This post was last updated on April 17th, 2020 at 09:34 am
Yunnan, a world of difference from other areas in China; it’s a paradise where you will find the most magical landscape! From impressive rice fields and snow-capped mountain tops in the north to remote mountain villages and small temples that rarely attract tourists. Yunnan is a beautiful region where nature will enchant you!
The Unique Landscape of Yunnan
In addition to the unprecedentedly beautiful region, Yunnan also houses the most ethnic minorities in China. About 50% of all non-Han Chinese live in this province. For years, they have successfully resisted the influences of the government resulting in other cultures and traditions.
This makes Yunnan even more different from the rest of China with its variety of cultures and a different landscape. Even Kūnmíng, the capital of the region and a fairly busy city, cannot be compared to busy cities such as Beijing or Shanghai. Kūnmíng is one of the most relaxed cities in the southwest. In the Yunnan region, you will find rice fields (the most beautiful in China) and a beautiful mountain landscape. In addition to this landscape, there are also 2,500 species of flowers and plants here.
5 Best Things to Do in Yunnan
Yunnan is a beautiful region and is attracting more and more travelers every year. Together with the Li River National Park, you will find, in our opinion, the most beautiful nature in China here. There is also plenty to do. Hiking, or walking, are the main activities here, but you can also visit rice fields or old villages. Below are some of the best things to do in Yunnan.
1. Hike One of the Many Trails
As mentioned before, hiking, or walking, are the main reasons to come here. The province of Yunnan offers a huge number of trails ranging from one day to several days. It is certainly worthwhile to spend at least a day exploring nature in order to discover all its beauty. We have listed the most important and beautiful trails below.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
The Tiger Leaping Gorge is perhaps the best-known hike in all of China. This spectacular two or three-day walk is one of the most beautiful in all of China. The trails are well maintained, but it is also home to some of the most naturally breathtaking and varied landscapes in the region.
The path takes you high through the mountains past villages, forests, rice terraces, waterfalls, and rocky cliffs. Above are the snow-covered Jade Dragon and Haba Mountains, and far below the Yangtze River. The path is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the entrance fee is 50 yuan ($7.10).
Meili Snow Mountain Trails
This mountain range on the border of Yunnan and Tibet lets hikers taste the atmosphere of Tibet without actually going there. Along the way you will see Tibetan villages, decorated with prayer flags, wedged between glacial lakes and the mountains covered with snow. Although there are several trails, one of the most popular is the Upper Yubeng, a steep mountain on the way to the glacier lake.
The 99 Dragon Pool
Close to the city of Lijiang, you will find the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, with many lakes. The azure blue lakes are extraterrestrial according to the population (they certainly look that way). The Qunlong Shanzhuang path offers you a view of beautiful nature (lots of flowers) and if you are lucky you will see the Yunnan Golden Monkey.
TIP – The city of Lijiang is the base for this region.
Stone Treasure Mountain (Shibaoshan)
This 2,000-hectare area is located near Shaxi. You will find different mountains here such as Baoding and Shisan Shizhong. Four temples can be found here with 1,300 years old Buddhist petroglyphs. You can also see a monastery and other shrines scattered along the forest paths.
Hiking in the Cang Shan Mountains
These mountains, located near the city of Dali, are especially popular with the locals. You can take the cable car to the top, but it is more fun to walk to the top via one of the many paths outside the beaten track. The trails start at the Zhonghe temple. Along the way, you will see lakes, mountain tops, temples, and natural pools.
2. Visit Old Villages and Locals
Yunnan is home to 25 ethnic minorities, including the Bai, Yi, Dai, Naxi, Hani, Miao, Tibetan, Hui, and Yao. All these minorities live in small villages and still live with their own traditions, especially the Naxi minority. More than 400 festivals are celebrated throughout the year, where the folk traditions and customs are preserved.
TIP – In Yunnan Ethnic Village you can enjoy not only a variety of architecture, clothing and notable customs but also songs and dance.
3. Visit Lijiang
One of the most beautiful villages in all of China is Lijiang. It is the most popular old city among domestic and foreign travelers. It is characterized by the ancient architecture of Naxi and an ingenious old network of waterways. It is sometimes called the Venice of China.
The cobbled streets, old bridges, and traditional houses contribute to the charming image of this old city. For many, it is also a highlight of their journey through China. You can easily walk around in Lijiang for a few days without getting bored.
TIP – You can read more about this city on our Lijiang page.
4. Visit the Many Temples
Yunnan used to be a separate kingdom in one of the many dynasties of China, so the culture in the province is different here than in the rest of China. The historical culture has given the province numerous historical sights. It is interesting and beautiful to see all the special buildings here. A few of those temples are;
- The Three Pagodas in Dali ➜ these pagodas were built over 1000 years ago and famous for their size, antiquity and the fact that they are still intact;
- Qiongzhu Temple in Kunming ➜ a Buddhist temple, famous for painted clay sculptures;
- The Mural in Baisha Village in Lijiang ➜ the mural shows stories about Taoism, Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism.
5. Visit the Rice Terraces of Yuanyang
You should not miss the Duoyishu landscape during your visit to Yunnan. The Yuanyang rice terraces were made 1000 years ago by the Hani people. The place has since been expanded with more than 10,000 hectares of rice terraces!
It is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, just like the rice terraces of Banaue in the Philippines. It is also a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site. The huge rows of rice terraces attract countless photographers and tourists every year. Dongchuan Red Land is THE place to take photos.
TIP – Also visit the Hani village, another highlight during a visit to Yuanyang.
Best Areas & Accommodations
Yunnan is a province in the south of China on the border of Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. It is not a region that you visit for a short time, the area is huge. It is almost impossible to discover all the sights of the region. Most travelers stay in the two most important cities of the province; Kunming and Lijiang.
Kunming is the capital of the province. Kunming has become increasingly popular in recent years, but still not comparable with other major cities such as Beijing or Shanghai. From Kunming you can book different tours in Yunnan, although it depends on what you want to see. For example, the journey from Kunming to the rice terraces of Yuanyang takes almost 5 hours.
TIP – Here you will find the best accommodations in Kunming.
Lijiang is the most popular place in Yunnan. The age-old town attracts thousands of foreign and domestic tourists every year, all wandering through the old streets. It is a beautiful old city and we recommend staying here while traveling through Yunnan.
TIP – View all accommodations in Lijiang here.
How Do I Get to Yunnan?
The easiest way to reach the Yunnan region is via the capital, Kunming. This city is perfectly accessible by bus, train or plane. From here you can easily travel to the rest of the region through public transport tours.
You can fly to Kunming from all major cities in China. Some cities that are connected to Kunming via flights are Beijing, Chengdu, Guilin, Lhasa, Shanghai, Sanya, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Bangkok.
TIP – Book domestic flights via Skyscanner.
The city has four train stations, of which only two are actually used; the Kunming Railway Station and Kunming South Railway Station.
- Kunming Railway Station (Nanyao Station) – this station is located about four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the city center. By taxi, you are in the city within 15 minutes (10 yuan, US$1.40). From here trains run to and from Dali, Lijiang, Yuxi, etc.
- Kunming South Railway Station – is located 28 kilometers (17.4 miles) from the city in the Chenggong District. Bullet trains run to/from major cities in China, such as Shanghai, Nanning, Hangzhou, Beijing, Yiwu, etc. via this station.
You can also travel to Kunming by bus, but the distances are huge in China. That means you spend a lot of hours on the bus, even though it is the cheapest option. There are several bus stations; the West Bus Station and South Bus Station are the most important. Some destinations;
- Lijiang ➜ Runs every hour between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. | takes 9 hours | 190 to 250 yuan, US$27 to $35 ➜ Go via the West Bus Station
- Shangri-La ➜ Runs every hour between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (night buses) | takes 12 hours | 200 to 300 yuan, US$28 to $42.50 ➜ Go via the West Bus Station
- Yuanyang ➜ 10:20 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. | takes 5 hours | 140 yuan, US$19.80 ➜ Go via the South Bus Station
- Vientiane ➜ 6:00 p.m. | takes 20+ hours | 600 yuan, US$85 ➜ Go via the South Bus Station
- Luang Prabang ➜ 6:30 p.m. | takes 20+ hours | 400 yuan, US$56 ➜ Go via the South Bus Station
Akisoto in Yunnan
After a remarkably good night’s sleep, we decided to explore the old center first. If you’ve never been to China (and have already forgotten about the Olympic Opening Ceremony) this is how you imagine it to be.
Beautiful traditional houses, narrow streets where it is impossible not to get lost, and side streets where you encounter locals dressed in traditional costumes. At the end of the morning, it becomes clear that Lijiang doesn’t only have countless souvenir shops but also countless tourists, and that is not surprising when you consider that Lijiang is on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
Those tourists are for the most part Chinese, so it is not very noticeable. In just a small square, we still got wonderfully lost. We were approached (in reasonably good English) by a friendly Chinese couple who offer to take us along a few mountain villages. We thought this was a great plan; such a nice spontaneous action.
We are amazed by one of the local markets just outside Lijiang. We are kindly laughed at by a local market stall owner whose only merchandise is a complete pig’s head and a little further on we came across a dried monkey’s head on a table among all kinds of indeterminate herbs.
Our guide tells us this is the place where the people of the mountain villages do their shopping and they have arranged that we can have dinner with a local family for lunch. All for a modest fee, of course, but this is an experience we can’t pass up.
After a really fantastic home-cooked soup with a Naxi family, we take a nice walk. The fresh mountain air felt very refreshing and when the sun hits the mountain slopes late in the afternoon, the colors seem to come alive. For a moment there in the mountains of Yunnan, the world is perfect.