For Chinese people, ‘Yunnan’ represents everything that’s most exotic about their own country. Bordered by Tibet, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Vietnam, the province encompasses extraordinary geographic extremes: ice peaks, rice terraces, jaw-dropping mountain gorges, high-altitude grasslands and moist sub-tropical forests full of rare plants and flowers. It also retains a wealth of historic towns, foremost among them Dali and Lijiang, on the old Tea–Horse trade route to Lhasa, where large concentrations of antique houses and temples have been painstakingly restored, recreating the refined atmosphere of the Ming and Qing eras. Ethnic minorities such as the Naxi and Bai have a high profile in both cities, and in the much warmer southern half of the state where, after decades of suppression, traditional ways of life are being revived, making this one of the most culturally engaging regions to explore.
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Places to visit in Yunnan
Set amid breathtaking scenery on the shores of shimmering Erhai Lake, Dali is the China of the imagination – where pagoda towers nose above skylines of clay-tile roofs, and ancient cobbled streets are framed by willow trees and a serene ba...
Although of largely modern appearance, Yunnan’s relaxed capital is regarded by many travellers as among China’s most pleasant cities. Orderly and clean, it boasts a particularly mild, dry climate (whence its name, which translates as ‘City...
The vision of the Jade Dragon Mountain’s eternal snowfields shining above the elegantly upcurved, pantiled rooftops of Lijiang is one of the most evocative in China. An important way stage on the old Tea Horse Road, the town emerged a thou...
In the far north of Yunnan, the town of Shangri-La (or ‘Zhongdian’ as it used to be known) occupies a high, mountainous plateau on the fringes of Tibet. Snow-encrusted peaks, exotic lamaseries and grasslands dotted with herds of grazing ya...
Shilin Stone Forest
A recommended day trip from Kunming is the 74-mile (120-km) drive to the Shilin Stone Forest, where limestone laid down some 270 million years ago has been eroded into the shapes of petrified trees and other phantasmagorical forms. One of ...
The Shaxi Valley
A 90-minute drive along the new highway from Dali and Lijiang, the Shaxi Valley lies on the route of the old Tea Horse Road connecting Yunnan with Tibet and Myanmar. Screened by forested mountain ridges, the vale retains some of the best p...
The Tea-Horse Road
For over a thousand years, from the time of the Tang dynasty in the 7th century AD until the advent of the diesel engine in the 20th, a thriving trade route crossed the mountains and gorges of Yunnan. Stretching for around 1,400 miles, it ...
Ethnic Minorities of Southwest China
Modern China straddles vastly different worlds, and nowhere exemplifies this better than the southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou, which together hold the largest number of minority groups in the country. The region’s rugged terrai...
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