Are you planning a cultural tour of Yunnan to visit the old towns, but not sure where to go? Here we list the 17 best old towns in Yunnan, including several secret remote villages. They are the souls of Yunnan, and ideal for Chinese minority culture exploration and humanity & architecture photography.
1. Lijiang (Dayan) Old Town (UNESCO)
- Built in 13th Century at the end of Song Dynasty and beginning of Yuan Dynasty
Yunnan’s most famous ancient town, Lijiang Old Town is beautiful and diverse – there are ancient cobbled streets crisscrossed with streams, Naxi characteristic dwellings and architectures, thousand year-old Dongba cultural museums and sites, as well as stylish bars in a lively atmosphere. Traveling around Lijiang Old Town, you can go easily to Tiger Leaping Gorge, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lashihai Lake…
2. Dali Old Town
- Built in 1382 during Ming Dynasty
There is no better place in Yunnan to unwind, without crowds yet without the sense of loneliness. Dali Old Town has everything you long for, from jewel-like lake sparkled with sunlight and lush mountain landscape to quaint fishing villages and unspoiled countryside. No wonder people from concrete jungle wish to stay longer.
3. Dukezong Old Town (Shangri-La Old Town)
- Built in 676 -679 during Tang Dynasty
The soul of Shangri-La and an ancient city on Tea Horse Trading Route connecting Tibet, the old town of Dukezong hasn’t changed much. It is still the Shambhala for local Tibetans, the castle on the stones and the beautiful moonlight city. To travel around Dukezong Old Town, make sure you don’t miss the site of Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, the Napahai Natural reserve, Nixi Pottery Village and snow mountains like Shika or Meili.
>> Highly recommended classic Yunnan tour to Lijiang, Dali, Shangri-La old towns
4. Shaxi Old Town in Dali
- Built in the 4th Century BC
It is neither crowded nor commercial, but retains its serenity and primitive look hundreds years ago. Most travelers find the life experience in Shaxi is quiet, slow and authentic. And they love Shaxi’s Sideng Street with elegant ancient architectures, which is on World Monuments Fund’s endangered sites list.
>> Highly recommended Yunnan tour by bullet train to Shaxi Old Town
5. Jianshui Old Town
- Built in 810 during Tang Dynasty
Loved by travelers and cameramen, the culturally rich JIanshui Old Town is ideal for Chinese architecture discovery and Yunnan folklore experience. Besides, there are many ancient delicacies handed down for generations, must-eat foods in Yunnan for foodies.
>> Highly recommended Yunnan photography tour to Jianshui Old Town plus Yuanyang Rice Terraces
6. Baisha Old Town (UNESCO) in Lijiang
- Built in 738 - 902 during Tang Dynasty
Second only to Dayan Old Town in Lijiang, Baisha is reputed as the ancient kingdom of Naxi. There are the earliest historical and cultural sites and relics of Naxi people, such as Sifang Street and Baisha Murals. Today in Baisha, you can still find Naxi people’s traditional handicraft skills such as embroidery and wood carving.
7. Shuhe Old Town (UNESCO) in Lijiang
- Built in the late 13th Century during Song Dynasty
Shuhe was one of the earliest habitations for Naxi people and also a well-kept commercial town on Ancient Tea Horse Road. It is a must-visit place if you’d like to experience authentic Naxi life. Apart from the Naxi dwelling houses, Shuhe also proudly shows people ancient Dongba culture, symbols and characters.
8. Xizhou Old Town in Dali
- Built in 738 - 902 during Tang Dynasty
With history dating back Dali Nanzhao Kingdom Period, Xizhou retains its essential features of a Bai city. Here you can find China’s best-preserved Bai vernacular dwellings and experience the magic of tie-dye.
9. Weishan Old Town in Dali
- Built in 1217 - 1368 during Yuan Dynasty
Streets, alleys and the layout of Weishan Old Town are well kept in the original style more than 600 years ago, presenting primitive and unique cultural atmosphere. Besides, some of China’s best-preserved Ming and Qing architecture complex can be found here. To travel around Weishan Old Town, you are encouraged visit Weibaoshan Mountain with age-old temples and opportunity to learn Tai Chi.
10. Zhoucheng Village in Dali
It is not an old town, but a traditional Bai village and known as the place of origin of Bai tie-dye. It is the best place to experience the life style of Bai people, with ancient theatrical stage, tie-dye workshops and traditional wet market.
11. Nuodeng Old Town in Dali
- Built over 1000 years ago
Nested in mountains, Nuodeng has been inhibited by Bai people for over 1000 years. Most of the local dwelling houses, memorial archways and family temples were built against the hillside in Ming and Qing dynasties.
12. Nagu Ancient Town in Huize
- Built in the 135 BC
For over 2000 years, Nagu Ancient Town is crucial in trading between Yunnan and Sichuan, and cultural exchange of Central Plains Culture, Sichuan Culture and Yunnan Culture. Things to see in Nagu include Ming and Qing’s ancient buildings, ancient tombs, inscriptions, ancient cliffside artificial post road, and cultural relics in the Neolithic Period.
13. Ganlanba (Olive Dam) in Xishuangbanna
- Built over 1400 years ago
Majestic Buddhist temples, ancient Dai villages, traditional dai customs, cheerful Water-splashing Festival, tasty tropic fruits… find them all in Ganlanba, the most famous ancient town in Xishuangbanna.
14. Heshun Ancient Town in Tengchong
- Built in 1368 – 1644 during Ming Dynasty
A famous hometown of overseas Chinese in Yunnan, Heshun was a commercial city on ancient Southwest Silk Road and connected China with West Asia and South Asia. So Yunnan’s earliest transnational trade began in Heshun. In addition to the cultural sites, Heshun’s peaceful way of life is also fascinated by travelers.
15. Guandu Old Town in Kunming
- Built in 1290 during Yuan Dynasty
In Guandu District, 10km from downtown Kunming, Guandu Old Town is one of the cradles of Ancient Yunnan civilization. There are many ancient buildings, Buddhist temples and pavilions, commonly known as Guandu’s "six temples, seven pavilions, and eight monasteries".
16. Doushaguan Old Town in Zhaotong
- Initially built more than 2200 years ago
Rebuilt after an earthquake in 2006, the “new” Doushaguan Old Town strives to keep its original style. Travel back in time to visit Yunnan’s ancient strategic pass with natural barrier, cliff engravings, hanging coffins…
>> Highly recommended 8 days Yunnan photo expedition to Huize and Doushaguan old towns
17. Zhaotong Old Town
- Built in 1678 – 1735 during Qing Dynasty
Known as the “Autumn City of Yunnan”, the old town of Zhaotong is the place for local history, culture and folklore exploration. For the past 2000 years, the local architectures blend the essence of Chinese official building, temple architecture and residential building, and are cultural heritage of Yunnan.