Top 10 travel destinations in Yunnan, China

Colorful China's Top 10 of the best sightseeing spots in the Yunnan Province, South-West China


When visiting Yunnan, there are many sightseeing spots to be visited. Here is our Top Ten List where we like to spend time and which we think should be experienced first hand. Some are obvious choices, while other lie off the beaten track. Enjoy exploring!

  1. Dongchuan Red Earth, Yunnan

    The area 50 km northwest of the city of Dongchuan in Yunnan Province is known for its fertile red soil. Iron oxide deposits are not only responsible for the unique reddish color, they also make the soil very fertile and ideal for growing vegetables and crops. The different colors of the rapeseed and potato fields make a strong contrast with the reddish-brown soils found in the area. Dongchuan Red Earth with its picturesque landscape is a paradise for photo enthusiasts. The best time to visit Dongchuan Red Earth is from February to June and October to December.

  2. Stone Forest of Lunan near Kunming (ShiLin)

    This 12 km2 large karst area with its bizarrely shaped, up to 30 meters high rock needles is one of the most visited sightseeing spots in Yunnan Province. This remarkable rock formation wasa dded to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2007. “The Stone Forest (“Shilin”) of Lunan is located about 100km east of Kunming, the journey by car takes about 1.5 hours. Another possibility to reach the Stone Forest is by high-speed train from Kunming main station in about 20 Minutes. At Stone Forest train station there are taxis waiting for the remaining 3km journey to the main entrance. Entrance fee to the Stone Forest is RMB 130 plus another 25 RMB for the electric cart that shuttles between the ticket office and the entrance gate.

  3. Yuanyang Rice Terraces

    The fascinating terraced rice fields of Yuanyang are located about 300 km south of Kunming, high above the valley of the Red River in the Ailao Mountains. Over centuries the terraces have been hacked out of the mountain slopes by the local farmers. In 2013 the rice terraces of Yuanyang where added onto UNESCO’s list of world cultural heritage sites. Especially rewarding is a visit during the harvest period in September/October or during the winter months when the rice terraces are full of water and reflect the sunlight in all possible colors. Very popular amongst photographers is the visit in the early morning when the light of the rising sun is mirrored on the surface of the water-filled rice terraces in all imaginable colors. There is plenty of accommodation available in the surrounding villages ranging from the comfortable 4 Star Hotel to the simple backpacker accommodation.

  4. Dong Lian Hua village, Yunnan Province

    The small village of Dong Lian Hua is located about 40km south of Dali old town, approximately halfway to Weishan. This hidden gem is mainly inhabited by the Hui Muslim ethnic group. Dong Lian Hua was once a prosperous trading town and controlled large sections of the Tea and Horse Road, an ancient trading route for goods transported between the tea growing areas of southern Yunnan and Tibet. Most of the inhabitants are descendants from Muslim soldiers who conquered Yunnan province for Kublai Khan's Mongol armies on their way to Burma in the 13th century. After the fall of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1386), many of these soldiers remained in Yunnan and gradually transformed their lifestyle from soldiers to farmers and traders. Many of the magnificent residences of Dong Lian Hua are under national protection. Entry to Dong Lian Hua is free except for the visit of the museum and former residence of Ma Ruji where 20 RMB have to be paid.

  5. Nuodeng

    Another place that makes it on our Yunnan top ten list is the idyllic village of Nuodeng in the West of the Yunnan Province. During the Ming Dynasty (1386-16440 the area around Nuodeng was famous for its outstanding salt quality. During that time in China salt was considered an energy source and the value of salt was valued higher than gold. The salt was transported via the so-called Xinshishan salt route with horses to Tibet and Myanmar. The production and trade of this salt brought Nuodeng considerable prosperity. Walking through the cobbled streets and stairs, the former wealth of Nuodeng can still be felt and seen today. Today Nuodeng is famous throughout China for the delicious “Huo Tui”, an air-dried, salted ham.

  6. Bamei

    Slightly off the beaten path lies the idyllic village of Bamei. What makes Bamei unique is the fact, that the village is entirely surrounded by Karst Mountains and can only be reached from two sides by a small boat along the Bamei River. Located about 40km north east of the town of Guangnan in the south-east of the Yunnan province this secluded village seems to have been forgotten by the outside world for centuries. The modern world only caught up with Bamei in 2006 when it got connected to the electric power grid. The boat ride to and from the village is quite impressive as the boat glides on each side through an 800 Meters long cave that has been created by the Bamei River over millions of years. Whereas in the southern cave lights have been installed the northern cave with the poetic name “3 Nights and 3 Days Cave” has been left in its original state and the boat glides, like hundred years ago, through pitch black darkness. The entrance to Bamei can be reached by bus number 3 from Guangnan.

  7. Jianshui

    The origins of Jianshui can be traced back to the Jin Dynasty (256 – 420). During the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) Jianshui (Lin An) became an important military outpost which resulted in a rapid development of the town. During the subsequent Ming Dynasty Jianshui developed into an important trading town. Today Jianshui presents itself as a clean, laid back small town with a relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere. There are several interesting sightseeing spots in and around Jianshui to be explored. In the center of the town stands the massif Chao Yang Tower from the early Ming Dynasty which used to serve as the eastern gate of a long-gone city wall that once surrounded Jianshui. Another rewarding experience is a stroll through the lovely gardens of the Confucius Temple. The Confucius Temple of Jianshui is the 3 rd largest Confucius Temple in China and was first built in 1285. Another attraction of Jianshui is the impressive Zhu Family Garden. The former residence of the once influential Zhu Family consists of 42 interior courtyards, 214 diverse rooms, as well as a lovely garden area. About 15km west of Jianshui lies the lovely Tuanshan village with an array of beautiful ancient mansions. A tourist train runs between Jianshui railway station and Tuanshan village twice a day. 30km west of Jianshui is the magnificent Swallow Cave, a magnificent cave system that has been dug out by the Lu River. The Lu River still runs through the lower part of the cavern where it disappears underground. During spring and summer hundreds of thousands of Swallows can be seen flying around inside and outside the cave. The easiest way to visit Jianshui from Kunming is by long distance bus (about 3 hours) or by train (2 hours) from Kunming main station

  8. Lijiang and Shuhe

    The pleasant old town of Lijang lies in an alpine valley 2,400 meters above sea level, in the shadow of the snowcapped Jade Dragon Mountain. The confusion of cobble-stoned alleyways and canals leading through the well-preserved old town is simply captivating. In 1996 Lijiang was placed on UNESCO’s world heritage list. Take a walk up to Lion’s Hill, from where you can enjoy a magnificent bird’s eye view over the roofs of Lijiang’s old town. A short walk away from the old town is the pond of the Black Dragon. From there you have a lovely view of Jade Dragon Mountain. The old town of Lijang is one of the most popular and best-known tourist destinations for Chinese tourist. Time your visit for the morning hours before the big influx of the Chinese tourist groups. During the morning hours you will have the old town almost to yourself. The fastest way to reach Lijiang is either by plane or by fast train in about 3,5 hours from Kunming. In order to escape the hustle and bustle of Lijiang there is always the option to stay in the somewhat quieter village of Shuhe. The village of Shuhe is 9 km north of Lijiang and can easily be reached by public transport. Shuhe offers very good hotels in all price categories in much the same way as does Lijiang. In addition, Shuhe is also well suited as a base for extended bike rides along the Lijiang Valley.

  9. Shaxi

    Take a step back in time and explore the rich history of Shaxi village in Yunnan Province. Located about 100 km north-west of Dali the idyllic village of Shaxi was once a prosperous trading station for horse-caravans travelling on the “Tea and Horse Road”. The Tea and Horse Road was an extensive network of trading routes joining the important tea plantation areas in Yunnan and Sichuan with the highlands of Tibet. Because of the trade on the Tea and Horse Road, Shaxi prospered and developed into a cultural and religious center for the region. Many mansions and caravanserai were constructed, and Peking operas were presented on the stage in the village square. In the 1990’s Shaxi was restored with the help of the Swiss government, and today it once more shines with its former glory. Take a stroll along the cobble-stoned alleys and experience a hint of that former prosperity that still can be seen and felt today. From Shaxi you can hike up Shibaoshan and explore the 1200 years old Buddhistic rock art at Shizhong Monastery or climb up the many stairs to “Baoxing Hanging Monastery” with magnificent views from the top.

  10. Tiger Leaping Gorge

    The Tiger Leaping Gorge is located about 80km north of Lijiang. The driving time is about 1.5 hours. The easiest way to travel from Lijiang to Tiger Leaping Gorge is either by a private car or by public bus. There are two buses per day running between Lijiang main bus terminal and the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Wedged between the Jade Dragon Mountain in the East and the Haba Mountain in the West, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world! The story goes that a tiger once leaped across the Yangtze River in one bound to the other side in order to escape its hunters. Hence the name “Tiger Leaping Gorge”. The difference in height from the Yangtze River to the summits of the Jade Dragon Mountain east and Haba Snow Mountain in the west is almost 4000 meters. Arguably the best way to truly experience the dimensions of the Tiger Leaping Gorge is on foot. There is a scenic hiking trail that leads through the gorge high above the Yangtze River. Keen hikers can do the entire hike in 2 days, less fit visitors or families with children prefer to do it in 3 days. There are simple guesthouses along the way where you can spend the night. It is also possible to hike only a part of the trail during a day trip from Lijiang.