TLG At A Glance
- Ask your hostel to book a mini bus to TLG 7.30am start, 40 yuan pp, 2/3hours
- Entrance fee to TLG is 65 yuan pp
- Most complete the hike over two days staying at either Tea Horse or Half Way House, dorms cost roughly 40 yuan pp
- To leave the gorge most book a mini bus from Tina’s guesthouse to Shangri-La or Lijiang, bus service costs 50 yuan pp
- Be warned locals will charge you to access to the lower pass 15 yuan pp, bridge to rock 10 yuan pp (optional but fun), ladder up to Tina’s 15 yuan pp.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
This gorge is the deepest in the world, sitting behind the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains on one side and another mountainous range the other. Ferocious waters run down the middle of the gorge. Strangely, when looking at other blogs for tips and photos we didn't find many beautiful photos of the gorge. But trust us, the gorge is incredibly beautiful and one of the highlights of our entire China trip (8 weeks here in total). We started at Qiaotou, the left side of the gorge, on a two day trek to Tina's Guesthouse where most mini buses leave from for Lijiang or Shangri-la. For the more adventurous, or time rich, you could continue following the gorge down to the Walnut Grove, Daju or Baishuitai. There is less strenuous route by waters edge, which can be walked in two hours, but we fear you'd really miss the TLG experience taking this route.
Second Time Lucky
The 19th of November 2017 was a very special day for us. When we visited in 2011, climbing the Tiger was at the top of the list. But our trip was cut short by dangerous mudslides and severe weather warnings. The folk from our hostel told us not to walk it, we took their advice cursing that we’d visited during monsoon season! This time, we reached the Yunnan province in early November giving us the perfect weather, 20 degrees and sun by day but with shorter, chillier, evenings. It was also out of season meaning we were finally evading China’s big group flag tours, which had frustrated us on so many of our previous National Park escapades.
Good Start On A Special Day
We’d stayed in the Garden Inn, in Lijiang, the night prior and our host had organised a mini bus pickup outside the hostel at 7.30am. The nicest part was that that grandma from the hostel walked us down to the bus to make sure we boarded the correct one, thanks grandma! The cost of the mini bus was 40 yuan (£4.50) and takes around around 2/3 hours dependant on traffic. It’s worth noting that you’ll be staying overnight at TLG, so pack a day bag and leave any larger luggage at your hostel or inn. We whizzed around Lijiang picking up other tourists and the people on the bus became our little family for the next few days. The bus had a solid mix of French, Swedish, Dutch, Korean and Germany folk. They were privileged, we thought 😉, as they got to spend the day with us on our one year anniversary!
Change Is In The Air
A fellow traveller we had met in the Garden inn told us that the Chinese Government was planning to develop TLG into a fully fledged national park with motorways, walkways, steps, shops, restaurants; the full commercial works. So, we are really glad that we got visit the authentic hikers trail before the mud, shrubs and rocks make way for concrete paths and steps. Sure enough, as we drove up to TLG huge motorways were in construction, part of it on the gorge itself, power lines run across the gorge and a new lower pass is being built. If you want to see TLG before it becomes another Disneyland then you better get there within a year or so (written Dec 2017).
Tickets were purchased for 80 yuan pp (£9) from a pretty random office about half KM from the entrance. Honestly, no one ever checks if you have a ticket so you could easily just walk the first day of route without one. Be warned though, the locals will charge you separately for the middle and lower routes on the second day! Our mini van chucked us out on a dusty track and we started the walk towards the TLG upper pass. We were lucky, this day had gifted us with blue skies, warm sun and good company. Luckily we had a native speaker in Dan who asked for directions a few times, without him it may have been a bit confusing. The upper pass is the one you will take from the very start, both medium and low passes can only be found after a days walk on the upper pass. Just head up the dirt track roads, eventually you’ll see a sign for TLG. That’s it, you don’t need to think any more it’s just one path the whole way, one of the best trekking paths you’ll ever walk!
The 28 Bends
In Lijiang’s hostels, pre Tiger hike, you will hear much about the infamous 28 bends which marks the end of TLGs long upwards climb. In all honesty, for any walker with a few big climbs under their belt it’s not so challenging. The biggest hurdle was the heat! We made sure we stopped to refuel on water, sun cream and to tighten those caps firmly to our heads. Those without caps used T shirts, travellers are so thrifty. The 28 bends passed quite easily as we were deep in chat and in awe of the growing view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain on the opposite side of the gorge. Every step of this walk supplies views which can only be describe as remarkable. It was a welcome change as many of the other hikes in China only provide views at the end of the trek.
A Naxi Lunch
There are many place to stop for food, or a nights sleep if you wish to extend your trek over 3 days. We opted for lunch at the Naxi Inn, which is the first stop. The upside of this is that you get to eat early, stomachs filled for the coming expedition. The downside, as we found out, is that hammering down a dish of pork and chillis and a huge bowl of egg fried rice before 4 hours of trekking can make a walker sleepy. After food we were transfixed by the Inn’s homegrown pumpkins and huge corn stocks for winter. After a few photos in the Naxi Inn, poses with pumpkins and Ali bathing in corn we soon set off for the lions share of the hike.
Tea Horse or Half Way House?
It’s normal for walkers to complete the trek over two days and you’ll need to decide how far you're going to walk in a day. We initially set out to stay at Tea Horse which has excellent reviews online. But as we approached the Inn we wanted to go further and in hindsight we are glad we did. The sun had started it’s decent creating quite stark lines of shadows on the granite peaks of the gorge. It was a truly beautiful trek made all the better by raw landscapes and the interesting lighting, we have to recommend taking the longer route to Half Way House. If we had stayed at T-Horse we would have left in the morning, which is a disadvantage as the sun takes many hours to reach into the gorge, on account of high the peaks, so you’ll be walking in the shade! We arrived at Half Way Guesthouse about 30 mins before sundown, grabbed a beer and celebrated the days walk. The hostel is really interesting to look at, traditional wooden architecture with a courtyard and viewing balcony. Beds in dorms were cheap at only 40 yuan (£4.50) pp. Monty Python / Travel fans will be pleased to discover it is the guesthouse Micheal Palin stayed at for his ‘Himalayas’ episode.
The Downward Pass
We awoke early and ordered ourselves an array of pancakes before setting off at 9am for the last stretch of the upper pass. The path was pretty wild and we enjoyed the whole mornings journey with the route to ourselves. All that can be said is that it’s pretty flat but this only allows for more gawping at the landscape and chats about what Marx would think of modern China? No conclusion on that one! After a few hours of mingling between valleys the path starts to descend, then suddenly you will spot Tina’s.
Tina was one of the first people to setup a guesthouse in the gorge and now has a monopoly on the area. The easiest way to get out of TLG, for either Shangri-La or Lijiang, is to book a seat on one of Tina’s minibuses. You can do this from many of the guesthouses on the way or at Tina’s guesthouse proper, the buses can get booked up so book as soon as you get to Tina’s. Once you’ve purchased your bus ticket you are welcome to take a gratuitous lift to the start of the lower and middle passes, about 5 mins drive or 10 minutes walk down the road.
The Bridge And The Ladder
It is said that the locals have built all the infrastructure for these passes and so they will charge you for entering, it costs 15 yuan to get in and 15 yuan to climb out with a further 10 yuan to cross ‘the bridge’. It’s questionable whether they really built these paths but paying them is inevitable. That said it’s definitely worth it as you get to walk at the base of the gorge which provides a very different experience to the raw beauty of the higher passes. Nearing the end of the lower pass you’ll get the chance to cross an Indiana Jones style rickety bridge, we recommend you do! For the climbers, you may also wish to take the 40 metre metal ladder up on the way back to Tina’s, it certainly got our pulses racing!
Lunch, Sun and Homewards
We finished the walk with a few hours to spare, taking a slow wander back to Tina's, dining on some spicy noodles and letting the afternoon pass in a sun drenched coma in the courtyard. Later the bus would take us back to Lijiang, where we had dinner together; feasting on deep fried scorpions, bugs and grasshoppers as I recall. Not forgetting to reminisce how Tiger Leaping Gorge had brought us together, tested us for two days. What an experience!
Watch the Studio Mali travel video from our trekking adventure on the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China.
Why Not Pin It?
If you like what you've read, or seen, why not pin it for later?