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Yunnan Highlights

Yunnan has always stood apart from the rest of China, set high on the south-western frontiers of the empire and shielded from the rest of the nation by mountainous Sichuan and Guizhou.

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Yunnan Highlights

Yunnan has always stood apart from the rest of China, set high on the south-western frontiers of the empire and shielded from the rest of the nation by mountainous Sichuan and Guizhou.

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Kunming

The capital of the Yunnan province is located on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau on 1,900 metres above sea level. Because of the all year round pleasant, spring like climate Kunming was nicknamed “The Spring City”. Whether exploring the city by bus, taxi, by bicycle or on foot, visitors will find Kunming a rather easy city to get around.

An early morning visit to the Green Lake Park (Cuihu) is a good opportunity to observe the locals engaged in their morning workouts, practice Tai Chi, show off their birds and enjoy social dancing. During the winter month, the Green Lake Park serves as migration place for thousands of seagulls escaping the cold further north. Within walking distance from Green Lake Park lies the Buddhist temple Yuantong Si. Located on small hills, Yuantong Si was founded in the 8th century and later expanded under the Mongols. The two 13-storey high towers of the east and West Pagodas date back to the Tang dynasty are located near the commercial district in the centre of town.

Destroyed during the Muslim revolt, the east and West Pagodas were rebuilt in the 19th century. An early morning visit to the Dou Nan Flower market should be part of every trip to Kunming. From Dou Nan flower market, flowers are shipped every morning all over China and even to Japan and Russia. The colourful and bustling Dau Nan flower market is held every morning. Despite the modernization, Kunming remains a city with a laid back atmosphere and lots of street markets, snack-stalls, parks, and old temples waiting to be explored.

Shaxi

was formerly an important pivotal stop on the Tea and Horse trail from Yunnan to Tibet. It lost its importance after the Ming Dynasty, when the waters of the Erhai Lake receded and a new passage way developed on the eastern side of the Cang Mountain. In 2001, Shaxi was nominated as an endangered site by the World Monument Watch List and was renovated with the assistance of the Swiss government.

The traditional Bat village of Shaxi (Sideng) is located about 110km southwest of Lijiang in the stunning surroundings of the Shaxi Valley.

The central market square is surrounded by picturesque wooden buildings, including a traditional theatre and the lovely Buddhist Temple Xingjiao. Some of the structures of Xingjiao Temple date back to the 1415 (Ming Dynasty) and where once decorated by lovely wall paintings. Shaxi offers the perfect environment for hikers, nature lovers and peace seekers. It is just the perfect, quiet alternative to the bustling Lijiang and Dali. From the village of Shaxi to Shi Bao Shan it takes 20 minutes by car or about 2.5 hours by walking. The most prominent sight at Shi Sao Shan is the Stone Bell Temple with its 139, well preserved stone carvings. These magnificent stone carvings at the Stone Bell Temple date back 1,300 years to the once powerful Nanzhao Kingdom during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and are testimony for a time when Mahayana Buddhism from Tibet started to spread in the Yunnan area.

Zhongdian (Shangri-La)

is the capital of the Deqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. In 2001 the local government decided to rename Zhongdian “Shangri-La”, after the mysterious “Shangri-La” described by the British writer James Hilton in his novel “The Lost Horizon” published in 1933. “Shangri La” is a Tibetan word and means “Land of sacredness and peace”. Truly the right description for this region! The climate of Zhongdian can be classified as subtropical highland monsoon which provides the area with cold, dry winters and wet summers.

The wettest months are July and August with an average rainfall of 200mm. The town’s pastoral, pristine environs are dotted with Tibetan Villages which provide the visitor with a glimpse of the rich and colorful Tibetan culture. The picturesque old town with its relaxed atmosphere, the surrounding snow-capped mountains and the picturesque green meadows dotted with Yak herds make Zhongdian an ideal place to explore for a couple of days. Just north of the town is Ganden Sumtseling Gompa (Yellow Hat), a 300-year-old impressive Tibetan monastery.

From a historical point of view the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa (in Chinese: Songzanlin Si) is very significant to the region because it was inaugurated personally by the 5th dalai lama in 1679. Destroyed during the Cultural revolution, the Ganden Sumpseling Gompa is now again one of the most important monasteries in the area. Zhongdian offers also many hiking options.

Jinghong

is the capital of Xishuangbanna (Xi Shuang Banna) Dai Autonomous Prefecture. Jinghong was not spared from major changes in the recent past but managed to keep a certain relaxed and exotic atmosphere. The Manting Temple and the adjoining Chunhuan Park (also called Manting Park) are worth a visit. Chunhuan Park (Manting Park) is said to have a 1300 year old history and served once as the imperial park for the Dai Kings.

Lijiang

The lovely Naxi town of Lijiang is located in a fertile valley 2,400 meters above sea level at the foot of the 5,596 metre high Yulong Shan or Jade Dragon Mountain. Most of its labyrinth of cobbled stone alleys is now lined with tourist-shops, bars and over priced restaurants. However, despite the drastic recent changes, an early morning stroll through old town Lijiang should be part of every travel itinerary. Some visitors find Lijiang too much of a circus and opt to head out to the quiet and more authentic smaller villages in the surroundings.

Dali

Dali is one of the most popular spots for independent China travellers and hugely popular with those studying and working in southern China. About 50 minutes by plane or 4-5 hr by bus from Kunming (capital of Yunnan), Dali is considered by some the perfect place to relax in southern China.

Stone Forest of Lunan

One of the main sights of Yunnan for Chinese tour groups, spread out over an 80ha area, the Stone Forest of Lunan is a conglomeration of utterly bizarre but stunning lime stone pillars, needles and crags that have been formed about 270 million ago by an ocean that was once present in the area. As the waters withdrew they left a limestone sea bed that rose to the surface. Thousands of years of erosion by wind an rain sculpted the stone into its present petrified forms. From a distance it certainly does look like a petrified forest.

The best way to explore this amazing site is on foot by taking one of the small, hidden trails that lead around the entire park. This is also a good way to escape the crowds along the main path. The Stone Forest is located about 80 km or 1.5 hrs drive east of Kunming andcan easily be visited during a day trip.

Xishuangbanna

(Xi Shuang Banna) is the southern-most autonomous prefecture of the Yunnan province and covers an area of 19,700km2 which is about half the size of Switzerland. It shares its border with Myanmar to the south-west and Laos to the south-east. The name Xishuangbanna originates from the Thai word Sip Song Pa Na, which means literally “12 rice-growing districts.”

Xishuangbanna was once part of the Nanzhao and later the Dali Kingdom. After a short period of independence, Xishuangbanna fell under the control of the Mongols. The Mongols (Yuan dynasty 1271-1368) transferred the administrative power to some Dai chieftains, who later divided their kingdom into 12 rice-growing areas. These Dai chieftains exercised enormous power over their kingdom, suppressing Non Dai minorities by imposing heavy taxes. This tyranny continued throughout the first half of the 20th century under the rule of Ke Shexu, a Han warlord until the People’s liberation army entered Xishuangbannain 1950. Xishuangbanna has a tropical climate with a wet and a dry season.

The wet seasons runs from June to September and the dry season starts mid-September and lasts until February. Xishuangbanna is home to the Dai, Zhuang, Hui, Bai, Yao, Lisu, Akha (Miao), Wa, Hani, Bulang and Jinuo ethnic minorities. Due to favourable climate, Xishuangbanna is one of the most fertile areas in China. A large array of exotic fruits are produced here and the areas around Pu’er, mengla and Yiwu are famous for their high quality green tea and Pu’er tea production. Especially the Pu’er Tea has gained popularity around the world in recent years. The climate together with the immense biodiversity and the minority villages make Xixhuangbanna a fascinating place for visitors to explore!

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