The province of Yunnan derives its name from the word meaning “south of the Yunling Mountains”. The capital of the province of Yunnan is Kunming.
Yunnan (云南; Yúnnán) is a province in southern China, bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam as well as the Chinese provinces and regions of Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Tibet.
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Administratively, Yunnan is divided into 16 prefectures. Some of those are autonomous prefectures for various ethnic groups. For the traveller, Yunnan can be divided into seven regions:
Without a doubt the heart of Yunnan Province. You will likely pass through here during your stay in Yunnan whether or not you want to (not that it is a bad thing!)
West of Kunming and where the hills start becoming more rugged. This is a very popular region for backpackers. It includes Dali Prefecture and Chuxiong Prefecture
Filled with the gorgeous scenery of the rolling hills of neighboring Guizhou and Guangxi transforming into the high, hilly plateau of Yunnan. This area includes many tourist sites not regularly visited by backpackers. It includes Zhaotong Prefecture, Qujing Prefecture and Wenshan Prefecture
Amazingly diverse, in one day you could pass through arid badlands, lush pine forests, barren hills and tropical rainforests. The urban centres in this area of Yunnan are very compact and it is quite easy to get around from city to city to see the sights. It includes Yuxi Prefecture and Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture
Geographically and ethnically part of Southeast Asia, but politically part of China. Jungle covers most of the terrain and this is probably the best region of China to escape the winter. It includes Simao Prefecture and Xishuangbanna, a major tourist area
Home to some very rugged, off-the-beaten-path terrain. Once the location of the famed Burma Road, it is now one of China’s most alluring destinations. It includes Lincang Prefecture, Baoshan Prefecture, Dehong Prefecture and Nujiang Prefecture
A chunk of ancient and historic Tibet within Yunnan’s provincial boundaries. Many travelers come here to experience Tibet without having to enter the actual province and follow the road to West Sichuan. You will find towering mountain ranges and fascinating local culture here. It includes Lijiang Prefecture and Diqing Prefecture
Yunnan: A Look at the Past
Erhai Lake in Yunnan ProvinceIn the late 19th century, the Panthay Rebellion took place at Yunnan. The local Muslims rebelled against the Qing authorities. This was in retaliation to the discriminatory procedures adopted by the Qing authorities against the local Muslims. The Rebellion was completely suppressed and more than one million Muslims were killed. Those who survived fled to Burma where they founded various Chinese Muslim communities in the northern regions. Many other survivors escaped to Central Asia, mostly to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and are known in this region as the Dungan people. Sadly, most of the Yunnan Muslim culture has been destroyed and very few of the original Yunnan Muslims are still present in the region.
Geography of Yunnan
Yunnan Lugu LakeThe Tropic of Cancer runs through the southern part of Yunnan, which is the most southwestern province of the territory of China. The province of Yunnan covers an area of 394,000 square km which is 4.1% of the total area of the nation. A fraction of the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau is made up by the northern parts of the Yunnan province. On the eastern border of the province lie the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guizhou Province. On the northern border of the Yunnan province is the Sichuan Province. The Tibet Autonomous Region lies on the northwestern border of the Yunnan province. Yunnan also shares a border of 4,060 km with Burma in the west, Laos in the south, and Vietnam in the southeast.
In the northern region, the highest point is the Kawagebo Peak which is situated in the Deqin County on the Diqing Plateau. It is 6,740 meters high. The lowest point is at the Honghe River Valley which is located in the Hekou County at a height of 76.4 meters.
Lijiang, Lincang, Pu’er, Qujing, Baoshan, Kunming, Yuxi and Zhaotong are the main cities of the province of Yunnan.
- Kunming – the provincial capital, nicknamed “Spring City”
- Dali – backpacker central, hippie’s heaven; ancient walled city
- Lijiang – ancient town of Naxi Minority, an UNESCO World Heritage site
- Shangrila (formerly Zhongdian) – largely Tibetan, with a famous Buddhist monastery
- Deqin – largely Tibetan, at 3,500 meters, close to Meili Snow Mountain
- Jinghong – largest city in Xishuangbanna, tropical tourist area
- Ruili – border town, next to Myanmar
- Three Parallel Rivers National Park
- Tiger Leaping Gorge
Its name literally means south of the clouds. The province is one of the most diverse in China. The Northwest of the province is heavily influenced by Tibet, with whom it shares a border. The South is influenced by its proximity to Laos and Myanmar. The province is famed for its multitude of ethnic groups, whose diverse customs can still be seen today. Of China’s fifty-five officially recognized ethnic minorities, twenty-five can be found in Yunnan: about one-third of the population is not ethnic Han-Chinese. The region is renowned for its Eighteen Oddities, distinctive traits promoted in tourist materials.
As everywhere in mainland China, the official language of Yunnan is Standard Chinese (or Putonghua as it is known). The region is home to a plethora of dialects from Chinese, Tibetan and Thai language families. Yunnan is home to many minority groups who each have their own different language.
Local towns will often have their own version of Mandarin which are sub-dialects of the South-Western dialect of Mandarin common to Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan. Despite a heavy accent, the local dialect of Chinese is very similar to Northern Mandarin with only minor regional differences in grammar and pronunciation.
Until 2003, Kunming was accessible by rail from Hanoi, Vietnam via a narrow-gauge railroad built by the French. The Chinese section of this rail route has since closed for passenger transport, but a new railway along a similar route has been opened in December 2014. One can now travel from Kunming to the border town of Hekou by bus or train (to the Hekou North 河口北 Station); from Hekou you can cross the border to Lao Cai and take the train to Hanoi. One can also fly from Kunming directly to Hanoi. It is also possible to travel from Kunming to Hanou by train via Nanning.
There is a railway from Hanoi to Nanning, Guangxi, and one with some sensational scenery from Nanning to Kunming. Another rail route reaches Kunming from central China via Guiyang, Guizhou, and a third one comes South to Kunming from Chengdu, Sichuan. All of these train routes offer spectacular scenery, with long stretches of bridges and tunnels.