Three Parallel Rivers Caravan Expedition

17 Days


Watch videos of previous Three Rivers expeditions here

Read blogs of previous Three Rivers expeditions here and here

China's remote southwest is home to one of the world's most remarkable natural phenomena. For more than 300 kilometers, three of the world's greatest rivers run parallel in neighbouring valleys: at their closest, it is only 66 kilometers as the crow flies from the yangtze to the Mekong, and then just 19 kilometers further to the Salween, respectively the third-, 11th-, and 24th-longest rivers on Earth.

This journey follows the intrepid traders whose caravans once traversed this region, taking salt, tea and sugar from Yunnan towards Tibet and Burma, and bringing jade, silver jewelry, textiles and other finished goods back. This was one of the ancient world's great highways for the exchange of goods and cultures. As late as the 1950s, caravans trekked this way, passing through a richly varied landscape of different peoples, languages and religions, from Tibetan Buddhists to Lisu Christians.

The adventure begins high on the Tibetan Plateau in the historic town of Shangri-la, then climbs to more than 4,000 meters above sea level before plunging into the Yangtze River valley. Leaving a land of Tibetan yak herders, you will enter the world of the Lisu people, traditional masters of the forests whose culture mingled with the Christianity brought by European missionaries more than a century ago. Accompanied by a full caravan of mules and muleteers, you will trek west for 11 days along paths now only known to hunters and highland herders. After crossing the magnificent Baima mountain range, you will descend to the upper Mekong River, passing Lisu villages barely touched by the modern world. From here, only the steep slopes of Mt. Biluo separate the Mekong from the Salween. Your journey's most challenging climb ends deep inside the most remote of China's great river valleys, by the bank of the free-flowing Salween River among the picturesque villages of the Nu people.


  • A challenging 11-day caravan trek along the ancient trading route to Tibet and Burma
  • Spectacular valleys of the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween
  • Traditional villages of the Tibetan, Naxi, Lisu and Nu peoples
  • Learn the skills of a muleteer and the culture of the Lisu hunters

Duration: 17 Days  Average group size: 5-10

Best season: Spring and autumn (until late-October). Summer sees increased rainfall, though the trails are still usable.

Route Map: A basic overview of the route can be seen here

*Price per person based on a group of four. For prices and discounts for groups of other sizes, please write to

For a full trek dossier or for more information, write to


Day 1: Join tour in Shangri-la

The town of Shangri-la is the gateway to the Tibetan Plateau in southwest China. In times past, caravans loaded up here in preparation for the epic journey to Lhasa, three months away to the northwest. Others aimed west towards Burma, while the most daring ventured north into the treacherous badlands of Tibetan Sichuan. Today this is the thriving center of the "Greater Shangri-la Region" and the most accessible Tibetan town in China.

Hotel, evening meal

Day 2: Acclimatize & enjoy Shangri-la

Shangri-la sits at 3,300 meters above sea level and new arrivals commonly need to take it easy while getting used to the altitude. After an orientation meeting in the morning, you may visit the historic Songzanlin Lamasery, the largest institution of the Dalai Lama's Yellow Sect in southwest China, take in the town's museums, or simply wander the streets and stalls of the Old Town. This evening we will enjoy a performance of traditional Tibetan folk music. 

Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 3: Shangri-la - Mt. Yaha east camp

Our caravan awaits a short drive south of Shangri-la. Today we begin with a fairly gentle trek out of the broad Xiao Zhongdian valley into the Yaha mountain range. Our camp tonight is 3,900 meters above sea level.

Approx 12 km, 5 hours walking

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 4: Mt. Yaha east - Mt. Yaha west camp

It is a relatively short hike to the pass over Mt. Yaha, from where we begin our long descent into the Yangtze River valley. The Yangtze flows at around 1,800 meters above sea level at this point; today we aim to camp around 500 meters higher on the west slope of Yaha. By this point, we will already have left the Tibetan high country and be in a mixed area of Tibetan, Naxi and Lisu farmers.

Approx 16 km, 6 hours walking

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 5: Camp - Qizong Bridge/Tacheng

We reach the Yangtze (or Jinsha, as this upper section of the river is known in China) at the historic Qizong Bridge. Today this is a modern road bridge carrying traffic to points west of the river, but for hundreds of years, all the way to the Revolution in 1949, caravans relied on an iron-chain structure to cross the water. As the next section of our trail has been covered by a sealed road, we transfer here to vehicles to make the short drive to Tacheng, once an important staging post on the Tea Trail to Weixi County Town.

Approx 10 km, 4 hours walking

Guesthouse (B, L, D)

Day 6: Rest, visit Golden Monkey Project

Today we take the opportunity to clean up, re-supply at the market in Tacheng, and visit a project dedicated to the protection of the endangered Yunnan Golden Monkey, or Black Snub-Nosed Monkey, one of whose final colonies lives in the thick forests above Tacheng. The project is based in a Lisu village which also features a unique museum of that people's traditional hunting culture.

Guesthouse (B, L, D)

Day 7: Tacheng - Mt. Baima east camp

This morning we trek first along the Kegong River, lunching in a Tibetan farmhouse before moving to the foot of the Baima range on the edge of the Golden Monkey Nature Reserve.

Approx 10 km, 4 hours walking

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 8: Camp - Renala camp

A demanding trek takes us to the top of the ridge path through the Baima range, 4,000 meters above sea level. This spectacular and lonely trail takes us to the highest campsite of our journey: temperatures tonight are sure to fall below freezing.

Approx 12 km, 5 hours walking

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 9: Camp - Mt. Baima west camp

We begin our descent into the Mekong valley, following narrow paths through rhododendron and pine forests used only by the handful of Lisu villagers who forage here for medicinal herbs or take their cows to and from the high pastures. We will be accompanied by a Lisu caravan, as only the locals know how to get loaded animals through these forests.

Approx 14 km, 6 hours walking

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 10: Camp - Lisu village

After two days on the mountain, we reach some of the most remote and precarious Lisu settlements, where even a light bulb is a precious resource and sparingly used. We may even see some of the few remaining traditional Lisu "long houses", in which several families live side by side. Most of the Lisu here are Christians, converted by European missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Approx 10 km, 4 hours walking

Camp/Homestay (B, L, D)

Day 11: Lisu village - Kangpu

We complete our descent to the east bank of the Mekong River, or Lancang Jiang as this section is called in China. The river flows at approx 1,900 meters above sea level. Kangpu is a small town where we can once again re-supply and, with luck, have a hot shower.

Approx 15 km, 5 hours walking

Guesthouse (B, L, D)

Day 12: Kangpu - Madi

While the caravan gets supplies together at the morning market, we may take the opportunity to visit the nearby Shouguo Temple, one of the most unusual Buddhist temples in the region. It combines the art and architecture of Tibetan and Han, and unlike most other temples in this part of the country it was not destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. One original Qing Dynasty-era painting contains the earliest known depiction of the "Three Parallel Rivers". After an early lunch, we cross the river and immediately begin the steep climb up Mt. Biluo. Flat ground for campsites is almost impossible to find on Biluo, so we end today in the last available village.

Approx 10 km, 4 hours walking

Camp/Homestay (B, L, D)

Day 13: Madi - Biluo ridge camp

Today's trek takes us almost to the pass, 3,600 meters above sea level, the only viable campsite on Mt. Biluo.

Approx 13 km, 5 hours walking

Camp (B, L, D)

Day 14: Camp - Laza/Fugong

With a tremendous descent of more than 2,300 meters in a single day, today poses the toughest challenge to date, taking us from sub-zero temperatures at dawn to a sub-tropical valley less than 1,400 meters above sea level. The Salween River first comes into view more than a kilometer below our precipitous trail; the valley itself offers an extraordinary vista of lush forests, towering peaks and wooden Nu villages clinging high on the slopes. After reaching the riverside, we say a fond farewell to our caravan team and transfer to vehicles to drive to the nearby county town of Fugong.

Approx 10 km, 5 hours walking

Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 15: Fugong - Liuku

A full day's drive along the mighty Salween River brings us to the capital of the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, where we can enjoy some real urban comfort and even riverside cafes in the evening. Liuku is a relatively new town on the edge of a region only very recently connected to the modern world, and its multi-ethnic makeup lends it a distinctive character.

Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 16: Liuku - Dali

Another day's drive brings us to our final destination, the ancient capital of a multi-ethnic kingdom that ruled this part of China for hundreds of years until its overthrow by Kublai Khan in the 13th century. We celebrate the successful conclusion of our expedition with a Bai banquet in the beautiful Old Town of Dali.

Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 17: Tour ends

Transfers available to Dali Airport.

Breakfast only