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19 Things To Know Before You Go: The Tea Horse Road


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Reina Lally


The Tea Horse Road, also known as the Southern Silk Road, is a historic trade route that winds through the rugged mountains and lush valleys of southwest China, connecting the tea-producing regions of Yunnan with Tibet and beyond. This ancient network of trails, which dates back over a thousand years, played a vital role in facilitating the exchange of goods, culture, and ideas between China and the Himalayan Kingdoms.

For those seeking an unforgettable journey off the beaten path, the Tea Horse Road offers a fascinating blend of history, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant local cultures. But before you set out on this epic adventure, it’s important to be prepared. In this article, we’ll highlight 19 essential things you need to know before embarking on a Tea Horse Road expedition.

The Tea Horse Road is a historic trade route.

The Tea Horse Road, also known as the Southern Silk Road, was a network of trading paths that stretched over 4,000 kilometers across the Southwest region of China, connecting the tea-producing areas of Yunnan with Tibet and other parts of Asia.

It was an important route for the trade of tea and horses.

The Tea Horse Road got its name from the significant trade of tea leaves from China and horses from Tibet. Tea was transported from the tea-growing regions of Yunnan to be exchanged for Tibetan horses, which were highly sought after for military and transportation purposes.

The route has a long history, dating back over a thousand years.

The origins of the Tea Horse Road can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). However, it reached its peak during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) and continued to be an important trade route until the mid-20th century.

The Tea Horse Road served as a cultural exchange route.

The road facilitated not only the exchange of goods but also cultural interactions between different ethnic groups. People from various backgrounds, including the Han Chinese, Tibetans, and indigenous tribes, traveled along the road, fostering cultural diversity and understanding.

It was a challenging and dangerous journey.

The Tea Horse Road traversed through rugged mountain terrain, dense forests, and treacherous river crossings. Traveling along the road was arduous and often perilous, with bandits, extreme weather conditions, and high-altitude sickness posing constant threats to travelers.

Resting inns called “caravanserais” provided shelter along the route.

Caravanserais, or roadside inns, were established along the Tea Horse Road to provide weary travelers and their pack animals with food, rest, and lodging. These stations were crucial for trading caravans to replenish supplies and seek refuge during their long and strenuous journeys.

The Tea Horse Road played a role in the spread of Buddhism.

Buddhism spread along the Tea Horse Road as monks traveled between monasteries, spreading their teachings and establishing new Buddhist centers. The road served as a conduit for the transmission of Buddhist scriptures, art, and philosophy.

The route is dotted with historical landmarks.

As you venture along the Tea Horse Road, you will encounter various historical sites, including ancient bridges, relay stations, and ancient towns that have retained their cultural heritage. These landmarks offer a glimpse into the rich history of the region.

It is now a popular tourist attraction.

In recent years, the Tea Horse Road has gained popularity among adventurers and history enthusiasts alike. Travelers can now follow parts of the ancient route, exploring the stunning landscapes, experiencing local cultures, and immersing themselves in the history of the Tea Horse Road.

The Tea Horse Road is a UNESCO World Heritage Site candidate.

Efforts are underway to nominate the Tea Horse Road as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The recognition would highlight its historical significance and help preserve its unique cultural and natural heritage for future generations to appreciate.

The Tea Horse Road connects different climate zones.

As the road stretches across vast regions, it spans various climate zones, ranging from the subtropical climates of Yunnan to the harsh high-altitude climates of Tibet. Traveling along the Tea Horse Road allows you to witness diverse landscapes and experience different climates.

The road offers breathtaking natural scenery.

Passing through towering mountains, deep valleys, lush forests, and pristine rivers, the Tea Horse Road offers breathtaking natural wonders at every turn. It is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

The Tea Horse Road played a crucial role in the economy of the region.

The trade along the Tea Horse Road was instrumental in stimulating economic development in the region. The exchange of tea and horses, along with other goods such as salt, silk, and precious metals, fueled trade and shaped the local economies along the route.

The road inspired literature and art.

The Tea Horse Road has captured the imagination of writers, poets, and artists throughout history. Many literary works and artworks have been inspired by the road’s rugged beauty, its tales of adventure, and its significance as a trade and cultural route.

The Tea Horse Road was a lifeline for remote regions.

For isolated and remote regions such as Tibet, the Tea Horse Road was a lifeline, providing access to essential goods and connecting them with the outside world. The road played a vital role in sustaining and developing these regions.

There are still sections of the road that can be explored.

While some sections of the Tea Horse Road have been lost over time, there are still parts that can be explored today. Travelers can embark on remarkable journeys, retracing the footsteps of ancient traders and experiencing the spirit of adventure along the remaining sections of the road.

The Tea Horse Road showcases cultural diversity.

As the Tea Horse Road passes through different ethnic regions, it showcases the cultural diversity of the area. From the vibrant traditions of the Tibetan people to the customs of the various indigenous tribes, the road offers a fascinating insight into the rich tapestry of cultures.

The road influenced regional cuisine.

The Tea Horse Road played a significant role in the exchange of culinary traditions and ingredients. The blending of Tibetan and Yunnanese cuisines, influenced by trade along the road, has resulted in unique flavors and dishes that still delight taste buds today.

The Tea Horse Road is a journey of discovery.

Embarking on the Tea Horse Road is not just a physical journey but also a journey of self-discovery and cultural exploration. The road unveils tales of adventure, resilience, and interconnectedness, leaving travelers with a profound appreciation for the history and beauty of this ancient trade route.


In conclusion, the Tea Horse Road is a remarkable historical trade route that offers a unique cultural and adventurous experience. From its fascinating history to breathtaking landscapes, this ancient route has something to offer for every traveler. By knowing these 19 essential things before you embark on your Tea Horse Road journey, you can maximize your experience and make the most of your trip.Whether you are interested in the rich history of the route, the diverse local cultures, or simply the stunning beauty of the landscapes, the Tea Horse Road is sure to captivate and inspire you. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on an unforgettable journey along the Tea Horse Road.


1. What is the Tea Horse Road?

The Tea Horse Road was an ancient trade route connecting southwestern China with Tibet and Southeast Asia. It was used primarily for trading tea, horses, and other goods.

2. How long is the Tea Horse Road?

The exact length varies depending on different routes, but it generally extends over 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles).

3. When was the Tea Horse Road in use?

The Tea Horse Road was in use from the Tang Dynasty onwards, with its peak during the Song Dynasty and later during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

4. What are some must-see attractions along the Tea Horse Road?

Some must-see attractions include the Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La, Lijiang Old Town, and the Dongzhulin Monastery.

5. Can I still travel along the Tea Horse Road today?

A large part of the Tea Horse Road is still accessible for travelers today. However, some sections may require hiking and careful planning due to the remote and rugged terrain.

6. What is the best time to travel along the Tea Horse Road?

The best time to travel along the Tea Horse Road is during the spring and autumn months when the weather is mild and the landscapes are at their most beautiful.

7. Are there any accommodations along the Tea Horse Road?

Yes, there are various accommodations available along the route ranging from guesthouses to luxury hotels. However, in remote areas, basic guesthouses may be the only option.

8. Is it necessary to have a guide when traveling along the Tea Horse Road?

While it is not mandatory, having a knowledgeable guide can greatly enhance your experience and ensure that you don’t miss out on any hidden gems or historical insights.

9. Are there any health considerations for traveling along the Tea Horse Road?

Traveling at high altitudes along the Tea Horse Road may require acclimatization, and it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before undertaking the journey.

10. What are some local customs and etiquettes to be aware of when traveling along the Tea Horse Road?

Respect local customs, dress modestly, and be mindful of cultural sensitivities. It is also customary to greet locals with a polite “ni hao” and show appreciation for their hospitality.