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The Spicy Southwest
Ready to embark on a culinary adventure? Once you arrive in Kunming you'll be taken to your hotel, the Jinjiang Hotel, to relax after your flight. That evening head to a hidden restaurant found in an authentic Qing era building. It serves traditional Kunming dishes like steamed chicken and barbecued meats. Grab a table in the courtyard lit with red paper lanterns and tuck into some delicious Kunming flavors. What a way to start your trip!
Next, you'll fly south to Xishuangbanna, found on the border with Laos and Myanmar. During your stay in Jingmai home is within the world's oldest tea cultivating region that boasts 2,700-year-old trees. You'll stay at the Jingmai Kajia Guest House, and after a restful night, the next day will be spent on a full-day excursion to see the Pu'er tea plantations and tour their grounds. Visit the oldest tea garden in the world before heading on to a Balang ethnicity village to see their traditional attire and sample the food of the region.
In the morning visit a tea processing workshop and pack your very own ‘cake’ of Pu'er tea to take home with you – souvenirs don’t get much more authentic. Later in the day, you'll be driven to your next hotel in the tropical rainforest region of Menghai, the Jinlian Hot Spring Resort, where you can relax and unwind in the peaceful surroundings.
Today you're off to the Tropical Botanic Gardens at Menglun, where you'll have time to explore some 3,000 plant varieties spread over 900 hectares. Then it's on to a local village where you'll have a chance to sample Dai ethnic sweet and spicy dishes for lunch. Tonight, stay in the New Tai Garden Hotel.
Today it's back to Kunming before heading on to Jianshui, an ancient town packed full of classical architecture and excellent cuisine, where you'll spend two nights at the Lin An Hotel. In particular, Jianshui is known for ‘Qigou’, a herby stew cooked in a traditional stoneware pot. It's also a great spot for a barbecue, including spicy barbecued tofu.
The next morning includes a tour of some of Jianshui's top sites. Visit the enormous Zhu's family garden and the imposing Chaoyang Gate. Later in the day visit Swallow's Cavern where each spring and summer swallows build nests for their young. You'll see the stream in and out of the cave in search of nest-building materials.
The next day it's on to the oldest rice terraces in China. Covering a huge expanse of countryside, the Yuanyang rice terraces are dotted with tiny villages that are home to the Hani ethnic minority. In the afternoon heat take a pleasant and peaceful walk around the rice terraces and catch a sunset from Bada. Your home for tonight is the Huawowo Inn.
Get an early night, as the next morning, you'll be up in time for a blazing sunrise over the rice paddies. Watch as the morning sun washes the landscape, it's quite a sight. After hotel breakfast, it's on to Sheng village for the Hani market day. Watch as the market comes to life and enjoy a chance to see the locals wearing their traditional clothing. From here you'll visit picturesque Pugaolao for another slice of authentic Chinese village life.
Today you'll head to Chengdu. After settling into your hotel, the Buddha Zen, it's time to spend the evening sampling the best Chengdu food in town. Over the evening try Szechuan dumplings, dan dan noodles and a range of delectable sweet desserts.
The next day it's an early rise to head off and see China's cutest ambassadors – the inimitable giant pandas. You'll arrive at the park for 8am to see them feed, as after that they like to nap the day away. In the afternoon attend a cooking class and learn how to cook in a traditional Szechuan style. Head to a local market to stock up on spices before learning how to master a few local dishes. There's also time for Szechuan tea tasting, noting the refined taste compared with the earthy Pu'er tea you tasted earlier on your journey.
Your last full day in Chengdu will be spent on a half day tour at Museum of Sichuan Cuisine, where you will learn how to cook kung pao chicken, make chili bean paste and drink in the tea house. In the evening you'll visit a local restaurant for a delicious hot pot dinner, trying to savour every last flavour before your journey home.