Yunnan is seldom on the international tourist radar, simply because everyone is going to Beijing and Shanghai. While Yunnan cannot provide the glitz and glamour that the big cities are proud of, it offers what you can never find in the coastal regions of China. Here are nine reasons why you should visit Yunnan the next time you plan to go to China:
1. Home to 26 minority ethnic groups
Not many places in the world offer so much diversity. Every town you visit in Yunnan is distinctly different – the architecture, food, traditional costumes and even language. Xishuangbanna is home to the Dai, Dali to the Bai and Lijiang to the Naxi. Going to each town feels like entering a new country. This is what makes travel so exciting!
2. Great weather all year round
Kunming is known as the Spring City because everyday feels like spring. Most of the cities and towns in Yunnan are highly elevated, so the weather is cool all year round. Summer in Kunming could even times feel like winter when it is especially windy and overcast. If you are travelling during summer, Yunnan is a great choice to avoid the summer heat.
3. Grows amazing Pu’er tea
Yunnan is famous for many types of tea and Pu’er is the first thing that most people think of. Visit Xishuangbanna to tour around the many Pu’er tea plantations there. There is so much wisdom surrounding the production and taste of tea that you have to personally visit to fully understand and appreciate it. Go with a tour group or find a plantation through a personal contact.
4. Large ancient cities to explore
Yunnan boasts many large ancient cities. Visit Dali, Shaxi and Lijiang, which are ancient cities home to different minority ethnic groups. Each ancient city is different – some are still living cities while others have become tourist areas. I personally recommend Dali and Shaxi, which are still living cities full of flavour and life. You get to see the locals do what they do best, such as crafting and weaving, and your interactions with them will not solely be transactional in nature.
5. Prominent Tibetan culture
Visiting Tibet on your own is prohibited. However, you can still get a full Tibetan experience in neighbouring Yunnan province. Head north to Shangri-la, which is a Tibetan city. Shangri-la boasts a large Tibetan Buddhist monastery known as Songzanlin Monastery, which is nicknamed the “Small Potala Palace”. This is an important place of worship for the Tibetans, hence its high regard as the smaller version of the Tibet’s Potala Palace. As you drive to Shangri-la, you will start noticing Yaks grazing the vast plains instead of cows. Yak meat is a Tibetan delicacy, which you can have your hands on in Shangri-la.
6. Beautiful wild azaleas
The wild azaleas in Yunnan only grow in high altitudes. They come in various bright colours such as red, pink and purple. As you drive north towards Tibet from Kunming, the elevation increases and you will start seeing entire fields of wild azaleas. These wild azaleas are just as pretty as the sakuras in Japan. Sadly, they only bloom from late May to June.
7. Stunning snow mountains
One of the highlights of Yunnan is the sunrise view of the thirteen peaks of the Meili snow mountains. You have to be extremely lucky to see the reddish hue on all thirteen peaks, as it can only been seen on less than 60 days a year. For 8 minutes a day in the early morning, the sunrays hit the snow-capped peaks at an angle that results in a beautiful reddish hue. All your efforts in waking up early would pay off as you take in this breathtaking view.
8. Incredible trekking routes
You might have heard of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. I suggest that you can skip that trek. Instead, trek to Yubeng village hidden well within the Meili snow mountains. This village is not accessible by motor vehicles except trailers and motorbikes. The only way in is by foot or by donkey. It takes a full day to get to the village, but your efforts will pay off when you eventually see the amazing scenery surrounding Yubeng village. Moreover, there are many side treks from the village that will definitely take your breath away.
9. Scenic drives
For me, I love driving along roads that boasts amazing scenery. The road to Tibet from Yunnan is one such road. As you head towards Shangri-la and further north towards the Meili snow mountains, you will see beautiful mountains, valleys and the mighty Yangtze River. There are many viewpoints along the way where you can stop and take in the stunning views. This road is definitely a must-go!
These are nine reasons why you have to visit Yunnan when you are in China. Were you convinced? Tell me in the comments below. Do also share this with your friends so that they too will keep an eye out for Yunnan when they plan a trip to China!