Yunnan's prolific attractions, some of the most diverse and inspiring in all of China, have beguiled travelers from abroad for decades. The name of the province literally means "South of the Clouds" (given how it lies just south of the lofty Tibet-Qinghai plateau). For this tour, we craft an itinerary that captures the general essence of central and northern Yunnan, visiting many of the province's most celebrated destinations. Traveling in a northerly direction, the surrounding scenery changes from verdant low-lying valleys to spectacular white-capped mountains. We meet wonderful minority tribes (Bai, Naxi, and Tibetan amongst others), visit ancient cobblestone towns trapped in a distant era, and explore the region's botanic and geological wonders - all as we make for the end point of Zhongdian, a town lying on the border area of a tantalizingly close Tibetan world. Moving from one mesmerizing locale to the next, one can easily appreciate how James Hilton was inspired to christen this extraordinary land as "Shangri-la;" by the end of this journey, perhaps you too will claim to have discovered your own version of Shangri-la. Along your Shangri-la tour, you should never miss the classic sights of Yunnan.
The journey begins with the flight from Kunming to the old Bai town of Dali, the once ancient capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom. From here we explore the city's peaceful surroundings, taking boat rides across Erhai Lake to nearby rural villages (where we dine and stay with a local family), and summiting Cang Mountain for breathtaking views of the valley below. We then go off the beaten path to search out the market town of Shaxi - old, decadent, and the only surviving example of a Southern Silk Road trading center (so precious it's been included on the World Monuments Fund's 100 Most Endangered Sites list). Arriving next in Lijiang, we are delighted by scenes of narrow cobblestone streets lined by rushing canals of crystal clear, freshly melted snow. Much of the original architecture of this proud city was leveled in a 1996 earthquake; the old-town section has since been restored to its old splendor and is today one of the most faithful (and elegant) representations of Ming architecture anywhere in China. We visit the town's Museum of Naxi Culture, and take a moment to savor the stunning vistas of nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain before heading onto one of Yunnan's landmark attraction, Tiger Leaping Gorge. As we hike into the gorge, we gaze awestruck at its massive cliff sides (considered to be the deepest in the world) as they plummet downwards onto the fearsome Yangtze river below. We overnight in the gorge, then drive northwards to Baishui Tai, a surreal and beautiful collection of limestone terraces, formed over the course of hundreds of years. After searching on website, you would see the top China tours all have includes Yunnan in their itinerary and these classic sights should never be missed.
Our journey comes to a fitting and satisfying end at the northern town of Zhongdian, where we take the opportunity to visit the city's old markets and stroll in beautiful nearby meadows. This close to the border, we are also afforded a glimpse of the fascinating and deeply spiritual Tibetan world. Here we visit the resplendent Songzhanlin monastery, possibly Yunnan's largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery and home to several living buddhas.
Along your China travel of Yunnan, you should never miss visit these classic sights.
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