The Banyan Tree Ringha, Shangri-La, China

The Banyan Tree Ringha is nestled in a Tibetan valley (and yes, it was surreal to be "nestled in a Tibetan valley"), surrounded by green mountains, and about an hour from the Songstam Retreat I wrote about.  One of the staff said "This is where all the overworked people from Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong come to relax. The West is simple." And it made sense right there. Like busy New Yorkers escape to Colorado or Arizona, the city dwellers of China escape to Shangri-La and the Banyan Tree Ringha.

I felt the peace that I only feel when surrounded by mountains and not much else (what I always feel at home in Arizona).  Before we entered the hotel, I spotted these two little piglets running around, glued to each other, and running around snorting. 

The hotel is surrounded by working farms, one of which Gerald at A&K had arranged for us to visit. Through the entrance we went, greeted by smiling faces and beautiful red lanterns hanging on the lobby building.  All the buildings were designed to look like Tibetan farmhouses.  To my right was a bubbling river and green hills, with lodges at the water's edge. To the left were more lodges and the spa.


View from the lobby down to the river

Peaceful river & lodges

Loved these pathways

How cool is this bathtub?!

The spa

View of Ringha & the valley

China: Yes, You Should Visit Lijiang in the Yunnan Province

While staying at the Banyan Tree Lijiang, the itinerary continued with a morning performance of "Impressions of Lijiang" with the Jade Dragon Mountain, the highest peak in the region, as its backdrop.  The show was created by Zhang Yimou, famous for his direction of the Opening & Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  I'll admit that I cried at the end and still listen to the music from the CD I made sure to get at the end.


Photos above from the show, Impressions of LijiangAfter lunch at the resort, Gerald led a wonderful five-mile bike ride to the Bai Sha Village to see incredible 16th-century murals and visit Dr. Ho, the miracle medicine man.

On the bike rideDr. Ho is nearly 90 and has healed local people and many Western visitors for decades.  He's like a billy goat, gathering remedies in the mountains.


Dr. Ho's OfficeDr. Ho with meWe ended the day in the the charming Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that preserves what life used to look like in this region, with cobble-stoned streets, canals, bridges and shops. An hour was spent in a special tea shop learning about the importance of tea to the region and China as a whole.

Old Town LijiangLearning about tea in Old Town LijiangDinner was with Namu--an extremely famous figure in China, known as the "Cher" of China.  She was kicked off the country's version of American Idol for her remarks that didn't sit well. She now runs a restaurant and bar called Namu, where fans come to meet her in person.  Her life story is pretty incredible and I plan on delving deeper into it in future pieces.

I've, unfortunately, been to many countries where there are way too many stray dogs (Romania, Russia, etc.).  There were many in the Yunnan region but they seemed well taken care of.  In Tibet and Tibetan China, where we would go after Lijiang, they honor dogs as reincarnated lamas.  In certain areas of China, they do eat "fragrant meat" or dog meat, which is really hard for me to hear.  But the dogs I did see were some of the absolute cutest ones I've ever seen. Like this one! 

In Lijiang, we also saw one of the very few statues of Chairman Mao remaining in the country. I believe there are only 4 or 5 remaining.


China: The Banyan Tree Lijiang

Has anyone even heard of Lijiang? I hadn't, but it has nearly 1.3 million people living in this Chinese city in the west.  When we flew from Shanghai to Lijiang, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Usually, I have some sort of frame of reference for where I'm going. Not with the Yunnan province.   This was the view as we flew down into the valley of the mountains. Sold already right? How absolutely gorgeous.

I was now 8,000 feet above sea level and feeling the change in elevation, gulping down bottles of water to avoid any type of altitude sickness, because the next few days would bring even higher elevations.

Gerald Hatherly, my trusted and beloved Abercrombie & Kent guide, had planned a special itinerary in Lijiang. Most people here are Naxi, a minority group in China but one that is large and believed to have come from Tibet hundreds of years ago.

Exterior of VillaThe Banyan Tree Lijiang blends effortlessly into the landscape of the rural areas of Lijiang and was my home for two nights.  There so many uniquely Chinese design elements from the walkways and villas to the restaurant and spa.  I live for moments on the road that take your breath away.  Seeing this stunning pagoda on the property with a backdrop of green and snow-capped mountains was one of them.  I was someplace so foreign, so unexpected, so beautiful, and so completely unknown to every single friend and family member I have.  I felt enormous responsiblity to bring back these images and adequately explain what I had seen. This is my favorite photo of the entire trip.

My garden villa had three separate areas, the bathroom, bedroom, and office/mini-bar area. 

The bed will remain one of my favorites I've ever slept in, because it had a personal sheet warmer, where I could dial up the heat during the cold night.

In the morning, I walked outside and saw this view.

I loved the stone walkways throughout the resort.

The spa had that same soothing Chinese design, with red, black and gold elements.