Spotlight on a Chinese Province: Yunnan

Yunnanese women
Yunnanese women | ©M M/Flickr
Rachel Deason

Located in southern China on the borders of Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos, Yunnan is well on the backpackers trail. This diverse province, home to the highest concentration of Chinese ethnic minorities and over sixteen languages, is arguably one of China’s most beautiful and perfectly demonstrates that China is not a homogeneous country. Tourism makes up over 12 percent of the province’s GDP, but due to its size and incredible number of attractive destinations, few spots feel overcrowded at any one time.

Major cities


Kunming is the capital of and largest city in Yunnan province. Nicknamed the “Spring City” for its mild climate known in Chinese as si ji ru chun, or “spring all year round,” Kunming is more than just the jumping off point for other Yunnan destinations. In 2003, the city was listed among the top ten best summer resort cities and itself has some unmissable attractions, namely Yuantong Temple, Dianchi Lake and Guandu Old Town.

Yuantong Temple, 30 Yuantong St, Wuhua Qu, Kunming Shi, Yunnan Sheng, China, 650031

Yuantong Temple


Dali Old Town (not to be confused with Dali City, or Xiaguan) is one of Yunnan’s most popular tourist destinations. Famous for its traditional architecture, natural scenery and nightlife, Dali feels like the most touristy place in Yunnan and can be passed over by those hoping for a trip that doesn’t feel like its being shared with half a million of your closest friends. For those willing to brave the crowds and touts, though, Dali has its fair share of worthwhile offerings, namely Erhai Lake and the Cangshan Mountains.

Dali City

Other travel destinations


While Lijiang is an ancient town similar to Dali, it feels more peaceful and exclusive than its larger counterpart. Many Chinese people say that if you want to fall in love, go to Lijiang. Perhaps this is because of its attractive locals, or more likely, because the town is so romantic as to make even the most cynical find love among the mountains and limestone travertines. Since its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, many of the local Nakhi people have moved away from the old town and rented their houses to shops and cafes. However, the town is still a special place and one of the must-see places in Yunnan.

Black Dragon Pool


Xishuangbanna is a Dai autonomous prefecture in the extreme south of Yunnan, bordering Myanmar to the southwest and Laos to the southeast. The prefecture seat is a city called Jinghong that bestrides the Mekong River. With a culture vastly different from the dominating Han in much of the rest of China, Xishuangbanna shares more cultural similarities with Thailand and Laos than it does even with Kunming or Dali. Harboring much of the biodiversity of Yunnan, Xishuangbanna is home to rain forests, rare plants and the last few Asian elephants in China.


Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a dramatic and scenic canyon on the Jinsha River, winding its way between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain. Hiking the length of the gorge will require several days and some strenuous trails not recommended for beginners. It is possible to drive the length of the gorge as well, although the hiking trail offers more varied scenery.

Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La, Deqen, Yunnan, China

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Xamgyi’nyilha County (Shangri-La)

Branded Shangri-La in 2001 after the fictional land in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, Xamgyi’nyilha County is the seat of the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Unsurprisingly bordering Tibet, Shangri-La is often used as an entry point into the tough-to-visit autonomous region and is one of the best ways to experience Tibetan culture without obtaining the requisite travel permit to visit Tibet itself.

Gandan Sumtseling Monastery


Shilin, or Stone Forest, is located just 90 km from Kunming and offers a look at a karstic landscape unlike any other. The scenic area covers the greater and lesser stone forests, as well as caves, lakes and a waterfall.

Stone Forest


Yunnan cuisine, like the province it comes from, is one of the most unique in China. Taking the best parts from all of the province’s ethnic traditions, Yunnan cuisine uses all parts of nature. It is not uncommon to find locals chomping on insects, flowers, ferns, wild mushrooms or algae, and those who are brave enough to try these culinary delights will find it a wonder that not everyone eats like that. The cuisine is often extremely spicy, although not in the same way that Sichuanese or Hunanese cuisine is spicy. Popular dishes include pineapple rice, mashed potatoes with chives and chilies and goat’s milk cheese. Yunnan is also home to many famous Chinese teas, most notably Pu’er.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article