We just returned from our road trip in Yunnan and before we start writing about our discoveries and impressions of one of China’s most beautiful landscapes, we’d like to share our travel itinerary with you. Planning where to go in Yunnan and how to get to and around each place was a difficult start as there are just so many fascinating corners to explore and as it’s a less touristy route, we relied greatly on friends’ recommendations who have recently visited Yunnan.
As a starting point, all our friends who had previously visited Yunnan agreed that:
- They were most fascinated by Dali and Shangri-La
- Lijiang is very touristy and should only be used as a connection point and/or to hike the Tiger Leaping George
One of our Chinese friends also recommended a city called Tengchong to us, which is famous for its’ volcanos and hot springs and not on the beaten track yet. And she was right – there were few tourists and we didn’t see any other Western travelers.
Keeping all of these recommendations in mind, we came up with the following itinerary:
Flight from Shanghai via Kunming to Tengchong, staying for 2 nights
If you’re traveling on a budget, then flying to Kunming and taking the bus to Tengchong is much cheaper, but be prepared for a long and tiresome bus ride. For us, it was worth the money taking a connection flight to Tengchong, as 10 days are already pretty tight for a holiday on Yunnan, which is a vast province with so much to explore. For transportation within Tengchong, a Chinese friend helped us to book a private driver who collected us at the airport, drove us to all the sightseeing spots and main activities.
Private driver to Dali, staying 3 nights
I know it sounds posh having a driver and this was our first experience, but it the price in China is reasonable and it was just so hassle free and worth it! As we didn’t find an alternative to go from Tengchong to Dali, we asked our driver to get us there. It only took about 3.5 hours and felt very safe and efficient.
Bus to Lijiang, staying 1 night
We stayed in a new little inn and were recommended to take a taxi to Lijiang. Fortunately though, we were just a two minute walk away from the “Jade Emu Hostel” that our friends had recently stayed in and advised us to book our bus ride through them. It was quick and simple: we asked the receptionist to book the bus tickets the night before and then on the morning of our travel, a taxi driver collected us and brought us to the bus stop. However, would we have known how close to bus stop was to the hostel (about a 10 minute ride max.), we could have gotten our own taxi and paid about half of the bus fare that the hostel charged us. The bus ride was not too long at just about 2.5 hours and fairly pleasant.
Bus to Shangri-La, staying 3 nights
Even though we found information about the bus schedule and prices online in advance, we felt a bit uneasy about not having had booked bus tickets in advance and our hotel could not help us with that. However, it proved to be easy – we made our way early to the main bus station, which is just a 20 minute walk from the Old town, and bought tickets for the next available bus, about one hour later. The fare was very cheap (just 58 RMB per person), but the bus was very simple (not as comfortable as the long-distance buses we were used to in Malaysia) and the drive very… ‘exciting’ as we drove along narrow mountainous roads while our bus driver overtook EVERY vehicle on the road.
Getting back to Shanghai from Shangri-La (Diqing) Airport
People we spoke to and reviews we read online all suggested going back to Lijiang or Kunming to fly back to Shanghai. We almost planned to do this as well, until we found on the China Eastern website, that you can fly from Shangri-La via Kunming to Shanghai. What a life-saver, as otherwise we would have missed on a full day in Shangri-La and would have had to take this awful bus back to Lijiang. Interestingly, this flight was not listed on the English Ctrip website, but only showed up on the Chinese Ctrip website (that you can use easily when opening it in Chrome or Safari and choosing the browser option of translating the whole text to English).
Overall, we felt that the length of time at each place was just right to do the main things we planned to do. Every place we went to would have also offered the opportunity for plenty of day trips or a day relaxing in the spa.
I hope this post helps you to tailor-make your trip to Yunnan based on what activities you like to do during a holiday and which landscapes you find most fascinating.