By Mei Zhang
May 30, 2019
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Mei Zhang is a member of Travel + Leisure’s A-List, a collection of the top travel advisors in the world, and can help plan your perfect getaway. Below is an example of the type of itineraries she creates. To work with Mei and the team at WildChina, you can start planning your trip here or contact Mei directly at mei.zhang@wildchina.com.

Growing up in Dali, the sweet, nutty aroma of sizzling ham always signaled a good meal for WildChina founder Mei Zhang. Embark on the trip behind her book Travels Through Dali with a Leg of Ham, and travel to her hometown in search of her favorite childhood meals. Wander through forgotten villages, step into the kitchens of Dali's culinary artists, watch traditions thrive as they have done for generations, and savor the taste of that famous salt-cured ham.

Day 1: Arrive in Dali and drive to Yunlong

Arrive into Dali's airport and meet your WildChina guide and driver in the arrival hall. Veer far off the highway and follow a narrow river to Yunlong, a village known by locals to have perfected the art of ham curing. Spend the evening in Mr. Zhang Jiahong's guesthouse and discover he is the perfect fixer for your ham and salt quest.

Stay: Mr. Zhang’s Guesthouse, Yunlong

Day 2: Yunlong

Drive through the countryside to Master’s Well Village. Visit the home of Mr. Yang Zhiguang, a local salt maker. Shelter under a makeshift cover and watch how salt is extracted from a well and crystallized, using a traditional process unchanged for centuries. Relax on Mr. Yang’s porch and watch he and his wife process the salt further and prepare it for market. Taste the final product, a salt with a sweet aftertaste referred to as tu yan (土盐). Visit the farm of Mr. Yang Xuegong and see ham in its different stages of curing. Visit the local market and whet your appetite for dinner. Admire the skills displayed by Famer Yang’s son as he scorches, cleans, and cuts the ham, preparing it for dinner.

Stay: Mr. Zhang’s Guesthouse, Yunlong

Day 3: Yunlong to Shaxi

Pack your bags and get ready to drive to Shaxi old town. Pass the turnoff for Master’s Well Village and continue further north to Shundang Village, another of the eight famed salt villages. Admire the Qing-era fortifications that protect the path leading into the village and marvel at how different Shundang is from Master’s Well. Now home to very few, wander past traditional tomb stones and through the abandoned old village. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Leave behind the covered bridges and Yang’s family of Yunlong and continue on to Shaxi, once a bustling trade town on the tea and horse caravan road. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant in Shaxi.

Stay: Sunyata, Shaxi

Day 4: Shaxi

Step into the home of Mrs. Shi Fumei, a local cheese maker, and discover how Dali boasts its own unique cheese culture, a remnant of earlier Mongolian influence. Here we get an up close look as Mrs. Shi steams milk on a wood-fired stove before separating the curds from the whey. Wait for your delicious cheese snack to cool and chat with Mrs. Shi as she stitches cloth shoes. After lunch, pray for fertility in the Shibaoshan Grottoes, where Jianchuan’s earliest craftsman carved, in sandstone, the popular sculpture Ah-Yang-Bai. Visit Stone Dragon Village where ‘Those who can walk, dance; and those who can talk, sing.' Meet the region’s Folk Music King and watch a captivating musical performance full of longing and lust, wantonness and excitement.

Stay: Sunyata, Shaxi

Day 5: Shaxi to Dali

Drive from Shaxi towards Dali old town, stopping on the way for a traditional three cup ceremony. Visit the old town of Xizhou and learn the local traditional Bai architecture. If time permits, try and taste the local snack called Xizhou baba, a local traditional pancake. If interested, get hands on and make your own Xizhou baba from the locals. Smoky, bitter fragrances, walnut-infused sweetness, and honey mixed with Sichuan peppers come together to give you an unforgettable traditional Bai Tea Ceremony experience.

Stay: Sunyata, Dali

Day 6: Dali

Drive to Weishan, home to mainly Yi and Hui ethnic groups. Visit this old town along the ancient tea and horse caravan trail. Meet Madame Chen, the 79 year who reigns over the most famous pickle "empire" in Weishan. Head into Chen’s central courtyard and watch her staff prepare vegetables for pickling. Look above the workers’ heads at the rows and rows of meter-high jars, filled to the brim with vegetables in pickling liquor. Explore the East Lotus Muslim Village before we drive back to Dali in the afternoon.

Stay: Sunyata, Dali

Day 7: Dali

Rise early this morning and we will drive to Erhai Lake for the sunrise (weather permitting). Pass by a local morning market and try some local snacks, like sticky rice pancake. Drive to the Cangshan Mountain for the Wuwei Temple and the ancient tree of one thousand years. Enjoy a vegetarian lunch at the Gantong Temple. Take a leisurely hike past cool mountain streams and local temples for an eye-opening view of Dali. Return to the hotel and after some rest, enjoy regional cuisine at a local restaurant.

Stay: Sunyata, Dali

Day 8: Dali to Lijiang

Pack your bags and travel to Lijiang. Set out for a short hike up to Puji Temple for an open view of the surrounding countryside, then take part in a morning prayer ceremony. With stone streets and babbling brooks lined by the rustic architecture of traditional homes, Shuhe Ancient Town is Lijiang in miniature, and as one of the oldest settlements in the area is well worth a short visit for another snapshot of traditional Naxi life. We'll stroll past waterfront cafes and engagement photoshoots as we sneak away into the town's tranquil side streets. Spend the remainder of the evening at your leisure.

Stay: The Bivou, Lijiang

Day 9: Lijiang

Stroll through what was once a bustling market town along the ancient tea and horse caravan road and barter with locals at Shigu's fresh produce market (keep an eye out for local delicacies such as wild honey and rainbow trout). Head over to the Dongba Culture Museum for a closer look at local minority culture and history. Travel to Yuhu village, located in the Lijiang basin, and visit the former residence of Austrian-American botanist Joseph Rock and hike around the surrounding countryside.

Stay: The Bivou, Lijiang

Day 10: Lijiang

Set out for Zhongyi Market, a lively mishmash of local farmers and merchants swapping wares and stories. Explore the charming courtyard homes and wood and brick architecture of Baisha Village. Set out across Wenhai Valley to a remote village where the 'Bimo', or village shaman, will share his perspective on local life and his ancient faith.

Stay: The Bivou, Lijiang

Day 11: Depart Lijiang

Enjoy the morning at your own leisure before being transferred to the airport. Check in for your flight and get ready for your next adventure.

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