Yunnan tourist trail

This article is an itinerary.

This itinerary describes a popular north-bound route along national highway G214, known in Chinese as 滇藏线. This route covers some of lushest scenery and best preserved traditional cities in Yunnan. There are other popular destinations in Yunnan which are not covered here, notably the tropical paradise Xishuangbanna in the south at the Laotian border and the trip west toward Ruili at the border with Myanmar.

The northern end of this route is in a largely Tibetan-speaking area that was once part of the Tibetan province of Kham and today is right on the border of Tibet, so this route can be part of an Overland to Tibet journey.

The big attractions of this route are as follows:

The route is mostly uphill. The starting point, Kunming, is at 2000 meters (nearly 7,000 feet), already considerably higher than Britain's highest peak Ben Nevis or America's "mile high city" of Denver, Colorado. From there, each stop is higher, all the way to Deqin which is at 3500 m (roughly 11,5500 feet), about the same as Lhasa. It is certainly necessary to be cautious about altitude sickness on this route, but most travellers will be just fine if they spend a few days in each major destination, giving their bodies time to acclimatise before going higher.

Most travellers will find it easy to schedule in a way that avoids altitude sickness, since the various places on the route are all interesting and they feel quite different to the traveler:

What they all have in common are mountainous scenery, interesting architecture, ethnic minorities and lovely handicrafts wood, silver and especially fabric items.

Getting to Kunming

Most travelers will reach Yunnan via the capital, Kunming. There are several ways to do this:

See Hong Kong to Kunming overland for other routes.

The nearest SE Asian neighbour, Lao Cai, Vietnam allows you to walk over the border, to Hekou. Then plenty of buses (fares ranging from ¥85 to 120) to Kunming. A very lively and hassle free overland crossing.

From Luang Prabang, Laos night sleeper buses take you to Kunming for about $50 to 60 US but the ride is very long and tiring and you will miss out on southern Yunnan, which is one of the most interesting areas of the province. Better to go slow, spend a night in Mengla or Menglun to check out the Menglun botanical gardens. Then consider:

Kunming to Dali

This is five hours by bus, which makes a pleasant and comfortable trip.

There is also an overnight train, which is very popular with tourists. Unfortunately, it is also popular with thieves; watch your belongings.

Unfortunately, the train and most buses (even ones that say "Dali") deliver you not to Dali Old Town but to Xiaguan, the nearby capital of Dali Prefecture. See the Dali article for information on the rest of the way.

In 2007 there were several day trains from Xiaguan to Kunming, taking 4 hours. Travel agents in Dali said they were sold out. The railway station in Xiaguan sold tickets a day ahead. I assume they also run Kunming-Dali, but ask at the station.

This route somewhat overlaps the Burma Road built during World War II and running from Kunming to Lashio in Burma. Not much of the old road is left, but bits of it and some milestones are still visible.

Dali to Lijiang

Train takes two hours from Dali Xiaguan to Lijiang.

Bus takes 2.5 hours when taking the newly complete express way, 4 hours by the old route. Ask the driver before boarding.

For a taste of a "real" old town, stop by Shaxi just off the road, halfway in between. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at Jianchuan and take a shared ride van (10 Yuan) to Shaxi.

There is also a comfortable 10-hour overnight bus direct from Dali to Zhongdian. Taking this when headed north may not be the best choice since you miss some great scenery by traveling at night, it bypasses Lijiang, and the rapid change from Dali's 2000 m. to Zhongdian's 3200 m. risks altitude sickness. However, it can save time and hotel costs for southbound travellers.

Lijiang to Zhongdian

This is 4 hour bus trip. The scenery is great; it includes mountains, terraced fields, picturesque villages and the upper reaches of the Yangtze river.

If trekking is your ambition, stop by half way at Hu Tiao Xia Zhen (Tiger Leaping Gorge Town) to trek the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Zhongdian to Deqin

Currently taking 4 hours, travel time will be further reduced when the next tunnel near Deqin is opened. This is a bus trip through sensational mountain scenery; Zhongdian is at 3200 meters (about 10,500 feet), Deqin at 3500 m (11,500 ft), the highest pass at 4300m. It is beautiful but somewhat scary. In winter, the road is sometimes closed and is not recommended even if it is open.

Beyond Deqin

Going beyond Deqin, you will enter the Tibet Autonomous Region (foreigners entering Tibet need a permit). The next stop is the traditional salt town of Yanjing. Further on is the junction town, Markam, where this route merges with the Sichuan Tibet Road (see Overland to Tibet).

It is also possible to branch off from this route at Shangri-la to Yading (8 to 10 hours) or at Lijiang to Lugu Lake (4.5 to 7 hours). Either way will lead you to the Sichuan capital of Chengdu.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 05, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.