Destination: Yunnan Province, China

Yunnan Province is located at the southwest tip of China, bordering Laos, Vietnam, and Burma. It is one of the most ethnically diversified provinces of China and has long established itself as a popular tourist destination, boasting a number of both natural and cultural attractions.

Anyone who knows Yunnan should have heard of Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and Xishuangbanna at the very least.

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan. It has the biggest international airport of Yunnan. By the end of 2011, the old Kunming Wujiaba International Airport will be replaced by the new Kunming Changshui International Airport.

The most travelled place of interest in Kunming is probably Shilin or the Stone Forest. It was made a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site as part of the South China Karst in 1997. In 2005, this breathtaking landscape was captured by Zhang Yimou’s stunning camerawork in his feature Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.

Shilin in Kunming, Yunnan / source: Here is China

Going from Kunming to most other places in Yunnan is fairly easy. Dali, for instance, is accessible by plane, train, as well as ground transportation from Kunming.

Dali is famous for producing many different types of marble, and that’s how it got this name. It is an autonomous prefecture consisting mostly of ethnic Bai people. Every spring, Dali holds the biggest market of Yunnan, known as Third Month Fair, as a centuries-old tradition that thousands of people attend.

East of Dali is the famous alpine fault lake, Erhai Lake, which get its name from being shaped like an ear. It is the second largest highland lake in China with an area of 97 square miles (the largest is Dianchi or Kunming Lake of a size of 115 square miles). Tourists to Erhai can choose to watch cormorant fishing on the lake, go to hiking trips on its bank, as well as visit its islands.

Erhai Lake in Yunnan / source: Go Kunming

The name oLijiang can cause some confusion in China because it may not always refer to the prefecture-level city Lijiang. When people speak of Lijiang (not the Li River in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), sometimes they refer to the three old towns of Lijiang only. They are Dayuan, Shuhe, and Baisha, located along the legendary trail “Tea Horse Road” as profiled in this National Geographic article. It is said that the history of these town goes back 800 years. Ancient waterways, bridges, wells, roads, and houses by the Nakhi people still stand today.

Lijiang Old Town in Yunnan / source: China Tour Guide

Most people know Xishuangbanna for its specialty tea Pu’er tea and from the Dai people’s Water-splashing Festival, which takes place every April as part of the Dai people’s New Year celebration. It is an autonomous prefecture at the southern end of Yunnan, away from the hustle and bustle of the major cities, and it harbors an abundance of flora and fauna in dense tropical forests.

Water-splashing Festival in Yunnan / source: Dianchi Cooperation for Opening Asia (DCOA)

It should surprise no one that there are swarms of travel websites about Yunnan. But if it helps, my favorite among them is Go Kunming. It is an English website that provides up-to-date information about Yunnan, including local events, news, travel deals, a nice photo gallery, and featured articles with videos too! To add to that, a complete list of Yunnan festivals from 2011 to 2012 can be found in Yunnan Explorer. The list will tell you where to go for these festivals, and there is a festival map that you may consult too.

Last here is a somewhat less well-known fact about Yunnan. Since the founding of new China in 1949, Yunnan has always had a thriving film culture. Dali, for instance, opened China’s first rural film museum this April to honor its film production history. You may read about this museum in an article that I published elsewhere. For another example, the biennial documentary festival, Yunnan Multi-cultural Visual Festival or YunFest, is currently one of China’s oldest and most respected independent film festivals. Click to see a report of the 5th YunFest in Go Kunming.