Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Lazy Trekker's Guide to Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is truly one of China's most impressive natural landscapes. With stunning panoramas, snow-capped mountains, quaint villages and hills of green rice paddies dotted along Tiger Leaping Gorge, there's no wonder that so many visitors trek through in order to enjoy the scenic views.

My favorite view of Tiger Leaping Gorge
Many guidebooks and maps recommend completing the trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge in two days. The trail isn't long, only around 22 kilometers (14 miles) and many trekkers do finish within two days, some even in less time!

Matt and I, however, are rather lazy.

Wait, I take that back. Maybe "lazy" isn't the right word to use. Perhaps "unhurried" or "relaxed" is more appropriate. In any case, Matt and I found absolutely no reason to hurry along the trail through the magnificent landscape. We meandered along Tiger Leaping Gorge for four days, literally soaking up the breath-taking scenery around us.

We just couldn't rush past these gorgeous views of Tiger Leaping Gorge
Day 1: Lijiang to Qiaotou

Wanting to put our laziness aside, especially for the first day of the trek, Matt and I planned to wake up early. We set the alarm for 7:30 but I ended up snoozing the alarm (a bad habit, I know) for over an hour and a half! Whoops! There goes our early morning start! Add in the packing I didn't do the night before and a leisurely-paced breakfast, it was 1pm by the time we caught the bus from Lijiang, a beautifully restored "Old Town," two hours to Qiaotou, where most trekkers start their journey into Tiger Leaping Gorge. We arrived to Qiaotou in the late afternoon, too late to start the trek. What's a lazy trekker to do? Enjoy hot tea and a lovely dinner at Jane's Tibetan Guesthouse until the cold drives you indoors. Matt and I went to bed soon after and resolved to start early the next day.

Enjoying our usual slow breakfast
Day 2: Start of Tiger Leaping Gorge

9:30 is still early, isn't it? Take into account another leisurely-paced (and delicious) breakfast at Jane's and it was after 11 by the time Matt and I set out for the trek. It ended up being an even slower start as the beginning of the path wasn't all that clearly marked. Once we found the correct path (how we could have possibly missed it is beyond me), the hike went surprisingly smooth. The trail wasn't too strenuous at this point, though the sun was at its strongest (it was mid-day after all) and the heat will have no mercy on you. We briefly escaped from the scorching sun at the squat toilets along the trail that have, quite possibly, the best views of any squat toilet EVER. I wish I had taken a picture...

Matt and I maintained a leisurely stroll and stopped often to take photographs of the stunning mountains and the jaw-dropping views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain holding court over the Gorge. We stopped at the Naxi Family Guesthouse for a nice lunch with views of the mountainside.

The Naxi Family Guesthouse
While the other trekkers ate a quick lunch and headed straight back to the trail, Matt and I lingered awhile to enjoy our hard-earned rest. We sat and drank an extra cup (okay, maybe it was more like four!) before starting again.

The next part of the trail is rather steep and just the beginning of the most difficult part of the trek, called the 28 Bends. Out of breath and sweat-drenched, we came up on a hill to a house that sells refreshments, proud to have mastered the Bends, even if it was halfway. We were aghast to discover that we hadn't even STARTED the 28 Bends yet! Someone mentioned they are so-called because of the 28 steep switchbacks that lead up the steep mountain though I will tell you it certainly felt like a lot more than 28 and by the end, instead of bending, I was practically falling over.

Gasping for air after the 28 Bends
Once we passed the Bends, it was pretty easy going downhill into Tea Horse Guesthouse, where we rested for the night. The food was quite disappointing at Tea Horse Guesthouse and I wouldn't want to stay there again, though the views of the mountains overlooking Tiger Leaping Gorge were amazing.

Day 3: End of Tiger Leaping Gorge

Waking up at 9 the next morning, Matt and I ate a slow and unremarkable breakfast at Tea Horse Guesthouse and headed off back on the trail with the goal of reaching Tina's Guesthouse and the bus back to Lijiang by that evening. As the hardest part of Tiger Leaping Gorge was left behind at 28 Bends, the day's walking was pretty easy. Thinking we had it made in terms of tough hiking, Matt and I had a two hour lunch at Halfway Guesthouse. I can't really justify the two hour lunch but it's what we did. The scenery was still impressive and the day went quickly by, despite Matt's funny near-death experience.

Unfortunately, we made it to Tina's Guesthouse after the last bus had already left, which at 3pm. Not fussed, we settled into the night after a tasty dinner (beef and potatoes dish was a stand-out) with a warm bed, thanks to the electric blankets that Tina provides all her guests. It was the perfect way to bliss out and rejuvenate my legs after two days of trekking.

Day 4: Middle Gorge and Tiger Leaping Stone

As the bus didn't leave Tina's Guesthouse until 3 in the afternoon, Matt and I decided after breakfast to trek down to Middle Gorge and the Tiger Leaping Stone. Apparently there are two paths to take down to Middle Gorge but Matt and I didn't have the choice since we only found the steeper and more difficult path to take. I'm actually glad we took this route because it was quite exciting and scary at times as the path required some steep descents (and subsequent ascents) on really dangerous looking ladders precariously dangling off the side of the cliff.

Smiling for the camera, but holding on for dear life
Surviving the downward journey to Middle Gorge and Tiger Leaping Stone, Matt and I marveled at the gushing rapids in front of us for some time. Finally, it was nearing the time that our bus was to leave so we headed back up along the trail. Climbing up the ladders was easier than going down, but it was still scary!

Matt gets up close and personal with the rapids

We arrived with time to spare so we relaxed in the warm sunshine. Most of the bus ride back to Lijiang, I slept off the exhaustion from the incredible four days at Tiger Leaping Gorge. 

Taken during one of our many, many breaks along the trail
So what's your verdict? Are Matt and I lazy trekkers for taking twice as long to complete the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek?

© Connie Hum 2011


  1. Not lazy at all. That looks like somewhere I could spend two weeks - not 2 days! Seems such a waste to rush through all that natural beauty! :)

  2. @Julia You said it, Julia! Why anyone would want to rush through is beyond me!

  3. Actually, I hope I learn to slow down like this in my travels! I tend to rush in an effort to "get everything done", and this post makes me realize there's probably a lot I'm missing.

  4. @Miss Britt Everyone has their own travel style, but in my experience, taking it slow really lets you take in so much more. I like traveling slow and I hope you find that you do too!

  5. That was hardly a near death experience, first of all. And secondly, you should have flown over it. You surely would have gotten the same amount of joy in 1/50th the time. Back to doing 8 activities at the same time!!!

  6. @puhhLEIGHze Sometimes, with comments like that one, I wonder if people get your sarcasm. Sometimes I wonder if I do... =)

  7. I think we have some of the same photos! It was such a beautiful place! We did the trek in 2 days and for us, it was about right although I possibly could have stayed the night at Tina's and gone down to see the stone. But, no regrets :-) And no, I don't think you're lazy, we can all learn to relax a little and appreciate the world as it goes by!

  8. @Jason and Tracy TLG is just too scenic to not take photos! I'm sure we have a lot of identical ones too!

  9. nice one... you ultimately finished your task...

    I have never been to this place but your photos are inspiring me to get off the bed and start waking.

  10. @Gareth Hi Gareth! Your comment totally made my day! I'm glad to have inspired you and I hope that you one day get to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge. I think you'll love it there!

  11. Indeed Connie.
    This place is really amazing...

  12. Enjoying the trek at one's own pace is the right thing to do (as you have done).
    -another lazyTrekker


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