Yunnan Activity

Cultural activities, what to experience in Yunnan

Eunice Tang
4084 Words/17 Minutes, By Eunice Tang, Updated May 08, 2023

Yunnan Pu-erh tea & coffee bean

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Food
  • Duration: Half a day each
  • Location(Pu-erh tea): Puerh/ Xishuangbanna/ Dali
  • Location(coffee bean): Puerh/ Xishuangbanna

Pu-erh tea or dark tea is a type of fermented tea that is produced in Yunnan. Farmers in Yunnan have been growing tea for thousands of years. Drinking Pu-erh tea has a lot of health benefit, including aiding in weight loss, strengthening immune system, and reducing cholesterol. In this half day journey, you will take part in pressing tea leaves into a dense block, sampling of Pu-erh tea and more. Also, you can experience tea leave picking at the plantation area in March and April. Tea leaves can be harvest from February to November but those picked before May taste the finest. At the end of this session, you can bring home the compressed tea cake you have made. Tea lovers would not want miss this half day journey with us.

Manufacturing process of Pu-erh tea is similar to that of green tea, but with additional fermentation process. Processed tea leaves are compressed into blocks and then are left to age for weeks or even years for fermentation to take place fully. Its taste and fragrance differs significantly with time. The older Pu-erh would have strong and earthy aftertaste while younger ones would have refreshing and botanic aroma with slight bitterness taste. A few more steps are involved before re-pressing fermented tea leaves into different shapes for transport and storage convenience. Pu-erh tea leaves are compressed into different shapes, such as bricks, cakes and bowl-shaped. Tea cakes which are also known as “bing cha” are disc-shaped, and “tuo cha” are in small bowl-like shape. Over centuries, Chinese gave fragrant compressed tea leaves in beautiful wrapping as gifts.

Always known for Yunnan Pu-erh tea, people rarely know about the coffee produced in Yunnan too. Originally, coffee tree was introduced from France to Yunnan. After centuries, vast coffee plantations are found in many parts of Yunnan. Coffee produced in Yunnan has a fruity fragrance, aromatic but not overwhelming, refreshing with a mild bitter taste. Harvest coffee once a year when most of the coffee cherries are ripe. From October to December you can experience coffee bean picking and see how coffee beans are produced in the factory. If the factory has stone mills, which is used in the past to grind processed coffee beans into powder, you will have the chance to try your hand at grinding coffee beans in the traditional way.

Dongba paper making

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Art & Architecture/ History
  • Duration: 1.5 – 2 hours
  • Location: Lijiang

The skill of Dongba paper-making was introduced to Yunnan during the Three Kingdoms Period (220A.D.-280A.D.). Dongba paper is mainly used by monks to record Dongba scriptures. Though has a rough and slightly ocher surface, it is resistant to insect infestation and is durable with a longevity for more than thousand years. This special paper is made from the bark of a type of stringbush plant, wikstroemia delavayi, noted for its well-developed bast fiber. This type of plant can only be found in Lijiang and Shangri-La. Artisan will need to cook those barks before peeling off the dark skins and tearing the white remaining into strips. Those strips are then cooked the second time for days under carefully controlled fire. Soften fibers are then beaten and hammered until they are exceptionally thin and soft. Soak it in water for days. In Lijiang, you will get the chance to learn about Dongba culture and try your hand at Dongba paper making. Roll the half-dry paper with a pin roller to flatten it before let it dry under the sun. You can bring home the Dongba paper you have made.

Lijiang Nakhi copper craft

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: 2 hours

Lijiang copperware used to be a bulk goods sold to regions along the ancient Tea Horse Road or the Southern Silk Road. Residents here use variety of copperwares in their daily lives. Though you can find a few copperware stores in Lijiang, there aren’t many coppersmiths left today as this traditional craftsmanship has greatly been replaced by machines. In Basha Ancient Town, a 35 minute drive from Lijiang, we will visit a famous coppersmith here and learn to do modern Nakhi-style copperware from him. Down the winding lanes, in one of the courtyard, meet the craftsman whose family have been doing copper craft for six generations. He can do almost all kinds of copperwares, ranging from spoons to hot pots and vats. Admire the craftsman as he bangs on half done copperware and tells us about the history of Nakhi copper craft. Then, try your hand at making copper bookmark, plate or spoon.

Nakhi embroidery Lijiang

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Location: Lijiang

Basha ancient town in Lijiang is the centre of Nakhi embroidery. Nakhi women have been making handicrafts and intricate embroidery for generations. In Baisha Old Town, we will visit a local Nakhi embroidery institute and learn some basic stitches used in Nakhi embroidery. At the institute, see a gallery of embroidery works and a number of local women learning traditional Nakhi embroidery with the master. Talk to one of the teacher here and gain insights into this ancient tradition. Suitable for all age groups, under the guidance of friendly teacher, people with or without embroidery background are welcome to join the one hour class. You can choose to embroider on handkerchief, coil purse, coaster or pencil case. There are others experiences relating to Nakhi culture available in the institute. Classic Nakhi dance or the Dongba dance is a kind of religious dance being played in sacrifice events. Most of them show local’s fight against the evil forces. If you are interested to watch Dongba dance, listen to Nakhi traditional instruments performance, or experience Dongba prayer ceremony, feel free to check out more information from our trip advisers.

Writing Dongba pictographic scripts

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Art & Architecture/ History
  • Duration: 1 – 1.5 hours
  • Location: Lijiang

Dongba pictographic scripts is the only living pictography in the world. Dongba refers to both the religion and the priests of Nakhi people in Yunnan. Dongba means “wise man” in Nakhi language. Originated in the early Tang dynasty, Dongba writing has a history of over 1,000 years. This exquisite writing, sometimes with vivid colours, reflects the well wishes and beliefs of Nakhi people while depicting their daily lives. If travelling to Lijiang is part of your plan and you are interested to know more about local culture, then join this Dongba pictography writing class. This is a great opportunity for you to explore the rich Nakhi minority culture and to learn their pictograph characters. Besides, if you are interested to watch Dongba dance, listen to Nakhi traditional instruments performance, and experience Dongba prayer ceremony, feel free to check the details with our trip advisers. (Writing Dongba pictography with different sizes, with or without colour and frame would have a difference in the cost, consult us for different options available.)

Purple pottery OR black pottery class

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: 1-2 hour
  • Location: Jianshui County/ Nixi Village

Jianshui pottery has about 3,500 years of history, dated back to the Neolithic Period. While Nixi Village has a long history of making black pottery. Food cooked using these two types of potteries are more delicious. Black pottery is widely used by Tibetan for cooking, cultural and religious ceremonies. In Nixi Village, almost every household know how to make black pottery and it is a source of income for many families. In this short session either in Jianshui or Nixi, you will learn how to knead the clay to get the air out of it and technique of shaping the clay from the artisan. Shaping is a tango between skill and speed as you need to control your strength when shaping the dough while the wheel is spinning. Due to time limit, we will dry the purple pottery under the sun instead of firing in kiln.

Benzilan wooden bowl painting

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Location: Diqing County

Tibetan like to use wooden bowls to drink yak butter tea and for daily use. It is not uncommon to see people carry small wooden bowls around with them. In the past, each person had only one wooden bowl in a lifetime. Wooden bowls is an inseparable part of Tibetan life. Craftsmen of wooden bowl pass on their intangible cultural heritage from generation to generation. One of the best Tibetan wooden bowl is made from Benzilan Town in Diqing. Making wooden bowl is not easy. To make wooden bowl, craftsman need to select suitable solid wood pieces, which are usually trunks and knots from birch tree and Tung trees. Wooden bowl can be polished and left unpainted or can decorated with beautiful designs and patterns, sometimes even adorned with a layer of silver carved with exquisite patterns. Visit a local Tibetan craftsman, watch him shaping and polishing the wooden bowls before learn to paint some Tibetan-style designs on the wooden bowl. By the end of the session, bring home your handicraft as souvenir of this trip.

Experiencing Tibetan culture in Yunnan

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Food/ History/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: Half a day
  • Location: Deqin

Deqin Prefecture of Yunnan is one of the fantastic places to experience Tibetan culture outside Tibet. Near the border of Yunnan and Tibet, we will spend half day visiting some artisan and interact with the local there. Visit a village near Meili Snow Mountain and see how Tibetan wool weaving and Tibetan costume are done. Tibetan apron and delicately embroidered traditional Tibetan costumes are both vibrant in colour with beautiful designs. Woolen threads used to make wool products here are often soaked and boiled with natural dyes. Interact with the people there to understand more about Tibetan culture straight from the local’s mouth. Next, visit a Tibetan’s house to understand local’s daily routines and Tibetan food culture. Try yak butter tea, yak cheese and khapse, as the host tells you the stories about his family living here for generations. Khapse are prepared as offerings, festive gifts or simply a teatime snack. It is often enjoyed with yak butter tea or sweet tea. It comes in variety of shapes, such as long khapse, lotus shape, braids, and crispy circle. Tibetan believed that this food also helps to ward off bad luck. Get the opportunity of making khapse with the help of the host. Tibetan prayer flags adorned with auspicious symbols, prayers and mantras are used to promote peace, compassion and wisdom. The five different colour of the prayer flags represent the air, fire, water, earth, and space. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is believed that the energy and mantras on prayer flags will be lifted by the wind to the universe, spreading happiness, good wishes and peace. Spot colourful prayer flags flutter in the wind in northern Yunnan. During this trip, we will print our own prayer flag at a local’s house.

Puja ceremony at Ganden Sumtseling Monastery

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ History/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: Half a day

Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery situated 3,400 metres in elevation in Diqing Prefecture. First built in 1679, this combination of Tibetan and Chinese-style architecture is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan. In this half day tour, not only will you visit the monastery, but also participate in Puja ceremony. Puja ceremony or the prayer ceremony is made up of ritual, chanting, meditation, prayers and mantra, which mainly assist in people’s quest to deal with difficulties in their life, overcome suffering and to attain freedom for samsara and to attain enlightenment. Receive khata from the monk upon arrival and give one back as return, which is Tibetan way of welcoming and to give blessings to visitors. We will participate in puja ceremony and listen to monks’ chanting. In the monastery, sometimes you can see groups of monks debating in the courtyard. Due to the high altitude, you are advised to arrive one day in advance to get acclimatized. Also, prepare enough clothing when visiting.

Reba handheld drum

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Location: Tacheng Town

Reba dance is a type of Tibetan folk dance performed to worship god. Sacrificial rites are held before the performance, while during the performance dancers will beat their handheld drums and dance to the rhythms. This Tibetan handheld frame drum supported by a handle is played with a crooked beater. Reba dance involves lots of difficult movements such as acrobatic and martial art. In this short session, you will visit a local craftsman of Tibetan handheld drum, see how this instrument is being made, and learn to paint simple pattern that is commonly seen on the drum on cotton fabric or paper. If you want to paint on the drum, you can buy one from the craftsman. But note that this handmade drum is quite expensive, with the smallest drum (20cm dimeters) costs around 800 yuan.

Matsutake OR mushroom picking & cooking class

  • Type: Food/ Nature & Wildlife
  • Duration: 1 day
  • Location: Shangri-La (matsutake); Shaxi (mushroom)
  • Months: July- August (matsutake); May- October (mushroom)

Yunnan’s mountains are remote, rugged and inaccessible, but below the canopy hides China’s riches natural treasure. There are only two seasons in Yunnan, rainy season and dry season. Rainy season in northern Yunnan is usually from late May to end of October. As rain fall upon Shagari-La, mushrooms in the pine and oak forest shoot up after every heavy rain. In the rainy season, we will spend no less than half a day either in forest of Shangri-La in search of matsutake or hunt for wild edible mushrooms deep in the mountainous region of Shaxi. Spend the rest of the day learning how to use these ingredients to prepare some delicious local gastronomy.


Matsutake, or the pin mushroom, is a precious and edible fungus, surviving in only pollution-free high-altitude mountainous region. Matsutake grows on forest floor and are often hidden under fallen leaves and branches. And, high quality ones hide deep in the earth. It is hard to find in the forest, usually one in every kilometre. A keen eye and good stamina are needed to find this fragrant delicacy. Shangri-La yields the best matsutake mushroom. You can find matsutake from July to August, after this all the matsutake will be gone. Follow a local up the mountain early in the morning and spend two-third of the day finding wild matsutake. During the search, you will learn how to identify poison mushrooms and edible ones. We will have our lunch (take-away food) in the forest before we continue the journey (remember to bring along the trash and dispose into the dustbin). Matsutake is regarded as treasure and even to villagers familiar with the forest, to find matsutake is entirely by luck. After digging up the matsutake, remember to cover the pit with pine needles to preserve hypha and to ensure sustainable yields.

Out the forest with gift from nature, we will learn how to make matsutake dishes at a Tibetan’s home. (If we aren’t that lucky enough to find any matsutake, pre-picked matsutake will be used instead.) Matsutake is very expensive as one matsutake dish cost over a thousand yuan. Such luxurious food materials need only to be cooked simply. It can be eaten raw with wasabi or chili sauce, or can be lightly roasted. Matsutake has a unique spicy-aromatic flavour, with a single bite, its spice and mineral-like fragrance is released. You can also use it in dishes like pan-fried matsutake with meat and matsutake steamed rice.


You can also choose to pick mushroom in the forest near Shaxi from May to October. Note that wild mushroom has to get enough rain and sunshine before it pushes out of the earth, thus, the amount of mushroom we can find is uncertain. Early in the morning, follow a local villager who is familiar with the forest to find this treasure given by nature. Good stamina is required as we will spend more than half of the day searching for wild mushrooms. When picking those wild mushrooms, it is important to harvest in the right way, improper harvest can damage its hyphae. In the evening, learn how to cook these mushrooms from a local chief, whether it is stir-fried mushroom, mushroom salad or mushroom hotpot. Note that if there is any occurrence of forest fire, all are prohibited to enter the forest for safety reason.

Ancient Tea and Horse Road

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Food/ History/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: 1 day

Ancient stone pathways built thousands years ago, winding eastwards into the hills and forests. They were once some of the most important trade routes in Asia. The southwestern Tea and Silk Road, which became known as the Tea and Horse Road, gave access to the world beyond China’s borders, carrying tradesmen and travelers with foods from as far away as Rome. The most important route was to Tibet where Chinese tea was traded for war horses. In this one day trip, we will experience ancient part of Tea and Horse Road on horseback near Shaxi Ancient Town, where the only ancient trade market remained on the Southwestern Silk Road. In Shaxi Ancient Town, see one or two elderly, bent with age and supported by homemade walking stick amble down cobblestones-paved road. Though nowadays this town no longer is bustling with people, it’s still easy to imagine horses neighing, bells decorated their jingling, and men shouting orders here. Over thousand years, teams of traders hoisted pounds of tea packs onto their backs to join their caravan. Follow their footsteps along this storied road on horseback, experience the life of horse caravan and enjoy horse caravan meal for lunch.

Meeting artisan of Nuodeng salt

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Food
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Location: Nuodeng Ancient Village

Move westwards from Dali and visit Nuodeng Ancient Village on a lush mountain side. Nuodeng village is well known for its natural salt and ham. Filled with mudbrick residences from Ming and Qing dynasty, in this village, there is an ancient salt well that produces saline water. This salt well has been existed for more than 2,000 years dated back to the Han dynasty. Benefited from its potassium-rich natural salt, Nuodeng enjoyed centuries of prosperity. Settled along the ancient Southern Silk Road, Nuodeng salt was transported using horses, mules and donkeys all the way to Tibet and India. Even till today many villagers continue to extract salt from saline water by boiling it over large wood-fired cauldrons for own use and as a source of income. Salt is then compressed into small blocks. We will visit a family that still keep this skill and see how salt is made the traditional way.

The village is also famous for its salted ham and Nuodeng salt is one important ingredient. Stroll around the ancient village and pay visit to some local families, you can spot pickled hams hanging under the celling or roofs in their houses. People will spread layers and layers of salt on the ham repeatedly. Layer of stove ash with mixture of Nuodeng salt and mud are used to cover the ham. Put salt pickled hams in a container for weeks before suspending them in a cool and ventilated place with a rope for at least three years. When the weather become warm and wet, salted hams begin to mildew and that layer of mold pushes hams into a deep fermentation process. Hams over 3 years old can be eaten rare. These mature hams with green molds taste the best. The outer layer will be removed when serving. Rich flavour, tender meat and strong aroma, you should try it when in Nuodeng.

Wood carving class in Shaxi

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Art & Architecture
  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Location: Shaxi Ancient Town

Jianchuan County is well known for its exquisite wood carving. This craftsmanship in Jianchuan was started in the Song dynasty. Most of the population here are Bai ethnic minority and you can spot stone and wood carvings almost on every ancient Bai-style housing. Located on the ancient Tea and Horse Road, Shaxi Ancient Town in Jianchuan County is a well preserved caravan oasis town. Wooden housings and winding streets, we will visit a local craftsman here and learn about the art of wood carving. This 4 hour lesson is of manageable level. Learn how to use different carving tools from your teacher and design a palm size wood carving of your own. You can bring your art piece home as a souvenir. There is a market in town every Friday, where you can see people trading goods and livestock.

Yunnan cheese-making class

  • Type: Cultural Immersion/ Food
  • Duration: 2 hours each
  • Location: Shaxi

Traditional Chinese cuisine hardly incorporated dairy products into any dishes, but in Yunnan, many of the popular food are made from dairy products. A few ethnic minority groups here has been making cheese for centuries. Yunnan cheese, or what the locals call it “Ru Bing” and “Ru Shan” are famous local food. In Shaxi, where most of the people are Bai ethnic minority, you will join in a cooking class and learn how to make either Ru Bing or Ru Shan.

Ru Bing, similar to halloumi cheese, is made from goat milk. The process of making Ru Bing is similar to that of making tofu. It can be eaten in many different ways, roasted, baked, fried or steam. Some are cut into cubes and stir-fried in a wok with other ingredients – something you would only find in China. Most common way of eating Ru Bing is to cut it into slices and fried to golden. You can eat it plainly or dipped it in sweet or chili sauce. Tofu-like taste with a mild milk flavour.

Ru Shan, literately means “milk fan” due to its shape, has a toasty but sweet and sour tastes. The process of making Ru Shan, in short, is to stretch milk curds into sheets and wrap around sticks before left to dry. It is usually deep fried, giving it a light and crispy texture, and can be severed with sweet cream. Sometimes, it can be rolled around a stick, grilled and covered in rose jam. Chewy and flavourful like caramelised cheese stick. Also, find it in three-course tea ceremony of the Bai people.

Eunice Tang

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