A Visitor's Guide to Touring Yunnan Province - Itineraries and Sights

  • 01 of 04

    Yunnan Province - An Introduction to a Spectacular Destination

    xishuangbanna
    ••• Bougainvillea climbing up a hillside village in Xishuangbanna. Photo by Sara Naumann. All rights reserved.

    Yunnan Province truly is a spectacular place. Visitors can travel from the tropical climates in the south to high-altitude peaks of the northwest. It is home to Shangri-La and a large Tibetan community as well as 24 other ethnic minorities that call Yunnan home. Yunnan is the birthplace of Chinese tea and visitors can go to Pu'er to see how ancient techniques are still used to create these famous brews that, in ancient times, were packed in bricks and stacked on horseback to make their way across to Lhasa on the Tea-Horse Road.

    I have been to Yunnan Province three times and feel like I have barely begun to explore. There are many places I still would like to go. But detailed in the pages that follow are in-depth profiles of places to go and things to see in three major regions:

    • Around Dali Ancient Town on Erhai Lake
    • From Lijiang to Shangri-La in Yunnan's Tibetan Northwest
    • In and around Yunnan's tropical Xishuangbanna in the south
    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    Around Dali Ancient Town on Erhai Lake

    ••• A Bai local sells vegetables at the Xizhou Town Market. © 2011 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.

    Dali is famous for the ancient part of the town and travelers will hear about "Dail Old Town" as soon as you start thinking about visiting Yunnan Province. But there's a lot more to see in the area besides Dali. While certainly worth a visit, don't be too quick to head off for other parts of the province before exploring the small towns near Dali where you'll have a possibly more authentic interaction with locals and local culture.

    Here are links to a number of attractions

    • First off, I recommend booking your stay in the area a the small but lovely Linden Centre. This boutique hotel offers a unique stay in a restored courtyard home as well as access to many cultural explorations. The Centre can help you explore local cooking and tea culture as well as arrange biking, hiking, horseback riding and many other activities.
    • As the Linden Centre is located in a small town near Dali called Xizhou, many activities are based from there:
    • You can divide your time between Xizhou and Dali Old Town or visit Dali from Xizhou. They are about 45 minutes apart.
    • Near Xizhou is another village called Zhoucheng that is famous for its local textiles. This is an interesting place to spend half a day exploring and bargaining for some hand-spun or hand-dyed textiles.
    • Finally, here's a step-by-step itinerary for a Xizhou-Dali tour.
    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    From Lijiang to Shangri-La in Yunnan's Tibetan Northwest

    ••• Monks gather inside the Assembly Hall in Gyelthang Monastery, Shangri-La. Photo by Sara Naumann. All rights reserved.

    Lijiang and Shangri-La (Zhongdian) are worth individual trips but if you can, combining them makes a fabulous road trip through stunning scenery. Spending a few days in Lijiang to get accustomed to the higher altitude and the wonderful surroundings. You can then go on to hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge, or do what we did, head off to the idyllic village of Tacheng to see the endangered snub-nosed golden monkeys in their natural habitat. From Tacheng, another half-day's drive gets you to the higher altitude famed village of Shangri-La where you can find Tibetan culture flourishing in the town and in the surrounding countryside. If you have time, book the entire route with Songtsam Lodges. They can arrange all your transportation as well as stays in their Tibetan, locally run boutique lodges.

    Here are links to the things to see and do from Lijiang to Shangri-La:

    And here is a step-by-step itinerary for you to follow while you're in northwest Yunnan:

    Continue to 4 of 4 below.
  • 04 of 04

    In and Around Tropical Xishuangbanna in Southern Yunnan

    wangtianshu xishuangbanna tree canopy
    ••• The tree canopy on Wang Tian Shu Forest Park, Xishuangbanna, near the China-Laos border. Photo by Sara Naumann. All rights reserved.

    The area called Xishuangbanna is utterly different from Dali and Shangri-La. Here the rice and barley fields give way to lush tropical forests and rubber plantations that have taken over the mountainsides (and much of the original forest). The climate is hot and humid and the flora is incredible. During our short stay we experienced a sky-trek through the rain forest tree canopy, a hike that led us to ancient tea trees, a discovery of unique flowers in the gardens around our hotel and a walk through one of the largest botanical gardens in China.

    Here are links to some of the attractions in Xishuangbanna:

    Here's a complete Xishuangbanna travel guide: