CHUXIONG – Located in central Yunnan, Chuxiong is home to the Yi people, who are known for their friendly, yet understated, nature. In Heijing Ancient Town of Lufeng County, customs that have been preserved for centuries are still practised yet, downtown, you’ll find the burgeoning hotspot of Yi. The region bursts into colour in springtime when its vibrant pomegranate flowers are in season.
DALI – Spend the day climbing mountains or explore the magical valleys in the spot where Yunnan civilisation first began. Drive around Lake Erhai and visit towns like Xizhou along the way, while in Wase and Haidong you can meet the Bai people and experience their culture.
LIJIANG – During the Naxi Kingdom, Lijiang was a prosperous royal city with horse-mounted merchants riding along its stone paths. Today, peek into its grand history by walking through its deep vales and seeing women in traditional Naxi dress, then get a bird’s-eye view of the ancient town by journeying up Shizi Mountain.
DIQING – In Diqing you’ll find Niru, known as the ‘last secret area of Shangri-La’, and ideal for hiking, camping and stargazing. Travel onwards to Yubeng village in the west and visit the beautiful peak of Kawabego; then, in Cizhong, sip a cup of wine brewed with the rose honey grapes exclusive to the region, while relaxing in a hot spring.
NUJIANG RIVER – Standing at an altitude that tops 3,000m, here you’ll see three great rivers intersecting and sketching out the borders of magnificent gorges. Spend a day or two hiking this area to uncover more of its natural wonders. Beyond this, the Bingchacha hiking route in the Nujiang River’s Grand Canyon will take you all the way to the edge of Tibet.
The southeast is known as the garden of the Yunnan people, a fertile and vibrant area. The Kunming-Hanoi Railway leads directly to the borders, taking you onward to your next destination
YUXI – Once known for its production of tobacco leaves, Yuxi remains of significance in the Chinese Republic as the birthplace of Nie Er, composer of the national anthem. Visit the monument dedicated to him in town before travelling into the countryside to see Fuxian Lake and the Yudai River. Villagers here love to have some Tonghai bean powder candy as a treat, so sample this sweet while you’re in the area.
HONGHE – The Hani people have cultivated the terraced fields of this land for generations and its scenery is extremely popular with photographers looking to capture the essence of the province. Visit the Yuanyang Rice Terraces from November to April to see their earthy-red autumnal glory, or watch them transform into vivid green fields over summer. Local landmarks include the imposing Jianshui and Qufu Confucian temples, focal points of the town’s heritage that play a central role in its relatively tolerant and easygoing culture.
WENSHAN – Wenshan is colloquially called the Valley of Eternal Spring, known to travellers for its sweeping countryside views that are exemplified by the mountains and rivers of Puzhehei. Go boating on the waters to see lotus flowers close up, or venture to the mountains and explore the limestone caves carved into their rock faces. Locals cook with vegetables they have grown themselves and fish that have been caught from the vast lakes, so you can be assured the dish of the day is always fresh.
VIETNAM – Opened at the end of 2014, the new Kunming-Hanoi railway route can take you to Hekou on the China-Vietnam border within six hours. Passing over a bridge, you’ll be able to see for yourself the difference between Yunnan and its longstanding neighbour, Vietnam.
Rustic charm, native bird species and stunning views abound on this route, which can be covered swiftly thanks to the Chongqing-Kunming Highway.
QUJING – The seemingly endless fields of rapeseed flowers provide Luoping County with a captivating golden colour. Drive to Baiwu Village in Nagu Town to stroll among ancient buildings, then herd sheep and camp on the grassy hill of Dahai. In winter on Nian Lake, you can quietly observe graceful black-necked cranes in their natural habitat.
ZHAOTONG – Connecting northwestern Yunnan with Sichuan, this area offers exquisite views in all seasons. Jigong Mountain will appeal to adventurers, while in Dashanbao you’ll observe massed flocks of birds flying overhead in migration season.