foods do:




1. Rice
Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 10.11.54 AMRice in one of its forms – steamed rice, sticky rice or rice noodles – is the core of most Yunnanese meals. Tiers of rice paddies that have been carefully maintained by generations of farmers are a testament to the crop’s importance, especially in the south-east of Yunnan, home of Yuanyang’s spectacular “ladder fields”.

Rice noodles have evolved into many different varieties in Yunnan (flat ones, round ones, thick ones, skinny ones, soft ones, chewy ones), and are especially popular at breakfast time, when they are served in soup and topped with ground meat, fresh herbs and lashings of chili. It’s worth seeking out a Yunnanese special – ersi made from cooked rice, which gives the noodles an unusual (and delightful) chewy texture.

It’s also worth making a fairly long detour to try Dai pineapple rice in Xishuangbanna. Soaked sticky rice is mixed with the flesh of a ripe pineapple and steamed inside the pineapple shell, producing a nectar-sweet antidote to the chili-fueled heat of the typical Dai meal. Which brings us to…




2. Chili peppers
Sandwiched, as it is, between Sichuan and South-East Asia, it is unsurprising that Yunnan shares its neighbours’ love affair with the chili pepper. On an early On the Road trip, the lead car was scene of a heated and protracted debate between our Yunnanese guide and Sichuanese driver as to which province’s food was the hotter.

8b8fbb6b-37f0-4f2b-b528-5171333b9942The jury may still be out on that important question, but dried and fresh chilies as well as mouth-numbing Sichuan pepper are all used frequently in Yunnanese kitchens. Happily for the faint of palate, their addition is often optional – a saucer of chopped chili or chili sauce placed on the table.



3. Mushrooms
A remarkable 800 varieties of edible mushroom (from a total of 3,000 known types worldwide) can be found in Yunnan, the region being a biodiversity hotspot for fungi, as well as plants and animals. Some are familiar – porcini, chanterelles, summer truffles – while others are decidedly less common – tripe-like zhusun and poisonous-looking green cap mushrooms, for example.

7ea039e3-f289-480d-9e6a-355aa571a554King of them all, however, is the songrong or matsutake, prized in Japan (where it commands prices of up to US$1000 per pound) for its fragrance and meaty texture. In local homes, fresh mushrooms will be simply stir-fried with a little bacon and slices of fresh green chili, but in Kunming’s restaurants the preparation is altogether more sophisticated, with songrong topping a slab of foie gras or a delicate steamed custard.



4. Cheese

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 10.19.13 AMUnusually for China, two ethnic groups in Yunnan have been producing and consuming cheese for centuries. Separated by 500km of non-cheese eating minorities, the Bai and Sani may have developed their cheese-making techniques and traditions in isolation.

However, one tantalizing theory has the Mongolian armies of Kublai Khan introducing cheese-making in the wake of their invasion of the Dali Kingdom in the mid-thirteenth century. (Amazingly, there are still ethnic Mongolian communities in Yunnan today – the descendants of the Khan’s garrisons.)

The Bai of Dali make slabs of white paneer-like rubing from cow’s milk, while the Sani people from Shilin, southeast of Kunming make a similar cheese from sheep’s milk. Rubing is delicious when fried (it doesn’t melt) and sprinkled with salt or sugar. The Bai also make rushan, wafer-thin sheets of cheese that you will see stacked in rolls outside Bai restaurants around Dali.


5. Wind-cured ham
In village houses across northern Yunnan, you’ll often see legs of ham – trotters still attached – lurking in the rafters. As with all the best local foods, there is much competition between counties that claim to produce the most delicious version; Xuanwei’s ham may be the best-known, but the black pigs raised on the banks of the Salween and those from around Lake Erhai are now acknowledged to produce some of the best.

68ce78a4-6115-41cf-94cc-dfadc54718f8Historically, Yunnan has never been a wealthy province; for many people here, meat had to be used sparingly. Salting and drying pork to preserve it and intensify its flavour was one of the best ways to do this. Typically, slices of ham might be tossed into fried vegetables, served with rubing in a kind of Yunnanese ham and cheese, or in one unusual dish, sizzled on a hot roof tile (瓦掌风肉).


6. Pu’er tea

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 10.21.23 AMFor those of us used to seeing tea bushes in neat ranks, pruned to hip height, the sight of a wizened tea tree deep in tropical jungle seems almost odd. And yet the leaves of these aged trees produce some of the finest tea in the world.

Bricks of tea from southern Yunnan have been exported around Asia for hundreds of years. Leaves of the wild tea trees are dried, fried and steamed into dimpled circles. Once upon a time, these would then be stacked onto mules for the long trek to Tibet. The tea would slowly age on its journey, bringing a depth of flavor that is now much prized – though many accounts of this “tea horse trail” have the Tibetans showing more interest in the tea’s ability to alleviate the effects of a meat-heavy diet, rather than the health-giving qualities we recognize today. Many small towns in north-west Yunnan – Shaxi and Jianchuan, to name two – grew up around overnight stops used by the tea caravans, spreading Pu’er tea’s impact across the province and down the centuries.


*Legend has it that a Qing-dynasty scholar retired to Mengzi in south-east Yunnan where he spent each day in a lakeside pavilion, writing poetry. His wife brought him noodles for lunch each day. The noodle soup cooled on the walk between kitchen and pavilion until she hit upon the idea of topping the broth with a layer of oil, thus sealing in the heat for her journey.

Explore Yunnan’s foods with our journeys…

0ba02962-fa37-4390-8e50-b1dd3b5db27fAdventures in Yunnan will take you and your family through some of Yunnan’s best loved destinations like Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La and via some little-known gems on an itinerary designed specifically for families to enjoy together.

  • 10-day journey
  • Kunming – Dali/Xizhou – Shaxi – Tacheng – Shangri-La – Lijiang
  • Journey Dossier


e5ccb0cc-d14c-4cb8-94ff-5dc7bf7b2a0dFamily Adventures: Travel Photography in Yunnan is a family holiday you will never forget, a chance to discover new lands and people and to engage with a hobby – photography! – that may become a lifelong, shared passion among parents and children.

  • 10-day journey
  • Kunming – Dali/Xizhou – Lijiang – Tacheng – Shangri-La
  • Journey Dossier


59721bc2-c54e-4868-ae75-4b0a983acd9bSearching for Shangri-La takes you on back roads through Yunnan’s less well-known village treasures to the edge of Tibet

  • 9-day journey
  • Kunming – Dali/Xizhou – Shaxi – Tacheng – Deqin – Shangri-La – Lijiang
  • Journey Dossier



21510508-9913-4c9f-9df1-d150da3d4374Shangri-La to the Lanna Kingdom will take you from ethnically Tibetan Shangri-La to the tropical heart of the Golden Triangle, then on to Chiang Mai in Thailand – former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom.

  • 12-day journey
  • Kunming – Lijiang – Xizhou – Xishuangbanna – Luang Namtha – Chiang Sean – Chiang Mai
  • Journey Dossier


f989d43f-070b-4ccf-bd18-6701b500ce07Yunnan through a Lens: Tea Horse Trails – capture memories as beautiful as the landscape on this photographic journey through breath-taking north-west Yunnan.

  • 9-day journey
  • Kunming – Xizhou – Lijiang – Tacheng – Shangri-La
  • Journey Dossier


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The Yarlung Tsangpo is Tibet’s most important river. We take a whirlwind trip down its course…

A raindrop (or, more likely, a snowflake) falling near Mount Kailash in could have one of three fates. If it lands to the north or west of Tibet’s holiest mountain, it will trickle into the Indus, flow across Ladakh, down the length of Pakistan and into the Arabian Sea. Fall to the south of the mountain and it will promptly cascade out of Tibet into Nepal, and – joining the Ganges – run across northern India, draining through Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal. Finally, if it lands east of Kailash, our raindrop will join the Yarlung Tsangpo.


Tibet’s most important river, the Yarlung Tsangpo flows east across Tibet for two thousand kilometres before it finds a way through the Himalayas and pours into India, where it is known as the Brahmaputra, “Son of Brahma”. A journey along the Yarlung Tsangpo is a journey through Tibet’s most dramatic landscapes as well as through Tibetan history.

The young river meanders out of Tibet’s far west through sand dunes in a beautiful and rugged land. Although few live here now, this was once part of the Zhang Zhung kingdom, a pre-Buddhist civilisation that has left a handful of enigmatic ruins and soot-blackened caves near Mount Kailash.

For hundreds of kilometres, the Yarlung Tsangpo flows through a thinly populated region, its braided stream fed by melt-water from Himalayan glaciers. Eventually, the river flows past Tibet’s second city, Shigatse, to its confluence with the Kyi Chu outside Lhasa.

In flowing through more populated regions, our river performs a new purpose. The rocky riverbanks are marked with white ladder-like symbols, showing that a water burial has been held recently. Although Tibetan sky burials are well-known, poorer people more often wrap their dead in cloth and slide the bodies into the river – one important reason why Tibetans do not eat fish.

Downstream, the river enters the Yarlung Valley, home of Lhasa’s Gongkar Airport, and – less prosaically – Tibet’s historic heartland. Here, the valley is lined with important religious sites: Tibet’s first monastery, the remarkable, circular Samye; a meditation cave used by 8th century sage, Guru Rinpoche; and the oracle lake, Lhamo La-tso are all nearby. It was from the Yarlung Valley that early rulers unified Tibet in the 7th century, and here that the Debate of Samye was held, the latter a crucial juncture in the history of Tibetan Buddhism.

It is also in the Yarlung Valley that our river’s first hydroelectric dam went online in 2014. Slated to generate 540MW of electicity, the Zangmu Dam is the first of five planned for this area. Further east again, where the river begins its precipitous drop into India, its hydroelectric potential has China’s engineers really excited – a long-mooted plan would see a vast dam with double the output of the Three Gorges Dam built in the Yarlung Tsangpo Gorges.

For now, however, the river churns through its spectacular and isolated gorge unimpeded. Here, the river describes a vast U-turn, pivoting to flow south and west before spilling into India. Over the course of the gorge’s length, the river water drops a staggering 2,400 metres and runs between two 7,000-metre peaks, making it one of the world’s deepest gorges. This region is known as Pemako to Tibetans, one of 108 Himalayan valleys hidden by Guru Rinpoche to give sanctuary in times of trouble. Certainly, the gorge resists exploration by even the best-prepared modern expeditions – those preparing to travel here must rely on satellite images, rather than actual maps.*

It seems fitting for our raindrop Yarlung Tsangpo to leave Tibet this way. Flowing from the flanks of Buddhism’s holiest mountain to a secret valley best known from outer space, the story of the Yarlung Tsangpo is – like much of Tibet – riddled with mystery, flecked with faith, and utterly alluring to the adventurous spirit.


Explore Tibet with our journeys… 

Lands of Silk & Snow: From Luang Prabang to Lhasa

ALL NEW, UNIQUE journey from subtropical Laos to the Himalayas

Where do we go?

Day 1: Arrive in Laos
Day 2: Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha
Day 3: Luang Namtha to Menglun
Day 4: Menglun to Lake Dianchi
Day 5: Lake Dianchi to Xizhou
Day 6: Xizhou to Lijiang
Day 7: Lijiang to Shangri-La
Day 8: Shangri-La to Deqin
Day 9: In & around Deqin
Day 10: Deqin to Markham
Day 11: Markham to Zogang
Day 12: Zogang to Rawok
Day 13: Rawok to Pomi
Day 14: Pomi to Bayi
Day 15: Bayi to Lhasa
Day 16: Farewell Lhasa

We also offer shorter version of this journey – 10 & 13 Days

What you will discover

⦁ Drive from the charming
  Luang Prabang to Lhasa in
⦁ Highlights include: Luang
  Prabang, Xishuangbanna, Meili Snow Mountain, Ranwu Lake (然烏湖), Lhasa and much more in between

Journey Dossier

View here

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Roads on the Roof of the World

From Lhasa to Mt. Everest Base Camp

Where do we go?

Day 1: Arrive in Kunming
Day 2: Flying up to Lhasa
Day 3: In & around Lhasa
Day 4: Lhasa to Gyantse
Day 5: Gyantse to Shigatse
Day 6: Pelbar to Mount Everest
Day 7: Back to Lhasa
Day 8: Lake Nam-tso
Day 9: Lake Nam-tso to Lhasa
Day 10: Farewell Tibet

What you will discover

⦁ Lhasa, the capital of Tibet
  with the Potala Place and the
holiest Tibetan temple, the
Jokhang temple
⦁ Visit the old towns of Gyante and Shigatse
⦁ Drive along lake Yamdrok and Lake Namtso, the two holiest in Tibet
⦁ Enjoy an unforgettable view
  over the Himalayas and drive
  right to the Mt. Everest

Journey Dossier

View here

Stories on Tibet

A Glimpse of Everest
From Silk to Snow


*Botanist Frank Kingdon Ward had this to say about a trip here in the 1920s:

Not only is Pemako extraordinarily difficult to reach from any direction, it is still more difficult to penetrate and explore when reached. Surrounded on three sides by the gorges of the Tsangpo, the fourth is blocked by mighty ranges of snow mountains, whose passes are only open for a few months in the year. Beyond these immediate barriers to east, west and south are trackless forests inhabited by wild unfriendly tribes… Add to this… a climate which varies from the subtropical to the arctic, the only thing common to the whole region being perpetual rain, snakes and wild animals, giant stinging nettles and myriads of biting and blood sucking ticks, hornets, flies and leeches…

The Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges, Kingdon Ward, 1926
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