Must-See Places of Yunnan

Explore Yunnan’s diverse culture with these compelling destinations.

(Cover photo source: Mia Trinh)

Yunnan, translated to South of the Clouds, is a truly diverse landscape, home to different minor ethnicities in western China. Visitors can learn about China’s rich history and ethnic diversity while enjoying the most tasty cuisines from the region. There are many useful traveling tips for Yunnan, especially during winter time. 

Lijiang

In Lijiang, you can admire the long history and vibrant culture of minor ethnic groups such as Bai, Yi, Lisu, Naxi, Dai, Mosuo, Pumi. Look out for Dongba characters (东巴文) on the shop names everywhere you go in Lijiang. Dongba script is a pictographic system of writing, used by the Naxi group since 1000 years ago and is kept alongside China’s modern system of characters in Lijiang. 

Lijiang Old Town

An early morning walk in Lijiang Old Town 

(Source: Mia Trinh)

Wandering in Lijiang Old Town feels like being lost in an ancient Chinese adventure. Drop by the Ancient Tea Horse Road Museum (大觉宫) to learn about the history of Lijiang as an important connecting point for China’s tea trade. Do not forget to look for signature chicken hotpot restaurants and Yunnan rice noodle shops to fully enjoy your walk around the ancient town. 

Admission: Free 

Hours: 24/7

Cuisine Highlights: Chicken hotpot; rose cake

Tip: Visit the ancient town in the early morning to avoid overcrowded alleys.

Jade Dragon Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Scenic Area 

(Source: Mia Trinh)

With the spectacular view, the snow mountain is one of the most crowded places you could find in Lijiang. To avoid the crowd, opt for low season, especially the days immediately leading up to the Chinese New Years. However, once at the peak of the mountain, you will find yourself literally on top of China. With the ticket, visitors have access to the entire scenic area that might take a few days to visit.

Admission: 340 RMB (For the scenic area ticket and cable car)

Must-See: Jade Dragon Mountain, Blue-Moon Valley (White Water River)

Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Tip: Wear warm clothes for the mountain to avoid having to buy extra jackets. If you think you might have difficulty in high altitude, buy oxygen masks from your local hostel for a cheaper price. 

Shangri-la 

Yes, Shangri-la is a real place on earth! Previously known as Zhongdian (中甸), the city was renamed to Xianggelila (香格里拉), or Shangri-la, after James Holton’s novel Lost Horizon. Arriving in Shangri-la and you will immediately feel the influence of Tibetan culture on the architecture of the city. Visit a local Tibetan temple, turn the lucky bell with the locals for Lunar New Year and you will have an unforgettable experience. 

Stairs leading up to the Sumtseling Monastery

(Source: Mia Trinh)

Must-See: Sumtseling Monastery

Cuisine Highlight: Yak meat

Tip: The cheapest way to get to Shangri-la is by public buses that run daily from Lijiang, since flights are not very common and can be very expensive. During holiday seasons such as Lunar New Year, public transport might be suspended. If this is the case, you can simply ask your hotel or hostel to help with arranging a private driver (approximately 100 RMB/person). 

Xishuangbanna (西双版纳) 

Xishuangbanna is a perfect tropical escape for those who want to explore southern Yunnan. The city has a lot of cute cafes and restaurants in the Gaozhuang neighborhood, constituting a perfect food tour to explore Daiwei cuisine – an infusion of Chinese, Thai, and Burmese cultural elements. The night market also offers a variety of options for ethnic local food. You can also visit gorgeous temples in Xishuangbanna to learn more about the local religious traditions. 

Pineapple rice

(Source: Phoebe Lemon)

Must-See: Various temples 

Cuisine Highlight: Daiwei food 

Tip: Rent a scooter to explore the city!

A Note on Ethical Cultural Tourism Responsible tourism strives to protect nature, respect the host culture, and contribute to the development of the destination. When visiting Yunnan, where many different minor ethnic groups reside, you could practice mindful and responsible tourism by doing thorough research of your travel choices, avoiding intrusive activities to the host culture, and prioritizing services and accommodations whose revenue benefits the local populations.

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