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Yunnan off the beaten track: two days in Yiliang (宜良)

Yiliang (宜良县) it’s a small county in Yunnan famous for the tea, the roast duck and the hospitality of its people. Find out the top things to do and to see.

yi woman picking up tea leafes

Yiliang it’s a small county in Yunnan (small by Chinese standards) with only 430.000 inhabitants. If you Google “Yiliang” you’ll see that there isn’t that much info about this place.

So how did I end up attending a festival organized to celebrate the tea that grows in the county’s mountains? A Chinese friend of mine from Yiliang invited me to spend the weekend in the city. It’s always interesting to visit places off-the-beaten-path especially in China where the welcome you receive in remote areas is difficult to describe, so I was happy to accept the invitation.

At the end of the trip I can say that Yiliang surprised me: even if it hasn’t any nature reserve or protected area, the people of this county have done a lot to promote their territory, which is no small thing in China. You can find an example of this if you decide to visit some of the colorful rice fields in the county. But what struck me most was the hospitality of the people that I met in these two days. Although foreigners are generally always treated well in China, nowhere else in China have I had such a welcome.

I can only say that the more I travel the more I realize how much I have to learn in this regard.

A short introduction about Yiliang

yiliang at sunset

Yiliang (宜良县) it’s a county that belongs to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. It lays at an elevation of about 1.600 meters above sea level and it’s easily accessible from Kunming as there are daily buses that depart every 15 minutes from the east bus station (昆明东部汽车客运站). The ticket costs just 25 RMB one way.

The city is still quite small but it’s developing rapidly. One of the main attractions of the county is Jiuxiang caves (九乡), which I talked about in another article. Besides the caves, the county is famous for two things: the tea that grows on the Baohong mountain and the roast duck. Most of the people who live in Yiliang belong to the Han ethnic group (we refer to them as Chinese people) but there is also a large population of Yi and Hui ethnic groups.

There’s not much to see in town. The only exception is the complex of Buddhist and Taoist temples called Yanquan (岩泉寺) built on the side of a mountain. There are many legends about this place including that of a monk who discovered the secret of immortality.

Buddhist and Taoist temple in yan quan yiliang

One of the many statues in the Yanquan complex

Legends aside, it’s a very interesting place to visit and it’s not very crowded. Being built on the side of a mountain is surrounded by trees and it’s very peaceful.

The roast duck of Yiliang

peking duck in yiliang

Roast duck is one of the most famous dishes of Beijing and there are traces of this recipe dating all the way back to the year 1330 AD. Since the mid-1900s it has become one of China’s most iconic dishes.

Yiliang is famous for a slightly different version of the original recipe:

  • the oven is made with mud bricks
  • pine branches and needles are used instead of the Gaoliang hardwood to heat the oven
  • honey is used instead of malt syrup for the glaze
  • in addition, the ducks used in the Yiliang version of the recipe are semi-wild and therefore a bit tastier than the Beijing ducks.

Personally, I prefer the version of Yiliang. If you want to try it, the best place is the restaurant Xuecheng (学成饭店). Every day at lunch and dinner there is a special ceremony where 12 ducks are cooked in a special oven. The bricks are made with mud taken from different places in the world.

yiliang peking duck xuecheng restaurant

The oven is made with a single block of bronze and was built in Xian.

As you can imagine the place is very popular in the city and is not very suitable for vegetarians.

The Baohong tea

baohong tea yiliang

Baohong means “vast treasure” and is the name of the mountain on which this particular tea grows. Originally from the Fujian Province, it was first introduced to Yunnan over 1000 years ago. The main characteristic of this tea is that only the small leaves are harvested and therefore the taste is less bitter than other varieties of tea.

Unfortunately, it grows exclusively on one mountain, and therefore the production is very limited. Moreover, unlike other types of tea, such as Pu’er, it should be consumed fresh, according to the locals not later than June or before the Dragon Boat Festival. Considering that it is harvested in March it is very difficult to find Baohong tea at other times of the year.

The reason why I was invited to Yiliang is to attend an event organized by the local government to celebrate the beginning of the tea harvest season. The families living in the Baohong mountain belong mainly to the Yi minority (if you want to know more about the Yi ethnicity you can read this article on Wikipedia) and were involved in organizing the festival.

yi family

Dressed in their traditional costumes, the White Yi and Black Yi started the celebration with traditional songs and dances, followed by a ceremony to ingratiate their gods (the Yi are mainly animists).

Near the plantations, there are also some small workshops where the tea is processed and packaged. The price of the tea varies from year to year but as you can imagine it is one of the most expensive types of tea in Yunnan.

baohong tea yiliang

And this was pretty much it. Yiliang is not the most interesting place in Yunnan, but if you have some spare time while staying in Kunming you can consider visiting this nice county.

Useful info to visit Yiliang

minority family yi in yiliang yunnan china
  • The easiest way to get to Yiliang is from Kunming by bus from the east bus station (昆明东部汽车客运站). There is one every 15 minutes. Here you can find some flights to Kunming.
  • Not all hotels in China can accommodate foreigners so you should book before you leave using Booking.com.
  • As always, before leaving for China get a VPN if you want to use internet, otherwise you will not be able to access sites like Gmail, Google, Facebook or apps like Whatsapp or Messenger.
  • In this article you will find my China travel guide.

On this page, you can find my reportage about the “Lotus Feet”. Here is my travel guide to Xishuangbanna, in southern Yunnan. Here is an article about another nice place close to Kunming and Yiliang: Mile and here are some info about Fuxian Lake near Kunming.

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