My husband and I actually took the 'Spirit of Yunnan' trip to both Banyan Tree Lijiang and Banyan Tree Ringha (2 nights in each place) way back in July 2010. I only recently became a member of Trip Advisor, hence the lateness of this review. I felt compelled to write a review mostly because of some negative comments left here by visitors to this magical and unique resort.
There were roughly 5 main issues people griped about - 1) Remoteness of the resort away from the main town area. 2) The bumpy, dirt track which leads to the resort. 3) Poor service, also due to lack of command of English. 4) Having to walk down a narrow flight of stairs to the bathroom and dressing area. 5) The quality of food.
Firstly, I am surprised that in this day and age of the internet, there are people who would think of booking a stay in a 'unique' resort like this without researching the most basic aspects the hotel has to offer. Surely, finding out about the location, type of 'rooms' and facilities is something in which one would do before making a booking, even if it is with the travel agency. So, I don't see how anyone can actually make a hike (literally) to this special place blindfolded.
Case in point, someone wrote on December 16 2012, that he/she had brought his 70 year old parents to the resort and that his father had fallen ill numerous times due to being left out in the cold for 5 minutes, waiting for a buggy, and in front of their villa. He also noted that they had to navigate down the flight of stairs to use the toilet. Now, surely anyone planning to visit this place will be well aware of the altitude and the cooler temperatures (they were also travelling in November) and the health hazards which come with it and the layout of the villas! While I sympathize with his father, it was not due to any fault of Banyan Tree that he experienced the above mentioned – one could say he should have known better than to bring older people on a trip like this.
Secondly, this place is remote, that’s the attraction. On their homepage, all adjectives describing it sound like this – “secluded”, “exotic isolation”, “leave the modern world”. Why would this be taken to mean it is next to a town where one can walk to for meals and entertainment, and does one really expect an immaculately tarred road in the middle of the wilderness? There are literally pigs, cows and yaks walking past you within the resort! Reading other reviews from Trip Advisor will also tell you that Banyan Tree Ringha strives to employ their staff from the local Tibetan villages, hence their not-so-proficient English.
If we found Banyan Tree Lijiang charming, if not just a little too ‘touristy’, we were blown away with Ringha. We had initially contemplated not going to Shangrila because of some of these reviews; fortunately, we decided otherwise. And what a journey it turned out to be – an experience of a lifetime. You’d be hard pressed to find a setting like this anywhere else in China which marries such utter remoteness with relatively luxurious abode. They relocated and rebuilt the Tibetan Houses just so that one can have a taste of the spectacular and breath-taking scenery whilst interacting with rural Tibetan farmers, their habitat and way of life.
One of the two highlights of our trip to Ringha was the 4-hour journey there itself from Lijiang, in a private Banyan Tree car. We drove alongside the raging Yangtze River winding higher and higher through valleys and majestic mountains. As we were ascending above the fog, it felt practically like driving back in time into an unknown magical place. The other was our trek through villages near the resort on horses owned by two Tibetan farm ladies (Yangzom and Tsering Dolma), with our terrific guide, Sonam, where we had lunch in a real Tibetan house cooked by the owner whilst listening to the incessant and amusing chatter of these ladies. Absolutely unforgettable!
Yes, the service can always be better, the rooms cleaner and warmer, the food closer to what a 5-star resort should be, the internet service more efficient, the rates lower due to all of the above, but some things will be lost if it is exactly like all the other spanking and gleaming Banyan Trees around. If you are willing to accept these shortcomings, then go, because you only have to look around at your surroundings to appreciate and take in all that Ringha has to offer. For my husband (who's a loyal Banyan Treer!) and me, we will surely return, perhaps not to Lijiang, but definitely Ringha. And we won’t wait until we turn 70 to do that!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.