Yunnan, China (CNN)If there’s a downside to visiting Yunnan, it’s that one trip simply isn’t going to be enough.
China’s southwestern province is its most ethnically diverse.
It’s home to 25 of the country’s 56 recognized ethnic groups.
And each has a unique culture and cuisine.
Then there’s dramatic landscape and breathtaking views that are rumored to have inspired the Shangri-la of James Milton’s “Lost Horizon.”
Here are some of the highlights:
Hani Rice Terraces
Yes, there’s fried cheese in China — and it’s amazing.
Unlike soft or crumbly Western goats cheeses, Yunnan’s version is firm.
It’s sometimes eaten with Xuanwei ham — another regional specialty.
Barbecue, Yunnan style
Because of its location just over the border from Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos, Yunnan cuisine uses spices and herbs more reminiscent of Southeast Asia.
Typical dishes include meat, fish and mushrooms wrapped in pandan or banana leaves, infused with chilies and garlic and then barbecued to perfection.
They’re then served with a side of sweet and spicy fish sauce.
Chicken wings are stuffed with sticky rice and grilled.
And no barbecue is complete without lamb and beef skewers.
A few of these and a bottle of beer makes a delicious dinner at any night market.
The palm tree-lined streets of Xishuangbanna’s capital Jinghong feel more like Thailand than mainland China.
Xishuangbanna is an autonomous prefecture, sitting in the south of Yunnan near the border with Laos.
Even in December, daytime temperatures climb to nearly 30 C.
The region is home to the Dai ethnic minority, which makes up about 30% of Yunnan’s population.
Buddhist temples, the Mengla Tropical Rain Forest and ethnic minority parks are some of the places to visit.
There’s also a pedestrian path that stretches for kilometers along the bank of the Mekong River.
Getting there and around
Trips to the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain can be booked through guesthouses or the many travel agency booths spread throughout Lijiang Old Town.
Most tours are in Chinese.
Alternatively, private minivans seating up to six people, can be flagged down in the road or hired in front Lijiang’s main bus station.
The China Highlights website offers good tips on hiking the gorge.
Any group tour to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain will include a stop at the Blue Moon Valley and the cable car trip up to the mountain.
Alternatively tickets can be purchased separately from the main visitor center at the base of the mountain.