Yunnan Explorer

Discover for yourself the spectacular scenery, distinctive culture and customs of the ethnic minority groups, waterfalls, rice terraces and ancient villages in Yunnan. Visit the rice terraces of Yuanyang, Stone Forest in Shilin, take a slow trek up sacred mountains, and head to Dali, home of the Bai minority. Drive along the shores of Erhai Lake, interact with the Bai fishermen, visit the iconic Three Pagodas and take a stroll through Dali Old Town. Journey to UNESCO-listed Lijiang, famed for its traditional architecture and home to the Naxi people. 

Best time to travel for this itinerary: Mar and April & October and November.

Prices are seasonal, twin-sharing and include accommodation, breakfast, transfers and touring with professional English speaking guide.

Starts from: 

GBP 2408 per person, Standard Class Hotels

GBP 2641 per person, Superior Class Hotels

GBP 3129 per person, Deluxe Class Hotels 

International and domestic airfares are additional

Yunnan Explorer at a glance
  • Day 1: Arrival in Kunming
  • Day 2: Kunming touring
  • Day 3: Drive to Dali
  • Day 4: Dali to Shaxi
  • Day 5: Shaxi exploration
  • Day 6: Shaxi to Lijiang
  • Day 7: Lijiang walking tour
  • Day 8: Lijiang - Tiger Leaping Gorge -Shangri-La
  • Day 9: Shangri-La touring
  • Day 10: Departure
Yunnan Explorer Image 1

Day 1: Arrival in Kunming

On your arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel.

Overnight in Kunming.

Distance and journey time:

Kunming airport – Kunming city (approx. 30km): approx. 40 min

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Day 2: Kunming touring

Begin your day with a short walk in Green Lake Park (also known as Cuihu Park), letting you get a feel for the atmosphere of Chinese parks in the morning.

Afterwards, visit the Yuantong Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in Kunming and is known for its unique location. It is situated in a natural valley, contributing to the peaceful atmosphere of the temple. Visit the Taoist Golden Temple located on a small hill surrounded by pine and cypress trees.

Move on to the Yunnan Provincial Museum, an essential stop for anyone wishing to truly understand the characteristically multi-ethnic nature of this region. China has 56 different officially recognised minority groups, but during this trip, you will mainly learn about the Yi (the largest minority in Yunnan), the Hui Muslims, the Buyi, the Bai, the Hani and the Naxi. The museum has a beautiful collection of finery and traditional dress.

Overnight in Kunming.

Yunnan Explorer Image 3

Day 3: Kunming to Dali

Drive to Dali, home to the Bai minority and was a stronghold of the kingdom of Nanzhao (738-902) and the epicentre of the Dali Kingdom. The Bai first settled in the region more than 3000 years ago and their first dwellings surrounded the lake. Following their victory against the Tang Empire in the 8th Century, they founded the Kingdom of Nanzhao. The Bai are most distinguishable by their clothing - predominantly white and by their homes.

Visit the Three Pagodas at the Chongsheng Temple. The three pagodas were part of a vast monastic centre which unfortunately was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake. The remaining temple was restored and transformed into a museum.

Head back to the old town of Dali, where you can still find some typical Bai homes. A relaxed and warm atmosphere seems to ooze from these white-walled homes, on which you can find paintings representing mountains, running water, birds and flowers. Their front porches, famous throughout the country, are distinguished by their beautifully carved arches.

Overnight in Dali.

Distance and journey time:

Kunming – Dali old town (approx. 360km): approx. 5h
Dali old town – Three pagodas (Chong sheng temple) (approx. 3,5km): 10 minutes

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Day 4: Dali to Shaxi (altitude 2200m)

Head to Shaxi, an oasis that used to be a major stop on the Tea-Horse Road that ran through the region, forming a major part of its heritage and history. Less well known than the Silk Road, it still remains a key trade route between the most remote areas of Xishuangbanna, Tibet and, by extension, Nepal, Laos, Burma and India where other goods are traded. 

Overnight in Shaxi.

Distance and journey time:

Dali old town – Shuanglang (approx. 50km): approx. 1h15
Shuanglang – Shaxi (approx. 85km): 2h30

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Day 5: Shaxi

Enjoy a free morning here by exploring the maze of paved avenues that make up the heart of the old town, or equally by discovering the surrounding countryside that is notable for its okra earth. 

After lunch, leave for Shibaoshan, an impressive collection of temples, caves and stone sculptures, the most ancient of which date from the 9th century, and which detail the life of important figures from the Nanzhao kingdom (8th-9th century). You will also notice some religious effigies, such as the statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, or the renowned Stone Treasure, a striking black rock that symbolises the female genitalia that many women come to touch to improve their chances of conceiving a child.

Take a walk offering spectacular views of the surrounding valley and villages.

Overnight in Shaxi.

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Day 6: Shaxi to Lijiang (altitude 2500m)

Head to Lijiang and the Jade Dragon Mountain, which stands majestically to the north of the city. Afterwards, head back to Lijiang old town.  This magnificent labyrinth of traditional redwood and brick houses topped with grey slate roofs, canals, stone bridges and cobbled streets in 1999 was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Small interior courtyards are furnished with flowers and bushes to which the locals tend and that give this town its beautiful and special aroma. 

Overnight in Lijiang.

Distance and journey time:

Shaxi – Jade Dragon Mountain / Yak meadow (approx 140km): 3h30
Yak meadow – Lijiang old town (approx 50km): 1h30

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Day 7: Lijiang walking tour

Rise early to enjoy the peace and quiet of the early morning. Crossing over the labyrinth of alleyways you will arrive at the “Lion Hill” which offers you a fantastic view over the village below. Afterwards, visit the Mu Palace which is named after the Chinese Empire warlords who ruled from this magnificent residence in this region during the Mongol Dynasty (13th century). The palace is a vivid example of Ming and Qing architecture, based on the same style of architecture as the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Head to the edge of the old town where you will be able to enjoy the local market and get a feel for the ‘real’ Lijiang, where you will see locals still dressed in traditional clothing selling teas, vegetables, fruits and even daily tools in a very vibrant and animated atmosphere.

From here walk to the Black Dragon Pond Park in the north of the town which offers, on a clear day, a panoramic view of the famous Jade Dragon Mountain.

Overnight in Lijiang.

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Day 8: Lijiang to Shangri-La

Transfer from Lijiang to Shangri-La, a stop in the old Route of Tea and Horses a major trade route between the Tibetans and Chinese in ancient times. 

Stop at Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world, with staggering variations in altitude (nearly 4000m) separating the Jinsha River from the jagged mountains of Northern Yunnan. Take a short walk in the gorge.

Arrive in Shangri-La in the late afternoon.

Stroll through the old town, a small maze of cobbled streets lined with wooden houses. Visit Baijisi temple (literally "Temple of hundred chickens"), which offers a beautiful view of the city.

Overnight in Shangri-La.

Distance and journey time:

Lijiang – Tiger Leaping Gorge (approx 90km): 2h30
Tiger Leaping Gorge – Shangri-La (approx 100km): 2h45

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Day 9: Shangri-La

Visit the impressive monastery Songzanlin. You can admire the glittering golden roofs of the monastery at sunset (if weather permitting) and countless prayer flags waving in the wind, scenes of local life around the Lamuyancuo lake and some 600 monks daily life.

Visit Ringha Temple, 700 years old and partially destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt, and considered one of the first Buddhist temples in Yunnan Province.

Overnight in Shangri-La.

Distance and journey time:

Shangri-La – Songzanlin Monastery (approx 3km): 10 min
Songzanlin monastery –Ringha Temple (approx 27km): 1h
Ringha Temple – Shangri-La (approx 20km): 40 min

Day 10: Departure

Today, you will be transferred to Shangri-La airport for your departure flight.


Not quite right? This itinerary is just to give you an idea of what is possible. Need some more inspiration? Please get in touch at 01473 214305 or email We welcome your questions. We're here to help!


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