Travel overland from Yunnan to Laos with Mekong River Cruise
Travel Overland from Yunnan in China to Luangprabang in LaosMap
Overland travel from Yunnan to Laos: Kunming, the city of eternal spring
Your overland journey from Yunnan to Laos starts in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. A city of eight million people, Kunming is situated in the south-west of China on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau at almost exactly 1,800 meters above sea level.
Kunming is one of the most pleasant cities in China, with little smog and a lot of sunshine. Thanks to its climate, which is almost throughout the year moderate, Kunming is often described as China’s city of eternal spring.
The real center of Kunming is Green Lake Park. Especially for elderly locals Green Lake Park is a favorite meeting place for playing mahjong or cards, or to prepare themselves for the day with various exercises, such as tai chi or qigong. Entry into Green Lake Park in Kunming is free of charge.
Whoever wishes to get an idea of the dynamism of the People’s Republic of China is recommended to take an excursion to the district known as Chenggong. Chenggong, a city of 2 million built in the last five years south of the old center of Kunming, is the “new capital” of Yunnan province. Universities and the province’s administration have been transferred to Chenggong. The university quarter of Chenggong, with 42 square kilometers, is meant to provide a place to study and live to a quarter of a million students. You get to Chenggong by the subway Line 1 from Kunming. The railroad station for the fast trains from Kunming to Dali, Guangzhou and Shanghai is also located in the district of Chenggong.
Journey along the french built Yunnan to Vietnam Railway from Kunming to Hanoi
You travel along the tracks of the narrow-gauge railroad built by the French from Kunming, capital of the Yunnan Province all the way to Hanoi and Haiphong in Vietnam in the late 19th and 20st century.
Toward the end of the 19th century the British occupied India and Burma, while the French took over major parts of Indochina with Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
In their constant struggle to expand the French tried to extend their sphere of influence to south-west China, where they were opposed by the British, who at that time had occupied north-east Burma.
In 1885 a war broke out between France and China. The Treaty of Tianjin, which marked the end of that war, enabled France to build railroads in the direction of Kunming (Yunnan), and to trade in Yunnan, where it already had consulates in Kunming and Mengzi.
In 1904 the French started that ambitious project of building a railroad track 855 km long between Hanoi and Kunming. Just along the 465 km Chinese section of the track 107 bridges had to be built and over 155 tunnels dug out. In one 44 km section the track climbs not less than 1,200 meters, which at that time was an absolute master achievement of engineering.
The railroad track from Yunnan to Vietnam had enormous influence on the sleepy city of Kunming, as it then still was. Advanced French steam trains commuted day and night between Hekou and Kunming, and transported all possible wares, such as Michelin rubber tires, coffee, nylon stockings, or the French “baguette”.
With the help of French technology Kunming became, for instance, the first Chinese city to have tap water and one of the first with a functioning telephone network. On the Chinese side the unrestricted passenger traffic from Kunming to Vietnam was halted in 2002. Now only freight trains travel from Kunming to Hekou. Passenger trains travel only on certain parts of the railway line but as per 2018 passenger services have stopped all together.
Journey to the rice terraces of Yuanyang, Yunnan Province
Presumably China’s most beautiful rice terraces are to be found in Yunnan province in the south-west of China. High above the valley of the Red River at 1,600 meters above sea level.
From the city of Jianshui you travel to the rice terraces of Yuanyang by car in about three hours. The rice terraces of Yuanyang have been hacked out over centuries by local peasants from the Ailao Range. Around Yuanyang are to be found mainly people belonging to the Hani, Yi, and Miao ethnic minorities. Many locals still wear their own distinctive clothing.
For photographers the best time to visit Yuanyang is during the winter months (December to March), that is, when the rice terraces are flooded with water and the angular light is reflected in every possible color in the water of the individual ponds.
However, during the winter months it is not rare for a thick mist to hinder the view of the rice terraces. From April to August the rice terraces come out in a rich green until shortly before the harvest in September when the rice presents itself in a yellowish autumn finery.
Till recently the city of Xinjie was the point of departure for the rice terraces of Yuanyang, but in the meantime there are many hotels of good quality in the surrounding villages as well. You should not miss out on a visit to one of the markets, which take place alternately and on different days in the villages surrounding Yuanyang.
Travel from the rice terraces of Yuanyang to Xishuangbanna in the sub-tropical
From the rice terraces of Yuanyang you travel further in a southerly direction. This part of Yunnan province is rarely visited by Western tourists.
You travel mostly parallel to the Laotian border to Luchun. In the mountains around Luchun you find predominantly people of the ethnic minorities Yi, Hani, and Miao.
From Luchun your trip continues through the mountainous border area on winding roads to the city of Jiangcheng. Until recently Jiangcheng was a tiny nest on the Laotian border that lived mainly from border trade with Laos and tea plantations. A very short time ago Jiangcheng perked itself up and presents itself to the visitor as a lively little town with an interesting marketplace. Jiangcheng already belongs to the prefecture of Puer, the town that the tea of the same name, puer tea, owes its name to. Traditionally, around Jiangcheng you find lots of tea plantations that are run by the local ethnic minorities of the Yi, Hani, and Dai.
In Jiangcheng there is a limited number of decent accommodation where you will spend the night on your journey from Yunnan to Laos. From Jiangcheng it is only a few kilometers to Xishuangbanna, the most southerly prefecture in Yunnan province.
Travel to the village of Yiwu in Yunnan: Starting point of the Tea and Horse Trail for horse caravans for Puer Tea
When tea experts talk about Puer tea the subject is a green tea from the area around the village of Yiwu east of Xishuangbanna in the south of Yunnan province. The slopes around the village of Yiwu are known for the high-quality Puer tea. Since it has been attributed with effects beneficial for health, Puer tea has gained a lot of reputation in the West in recent years.
In the Chinese doctrine of the five elements tea is assigned to the element earth. In Chinese medicine the element earth corresponds to the middle bodily organs – that is, the liver, spleen, pancreas and stomach, which are important for digestion. Tea, among other functions, keeps the cholesterol level constant and does not allow a wolfish hunger for sweets to develop. So recently Puer tea has acquired the epithet “tea for slimness”, which of course is only indirectly related to the truth.
On your trip to Yiwu you will learn more about the secrets of cultivation of Puer tea, and you can try out this once so valuable tea in one of Yiwu’s oldest tea trading houses. By the way, the name “Puer tea” comes from the city of Puer north of Xishuangbanna, about 1.5 hours of travel from Yiwu.
The village of Yiwu is also regarded as the starting point of the Tea and Horse Road. On that legendary trading route until the 50’s of the last century principally tea was transported from Yiwu and Xishuangbanna to Tibet, and in the opposite direction salt and horses (i.e. “Tea and Horse Road”) to Yunnan and China.
Travel over the border from Yunnan to Laos
In the sleepy village of Mohan (Boten), you travel across the border into Laos, where you will be met by our Laotian guide. After a short drive you reach Luang Namtha. The town of Luang Namtha is situated on the bank of Namtha River in the midst of a forested landscape in the north-west corner of Laos.
From Luang Namtha your journey takes you further in a south-west direction through Nam Ha National Park to Houay Xay. The placid city of Houay Xay is situated on the bank of the Mekong River, which here forms the border between Thailand and Laos. Houay Xay is the starting point for your boat trip on the Mekong River.
One of the highlights of this journey is doubtless the comfortable two-day boat trip on the Mekong from Houay Xay to Luang Prabang with an overnight stay in a tastefully set up lodge in Pak Beng. At 4,350 km the Mekong is the 11th longest river in the world and the only Asian river that flows through six countries.
Royal city Luang Prabang (UNESCO)
After the two-day boat trip on the Mekong River from Houay Xay you reach Luang Prabang. The former royal city Luang Prabang is yet another highlight and at the same time it constitutes a worthy finale of the journey from Yunnan to Laos.
The sleepy provincial city of Luang Prabang is one of the outstanding cultural destinations of this region. The splendid temples, the many beautiful colonial buildings, and the serenity of the local people can enthuse even the passionate travelers.
Either by bicycle or a traditional tuk-tuk you will explore Luang Prabang. For your departure from Luang Prabang there are flights from Luang Prabang to Chengdu, Hanoi, and Bangkok.
Of course you can do this trip in the opposite direction.
"...a fantastic journey with a good mix of cultur and good quality accommodation..."
Hans-Peter from Switzerland
"...the tour was very well organized indeed. We had a medical issue during the trip, but the assistance from Colorful China was swift and uncomplicated..."
Patricia from USA
Day 1: YUNNAN: KUNMING - JOURNEY TO STONE FOREST OF LUNAN - JIANSHUI
Morning transfer to the Railway Station of Kunming. Travel by modern fast train to the Stone Forest near Lunan in about 30 Minutes together with your tour guide.
Upon arrival at Shilin train station continue by local taxi to the Stone Forest.
The Stone Forest of Lunan is one of the best-known and most popular attractions of Yunnan province. Over millions of years rain and erosion have formed a unique, impressive landscape which indeed, with some imagination, resembles a forest.
You take a walk of 1.5 hours through the impressive stone labyrinth before you continue your journey towards Jianshui.
Day 2: TRAVEL FROM JIANSHUI TO YUANYANG
In the morning take the tourist train to the village of Tuanshan. This rather unspectacular railway line was once part of a 600mm narrow-gauge rail network, which was built in 1921 and led from Kaiyuan via Jianshui to Baoxiu.
On the way the train stops at the "Twin Dragon Bridge" (Shuanglong Qiao). The "Twin Dragon Bridge" dates from the late 18th century.
The original "Twin Dragon Bridge" had only 3 arches. In 1839 another 14 arches were added and the bridge reached its present length of 148 meters.
Then continue by train to the village of Tuanshan, which boasts unique, well-preserved wooden architecture. Walking tour through the village of Tuanshan.
Drive through beautiful countryside to the spectacular rice terraces of Yuanyang. Check-in at your hotel near the fascinating rice terraces of Yuanyang.
Day 3: YUNNAN: A SUNRISE OVER THE RICE TERRACES OF YUANYANG
Before sunrise you will drive to a viewpoint, from where you will experience a wonderful sunrise over the Yuanyang rice terraces. The rice terraces of Yuanyang have been carved out of the Ailao Mountains by local farmers for centuries.
Visit a colorful market in the Yuanyang area, where you can observe the ethnic groups of the Yi, Lisu and Hani ethnic groups living here in their traditional costumes while shopping.
In the afternoon 2-3 hours scenic hike through the rice terraces of Yuanyang.
Afterwards you drive to the "Tiger-Mouth rice terraces" and admire the rice terraces of Yuanyang in the light of the afternoon sun. Return to your hotel.
Day 4: YUNNAN PROVINCE: TRAVEL FROM YUANYANG RICE TERRACES TO JIANGCHENG
You leave the rice terraces of Yuanyang and travel south through the Ailao Mountains past impressive rice terraces and several villages of the ethnic groups of Hani, Yi, and Miao.
Your first stop on your journey to Jiangcheng is the town of Luchun. From Luchun your trip continues through the mountainous border area on winding roads to the city of Jiangcheng. En route there are many chances to take photos.
You reach Jiangcheng late in the afternoon. Jiangcheng is a part of the Honghe Hani-Yi Autonomous Area and is populated mainly by members of the Hani group.
The variegated landscape makes up for today's slightly long driving hours. Check-in at your hoel in Jiangcheng.
Day 5: JIANGCHENG - YIWU PU'ER TEA - MENGLUN BOTANICAL GARDEN, YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA
Over the recently constructed road your journey continues in a south-west direction parallel to the Laotian border which is only a stone’s throw away.
En route you make a short detour to the village of Yiwu. The village of Yiwu in Yunnan Province is known for the outstanding quality of its Puer tea. Yiwu is also regarded as the starting point of the Tea and Horse Road. The Tea and Horse Road was an extensive network of trading routes linking the south of Yunnan province with the Tibetan Highlands.
From Yiwu in Yunnan Pu'er was transported to Tibet and in the opposite direction salt and Tibetan horses were brought to Yunnan. In one of the oldest trading firms in Yiwu you have the chance to try out the once so precious puer tea.
Afterwards you travel to Menglun. Check-in at the hotel. Night spent in Menglun.
Day 6: MENGLUN BOTANICAL GARDEN - MOHAN - LUANG NAMTHA
Menglun is situated south-east of Jinghong on the bank of Luosuo River, a tributary of Lancang Jiang (Mekong).
The main attraction of Menglun is the wonderful tropical garden situated on the bank of Luosuo River. The botanical garden of Menglun contains over 8,000 different varieties of tropical plants.
Afterwards your journey continues to Mohan, the border town and gateway to Laos.
After the formalities have been taken care of the Laotian guide will be waiting for you. You travel through the fantastic landscape of northern Laos called Oudomxay Namtha.
The town of Luang Namtha is situated on the bank of Namtha River in the forested mountainous landscape of North-Western Laos.
You will visit the village of Ban Namdee and the Golden Stupa, from where you enjoy a wonderful view over the High Plateau.
Check-in and overnight stay in Luang Namtha.
Day 7: LUANG NAMTHA HALF DAY ACTIVITY – HOUAY XAY
Select your half-day activity for this morning:
A leisurely boat trip up the river in a traditional boat through the beautiful landscape of North Laos, or an easy exploration tour by mountain bike in the surroundings of Luang Namtha.
Continue your overland tour from Yunnan to Laos towards Houay Xay on the Mekong River. Along the way you make a stop at Vieng Phouka, where you visit the famous Tham Eng Cave.
Arrival in Houay Xay late in the afternoon. The town of Houay Xay is located on the eastern shores of the Mekong River. Here the Mekong River marks the border between Laos and Thailand.
Overnight in Houay Xay.
Day 8: BOAT TRIP ON THE MEKONG RIVER: MEKONG CRUISE FROM HOUAY XAY TO PAK BENG
In the morning you board our comfortable boat for the boat trip downstream on the Mekong River towards Pak Beng, our destination of the day.
With 4350km, the Mekong River is the 11th longest river in the world and the only river in Asia that flows through 6 countries.
On the leisurely boat trip to Pak Beng you will visit a village by the river, where you will get a good insight into the life of the local population.
In the afternoon your boat trip on the Mekong River leads through the beautiful mountain landscape of North Laos, along impressive karst formations and past numerous villages, most of which can only be reached by water. You reach Pak Beng in the late afternoon. Overnight in an idyllic hotel in Pak Beng.
Day 9: BOAT TRIP ON THE MEKONG RIVER: FROM PAK BENG TO LUNAG PRABANG
At 8 a.m. the boat leaves Pak Beng for your trip downstream on the Mekong River in the direction of Luang Prabang. Relax over a cup of tea while you let the beautiful river landscape pass by at a contemplative pace.
Our competent guide will be happy to supply you with information about Laos and its people. Again, lunch will be served on board.
At midday you take a break to visit the famous Pak Ou Caves (Tham Ting) and the thousands of Buddha statues inside. Continue to Luang Prabang, where you will moor at the jetty around 17h00. Transfer from the quay to your hotel.
Overnight stay in Luang Prabang.
Day 10: LUANG PRABANG
Luang Prabang is situated in the north of central Laos at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. In 1995 the old town of Luang Prabang was placed on the list of protected world cultural heritage sites and since then has been under the protection of UNESCO. The numerous golden temples, the old French colonial buildings, the lovely natural landscapes and the relaxed and friendly manner of the people give this former royal city a very special charm, which is hard to resist as a visitor.
On a tuk tuk, typical of the country, you will undertake an exploratory tour of Luang Prabang in the morning.
Visit the busy morning market and afterwards you drive to what is probably the most beautiful and biggest monastery in Luang Prabang, Wat Mai. Wat Mai Monastery was built towards the end of the 18th century by King Anourout and mainly served as the residence of the royal family.
After that you visit the National Museum housed in the former royal palace (Haw Kham).
After the visit to the museum you continue on your tuk tuk to Wat Visoun. That temple was erected during the reign of King Visounarat in about 1520 and today it houses a collection of Buddha statues and religious artifacts from the 14th century. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 11: LUANG PRABANG: BECOME A RICE FARMER AND LEARN ALL ABOUT RICE PLANTING
Rice is considered the most important staple food in Asia. For many visitors from the West, the rice comes from the supermarket and is packed in practical 1kg Uncle Ben's bags. But where does rice come from and what does it take until the rice even ends up in our package?
Today you will become a rice farmer for half a day and learn everything you always wanted to know about rice production.
From preparing the seeds, preparing the fields, planting the seedlings to the arduous rice harvest, you experience the entire cycle of a grain of rice. You can help the local farmer plough with the water buffalo, plant the seedlings and the arduous harvest, depending on the season.
Return to Luang Prabang. The afternoon is at leisure.
Day 12: LUANG PRABANG – DEPARTURE
Transfer to the airport.