All you need to know Yunnan, China

| January 16, 2014

Far East expert Neill Prothero shares the inside secrets on Yunnan, China.

Banyan Tree Ringha Tibetan Village, Zhongdian


LOCATION: Yunnan is one of the lesser-visited, more ethnically diverse parts of China.
Home of evocatively-named locations such as Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge, the scenery is spellbinding, but the real attraction is off-the-beaten track travelling in remote parts of China. 

LANGUAGES: Mandarin and many ethnic languages.

POPULATION: 46 million.

TIME ZONE GMT: +8 hours.

CURRENCY: Chinese Yuan (CNY) or Renminbi (RMB) £1 = 9.81 Yuan.

VISAS British nationals need a visa to enter mainland China, including Yunnan province.

POTTED HISTORY: The Yunnan province is thought to have been established in 109AD by the Han dynasty. Located south of Yun (cloud) Mountain, Yunnan translates as “south of the clouds”.

In Lijiang, attend a performance of traditional Naxi music: an ancient style that mixes Taoist and Confucian ceremonial music to create a unique sound. The musicians play traditional instruments, often of great age, such as sugudu (small stringed instruments), bamboo flutes and chimes.

Spring and autumn are considered the ideal times to visit China, as the continental weather patterns make for bitterly cold winters and hot, humid summers.

South of the Clouds: Tales from Yunnan,
edited by Guo Xu, Xu Kun & Lucien Miller
A compendium of creation myths, romances, historical legends, ghost stories, and folk tales from Yunnan Province’s officially designated ethnic minorities, complete with an appendix describing the places and people of Yunnan.

Forgotten Kingdom
by Peter Goullart
An account of the years the author spent in Yunnan where, as a representative of the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives, he mixed and lived with the local people.

Joseph F. Rock and his Shangri-La
by Jim Goodman
Shangri-La (Zhongdian) in Yunnan was where adventurous botanist Joseph Rock did much of his exploration and research. This book sheds light on his life and western China in the 1920s and 30s, and includes photographs and maps.

Lost Horizon
A film by Frank Capra based on James Hilton’s novel of the same name, depicting a plane crash that delivers a group of people to the secluded land of Shangri-La.

Yunnan’s official tourism website contains information on the accommodation, culture, national parks and attractions of the province.

Songtsam Retreat, Shangri-La (Zhongdian)
This charming boutique retreat has a distinctly Tibetan style, set in the Shangri-La Hills amid the breathtaking scenery of this remote corner of China.

Banyan Tree Ringha Tibetan Village, Shangri-La (Zhongdian)
Traditional Tibetan farmhouses converted into lodges feature intricate woodcarvings, cosy fireplaces and wooden balconies that have valley or river views.

Sky Valley Heritage Boutique Hotel, Dali
A unique property set in a national heritage-listed building that retains its rich artistic history with original arts and crafts on display, and a traditional Bai design.

Heavily influenced by the region’s various ethnic groups, the local cuisine is distinctive for its use of flowers and mushrooms. Look out for the traditional Hani dish of shredded pork, ginger, prickly ash berries and salt, placed in a bamboo tube and sealed with a banana leave, then baked over an open fire.


Shangri-La (Zhongdian) Zhongdian is thought to be the location of the fabled Shangri-La, and was officially renamed so in 2001. It has a strong Tibetan influence due to its proximity to Tibet, and there is a large practising Buddhist community. The town lies at 3,200 metres above sea level and is surrounded by landscapes of high prairie, crystal lakes and jagged mountains.

Tiger Leaping Gorge Named after a tiger said to have leapt across it while fleeing from a hunter, the spectacular, 2,000-metre-deep Tiger Leaping Gorge was carved out by the mighty Yangtze river.

The Stone Forest or Shilin The Stone Forest is an area of limestone rock formations, known as karst. Located south-east of Kunming, these bizarre stone formations – some up to 30 metres tall – are spread over a large area with seven viewing points.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Dominating the scenery for far around, the mountain is continually topped with snow. A cable car leads up to Yunshanping, a meadow on the slopes of the mountain from where there are spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and alpine wildflowers in spring.

Song Zan Lin Monastery Also known as Guihua Monastery, this is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan province, founded in 1679 and sometimes referred to as the ‘Little Potala Palace’. It is said that the fifth Dalai Lama chose the site of the monastery through divination and named it Gedan Song Zan Lin Monastery.

Yunnan Explorer – 11 Days / 9 Nights from £2,995. Journey into the ethnically diverse province of Yunnan, visiting Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La (Zhongdian).

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