Yunnan Travel – A two-week Itinerary for Yunnan
No other province in China is as diverse as Yunnan. If you’re short on time and you want to explore the fascinating culture offered by this region, you will want to follow our tried and tested two-week itinerary for Yunnan which we have put together to inspire you.
We used local transport to travel around the province which was in itself quite an adventure! Our two-week itinerary for Yunnan includes details about all the transportation and accommodation we used during our budget trip, as well as information about the many beautiful sights and activities in Yunnan!
Many websites such as Google and Facebook are blocked in China. You can use a VPN service to circumvent this annoyance. We used ExpresssVPN during our time in China and found the service to be very reliable!
Our Unicom sim card worked perfectly in every part of Yunnan.
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An Itinerary for Yunnan – Day 1 – Arrive in Kunming
We landed in Kunming Changshui International Airport following a delayed flight from Brunei. After going through immigration and claiming our backpacks, we immediately went to look for a sim card in order to gain access to data on our phones. Nobody at the airport spoke any English, so asking for a sim card was no easy task. We finally managed to find one at the convenience store in the arrivals lounge. Tip #1 – learn some phrases in Mandarin before travelling in China!
We had already decided that we would be using Unicom during our time in Yunnan since it seemed to offer the most convenient service. The girl at the store spoke no English but efficiently translated our requests on her phone (a local translation app), which would then be electronically dictated to us by the same app. The procedure was entirely efficient, much to our amusement and we managed to buy 20GB of data for 150 RMB (about €19.50).
Our next challenge was using the Kunming Metro, which we found to be quite straightforward seeing that the individual metro stops were written in both Chinese and English. Line 6 from the airport took us to Don Feng Square, from where we walked for a short 15-minutes to our hotel (which we had booked beforehand): Kunming YueFeng Inn. Again, no English was spoken at the hotel, but this was our turn to flaunt our phone app, Google Translate, which we now managed to utilise using our VPN!
Several local eateries were located just a very short walk away from our hotel, and at 11pm, absolutely famished, we ran to the nearest one hoping it was still open. We selected several skewers of different meats, vegetables and sausages accompanied by noodles, without really knowing what we were ordering, or how much that would cost us. We had no idea of the price of local food but we were starving at this point, so we must have ordered about 15-20 skewers. We were happily surprised when the total cost of the meal came up to just 43 RMB (about €5.50)!
Yunnan Travel – Day 2 – Explore Kunming
Not being very fond of cities, we were not particularly looking forward to exploring Kunming and had thought about skipping it altogether when planning our two-week itinerary for Yunnan, but eventually figured out that we needed to spend a day there for logistical reasons. The large, relaxed, unassuming city caught us by surprise, so much so that we thoroughly enjoyed discovering its attractions via its very convenient metro system.
Our favourite destination in Kunming was without doubt the Yuantong Temple, a large, pretty place of prayer with bridges and pools, full of friendly locals wanting to show us around and talk to us (alas we couldn’t speak Mandarin!) whilst smiling warmly the whole time. A kitchen inside the temple grounds offers huge bowls of vegetarian meals for free and we happily joined the locals on long tables under some canopies. Entrance fee: 6 RMB (about €0.75).
Yunnan Itinerary Days 3 & 4 – Head to Yuanyang
The absolutely gorgeous Rice Terraces of Yuanyang should not be missed. Be sure to include them on your two-week itinerary for Yunnan! The most scenic areas in Yuanyang can be easily accessed and visited in one day, although we do recommend staying longer if your itinerary allows.
Full details for travelling to Yuanyang can found in our post!
Yunnan Itinerary Day 5 – Arrive in Dali
Dali can be accessed from Yuanyang via Kunming or Jianshui by means of a connecting a bus followed by a train journey. Read the full details regarding transport for this part of the two-week itinerary for Yunnan in our post about Yuanyang.
The train from Kunming arrived in Dali train station at around 5.30am, from where we got a taxi ride to Dali Old City for 60 RMB (about €7.75). We could probably have bargained the price down, but we were far too tired to even try. We had pre-booked our accommodation within the old town itself, choosing Butterfly Dream Boutique Inn as our base.
We were surprised by how comfortable and pretty our Chinese-style room was, and we loved the fact that although the owner spoke no English, she very conveniently used (once again) her translation app to communicate with us, so that there were no hiccups during our stay, despite the language barrier.
You can easily spend the rest of the morning walking around Dali Old Town, along its cobbled ancient streets taking in the Bai traditional houses along the way which are arranged neatly on grid-style roads within the city’s ancient gates. Alternatively, you may visit Chongsheng Temple (Three Pagodas), a large temple complex, for some fine examples of Chinese temple architecture. The temple complex is a 30-minute walk from Dali Old Town. We felt that entrance cost to the complex was rather steep, at about 121 RMB (about €15.50) each, but we really did enjoy our visit and the very picturesque temple complex!
Yunnan Itinerary Day 6 – Take a day trip to the Cangshan Mountains
This mountain, made up of several peaks, is full of springs, streams and even waterfalls that run down to Erhai Lake below. The mountain is accessed via cable car and is the starting point to a number of hiking trails with brilliant views over Dali. You can easily spend a whole day here or perhaps just a few hours if you want to explore more of Dali itself.
Yunnan Itinerary Day 7 – Explore Xizhou
If you only have time for one day trip out of Dali, we highly recommend the little town of Xizhou close by the banks of Erhai Lake. We got a public bus to Xizhou from Dali’s West Gate for 7 RMB (about €1) each and told the driver where we wanted to be stopped. The town was a 10-minute walk away from the stop on the main road.
There isn’t a great lot to do in Xizhou, but walking around the little cobbled roads, home to the Bai people, evoked a sense of serenity and simplicity. Notable points of interest are the gorgeous Moon Bridge, the Linden Centre and the pretty town square. Be sure to sample the local food like the Xizhou Baba, a delicious flaky pastry with a sweet stuffing (a savoury option is also available). We are ever so glad to have included this little town on our two-week itinerary for Yunnan!
Yunnan Itinerary Day 8 – Travel from Dali to Lijiang
Many travel agents and guesthouses around Dali can book your bus ticket to Lijiang, and because we didn’t feel like wasting time trying to figure out how to buy the ticket independently, we got ours arranged by our accommodation Butterfly Dream Boutique Inn for a price of 67 RMB (about € 8.60) each. We were told to be ready by 10am, when a car would pick us up to take us to the bus station from where the bus would leave at 10.30am.
The procedure seemed to be very standard and easy so we weren’t really concerned that the car had not arrived at 10.10 am. When it still wasn’t at the guesthouse by 10.20am, we started to get irritated, especially when we noticed that the guesthouse owner who was constantly trying to get hold of someone on her cellphone, and telling us that it’s ‘on the way’ in a not-so reassuring manner.
At 10.30 we were informed that we had to walk for 10 minutes to get ‘somewhere’. The man accompanying us took us to his house, and we were told that a private car would take us all the way to Lijiang, since we had apparently missed the bus due to a misunderstanding!
The man shifted us to another car, then started to make his way to Lijiang… or so we thought. This car stopped on the highway after the driver received a call and, two minutes later, a bus stopped near the car which we were ushered into without much pomp and ceremony. We never really understood what went on but approximately three hours later, we were in Lijiang. To avoid this hassle, it is probably best to turn up directly at the main bus station.
The bus stopped us at one of the many bus stations in Lijiang, this being about 20 minutes’ drive away from Lijiang Old Town, where we had booked our room, and a taxi for that trip cost 16 RMB (about €2).
Our accommodation of choice in Lijiang was Lijiang Ju Xian Inn.
Yunnan Itinerary Day 9 – Take a trip to the Jade Dragon Stone Mountain
Be sure to reserve one full day if you intend going up the mountain (via cable car) – not much effort required! Read all about visiting the Jade Dragon Stone Mountain here.
Yunnan Itinerary Day 10 – Explore Lijiang Ancient Town and the surrounding villages
We spent quite some time in Lijiang, since we never made it to Shangri-La (Day 13 of this two-week itinerary for Yunnan) but 1-2 days here should be enough if you’re pressed for time. Read all about Lijiang Ancient Town and things to do in Lijiang here.
Yunnan Itinerary Days 11 &12 – Hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge
The Tiger Leaping Gorge was one of the highlights of our Yunnan trip, and we really cannot recommend it enough! Read our guide to Hiking the Tiger leaping Gorge in three days.
Yunnan Itinerary Day 13 – Hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge then make your way to Shangri-La
The hike should be over by around mid-morning on Day 3, so you have ample time to make your way to Shangri-La. A bus ticket can be bought from Tina’s Youth Hostel as explained in our detailed post.
Yunnan Itinerary Day 14 – Explore Shangri-La
Sadly, we never made it to Shangri-La (also known as Diqing and Zhongdian) ourselves, much as we would have loved to, since we realised that it would be far too cold to visit in December.
The town, not far from Shudu Lake, is close to attractions such as Sumtseling Monastery, and surrounded by some magnificent snow mountains. Potatso National Park and Napa Hai Scenic Area are not far off. We are pretty much aware that there’s lots to explore within and around Shangri-La so it’s still very much on our bucket-list. We’re hoping to make it there soon!
Yunnan Itinerary Day 15 – Head back to Kunming
You can go back to Kunming from Shangri-La via flight or bus. Alternatively, you can get a combination of flights, buses or trains to elsewhere in China!
This two-week itinerary for Yunnan allowed us to explore the several points of interest of the region comfortably, and in relative depth without too many hiccups. We hope this itinerary helps you enjoy Yunnan as much as we did!