After I finishing my 12 month contract in Shanghai I had a week remaining before I needed to board my flight back to the UK. I had been scanning the map of China looking where most appealed to me and found myself repeatedly drawn to Yunnan province, I didn’t fight the urge for long and booked a flight to Kunming and a return flight from the mountain town of Lijiang.
Yunnan is China’s most southern province – it borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. As you can imagine the landscape is more akin to what you would see in SE Asia because essentially it is a part of SE Asia. After a few days in Kunming I took a quick flight to the mountain city of Lijiang which I won’t talk about just yet, I will cover Lijiang in my next post.
Legend has it that a tiger jumped over the narrowest part of the gorge to escape from a hunter, however, even the narrowest section of the gorge is still 25 metres from one side to the other. From Lijiang you can take a bus which takes around 3 hours, it will take you to the start of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail. If I remember correctly the whole length of the high road trail is around 40 kilometres; given that the Tiger Leaping Gorge high road is in excess of 3,000 metres in altitude, steep and rocky in parts and depending on the weather conditions can be fairly hazardous I’d recommended that you take your time to complete the trail. The trek itself isn’t particularly strenuous and can be completed by anyone with an average level of fitness, however, there are sections which in bad weather can send you plummeting several hundred metres off a cliff edge, so exercise caution at all times and especially if you’re on the trail during periods of heavy rain or wind.
There are two towns connected by the trail, at one end you have Tiger Leaping Gorge Town and at the other you have Qiaotou, you can start the trail from either of these towns but I started from Tiger Leaping Gorge Town. On the bus I met a couple of other travellers, both Australian and travelling on their own, we decided it would be more fun to hike the trail together.
The first section of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail took us around 3 hours with a few occasional breaks, this is the steepest part of the trail so if you do the trail the other way around this will be the easiest part and you can expect to complete it in under 2 hours. Along this section you will find local Naxi people selling fruit, chocolate, drinks…and cannabis.
Cannabis grows wild in this area, it’s all over the place, I had never seen anything quite like it before – vast fields of female plants stretching as far as the eye could see in some cases, like it was the most normal thing in the world.
After completing the first section of the trail you will find a number of halfway houses congregated in an area of about 300 metres. While it’s possible to complete the trail in a day, I would advise you to stop off for one night in a halfway house, drink a beer, eat some food and relax, grab some of the local flora and apply heat if you’re that way inclined. You can probably complete the whole trail non-stop in about 5-6 hours if you fancy a challenge but I think the best thing to do it enjoy it, take in the amazing views and wildlife, after all this is one of China’s best hikes, it’s also probably one of the world’s best hikes.
After a night in the halfway house the second leg of the trek isn’t so difficult, it is mostly flat with some short inclines eventually turning into a gradual descent leading you towards the mountain town of Qiaotou. After arriving in Qiaotou you can board one of the busses which leave for Lijiang every few hours, this journey is a little longer and will take maybe 4 hours to get back to Lijiang.
I can’t recommend this trek enough, it is two days that you will never forget, it is one of the few hikes I have completed that has been almost devoid of other travellers, it’s super peaceful and the views are incredible. Don’t go to Lijiang without heading to the Tiger Leaping Gorge!
Hope I’ve inspired someone out there to make this trip, it is one of my most memorable travel experiences.