'Plant Hunting' Expedition: Western China


June 12 to June 29, 2017 | USD 4450 PP

This pioneering expedition will attempt to make the first commercial crossing of the northern Gaoligong mountains that divide the upper Nujiang and Dulong Valleys, and straddle the borders of Tibet, Burma and Yunnan. Covered in large swaths of rhododendron and old-growth forest, the jagged peaks and lush glacial valleys are a treasure trove of biodiversity and the epicenter of plant endemism in the region. It is estimated that this unique microclimate is home to over 300 plant species found nowhere else on earth.

The pristine wilderness holds out the enticing prospect of discovering new or hybrid plant varieties; and so, to add botanical gravitas, we have invited Simon Crutchley, Senior Horticulturalist at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh (who oversees the garden's Chinese and Himalayan collection) to join the trip and help us with our sole botanical objective: to correctly identify and record the marvelous plants and their wild habitats. No wild seed will officially be collected in accordance with the Nagoya protocol.

Please also note that the terrain is challenging and very difficult in parts. En route, particularly before we break out at higher altitudes into sub-alpine forests and meadows, we will follow seldom-used Lisu hunting tracks through thick forest covered in greybeard lichen. We will also need to scramble over the sprawling root systems of giant evergreens, wade through small rivers and cross a number of slippery log bridges. To be clear, this is an intrepid expedition into 'undiscovered' and remote territory and is not a trek for armchair enthusiasts. You need to be physically and emotionally prepared for a formidable adventure in the spirit of George Forrest and Frank Kingdon Ward.


Trip Highlights

  1. Trek into the most spectacular botanical biosphere in Asia and be part of the first expeditionary team to traverse the upper Nujiang and Dulong River Valleys.
  2. Explore pristine mountain wilderness, promordial rhododendron forests and lush 'Alpine' valleys; all with the real prospect of identifying and recording new varieties of flower.
  3. Participate in a real fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure, conceived and planned in the audacious spirit of the intrepid plant-hunters of old.
Drung lady with full facial tattoo, Yunnan, China
The trip is not entirely floral-focused. The Dulong Valley is also home to the Drung tribe­, some of whose elder women still have full facial tattoos.­

Trip Summary

Below is a brief daily summary. If you are interested in more detailed information about the route please email us privately.

Dates Route Description Additional Information
Day 1: June 12, 2017
Fly to Baoshan via Kunming. We will meet you at the airport and transport you to your hotel in town.
  Welcome drinks & dinner.
Day 2: June 13, 2017
Scenic drive up the Nujiang Valley. Visit local market in Liuku and overnight in Fugong.
  5-6 hour drive. Overnight in hotel.
Day 3: June 14, 2017
A lovely drive, first passing 'Moon' Rock, and then traveling along the upper Nujiang Valley to Bingzhongluo.
  5-6 hour drive. Overnight in lodge.
Day 4: June 15, 2017
Spare day in Bingzhongluo, to explore the upper Nujiang and make final expedition preparations. Overnight in lodge.
Day 5: June 16, 2017
Trek up through a beautiful forested valley to 'Da Chan Da' meadow, home to beautiful wildflowers.
7-8 hours trekking. Camp.
Day 6: June 17, 2017
Spend the morning exploring before trekking up to 'Ox meadow'  - again carpeted with wildflowers.
3 hours trekking. Camp.
Day 7: June 18, 2017
Climb over the 3900m 'De Lui Za' Pass before trekking up to a stunning lake through riotous rhododendrons.
8 hours trekking. Camp.
Day 8: June 19 2017
Spend the day exploring the area around the lake, carpeted with  rhododendron & wildflowers.
The rhododendron coverage here is extensive and varied. Camp.
Days 9 -14: June 20 - 25, 2017
Spend the next 6 days trekking to the Dulong Valley with plenty of time for further botanical exploration.
  Tough uncharted trekking and botanical exploration. Camping.
Day 15: June 26, 2017
Beautiful drive to Gongshan heading south through the Dulong Valley and then over the Gaoligong range.
  Spectacular 5-6 hour drive to Gongshan. Overnight in lodge.
Day 16: June 27, 2017
Drive back to Fugong heading south down the Nujiang Valley.
Overnight in hotel.
Day 17: June 28, 2017
Drive back to Baoshan. Enjoy a final dinner together.
Overnight in hotel.
Day 18: June 29. 2017
Arrange transfers to the airport. Fly out.
 See you next time.

Nujiang Valley Trekking | Whistling arrow

Our trailhead in the upper reaches of the Nujiang River Valley approximately ten kilometres from the Yunnan/Tibet border.­

Trip Location

Yunnan Plant Hunting Trek | Map
The tree icon denotes the location of the botanical expedition: in the wild northern Gaoligong Mountains along the border of Tibet, Yunnan and Burma.­

Practical Information

  1. Altitude: the maximum altitude is likely to be approximately 4000m when crossing two high mountain passes en route.
  2. Temperatures: typically range from 10 to 25 degrees Celsius during the day and can fall to just above freezing at night. 
  3. Duration: the trip is 18 days in total with approximately 10/11 days of actual trekking and exploration.
  4. Difficulty: the trip will be very challenging and exploratory. So you need to be physically fit, flexible and mentally strong.
  5. Support: medium-level support so a little tent-work may be required. All luggage and equipment will be carried by Lisu porters.
  6. Food: mainly Chinese/Asian cooked by our expedition cook although we do try to include some pasta, cheese, yogurt etc.
  7. Vegetarians: we can accomodate vegetarians no problem and have done so many times before.
  8. Accomodation: is in local hotels and lodges, rustic farmhouses and camping in tents.
  9. Wash: we will wash in the crystal-clear rivers and streams when the sun is out.
  10. Toilet: we can either nip behind a bush or use the toilet tent.
  11. Communication: for most of the trek there is no phone signal but we carry a two-way satellite email and texting device.
  12. First Aid: we carry a comprehensive medical kit including Diamox and Dexamethazone for the treatment of altitude sickness.
  13. Equipment: we will provide all camping equipment. Please refer to our typical kit list for a guide to suitable trekking gear.
  14. Insurance: all guests must have a travel insurance policy that includes emergency medical evacuation.
  15. Flights: the trip begins and ends in Baoshan (IATA: BSD). All guests must arrive in Baoshan by the evening of June 12, 2017.
Price USD 4450 PP
All inclusive, except local tips and flights. To confirm a booking we will require a 30% deposit with the final balance payable 30 days before the departure date. 
Availability: FULL.
We currently have NO places remaining.  Group size for this adventure will be limited to 6 guests.
Payment & Preparations
We will provide all the information you need to book and prepare for the trip including payment instructions, advice on flights, what to bring and safety considerations e.g. acclimatization.

Check out a video slide-show of our previous - and slightly shorter - botanical expedition in the region, in May/June 2015


Plant-hunting expedition into the wild borderlands of China

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A Word From A Fellow Enthusiast

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Gordon Bailey is a previous New Zealand Rhododendron Association President and the Chairman of the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust and collaborated with us on a pioneering plant-hunting expedition in northern Yunnan in 2015.

I joined Whistling Arrow's Rhododendron Explorer trek in May / June 2015 and found it be be extremely well organised and managed. We discovered very remote parts probably not explored since the great plant explorers were in this area in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

The pristine plants were just fantastic! Whistling Arrow prepared an exceptionally well laid plan for this adventure with everything you could think of - good tents, good food, good people and good times.

 Enquire & Register

'Plant Hunting' Expedition | Western China