Yunnan Province in southwestern China is known for its ethnic diversity and beautiful landscapes, including mountain ranges, gorges, rice terraces and lakes. That in mind, with 9 days off work, myself and fellow teacher Emma, headed to Yunnan’s Capital Kunming, or ‘the city of eternal spring’ to begin a whistle stop journey through Yunnan Province to some of its most renowned destinations including Dali, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri La!
Our first destination was Yunnan province’s capital city of Kunming, which took three hours to reach by plane from Fuzhou Changle airport. Kunming was really just a long stopover for us on our journey to other places within Yunnan, but we ended up really enjoying the time we spent there!
After navigating the metro from the airport, we checked into the Hump Route Hostel for one night which turned out to have a lovely rooftop bar and restaurant. We enjoyed some beers and a particularly spicy vegetarian Hot Pot on the cutesy fairy-light illuminated terrace, even if we were shivering in our light jumpers after leaving the sub-tropical Fujian climate for the first time in a while!
The following day we headed to Yuantong Temple, Kunming’s biggest and most impressive Buddhist Temple. Tucked away off a busy street in downtown Kunming, the beautiful and peaceful temple provided a surprising juxtaposition to the hectic shopping street just a stone’s throw away.
The temple’s grounds were wandered by tourists like us taking photos, as well as locals stopping to pray, some looking like they’d just stepped in on their way to or from work for some respite. Others, mainly older Chinese people, seemed simply to be taking advantage of the free vegetarian lunch that was offered within the temple, whilst basking in the sun dashed courtyards.
The temple grounds are filled with flowers and cypress trees, with a bridge over a huge pond connecting separate colourful buildings. The architecture is authentic of the Yuan and Ming dynasties, dating back over 1200 years. The temple combines features of Han, Tibetan and South East Asian Buddhism.
Feeling slightly disappointed to have just missed the food, we left the temple and stepped across the road where a similar lunch was being served at another smaller temple. A monk stood nearby noticed us and welcomed us to take some of the food, which we did happily. It consisted of sweet potato, courgette, onion and other veggies, and was delicious!
Our short stay in Kunming at its end, we headed back to our hostel to collect our bags before taking a taxi to the huge and very busy Kunming railway station. We took a high-speed train to Dali train station taking just over 2 hours.
- Flight Fuzhou Changle – Kunming (return flight): 2hr50, 1510rmb
- 1 night in dorm room Hump Route Hostel: 60rmb
- Train Kunming – Dali: 2hr, 145rmb
Two hours Northwest of Kunming by high-speed train, the City of Dali is the economic and cultural centre of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. We stayed just outside the west gate of Dali’s old City in The Jade Emu international Hostel which was our favourite accommodation of the whole trip.
The guest house has a beautiful courtyard with relaxed seating areas and a bar and restaurant; the food was amazing and even had western all-day brunches including avocado toast!
The best thing about Jade Emu though was the staff who were super friendly, the most helpful out of any other Chinese hostels I have stayed at. Both evenings we had in Dali we headed to the Ancient City, which is a beautiful walled town with cobbled alleys that are bustling with life. The old city was built during the Ming Dynasty and its streets are lined with traditional buildings of the Bai ethnic minority. It has a much more authentic feel compared to other ‘old towns’ in China.
On our first night, noticing many of the women had brightly coloured thread braids plaited into their hair, we soon found stalls where we could get our hair braided too. We walked towards ‘foreigner street’ known for its bar scene, but despite its name we saw only Chinese tourists.
Here we stumbled upon ‘Bad Monkey’, a live music bar where we drank craft beer and nodded along to The Killers and Foo Fighters covered by a Chinese band!
Upon recommendation by one of the hostel staff, the next morning we hired ebikes for the day and drove to The Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple. These are among the oldest standing structures in southwestern China, and one of the main tourist attractions of Dali.
As such, the entrances to the Temple grounds were teeming with market sellers taunting their wares, and the grounds cost 75rmb to enter. The fee turned out to be completely worth it, the grounds the Pagodas are set within being larger and more beautiful than we expected.
The best view of the renowned Pagodas was from across a lake known as the reflection pond, so called because of the brilliant image of the three Pagodas mirrored in the water, creating a perfect photo opportunity.
We hopped back on our ebikes and continued our journey towards a scenic part of Dali’s Erhai Lake. The drive itself was incredible thanks to the captivating vista of mountains to the East, West and South.
It was honestly one of the most breath-taking views I’ve ever seen and I’m so glad that we chose to do it by ebike rather than just taking a taxi there.
Reaching the scenic point we were looking for took a little longer than expected, but about 2 hours later having struggled to drive through the cobbled narrow streets of a small village, we arrived at the destination. Erhai lake was definitely impressive and had a calm feel to the area that we didn’t find within the old city walls.
That evening, after being roped into taking starring roles in the hostels Halloween promo video, we explored the old city again. Instead of drinking in any of the bustling bars, this time we ended sat in what seemed to be the hippiest street in the city, on a rug on the floor drinking shots sold by some young locals! Up the street were lots of similar makeshift ‘bars’ along with people selling artwork and jewellery.
I could see now why Dali is known as the hippy centre of Yunnan province and it didn’t disappoint.
- Jade Emu International Hostel 2 nights 4 bed female dorm: 70rmb
- Bus Dali – Lijiang: 3hr30, 70rmb
The next day we got a bus, organised for us by our hostel, from Dali to Lijiang. The three-hour journey costing around 70rmb flew by thanks to the stunning mountainous scenery we could see the entire way. Once in Lijiang, we explored the old town, which by 7pm was packed with tourists.
Since the guesthouse we stayed in didn’t have much information available, we headed to Mama Naxis guesthouse to buy tickets for the bus trip that would take us to Tiger Leaping Gorge the next morning.
We booked our tickets and the following morning we watched a gorgeous orange sunrise over the many slanted roofs of Lijiang old town as we waited on the main road for our bus!
- Bus Lijiang – Qiaotou (Tiger Leaping Gorge): 2hr, 40rmb
- Guesthouse 1 night Twin room: 40rmb pp