16 Interesting Yunnan Facts That Will Blow Your Mind

16 Interesting Yunnan Facts That Will Blow Your Mind

Yunnan might not be a province in China you are familiar with, so it might be a surprise when we tell you it is a destination that belongs on any China travel list.

Looking for some fun Yunnan facts? Then you have come to the right place, as we share some awesome facts about Yunnan.

1. Yunnan’s topographical and climatic diversity is the most in the country.

The terrain of Yunnan is diverse, with plateaus, mountains, river valleys, basins, plains, and hilly terrain. Correspondingly, the climate is diverse, with tropical, subtropical, temperate, and cold climates. There is a local proverb: “A mountain is divided into four seasons, and ten miles have different climates”.

The altitude of the province of Yunnan varies greatly, with the highest point at 6740 meters above sea level, located at the main peak of Meili Snow Mountain (Kawagbo Peak); The lowest point at 76.4 meters above sea level, located at the Sino-Vietnamese border river in Hekou County, with an altitude difference of more than 6000 meters between the two places.

Climate map of China

Climate map of China, image source

2. Yunnan is the first province in China with an international railway.

Known as the third largest project in the world, the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway is the first international railway in the history of Yunnan. Designed by two French, it took ten years to complete and was officially opened to traffic in 1910. With the development of modern transportation, the passenger function of the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway has been replaced, and now it only undertakes freight work.

The Sino-Laos Railway, which was officially opened to traffic on December 3, 2011, is the international railroad that people are now more concerned about. The Sino-Lao Railway starts from Yunnan Kunming City in the north and runs southward through Yuxi City, Pu’er City, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture via Luang Prabang to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, with a total length of more than 1,000 kilometers and a design speed of 160 kilometers per hour, which is an electrified mixed passenger and cargo railroad.

Sino-Laos Railway is the first cross-border railroad in the world to carry out systematic greening and landscape design for the whole line, and the first grown-up mainline railroad project in Asia that integrates ecological and environmental protection, landscape beautification, and humanistic style.

3. Kunming is the largest metropolis in Yunnan

With over 8.4 million people in 2021 (be close to London), Kunming was listed in one of the 14 Mega-City in China.

As the provincial capital, most visitors choose to fly to Kunming to start their journeys in Yunnan.

It was an important trading hub on the Southern Silk Road for centuries, visited by Marco Polo. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, it has Asia’s largest flower-growing center, so visiting the flower market is a must-do on your traveling list.

Kunming Dounan Flower Market is the largest fresh-cut flower trading market in Asia, and you’ll be surprised by the countless varieties of flowers. Yunnan’s flower production account for 70% of the market share in more than 80 large and medium-sized cities across the country and is exported to 46 countries and regions.

kunming dounan flower market

Kunming Dounan Flower Market, image source

This market has more than hundreds of shops to operate the fresh flower dealing,  and you can not only see local flower species, such as roses and water lilies, but also appreciate exotic flowers like moth orchids, forget-me-nots, African daisies, and carnations, and they drench the air with an enchanting fragrance.

Compared with other flower markets in China, flower prices are considerably lower in Dounan Flower Market, and you can buy a bunch of carnations for 2 or 3 RMB, meanwhile, you will find one interesting thing here: Flowers are sold in kilograms.

Yunnan people also eat flowers, and the most common is rose cake.

4. Camellia is the provincial flower of Yunnan Province

Not only does Chanel like camellia, but Yunnanese is also fond of camellia. Camellia has been cultivated in Yunnan for more than 500 years, and as early as the Ming Dynasty, there was a saying that” Yunnan camellia is the best in the world “. Nowadays, there are more than 100 varieties of Camellia.

Kunming Golden Temple‘s Camellia Festival opens on January 1st every year.


Pink Camellia

5. Yunnan Mountains

Of the 394,000 square kilometers of land in Yunnan, 94% are mountains, so there are countless peaks in Yunnan. We share the following two most famous hills to represent the magnificent mountain scenery in Yunnan.

Meili Snow Mountain, located in Deqin county and the highest peak in Yunnan, is the virgin peak that no one has not been successfully climbed yet, and also not possible in the future. Meili Snow Mountain is a holy place for pilgrimage of Tibetan Buddhism, ranking first among the eight sacred mountains in the Tibetan area. Because of this unique folk culture and religious belief, Meili Snow Mountain is the only snow mountain forbidden to climb due to cultural protection.

The snow-covered Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the mountain range closest to the equator in the northern hemisphere and the southernmost modern monsoonal marine-type glacier distribution area in the Eurasian continent.

Meili Snow Mountain-Kawa karpo

Golden sunrise on Meili Snow Mountain, image source: Zongnan Bao

6. Yunnan is full of unique and abundant ethnic customs

Yunnan is home to 25 ethnic minorities, 15 of which can only be seen in Yunnan.

Yunnan Naxi has the only pictograph still in use in the world
The Naxi people living in the Lijiang City of Yunnan Province still use their written word, called Dongba script. The Dongba script is a rare primitive pictograph in the world and is still in use today.

The Long Street Banquet of the Hani people in Yunnan is the longest feast in the world
According to the Hani calendar, the Hani people take the first dragon day in October of the lunar calendar as the beginning of the New Year, which is equivalent to the first day of the Chinese New Year, which is the traditional grand festival of the Hani people, “October Year”. The fifth day of the “October Year” to “open the New Year’s door”, said “to welcome the new year”, every family will make all kinds of delicious dishes with their harvests of the year, and put the dishes on the bamboo table and set up a long banquet from the “village door”. The whole village and guests from far away could taste this local A-A Feast.

Yunnan Mosuo people still practice the matrilineal society
The Mosuo people are descendants of Tibetan nomads and classify as a subgroup of the Naxi with a total population of about 50,000. In addition to Lugu Lake, Mosuo people are also distributed in Ninglang County in Yunnan Province and Yanyuan and Muli counties in Sichuan. The Mosuo people have their oral language, but no writing words and belief in the primitive Daba religion and Tibetan Buddhism. Daba, Shaman priests, are similar to the Naxi Dongba. Matrilineal society and Walking Marriages are the distinctive ethnic labels of the Mosuo people.

Mosuo girl in traditional costume

Mosuo girl in traditional costume

7. Yunnan people love wild mushrooms

For Yunnanese, the beginning of the rainy season means a reunion with their beloved wild mushrooms.

Abundant rainfall has given birth to a large number of wild mushrooms in the mountains. Every summer, picking them personally or buying them from the market and then enjoying this savory miracle is the greatest joy for Yunnan people. Below are five of the most in-demand mushrooms locally:

  • Niuganjun: Known to Westerners by the more familiar name ‘porcini’. Porcini mushrooms, sold both fresh and dried, are prized in Italian and French cuisine. They grow naturally at the foot of pine trees, and fresh porcini are beloved by Yunnanese.Using a knife to slowly scrape out the soil and dirt of Porcini, and rinsed quickly. This kind of mushroom should not be soaked in water for excess water will cause the delicate mushrooms to deteriorate before cooking.
  • Songrong (Pine mushroom, Matsutake): Known as “the king of all wild mushrooms,” is well sought after by people in China as well as Japan. This type of mushroom is extremely picky about its environment, but the mountains of Yunnan seem to suit its demands. When cooking, people are careful not to disturb their original taste. The easiest way is to cut them into slices and eat them raw, like pieces of sashimi. Yunnanese also likes to boil them with chicken soup, or grill them by adding little oil.
Songrong, Pine mushroom, Matsutake Yunnan

Songrong (Pine mushroom, Matsutake)

  • Ganbajun: Thelephora ganbajun is an endemic wild mushroom to Yunnan Province.This mushroom is known for its intoxicating aroma of beef jerky. Handling this unique-looking wild mushroom is a skillful job that tests patience. Because it grows in an entirely natural environment, dirt and pine needles get stuck inside its folds, so you have to take a knife and slowly scrape out the soil and pine needles, crease by crease. Luckily, cooking it is quite simple. You simply stir-fry it and add a bit of salt. One bite and you will know it was all worth it.
  • Truffle: Yunnan truffles are usually black truffles that grow under the mixed forests of pine and chestnut trees, and the harvesting season is from October to the following March. The more precious the ingredient, the simpler the way Yunnanese eat it. Truffle sashimi, truffle omelet, truffle fried bacon, truffle chicken stew are the four methods for Yunnan people to cook.
  • Morels: In Yunnan, Lijiang and Shangri-La are the main production areas of morel mushrooms. This delicate mushroom, simple stir-fried or cooked in a soup can bring an extremely fresh flavor.
wild mushroom in Yunnan

It is easy to pick wild mushrooms in the mountains during the rainy season

8. Yunnan Rice Noodles and Er Kuai (Rice Cake)

Yunnan is the province with the most methods to cook rice noodles. Speaking of Yunnan rice noodles, the first thing that comes to your mind is the crossing bridge noodle, but in fact, it is just a small branch of Yunnan rice noodles, just a shining point of the Yunnan rice noodle kingdom. Yunnan people take rice noodles to the extreme. It is said that there are 26 kinds of rice noodles. The cooking methods include cold, boiled, stewed, and fried; the ingredients are countless: braised pork, pork skin, pork intestines, crispy meat, miscellaneous sauce, beef can also be braised and stewed, and the rest are chicken, duck, lamb, fish, etc. As long as Yunnanese can think of it, it seems that they can enter the “rice noodle family”-although it is only a simple snack, Yunnan people are so willing to put in the effort, vowing to enrich their “rice noodle life” with countless different ways.

Another most versatile food is Er Kuai, a type of rice cake. This humble ingredient made from pounded, kneaded rice can be made into triangular pieces and stir-fried with egg and vegetable, made into a thin strip and boiled with soup, or pressed into pancake-shaped and grilled on a smokeless charcoal fire, to slightly charred yellow, coated with sesame sauce, spicy sauce, oil chili pepper, etc., can also be sandwiched with ham sausage, fritters, shredded potatoes. Every preparation is delicious—novel and delicious at the same time.

Yunnan Rice Noodles

Yunnan Cross Bridge Rice Noodles

9. Yunnan is the birthplace of the world’s tea tree

The oldest wild tea tree found in Yunnan is more than 3,200 years old, and 8 adults are holding hands to barely surround its trunk. In 2013, Yunnan Pu’er City was awarded the title of “World Tea Source” by the World Tea Association.

Pu’er tea is named after the place where it is produced and has a reputation as the world’s finest tea. It was once so valued that it was traded for Tibetan warhorses along with the dizzying Tea and Horse Road across the Himalayas. The beverage is made from the large-leaf tea trees and pressed into shapes known as “tea cake” or “tea brick” that is fermented for several months before being drunk.

The black tea and green tea in Yunnan are equally interesting, mostly harvested from ancient trees rather than the more familiar monoculture bushes of other areas. The richness of the moss, lichens, and epiphytes on the trees add to the flavor of the finished product. Join a tea plantation tour to learn more about and taste this mellow drinking.

Yunnan Tea Plantation

Tea plantations in Yunnan

10. The Three Parallel Rivers Reserve

The Three Parallel Rivers Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Yunnan Province. Originating on the Tibetan plateau, the Jinsha River, Lancang, and Nujiang rivers, three rivers running parallel to each other, flow more than 170 km from north to south in Yunnan Province.

The Yunnan Three Parallel Rivers Reserve covers an area of 1.7 million hectares and consists of 15 protected areas and 60 scenic spots. Including Gaoligong Mountains, Haba Snow Mountain, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Bita Lake, Meili Snow Mountain, Qianhu Mountain, Laojun Mountain, and so on.

The reserve is home to some 6,000 plant species, 173 mammal species, and 417 bird species. Many of the plant and animal species are endemic to the region. The reserve has a wide variety of landscapes such as gorges, forests, snow-capped mountains, glaciers and karsts, and meadows.

For its very rich biodiversity and topographical diversity, the Three Parallel Rivers area was inscribed on the World Natural Heritage List by UNESCO in July 2003.

In addition to its rich biodiversity and topographical diversity, the region is also rich in demographic composition, with many of Yunnan’s 25 ethnic minorities living in the region, such as the Tibetan, Naxi, Nu, Lisu, Bai, and Pumi.

Three Parallel Rivers Reserve

Three Parallel Rivers

11. Yunnan Snub-Nosed Monkey

The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is a medium-sized primate, named for its black fur and distinctive upturned nose, which is due to the lack of a snout bone. The snub-nosed monkey is a rare and endangered primate endemic to China. In 1989 the snub-nosed monkey was classified as a national-level protected animal in China.

They live at higher altitudes than any other primate (except humans), with habitats located in the high mountains between 2,500m and 5,000m.

In ancient China, the snub-nosed monkey had a wide distribution area. Due to human activity, the area gradually retreated to a corner of Yunnan on the border with Tibet Between the Lancang and Jinsha rivers, a small area in the Yunling Mountains.

Yunnan Snub-nosed monkeys once on the brink of extinction. The number of snub-nosed monkeys in Yunnan Province has grown from less than 1,000 in 1987 to over 3,800 in 2022, after the establishment of the reserve.

Yunnan Snub-nosed monkey is the mascot of the 1999 World Horticultural Exposition.

12. Yunnan Rainforest

There used to be a view that there was no rainforest in China, until the discovery of the Wangtian Tree in Mengla County, Xishuangbanna, in 1974. Wangtian Tree was identified as a new species in the Lobeliaceae family, which is an important symbol of rainforests.

Wangtian Tree is one of the unique tree species in Xishuangbanna, meaning “tree that gazes upon the sky”. The height of Wangtianshu can reach 70 meters.

Xishuangbanna Rainforest Nature Reserve is located in Jinghong, Mengla, and Menghai counties. With an area of 2,420.2 square kilometers, it is the most complete, typical, and largest rainforest ecosystem in China. It is home to more than 5,000 species of tropical flora and fauna and is regarded as a Genetic treasure trove. Xishuangbanna’s rainforest is also home to Indo-Chinese tigers, and green peacocks, Asian elephants.

The Asian elephant is the largest existing land animal in Asia, distributed in Southeast and South Asian countries, such as India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, China, etc. Asian elephants are primarily distributed in the Xishuangbanna area. Asian elephants are under Class I protected animals, there are only 300 Asian elephants in China.

In April 2021, a herd of elephants migrating more than 1,300 kilometers north from Xishuangbanna made international headlines. The Asian elephants walked freely through fields, villages, and towns, the Chinese government deployed trucks and workers to monitor and guide the elephants, luring them away from populated areas with food. Drones captured lovely photos of them playing and resting in the fields. Over time, the elephants began to trust humans, and they even played with the drones’ shadows.

During this migration, two calves were born, one male elephant was separated from the herd, and they all eventually returned safely to their original habitat. This globally observed elephant migration also highlights China’s efforts to help wild elephants in recent years.

13. Yunnan Coffee

Most people associate Yunnan with varieties of famous tea, but you may not know Yunnan is the largest coffee plantation region in China.

In the late 19th century, a French missionary named Alfred Lietard (Chinese name: Tian De Neng) planted the first coffee tree in mainland China outside his church in Dali, Yunnan Province, during his missionary work. Since then, this foreign specie has multiplied in this magical land and lasted more than a century. The planting area and output in Yunnan province both account for more than 95% of the country’s total.

Arabica is the main variety of coffee beans in Yunnan, which is exported worldwide. Local producers have partnered with companies such as Nescafe and Starbucks, making coffee an important crop in Yunnan. In recent years, the popularity of boutique coffee makes more and more people get to know Yunnan coffee for its unique floral and fruity flavor.

Yunnan Coffee China

Coffee plantations in Pu’er

14. The only ancient town without walls in the country – the old town of Lijiang in Yunnan

The Lijiang Old Town was built in the late 13th century. It is said that because the hereditary ruler of Lijiang has surnamed Mu, and if he built the wall, the structure of the old town was bound to be like adding a frame to the wooden character to form the word “trapped”, so it formed this ancient town without the walls.

15. The Yunnan Jiulong Waterfall is the largest waterfall group in China

Jiulong Waterfall is located 22 kilometers north of Luoping County, Yunnan Province. Due to the special geological structure and the millennium erosion of water flow, a group of ten waterfalls of varying heights and widths and in different forms has been formed here.

Luoping Jiulong Waterfall

Enormous Jiulong Waterfall Group

16. Zheng He discovered America and Australia years before Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook

Zheng He (1371-1433, Ming Dynasty) a native of Yunnan Province. He was a famous Chinese navigator, diplomat, and eunuch.

Zheng He was appointed by Emperor Zhu Di to lead the fleet on seven voyages, which lasted twenty-eight years. The voyages reached the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Some say that Zheng He discovered America and Australia years before Christopher Columbus or Captain Cook.


Portrait of Zheng He, image source

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