Yunnan is one of the most popular provinces for tourists in China. Just say the name and a whole lot of colours, aromas, landscapes and impressions come to mind. The Himalayan mountains, rice terraces, rainforests, festivals, local minority markets, bay architecture, Tibetan dances, remote villages and the ancient Tea and Horse Route are all images that jostle in the imagination and are experienced in Yunnan, where cycling remains the preferred mode of transport for exploring the countryside and villages.

Around Kunming, the "City of the Eternal Spring", hibiscus and camellias, orange trees and tobacco plants flourish. In the north, the province is storming the Himalayas and temperatures are cooling. In the south, the Xishuangbanna Autonomous Region is a tropical paradise home to some of the world's last remaining great rainforests. As for the Shilin Stone Forest, it is the culmination of the fabulous karst formations of Guangxi and Guizhou.

Shangri-la, the "Chinese Wild West."

Perched at an altitude of 3,300 m, Zhongdian lies in the northwest of Yunnan, surrounded by pastures and snow-capped mountains. Some travellers describe this region as a kind of "Chinese Wild West". In addition to being close to the border with Sichuan, Zhongdian is also one of the gateways to the road to Tibet. Well known to lovers of extreme adventure, the region also inspired many authors and explorers. In the interwar period, the American geographer Joseph Rock described these border regions, located in ancient Tibetan Kham, in numerous articles published in National Geographic. In 1933, his texts inspired the writer James Hilton for his novel Lost Horizon, in which he depicted a mythical land with the imaginary name of Shangri-La.

The region is mainly inhabited by Tibetans. Here you will discover this community rich in centuries-old traditions, which mass tourism, which has been developing in the region, is gradually turning away

Xishuangbanna, the only tropical area in China with its great diversity

To the south, Xishuangbanna was a semi-mythical paradise for the Chinese in imperial times. This ancient country seemed to them to be shrouded in mystery, with its great mountains and steep ridges, primary rainforests and traditional villages of ethnic minorities living in houses on stilts on the Sino-Burmese border. These minorities were pushed back to the south of Yunnan at the time of the barbarian invasions in the 13th century. Mainly populated by Dai, its name means "the 12,000 rice paddies" in the language of this minority.

This region is a true natural botanical garden. On the 15,000 km² of primary rainforest, there are more than 5,000 different species of plants, hundreds of species of birds and animals. Indochinese tigers and Asian elephants still live there, but are threatened with extinction: in addition to poaching, the primary forests are shrinking like a skin of sorrow. The Chinese practice a policy of massive deforestation and extensive cultivation under the guise of feeding their large population. But the reality is quite different: it is the rubber plantations, whose rubber is used to make tyres, which have in fact wiped out all the lowland forests and are now attacking the hill forests. In their wake, the entire biodiversity of the region is disrupted.

Yuanyang, the most impressive rice fields in the world

Located a little more than 100 km from Jianshui, Yuanyang is a small town surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. The small town does not in itself deserve the trip to these southern regions. But the rice fields alone are worth dozens of hours of bus travel! Known to be the most beautiful in China, the rice fields of Yuanyang stand less than 10 km from the small town. The show is great! This immense staircase is outlined on the steep relief, the water sparkles in the sunlight and the first shoots point their nose as soon as spring arrives. The landscape seems to have been sculpted as if by magic. The Yuanyang region is marked by the strong presence of the Hani minority. The story goes that they were the first rice farmers in the region, and we owe them the magnificent rice terraces of Yuanyang. Over time, the Hani have become true specialists in irrigation. They developed ingenious methods to remove excess water or to maintain it in case of drought. Rice is harvested as soon as autumn arrives

The Tiger Leaping Gorges, a legendary hike

A trip to Yunnan is often synonymous with hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The bubbling waters force their way through these 17 km long and 196 m high gorges, forming a series of waterfalls. Legend has it that a hunted tiger escaped on the opposite bank in a great leap (hence the name). Trekking is not necessarily strenuous, but it does require some precautions to be taken: provide water and food, warm clothing, good shoes and flashlights. It takes 2 days of walking to enjoy this spectacular trail.

Yunnan off the beaten track

But a trip to Yunnan is also an opportunity to get off the usual tourist trails. One of the things we'll be able to do is stop in Baoshan. Even if the city has put on its modern clothes in recent years, it is still a city of history. In the past, the small village was one of the stops on the Tea and Horse Route. It's not difficult to imagine the town crossed by dozens of caravans full of food and to hear the neighing of the horses. A perfume of yesteryear reigns supreme in Baoshan. The city is now known for its orchid production. Every year in the month of June, a big party is organized. It is the occasion for the old merchant city to adorn itself with its most beautiful flowers. This festival is a delight for horticulture enthusiasts

A little more than 200 km north of Kunming are the red lands of Lexiaguo and its enchanting terraces that will allow you to take superb pictures from the viewpoints offered by the villages of Huashitou, Luoxiagou (or Lexiaguo) and Damakan.

Then, to the east of Kunming, you will also have to discover the village of Puzhehei, nicknamed the "little Guilin"

The landscape is beautiful, with karst mountains and wetlands where lotus trees abound. Still untouched by mass tourism, the surroundings offer incredible panoramas and the authentic and smiling welcome of the Yi community is up to the task.

Finally, back on the old Tea and Horse Route for an atypical discovery, that of the village of Nuodeng, clinging to the hillside. And it is on foot that you can wander delightfully through the steep streets of a village that houses the monastery and the temple of Confucius on its heights. To conclude in beauty a trip out of time.

Smart info

Useful. In order to best prepare for his trip.

CIEL YUNNAN - More information on the site