The drive to Yuan Yang the next day was a long one. Over six hours long, part of the road is quite rough so if you do rent a car, an SUV would be ideal. The road is also windy so make sure to take some motion sickness medication beforehand.
When we got there, the visibility was pretty bad and we could not see the Terraces and had to change our initial plan to go to the Tiger Mouth viewing spot. We ended checking into the hotel instead. Beyond the Cloud Inn was located right on the edge of the road by the Terraces, although is a bit of a walk from the main road since cars cannot go in. The manager, Xiao Long, was really accommodating and helped us throughout the stay. One of the more modern hotels, do stay here if you are a bit more particular with accommodations. Beds even come with a heated blanket – perfect for the chilly weather! With not alot of restaurants nearby, we decided to just eat at the hotel. The restaurant has no menu so you simply choose what food you want. Obviously, the rice was delicious and you can opt to have it fried with egg. The pork is also very tasty but the chicken is on the pricier side, costing almost a 100 Yuan.
Known for the Rice Terraces, most people come to Yuan Yang to get a glimpse of the sunset and sunrise. Unfortunately for us, we were unable to catch either due to the weather. However, there are plenty of scenic spots that you can go to to get a view of the magnificence of the Terraces. Even with the poor weather we were able to catch a glimpse of the Terraces. The beauty of it truly justifies the long journey and is one that must be visited! Some activities to do in while in the area would be to also visit the many ethnic villages that surround the Terraces and have been around for hundreds of years.
Our second day in Kunming we drove over two hours to the Naigu Stone Forest Scenic Park. One of many parks within the Stone Forest, this one is less touristy and the entrance is alot cheaper at only 60 Yuan. There are alot of trails to take but if you are in a rush, the Hilltop View is a must and gives you a stunning panoramic view of the whole area. The main tracks should only take an hour and a half but you do have the option to take other trails that could take up almost half a day.
Near the area are the Jiuxiang Caves. It costs 90 Yuan to go in and boasts impressive geological marvels. The Twin Waterfalls and the Terraces are the main attractions and cannot be missed. There is only one main track that takes you all around the caves where you end right by a chair lift that takes you back down to the main entrance. The lift costs 30 Yuan but if you want to save, can take the trek back.
The day ended with a delicious roast duck dinner in the town of Yi Liang. A town known for its roast duck, it is halfway back to Kunming and is a great stop to reward all the hiking. The restaurants serve alot of local dishes such as fried goat cheese and local ham, both worth a try!
The flight to Kunming took less than an hour as we landed on New Year’s Eve. Right outside the terminal you have the option to either take a bus for 25 Yuan or a taxi. It only cost 90 Yuan to get into the city center so would recommend taking the cab for the convenience. Do have the name of your accommodation written down along with a map to ensure that you do not get lost.
We arrived at our hotel a half hour later. We booked the Sofitel, which is a bit south of the center. Although the hotel is quite nice and luxurious, the location is not that convenient and is a bit of a walk to the shopping districts. If you can, do make sure to get an upgrade to the Club room as they have a designated floor that provides free breakfast, afternoon tea, and even dinner.
Our first day in Kunming we went to Cang Hang Lake to take the cable car to the Western Hills. The view on the way up is spectacular and gives you panoramic view of the skyline. One of the main attractions of the area is the Dragon Gate, olden carvings. The whole area is a bit of a hike with alot of temples on the way. The place has a great view of the city but the carvings and temples are nothing impressive if you have seen plenty of temples before.
Our guide then took us to sample local food in the nearest Old town. A cafeteria style establishment, you have to load 100 Yuan into a card and then can proceed to order from the staff. Since the restaurant is frequented by locals, it is extremely cheap with most dishes at only 5 Yuan. Once you are done ordering, you give back the card to receive the balance that you did not spend.
The last stop of the day was Green Lake. Since it was a holiday, the area was busy with locals and we decided to just drive around instead of going down.
Driving into Dali, you can easily see the distinction in architecture. Most of the buildings are all covered with white walls and grey accent bricks. We made our way to the hotel, China Tang, and based on the reviews and online photos, was a beautiful luxury hotel right on the lake with stunning views. Once we got the area, we were not even able to get to the front of the hotel since the road was way too small for our car to even fit through. The rooms were also small with a tiny window with no view, suffice to say, we were truly disappointed.
We decided to forfeit the room and booked the Hilton Spa and Resort, closer to the old city. Upon entering the compound, it was miles apart from the first hotel, with an impressive entrance and grandiose lobby. The room was also large and had a luxurious bathroom. The hotel staff were also extremely accommodating. Although the hotel is not located in the Old Town as are most other hotels, the customer service and amenities, along with the room, definitely make up for that fact.
The old town was a few kilometers away and unlike that of Da Li, has an impressive city wall. The town is filled with shops and restaurants. And as with most old towns, offers plenty of local wares and delicacies. The town shops also offers bike rentals for a scenic ride around the nearby lake.
Our last day in Li Jiang was a busy one. We started with a drive to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. There you need to pay an entrance of 130 Yuan just to enter the park. You have received option of taking the cable car to either the Meadow or the Glacier, with the latter being more expensive. Once you get to the ticketing office, you have to pay an additional 75 Yuan for a ticket that includes the shuttle to the base of the station and the cable car itself. Once you get off the cable car, it is another fifteen minute walk to the Meadow, a field with a view of the renowned mountains. During the high season from May to October, the Meadow is filled with lush green grass and herds yaks, which were unfortunately not around. The snow capped mountains do reman year-round and is still a great time to visit if you want to avoid the crowd.
Right by the base of the station are shuttles that take you to the Blue Lake Valley, a series of lakes known for its green blueish hue. The view is like a painting with torquoise lakes surrounded by snow capped mountains.
Our next stop was Bei Sha village, a town on the way to our next destination Da Li. As with all old towns, Bei Sha is lined with booths of vendors selling both food and goods. The town is known for its embroidery and is a five hundred year tradition, with schools offering to teach anyone for free. One of the main attractions are the Fresco paintings. This, along with the town, is a stop that can easily be skipped.
The next day we were greeted by our tour guide Sarah who we had booked over the internet after reading reviews on Trip Advisor. Her daily fee is $150, and includes the rental of a car. After getting picked up, we drove almost six kilometers away to the old city of Li Jiang. There is an entrance fee of 80 Yuan and inside, the city is filled with shops peddling a variety of local wares. Locally made scarves are plentiful and boasts traditional patterns. They are sold at different prices so do make sure to ask around with the cheapest I found being 10 Yuan. Make sure to also try the famous flower cakes and yak meat jerky. The old city spreads across a large area and it would be hard to cover all the alleys. As with most markets, the stores do tend to sell the same items over and over so you can skip a large portion of the old city. Some of the required spots to check out would be the main city center and the water wheel.
Included in the entrance fee is access to the Black Dragon Lake, so be sure to keep the ticket. A short drive away from the Old City, it is a scenic and peaceful park whose picturesque bridges and towers that are synonymous with Li Jiang and often found on city postcards.
The next day was the big hike at the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Do make sure to bring sunscreen and proper attire as the trail is quite intense. Admission to enter the park is 65 Yuan and must be purchased at the Tiger Leaping Town before heading up.
Usually most tours simply take you to a lookout point but there is also the option of taking a two hour hike from the top, back down to the main road. Do make the trek if you have the time, the landscape is unbelievable with tall mountains surrounding the trail with mere steps away from the gorge – perfect for those looking for a thrill.
We flew into Li Jiang late evening after a few days in Hong Kong and had transportation arranged to drive us to the hotel.
Almost an hour away from the airport, the Grand Hyatt is located a few kilometers away from the Old Town but sprawled across a large estate providing some of the best amenities.
The pool, located in the East Pavilion, boasts a heated pool, jacuzzi, and a sauna, perfect for unwinding after a long day of sightseeing. The restaurant located beside the main reception is not only a convenient choice, but one of the best meals we had in the city. Having arrived quite late at night, we decided to eat at the restaurant and were pleasantly surprised by the affordability of the food for such a fine dining establishment. Every dish we ordered was unique and delicious! From the lime chicken to the flambéed carp, this restaurant is definitely a must try.