Earlier this year we toured Yunnan Provine for CNY and I just found my notes. Without a doubt it's a must see part of China and, like many places, it's important that you're well-read on the area before you go and avoid being shoehorned by the locals in to the main tourist traps.
Here's my top 10 tips for getting the best out of Yunnan:
The 'deluxe' in deluxe bus from Dali to Lijiang, for which you'll pay 65rmb (15 extra), just means it has a toilet on board and is supposedly half an hour quicker. Otherwise it is massively cramped and the driver uses two controls - accelerate and horn. My advice; buy two seats and spread out.
There is normally a charge to get into Shihe, a very worthwhile town outside Lijiang. Circumnavigate it by coming in from the north of town. Head towards the entrance to the Banyan Tree Hotel and there's a gate - the guards are indifferent.
In lijiang rent bikes from Chairman Mao square just outside of the old town. Price is the same and quality much better... and they give you a hand drawn map which is only good for taking you from the rental station to their countryside cafe.
If you get sick of everything coming knee deep in oil (seemingly the Yunnanese way) there's nothing better than an order of steamed Baozi. Look for the metal baskets stacked on steamers outside. The muslim Bai people have some phenomenal ones with peanut and honey inside.
Have a flashlight or candle ready if you're wandering around the Lijiang old town at night during high season. Then you can nonchalantly carry on with dinner like a local when the electricity gets overloaded and cuts out the whole neighbourhood.
Wear a football shirt that says Rooney on the back, get your signature hand ready and lap up the attention. Be prepared to be photographed all night - don't forget that most of the people you'll see will be tourists from deeper China.
Most people speal Mandarin and plenty speak English. It's actually easier to communicate as the locals are not insistent on using Shanghainese.
Cyling around Erhai lake next to Dali is a gruelling 120km affair. The West half is a main road where vehicles will constantly be on their horns. The East half is a bumpy monotonous gravel road under construction (2010). The best section runs across the north side from XiZhouZhen to TianShengYing (an interesting, bustling local town) -[map route] then get the ferry back across.
The mountain trail above Dali has some breathtaking scenery. Its fully paved, barely goes beyond a gradual slope and isn't as cold as they say. Ignore the other tourists who are dressed for Siberia. Save your film for the last section of the path when you'll be more directly about the town.
The BaiShan white Mountains to the North of Lijiang are very picturesque but nothing special if you've seen the Alps, Rockies, Patagonia or the Pennines. It's also feels a rip-off to go there, you'll pay around 200RMB (each) through the nose at a tollbooth to get into the area and another 200RMB to go up one of the cable cars. You'll also feel like a yak by the time you finish being herded through the ticket office, onto a bus and up the mountain (once you've bought a ticket it takes about 90 mins of ballache to get to the top).
Where we stayed:
Dali: The Jade Emu
It's a stone's throw outside the walls of the city to the West... so cheaper than inside and a safe retreat from the bustle. Nice courtyard and a backpacker vibe.
Lijiang: The Tea
Up on the top of the hill with a breathtaking view over the old town. Pay extra for a balcony room - it's worth it. They have two or three locations so make sure you stay in the Lion's Hill venue... the others are nowhere near as good.