Yunnan Province

Yunnan Province is tucked away in the south west corner of China. At first it seems nondescript. Cities like any other, mountain ranges and rice paddies, all things that every Chinese province is known for, but Yunnan is different. Bordering on Myanmar, Vietnam and the tip of Laos, it is surrounded by mountains. The foot hills of the Tibetan plateau, the eastern edge of the mighty Himalaya range runs gradually downhill through Yunnan Province before meeting the mighty rivers that flow to the ocean. The Yunnan Province is one of the best places to visit in China. We arrive into Kunming at dawn as the city is waking up. Bustling and frenetic. A taxi is waiting for us and we head away from the city to Shilin Stone Forest. It is a vast area of limestone karst peaks, formed over 270 million years ago from what was a shallow sea. Sandstone over limestone combined with millennia of wind and rain has resulted in fantastical shapes and pillars. The stone forest is huge and cannot be seen in one visit, but following the marked paths will take you past the main pillars and formations. Kunming as the largest and capital city of Yunnan province was somewhere to visit and use as a starting point for exploring further into the area, but it was like any other Chinese city. Be aware as you come to leave on a bus towards Dali and Lijiang the taxi drivers don't always believe you want the bus station. They think they know best and will attempt to take you to the airport. Very kind, but not what is needed, especially if you are cutting it fine like we were.
However, arriving in Dali is worth the journey. This ancient city is surrounded by high walls. Most of the newer accommodation is located outside the old city walls, but this gives you the experience of passing through the gates each day. The city sits on the shores of Lake Erhai and has been in existence since the 8th Century. The lake is calm (once you escape the bustle of the shoreline) and has a number of small islands that can be visited. This lake flows out into what will eventually become the Mekong River. Sitting on the hillside outside of Dali are the Three Pagodas. Once a small Buddhist temple complex this is now a busy tourist attraction. Come out of season or early in the morning when visitor numbers are low. It will be just you, the landscape and the weather. They are laid out in an equilateral triangle with the mountains behind and the shores of Lake Erhai to the front. They are beautiful, made of brick with a white mud covering. According to legend the area was once a swamp inhabited by dragons preventing humans from intruding, however these dragons revered pagodas. So, the three pagodas were built to deter the dragons an allow humans to move into the area. From Dali it is a few hours by bus to the world heritage city of Lijiang. The road is winding and if you have been on the local spirit available in Dali then this may not be the best bus experience of your life. This is a city of two halves which are incredibly distinct. The modern city could be anywhere on the planet. It has a modern business district as well as shops that are found everywhere.