Yunnan, China

Known as “the land south of the clouds”, Yunnan is home to some of the most diverse peoples, cultures and scenery, with more than half of China’s ethnic minority communities residing here in the midst of spectacular landscapes.

Be spirited away to where fables live and last…

A spellbinding paradise, Yunnan is slowly entering the radar for travellers looking for lightly tread paths which lead to rich geographical sights, blooming biodiversity and colourful peoples of different cultural and national backgrounds.

Of China’s 55 officially recognised ethnic groups, 26 can be found in the region. Highly intermixed, not one prefecture is inhabited by a single minority. This makes for an eclectic mix of cultures, architecture and communities in this southwest province. Scattered throughout the countryside, the spirit and soul of Yunnan are alive and stirring in the historic old towns and villages.

Then there’s the landscapes: freshwater lakes interspersed by cloud forests across the plateau, lush jungles and tea plantations steaming to the south, and snow-capped mountains rising up north. With tracks and trails all over, the area is infinitely explorable.

You might find yourself feeling emboldened to make a trip to Yunnan as you discover more about it. You’d be wise to follow that tug. Yunnan is a portal to a fairy tale age, connecting the new China to the old where exotic imperial heritage is cherished, and where you can step back to a more gracious time. Stay… for as long as you can.

Photos by our contributing travel photographer Jordan Hammond

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Reflections from Yunnan

Discover this wild, heritage province from our experience makers and fellow escapists

Meet Jon, our veteran guide

“As a seasoned tour guide with over 15 years of experience crafting luxury, bespoke trips for my clients, I’m extremely passionate about what I do. I live right here in Yunnan, a place filled with colourful cultures of ethnic minorities, as well as beautiful scenery. I want my clients to be able to enjoy Yunnan as a local, and to show them the customs and traditions of the many indigenous communities that live here. I also love nature and I want to show visitors around the best scenic places in the area.”

– Jon Zhou

The Dongba shaman

“The term ‘Dongba’ refers to the priests or shamans of the Naxi people. We believe in the relationship between man and nature, and maintaining a harmonious balance between the two. The word literally means “wise man” in our native language. Only we are versed in the traditional Naxi script, which is the world’s only surviving pictographic language still in use today. It’s fascinating to hear these symbols spoken out loud and many people who come to see me like to have their names written in Dongba calligraphy. Even the government is keen on preserving and supporting our unique language.”

– He Zhen Wen

Wenchang Temple’s taichi master

“Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I decided to seek a taichi master who taught me the skills of taichi, qi gong, meditation, as well as Taoist rituals and behaviours. To my amazement, I was cured. I felt that the best way to show my gratitude was to dedicate my life to becoming a taichi master myself. I live here in the temple and to grow in my learning and knowledge, I read Taoism books everyday, including the Tao Te Ching, which is a key Taoist text. I also meditate four times a day. Sometimes visitors come to learn taichi, qi gong and meditation with me, and I’m happy to teach as many people as I can.”

– Zhang Dao Zha

A Yunnan Journey

Get inspired for your perfect escape with this journey previously crafted for a fellow traveller

Immersive Yunnan Experiences

Yunnan Regions

Yunnan Travel Tips & Insights

Bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, as well as the Chinese provinces and regions of Guangxi (southeast), Guizhou (east), Sichuan (north) and Tibet (northwest), Yunnan is located in the far southwest of China. Spanning 394,100-sq-km, the eastern landscape is a limestone plateau with karst topography while the western half is characterised by mountain ranges and rivers.

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan in the northwest-central part of the province.

With high elevations in the northwest where mountains reach more than 5,000m, and low elevations in the southeast where they don’t rise higher than 3,000m, the average elevation is 1,980m.

To avoid experiencing altitude sickness, it is advisable to acclimatise properly by starting your trip from a lower place such as Kunming (1,891m) and Dali (1,990m) before ascending to higher elevations in Lijiang (2,393m) and Shangri-La (3,276m).

We will advise you accordingly depending on the nature of your journey and the regions you are visiting.

The currency in Yunnan is the Renminbi (RMB), which literally translates to “People’s currency”.

When drawing cash from ATMs, please note that most ATMs do accept foreign credit and banking cards. However, the ATMs can be temperamental so if one doesn’t work, just try the next one.

Please note that paying in US Dollars or any other foreign currency is very rarely accepted. We recommend preparing sufficient RMB on hand as most establishments in rural areas like small cities and the countryside do not accept foreign credit cards. Large hotels and international stores in bigger cities like Kunming do accept foreign credit cards.

Kunming, the capital, functions as a transport hub connecting Yunnan with the rest of China, Southeast Asia and South Asia.

Yunnan province has 13 airports in its major tourist cities, including Kunming Changshui International Airport (KMG) which is located about 25km northeast of the city. Other key airports include Lijiang Sanyi International Airport (LJG), Dali Airport (DLU), Diqing Shangri-La Airport (DIG) and Xishuangbanna Airport (JHG).

The majority of flights that fly into KMG originate from domestic cities like Hangzhou and Guangzhou. There are only a handful of international flights that arrive from cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

For our Singapore visitors, there are direct flights to Kunming that take approximately 4 hours.

It is also convenient to get to and around Yunnan by train and coach.

Train:

Bullet trains from Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are available but the journeys are long (6-12 hours for the quickest trains). It takes 20 or so hours for inter-province sleeper trains to Yunnan.

Work is currently underway to expand the provincial rail network to include neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Myanmar.

Coach:

Yunnan has a developed highway network stretching to the major cities in Yunnan, the neighbouring provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Tibet; as well as neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. It’s convenient to take a bus between these destinations. The travelling time for Kunming to Dali, Dali to Lijiang and Lijiang to Shangri-La are approximately 4 hours each.

It’s not particularly difficult or tedious to enter China. The main requirements include a passport that’s valid for travel for six months and a visa. Citizens of certain countries holding appropriate passports may enter China without a visa.

Singapore passport holders may enter China without a visa for tourism if they intend to stay in China for no more than 15 days.

If you do require a visa (Category L), we recommend that you apply with your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate approximately one month prior to travel. Please ensure that all the information on the visa or document of authentication issued is correct at the time of collection of the passport containing the visa or document of authentication. If there are any mistakes, please contact the embassy or consulate immediately.

For visitors transiting through certain cities in China, including Kunming, a visa-free period of 144 hours — up from the current 72 hours — will be implemented on January 1, 2019.

On arrival, all visitors will be given a Baggage Declaration form which must be retained until departure. If you’ve misplaced your form, you must inform your guide or customs officer to have it replaced.

The form allows for the free import and export of articles for personal use during your stay. Do note that you’re not allowed to import or export illegal drugs, animals and plants (including seeds). You are also not allowed to import fruit and cold cuts, or export pirated DVDs and CDs.

Visitors will be required to list expensive belongings such as laptops and cameras. Visitors carrying more than US$5,000 in foreign currency must declare the full amount at customs.

For duty free, you’re allowed to import:

  • 400 cigarettes (or the equivalent in tobacco products)
  • 5L of alcohol

If you wish to purchase antiques, please note that each item requires a certificate and a red seal to clear customs. To obtain both, your items must be inspected by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in Beijing. Any item made before 1949 is considered an antique. If the item was made before 1795, it cannot be legally exported.

The weather across Yunnan is generally pleasant, thanks to its mild climate. However, because of its varied topography, the conditions can vary across the regions.

The best time to visit Yunnan is in the spring (March to May) and autumn (October to November). The rainy season runs from May to October when temperatures can exceed more than 30°C. Winter time (December to February) is not too cold but there can be large temperature differences in the day and night, so we recommend that you pack thicker clothing if you’re visiting during this period.

January is the coldest month with average temperatures ranging from 8°C -17°C. The hottest month is July with average temperatures ranging from 21°C – 27°C.

Spring and early summer are the best times to enjoy the region’s flora and fauna. Autumn and winter are the best times to see snow-capped mountains and peaks.

However, July to August is peak tourist season for domestic travellers, so keep this in mind when planning your Yunnan trip. On the other hand, April-May and September-October are peak seasons for international travellers.

Generally, we advise our travellers to carry varying layers of clothing because the temperatures can vary greatly between day and night. The climate is relatively dry and sunny so we advise you to hydrate often and wear plenty of sunscreen. To reduce the effects of altitude sickness, plan for an easy first day when you get in to Yunnan, avoid strenuous exercise and have plenty of rest along the way.

Aside from weather considerations, there are specific dates to avoid travelling here to dodge massive crowds:

  • February 5-20: Chinese New Year/Spring Festival
  • April 5: Qingming Festival (Tomb-sweeping Day)
  • June 16-18: Dragon Boat Festival
  • September 22-24: Mid-Autumn Festival

October 1-7: National Holiday week, or Golden Week

Bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, as well as the Chinese provinces and regions of Guangxi (southeast), Guizhou (east), Sichuan (north) and Tibet (northwest), Yunnan is located in the far southwest of China. Spanning 394,100-sq-km, the eastern landscape is a limestone plateau with karst topography while the western half is characterised by mountain ranges and rivers.

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan in the northwest-central part of the province.

With high elevations in the northwest where mountains reach more than 5,000m, and low elevations in the southeast where they don’t rise higher than 3,000m, the average elevation is 1,980m.

To avoid experiencing altitude sickness, it is advisable to acclimatise properly by starting your trip from a lower place such as Kunming (1,891m) and Dali (1,990m) before ascending to higher elevations in Lijiang (2,393m) and Shangri-La (3,276m).

We will advise you accordingly depending on the nature of your journey and the regions you are visiting.

The currency in Yunnan is the Renminbi (RMB), which literally translates to “People’s currency”.

When drawing cash from ATMs, please note that most ATMs do accept foreign credit and banking cards. However, the ATMs can be temperamental so if one doesn’t work, just try the next one.

Please note that paying in US Dollars or any other foreign currency is very rarely accepted. We recommend preparing sufficient RMB on hand as most establishments in rural areas like small cities and the countryside do not accept foreign credit cards. Large hotels and international stores in bigger cities like Kunming do accept foreign credit cards.

Kunming, the capital, functions as a transport hub connecting Yunnan with the rest of China, Southeast Asia and South Asia.

Yunnan province has 13 airports in its major tourist cities, including Kunming Changshui International Airport (KMG) which is located about 25km northeast of the city. Other key airports include Lijiang Sanyi International Airport (LJG), Dali Airport (DLU), Diqing Shangri-La Airport (DIG) and Xishuangbanna Airport (JHG).

The majority of flights that fly into KMG originate from domestic cities like Hangzhou and Guangzhou. There are only a handful of international flights that arrive from cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

For our Singapore visitors, there are direct flights to Kunming that take approximately 4 hours.

It is also convenient to get to and around Yunnan by train and coach.

Train:

Bullet trains from Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are available but the journeys are long (6-12 hours for the quickest trains). It takes 20 or so hours for inter-province sleeper trains to Yunnan.

Work is currently underway to expand the provincial rail network to include neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Myanmar.

Coach:

 Yunnan has a developed highway network stretching to the major cities in Yunnan, the neighbouring provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Tibet; as well as neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. It’s convenient to take a bus between these destinations. The travelling time for Kunming to Dali, Dali to Lijiang and Lijiang to Shangri-La are approximately 4 hours each.

It’s not particularly difficult or tedious to enter China. The main requirements include a passport that’s valid for travel for six months and a visa. Citizens of certain countries holding appropriate passports may enter China without a visa.

Singapore passport holders may enter China without a visa for tourism if they intend to stay in China for no more than 15 days.

If you do require a visa (Category L), we recommend that you apply with your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate approximately one month prior to travel. Please ensure that all the information on the visa or document of authentication issued is correct at the time of collection of the passport containing the visa or document of authentication. If there are any mistakes, please contact the embassy or consulate immediately.

For visitors transiting through certain cities in China, including Kunming, a visa-free period of 144 hours — up from the current 72 hours — will be implemented on January 1, 2019.

On arrival, all visitors will be given a Baggage Declaration form which must be retained until departure. If you’ve misplaced your form, you must inform your guide or customs officer to have it replaced.

The form allows for the free import and export of articles for personal use during your stay. Do note that you’re not allowed to import or export illegal drugs, animals and plants (including seeds). You are also not allowed to import fruit and cold cuts, or export pirated DVDs and CDs.

Visitors will be required to list expensive belongings such as laptops and cameras. Visitors carrying more than US$5,000 in foreign currency must declare the full amount at customs.

For duty free, you’re allowed to import:

  • 400 cigarettes (or the equivalent in tobacco products)
  • 5L of alcohol

If you wish to purchase antiques, please note that each item requires a certificate and a red seal to clear customs. To obtain both, your items must be inspected by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in Beijing. Any item made before 1949 is considered an antique. If the item was made before 1795, it cannot be legally exported.

The weather across Yunnan is generally pleasant, thanks to its mild climate. However, because of its varied topography, the conditions can vary across the regions.

The best time to visit Yunnan is in the spring (March to May) and autumn (October to November). The rainy season runs from May to October when temperatures can exceed more than 30°C. Winter time (December to February) is not too cold but there can be large temperature differences in the day and night, so we recommend that you pack thicker clothing if you’re visiting during this period.

January is the coldest month with average temperatures ranging from 8°C -17°C. The hottest month is July with average temperatures ranging from 21°C – 27°C.

Spring and early summer are the best times to enjoy the region’s flora and fauna. Autumn and winter are the best times to see snow-capped mountains and peaks.

However, July to August is peak tourist season for domestic travellers, so keep this in mind when planning your Yunnan trip. On the other hand, April-May and September-October are peak seasons for international travellers.

Generally, we advise our travellers to carry varying layers of clothing because the temperatures can vary greatly between day and night. The climate is relatively dry and sunny so we advise you to hydrate often and wear plenty of sunscreen. To reduce the effects of altitude sickness, plan for an easy first day when you get in to Yunnan, avoid strenuous exercise and have plenty of rest along the way.

Aside from weather considerations, there are specific dates to avoid travelling here to dodge massive crowds:

  • February 5-20: Chinese New Year/Spring Festival
  • April 5: Qingming Festival (Tomb-sweeping Day)
  • June 16-18: Dragon Boat Festival
  • September 22-24: Mid-Autumn Festival

October 1-7: National Holiday week, or Golden Week

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Yunnan, China

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