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Yunnan Province is considered the unknown – the “Wild West” of China – due to its rugged mountains, treacherous roads, and diversity. Keep reading to find out what to wear in Yunnan Province including visits to Kunming, Lijiang, Dali, and Shangri-La!
What to Wear in Yunnan Province
Written By: Elizabeth Georgian
Yunnan only opened to international tourism approximately 30 years ago, but has quickly become a tourism hot spot for foreigners and Chinese tourists alike. Yunnan’s main draw is its generally mild weather, which changes drastically due to the elevation, allowing for incredible biodiversity.
Visitors to Yunnan will likely traverse several different climates, so packing appropriate clothing is important for a comfortable, off-the-beaten-path journey.
Read on for specific notes on the weather for each of the below destinations. In general, the climate is colder in the winter and hotter in the summer. Yunnan has distinct dry and rainy seasons, so planning ahead with your packing will be important.
The dry season spans from approximately November to April, and the rainy season runs from May until October. Though it’s not always rainy during the rainy season, trust me: when it rains, it really comes down.
Stay stylishly dry with our favorite travel raincoats for women!
What To Pack
Packing light for Yunnan Province is key, as you’ll likely be traveling from place to place by train, bus, or plane, and nobody likes schlepping heavy luggage. You’ll also want to save room for incredible souvenirs like tea, silver, jade, and turquoise jewelry, and other handicrafts.
If you’re traveling in northern Yunnan in any season, you only need to pack 5 tops, 2 jackets, 1 tunic dress, 3 pants, and 3 pairs of shoes. Though only 14 main items may seem limited for a fashionable traveler, different combinations will keep you comfortable (and dry) in any weather.
For tops, 2 t-shirts and 2 long-sleeved shirts will provide options for the varying weather that you’ll experience as you travel north, visiting the destinations provided in detail below.
One warmer sweater will provide a layering option, and a down coat and rain jacket will provide additional layers for cold higher elevations or inclement weather.
You can use packing cubes to save space when you pack! Find out how!
Three pairs of pants — one pair of jeans, one pair of leggings, and one cropped pant — is all you need to stay you warm and comfortable during days full of temple visits, hiking, and eating local street food.
When considering which pants to bring, keep in mind that seating at many restaurants and food stands are low to the ground stools, so you might think about packing high-waisted options to avoid exposed underwear or the dreaded crack flashing.
One modest tunic dress will be a great option to wear with our without leggings (short dresses are popular in Yunnan) and can be dressed up or down.
Check out our top choices for the best leggings for travel!
The varied activities, terrain, and chance of rain (potentially soaking your shoes) calls for 3 different shoe options. Travel flats, hiking boots, and your favorite comfortable sneakers will keep your feet blister-free no matter your activities.
Find out how to choose the best hiking shoes for your trip!
Must-Pack Essentials and Accessories
As with elsewhere in Asia, visitors will likely want to bring some essentials from home for a comfortable trip. Women travelers should pack tampons, which can be hard to find, although stores like Wal-Mart and Carrefour in Kunming do carry OB tampons. Pads can be found anywhere.
Have you considered using a menstrual cup? Read the pros and cons here!
Hotels and hostels generally only provide small hand towels that are meant to dry your body. I never found these to be sufficient, so packing a light travel towel was a must for me.
Items like pocketknives (though these should be packed in your checked luggage) are helpful when you need to open beer or cut packages; I never traveled without mine. The high elevation in Yunnan also requires daily application of sunscreen.
I’d also suggest packing a first aid kit — Band Aids and moleskin prove difficult to find — and a swimsuit just in case you happen to visit a lake or hot springs. Wool socks in addition to your everyday socks are great for colder temperatures and days spent hiking.
Another item to consider brining is a water purifier of some kind, as the water is unsafe to drink from the tap in China.
Kunming: The City of Eternal Spring
The City of Eternal Spring. Doesn’t that sound nice for a city’s tagline?! Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, is likely where any visitor will arrive, as it’s the large province’s main transit hub. Though many skip over Kunming, I suggest spending a few days to explore the beauty that it has to offer while acclimatizing to the higher altitude.
Visitors should consider stopping by the beautiful campus of Yunnan University and walking the surrounding streets that feature amazing food, a great bookstore (Mandarin Books), and Salvador’s Coffee House, which is locally run by expats and does amazing work in the community.
Dive into Yunnan’s rich culture at the great Yunnan Nationalities Museum, Green Lake Park, and the Yuan Tong Temple. If you’re looking for something a bit further afield, the Kunming Botanical Gardens are stunning in the late winter and early spring.
Kunming’s weather is pretty gentle. January is the coldest month with the average temperature of 46°F / 8°C and the hottest month is July with an average temperature of 65°F / 18°C. The average rainfall is approximately (43 inches (1,101 cm) through the year, with most falling during the rainy season.
To keep you comfortable in any season and dressed appropriately from an expat coffee break, to temple visits, to walking the paths of the magnolia garden at the Kunming Botanical Garden, we’ve created three outfit options out of the 14 clothing pieces and additional accessories.
If you’ll be going on a long bus ride or two while in Yunnan, don’t forget these items!
Dali: Pagodas and Culture
Traveling northwest from Kunming, Dali is a popular tourist destination due to its beautiful ancient city complete with city gates, impressive pagodas, and Bai ethnic minority culture. To experience Dali’s culture, the Three Pagodas of Chongshen Temple are a wonderful stop located less than a mile away from Dali’s ancient city. The three pagodas are truly impressive and you’ll want a full camera battery for this outing.
The ancient city of Dali is also a popular place for visitors to spend a day popping into the shops and tasting local Bai cuisine. Those looking to experience a taste of the Himalayas could opt to hike (or ride a cable car) up Cangshan, though various admission fees apply. In February through early April, visitors will be treated to a wide array of flowering plants and trees on the trails along Cangshan.
Another popular activity in Dali is biking around Erhai (Er Lake), and bikes can be rented from numerous shops in Dali’s ancient city. For biking around Dali, I’d suggest pairing leggings with a t-shirt and sneakers — and don’t forget the ever-important rain gear for unexpected showers!
Here’s what to wear on a rainy day when traveling!
Lijiang: Mountains, Great Shopping, and Beauty Around Every Corner
Further northwest from Lijiang, and the next pearl along the popular tourist trail, is Lijiang, a town known for its beautiful ancient city, glorious Hei Long Tan Park (Black Dragon Pool Park), and Naxi ethnic minority.
In Lijiang, visitors could plan on spending two to three days acclimatizing to the higher altitude while exploring the beauty of the ancient city. Several impressive shops also sell beautiful handicrafts, although the best items (and food) are found on the outskirts of the ancient city.
Visitors may also want to plan excursions to hike a nearby mountain to visit a temple, see the first bend in the Yangtze River, or spend an afternoon in Yuhu Village where the famous 20th century explorer and botanist, Joseph Rock, lived.
For a morning spent eating spicy rice noodles followed by taking the public bus to Yuhu Village, I’d suggest pairing cropped pants with a t-shirt, your favorite sneakers, and donning a warmer outerwear layer.
Lijiang’s weather is similar to the weather in Kunming and Dali. It has an average temperature of 55-68°F / 13-20°C.
Casual sneakers are comfy and fashionable for travel. See our favorites here!
Shangri-La (Zhongdian): Tibetan Culture
Here I’ve combined the 14 pieces and additional accessories into 2 outfits: one perfect for hiking to Chicken Temple and the other for an evening out eating momos and watching Tibetan dancing in the central square of Shangri-La’s ancient city.
Moving more northwest still, visitors will absolutely want to include Shangri-La on their itinerary. Situated high in the Himalayas, Shangri-La has a base altitude of 10,367 feet (3,159 meters), making it the coldest year-round destination in this post.
The average temperature is coldest in January at approximately 39°F / 4°C with the hottest temperature in July and August at 82°F / 28°C. Though the averages may seem hot, I’ve never experienced temperatures that warm in Shangri-La and the temperature varies drastically from day to night.
These are our top tips on how to pack and travel in mixed weather!
If you’re visiting Shangri-La in the middle of winter, I’d suggest adding an additional warmer winter coat and long underwear to your packing list, as it can feel very cold at night, and snow is common.
What’s the warmest long underwear for women? Find out here!
Despite the chilly weather, Shangri-La is one of the most wonderful places to visit in Yunnan Province because of its mountainous terrain and the beautiful Tibetan culture. The ancient city of Shangri-La is much smaller than both Dali and Lijiang and sees fewer crowds, making it a more pleasant place to visit.
Craft shops and restaurants feature Tibetan handicrafts and food, thus you can easily immerse yourself in the culture. Additionally, numerous Buddhist temples can be found in the ancient city, surrounding mountains, and nearby villages. Keep in mind that when you visit temples, you should walk clockwise to keep with Buddhist traditions.
Need To Know
An essential Yunnan resource is the website GoKunming, which provides travel information, reviews, and events for all locations in the province.
Visitors should also keep in mind that homes and hotels in Yunnan Province aren’t equipped with heating, so packing warm pajamas or wearing layers to bed is essential. Some hotels and hostels do have space heaters and electric blankets (to be switched off during the day), to provide extra warmth.
Yunnan is one of my favorite places in the world, as it features a winning combination of beautiful scenery and unique cultures. Each destination in the province has something special to offer visitors, so pack light and be prepared to dive in!
What are your tips on what to wear in the Yunnan Province? Share in the comments!
For more Asia packing lists, please read:
- What to Wear to Walk the Great Wall of China
- What to Wear in Hong Kong
- What to Wear in Mongolia
- 10-Step Packing Guide for Southeast Asia
Suggested Travel Resources:
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