What to see in Yunnan Province: Lijiang, Dali and Kunming

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From Sichuan we went to Yunnan Province, another culturally diverse region in China. The province is located to the southwest of the country neighboring Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. The weather is sub tropical and vegetation pretty diverse. Additionally, Yunnan is home to some of the nicest towns in China. If you are wondering what to see in Yunnan, we strongly recommend: Lijiang, Dali and Kunming. I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start from the beginning.

Old Town of Lijiang

We arrived to Lijiang by plane from Chengdu. The city is over 1000 years old and has managed to preserve most of its heritage buildings. You can only access the Old Town of Lijiang on foot, so our taxi drops us at the gate and once again I have to deal with the map situation. Not even the locals can help us. So we walked up and down narrow alleys for half an hour until we finally find our place. We immediately love it. The traditional house is built around a couple of patios. There is a roof terrace with fabulous views and a traditional tea drinking table.

The town is crisscrossed by streams, with trees and flowers decorating the already beautiful streets. Elderly people dressed up in traditional clothes sell fruit from baskets they carry on their backs. Young ones play drums in their shops. People smile everywhere! So for three days all we do is walk about its cobbled streets, take pictures, joke with the locals and try all sorts of delicious food. You have to try their tea and a soft pastry made of roses. Eitan was very happy, he is not really into tea. He is a coffee lover, so every morning he would enjoy his book and great brewed coffee at Café Prague, overlooking a stream lined with blossoming trees. Nights are perfect to walk too. The town booms with incredibly loud music coming from dozens of bars, everybody is dancing and shouting.

Black Dragon Lagoon

Don’t forget to visit the Black Dragon Lagoon. We spent a day there, enjoying the outstanding nature that surrounds the city. Again Eitan had trouble with the altitude (Lijiang lies at 2500m) so we had to skip the mountains. We saw the majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain covered with snow from the lagoon, breath taking. The park is full of flowers, birds, smiley people and authentic temples. Unfortunately due to cloudy weather our pictures do not reflect how cool the views truly are, you will have to go! You should spend Another day climbing the hill overlooking the city.

We were so happy in Lijiang, laughing and singing all day long. We both agreed it is one of the most beautiful cities we have ever visited. Yes, it is overly touristic, but most of the tourists are Chinese, so pretty authentic from our point of view. Every house has a long history and each street is different, so it wasn’t difficult to ignore the masses. The Old Town of Lijiang should be on the top of your what to see in Yunan list. We are for sure coming back!

The hippy city of Dali

We initially planned to spend five days in Lijiang and discover the outlaying mountains. But, as you will remember from our text of Juizhaigou, E does not fare well in altitude. Dali is on the way to Kunming, so we decided to stop there. Take the old Chinese train there, it’s a fun experience. People are quite noisy at all times and nobody seems to care. Even the radio broadcasts loud screaming Chinese music. The views are outstanding, hills, little towns, and massive towers galore!

The train station is located in Dali’s modern town far from Old Dali. It’s worth checking out though: there is even a futuristic structure with a ball on top on a hill. To get to the Old town it’s better to take a taxi. City walls surround the Old Town. Our hotel China Old Story is located a few meters from the old South Gate and boasts a huge photo of the owner shaking Hillary Clinton’s hand!

Dali Old Town and the Three Pagodas

The houses inside the walls are not as pretty as those in Lijiang, but the atmosphere makes up for it. Cool bars and restaurants are everywhere. The crowd seems to enjoy mellower music. At night we went pass a bar full of young hip Chinese sitting on small stools, drinking and singing together with a live band. They start laughing when we can’t communicate, and invite us for a hot beer. Who could possibly say no to such a cool and unique place?

A place that you must visit is the Three Pagodas, just a bit out of town. You will remember it forever. Majestic subtropical mountains surround the over 10 century old temple. For the Chinese this is an important place of worship, so the atmosphere fells special. Dozens of old war veterans in their uniforms are there too. What a privilege to shake hands with people that made history! Don’t be lazy and go all the way up to the final temple. The place will be entirely yours.

Kunming, provincial capital

To get to Kunming, Yunnan’s capital, we took a 3 hour train from Dali. The idea was to visit the famous Shilin Stone Forest, a couple of hours away. We set off on the metro to get to the train station. It took us over an hour through 25 metro stations to get there and realize we forgot our passports. Damn! So learn from our mistake: in China you need your passport to buy train tickets.

At least we got the chance to see the sprawling never ending massive residential areas surrounding the city. Even the new train station was worth visiting: a Chinese space ship in the middle of nowhere. At the pace Kunming is growing, I’m sure massive towers will surround the station soon.

City Center

We spent the rest of the day walking around the city centre. Kunming is a far cry from Chengdu. In the city center, developers demolish old traditional houses to build new shiny malls. What a loss! One of these malls has a great bookstore where you can buy books in English and have brewed coffee.

Go to the city very bizarre park to see locals dance to Chinese music. So all things considered, Kunming is worth visiting. You get to see a not so glitzy modern Chinese city, a mix of the old and the new. We’ve been asking people here in China what to see in Yunnan and everyone raves about the Shilin Stone Forest. We missed it, you shouldn’t.

What to see in Yunnan: People

Dali, Jiliang and Kunming are quite different from each other. Each place is unique and worth visiting. The one thing that is the same all around Yunnan is people. Everyone smiled at us, from old ladies to cute kids. We felt very safe and pampered. Thanks so much!

Happy Frog Travels organizes personalized trips to China including Yunnan. Contact us HERE.

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