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China Travel Guide: Yunnan, 10 places you cannot miss


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Yunnan is one of China's most famous Southern provinces. It is well-known for its wonderful and unadulterated natural landscapes, but also for its characteristic ethnic minority cultures. There are many attractions and places of interest. Here we came up with our selection of the best 10 you cannot miss.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain behind the Black Dragon Pool 

1. Shangri-La
Shangri-La is one of the most characteristic places in Yunnan and China as well. The name itself, changed in 2001 from Zhongdian County, was chosen to evoke images of a mystical and remote place thanks to traditional culture, but mostly to recall the Shangri-La in James Hilton's Lost Horizon.
The region is indeed famous for its natural beauty and for preserving its own special culture influenced by the presence of different ethnic minorities. Among its many attractions, there is Meili Snow Mountain, one of the most sacred peaks to Chinese. It is said that from the top of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet is possible to see the mountain's profile. Other noteworthy places are Lake Napa and the magnificent Songzanlin monastery that is the largest Buddhist monastery in Yunnan and is considered a “small Potala palace”. 
Shangri-La is located in the northwest part of Yunnan and includes the Three Parallel Rivers National Park that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. 
Like in other provinces in China citizens are from different ethnic groups and the most numerous is the Tibetan. 
Here is also located the first national park of China, the Potatso National Park. 
2. The Old Town of Lijiang
The Old Town of Lijiang is Located in the northwest of Yunnan province as well, right south of Shangri-la and stays over 3000 metres above the level of the sea.
It was included among the UNESCO World heritage site too in 1997 and it one of the only two ancient Chinese cities in this list. It was built over 800 years ago during the Song and Yuan dynasties and became very important during the Ming Dynasty. It features numerous old residences, bridges, gardens and natural scenery like the iconic Black Dragon Pool, probably the most popular Yunnan's spot.
Nowadays is a place renowned for leisure tourism. As other ancient towns in Yunnan is characterised by a unique architecture coming from several different cultures that have influenced the region throughout the centuries.
3. Jade dragon snow mountain
The mountain is located in the north as well, at a few kilometres from Lijiang. The entire formation is 35 kilometres long, constituted by 13 peaks with the tallest one reaching over 5500 metres. The mountain and the valley right at its foot offer some truly mesmerising scenery to contemplate.
This area also boasts a wealth of rare plants and wildlife that are difficult to find in the surroundings making it even more unique. Local Naxi ethnic group consider it a sacred place. 
It is possible to enjoy the peak's view from Lijiang's Black Dragon Pool (at the beginning of the article) in a scenery that is considered among the finest in the whole country. 
A flank of the chain forms part of the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge another famous destination, especially for hikers. The area is also equipped with a cable car that allows tourists to easily reach greater heights. 
4. Lugu Lake
The third great location in the same northern area as the previous two is Lugu lake, a 52 square kilometres plateau at the border between Yunnan and Sichuan province. The lake is also located at a considerable altitude. 2685 metres and around 300km distant from Lijiang. It is a particularly beautiful and peaceful place and thanks to the water's clear blue colour and its transparency it is also called 'The pearl of the plateau'. 
It is famous for its unique marriage culture known as 'walking-marriage custom'. It is a complex tradition preserved by the Mosuo ethnic minority, a group organised in a matrilineal society also called 'Kingdom of Women' where couples relationships occur only through mutual consent with nocturnal 'visits' and each individual is free to have multiple partners for as long as he/she desires.
The area is also surrounded by green peaks, among which, the most important to the Mosuo group is called Holy Gemu mountain and they still worship it today.
5. Dali ancient city
Proceeding south we arrive in Dali, 13 km north of Xiaguan and situated on the shore of the beautiful Erhai lake. It is one of the most recognisable places in the Province thanks to its iconic spots, such as the very close three Pagodas. 
The city was built around 1382 and was mostly occupied by Bai ethnic group which also built the majority of the houses in its unique architectural style. The rich and colourful decoration and characteristic tiles colour gave Dali a very distinctive look and atmosphere. 
The city is also historically important because it was a centre for exchanges between China and other south Asian countries. Today boasts famous temples, churches and schools with an antique traditional flavour. 
6. Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple
The three pagodas are probably the most recognised landmark of Yunnan province. Visible from miles away. Right in the north part of Dali is situated the Chongsheng temple that was built during the Tang Dynasty, between the 9th and 10th century. 
The temple had been the royal temple of the Kingdom of Dali for a long time. In the same site, the three pagodas arranged in a triangle tower over the entire surrounding area where it is possible to admire at the same time Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mount.
The tallest pagoda reaches 227 feet (69 metres) and 16 storeys. It is one of the tallest ancient buildings of its kind in China. The legend has that men built them to avoid the dragons' rage when they inhabited the area because dragons too revered these buildings.  
7. Tengchong city and the Hot springs
It is a famous area for its hot springs located very close to the actual Tengchong city. The hot springs centres are very famous for being very beneficial for health and good to heal numerous illness. It is also important for different other scenic spots such as the Big Boiling Cauldron and The Pearl Fountain and many others.
Tengchong is rich with over 80 natural hot springs and boiling fountains. Thanks to this rare feature, its natural life is also very rich and diverse. The numerous plants produce tea, food, medicinal resources or are also used just as ornaments. 
Tengchong is also China's major centre for the processing of Jade, one of the most important minerals in this country's history. 
Both there and in surrounding towns such as Hehua it is possible to find jadeite markets. The town in recent years also started importing and processing amber from Burma.  
8. Mount Cangshan and Erhai Lake
Mount Cangshan and Erhai Lake are two famous scenic spots both close to the aforementioned ancient city of Dali. The two places are at around 2 hours of distance one from the other so it is easy and suggested to visit them together. Mount Cangshan is one of the major peaks in Yunnan, and Erhai located to the east of is Yunnan's second largest lake and it is set on a high plateau from which is possible to enjoy exquisite views.
Cangshan peaks are covered by a primaeval forest and full of vivid natural life. It counts numerous springs, waterfalls and streams with clear waters that offer a refreshing atmosphere. 
Erhai Lake includes among its scenic spots four small islands called Jinsuo, Yinsuodao, Nanzhao Fengqing and the tiniest Small Putuo. All the islets host very peculiar architectures and sculptures that make them even more unique.
9. Stone forest
The stone forest is large Karst formation located quite close to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. Is one of the most famous attractions of this area thanks to its impressive look from a distance and its complex shapes, a real natural wonder. Walking through it, you will feel like in a proper stone maze of rare beauty while admiring figures that resemble animals or plants. 
The forest covers also a large area that takes quite a long time to cover as well. Geologists date it back to over 270 million years ago and in origin covered apparently a massively extensive area.
A Legend says that the forest was the birthplace of Ashima, an incredibly beautiful girl part of the Yi ethnic group. She fell in love with a man, but the relationship was forbidden and for this was turned into a stone that today bears her name. Every year the Yi group also holds a traditional celebration here called Torch Festival.  
10. Yuanyang Rice Terraces
This large area (around 2200 square kilometres) located to the south of Kunming has been listed among the UNESCO world heritage sites in 2013. It is one of the most spectacular scenery one can admire. The area covers around 1,7 million acres, it has been preserved and cared for over 1300 years and counts over 3000 stairs. The sunlight reflecting on the terraces so uniquely shaped by the farmers throughout the years is a rare spectacle. Naturally, it is the destination of choice for photographers. But despite its overwhelming beauty and the interesting traditions of ethnic minorities, the area's tourism has not developed much due to its isolation and the poor connection with major touristic attractions. 
A good news is that for this reason Yuanyang still preserves its original atmosphere, especially in its most interesting parts that are located between 1000 and 2000 metres above the sea level. Almost 90% of the population here belongs to different ethnic minorities and lives of agriculture. Each group through the years settled at different heights and in particular Hani and Yi minorities that first inhabited Yuanyang and shaped these monumental terraces still live between 1300 and 1600 metres above the sea level.

Yunnan Province offers these and many more attractions. It is a region that thanks to its many ethnic minorities still preserves traditions more than others. It is a shrine of ancient ways of life that await to be discovered and a place of pure natural beauty that tourists expect when travelling to China for the first time. 

If you wish to plan a tour to Yunnan for your next holiday, check our itinerary Yunnan Discovery for an inspiration or contact our experts for a tailor-made package.


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