Legacy of tea traders

Updated: 2013-11-02 07:22

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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When you hear that a hotel's newest property in China embraces a theme of the ancient Tea Horse Caravan Trail, you might conjure a mental picture that's rather rustic: traders hauling Yunnan tea to Tibet to exchange for sturdy farm horses.

But while Hotel Indigo celebrates the spirit and culture of those caravan days, don't expect your stay there to be boot camp or summer camp. The acclaimed Thai firm P49 Design has created a fantasy of a modern post house, infusing a contemporary design with Naxi and Tibetan ethnic touches that you can enjoy amid all the comforts of a luxury hotel in a southern pocket of Lijiang Old Town.

The boutique Indigo Hotel group, 39 strong with five properties around China, targets upscale travelers who want individual and authentic experiences that combine great historic, cultural and natural elements.

"Lijiang has really arrived on the domestic and international holiday map and there is a demand for top-quality hotels and retreats," says Constance Cheong, general manager of the hotel. "We offer sophisticated travelers a culturally rich retreat that combines personalized service with traditional Naxi hospitality and ambiance, plus unique neighborhood experiences."

Those local sensibilities are evident on a guest's arrival: A swarm of purple orchids, paper incarnations of the area's flora, flows above the lobby's reception area like a colorful flock of birds.

A cave-like arrival area called Me Space features a huge curving sofa and colorful cushions, an oasis for drinking, playing games and socializing. In the Tea-Horse Route era, travelers would seek shelter in caves nearby to escape any harsh weather, and the motif lives on in Me Space, with wood-carved "rabbit holes" that offer space for a movie screening or flexible hidden areas for private meetings.

The Lijiang hotel's 70 guest rooms feature several themes. The Superior rooms, for example, are inspired by the nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and boast luxurious spa-baths - with tub exteriors trimmed in horsehide - that passing riders eight centuries ago could never have imagined.

Deluxe rooms sport the equine theme with light fixtures and clothes racks in the form of horseshoes, while the dcor of Super Deluxe rooms celebrates the horse bell of the caravans. Emperor suites, meanwhile, are museum-like with their arrays of Tibetan artifacts.

The hotel's Chama restaurant also mines the best of what's local. Yunnan cuisine is one of the province's big draws, and the a la carte menu is grounded in the region's classic dishes, often with a gourmet twist. The tearoom Cha't evokes the legacy that is undiminished today - Yunnan is home to some of China's most prized teas - and the selections are served with great ceremony all day and evening.

For those combining business with pleasure, a 100-square-meter conference room with state-of-the-art technology can host up to 60 people (and be divided into two conference rooms). Meetings managers are on staff to coordinate activities and offer personalized services.

If that's not enough, Hotel Indigo Lijiang can be enjoyed as one-half of a combo package, with its own intimate luxury experience and the muscle of a quality chain hotel right next door. The adjacent Crown Plaza, in fact, has the same general manager as the Indigo, so you can easily split your stay between the hotels, or stay at the Indigo but enjoy big brother Crown Plaza's amenities such as the gym and swimming pool.


 Legacy of tea traders

Hotel Indigo Lijiang embraces icons from the ancient Tea Horse Caravan Trail, infusing contemporary design with Naxi and Tibetan ethnic touches. Photos provided to China Daily

(China Daily 11/02/2013 page13)