January to March 2009 – Sourcing trip through Thailand, Laos, Yunnan (China) & Vietnam.

This year we re-visited many of our previous sources across Asia but were also able, for the first time, to spend a month exploring the rural west of China, stretching between Burma, Laos and Vietnam in the south, up to Tibet and the Himalayas. The south of Yunnan is covered with tropical rainforest, tea plantations and magnificent rice terraces.  Snow-capped peaks in the north hide tiny villages, the fabled region of Shangri-la and the deepest river gorge in the world.  Home to more than 25 distinct ethnic groups, Yunnan is the most culturally diverse province in China. Along with magical landscapes and truly different fauna and flora, this was a very special trip.
We travelled by boat, bus, train and some very individual “taxis” and, although we have very little Mandarin and the locals rarely spoke any English, we found everyone helpful, patient, generous and utterly charming.
To enter Yunnan, we chose a little known boat journey up the Mekong river from Northern Thailand, passing through Burmese and Laotian jungle.  We took our time exploring the southern region, finding pretty, startlingly clean towns where electric scooters were the main form of transport and where there were beautiful parks where locals gathered in the evenings for line dancing, mahjong or just to promenade and gossip. 
We were the only westerners at wonderful markets where the local peoples came, dressed in their finest, to buy and sell their wares. We found, and brought back, gorgeous, painted, ceramic pipes which had once been used for opium.
Slowly heading north, almost to the Tibetan border, the geography became Himalayan and unremittingly beautiful. In the old town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and at nearby ancient temples, we found intricately painted jewellery boxes, made by the nomadic Naxi people, covered in yak skin, and pillow-shaped for sleeping on for extra security!
A terrifying hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge, 16km long and 4km deep, was breathtaking and paid off with slices of lace agate found in the gorge and turned into stunning pendants.
Another highlight was YuanYang, an area famous for its 1,000 year-old rice terraces, which create a glorious, textured, other-worldly vista across 12,000 hectares. A magnet for photographers from around the world and, thus, one of the places where we saw a few westerners.
A hair-raising bus journey down the Red River valley to Hekou, a lively border town where we crossed into the very North of Vietnam, was the final element of our fascinating China trip. 
Other new finds on this year’s journey were gorgeous Vietnamese silks, carved soapstone boxes, Maduran wedding chests, mangowood candelabra, the softest leather handbags to Katia’s own designs, coffee tables from Timor and, of course, some very special jewellery.  

 A memorable journey.