How to get the best out of Yunnan in just 6 days?
We landed in Kunming on a Saturday night from Hong-Kong. If you want to save time, you need to travel by night. It might not be the most confortable solution, but it’s cheap and convenient.
We decided to go for the hard sleep ticket from Kunming to Dali. It takes only 7 hours by train, arriving early in the morning (Kunming to Dali / 23h30 – 6h30 / 106 kuays each)
Arriving in Dali, the first step is to get near the Old Town and the Erhai Lake. It’s a 30 min drive by taxi or a bit longer if you to take the bus number 8, stopping very close to Dali Old Town.
MORNING / AFTERNOON
We chose to hang around in the typical Chinese streets – even if adapted to tourists – and appreciated the local atmosphere of the city.
Getting lost in the Ancient Town, chilling in peaceful cafés, eating local dumplings and bargaining souvenirs are the enjoyable moments you can have there.
You can also go to the Three Pagodas but we thought it was expensive and didn’t pay the fees to enter the site.
We had lunch at the street food market in the Old Town. Amazing fried noodles there!
You might prefer staying in the Old Town where you can easily find restaurants and bars at night, up to you. We definitely recommend The Yang Copper pot beef restaurant on Yeyu Road in Old Town, delicious Yunnan Hotpot!
As we got tired from our train night and walking day, we headed to our hotel in Caicun, just next to the Erhai Lake. This looked like the best option for us, as we wanted to enjoy both sunset and sunrise on the Lake. We stayed at the Jue Se Garden Theme Inn, which offers very confortable and clean rooms for a fair price. It has a nice shared rooftop where you can relax and enjoy the magnificent view on Erhai Lake. Unfortunately, a small water treatment factory has been built close to the hotel, which might spoil the view. Anyway, we thought it was a fair deal according to the price paid (Private bedroom with Twin beds and Private bathroom – 115 kuays a / night)
Tip: If you stay in Caicun, it’s a better deal to rent a scooter for two (30 Kuays a day) if you make more than one round trip from the hotel to the old town (around 20 kuays round trip, bargain!)
MORNING / AFTERNOON
After a good night of sleep, we rented two electric scooters to ride along the Erhai Lake – a must do in Dali. It’s important to note that your scooter battery will last longer with only one person riding! That’s why we rented two instead of one. Even doing so, the furthest you can go is Jinguisi Ecological Park, up north along the lake. Once you get there, you’d better think of going back to avoid running out of battery.
The best option is to stay as close as possible to the Erhai Lake, following the West Erhai Lake Road signs. You will enjoy the best viewpoints and find nice cafés and hotels along the road. Government is currently closing some of them to run tests about the lake pollution. We hope it was only temporary, as the places looked amazing. You might be driving with Chinese tourists and “Instagram/WeChat girls” paying to take pictures in front of the lake, with some local people infrastructure.
We strongly recommend this motorbike peaceful day, but don’t forget the sunscreen as the sun hits hard in Yunnan!
DINNER / NIGHT
We took a train (2 hours / 68 Kuays per person) and arrived in Lijiang at 7pm where we stayed at the Dreamer Inn Hotel. It was a good value choice, however a bit far away from the excitement of the busy streets in Lijiang Old Town. Tourists and local people mix in those streets to create a unique atmosphere. We loved our 2 hours walk even if it got hard to find a restaurant after 9pm! We finally ate at the 88 snacks restaurants, offering all sorts a Chinese food. Good value for money !
It’s time to go to the wonderful Tiger Leaping Gorge ! First important thing to know, you can take your luggage with you, as hotels at the entry of the Gorge can store them while you walk. Obviously we didn’t know and left ours at our Lijiang Hotel.
To get to the hiking track you can take non-stop buses at Lijiang Transport Service Center Bus Station (located at Changshui Road to the southwest corner of Lijiang Old Town) to get to Qiaotou (桥头) County, where the upper Tiger Leap Gorge is located. It departs at 8am every day and the journey takes about 2 hours. Make sure you only pay to go to Qiaotou (桥头) if you plan to hike the upper gorge. You will have to pay the entrance fee of the park (¥65). Now you’re good to start the hike! It’s 10:30am.
After 20 minutes going up the road you will find the beginning of the track. It might the harshest part of the trek, as you’re not ready for it, it’s very steep!
- It took us approximately 1.5 hours to get to the Naxi Village where you can have some rest and lunch
- Going to the Tea Horse Guesthouse takes around 2 hours, going through the 28 bends. Take it easy and everything’s gonna be alright. The stunning view at the top is worth it!
- From Tea Horse GH to the Halfway GH, it’s an easy track. You can expect an hour walk.
No need to be good at mathematics to understand Halfway GH might be renamed 80% GH !
DINNER / NIGHT
We arrived at Halfway GH around 4pm where the view from the terrace is absolutely stunning! They provide confortable rooms at a fair price. Expect ¥120 if don’t want a romm with a view, around ¥200 with the view. Don’t forget to bargain the price even if people at the desk are not very receptive.
Knowing that the first buses going to Shangri-La or to get back to Lijiang leave at 2:30pm (even if they say only 3:30 at Halfway GH), you can decide what time you want to get up.
- Going to Tina’s GH takes approximately an hour, going down. You can ask for the bus schedules and book to be sure.
- Going down and up the gorge takes 2.5 hours if you stop to take pictures down there.
Note that you have to pay ¥15 to start the walk, ¥15 at mid-walk to enjoy the “sky ladder” and additional fees to take photos on the best spots! It’s up to you to support the local community… If you’re not afraid of heights, you can go up an impressive 30m high ladder and the way up, just don’t think too much about Health and Safety rules!
The hike is quite steep but shorter than the day before. We would definitely advise to do it to admire the strength of the flow from the river. Even they surprisingly didn’t serve rice; the restaurant at the end of the path offers a wonderful terrace, great reward, you won’t regret it!
DINNER / NIGHT
We arrived in Shangri-La by night, around 9pm. We still don’t know how but the guy from our nice hotel, Kersang’s relay station, found us in the Ancient Town while we were walking towards it. The Guesthouse is very well located, with a great view on the Main Temple.
Very close to the hotel, we enjoyed a Tibetan dinner, basically with Yak in every dish. Interesting taste!
We chose the twin bedroom with shared bathroom for 65 kuay / night.
Note that if you have time, you can plan a stop at the wonderful BaiShuiTai white terraces between both cities.
After a good night of sleep we enjoyed a tasteful Yunnan coffee on the peaceful terrace.
In the morning we went to the Songzanlin monastery walking, which is not worth it. You’d better choose the bus option for a kuay.
The monastery itself looks great. You can enjoy the different temples in the old village and have a nice walk around the lake. However, it became a very touristic place and Chinese local authorities have built a lot around the proper ancient buildings. Anyway, you can’t miss this spot in Shangri-La.
We went back to Shangri-La old town to have lunch and recommend the terrace at Three Brothers Café.
Hiking up to the Bai Ji Se Temple and walking to Gui Shang Temple and its impressive Prayer Wheel in the afternoon was also great. It doesn’t take long and we decided to have some rest at the hotel before dinner.
We went to the charming Karma Café, where the Taiwanese-born host warmly welcomed us. You will definitely love her delicious fine dishes, wine and beers. Don’t miss the tender Yak fillet. Ask your hotel for the direction as Google Maps indicates the wrong location.
Going to the Shika Mountains
You can go down the cable car by taxi for 20-30 kuays. There you have two choices:
- If you have time and are in good shape, you can go up the mountain hiking. It looked awesome but we didn’t have time for it. Be careful with altitude and oxygen, you will go 4,500 meters high!
- Take the cable car. It’s expensive and very long (approximately 45 minutes to go up) but the view up there is absolutely incredible. Going out of the cable car you might need some time to adapt the new atmosphere and might feel dizzy.
We had lunch again at the Three Brothers Café.
We decided not to go to other main activities around Shangri-La like the Pota Tso Park as they were very expensive! (250 Kuays) and preferred to enjoy the terrace at the hotel, working with a good coffee.
DINNER / NIGHT
Time to go back to Kunming airport!
- The cheapest option is obviously to go by bus (220 Kuays – 12 hours). Don’t expect a good night of sleep even if you have sleeper tickets… The old buses are impressively shaky!
- You can also take a flight from Shangri-La to Kunming. (600 Kuays – 1 hour)
Once you are in Kunming railway station, you can go to the airport by metro for 12 kuays. It takes around an hour.
Hope you will enjoy Yunnan as much as we did! Six days is short buy optimizing transition times makes it enough to get the best out of Yunnan! Feel free to comment if you need further information.
Ben & Bapt – The Wine Brothers