Yunnan, China

Yunnan is breathtaking. It is a land of diverse landscapes. Major river systems move through the province including the mighty Yangtze and Mekong rivers. Beautiful agricultural fields and terraces dot the valleys and the hillsides. Spectacular mountain ranges traverse much of the province.


Just your standard landscape in Yunnan


Yunnan’s mountainscape


The Salween (Nu) River that flows from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Burma and Thailand out to the Andaman Sea


Modest home in an extraordinary setting


View of a snow capped mountain from a lunch stop


Terraced fields


Do you think the farmer found it as satisfying planting these neat rows as I do looking at them?

The physical complexity of the land has likely promoted the diversity we see today among Yunnan’s people. More than half of China’s ethnic groups live in Yunnan. This diversity is reflected in the appearances of the people and the architecture of the homes. Rich traditional costumes are still worn. Babies are still carried on the backs of their mothers using traditional wraps. Woodcarvings and painted murals adorn homes and businesses. And I should mention that the people of Yunnan are the most relaxed and welcoming people we have met throughout our travels in China.


Yi (ethnic group) traditional clothing


Bai (ethnic group) traditional clothing


Babies on the backs of their mothers all over Yunnan


Passed through one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. This one was a Naxi (ethnic group) village.


Entrance to a Naxi home. The tiled roof and the woodcarvings over the doorway are indicative of Naxi architecture.


Naxi written language



The diversity of the people is reflected in Yunnan’s incredible cuisine. Having no previous experience with Yunnan food, we were not prepared for its deliciousness and adventurousness. On a daily basis, we were introduced to and ate at least one completely new vegetable, many of them harvested from the wild. Yunnan’s local restaurants also offer a unique meal selection method. There were seldom menus. You decided what you were going to eat by walking over to the restaurant’s glass fronted fridge and/or bowls of ingredients on offer and selected what looked good to you. More often than not, the owner of the restaurant would tell you how the item could be prepared and if you agreed, the fresh hot dishes would appear at your table within minutes. The food was so delicious we overate at every single meal. I am beyond thrilled to know there are at least two Yunnan restaurants in Toronto so I can continue my love affair with overeating.


The menu for the day


The beginning of the famous Yunnan dish – crossing-the-bridge noodles (guo qiao mi xian).  All of this is served to you along with a bowl of boiling hot broth and a bowl of rice noodles. You combine everything in the broth (the heat will cook everything in a minute or two) and then mix in the noodles. The story is that a scholar removed himself to a small island to study for imperial exams and his wife, who delivered lunch to him everyday, found that the soup would be cold and the noodles soggy by the time she crossed the bridge to him so she devised this method to provide him with a perfectly prepared hot noodle soup. Now that is a good wife. Not sure I would go to all this effort.


The end result of crossing-the-bridge noodles. Deliciousness ready to eat.


One of many spicy Yunnan dishes


Yunnan is also the first province where we travelled by car. We have a particular fondness for road trips. It means getting a close up view of the land and stopping at passing scenic spots. For the kids, road trips also mean junk food snacks and occasional movies on the iPad. I would highly recommend hiring a car and driver to tour Yunnan. The driver comes in handy as they know the best authentic hotels to stay at and delicious restaurants where the locals eat. Without our host and driver, we would not have had such a thoroughly authentic experience.


A pretty stop to stretch our legs. Town of Chuxiong.


Don’t feel like walking to the market for your daily vegetables? No need. Town of Chuxiong.



Another scenic stop to stretch our legs. The lakeside village of Haidongzhen.


One of the local hotels we stayed at. This one is a Bai hotel as indicated by the painted murals and the potted plants.


Most scenic highway toilet stop ever.


One of many tunnels through mountainous Yunnan. Some of the ones we went through are more than 3km long. I should note that all highways in Yunnan (and most of China) have tolls and can be as costly as 1 RMB/KM.


Local restaurant for lunch recommended by our driver


Typical seating at local Yunnan restaurant


Freshest (literally plucked from the field behind) and cheapest (2 RMB/stalk) sugarcane on offer on the side of the highway


Passing through this village. Standard tractor truck in the driveway and cow (note butt peaking from doorway) in the courtyard.


One of the many gorgeous scenes we drove past

You see what I mean? Yunnan is gorgeous right?

Despite its atrocious Internet connection (the reason why this post has come after our return to Guangzhou) and the sketchiest toilets in China (an impressive achievement in a country of disgusting toilets), Yunnan is the only part of China that we would not hesitate to return to. Stay tuned for posts on specific places we visited in Yunnan.



4 thoughts on “Yunnan, China

  1. I am so happy reading this, I am going to Yunnan for a year, teaching English in Yuxi! I have read so much about this part of China that I am so excited to explore it all! I was wondering if you would advice me on your experience of VPN in Yunnan and in general in China, what works the best?


    • Hi Jitka:) Thanks for reading my blog! We loved Yunnan, the people there and of course the food but I hate to tell you that the Internet was the worse we experienced in all of China. I could not connect to my VPN on most days. I am currently using Express VPN (after trying out 3 others) and find it to be the best in! China. Good luck in your year in Yunnan!


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