Tag Archives: Shangri-la

China’s Yunnan province sits astride a crossroads.
Here, lowland China, Tibet, Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent meet, creating somewhere utterly special. In the first of two photo essays, we look to the province’s rugged northwest…

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Northwest Yunnan is one of the most diverse, beautiful and fascinating regions of China. But why is this the case?


An immensely long time ago – 35 million years, give or take a few millennia – the Indian subcontinent crashed into Eurasia and created the Himalayas, the mountains effectively forming a vast, icy wall that divided Asia in two.


At their far eastern end, however, the chain peters out in a series of lush, forested valleys that carve their way south through Yunnan’s northwest corner. Here, plants, animals and people from both sides of the Himalayas have mingled, creating a genetic crossroads, a meeting place between ecosystems on the mountains’ leeward and windward sides. Thanks to a trick of geography, these few valleys enjoy “Goldilocks conditions”, just right for life to thrive. The result? A dramatic explosion of biological diversity seldom seen in the Earth’s temperate regions.

4a439ee9-34cd-4faa-9e18-ed0327834579Towering 30-metre tall rhododendrons turn the forests ruby red each spring; wild azaleas cover swaths of hillside; gorgeous golden pheasants rustle through the undergrowth, and snub-nosed monkeys dine on the lichen that thrives in the crisp air. Three of Asia’s major rivers (four if you count the headwaters of the Irrawaddy across the border in Burma) – the Yangtze, the Mekong and the Salween – flow alongside each other for a few hundred kilometres, through the epicentre of this diversity, the Three Parallel Valleys region.In the late nineteenth century, word of these remote cloud-forests filled with exotic new species piqued the interest of Western plant collectors. Between the 1890s and the 1950s, intrepid botanists scoured northwest Yunnan and the neighbouring regions of Burma and northeast India for new specimens. The results were staggering. Joseph Rock returned from a single expedition with 500 species of rhododendron. The appropriately named George Forrest collected an incredible 31,000 specimens over seven expeditions in Yunnan, and Frank Kingdon-Ward was still discovering new species even after half a century of energetic exploring.
294868f8-d4af-4516-a09d-5b439e46aa29c1f21657-23bb-4c17-bf9a-859b68126c93While geography has limited the scale of human impact – until fifty years ago the only way to cross any of the major rivers was on a rattan rope slide greased with yak butter – eight of Yunnan’s 25 ethnic minorities make their homes here. These remote steep-sided valleys have even helped to conserve many ethnic minorities’ cultures. In villages across the region, women still wear traditional dress and the rhythms and rituals of rural life continue as they have done for centuries, whether the inhabitants are Bai, Drung, Lisu, Naxi, Nu, Pumi or Tibetan.

862b0685-1f7e-4465-855f-3fd788bf2da2Today, a handful of bridges have been built, steel cables have replaced the rattan, and beautiful, if winding roads link the larger settlements. Modern-day visitors will be spared the fleas and bandits that plagued earlier visitors (today northwest Yunnan is home to an excellent selection of boutique hotels in beautiful locations), but as you climb over each mountain pass, do spare a thought for Joseph Rock’s long-suffering Naxi porters, who lugged their employer’s collapsible bathtub over this rugged terrain.


Explore this region on our journey –

This 7- or 9-day journey offers the perfect blend of adventure and comfort, as you travel through beautiful northwest Yunnan.

Appropriately, for a region that inspired the story of Shangri-La,each evening you will stay in charming small hotels, having traveled through untouched countryside each day.

Where about?

Day 1: Kunming
Day 2: Dali and Xizhou
Day 3: Xizhou to Shaxi
Day 4: Shaxi to Tacheng
Day 5: Tacheng to Deqin
Day 6: In and around Deqin
Day 7: Deqin to Shangri-La
Day 8: Shangri-La to Lijiang
Day 9: Lijiang to Kunming

What you will discover

  • Snow-capped mountains & blue skies
  • Red-robed monks & colorful prayer flags
  • Tiny, unspoiled villages & dozens of different minorities
  • The Three Parallel Rivers region, one of only 31 bio-diversity hotspots of the world
  • Amazing roads in stunning landscapes
  • Lovely boutique hotels that will make you wonder “how did they find them?”
  • Suitable for families with children and as a couple’s getaway

Journey Dossier

View here

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For many of us, the end of the year is a time for taking time off to reflect upon the year past and the year to come. For some of us, it is the time to celebrate Christmas and time for giving. Giving often means the “things”. But we believe the memories of meaningful experiences last longer…

On the way from Shangri-La to Chiang Mai in Thailand, during 12 days, here are 12 gift ideas :

Your 12 Gifts for Christmas…

Join the “gift-to-yourself-and-your-family” journey: Over Christmas and New Year!

From Shangri-La to the Lanna Kingdom – December 22, 2016


Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

  • An unforgettable way to close out 2016 and start the new year! 

  • Click here for more info

  • In a nutshell

    • What?

      • Travel from Shangri-La in Yunnan via Nothern Lao to Chiang Mai in Thailand

      • Luxury, Comfort and Adventure all in one

      • Christmas in wintry Shangri-La

      • New Year in subtropical Thailand

      • How long?  8 or 12 days

We look forward to welcoming you on what will be one of the most memorable journeys of your life!


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We hope you had enjoyable summer months. For us, July and August were incredibly busy, not so much because of journeys, but because preparations for 2017 are in full swing! Here’s what we’ve been up to and what you can expect to come.

Water Splashing Festival


image1Looking back… 
Over the summer, we published some fun reading on our Detours blog:

What a Day?! – Here is a story about a very special day on my most recent research trip in Europe

· Part 1: A holiday? Not exactly…

· Part 2: Impatient to be free…

· Part 3: I know one when I see one…

Jo has written a story about traveling from Luang Prabang in Lao to Lhasa in Tibet…a route that lies at the heart of our new, 2017 “Lands of Silk and Snow” journey (see below).

And Mareen published a story about a day in her life working at On the Road.



image2Looking forward… 
In September, we will be announcing two entirely new journeys for 2017.

From Lao to Tibet…

First out of the gate will be “Lands of Silk and Snow: From Luang Prabang to Lhasa”, our entirely new journey to Tibet. Imagine driving from the lush rain forests of Lao to the stupendous mountains of Tibet, from a culture inspired by one form of Buddhism to that inspired by another. For this magical journey you need 16 days, but you can shorten it to 12 days if you skip the Lao portion.

On the other hand, if you want to make it into the journey of a lifetime, then add Roads on the Roof of the World at the end to drive all the way to the Mt. Everest Base Camp. Driving tours don’t get any better than this in Asia!





image3Austrian Hungarian Lands: Vienna, the Adriatic, the Alps and Prague

And then comes a milestone for us.  After several private group journeys in Europe, here we are with our first scheduled European journey you can join in spring or autumn 2017.

If you would like to

· spoil yourself with beautiful hotels,

· eat fine meals (not always Michelin star, but the best these regions have to offer the way “mom used to cook it”),

· drive on some of the world most beautiful roads and

· immerse yourself in the landscapes and cultures of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and the Czech Republic, there is no better journey in the world.



Travel Inspirations for the coming months…
From now until February, here are some border-crossing journey ideas for you:

image 4


All the best from On the Road Experiences for the lovely month of September!


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Since our last update in December, Christmas and the Western and Chinese New Years have come and gone…

Looking back…

Burma Research with Mareen and Nancy

Burma Research with Mareen and Nancy


In January, Mareen and Nancy, accompanied by Htein Linn, a Burmese photographer, went to Burma for three-and-a-half weeks. This on-the-ground research, together with knowledge gathered over the years, formed the basis for our first Burma itinerary (about which more below).


Red Earth and Fields of Gold

Red Earth and Fields of Gold


In March, Mareen, Nancy, Ron, and Fiona hosted a group of guests, many of whom have previously joined quite a few of our journeys, on a new itinerary, Yunnan through a Lens: Red Earth and Fields of Gold.



Our Customer - Andrew and Glenis

Our Customer – Andrew and Glenis


One of the guests told us after the journey that: …we had a wonderful trip, passing thru the most beautiful scenery ever. Mareen, Nancy & Fiona served us really well with their heart, that we appreciate & Ron has been a most professional mentor, patiently coaching the least qualified photographer like us. Our driver Mr. Wu was such a cautious driver with excellent driving manners.

Looking forward…

Burma really is the next big thing for us. In the next few weeks, we are very pleased to be able to share more information about our first Burma journeys. For now though, we can tell you:

  • Burmese fishermen

    Burmese fishermen

    The first journeys will depart 9 November, 2016 (4 cars booked, 1 more car available) and 29 November, 2016 (available). January 2017 is fully booked and Feburary 2017 (available).

  • You can view our all-new Journey Dossier here.

  • For those of you in Hong Kong, we will organise a Burma talk-and-dinner event in May.


Join Us

Join Us


We’re hiring… We are looking for journey hosts. If you know anyone like Mareen, Nancy or Peifen, our wonderful journey hosts, please let them know that we are hiring and ask them to visit our “Join us” page.

Between May and September, we are offering journeys for photography lovers, for families with children and more. In case you’ve missed our announcements, please take a look at the schedule below:

Searching for SHANGRI-LA – April 8th & 29th and July 15th

  • Our most popular Yunnan journey…
  • Why go? Read our blog essay right here
  • In a nutshell
    • What?
      • In just a few days, see how beautiful China can be!
      • Discover where Shangri-La really might have been!
      • Stunningly beautiful boutique hotels, along back roads, far away from the crowds.
  • How long? 7 or 9 days
  • How much? Starting from CNY23,700/person
  • Click here for yet more info

PHOTOGRAPHY: Yunnan through a Lens:  Tea Horse Trails – June 3rd

  • For photography lovers…there’s nothing like working with Ron!
  • Read Ron’s recent short essay about travel photography in this region…
  • In a nutshell
    • Where? Hidden gems of Yunnan along the tea horse trail
    • What?
      • Capture moments with your camera like never before.
      • Work, hands-on, with Ron and learn his techniques for portraits, landscapes, architecture, low-light and many other situations.
  • How long? 6 or 9 days
  • How much? Starting from CNY29,600/person

FAMILY: Adventures in Yunnan  – July 4th and July 15th

  • An unforgettable adventure for the whole family!
  • In a nutshell
    • What?
      • Experiences, not things!
      • Haggling in the markets (in Pugonghua), gentle hiking, batik making, up-close-and-personal encounters with a Tibetan family…
      • Memories of a great time together!
  • How long? 8 or 10 days
  • How much? Starting from CNY78,000 (for a family of 4) less early-bird discount of 10% for those who book by March 31st!

FAMILY & PHOTOGRAPHY: Travel Photography with Ron Yue – June 24thand October 21st

  • Start the holidays with a Family Adventure with Master Photographer Ron Yue
  • Click here for more info and read Ron’s latest blog entry about photography…
  • In a nutshell
    • What?
      • Give your children the gift of photography…to see beauty everywhere!
      • See beauty where others don’t, learn to simplify life, re-learn the value of patience…
  • How long? 8 or 10 days
  • How much? Starting from CNY84,720 (for a family of 4) less early-bird discount of 10% for those who book by March 31st!

CROSSING BORDERS into Lao and Vietnam – May 13th  and September 16th

  • Travel through ancient Asian Border Lands
  • In a nutshell
    • What?
      • At the best times of the year…
      • … drive from Yunnan via northern Lao to Mai Chau in Vietnam.
      • Discover, along back roads, a region brimming with different minorities…
  • How long? 9 days
  • How much? Starting from CNY39,900  less early-bird discount of 10% for those who book by March 15th!
  • Alternative date September 16th : For a longer version “Summit to Sea: Yunnan to Vietnam”, please write to us for details.

On 16 April, On the Road will be a live-auction sponsor at the annual Gala Dinner of a Hong Kong-based charity called Kids4kids. Our sponsored prize is for a family of four to join our “Family Adventures – Travel Photography in Yunnan” journey. We have designed this journey to inspire an interest in travel photography – the art of seeing beauty everywhere – something that might become a lifelong passion for children, and an activity that parents and children can share. In this world of “insta-” everything, having a chance to explore a new environment as a family and learning a new skill together provides a particularly meaningful break from the frenetic pace of everyday life.

We are proud to be sponsoring several other charitable events in the months to come.

Happy Easter!

We wish you a Happy Easter!
We wish you a Happy Easter!

Over the Easter period, Angie and I will be in Europe. I’m selling it to her as a “holiday”. As she does every time, she will ask me “Do you call this a holiday?” Why? Because, during our trip we will be also researching a new itinerary that will run through the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy (Fruili and Alto Adige). Whether business or pleasure – fortunately the two often overlap, we can’t wait to go!

We wish you, too, Happy Easter and a Peaceful Qing Ming!



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Everyone has heard of Shangri-La. Even for those who have not read James Hilton’s classic Lost Horizon, the name evokes visions of an earthly paradise tucked away amongst soaring mountain ranges, where humans live long and peaceful lives amidst pristine, otherworldly surroundings.

Old-growth forests in the Three Parallel Rivers region

Old-growth forests in the Three Parallel Rivers region

In northwest Yunnan there is a Tibetan town, historically known as Zhongdian. Perched at the south-eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and astride the main route to Tibet proper, the small town has long been a trading post and meeting point between Yunnan’s lowlands and highlands. Zhongdian’s compact old town was once filled with thick-walled Tibetan houses, yaks grazed in verdant fields around the town and stupas decorated the surrounding hillsides – undeniably picturesque, but still a far cry from Hilton’s fictional paradise.

Just over ten years ago Zhongdian’s enterprising mayor decided that since no one knew where Shangri-La was, it might as well be in Zhongdian. A pretext was fabricated (certain geographical features outside the town are said to resemble those mentioned in the novel) and Zhongdian was duly renamed Shangri-La, or Xianggelila in Chinese.

The new name and a new airport spurred a building boom that has seen old Zhongdian transformed into a somewhat ugly, modern town. Then, in early 2014 a devastating fire burnt much of the old town to the ground. Whatever faint resemblance the place may once have had to the Shangri-La of fiction, it has now gone for good.

So did the idea of Shangri-La go up in flames along with Zhongdian’s timber-framed old town?

05_Tacheng_Golden Stub-Nosed Monkey_02_PAS

Yunnan Snub-Nosed Monkeys, near Tacheng

The north-westernmost region of Yunnan is formally called the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Shaped like a triangle balancing on one point, the region is composed of three counties; Shangri-La (with Zhongdian/Shangri-La at its centre) in the east, Weixi in the west and Deqin at the uppermost tip of the triangle. If you are looking for Shangri-La, stop briefly in Zhongdian/Shangri-La, if you must, but make sure you leave time to explore Diqing’s beautiful hinterland. While it might not exactly match Hilton’s description, the region is so lovely and holds such natural bounty and variety that any such qualms will quickly be forgotten.

Learning your Scriptures, in Shangri-La

Learning your Scriptures, in Shangri-La

Diqing is home to at least ten ethnic minorities. The largest of these is Tibetan, but there are also the Lisu, Naxi, Bai, Yi, Hui, Pumi, Miao, Nu and Drung, among others. Each speaks its own language, practices its own and religion, and wears – for the everyday, not for tourists’ benefit – its own traditional clothing. People are friendly and welcoming, especially in the remoter parts of Diqing where tourists are still rare.

Diqing straddles one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions, the so-called Three Parallel Rivers, named for a short-range geographical accident that sees three of Asia’s great rivers – the Yangtze, the Mekong, and the Salween – churn through lush, parallel valleys for several hundred kilometres. The Three Parallel Rivers region is home to many exotic and endemic species of flora and fauna. One of the most endearing is the Yunnanese snub-nosed monkey, one of the rarest primates on earth. Incredibly, it is easy to spot (and photograph) in a sanctuary of old-growth forest that lies in the mountains between the Yangtze and Mekong valleys.

Sumtseling Monastery, Shangri-La

Sumtseling Monastery, Shangri-La

The region’s human heritage and geography is no less rich and varied with a long list of little-visited, yet spectacular attractions. Each Sunday in the tiny village of Cizhong, a Tibetan priest holds mass in a nineteenth-century church built by French missionaries. Further north, there is the massive Meili Snow Mountain range. The highest peaks rise to over 6,000 metres, making for impressive prominence over the river valleys to the east and west. The highest peak is sacred 6,740-metre-tall Kawagebo, which – in deference to local religious beliefs – has never been summited.

While the mountaintops are left to local gods, it’s still possible to feel the magic of travelling through the mountains and climbing towards distant peaks on the ascent from lowland Yunnan to Diqing. Some may opt to fly straight into Zhongdian/Shangri-La, at the risk of both altitude sickness and a dislocating sense of culture shock. However, far better to travel overland, slowly acclimatising to the thinner air and absorbing the gradual change in your surroundings as the familiar trappings of modern life give way to something gentler and altogether rarer. By the end of your journey, you might just feel that you have, indeed, glimpsed Shangri-La after all.

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If you would like to go in search of Shangri-La for yourself, you may want to take a look at this travel idea here.

When we leave the highway behind and opt to discover the world from its back roads, curious things can happen. More often than not, those things can give us a glimpse of what makes local people tick.

A recent research trip of ours ended in Shangri-La, the main settlement in Yunnan’s ethnically Tibetan northwest. On the day of our team’s departure, we caught a taxi to the airport. Our driver was a burly Tibetan gentleman with an infectious laugh, who had somehow managed to squeeze himself into the cab’s cramped driver’s seat.

On the outskirts of Shangri-La a large white stupa stands at the centre of a roundabout – seemingly a typical piece of Chinese municipal architecture. As we joined the roundabout, the driver turned left instead of right and calmly circled the roundabout clockwise, against the usual flow of traffic.

A stupa in Tibetan China beckoning the sky for good luck

A stupa in Tibetan China beckoning the sky for good luck

Mercifully, nothing seemed to be about to crash into us. Still, we asked with some alarm, “What are you doing?! Aren’t you supposed to go the other way around?!”

“No, in the mornings we can go around it this way,” he assured us, smiling, “because the stupa is holy, isn’t it?” For Tibetans circle all holy things – roundabout stupas included – clockwise, in a show of respect.

“And what if a non-believer should come the normal way around?” Peter pursued the argument to its inevitable conclusion.

“Well, there might be a crash,” he said, his expression deadpan.

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