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!