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2017 Xinjiang Fall Colors Photo Tour
Sep 15 – 28, 2017

Photo Tour Summary:

Welcome to Xinjiang, the northwest frontier of China! This tour takes you to the northern part of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the best season, when the fall color is at its peak display. We will travel through and photograph ethnic Mongol villages, pristine lakes, grasslands, vast desert, colorful forest, ancient towns, strange Yarding formations, historical silk road sites... Landscape photography is the main focus with some street and people photography on some locations. Do not miss this unique experience to the Wild Wild West of China!

When: Sep 15 – 28, 2017.
Where: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China.
Cost: US$3,299 based on double occupancy ($300 extra for single occupancy)
Group size: Small group tour with 12 persons maximum
Category: Photography Tour
Tour Leader & Photography Instructor: William Yu
Workshop URL:
Language spoken: English

Tour Map

The cost of this tour is USD3,299, it includes:

The cost does NOT include:

Physical requirements of this tour:

Tour Itinerary:

Day 1: Sep 15 Ürümqi(URC), the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Ürümqi, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

All group members meet and greet in the hotel lobby at 7:00pm in the city of Ürümqi(URC), the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. We will introduce each other, and have a briefing for the tour.

Day 2: Sep 16 Ürümqi – Turpan. Travel distance: 250KM.

The ruins of of ancient silk road city of Jiaohe

After breakfast, we are heading to Turpan, First, visit the ruins of ancient silk road city of Jiaohe, the capital of a small kingdom over 2000 years ago. Next, we will visit the historical Emin Minaret, it erected in 1777 by Uyghur king Emin Khoja, who joined the Qing Empire and defeated Dzungar Mongols. Next stop, will be the famous "Flaming Mountains", the barren, eroded, red sandstone hills to the east of Turpan, their striking gullies and trenches caused by erosion of the red sandstone bedrock give the mountains a flaming appearance at certain times of the day. We will also come across "Qanāt" , the local water management system, originated in Persia, which creates a reliable water supply for human settlements and irrigation in hot, arid climates. Last, we will take a break and have a treat at Grape Valley, renowned in China for its sweep grapes. Overnight in the city of Turpan.

Day 3: Sep 17 Turpan – Kumtag desert – Ürümqi. Travel distance: 400KM.

Camels in Kumtag desert

Today, we will enter Kumtag desert national park, the largest national park in the world, also the sixth largest desert in China. Kumtag in Uyghur means "sand mountain". The sands that form Kumtag were deposited over the centuries, where the winds that blow down Tianshan Mountain were checked by the winds that blow from Daban City. Now, Kumtag desert has been developed into a scenic site that integrates the sightseeing perspective with scientific research, where sand therapy treatment and camel rides over vast expanses of sand dunes with their fascinating, serpentine curvature, casting dark shadows. It provides abundant photographic opportunities. Overnight in Ürümqi.

Day 4: Sep 18 Ürümqi – Sayram Lake. Travel distance: 540KM.

Sayram Lake

Today, we will have the longest drive ( over 9 hours) in a single day, and reach the westmost point as well as the highest point during this tour – the beautiful highland lake: Sayram Lake, it lies close to the China/Kazakhstan border, renowned as a pearl of the Silk Road, is the largest alpine lake in Xinjiang. In Kazak, sayram means 'blessing'. The lake is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) long from east to west, 30 kilometers wide from north to south, covering an area of about 454 sq kilometers (about 175 sq miles), and at elevation of 2,073 meters (6,800 feet). Sayram Lake is a fairyland with wonderful natural scenery. It is like a brilliant emerald inlaid in the basin surrounded by Snow capped Tianshan Mountain. Its water is very pure and clear. Flocks of ducks and swans are often seen there. Flourishing cypress and cedar trees cover the whole mountain range. Cottages scatter the foothills of the mountains. Horses and sheep graze on the mountain slope. What a vivid and splendid picture! We will photograph the sunset on the lake. Overnight at the shore of Sayram Lake.

Day 5: Sep 19 Sayram Lake – Urho Wind City. Travel distance: 450KM.

Urho Wind City – Ghost Town

After shooting sunrise at Sayram Lake, we are heading to Urho Wind City, the so called "Ghost Town" is covering ten square kilometers of stunning Yardang landscape - short and round earth mounds, steep hummock and lays upon layers of ridges… . When it is windy in spring and autumn, the rock formations are making sounds like ghostly whistles, hence its name, the ghost Town. Upon entering the ghost town, visitors will get an eyeful of different weird earth hummocks. You will find that the whole city is in color of pale yellow except for some camel thorns. The world before you is in silence. However, once the wind blows across, you will hear strange moans coming from all quarters. The airflow would rampage between the rough stones and hummocks become huge natural instruments which magnify the sounds. The stronger the wind, the louder the sounds will be. They would turn into cries and scream of the 'ghost', which usually would reverberate for a long time. We will shoot sunset over the ghost town. Overnight in the town of Urho.

Day 6: Sep 20 Urho – Habahe Travel distance: 260KM.

Birch trees, Habahe

Today we will photograph around a beautiful lake and a nearby birch forest, only 2KM from China/Kazakhstan border. The fall colors around the lake will provide endless compostions for your photos. This area is truly photographers' paradise. The birch forest is one of largest of the kind in China, the colorful fall leaves and white trunks will make your photographs look like painting. It's the perfect place to practice multiple exposures and other artistic alternative rendering of images. Overnight at the town of Habahe.

Day 7: Sep 21 Habahe – Kanas Nature Reserve. Travel Distance: 160KM

Kanas Lake

Located in Burqin County, and sharing borders with Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, Kanas Nature Reserve boasts a beautiful natural ecosystem formed by lakes, rivers, glaciers, forests, and grasslands. Kanas, which means 'rich and beautiful, mysterious and enigmatical' in Mongolian, might be the most alluring resort in northern Xinjiang. The highlight of the Nature Reserve would be Kanas Lake. which is 1,375 meters (4,511 ft) above sea level and covers an area of 45.73 sq kilometers (11,300 acres). The color of the lake varies according to the seasons and weather. Sometimes it's blue, sometimes green, while sometimes it's as white as milk. This lake is also called "China's Loch Ness", where people sometimes witness large unidentified moving objects(lake monsters?) in the lake causing strange disturbance on the surface. Besides Kanas Lake, Wolong Bay (Crouching Dragon Bay) and Moon Bay are also attractions alluring many visitors and photographers. Virgin forests and flowery grasslands combined with clear green water make the whole area a picture perfect destination. Overnight at the town of Kanas.

Day 8: Sep 22 Kanas Nature Reserve – Hemu Tuwa Village. Travel Distance: 130KM

Hemu Tuwa Mongol Village

After shooting sunrise over Kanas Lake, we drive to the legendary Hemu Village, where lives the ethnic Mongolian tribe called Tuwa, they are the descendants of Genghis Khan's troops, their traditons and culture are well preserved, making living by hunting and raising cattles. Hemu Village has been ranked by China National Geography as one of the six most beautiful villages in China. Here, visitors can enjoy the snow mountain, pristine lake, grassland area and interact with Tuwa people. We will have fun shooting landscape and people here. Overnight at the town of Hemu.

Day 9: Sep 23 Hemu Village – Burqin. Travel Distance: 180KM

Fall colors around Irtysh River, Burqin

We will shoot the beautiful sunrise image overlooking the Hemu village, which is surrounded by colorful forests, and if we're lucky, with the mist in the valley, which adds mystery and layers to the image. Afterwards, we travel to Burqin, which is a small county in the border area with Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. It gets its name form the Burqin River, which flows into the Irtysh River. At the fall, the river banks are full of colors, we will have a feast of photo opportunities to explore and enjoy. Overnight at the town of Burqin.

Day 10: Sep 24 Burqin – Koktokay National Geopark. Travel Distance: 340KM

Jokhang Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet

Koktokay National Geopark, or Koktokay Scenic Spot, is an ideal place for sightseeing, vacationing, hiking, photographing and scientific expedition. It is the origin of the Irtysh River, which is the only river in China flowing into the Arctic Ocean. The geopark consists of four major parts: the Irtysh Grand Canyon, Cocoa Sullivan Lake, Ilaymu Lake and Kalaxianger Earthquake Fault Zone. Koktokay means "green forest" in Kazakh language and "blue river bend" in Mongolian, implying that it has been a beautiful place since ancient times. Overnight at the town of Koktokay.

Day 11: Sep 25 Koktokay – Painted Hills. Travel Distance: 260KM

Painted Hills

Today, we will travel to Painted Hills, where wind and water erosion over thousands of years, carve rocks into different shapes and forms, with vivid colors of red, yellow, green, grey, black and white. It is also home to petrified forest and various ancient fossils. You will find wild horses in the area too. Overnight at the town of Painted Hills.

Day 12: Sep 26 Painted Hills – Forest of Diversiform-leaved Poplars at Mori County. Travel Distance: 280KM

diversiform-leaved poplars

A forest of diversiform-leaved poplars, a tenacious ancient species, can be found at Mori County, covering an area of 35 square kilometers. With a history of 65 million years, the forest is the oldest primeval forest of diversiform-leaved poplars in the world, and is known as a "living fossil". Faced with broiling heat and droughts, the forest stills stand in the desert, brimming with energy and life. The trees are described as "having the ability to grow erect for a thousand years, live for a thousand years after falling, and the life remain undying after death for another thousand years." Far away from urban and rural areas, the forest contains about 30,000 diversiform-leaved poplars with an average age of 200-400 years. The oldest tree, known as the "ancestor tree," has lived there for over 1,000 years, with its trunk measuring 3.1 meters in diameter. Overnight in the town of Mori.

Day 13: Sep 27 Mori – Ürümqi. Travel distance: 350KM

Heavenly Lake

After shooting the sunrise at Mori forest, we're heading back to Ürümqi, visiting the famous Heavenly Lake of Tianshan. Near the 5495m Bogda Peak of Tianshan Mountains(The Heavenly Mountains), nestles Heavenly Lake. At 1,907 metres (6,257 ft) above sea level, this crescent-shaped alpine lake is crystal clear with melting snow as its source. Overnight in Ürümqi.

Day 14: Sep 28 Deaprture.

After breakfast, the bus will take us to airport, the end of this beautiful journey in Xinjiang.

Sayram Lake

Itinerrary Disclaimer:

We try our best to adhere to the original itinerary that described above but sometimes little alterations can be born due to the situations that are beyond our control. The detail itinerary is a general guide to the tour and region, and any mention of specific destination or activities is by no means of guarantee that they will be encountered or carried due to the local circumstances and weather.

Etiquettes and Taboos:

Cultural Considerations: Xinjiang has the largest muslim population in China. Be aware that your cultural values may differ from those of locals. These may include different concepts of time, personal space, communication, etc., which are not wrong or inferior, just different. Making the extra effort to respect local customs and cultural differences will enhance your interactions with locals during your time in Xinjiang and contribute to building mutual respect between locals and visitors.

Appropriate attire: People in Xinjiang are pretty conservative from western perspective so it is always polite to wear long pants at all times (Ladies and Gentlemen). Women should wear long pants or skirts. Shirts should not be revealing and bras should be worn. Unfortunately, many tourists ignore these cultural norms and can be seen in towns and villages wearing shorts and revealing summer attire; while it may be comfortable, it is not appropriate.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What to bring for this trip and any recommendations?

How do I sign up and pay for this tour?

A deposit of $200 is required for this workshop to hold your spot, you can pay by Visa, Mastercard or PayPal via or send a check (U.S. residents only). The balance is due on Jun 15, 2017. All participants must sign William Yu Photography Workshops/Tours Liability Waiver Form before the tour starts.

How many participants do you allow?

Photo tour size is limited to 12 attendees, which ensures that every attendee will get full attention. We need minimum of 8 attendees to make the trip.

What photographic skill level is required to benefit from this tour?

Any people who has a basic understanding of exposure all the way to the advanced amateur and professional who is in search of a fresh perspective!

What is your refund or cancellation policy?

No refunds will be given for delays or cancellations due to inclement weather, (which interestingly, can result in some of the most some amazing shots!), either before or during the tour. If the tour is cancelled by the organizer, we will notify you immediately and you will be issued full refund. We are not responsible for any additional costs you may incur due to any delays or cancellations. Cancellations made before Jun 15, 2017 will be issued full refund*.

No refund will be given after Jun 15, 2017.

How do I fly to Ürümqi(URC), the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region?

You can fly to major Chinese hubs like Beijing(PEK), Shanghai(PVG), or Chengdu(CTU), then transit to Ürümqi (URC).

I have some questions, how do I learn more?

Please send email to

Oil Rig, Xinjiang

Testimonials / Endorsement:

"I have worked with William Yu on many occasions and let me state emphatically that he is one of the best workshop instructors ever and one heck of a talented photographer too! You will enjoy your time with William and learn far more than perhaps you ever imagined in the workshops he offers!"

Bryan F Peterson
The Perfect Picture School of Photography

I have never been on a "photo tour" before. We travel a lot and I have to say it was one of the best experiences ever. Most importantly in my mind is that I thought it was well planned out - getting to the locations at the right times and I also liked that we got to go to some of the iconic locations that we see in photos (late at night when no one was there), as well as a few that we don't normally see. I felt the amount of time that we had in most locations was great. It was nice that we could as a group be somewhat flexible to stay one place a bit longer and/or go to other places when the lighting wasn't as good. I appreciated that you corralled people up when they weren't on the bus on time... but always being super nice about it. I liked that we could get to a hotel location and some people could rest, but I usually had several hours to explore the town/area on my own. The accommodations and food were all good, if not excellent. Another thing that I thought was really great was having a bus twice as big as the number of people so we had room to put all of our stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and others in the group and appreciate all that you did to put this trip together. I hope that I can shoot with you again some day.

Lorna Midice, USA

What an amazing 10 days in Iceland. To summarize the experience in a few words will not do it justice. Both William Yu and Lurie B. gave me an experience that will stay with me forever. Both of them combined talent and knowledge about landscape photography and finding wonderful places to shoot. The local arrangements were good and the organization well done. We had plenty of time to set up, to experience and to share. This hand-on experience was good for al level of photographers. We visited some far remote places and some fun places. Shooting pieces of washed away chuck of ice from the glacier was one of the most fun highlight of the trip. Thank you to both of you for sharing your expertise and for making this a safe and fun photo tour. The group was made up of wonderful people, by the end of the trip, our group was really tight. Thank you Guys for this amazing trip. Looking forward at shooting the Northern lights in winter.

Jean-Claude has made a fantastic video presentation of his images from 2015 June Iceland Photo Tour, view it here.

Jean-Claude Veille, USA

The tour was fantastic - way beyond my wildest expectations. perhaps i had no idea how beautiful and picturesque iceland is; it seems like a different planet of its own!. everything was to my satisfaction - the price; the sights which i am sure we could not have seen without William and lurie; they did a good job in picking the right places; the food was delicious and excellent. The driver was great, transportation comfortable and the fact that we had 2 seats each was a big plus.

I am amazed and impressed at the photos that are all popping up in facebook. from the pictures that are being posted i continue to see different perspectives and angles i never would have seen. we all went to the same places but no two pictures are alike. i am lucky to have been with a superb group of photographers. I certainly will take a winter trip to iceland in the future. and looking forward to another learning trip with you - will try to make it to tibet at least!

Many thanks for organizing everything!

Minnie Domingo, USA

Earlier this year, William led a group of 10 on a marvellous and photographically rich tour of minority tribal villages in SW China. It was my first time in China. William's arrangements showed very careful preparation and a smooth liaison with his local co-guide Anton. Notably, we were impressed with Anton's ability to secure accommodation for all of us at five minutes' notice after one hotel declined to acknowledge the booking. Also, William took care to detail his co-guide to quietly offer assistance to an older member of the group. If I had any suggestions it would be to say: "Let's have a bit more time to interact and compare notes each evening." Even so, I can hardly wait to join William again!

Anne Forbes, Australia

If you are thinking of going you should. It is an experience of a lifetime. My husband and I joined William on his September 2013 China workshop. You go to places where you would have difficulty going to on your own. We loved it.

Christel Sarsfield, Canada

This was my first trip dedicated to photography so I was a little apprehensive about several things including the varying levels of the other participants' photography skills.

William handled all the different skill levels so well. We all received advice, assistance and a healthy dose of positive reinforcement. He was patient and reassuring while handling all our travel details, hotel accommodations, meals and many MANY questions.

William was very knowledgeable about the area we visited and knew exactly where to go, when to be there and how long we should wait for a shot before calling it a day. The sites we visited weren't just the regular landscape and workshopist sights, we also visited markets and villagers in their homes. This was an extraordinary privilege for us to be able to do. It made the trip personal and the resulting photos are more than an improvement in skills, they are warm memories.

I'm an American expat and have lived in Asia for many years but although I have traveled extensively throughout Asia, I cannot imagine that I would ever have had an opportunity to do a trip like this. It's a hard place to reach and to even know about but William made this happen for me. I cannot wait to see what adventure is in store next because I will absolutely be singing up for it.

Rebecca Lynn Fowler Wong, USA

"I was one of the lucky seven who was fortunate enough to go on the trip to Yunnan China offered by William Yu. It was the highlight of my year, still is. As I write this I still cannot get over how much I was able to do and see during this trip. Time travel is hard to do and that is exactly what we did. We stepped back in time and visited a place to marvel over. Yunnan is a wondrous place and William was an exceptional host, good humored, prepared, (even for the tissues to clean the utensils, thank you William) knowledgeable and generous. Photos have appeared on my computer that I would never have believed possible but for William’s help.I am very very happy that I was able to go on this trip and hope to join William on another adventure."

Joanne Martin, USA

Hello, William. My wife and I are still talking about the China workshop, and how we can now say that we left the Shanghai "bubble" and roughed it in the Yunnan province. You hosted a great workshop, and I appreciate how open you were in not only sharing the information but also taking time to explain the concepts. Mr. Ma also definitely had a unique personality brought an interesting mix to our group.

Carl Smiley, USA

January, this year, I attended William's photography Workshop in Yunnan, China. What an amazingly wonderful experience - I have not stopped talking about since my return - to have a chance to photograph those beautiful rice paddies planted on terraces up in the mountains was very special, but even more special was the chance to visit the rural villages to photograph villagers as they went about their daily lives. William organized a superb photography workshop though which photography greatly improved and my world was broadened.

Sheila Wertheimer, USA

This is my first time joining William's China Photo Workshop, It's very impressive. William is very attentative to all aspects of the workshop. It's thoughful of him having Mr. Ma, the most experienced local photograher, as our workshop guide, who enables us to shoot in the right locations at right time.

During the workshop, William is extremely patient to share his photographic knowledge and skills with us, in terms of exposure, composition, post-processing, lighting, lens selection, etc. This trip is well exceeding my expectation, I sincerely hope to join more future China workshops with William. By the way, William is fluent in both English and Mandarin, which is great plus to me.

Louis Huang, Taiwan

Other Photo Tours:

2017 Summer Tibetan Plateau Photo Tour

Patagonia Spring Photo Tour

Tour Leader:

William Yu is San Francisco based travel photographer, photography instructor and the owner of William Yu Photo Workshops. Several times a year, he leads small group of photographers to journey through some of the most unique and beautiful places in the world, capturing culture/people/festivities and landscapes. If you'd like to learn, practice photography and experience the cultures in the most beautiful locations around the world, just follow his lead. William is also travel photography course instructor at Bryan Peterson School of Photography( founded by renowned photographer Bryan Peterson. William's photos have been published in Photography Magazines in USA, China and Europe. His travel photography clients include, Ubisoft, Accenture, Google, Ogilvy One Worldwide, Microsoft, American Airlines, Earnest & Young, MTV Networks, Bloomberg Finance, Westjet, Figaro Magazine, etc. You can view William's work at , follow his instagram Friend him on Facebook at