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Reviewed October 21, 2018

Our stay was during the Chinese Golden Week in October, and we are so so so happy we chose to stay here and not in the commercialized mess that was Dali during the holiday.

But first, to see if this place is right for you, a bit of background on me and what I look for when I travel China: I am an old China hand (15 years), I love the culture and history, and abhor what happens to the "tourist" cities during travel times. I like to go off road, and stay in an area for a while to explore, I seek authentic and unplanned experiences with locals and environments. And I don't like crowds and rampant consumerism. I want to see China, not a China Disney Land. In China, it is harder and harder to find a place that just allows you to truly get away...

The cost of the Linden Center is not cheap, admittedly, but that also makes sure its limited rooms go to those who fully appreciate what indeed they are paying for. During my stay, there were diplomats, artists, organization leaders and others who have in some way committed to a deeper relationship with China--many of the foreign guest spoke Chinese. And of course, there were many Chinese guests as well--including my parents-in-laws who respected the preservation of culture and history inside the Center.

Because I was with visiting family, we had to do Dali--after unanimous disapproval, we left after 2.5 hours and returned to Xizhou where the Linden Center is located. The surroundings are historic and beautiful village after village and field after field. We visited a vibrant local market--my parents found it astounding to see the ethnic garbs, the rice making shop, the chicken butchery, etc. We took the Center's free bikes out and had two spectacular mornings full of rainbows, lakes, mountains, villages and villagers. The lake itself is huge and there are plenty of places full of charm and surprises, including wetlands, which my mother, an old biologist, loved. If you have a car, literally just pick any village, get out and walk about....this includes a magnificent experience we had at a mosque in a nearby Muslim village.

The food was fresh and done very well. There are drinks and desserts. The staff was lovely and very helpful. Finally, (but not least), the architecture. Brian and his team have done a fabulous job in restoring the pre-revolutionary glory of what these structures were like. Full of art and antiques it is a celebration of Chinese culture, and he and his wife are very involved in supporting the local community.

Room tip: Just enjoy the surroundings
Date of stay: October 2018
  • Trip type: Travelled with family
    • Sleep Quality
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Thank eric s
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Jeanee L, Owner at The Linden Centre, responded to this reviewResponded October 23, 2018

I wish I could make the Centre free for everyone. We have created our hotels to highlight the tangible and intangible cultural and social resources of China. The former, manifested most clearly in the preservation of our historic compounds, costs more money, takes more time and involves much more uncertainties than any newly constructed complex. The intangible, most evident in our commitment to hire and train local staff and make our projects integral parts of the community and not walled retreats for the bourgeois, requires patience and passion and much more financial investment in the community.

Guests can find cheaper hardware elsewhere: larger rooms, flat-screen televisions, and the mandatory bathtubs. But few hotels have become so immersed in the daily life of its surroundings. This does not come easy. It does not come from wishful thinking and smiling on the streets. It takes a strategic approach: investing first in building the trust and friendship of the community, then hiring and training from within that community. Many have seen us talk about the Centre's 50+ staff for our first 16 room compound. This number helps fulfill that second commitment to the village.

The Centre is a social experiment that has been successful because of five main reasons: 1. we have been embraced and supported by the local community and have given back to our neighbors via our social model, 2. the support of the Chinese government, both locally and at the national level; without their help, without them taking risks alongside our own, we would never have been able to develop our projects, 3. the passion and genuine hospitality of our team: most of our staff are locals, many of whom had not met a foreigner before joining the Centre. They provide a type of home-grown passion and service that is so natural and heartwarming, 4. our commitment, even though it meant less profit initially, to a mission to develop a more socially responsible tourism model for China. We have had many opportunities to lend our brand to more commercial hotel projects. We have avoided all such offers and stand firm in pursuing our original mission. Most importantly, we have demonstrated that we are a viable social enterprise, balancing social contributions and profit. The fact that we can achieve both encourages the people and the government to ardently support us.

The fifth reason is you, the traveler. Our guests are among the best in China. They come to us for adventure and learning. Curiosity more than comfort drives them to our doors. We thank you and all our guests for being a part of our experiment. You should feel as proud as we do for supporting a model that is driven by social values and not solely by the bankbook. Thank you again. Brian

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Reviewed October 21, 2018

The Linden Centre is not just a place, it is an experience. I felt like a member of the community from the moment I arrived, with kind staff going out of their way to ensure a smooth trip from Dali even though we came late at night. Staff felt like friends by the end of the trip, showing us local food and culture (from pulled pork rice noodles to the folk religion Mercy Temple). We were also able to use the Centre's bikes to go explore Erhai Lake, a short and adventurous ride away! We enjoyed meeting and exchanging ideas with the Linden Centre Community, including Brian and Jeannee, who cultivate connections with every guest. This is truly an intellectual and cultural hub in Xizhou.

The Yangzhuoran courtyard where we stayed is beautiful and fully equipped for modern comfort while retaining the stunning Bai architecture and its sustainable design. We were able to visit all three of the current Linden Centre locations throughout our trip, all of which are beautiful and historic. Many buildings in the Dali area are built in the Bai style on the surface, but come to the Linden Centre if you care about traditional materials and thoughtful restoration, original buildings with lived history. I can't wait to visit the new locations that I heard are opening soon.

Date of stay: October 2018
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Service
Thank Cecilia H
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Jeanee L, Owner at The Linden Centre, responded to this reviewResponded October 23, 2018

Thank you for spending an extended time with us. Many guests ask us what to do while they are at the Centre. Xizhou represents one of the most ideal destinations for soaking in China's rural culture and traditions. The village, while it is sprinkled with some elegant boutique shops and restaurants, still retains its local flavor. Xizhou business owners outnumber outsiders by a 9:1 ratio. (This is the complete reverse of other 'old towns' in China). Our daily market is one of the liveliest in Yunnan, our Xizhou bread stands are proudly baking every day, and our walking street is filled with shops that cater to the region's Bai, Hui, Han, and Yi ethnic groups. We have made each of our Xizhou stops a platform for extended exploration and relaxation. Our hotels have dedicated over 40% of their respective space to common areas. We believe that hotels should be more than wall-to-wall rooms; common space such as libraries, game rooms, restaurants, tea houses, cafes, fitness centers, and yoga/meditation rooms encourage guests to interact with our team, local residents, and with each other. Chinese hotels often lack this type of public space, and thus travelers seldom get to know a hotel's staff and/or fellow guests. China needs hotels that are filled with local residents who proudly share their passion for their home. We have tried to create this type of platform within the walls of nationally protected heritage sites. These buildings represent the best of humanity, and they should be used to promote understanding between locals and visitors. This is our mission. We are honored that it inspired you to share your feelings with the travel community. Thank you again. Brian

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Reviewed October 6, 2018

This hotel, in a beautifully restored old home, is actually a vibrant hubbub of education and culture. Brian and Jeanee Linden make their guests feel welcome, as do the friendly, helpful staff members. The impressive partnerships that Brian and Jeanee have established with townspeople can be seen and felt all over Xizhou, as they are so respectful of local culture and so interested in preserving the cultural heritage of the town. In addition, the hotel provides many free services, such as local tours and bicycle usage. Highly recommended!

Date of stay: October 2018
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Service
Thank Allen K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Jeanee L, Owner at The Linden Centre, responded to this reviewResponded October 7, 2018

Thank you for your kind words. We continually strive to develop new ways of expressing veneration for the local culture. These efforts are pursued with our guests in mind as well. How to create activities and programs that facilitate more natural interaction with the community all while having a positive impact. In a country like China, this is very difficult to achieve. Many have read my previous responses and better understand our challenges.

Some of the upcoming events we will be hosting to give back to the community include: a Rice Harvest Festival and three nights of outdoor dining in the fields surrounding our Centre, a series of movie nights open to the village that highlight the documentaries made about Xizhou by the hundreds of students who spent time here in 2018 (including the film made by local Xizhou girls that was accepted into the NY Youth Film Festival earlier this month), an American Thanksgiving shared with our local team and guests, a Jazz retreat in December that will bring together local musicians and leading Jazz artists from Beijing, and an international education conference sponsored by the Centre's team that will share the ideals of our rural education programs with leading educators from China and abroad. We thrive on creating cool stuff for our guests and our neighbors. Too often the latter is left out, even though our lives have been pursued alongside their families and aspirations. Our guests, like you, value this type of setting. We hope others will as well.... Thank you again! Brian

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Reviewed October 4, 2018

As a student, I arrived at the Linden Center with a small group of friends and two teachers with a plan to stay for about a week. The first thing I noticed about the hotel is that it is less of a modern hotel than a mesmerizing historical cite fitted with all the amenities a traveller needs and more. The fact that this place is open to visitors as well as overnight guests is somewhat surprising in that it truly seems straight out of a hisotry book. The hotel is an ancient merchant's house, and as you walk through it, and sleep in its rooms, you can't help but imagine the lives of people who lived there hundreds of years ago... their conversations, financial decisions... the walls and courtyard seem eager to tell the stories you can read in the hotel's old library. The central courtyard is peaceful and beautiful, surrounded by two stories of wooden architecture renovated by Brian Linden and his family. The beds are significantly softer than one's I've slept in at other hotels, and there's nothing better than sinking into a soft mattress when exhausted after a day of hiking at the awe-inspiring CangShan Mountain about an hour away, or biking (yes, they even have bikes you can use!) through fields of rice and corn surrounding ErHai Lake which is about ten minutes away by bike. The water pressure is great and I never lacked hot water when needing a shower. They have a washing mashine, so if you're like me and like to do trips with just a backpack, you'll be okay!

Never tried their breakfast, but honnestly, hotels are not where I like to eat, that's what the town is for! And the food in town (a minute away) is fantastic. XiZhou is home to the Bai ethnic minority, and their food is delicious... skewered shrimp sticks... sweet or salty fried bread with sweet bean paste or bacon and onions... and those are just the dishes which immediately make my mouth water. You could stay for weeks and eat a different dish every meal of every day. I did eat dinner once at the Linden Center, and had the opportunity to cook with Big Mike, the head chef at their state of the art kitchen. Big Mike was willing to teach me how to make two delicious Bai dishes from his cookbook, and after dinner I got to meet Brian Linden and hear his story. Brian Linden's life is truly one of Chicagan rags to intangible cultural riches in rural China, he is an inspiring, funny, charismatic, and clearly kindhearted man who'se fearlessness of life's twists and turns I aspire to one day match. He is, as we all are, not without faults of character, and I only wish I had had the time to take him up on his invitation to speak further about his experience of China through the mid-80's, 90's and 2000's.

The welcoming spirit of the hotel staff, Big Mike, and Brian Linden are unforgettable. It would've been an incredible time just to see XiZhou, ErHai Lake, CangShan Mountain, Bai culture, and immerse myself in the environment, but all of that coupled with the experience of the Linden Center made for a trip that I simply found too short. I only wish I had had the time to cook more with Big Mike, to talk more with Mr. Linden, and just to have more time to take everything in.

XiZhou is not the urban lifestyle of Beijing, nor is it the pseudo-hisotrical lifestyle of Dali old-town... XhiZhou is the real deal, and from my short experience of him, so is Brian Linden and his Center. If you're looking for an experience of the awakened economic Goliath that is New China, XiZhou isn't the place to see it, go to Shanghai. But, if you're looking to see how most Chinese people live, the kind of place people in the cities go back to in order to see their families, then XiZhou has more to offer you than you could possibly take in during the time you have, you just need to be willing to really take a look.

Date of stay: September 2018
  • Trip type: Travelled with friends
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Service
Thank Coastal820818
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Jeanee L, Owner at The Linden Centre, responded to this reviewResponded October 4, 2018

I love sharing my story with students. That is why I do two speaking tours per year in China and one per year in the States. I want young people to see the impact that China and its people have had on my life and how they, too, can positively impact theirs.

China has been my home off and on since 1984. Throughout these 30+ years, I have traveled to an additional 100+ countries. Not a single beach holiday. No cruises. My journeys have been undertaken because of my career in international education and my advanced degrees in the social sciences. Travel has always meant learning and sharing. Like the French philosopher and traveler, Montesquieu, travel has been synonymous with challenging my own beliefs.

We challenge every visitor to the Centre to also go beyond their comfort zones. Too many of us, including long-term residents of China, tell a limited story about China upon returning home. Said travels were often restricted to the big cities, hopping from museums to Starbucks to the Hilton or walled-off compounds. We share our impressions of China with many people who will never be able to visit this country. Those friends and neighbors live vicariously through these stories. However, I believe that they do not tell the full story, that there is another part of China, a part that represented 80% of the population as late as 1990. These stories also matter, and these people are among the most hospitable and genuine in this vast country.

Should we judge America by a limited experience in NYC or LA? Should we characterize all of France by two days in Paris? Please give China a chance to share her true beauty, her true self. After three decades in this great country, I find that China's millennia-old culture is much more accessible and sometimes much more alive in its rural areas. Yunnan, because of its geographic isolation from the rest of China, still carries on traditions and a sense of hospitality difficult to find in other parts of China. After experiencing this genuine warmth, we are able to paint a fuller picture, tell a truer story, of this diverse civilization.

Thank you for spending time with us all. Brian

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Reviewed October 4, 2018 via mobile

The linden centre facilitated one of my most significant experiences as a Chinese learner. Situated in the authentic Xizhou village, one’s stay makes for an immersive and perspective-changing time. Thank you again!

Date of stay: October 2018
Trip type: Travelled with friends
Thank Flyer821072
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Jeanee L, Owner at The Linden Centre, responded to this reviewResponded October 4, 2018

Thank you for your kind words. I have just returned from a three-week speaking tour to Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin. I was honored to give talks at some of China's top universities, bookstores, and embassies, including a dinner and speech hosted by the US Ambassador and the Beijing International Society and delivered to 100 diplomats and media. I always have mixed feelings when I leave on such a tour. Yunnan is now my home, and my Xizhou's neighbors are my family and friends. However, I do feel the need to share our model with the rest of China. We are invited to give talks not because we are a small hotel chain. Instead, we are asked to speak because we are creating a model that gives back to the local communities, a social enterprise that venerates instead of exploits. My past responses have highlighted our feelings about China's current tourism model. We in the field know why this model has evolved. China's tourism industry has gone from nothing to 4 billion domestic trips in less than twenty-five years. It has not evolved but rather has exploded, and businessmen and local governments have been scrambling over the past two decades to get a piece of this lucrative business. The problem is that the canvas upon which this travel unfurls- the local communities- often do not have the skillsets to benefit from this new found wealth. They instead become inconsequential and watch many of the financial benefits flow to outside businessmen while the social and cultural fabric of their communities is shattered. The Linden Centre aims to counteract this approach. We love China and believe that its culture should not be handled with these same egregious capitalist tendencies. We in the hospitality industry should carry more honor and social responsibility. We are benefitting off finite assets- environmental, cultural and social. We have witnessed too many destinations that have been developed, overdeveloped and then abandoned. All while the local community's millennia-old traditions have disappeared along with their tangible culture. We soon will open two more sites, one in Tengchong and one in Shibaoshan above Shaxi. We have spent three years working on these projects. This does not mean three working on designs with Shanghai-based architects and interior designers or three years of sourcing the largest bathtubs. No, we have spent three years working with the local communities and governments, understanding their needs and hopes. The dreams of the villagers form the foundation of our projects. Too many of China's destinations are filled with hackneyed designs and outside businessmen completely removed from the cultural reality upon which their projects have been pursued. We want better for China. We may be in the minority, we may be wrong, but these values are what inspires us, and we will not alter our mission for short-term financial gain. Thank you again. Brian

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