WHAT TO BRING
A camera, a raincoat if you are going in the rainy season because there might be heavy monsoon rains, a fleece for the cold mountain air at night, water bottle to refill, some thermal wear and a wool hat is recommended if visiting Shangri-La and going on higher treks in the north of Yunnan and Deqin county. Wool socks are ideal for circulation during treks up Yunnan’s many mountains.
Kunming: Kunming is known as the “City of Eternal Spring”. It enjoys a temperate climate but can snow between December and February. With the highest amount of rainfall starting in June and lasting until September, the best time to go is between March and May.
Dali: The high elevation in Dali of 2007 meters (6585 feet) along with the low latitude creates a milk subtropical climate. Most of the rain in Dali occurs between June and September. The winters are cool with the temperature rarely dropping past 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit). It is ideal to visit in April and May when it is dry, temperate and sunny.
Lijiang: The weather in Lijiang is similar to Dali but with a higher elevation at 2400 meters (7900 feet), making the winters a little cooler with temperatures dropping to 6 degrees Celsius (42 Fahrenheit) in the evening. Most of the precipitation happens between June and September, while the spring comes early and the city remains fairly dry until the end of May. The best months to visit are between March and May, and October in the fall.
Shangri-La: The most comfortable time to visit Shangri-La is between March and June. It is a much cooler city than others in Yunnan due to its high altitude of over 3200 meters. June is a popular time to visit, and from later June to September Shangri-La county sees its highest amount of annual rainfall, the highest concentrations occurring in July and August. Due to the high elevation it is recommended to bring some thermal clothing, especially for the chilly nights. The average annual temperate in Shangri-La is around 5.85 degrees Celsius (42.5 F).
Xishuangbanna: Sometimes refered to as the “Thailand of China”, this region enjoys a tropical climate with a spicier South East Asian feel. One of Yunnan’s southernmost towns, it is at the lowest altitude with Jinghong at 550 meters (1804 feet) and most of the region is below 1500 meters. It enjoys warm weather year-round, with daytime temperatures averaging in the mid-20’s (80 degrees Fahrenheit). Bring a sweater if traveling between the months of November and April, as temperatures in the evening can drop to around 14 Celsius (mid-50’s Fahrenheit). The most rainfall occurs in the summer season, with the highest concentrations from June to August. The best time to visit is between November and April.
Ethnic minorities are one of the aspects which make Yunnan unique. A lot of the minority groups in the region wear colourful, traditional clothes of their ethnic tribes.
Kunming: The city of Kunming has a Hui population as well as ethnic Han.
Dali: In Dali, the people are mainly Bai and Yi minorities.
Lijiang: The Naxi group is native to Lijiang. The Naxi people historically used a pictographic script, which is currently the last one in existence today and it still visible in different parts of the city.
Shangri-La: Up in Shangri-La, there’s a strong Tibetan population along with Han people.
Xishuangbanna: The two main ethnic groups in the region are the Dai and the Han people. Others include the Hani, Yi, and Lahu people, native to the Mekong region of Thailand and China in South East Asia.
FOOD AND RESTAURANTS
Yunnan province offers an eclectic, delicious array of culinary choices.
Kunming: Go to Yikeyin Lao Fangzhi Old House Restaurant or La Gare Du Sud. They are popular with locals, tourists and expats alike.
Dali: The Old Town offers any visitor a great choice of fresh, organic bakeries. Try Bakery 88, Sweet Tooth, Tower Coffee for a variety of pastries, fresh local Yunnan coffee and even homemade ice cream. The saffron coconut ice cream at Bakery 88 is particularly exquisite. Jim’s Tibetan Hotel Restaurant is the place to go for fantastic Yunnan food and Tibetan yak meat. The restaurant has a terrace overlooking the old town streets as well as indoor seating.
Lijiang: The Maya Cafe is the top-choice for a variety of local and international food.
Shangri-La: Tara’s Gallery Cafe and Bar is the place to eat in this town, with rave reviews from every traveler that crosses its doors, making it the top-pick for the city.
Xishuangbanna: In Jinghong, the main city in this region, head to Foguang Yuan restaurant. A top-pick by numerous travelers and guidebooks, this restaurant provides its customers with great, peaceful atmosphere and serves delicious Chinese and traditional Dai cuisine.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Kunming is the gateway to the rest of Yunnan province, offering connections by plane, bus and train to the rest of the region. There’s also an airport in Dali, Lijiang, and Zhongdian (Shangri-La).
As always, it is important to keep an eye on your belongings in cafes, restaurants and popular tourist spots. While you might be approached buy vendors to buy some goods in some touristy areas, Yunnan province as well as the rest of China is relatively safe for foreign travellers.
VISAS AND PERMITS
In the diverse province of Yunnan, no extra travel permits are required for travel, only a Chinese visa as in the rest of the country. The only way to get to Lhasa from Yunnan is to fly, with any overland crossing closed to foreigners. U China will organize any permits and travel to Tibet if desired.