This is a trip that Sebastian did with Geographic Expeditions in 2003. In the tour company's catalog it was called "All the Tea in China with Sebastian Beckwith."
Great themes make for great trips. To wit: tea. "It's a simple beverage," says our leader Sebastian Beckwith, "just water and leaves. But it contains worlds." Sebastian, a ranking tea expert and enjoyer, has constructed this trip into the scenically booming center of China's tea world-the provinces of Anhui, Jianxi, Zheijiang, and Yunnan (where tea was discovered almost 5,000 years ago)-with an eye for libation, but even more for discovery. In the simple context of tea, a new and splendid Chinese world is revealed.
Bolstered throughout by masterpieces of the leaf, like Dragon Well, Pu-erh, Mao Feng, and Gun Powder, we range from Shanghai to Putuoshan Island, well described as "the China we all dream about-temples, pagodas, arched bridges, narrow alleys, fishing boats, artisans, and monks."
We visit Hangzhou's Tiger Run Spring and Tea Museum, hiking and picking our own tea, and drive to Yixing, China's pottery capital for the last 500 years (Yixing's pots accompanied the first shipments of tea to Europe in the late 17th century and provided the model for Dutch, German, and English pots when the beverage became the rage). We hike on the hallowed slopes of Huang Shan, the archetype of misty Chinese peaks, visit villages rich with Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture, and drive to Jiang's emerald rice terraces, delving into China's millennial rural life, hiking from village to village on meandering footpaths in Wuyuan, sampling countryside fare and locally grown tea in farmers' houses.
Then on by air to Kunming, the City of Eternal Spring, and Xishuangbanna, the country's southernmost region, a massively lush and tropical land with a rich ethnic mix. In Aini village, where the women sport rows of silver disks from neck to waist over their black dresses and helmets completely covered with silver balls, enlivened here and there by tuffs of colored wool, we'll visit a local plantation and hike up to a 1,700-year-old wild tea tree. In Menghai we'll amble in the morning market and take in the famous Buddhist buildings of the Dai people. We wind down our immersion in the great tea-trading town of Jinghong, and visit a couple of madly colorful Jinuo and Han-Dai villages before, well fortified and refreshed, we fly back to Bangkok and home.
Travel Diary, China 2003