Beyond the Jade Dragon mountain: stunning pictures of Yunnan, China

David Abram

written by
David Abram

updated 16.12.2019

After a few weeks exploring the region, Rough Guides travel writer and photographer David Abram shares some of his favourite images of Yunnan Province, China.

Little more than a decade ago, the province of Yunnan in southwest China was one of those infrequently visited parts of Asia anyone who had been there spoke about in hushed tones – exquisitely remote, breathtakingly beautiful and somewhere the modern era had seemingly bypassed.

Ten years of double-digit growth have brought sweeping changes to the region, and lots more visitors. But as with most of the country, you don’t have to venture far off the beaten track to discover vestiges of the old world.

In November 2015, as the first snows were falling on the ridges dividing the Mekong and Yangzte Rivers, I travelled to the far north of Yunnan, beyond the iconic Jade Dragon Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge, following a loop from the regional capital, Shangri La, to the border of the Tibet and back via the Lacang (Mekong) Valley.

At the end of the circuit, I made a detour south for a taste of the Ming era in a quiet valley near Lijiang called Shaxi, whose white-walled villages resembled scenes from willow-pattern plates.

My gateway to China was Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. Although one of the country’s fastest growing mega cities, I will forever remember it for the wonderfully atmospheric Taoist mountain of Qing Cheng Shan on its outskirts, where ancient shrines draped with scarlet ribbons huddle in the mist beneath the dripping pine trees, and priests in blue tunics and white spats tend giant bronze incense braziers – the China of one’s imagination.

A few low-rise remnants of old Chengdu survive amid the skyscrapers

The Temple House Hotel, Chengdu

Prayer ribbons adorn the courtyard of a Taoist temple on sacred Qing Cheng mountain

Taoist Shrine, Qing Cheng Shan

Evening light on Songzanlin Monastery, near Shangri La

Ganden Sumtsenlin  monastery

A Tibetan monk adjusts his robes on the way to morning prayers

Ganden Sumtsenlin  monastery

The summit of Kawakarpo soars more than five vertical kilometres above the Mekong River

The Mekong river, Yunnan

Dawn light strikes the razor-back summit ridge of Kawakarpo

Kawakarpo Massif

A cap of mist clings to the icy crest of the mountain, which has never been climbed

Village nr Meili

The Yangzte River from the mouth of a sacred Buddha Cave high above the valley

Yangtze Valley from Buddha Cave

A Lisu minority village just after the corn harvest

Lisu Village

A Tibetan woman sifts aromatic wood to make incense

Inense maker, Benzilan

Soot and grease applied as sun block by an elderly Bai woman in Tacheng town

Naxi woman Tacheng

Bai woman preparing the evening meal for monks at Shibaoshan monastery

Bai lady preparing supper for resident Daoist priests, Shibo Shan - Shaxi's sacred mountain.

A Naxi grandmother helps with childcare during the rice harvest

Naxi granny and grandson

Northern Yunnan is the last stronghold of the rare Snub-nosed monkey

black and white Yunnan snub-nosed monkey

Bai farmers relaxing at a village tea shop, Shaxi

Bai villagers taking time out while shopping at a village store.

Lunch at the beautiful Pear Tree Blossom Temple Restaurant, Shaxi

Blossom Pear Tree restaurant, China

Naxi band tunes up before performing at the Old Theatre Inn, Shaxi

A local orchestra tunes up ahead of an evening performance for guests.

Find inspiration and ideas for visiting China in our guide to the best things to do in China.

Explore more of China with the Rough Guide to China. Compare flights,find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

David Abram

written by
David Abram

updated 16.12.2019

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