There is more to Kunming than just the capital of Yunnan: the red soil areas of Dongchuan, the pretty wild mountains of Luquan, the karst caves of Yiliang...
Xishuangbanna, Yunnan's southernmost prefecture, is one of Yunnan's hottest areas: in the semitropical lowlands around the capital Jinghong, China's answer to Las Vegas, roam wild elephants, and the picturesque countryside is dotted with villages of the Dai, Jinuo, Aini, Yao, Bulang and Kemu.
Bordering both Guangxi and Vietnam, Wenshan is Yunnan’s easternmost prefecture. The steep mountain ranges that dominate most of the province have given way to karst formations not unlike those in neighbouring Guangxi province. Like Guangxi, Wenshan’s population is mostly Zhuang, a very sinicized group in dress that often appears to be traditional Han. While the Zhuang are farming the better valley land, Miao inhabit the hills and often live in abject poverty. The border regions to Vietnam have pockets of Yi and Yao, especially in Funing county.
Lincang to this day remains a borderland, poor soil and little level land limiting its attraction to Han settlers even after the Wa headhunters had been pacified.
The large plain of Yuxi belongs to Yunnan’s Han Chinese heartland, but the Red River Valley and the Ailao Mountains in the south are home to the Huayao Dai and some interesting Yi and Hani groups. Large and modern Yuxi, now not much more than one hour from Kunming, is the centre of Yunnan’s tobacco industry.
Lijiang, home to the Naxi people, declared a Unesco World Heritage Site after a devastating earthquake, has become Yunnan's biggest tourist attraction, but just a few kilometers away quaint villages can still be found. In the far northeast lies Lugu Lake, famous more for it matrilineal Mosuo than for its natural beauty.
Honghe, on both banks of the Red River that has given the region its name, has with Jianshui and Shiping two important Han cultural towns and south of the river the ethnically diverse Ailao Mountains and the Rice Terraces of Yuanyang, now a World Heritage site.
Long a remote outpost of the Chinese empire and in the 1940s a frontier region against the Japanese, Baoshan draws on its historic roots with cities like Tengchong and the front-line relics along the Nujiang.
In the far northeast of Yunnan, Zhaotong resembles much more Sichuan and Guizhou, the provinces it borders: Like Sichuan’s Zhaotong’s population is overwhelmingly Han, with a few Yi and Miao marginalised high in the mountains. With Guizhou Zhaotong shares the poor weather. Endless grey days with a constant drizzle and grinding poverty on the poor soil: Zhaotong is Yunnan’s least attractive area, yet it reminds of a Chinese reality that one might otherwise forget in beautiful ‘South of the Clouds’.
It is in Diqing, Yunnan's northwestern corner, that Tibet begins. Countless icy mountains tower over the land, dissected by the deep gorges of the Mekong and Yangzi. In Diqing Yunnan's scenery is its most dramatic: In the south Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the worlds deepest, is a paradise for hikers, while in the north the peak of Meili Snow Mountain has never been scaled. Dotted around are Tibetan monasteries, Christian Churches and the dense forests are teeming with wildlife.
Homeland of the Bai, the Dali area remains perhaps the most traditional region in Yunnan: even the hordes of tourists in the old town of Dali have not managed to kill its charm.
Dehong administers the triangular territory west of the Salween along the valleys of the Ruili and the Taiping River, bordering onto Baoshan in the east while being surrounded the other two sides by Burma. With a subtropical climate and a population with a heavy dose of ethnic minority groups in the presence of Dai, Jingpo and Lisu as well as Achang and Deang, Dehong has a distinct Burmese feel to it.
Chuxiong covers Yunnan’s central mountains, a region that despite the proximity to the capital remains remote and underdeveloped: it is the heartland of the Yi, hardy mountain folk with a number of colourful festivals.
The Qujing region, source of the Pearl River, boasts Luoping’s spectacular karst scenery and Huize, one of Yunnan’s most interesting historic cities.
Spectacular alpine scenery borders the Nujiang Canyon: to the west rise the 4,000 m Gaoligong Mountains, to the east the even higher peaks of the Biluo Mountains. Between them, almost straight from north to south for 200 km, runs the Nu River, in the west better known as the Salween. To the east of the Biluo Mountains runs the Lancang River, the Mekong. West of the Gaoligong Mountains, separated by a high pass, runs the Dulong River, its valley the home of the Dulong people.