Nujiang Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nujiang Prefecture contains Lushui (Liuku), Fugong, and Gongshan Counties (from south to north) all along the border shared by Myanmar and China. The rich biodiversity and little known ethnic groups make this spot a perfect place for those seeking adventure. It is not wise to travel to Nujiang Prefecture if you are nervous about driving on poor, twisty, and often dirt mountain roads. This area is also best if you or someone you are traveling with can speak Chinese. There are very few people in these areas who will know English.

Getting there

There are no airports or trains that allow you to get to Nujiang Prefecture. This is strictly a bus trip -- and typically it requires a very long night bus ride on bumpy roads (more than 12 hours from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, depending on where you are going). The roads are perpetually under construction due to frequent landslides. Before entering Lushui County, the bus stops at a military checkpoint and the IDs of all Chinese nationals must be checked. For foreigners visiting, you must exit the bus and help the military person fill out information about your passport, visa, and travel plans. This stop is always in the middle of the night and it can be disorienting and frightening to be woken up by people in full military gear. Don't worry, this is completely normal and the military people are very nice.

The night bus.



Unfortunately, the Chinese government is planning a series of dams along the Nujiang (Salween River) that cuts through Nujiang Prefecture. This will cause serious damage to the ecosystem and ethnic groups in the area. For more information see this link. On a more minor note, this may also cause issues for tourists trying to travel to the region.

Lushui County

If you are traveling to Lushui County, you will most likely stay in Liuku. Liuku is the largest nearby city and is the easiest city of the three counties to get to. You can get there by night bus form Kunming or Dali. There are several small hotels near the bus station and a handful of restaurants and shops. I quite like Liuku and had a few daydreams about moving here.

Fugong County

If visiting Fugong County, you will stay in Fugong City (pictured below). This is a small city with a few hotels. This city is mostly inhabited by people of the Lisu and Nu ethnic minorities. Try some of the local delicacies pictures below. Fugong City has a great park that often has dancing or singing or games in the evenings. In a few stores in Fugong, you can find traditional Lisu outfits, which are great to pick up as souvenirs. Fugong City has many nearby villages, which are fun to walk to and provide a fun outdoor hike and activity. You can get to Fugong by taking a night bus from Kunming (usually leaving at 5 or 6 pm and arriving in Fugong around 8 or 9 am) or taking a bus from Liuku. The night bus ride from Kunming to Fugong is about 15 hours long.

Fugong City

Down the river from Fugong City

A bridge crossing the Nujiang and connecting two sides of Fugong City

The Nujiang at Fugong City

A tributary of the Nujiang

Fresh bamboo shoots- a specialty in this area. Great grilled over an open fire and dipped in salt.

The weekly vegetable and fruit market in Fugong City. Note the fresh picked ferns in the foreground-another local specialty.

The Lisu ethnic minority version of yak butter tea. Very different tasting than the Tibetan version.

Special chicken soup Lisu style.

Fugong Stone Moon- a popular (but for me underwhelming) tourist destination

Gongshan County

Gongshan County is the furthest north of the three counties. Large night buses cannot travel on the roads to Gongshan County, so to get here it is best to take a night bus to Fugong then a large minivan (mianbao che) to Gongshan City. From Gongshan City you can get to the Dulong River Valley or Bingzhongluo (a popular tourist destination and great place to bike to the Tibet border). It can be a bit hard for foreigners to travel to the Dulong River Valley, but Bingzhongluo is a good alternative. Bingzhongluo is great for hiking and biking and does have a few small guesthouses and one or two restaurants if you are staying overnight. Keep in mind that you'll need to pay a fee to enter Bingzhongluo as it is a protected area.

Christianity was brought to Lushui County by the French many years ago.

Excellent signs in one of the hotels.

High Elevation snow near Yakou Mountain entering the Dulong River Valley region in Gongshan County.

A village in the Dulong River Valley region of Gongshan County.

Have you been to Nujiang Prefecture? Anything else to add?

Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dali is a Bai ethnic group town. Dali is my least favorite of the places I’ve traveled to in Yunnan, yet most people prefer it to the other touristy cities. The Three Pagoda's Park is really worth a visit as is Cangshan, but I always preferred having shorter fieldwork trips to Dali and longer stays in Lijiang, Shangri-La, and elsewhere in NW Yunnan.


Hiking to the Cangshan tourist park is an easy but great hike; however, taking the cable cars can be expensive and unfulfilling. You can hike up Cangshan, then walk the walkway to the other side of Cangshan's tourist park (a paved path), and take the cable car down.

If you’re up for an adventure head over to the Yangbi (known for their walnuts) side of Cangshan and hike to Huadianba. I’d suggest packing a tent and warm clothes. For a memorable experience, try to stay in one of the lodges on the Yangbi side of Cangshan, where you can eat delicious food, watch meal preparation (e.g. making tofu), and spend the evenings dancing around the fire and singing local Yi and Bai songs. 

Entrance to the pagoda park is a bit pricey; however, the park is one of the most stunning man-made sites I’ve seen (see the photos).

Renting a bike and peddling around Er Hai (the lake near Old Town) is a beautiful trip for a sunny day.

Local Munchies

There is a restaurant on Renmin Road in Old Town that has the most delicious Inner Mongolian food. In several restaurants in the old town, you'll also be able to learn a bit about the Bai's "flower eating culture" by enjoying some local dishes.

Expat Hangouts

Bakery 88 is a perfect place to catch up on emails and eat some German baked goodies. I'd love to re-create their upstairs area in my someday home.


The Jade Emu Hostel located right outside of Old Town and near Cangshan. It has alright prices and a friendly staff.

Tips: New Town (where the buses and trains from Kunming arrive) is very far from Old Town, so you may consider taking a taxi to the old town.

Have you been to Dali before? What did you think?

A walking path on Cangshan

Old Town

Three pagodas park

Three pagodas park
Three pagodas park

Three pagodas park
Old Town

Shangri-La (Zongdian), Yunnan Province, China

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shangri-La has a different feel than other cities in Yunnan because it is mainly inhabited by Tibetans. There are three Buddhist temples near the old town and all are amazing to visit. Plan a hiking trip through a local guide agency to thousand-pond-mountain, which is a beautiful hike not too far from town. After dusk, visit the large square in the old town to watch Tibetan dances. It isn't unusual to see tourists or expats joining in.

The dancing square in Old Town


Wander the shops in old town for beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry, paintings, prayer flags, and clothes from India. In the new town, you'll also find stores that sell Tibetan jackets and silver teapots. 

Tibetan prayer flags

Local munchies

Shangri-La is a Tibetan area, so the food is quite different than other places in Yunnan. An adventurous traveler must try yak butter tea -- a tea made of churned yak butter mixed with black tea. Drink it before it cools down otherwise it will turn into an unappetizing sludge -- trust me! I love hot yak butter tea, especially after a long hike; however, not everyone shares the same taste as me. During my fieldwork days, I drank some of my colleague's butter tea to prevent him from loosing face while nobody was looking!

Head to Bashkar’s Kitchen, right outside of the old town square, to taste some delicious Tibetan and Nepali cuisine. Outside of old town, you can find staples such as fried rice, noodles, hot pot, and dumplings.

Spicy noodles and sweet soy milk for breakfast


It is easy to find a place to stay in Shangri-La and most rooms come with heated blankets (necessary!). Houses aren't heated in Yunnan, so having a space heater or heated blankets is necessary as the elevation causes it to be very cold.

A Tibetan village outside of Shangri-La

Tips: Shangri-La is very cold -- even in the summer; bring extra layers. Shangri-La is at a high elevation, thus time should be spent at cities, such as Dali or Lijiang, before heading to Shangri-La, especially if you typically struggle with altitude sickness. In the parking lot at the entrance to old town, you will be bombarded by drivers asking if you need a ride somewhere. They will ALWAYS charge exorbitant amounts of money, so bargain with them!

Great hiking with Euphorbia in the foreground

Stupa against a blue summer sky

Have you been to Shangri-La? 

Kunming, Yunnan Province, China

Kunming, known as ‘the City of Eternal Spring’ is transit city with a few highlights worth experiencing. I actually really love Kunming, but many visitors travel via Kunming in favor of visiting Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La (Zhongdian). However, if you have time, I'd suggest stopping in Kunming for at least a few days.


Green Lake Park is a great green space in the middle of the city. There are numerous street vendors selling all sorts of treats such as grilled yams, corn, tofu, and sugar cane. In the mornings at Green Lake, check out the tai chi or dancing groups.

For a taste of culture, the Yuan Tong Temple is a beautiful place to visit with a reasonable entrance fee.

To learn about the ethnic minorities of Yunnan, I'd highly suggest visiting the Yunnan Nationalities Museum. It is a really well-done museum with many displays in English.

The Kunming Institute of Botany on the outskirts of Kunming in Heilongtan has beautiful botanical gardens. Check the garden out during rhododendron (March/April) or magnolia (February) seasons when the gardens are truly spectacular.

Another popular attraction is taking a hike on West Mountain (Xi Shan).

Green Lake Park


In case you forgot any essentials at home, stop by the H&M at the Golden Eagle Mall. Or any of the other numerous name brands that you can find in the city on Nanping Street.

The Mandarin Book Store on Wen Hua Xiang is a great place to pick up Chinese language books as well as popular books in a number of languages.

There are numerous tea shops around Green Lake as well as a large tea market near the Beichen Garden Walkway. There are numerous DVD shops with great prices on your favorite movies and tv shows.

Qi pao, the traditional Chinese dress, is a great gift to pick up in Kunming. There are a number of tailors that have the fabric necessary to make these dresses. The cost for a tailor made qi pao is about 300 yuan (in 2012).

Local munchies

Dai restaurants near Yunnan University are tasty local options. Muslim noodles shops are common near YunDa, as well as near Wen Hua Xiang. Street bbqs (shao kao) are popular foods to eat as a snack or at night. Farmers markets and fruit stands are common. If in season, I’d recommend trying dragon fruit, peaches, lychees and especially yang mei (no idea what the English name is).

Bubble tea is one of my favorite beverages and is found in little street kiosks. Dali Beer is a local favorite, but I think it tastes like a worse version of Natural Ice. I’d suggest trying Lao Beer in light or dark. At Jia Hua bakery try rose cakes or red bean paste cookies.

Expat hangouts

If you are craving coffee or need to use internet check out Salvador’s, Prague Café, the French Cafe or the Vintage. Salvador’s has great burgers as well as Tex-Mex. I've written more about where you can find Western comforts in Kunming here -- you'll even find a map in that post.


I’ve heard good things about the hostels in Kunming. Also, there are a number of nice hotels in the Green Lake area. The Seagull is a good hotel for a decent price and has a KTV (karaoke club) nearby.

Lotus flower in Green Lake


Foot massages and body massages are a great way to refresh yourself after exploring the city. There are numerous foot massage parlors near the Beichen Garden Walkway. Only for the brave or Mandarin speakers: getting your haircut in Kunming. The barbershops are so cheap and usually give scalp massages in addition to great hair cuts and coloring.

Tip: To tap local news and events check out

Yunnan Province, China

A temple in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan

What immediately comes to mind when I picture Yunnan are my close friends that live there, the tasty food, the kindness of everyone I’ve met, the incredibly colorful ethnic groups and of course, the amazing Himalayas. As with traveling to anywhere new, I’ve had my fair-share of bumps and unpleasant moments in Yunnan; however, it is my favorite place to explore and my home away from home.

Have you been to Yunnan? Where is your home away from home?

Tips for the Foreigner Living in China

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I moved to Kunming, Yunnan Province, China in 2010 and lived and worked there off and on for three years. If I had the opportunity, I would move back to Kunming because it truly is one of my favorite places in the world. Here are my top tips for anyone moving to, traveling to, or currently living in China. These tips aren’t in any particular order.

1) Don't drink the tap water ANYWHERE! Brush your teeth and drink tap water only after boiling. Nobody drinks water from the tap in China and if you go out to eat, make sure you drink only bottled water or  'kai shui' 开水. It is also smart to peel fruit. My first time in China, I completely made this mistake and ended up with a difficult to get rid of intestinal parasite. Don't make my same mistake!

2) Bring a small amount of the travel diarrhea antibiotics it can be a life-saver! 

3) China Mobile and China Eastern are the two main cell phone companies. China Mobile generally has better coverage. If you have a smartphone from the US that is unlocked, you can bring it with you and just get a Chinese sim card and it will work. Get 3G for your phone -- it has AMAZING coverage in China and is so cheap. I worked in the middle of nowhere (literally mountains as far as the eye could see) and I had 3G almost everywhere. You just pay money upfront and get some number of minutes and data (so many that you may never use all of them). If you do happen to use all of your minutes and data you can go to any little street booth with a China Mobile sign and buy a little card to add more money to your phone. It is really easy. I bought an iPhone when I went on vacation to Hong Kong and was able to transfer my Chinese sim card to that phone and it was perfect for keeping in touch with my family and friends. Just get skype on your phone and put money on your skype. With money on your skype you can make calls to anywhere in the world.

4) You can't get Facebook, Twitter, or access to most Google sites on mainland (you can use it in Hong Kong though) -- so if you are addicted to social media (or if you blog) then you should get a VPN. 

5) Probably every Chinese person you meet will ask you for your QQ number. QQ is basically the same thing as AIM but more widespread. - 2015 update- People now also use a free app called WeChat. It is awesome and has an English version.

6) Get the PLECO app for your phone. It is a life-saver if you don't know a character or want to look a word up.

7) Download a character-based keyboard for your phone so you can text in Chinese. Texting is really common -- and it is great practice for reading!

8) Take pictures!

9) Make Chinese friends! The friends I lived with in China are my best friends in the whole world and I miss seeing them every day.

10) Go to KTV! KTV is a popular karaoke chain. In Asia, karyoke is a popular past time and it is a bit different from doing karyoke in the US. In Asia you typically get your own private room with your friends and you can order food and beer.

11) is the Chinese version of and is amazing! You can order anything you need there.

12) Go to open-air veggie markets. They are great!

13) Don't be afraid of street food! So good!

14) Try shao kao (outdoor bbqs that often open late at night) after a night out at KTV.

15) It is best to avoid talking about politics.

16) Public bathrooms don't have toilet paper. Carry a little pack of tissues with you. Public bathrooms also charge money to use. Usually 5 jiao to 1 kuai (1 RMB). 

17) I didn't open a bank account in China, but I kind of wish I had. Bank of America has an agreement with China Construction Bank where you can use their ATMs for free and do wire transfers. Both China Construction Bank and Bank of China reliably accepted my foreign ATM cards, but smaller banks don't often accept foreign cards. Keep this in mind if you are traveling somewhere rural for several days and just bring enough RMB.

18) Be careful with your personal belongings- theft is pretty common. I was lucky to never have a problem, but, like anywhere you need to be aware. I always felt very safe in southern China even when traveling on my own (which was frequent).

19) Cabs are super cheap, but often times the cab drivers don't know how to get places. This would supremely piss me off, because after 1.5 years living in Kunming, Yunnan Province I knew how to get to more places than the cab drivers. 

20) You don't need to tip.

21) You will probably take a cab to your apartment from the airport. DO NOT take a black cab (hei che) unless you know the driver. Black cab translates roughly to a fake or non-registered cab. I made this mistake my first time in China and I was completely ripped off. To take a registered cab, look for the huge line of cabs at the airport and take one of those. Check that the driver turns on the meter.

22) Eastern-style toilets. What can I say about Eastern-style toilets other than you get used to them?

Do you have any other tips for living in China?

Welcome and About the Author

In Search Of is my creative space where I push myself to try new things, get out of my comfort zone, and explore the unique events and activities wherever I happen to be living/visiting.

I'm originally from SE Connecticut, but I've lived in several places in the US (Madison, WI and Keene, NH). From 2010-2012 I was based in Kunming, China but frequently traveled to the north of the province to conduct botanical research. I am currently based in Vilnius, Lithuania, which is turning out to a wonderful basd for both local and European adventures.

If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments section below or send me an email ( I'm always happy to help with travel or expat advice!

Photo credit: Jeremy Ellis


Welcome to In Search Of, a travel resource focused on culture, food, coffee, and unique destination guides. The aim of this blog is to provide travel information for those who wants to blend in with the locals, taste the best foods, and experience cultures, all while traveling on a mid-range budget.

I'm Elizabeth, a freelance editor and travel writer, currently living in Vilnius, Lithuania. Explore In Search Of to learn more!