Yunnan Explorer

Discover for yourself the spectacular scenery, distinctive culture and customs of the ethnic minority groups, waterfalls, rice terraces and ancient villages in Yunnan. Visit the rice terraces of Yuanyang, Stone Forest in Shilin, take a slow trek up sacred mountains, and head to Dali, home of the Bai minority. Drive along the shores of Erhai Lake, interact with the Bai fishermen, visit the iconic Three Pagodas and take a stroll through Dali Old Town. Journey to UNESCO-listed Lijiang, famed for its traditional architecture and home to the Naxi people. 

Best time to travel for this itinerary: Mar and April & October and November.

Prices are seasonal, twin-sharing and include accommodation, breakfast, transfers and touring with professional English speaking guide.

Starts from: 

GBP 2408 per person, Standard Class Hotels

GBP 2641 per person, Superior Class Hotels

GBP 3129 per person, Deluxe Class Hotels 

International and domestic airfares are additional

Yunnan Explorer at a glance
  • Day 1: Arrival in Kunming
  • Day 2: Kunming touring
  • Day 3: Drive to Dali
  • Day 4: Dali to Shaxi
  • Day 5: Shaxi exploration
  • Day 6: Shaxi to Lijiang
  • Day 7: Lijiang walking tour
  • Day 8: Lijiang - Tiger Leaping Gorge -Shangri-La
  • Day 9: Shangri-La touring
  • Day 10: Departure
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Day 1: Arrival in Kunming

On your arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel.

Overnight in Kunming.

Distance and journey time:

Kunming airport – Kunming city (approx. 30km): approx. 40 min

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Day 2: Kunming touring

Begin your day with a short walk in Green Lake Park (also known as Cuihu Park), letting you get a feel for the atmosphere of Chinese parks in the morning.

Afterwards, visit the Yuantong Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in Kunming and is known for its unique location. It is situated in a natural valley, contributing to the peaceful atmosphere of the temple. Visit the Taoist Golden Temple located on a small hill surrounded by pine and cypress trees.

Move on to the Yunnan Provincial Museum, an essential stop for anyone wishing to truly understand the characteristically multi-ethnic nature of this region. China has 56 different officially recognised minority groups, but during this trip, you will mainly learn about the Yi (the largest minority in Yunnan), the Hui Muslims, the Buyi, the Bai, the Hani and the Naxi. The museum has a beautiful collection of finery and traditional dress.

Overnight in Kunming.

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Day 3: Kunming to Dali

Drive to Dali, home to the Bai minority and was a stronghold of the kingdom of Nanzhao (738-902) and the epicentre of the Dali Kingdom. The Bai first settled in the region more than 3000 years ago and their first dwellings surrounded the lake. Following their victory against the Tang Empire in the 8th Century, they founded the Kingdom of Nanzhao. The Bai are most distinguishable by their clothing - predominantly white and by their homes.

Visit the Three Pagodas at the Chongsheng temple. The three pagodas were part of a vast monastic centre which unfortunately was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake. The remaining temple was restored and transformed into a museum.

Head back to the old town of Dali, where you can still find some typical Bai homes. A relaxed and warm atmosphere seems to ooze from these white-walled homes, on which you can find paintings representing mountains, running water, birds and flowers. Their front porches, famous throughout the country, are distinguished by their beautifully carved arches.

Overnight in Dali.

Distance and journey time:

Kunming – Dali old town (approx. 360km): approx. 5h
Dali old town – Three pagodas (Chong sheng temple) (approx. 3,5km): 10 minutes

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Day 4: Dali to Shaxi (altitude 2200m)

Head to Shaxi, an oasis that used to be a major stop on the Tea-Horse Road that ran through the region, forming a major part of its heritage and history. Less well known than the Silk Road, it still remains a key trade route between the most remote areas of Xishuangbanna, Tibet and, by extension, Nepal, Laos, Burma and India where other goods are traded. 

Overnight in Shaxi.

Distance and journey time:

Dali old town – Shuanglang (approx. 50km): approx. 1h15
Shuanglang – Shaxi (approx. 85km): 2h30

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Day 5: Shaxi

Enjoy a free morning here by exploring the maze of paved avenues that make up the heart of the old town, or equally by discovering the surrounding countryside that is notable for its okra earth. 

After lunch, leave for Shibaoshan, an impressive collection of temples, caves and stone sculptures, the most ancient of which date from the 9th century, and which detail the life of important figures from the Nanzhao kingdom (8th-9th century). You will also notice some religious effigies, such as the statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, or the renowned Stone Treasure, a striking black rock that symbolises the female genitalia that many women come to touch to improve their chances of conceiving a child.

Take a walk offering spectacular views of the surrounding valley and villages.

Overnight in Shaxi.

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Day 6: Shaxi to Lijiang (altitude 2500m)

Head to Lijiang and the Jade Dragon Mountain, which stands majestically to the north of the city. Afterwards, head back to Lijiang old town.  This magnificent labyrinth of traditional redwood and brick houses topped with grey slate roofs, canals, stone bridges and cobbled streets in 1999 was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Small interior courtyards are furnished with flowers and bushes to which the locals tend and that give this town its beautiful and special aroma. 

Overnight in Lijiang.

Distance and journey time:

Shaxi – Jade Dragon Mountain / Yak meadow (approx 140km): 3h30
Yak meadow – Lijiang old town (approx 50km): 1h30

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Day 7: Lijiang walking tour

Rise early to enjoy the peace and quiet of the early morning. Crossing over the labyrinth of alleyways you will arrive at the “Lion Hill” which offers you a fantastic view over the village below. Afterwards, visit the Mu Palace which is named after the Chinese Empire warlords who ruled from this magnificent residence in this region during the Mongol Dynasty (13th century). The palace is a vivid example of Ming and Qing architecture, based on the same style of architecture as the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Head to the edge of the old town where you will be able to enjoy the local market and get a feel for the ‘real’ Lijiang, where you will see locals still dressed in traditional clothing selling teas, vegetables, fruits and even daily tools in a very vibrant and animated atmosphere.

From here walk to the Black Dragon Pond Park in the north of the town which offers, on a clear day, a panoramic view of the famous Jade Dragon Mountain.

Overnight in Lijiang.

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Day 8: Lijiang to Shangri-La

Transfer from Lijiang to Shangri-La, a stop in the old Route of Tea and Horses a major trade route between the Tibetans and Chinese in ancient times. 

Stop at Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world, with staggering variations in altitude (nearly 4000m) separating the Jinsha River from the jagged mountains of Northern Yunnan. Take a short walk in the gorge.

Arrive in Shangri-La in the late afternoon.

Stroll through the old town, a small maze of cobbled streets lined with wooden houses. Visit Baijisi temple (literally "Temple of hundred chickens"), which offers a beautiful view of the city.

Overnight in Shangri-La.

Distance and journey time:

Lijiang – Tiger Leaping Gorge (approx 90km): 2h30
Tiger Leaping Gorge – Shangri-La (approx 100km): 2h45

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Day 9: Shangri-La

Visit the impressive monastery Songzanlin. You can admire the glittering golden roofs of the monastery at sunset (if weather permitting) and countless prayer flags waving in the wind, scenes of local life around the Lamuyancuo lake and some 600 monks daily life.

Visit Ringha Temple, 700 years old and partially destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt, and considered one of the first Buddhist temples in Yunnan Province.

Overnight in Shangri-La.

Distance and journey time:

Shangri-La – Songzanlin monastery (approx 3km): 10 min
Songzanlin monastery –Ringha Temple (approx 27km): 1h
Ringha Temple – Shangri-La (approx 20km): 40 min

Day 10: Departure

Today, you will be transferred to Shangri-La airport for your departure flight.

Not quite right or still need some more inspiration? Please get in touch. We welcome your questions. We're here to help!

Highlights

Dali: home to the Bai minority

Set on a fertile plain between the picturesque Erhai Lake and the imposing Cangshan Mountains, the ancient Bai capital retains much of its period charm.

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Kunming: the City of Spring

Immerse yourself in the cosmopolitan mix of dress, cuisine and customs of up to 28 distinct Yunnanese tribal groups living and working in the city, and the vibrancy and rich cultural diversity

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Lijiang: home to the Naxi people

Lijiang is set in within an idyllic rural landscape of snow-fed mountain streams, lush green pine forests and rustic agrarian architecture

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Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Located 80km south of Jianshui, Yuanyang is home to the Hani ethnic group and offers some of the most stunning scenery in China.
Marvel on your journey south at mile upon mile of elegant rice terraces tracing the contours of the surrounding hills

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Yunnan: ethnic minority tribes and unique cultures

Immerse yourself in the dialects and cuisines and distinct ethnic styles of Dai and Bai people, of Wa, Lahu, Hani, Jingpo, Nu, Naxi and Lisu, unchanged through centuries.

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Zhongdian: Shangri-La

Re-named Shangri-la after the imagined Buddhist paradise of James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon, this former logging settlement (in Tibetan, Gyalthang) is set amid a stunning alpine landscape of lakes, gorges, and jagged snow-capped peaks

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Accommodation

Dali, Superior Class
The Linden Centre

A timber and stone structure of great charm and historic importance, dating to the Ming period and widely held to be one of the finest examples of vernacular architecture remaining in China.

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Dali, Simple
The Landscape Hotel

Set idyllically among traditional Chinese courtyard gardens, and facing the beautiful Erhai Lake, the hotel enjoys a prime location in the centre of the Old City.

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Kunming, Deluxe Class
Grand Park Kunming

Distinctly styled and rising 21 storeys above the city, this luxury international-standard hotel is one of Kunming’s landmark properties.

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Lijiang, Deluxe Class
InterContinental Lijiang Ancient Town Resort

An international standard 5-star property set among watercourses and courtyards in a vernacular style, the hotel blends seamlessly with its historic surroundings and reflects in its décor and furnishings the influences of the local Naxi and Dongba cultures.

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Lijiang, Superior Class
Blossom Hill, Joyland

A culturally significant boutique property comprising 5 separate inns, is set charmingly around a central courtyard.

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Lijiang, Standard Class
Zen Garden Hotel - Wuyi Yard

A charming boutique timber and stone property arranged around a tranquil courtyard of bonsai, flowers, and koi ponds.

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Shangri-La, Superior Class
Songtsam Retreat at Shangri-La

A charming boutique property combining traditional Tibetan architecture and décor with western standards of comfort and luxury.

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Shangri-La, Superior Class
Songtsam Hotel

Formed of a traditional Tibetan dwelling, this boutique property is beautifully furnished and decorated in an authentic style unchanged through centuries.

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Shaxi, Simple Lodgings
Laomadian Lodge Hotel

A delightful former inn dating to the 19th Century, built around a tranquil courtyard in traditional Bai minority style.

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