City in China: Yunnan云南


The Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau rises from the semi-tropical jungles of Southeast Asia to meet the Himalayas in the west. As a result of both its high altitude and southerly latitude, Yúnnán (云南, meaning “south of the clouds”)—which borders Tibet, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Vietnam and the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Guizhou—is unrivaled in its ecological and ethnic diversity.

Indeed, this single province is home to some of China’s most impressive natural scenery: snow-capped peaks, lush jungles, crystalline alpine lakes, and peaceful highland meadows. In addition, three of Asia’s biggest rivers—the Mekong, Yangtze (Yangzi) and Salween—pass through Yunnan from their sources in Tibet.

And to compliment all of its geographical and ecological variety, Yunnan also has the greatest number of minorities in any Chinese province. 28 recognized ethnic groups make up over a third of the population, each with its own cuisine, spoken language, festivals, belief systems and mode of dress. With all this natural and cultural diversity, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of things to see and do in Yunnan.

Cycle the winding lanes of cities like Kunming, Lijiang and Dali, then head into the countryside to visit temples and villages. The ancient town of Dali is a laid-back place to dip into backpacker café culture while taking in gorgeous lake and mountain views.

Avid hikers can spend days picking their way along on the ridge of the world’s deepest canyon, Tiger Leaping Gorge, trekking through lush Xishuangbanna jungles, exploring the jagged scenery of the remote Meili Xue Shan; and rambling through quaint Yuanyang in Honghe Prefecture where Hani villages rise from a layer cake of rice terraces.

And speaking of the Hani, they are but one of the province’s officially recognized ethnic minorities, all of which are recognized in Kunming’s Yunnan Museum of Minority Nationalities. The most prominent of them include the Naxi, whose colorful culture is what defines the charm of Lijiang; the Bai, who are the dominant ethnicity in and around Dali; the Mosuo, whose matriarchal culture draws many curious tourists to the beautiful shores of Lugu Lake on the border with Sichuan’s Xichang region; the Muslim Hui, who are scattered throughout Yunnan and much of western China; and Yunnan’s ethnic Tibetans who live in the mountainous regions in the north of Yunnan including Shanghri-La (Zhongdian). All are fascinating in their own right, and all have opened up to the increase in regional tourism by opening guesthouses, restaurants and, often, their homes to visitors curious about the ways of China’s lesser-known inhabitants.

As for accommodations and transportation in Yunnan, the province’s popularity has led to a boom in tourism that has yet to peak, resulting in a slew of new luxury hotels and resorts, yielding plenty of options for travelers of all stripes, as well as upgrades to roads, airports and rail links that make it easier than ever to explore what was once China’s most remote hinterland. In other words, Yunnan isn’t just for backpackers anymore.

云贵高原yúnɡuì ɡāoyuán: Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau
云南Yúnnán: Yunnan
昆明Kūnmínɡ: Kunming
大理Dàlǐ: Dali
西双版纳丛林Xīshuānɡbǎnnà cónɡlín: Xishuangbanna jungles

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