THE drive along Ancient Tea Horse Trail


Shibao Shan GrottosYou know how some descriptions just give you a mental image of what you think you are going towards experience? Well that was the case for us when I read “drive through the majestic Cangshan Mountains to Lijiang. Stop for a short hike along the trail which was part of the old Tea Horse trail for centuries as you climb through some of the most beautiful scenery in southwestern China”. Ok OK it didn’t say it was going to be a peaceful lovely drive.  There was no mention of sipping tea along the drive, hearing traditional music as we passed UNESO sites or opening the windows to smell the flowers along the way, nope none of that, but that IS what my mind’s eye saw when I read those words.  What we actually experienced however was a 7, NOT 4 hour drive as promised, drive that went like this:

Start with an OK car with thankfully and excellent and experienced driver and English guide. This driver was truly the reason we actually made it to Shaxi and Lijiang alive and just one of the reasons I would choose Access China Tours to make arrangements for us again!

Now image a one lane road with three lanes of traffic (one each way and the middle is open for discussion of the horn)  over some paved, not paved or paved with huge pot holes road.  Image more construction trucks than you would see in a month in any fast growing city in the USA along the drive with you in just this one day,  tour buses packed with Chinese tourists, more cars than an LA afternoon commute and local people, bikes, animals and kids walking across all of this within each of the smaller villages we past through. Aggressive chaos would be one description, however all of this occurs with the purposeful use of the well understood language of the HORN! This is what I learned this new language to translate to mean:

As you see someone along the sides of the road who MIGHT move into your direction you should toot toot and the driver will smile, guide will not even notice.

If they actually step out then it is a full Honk, but not too long as the driver sips from his tea bottle and the guide keeps talking.

As you want to pass anyone in front of you (and it seems you always do, and it is often a huge truck or bus) give a longer beep beep beep beep as you do. Don’t worry about the upcoming curve you can see around the head on traffic will hear you and make adjustments. The driver will keep both hands on the wheel and the guide keeps talking.

If someone seems to not notice this or wants to move into your direction as you make the passing attempt then lay on the horn with a long LOUD HOOOOONNNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKK. If that head on traffic didn’t hear your passing honk, then do the same as you both will then move here and there to avoid a crash. The drive will yell something out and the guide will take a look to see what is happening.

Now you would think we would have some photos, one or two anyway along this most hummmm “interesting” drive, but NOPE never tried to focus a camera, simply tried to look and mostly NOT look as we moved along. Every small city along the way had so much construction all you could see was a dust cloud, smaller villages had much of the same but here they are selling fruits on the road without seeming to notice the dust. If you saw one large crane anywhere you saw ten or more within the same sight line. To say China is growing, moving forward and developing quickly is one of the biggest under statements ever. This is our 8th trip to China, first to Yunnan and I have to say I believe if we took this same route 3 years from now, we would have NOT A CLUE we had been previously. That is just how fast many parts of China are changing today.

OK I have given you a mental visual that I hope aligns with what we actually SAW and now lets look at some cool photos we did capture!

Xiangllao Temple Front GateThis is the front gate view of Xiangllao Temple inside Shaxi.

Xiangllao Temple Guardian 1Xiangllao Temple Guardian  2Close up of the two Guardians!

Shaxi StreetWindowWhat the side streets just off the main square of Shaxi Village look like.

People are living here in a very simple and relaxed manner with some beautiful homes.




Shibao Shan Grottos! 

Day 4 Sideng


Shibao Shan Grotto We made it 

Shibao Shan Grottos

Shibao Shan along the wayInside Shibao Shan

Not easily accessed took us about 2 hours to climb up this mountain, but once there you not only have  amazing views, but inside you are in the presence of Buddha carvings that are several thousand years old. Of course taking photos inside is very limited and challenging, but I think you can get a sense just how amazing this entire Shibao Mountain Grotto area was.

next stop. . .  Lijiang and thankfully into an beautifully restored hotel located right in the UNESCO world heritage site complete with cobble stone alleys, canals, tiny bridges and picturesque  red lanterns in this exceptional ancient town which is home to the Naxi people who have lived in isolation under a matriarchal relationship for thousands of years.  Very interesting!

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  1. I remember many trips through small villages in Yunnan where I saw incredible old farm houses that I was not able to photograph… going too fast on a narrow winding road. But fabulous experience. I so many wonderful walks up muddy mountain trails to remote temples, and breathtaking views. A great place to go.
    Please drink a tea or three for me.
    Much love to you both, Anne

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