The Miller Family
Travelers: Chelin and Nick Miller and their three daughters Hannah (age 17), Eli (13) and Nina (8)
Destination: Yunnan (Lijiang, Shangri-La, Tacheng, and Benzilan)
Dates: August 4-11, 2012
Cost: RMB 38,720 for two adults and three kids (includes all meals, accommodations, and transport for seven days). Does not include tips or flights.
Tour company: Songtsam Lodges
Last summer, we went on a trip to Yunnan, the “Kingdom South of the Clouds.” We booked the Family Summer Package directly through Songtsam Lodges’ website (songtsam.com). We got to visit a part of China that is still unspoiled by mass tourism. Yet, we traveled comfortably – even with a touch of luxury. We were surrounded by amazing landscapes the whole time and there were plenty of activities for everyone. The package included three nights in Tacheng, one night in Benzilan and two nights in Shangri-La. We also took a detour to Lijiang.
We wanted a trip that would cater to the various interests of our family: a bit of trekking and adventure for Nick, photography opportunities for me, a swimming pool for the children, and plenty of time to spend together as a family. When we were doing our research, we were very impressed by Songtsam’s package that offered a more relaxing alternative to a more adventurous trip at higher altitudes.
We flew from Beijing to Lijiang, where we stayed one night to visit this picturesque town. Although this was not part of the package, I thoroughly recommend it. The following day, our guides and drivers picked us up from the hotel in Lijiang in two comfortable vans. They drove us and another family to our first lodge, Songtsam Tacheng. On the way, we took a detour to see Tiger Leaping Gorge. After Tacheng, we drove through mountain passes to Songtsam Benzilan, in an area that used to be a key part of the Ancient Tea Horse Road to Tibet. The tour ended with two days at Songtsam Shangri-La.
Although the lodges were off the beaten track, it was very easy to communicate with the English-speaking staff. The guides were always at hand to translate, but their presence was not intrusive. The lodges are exquisitely decorated and the restaurants served excellent food. There were various local dishes, as well as pizza, pasta and ice cream.
The best part was being welcomed by smiling faces everywhere we went and having so many activities to choose from. Nick’s favorite activity was hiking up the mountains in the rain to see the Golden Monkeys in Baima Nature Reserve. For Hannah, it was hunting for mushrooms in the mountainous forests near Benzilan – and learning how to tell which ones are not poisonous. She then got to barbecue the mushrooms for dinner under the stars. Eli enjoyed making mooncakes in Tacheng and eating her own creations. She also had a lot of fun dancing with hundreds of locals in the Old Town square in Shangri-La.
Nina, the youngest, wanted to take part in all the activities; our guide Dolma paid special attention to her, teaching her Tibetan chanting prayers and how to turn the prayer wheel at temples. She also enjoyed horseback riding through the meadows in Shangri-La on the cutest Tibetan pony. My favorite moment was making wonderful landscape photographs at dawn – in my pajamas, from the bedroom balcony! There were photo opportunities all over the place, all day long.
One afternoon, we were caught in the rain in Tacheng after picking up watermelons. We stopped for shelter at a Naxi household. The family that lived there was so friendly! They offered us fruits and drinks and we sang songs with them while we waited for the rain to stop. There was no “worst” moment on this trip – everything was perfect.
- Shangri-La’s new town center is crowded and touristy, nothing like the mythical paradise imagined by James Hilton in his book, Lost Horizon. However, the Songtsam Lodge was situated away from the hustle and bustle, next to a monastery and lake. This offers a great opportunity to go for a wander, if you are not suffering too much from altitude sickness.
- My favorite books about the regions we visited are the aforementioned Lost Horizon and The Ancient Tea Horse Road by Jeff Fuchs (now available as an e-book on Kindle). I recommend reading them to get a taste of the landscape and the area’s past.
- August is summertime in Yunnan and the vegetation is in full bloom and lush. There were a few showers, but they didn’t last long. As you go up the mountains, it gets a little bit chillier, especially in the evenings. Tacheng was warmer than Benzilan and Shangri-la.
- We wore comfortable clothes: cargo trousers or shorts, trekking shoes and T-shirts during the day and fleece in the evening. A raincoat is always handy. Hats and sunscreen are essential. Don’t forget swimsuits for the pool in Tacheng! (When you book with Songtsam, they give you a list of essentials and suggestions on what to bring.)
Photos courtesy of Chelin Miller
This article originally appeared on p36-37 of the beijingkids June 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com