The buttons below link to details of our trip through Yunnan. The gallery link takes you to photos of our trip and 'About' includes travel practicalities as well as a reading list.

Introduction Kunming to Dali Places - Shaxi to Shangri LaPeople AboutGallery

Vicky's blog has a lot more detail and colour. You can read the first episode here



About Yunnan

Kunming has a large airport connected to a number of countries in SE Asia as well as over 50 cities in China. The smaller Lijiang airport also has international flights from Singapore, Bangkok, HK and Taiwan as well as many Chinese cities. As it is very popular as a Chinese tourist location expect it to be quite crowded. Visas are necessary for China and It is not possible to cross into Tibet unless you have a special permit.

Because of the huge range in altitude and climate - from tropical in the South West to high mountain in the NW (Zhongdian is at 3200m) the weather and temperature are variable. When we visit in May we get some rain and the temperature ranges from around 15-24C. The winter is cooler and drier - wet season is June - August.

Travel along the tourist route (Kunming-Dali-Lijiang-Shangrila) is now very easy with excellent highways open along most of the route. Further off the beaten track the mountain roads are much slower. Local buses are available although you will need reasonable Mandarin to negotiate these.

You will find a wide variety of food here. This is a great area for growing fruit and vegatables and the local markets are full of everything from mangos and bananas to more temperate produce. Locally cured ham is also a speciality as is yak meat. Mushrooms are also a local favourite - both fresh (in season) and dried - more than 157 varieties. You will also find a lot of spicy Sechuan food here - mapo tofu and kungpo chicken as well as hotpots. Restaurant prices are very affordable - our meals for two rarely came to more than RMB 120 (about USD 15) including beer. Language can be a challenge in restaurants as few people speak English. When menus have pictures or English you can just about cope with sign language.

Chinese currency - remenbi (RMB) or yuan - can be purchased outside the country. In the big towns we also found ATMs where foreign cards could be used. Tipping is not common although we did tip our guides and drivers (100-150 RMB/day and 50-75 respectively).

Western medicine can be pretty hard to find here - even basics like paracetamol - so bring what you are likely to need. Some people are affected by the altitude (2200 - 3200m); traditional chinese medicine cures may be effective but if you want to rely on western drugs then bring your own.

A tasty mushroom hotpot in Chuxiong

Because of all the tourism there are now thousands of hotels and guesthouses in Yunnan. We booked into smaller "boutique" hotels - converted houses and lodges or modern small hotels. All were very attractive and comfortable. Probably the least interesting was the large, luxury business hotel in Kunming - the Green Lake. The Linden Centre in Xizhou was excellent and the Laomadian Lodge in Shaxi (above left) also charming, albeit more noisy with paper thin walls. The Bivou in Shuhe, Lijiang (above right), was a big contrast - a small modern, boutique hotel built around two courtyard gardens and looking over allotments and hills. In Shangri La we stay in a very comfortable Boutique hotel in the old town - the Arro Khampa (below).

Although we tried to get off the beaten track, the need to use local city guides who 'know there route' makes it hard to arrange a more out of the way trip. Some of the places we stayed like the bijou arrange their own tours and it would be worth exploring that option if you wanted to trek or visit more remote villages.

An alternative trip

Having visited once we now have some ideas about what we would and wouldn't do next time we visited this area.

Places to avoid:

Dali Old Town - nothing old about it, crawling with tourists and full of shops trying to sell you bongo drums

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain - a massive operation to shift tourists around in bulk. The views are nothing special and the mountain experience entirely manufactured.

Tiger Leaping Gorge - another big tourist operation. The gorges and views were much more interesting further to the north when we had the mountain to ourselves.

Gandansumtseling Monastery - sad to see a great old monastery and its monks turned into a tourist attraction with turnstyles and tour buses.

Other possibilities

Baoshan and Baoshan stone village - interesting village built on a cliff top near Lijiang. Around about are large rocks in many shapes known as the Stone City. Supposedly a great area for walking.

Baishuitai - a Naxi village on the edge of Shangri La county - full of white terraces and pools caused by minerals in the water.

Lugu Lake - another area accessible from Lijiang. Good walks, interesting villages and simple places to stay overnight.

Trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge - heading up from the tourist spot to join a trail which can be followed for 1-3 days. Simple places to stay on the way.

Trekking to the north of Shangri-La. A number of interesting routes can be found in this area.

Things to keep the same

The stays in Xizhou, Shaxi and Shuhe. Walking the Jade Belt Path. Shibao Shan and the Shizhong Temple. The trip to the Denduling monastery and the scenery along the way. Nixi village.

I am sure that there are many other interesting things to see and do in Yunnan. The challenge is to find them.

Reading list

Forgotten Kingdom by Peter Goullart: the author travelled to Lijiang in the late 1930s to set up a cooperative movement. Over the next 10 years he got to know the local people and the neighbouring tribes. A fascinating account of a really forgotten kingdom before everything changed in 1949.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton: adventure story about a plane that is diverted and the passengers kidnapped and taken to the beautiful location of Shangri La. Having just read the book I can see no possible link that would justify renaming Zhongdian as Shangri La in order to market it to the tourists.

Children of the Jade Dragon by Jim Goodman: a book about the Naxi and Yi people around Lijiang. Highly recommended if you are visiting the region. Available on Kindle and easy to read. It also contains ideas of many places in the area to visit which your tour operator might not know about.

Yunnan: China South of the Clouds by Jim Goodman: a detailed book about the region and its people. Goodman has visited the area many times and in addition to Children of the Jade Dragon has also written Living in Shangrila about the Tibetans and Mosuo.

Three Years in Western China by Alexander Hosie: written in 1889 about his travels when stationed in Western China from 1882 to 1884