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Yunnan: In the footsteps of the Plant Hunters

13 Nightsfrom £4995.00 pp

In the land of the jade dragons, leaping tigers and Shangri-la, there are some amazing plants just waiting to be found.

Tour Overview

In 1904, a 31 year-old herbarium assistant called George Forrest set off from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh for a great adventure to the other side of the world – the remote, mountainous region of Yunnan in south-west China.

Now, over a hundred years later, travel to China is not as daunting as it was in Forrest’s day, and we are delighted to announce the opportunity to travel to Yunnan in the expert company of botanist and horticulturalist Duncan Coombs, who has undertaken several plant hunting trips in the hope of finding a plant new to science.

Yunnan encompasses a vast range of climatic and temperate zones from the high mountains of the Himalayas to the lush valleys bordering Laos and Burma. Many of the plants we enjoy today in our gardens originate in this region and to see them growing in the wild is a privilege.

We begin our holiday in Kunming where the RHS have a great relationship with the Botanical Gardens ensuring a special tour. While here, we will also visit the Stone Forest and see some ancient temple gardens. We will fly south to Xishuangbanna, a tropical environment where wild elephants live. Travelling north via Lijiang, where we will visit the Alpine Research Centre and the Tiger Leaping Gorge, we will reach the Himalayas at Zhongdian, today known as Shangri-La, and spend some time botanising in the mountains. 

Tour highlights:
  • Explore the fascinating Stone Forest
  • View many rare, exotic and endangered plant species at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
  • Enjoy a full day exploring the Himalayas 
  • Ascend the Shika Snow Mountain
  • Visit a traditional Dai village

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Tour Itinerary Back to top of page

Sunday 8 October 2017
Depart from London on our scheduled overnight flight to Kunming. Regional flight connections, flight upgrades and overnight accommodation before or after the tour available on request – please ask for a quotation.

Monday 9 October 2017
On arrival in Kunming we will be met by our English-speaking Chinese guide and transfer to our hotel in Kunming.  The rest of the day will be free to relax and recover from our long flight.  Dinner will be served in the evening.

Tuesday 10 October 2017
After breakfast, we enjoy a full day visit to Kunming Botanical Garden, where we will be privileged to be welcomed and guided round the gardens by the Director, Professor Sun Weibang. Established in 1938, the garden is affiliated to the Kunming Institute of Botany under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The Garden features many rare and endangered plants. Here we will see Metasequoia glyptostroboides (the Dawn Redwood), first seen in China in 1941 and introduced in to the West as recently as 1948 and Ginkgo biloba (the Maidenhair Tree), both in glorious autumn leaf colour. Cultivars of the autumn flowering Camellia sasanqua will be in flower, plus hopefully some precocious cultivars of the beautiful Camellia reticulata. In addition we will enjoy privileged access to the Camellia Greenhouse where rare yellow flowered species of Camellia are cultivated. Lunch is included here and dinner is served back at the hotel in the evening.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Following breakfast, we have a full day visit to an area called The Stone Forest at Shilin to the east of Kunming. This amazing geological site is comprised of limestone formations which appear like petrified trees, and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. An old local saying advises that “If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time”. The magnificent landscape is comprised of a bounty of labyrinthine vistas - some elegant, some rugged - including the Major Stone Forest, Minor Stone Forest and Naigu Stone Forest.

After returning to the city, we visit the Golden Temple Park, built in 1602 during the Ming dynasty. The hillside surrounding the Golden Temple is filled with pine trees, evergreens, hardy cypresses, and a multitude of beautiful flowering plants. The nickname “Fairyland of Mingfeng” attributed to its breath-taking natural beauty dates as far back as the Qing Dynasty. Lunch and dinner are included today.
Thursday 12 October 2017
We fly to Xishuangbanna (Jinghong) this morning, a beautiful place, famous for its tropical rain forest and the colourful customs of the local Dai People. On arrival, we will have lunch in a local restaurant and then briefly visit the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens. Over 13,000 species of tropical plants are preserved in its 35 living collections. Here thousands of tropical water lilies will look stunning, flowering across the surface of the beautifully landscaped lakes.  Dinner will be served in our hotel which is within the botanical gardens.

Friday 13 October 2017
After enjoying your breakfast we will tour the Botanical Garden, which is home to an abundant diversity of flora. We will discover many rare, exotic and endangered plant species. As this is a tropical garden many plants will be in flower. These will include Ceiba speciosa, Abutilon speciosa, Musa coccinea and Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. In addition we will marvel at colossal clumps of bamboo and a wonderful collection of most graceful palms. For those of you who seek extreme rarity the gardens also boast a collection of Cycads, many of which are sadly endangered in the wild, but dinosaurs would have recognised as their food! Lunch and dinner are included today

Saturday 14 October 2017
Following breakfast this morning we travel to the Wild Elephant Valley and the Mengyang Nature Reserve, which is home to wild Chinese Asiatic Elephants. Walking out onto an elevated walkway, we enjoy a spectacular view of the tropical jungle at tree canopy height and we might be lucky enough to spot an elephant! Returning from the reserve, we will enjoy a number of stops to view banana, pineapple and rubber crops. Lunch and dinner are included today.

Sunday 15 October 2017
After breakfast, we begin the day by visiting a local Dai village. The Dai villages show the unique culture, art and colourful customs. The original wooden houses were constructed in a distinct style, the open ground storey being for animals and storage and the next storey with living accommodation. The very friendly Dai have a unique culture, art and colourful customs. After our visit, we take a short walk through the Limestone Mountain Primary Rain Forest to see nature in the raw with vast trees soaring into the sky above diverse and dense undergrowth. Lunch and dinner are included today.
Monday 16 October 2017
This morning, after breakfast, we transfer to the airport and fly to Lijiang. On arrival in the afternoon, we visit one of the highest botanical garden in the world, the Alpine Research Centre. Over 620 species of wild alpine plants are conserved both on and off-site. There are many enchanting sites, including the garden of moccasin flower, garden of ornamental plants, and the garden of rock plant. The well preserved the ruins of Xijiabengding Temple and the passage of the Ancient Tea-Horse Trail can also be found here. Then, there are the un-matched views. Ascending to the top of the garden, you can look out onto Napa Lake, and beautiful nearby Tibetan villages. The garden also serves as a base for bio-diversity protection of Yunnan Province.

Enjoy some free time to wander through Lijiang’s Old Town this afternoon. The wonderful architecture here is noteworthy for the fusion of elements from several cultures that have come together over many centuries.  Lunch and dinner are included today.

Tuesday 17 October 2017
Enjoy your breakfast. Today we will take the chair lift up to the Yushan Meadow, botanising on the way up and view the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a famous mountain with thirteen peaks, said to resemble a jade-green dragon lying in the clouds. Here we will enjoy the outdoor singing and dancing show ‘Lijiang Impression’, celebrating the traditions and culture of the ethnic people of the region. It was directed by the famous director Zhang Yi Mou who was also the director of the opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Later we visit the village of Yuhu and the residence where the Austrian/American explorer and botanist, Joseph Rock, lived for approximately 25 years from 1922. In the house there are various articles and memorabilia plus many old photographs. We will also visit probably the most iconic tourist destination in the Lijiang area – The Black Dragon Pool Park - a famous pond in the scenic Jade Spring Park with stunning views to the high mountains. Lunch and dinner are included today.

Wednesday 18 October 2017
Following breakfast this morning we spend a full day botanising in the mysterious Ganghoba Valley where there is a wealth of majestic mountain scenery and diverse flora to enjoy. During our day we can expect to see cypripediums, rhododendrons, arisaemas and more. Lunch and dinner are included today.

Thursday 19 October 2017
This morning after breakfast, we travel by air-conditioned coach from Lijiang to Zhongdian, also known as Shangri-La. En route we will visit the spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge – reputed to be the deepest gorge in the world with an appropriate Tiger Leaping Legend.  Lunch is included in a local restaurant.

There will be more opportunity to botanise on the way north to Zhongdian, closer to the border between China and Tibet, where we will notice quite a cultural change. As we travel across the vast Zhongdian plateau we will see vivid autumn leaf colour.  Zhongdian was renamed Shangri-La in 2001 after the fictional land of Shangri-La in the 1933 James Hilton novel, Lost Horizon, in an effort to promote tourism in the area. Dinner is served in the evening.
Friday 20 October 2017
After breakfast, we travel by jeep via the Lang du Pass (Hongshan) into the vast mountain range of the Himalayas, to see autumn flowering gentians, including Gentiana sino-ornata, in their natural habitat. Himalayan vegetation can be broadly classified in four ways, as: tropical, subtropical, temperate, or alpine. Tropical evergreen rainforest is confined to the humid foothills of the eastern and central Himalayas. Across the extensive mountain range juniper, rhododendron, mosses, lichens and much more are widely prevalent. Lunch and dinner are included today.

Saturday 21 October 2017
Following breakfast we visit the world famous Songzanlin Monastery and from its top will experience an awe inspiring view. The rest of the day will be spent botanising on Shika Snow Mountain. Ascending by cable car, we enjoy the beautiful mountain from high above. Half way up the mountain, we see the expansive Yala Green Wave Ranch, embellished with wild flowers of various colours. From the mountain’s peak, we can see the eight holy mountains nearby, including the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The road down the hill is lined by beautiful wild flowers. As we walk down, we will catch a glimpse of the mysterious Spiritual Rhino Lake, hidden in a virgin forest. The tranquil emerald lake is surrounded by exuberant trees and azalea flowers. Lunch and dinner are included today.
Sunday 22 October 2017
This morning after breakfast, we transfer to Kunming Airport for our return flight.

What's Included Back to top of page

  • 13 nights’ accommodation on a full board basis: three nights Kunming, four nights Menglun, three nights Lijiang and three nights Zhongdian (Shangri-La)
  • Return flights from London to Kunming (regional flight connections and Business Class up grades available on request) ?
  • Three internal flights: Kunming to Jinghong; Jinghing to Lijiang; Zhongdian to Kunming?
  • Air-conditioned coach throughout
  • All entrance fees as per itinerary
  • Chinese Tourist Visa
  • Full programme of botanising tours and visits including Kunming Botanical Gardens, Wild Elephant Valley, Lijiang Alpine Research Centre and Shika Snow Mountain ?
  • Services of a professional tour manager and Duncan Coombes as RHS host ?

Supplements Per Person Back to top of page

  • Single room supplement     £585.00
  • Insurance            Price on application

Please note all timings are approximate and may be changed. They will be confirmed when the joining instructions are sent out, approximately ten days prior to departure.

Departure Points Back to top of page

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