China’s Southern Charm

China’s Southern Charm

Southern China was the highlight of our time traveling through China and should not be missed, especially for idyllic views like this one from Yuanyang


A place regarded as an earthly paradise, that’s the definition of Shangri-la, especially when involving a retreat from the pressures of modern civilization.  The city Shangri-la is also my favorite in the South of China and the definition can easily be extended to describe the entire region.  Majestic mountains, quiet backwaters, untouched temples and terraced rice fields characterize the landscape.  The provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan were highlights of our China tour and should not be missed.

Making your way across the southern part of China you can take in a wide variety of culture and the scenery could easily keep you spellbound for months, but it’s possible to see the best of the area in just two weeks.  Below are the highlights of China’s gorgeous southern provinces.


As I already said, this place was a favorite in our China tour, the Tibetan influenced city is the inspiration for the utopia in James Hilton’s novel “Lost Horizon.”  It was nirvana for us with delicious yak-burgers, photogenic monks and the most beautiful monastery outside Tibet.

The view of Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery from the boardwalk on the nearby lake is gorgeous.

To see more photos of Shangri la visit our Shangri-la photo guide


The quintessential Chinese tourist town with re-created charm and excellent shopping it’s hard not to fall in love with this place.  While many of the buildings have been rebuilt and Chinese tourists show up by the bus load there is something enchanting about this quaint village.  The food is great and the accommodation top notch, making it a great place to relax after hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge.

The traditional tile roof tops of Lijiang

To see more photos of Lijiang visit our Lijiang photo guide

To learn more about Lijiang cuisine visit Adopted into a Chinese family

To learn more about Tiger Leaping Gorge, visit our guide here


The pandas may be the main attraction in Chengdu, but this modern city deserves more time than just a visit to the Panda Research Center.  The spicy Sichuan food and attractive parks and canal make this a great place to enjoy a few days.

To learn more about Chengdu’s Panda Research Center click here


Kunming is a city that has to be traversed in order to head south to the rice terraces of Yuanyang or to get over to Lijiang and Shangri-la.  But don’t just treat it as a “fly-over” destination.  The delightful parks and well developed city gave us a glimpse into daily life.  I particularly enjoyed people watching at Zhuan Tang Park where older Chinese would gather to dance, enjoy conversation with friends, play mahjong or contribute to some spontaneous music making.

A relaxed afternoon in Kunming


The magnificent rice terraces of the Yuanyang region extend as far as the eye can see and offered the most serene villages we experienced in all of China.  We stayed in the small town of Duoyishu with a Yi family whom were the best hosts we could have asked for.  The communal meals, shared with fellow travelers and neighbors from the village, as well as daily hikes were refreshing after weeks in cities.

Sunrise over the rice terraces in Yuanyang

Three Yi woman transporting goods in Yuanyang. Numbering 8 million, they are the seventh largest of the 55 ethnic minority groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China.


The small hippie enclave of Dali is a backpacker favorite and it’s easy to see why.  The laid back town offers excellent cafes, the best bakery we found in Asia and stunning scenery.  We rented bikes to explore the fields nearby and pedaled along dirt roads to quiet towns.  Then in the evening we would return to Dali to find vendors, live music and busy street side cafes.

Dali is known for their colorful batik as sold by this woman

Decorative painting on a traditional Dali residence.


The idyllic backwaters of Yangshuo provided a week long respite in our China odyssey.  It was the perfect place to spend a few days recharging.  We rented bikes to take in the surrounding scenery and we enjoyed the outdoor cafes dotting the sidewalks.  We took the obligatory boat ride, but what made this town great was the chill vibe.

Taking a boat ride in Yangshuo is a must-do in Southern China


Shenzhen doesn’t typically even make it onto people’s radar when considering where to visit in China.  But this city known more for it’s industrial parks than anything else is worth making a stop in to see their thriving art scene and modern skyscrapers.

An example of some of the unique art in Shenzhen's art district

To learn more about China’s art districts click here.

A few of our favorite cities listed above have gotten their own posts on the blog, but I had to put all these places together in one place to really explain what’s so great about the South of China.  While Southern China sells itself in pictures, many people neglect the southern half of the country in favor of larger tourist attractions in the north; The Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors and Shanghai.  Don’t miss out on the above gems if you are planning a trip to China in the future.

Did I forget any places in the south of China that you loved?  Share your favorite cities in the comments.

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» Lawrence Michaels :
Jul 16, 2012

Very nice photos, I especially like the sunrise over Yuanyang. Does that truck still run, or has it been completely gutted?
Read Lawrence Michaels’s awesome post Phuket Weather

LOCAVORista Reply:

Lawrence, thanks for the compliments on the photos. The sunset in Yuanyang is even better in person! The truck in the picture is completely gutted and is just an art installation now.

» Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) :
Jul 17, 2012

Loved this post! I’m really excited about China, because it’s such a massive country with so much to explore, but the South is the area that I’m probably the most excited to see with my own two eyes. It always looks so lush and almost tropical! Seeing your top highlights of the area have heightened my anticipation to see this country to a near fever pitch!
Read Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)’s awesome post The Best Laid Plans

LOCAVORista Reply:

Steph, glad to hear that you enjoyed this post and that you plan to spend time in the South of China- an amazing area! You will love it!

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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