The Silk Road may get all the glory, but there’s another, lesser-known Chinese trade route that’s no less interesting to explore. The “Tea-Horse Road” once carried tea from China to Tibet, where the Chinese traded it for tough Tibetan horses.
The original trail was incredibly difficult and rough, and yet Chinese tea porters made the journey with packs of tea on their backs that weighed more than they did. National Geographic travel writer Mark Jenkins recently traveled what remains of the Tea Horse road, and found some elderly Chinese porters who were willing to talk about their days hauling tea. The traditional tea porter song that they sang for him illustrates how hard the work was:
Seven steps up, you have to rest.
Eight steps down, you have to rest.
Eleven steps flat, you have to rest.
You are stupid, if you don’t rest.
Nowadays, most of the trail itself is gone, either paved or left to fall to ruin. However, the places where the road once stopped are interesting enough to make a Tea Horse Road itinerary more than worthwhile. Potential tea horse road destinations could include the tropical rainforests of Xishuangbanna; Pu’er, the home of highly esteemed Pu’er tea; laid-back Dali; and Llhasa in Tibet. Several Chinese tour operators run Tea Horse Road-themed tours; hitch a ride with them or create your own itinerary.
To travel the Tea Horse road, you’ll need a valid passport and a Chinese visa. You must apply for your Chinese visa and have it hand before you leave the United States. If you’re traveling as a tourist, see Chinese Visa Requirements for Tourists for more details.
Also, keep in mind that you need a permit to visit Tibet and even then will only be allowed in certain areas. In addition, if your itinerary takes you through other countries on the way to China, you may need visas for those countries as well.
RushMyTravelVisa can research your itinerary to ensure you have the correct paperwork. Plus, we’ll help you apply for any visas you may need and expedite them with the appropriate embassy or consulate for the fastest possible processing.
Apply for your Chinese visa today!