Tiger Leaping Gorge – A travel itinerary to Yunnan

Tiger Leaping Gorge - A travel itinerary to Yunnan

What is the deepest river canyon in the world? Everybody would probably mention the Grand Canyon in US but only few would think about a place in Yunnan, China, called Tiger Leaping Gorge which has indeed this record, with a canyon as deep as 2000 metres and even more in few points.

Is there anything more astonishing than the sight of two long mountain chains, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains and the Haba Mountains, separated by the 16km long Tiger Leaping Gorge? Well, nature is able to organise some real amazing spectacles and the Tiger Leaping Gorge is for sure one you should put into your personal list of top sites to visit before you retire from travelling (will it ever happen?).

How to reach the Tiger Leaping Gorge ?

It is an easy 80km trip north of Lijiang. You can either come for a long day trip or take your time, enjoy the gorge and stay 3-4 days.

Will you encounter tigers along the trail? Probably not. The name comes from a legend that says that a tiger pursued by a hunter jumped from one bank to another to escape.

We have been travelling in Yunnan for quite few weeks (or maybe months LOL) and we love how there is always a story behind a name of a mountain, a gorge, a canyon, a road. Everything has a legend, or a true story, behind the name. Nothing is there without a good reason.

 

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We met the original inhabitants of this area, the Naxi people, already in Lijiang. That was however in the city, where the modern life has met the local traditions. Here the people live in few small hamlets along the grooves. Their main livelihood is the production of cereals and tourism is starting to be seen as an alternative source of income. Do not expect mass tourism in this area, in fact only few people and that is the beauty of it.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge on a (sketch) map

Start your hiking in the village of Qiaotou. You will here realize how remote is the area. The information center, a grand name for the ticket booth, will provide beside the gorge pass also an old hipster style map, hand drawn! The full hike will take two days with an half way stop over in one of the few hostels along the mountain trail located on the higher side of the gorge where you will experience a magnificent view for literally 48 hours. Hard to get used to it.

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Contemplate your life at the Tiger Leaping Gorge

You will be stunned by the sunset and sunrise over the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, a long chain with peaks over 5000 metres covered by snow even in the summer season. Below you the Tiger Leaping Gorge and on the other side the Haba Mountains. A real spectacle not to be missed. Wake up early in the morning to enjoy the sun moving slowly over the mountain, take a pot of tea and relax

The road built in the valley along the river is frequently blocked by landslides.

Do you want to touch the freezing water?

At the point where the trail joins the road, it is possible to go down to the water’s edge, near the Rock Tiger Leaping to contemplate the power of the stream.

It’s really a ride for those who love nature and the simple life of the Naxi’s mountain people.

I really enjoyed the two days hiking and I came to realize and appreciate the weight of my DSLR camera! Should I buy a mirror less camera for my next hiking?

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Travel & Photograph Tips

  • Ask for a map when paying the entrance fee: 65 RMB
  • It is strongly advised to do this walk outside the rainy season to avoid possible landslide and frequent storms.
  • Do not forget to take winter clothing with you, even in the hot/dry season. You will need them as you will climb on high altitudes
  • For your night in the mountain, opt for a guest house with a balcony to watch the sky in this amazing landscape.
  • There is another entrance ticket to walk down  to the river; yeah! another one again!! (get used to it because the viewpoints are never for free in China LOL)
  • If you do not feel like walking or cycling, you can join a tour group or drive yourself on the road at the bottom of the valley. There are few guest houses along the road where you can spend the night, they are however touristy
  • Take some landscaping photos including the terraced farms, typical of this mountains
  • Flags can be the main subjects of your images, together with the local Naxi houses ad buildings
  • Do remember to include the local Naxi in your photos, they will give an incontrovertible evidence of the place you are visiting

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From Kunming to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, it has been a long trip in Yunnan

It has been a long trip in Yunnan, a trip that took us to so many interesting places!

Would I suggest to visit the Yunnan region?

Most definitely, and guess what? The sooner the better. Tourism has already changed the local life however walk away from the designated path and you will find some real gems.

Places we have visited in this Yunnan travel itinerary:

Lijiang Old Town and Baisha – A travel itinerary to Yunnan

Old town of Lijiang and Baisha - A travel itinerary to the Yunnan

I think you all agree with me that we love travelling because we enjoy discovering the local history and architecture of a place, Do we have this in the old town of Lijiang?

We travel to Rome and we love wondering in the small lane. We visit Paris and we enjoy getting lost in the narrow streets. We fly to Buenos Aires and we marvel at the historical neighbourhoods. Walking and be fascinated by the local history. It does not cost anything but it open everyone eyes to a new world

It is true. Many cities in China have been totally rebuilt, demolishing in most cases the old architecture, buildings that were there for hundreds of years. Somebody call it economical progress.

However look deeper in any region and you will be rewarded with authentic gems, beautiful towns that still keep the formal old Chinese character.

Do not stop in the Old Town of Lijiang! There is another secret small town to visit

And in Today’s post we visit one of the most beautiful and preserved town of the Yunnan Region: the Old Town of Lijiang. We don’t stop just here, we move forward to unveil a little secret, the town of Baisha, so close to Lijiang however so far away from the tourism trail, a town where the Chinese life goes by as it used to be hundreds of years ago.

Lijiang is situated 150km north of Dali and it is the former capital of the Naxi kingdom, one of the China’s minority ethnic groups. The history goes back to the Warring State Period, over 2000 years ago. The geographical position of Lijiang played an important role in the own development. It was right in the middle of the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, the most important trading route from Tibet to Yunnan and the Eastern China.

Following a devastating earthquake in 1996, the old town has been officially added to the  UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. This took new funds to Lijiang that helped to rebuild the old town maintaining the former character typical of the Naxi region, a character made of canals, cobble stone, walkways and bridges that took Lijiang to be know as the little “Venice of Yunnan”.

Similarly to many European cities, the Old Town of Lijiang is still the epicentre of the local life, with the new modern part of the city built around the old town. A remarkable example of how old and new can live together.

 

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Why is Lijiang called the little Venice of Yunnan?

Lijiang is situated at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, also know as Mount Yulong, with peaks as high as 5,500m. The water of the Jade Dragon River flows from north to south of the city, entering the old town in a multitude of little channels. This has created a real maze where you can wonder and walk through the 354 bridges that will remind you, without any doubt, the city of Venice.

The multitude of red fish living in the channels are a clear symbol of good luck in China. The fear of a new earthquake is still alive between the locals, and any symbol absolutely helps, in line with the typical Chinese superstition.

What we do like from Lijiang is exactly the wondering in the maze of cobble stones and bridges, clear inspiration for some amazing photos. We are maybe not enthusiastic with the election of the old town to main tourist center which has transformed the maze in a ……well….a very busy maze during the day, with the typical tourist shops in any corner.

How many times you read “visit XXX before it will be discovered”. Most probably Lijiang has been already discovered 🙂 . Are you more after a preserved authenticity? Have a look at Shaxi.

Old town of Lijiang and Baisha – A travel itinerary to the Yunnan

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The secret village to visit: Baisha

Here is the secret tip you were waiting for:

Take a short bus trip of just 8km and go to Baisha, the first capital of the former Naxi Kingdom.

What you will find?

An authentic village!

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Old town of Lijiang and Baisha – A travel itinerary to the Yunnan

Wander in the small lanes, drink tea and eat the specialties of the Naxi cuisine in a traditional atmosphere; this is the perfect place to relax before trekking in the Yulong Snow Mountain or continuing your journey to the next destination

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Old town of Lijiang and Baisha – A travel itinerary to the Yunnan

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Travel & Photography tips

  • living costs in the old city : 80RMB (AUD17 or Euro12). This will cover you sleep and eating, but not your shopping for typical local products (be selective)
  • wonder in the old town very early in the morning before the massive tourist invasion arrives. This will help you to enjoy your walk and take some stunning photos of the real local life
  • on sunrise, walk on top of one of the many hills around the old town to take a fantastic shot of the local skyline made of the low profile red roofs
  • remember to include one or more of the 354 bridges in your photos! Wait untill the day-tourist will leave, late in the day, to have more space around you
  • there are many minority festivals in this area. Check with your host on what is happening around. This is the best way to experience a culture. But beware, the Chinese use the lunar calendar!
  • go to Baisha for an authentic and relaxed experience
  • enter in the characteristic Baisha shops for some photos of the local life
  • plan some portraits of the Naxi minority

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Old Dali – The unexplored Yunnan region: how to access and photograph it

Old Dali – The unexplored Yunnan region: how to access and photograph it

Located in western Yunnan, between the Erhai lake and the Cangshan Mountains, Dali Old Town is a must see destination.

Capital of the Bai minority, Dali Old Town (just 20km north of the New  Town) is based on the handicrafts industry and mostly on the manufacturing and carving of the Dali marble, famous in all of China. The professionalism and workmanship of the locals has made this town famous in every corner of the country.

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The aesthetics of this marble, coming from the Cangshan mountains quarry overlooking the city, is really exceptional. It is of course the main element of the regional architecture. It’s no coincidence that “marble” is translated in Chinese in “dali shi“, which literally means “stone of Dali“. It is not a surprise that at the beginning of the century, the European expatriates living in China choose Dali as a holiday resort. They even set up a brewery called Dali Beer, today drunk everywhere in China.

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The Old Town of Dali is an ideal place for a few days break; you can tour the historic buildings, you can wander around the artisan markets (popular with tourists), you can venture in the many small lanes of the city or you can explore the surrounding area.

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A popular, although physically demanding, activity is trekking on the Cangshan Mountain between temples, waterfalls and viewpoints. For an easy afternoon you can opt for the cable car to reach the peak of the mountain at 4000 meters. From here, the panorama on Erhai lake is amazing.

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Dali Old Town is situated on the edge of the Erhai lake, an important economy source for the Bai minority, specialised in cormorant fishing, and for the irrigation of the local farming industry. You can easily rent a bike and plan a 2-day cycling around the lake (100-120km) or alternatively an comfortable ride to the Tianjingge scenic area (50km) where you can come back by boat.

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Travel Photography tips

  • Take a night train from Kunming to Dali (大理). Switch to a local bus to go to the Old Town of Dali, around 20km north.
  • Ticket entrance to Cangshan montain : 30RMB
  • Don’t forget warm clothing because the weather can change quickly and you don’t want to freeze when out for sunrise photography!
  • Take the cable car to the Cangshan peak for the best panoramic photo of the valley
  • Venture through the small lanes of the Old Town, you can make some photos of the Chinese life back in the old days
  • Immortalize the contrast of the new hi-tech generation and the old Chinese life style in the Old Town
  • Grab your camera and cycle along the lake side, if you are lucky you can shoot some cormorant fishing activity
  • Stroll among the fishing villages, discover their special technique of fishing, meet bai minority in the crop fields of the valley. All great opportunities for portrait shooting

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Luoping – The unexplored Yunnan region: how to access and photograph it

Luoping is a small county of Buyi minority in Yunnan, located about 230 kilometers east of Kunming city. It has become a Mecca for photographers, who flock to capture the magnificent “yellow sea” during the spring-blooming (February to March) of the rapeseed flowers.

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The rapeseed farms in Luoping are among the biggest and widest in China. Rapeseed flowers are planted to harvest cooking oil which is the base ingredient in the Chinese cooking.

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The blooming buds fill the air with the refreshing smell of the spring that not only attracts human, but also bees!! Luoping is infact a well know place for honey processing.  Every spring bee keepers come here to set up camp sites amongst the rapeseed farms. They spend the season harvesting and collecting honey from the beehives. Local markets are everywhere, have a walk around, shoot some photos of the local life style and look around to find the best hill with a viewpoint to the country side.

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If you are based in Kunming, this is most definitely a good weekend destination to escape from the capital, just few hours by train or bus.

From Luoping organise a half day trip to the Jiulong Waterfalls, listed as one of China’s biggest and most beautiful waterfalls. Entrance is around 60 RMB. Make the trip in the early morning, or sunrise, to shoot the best photos

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On a pleasant walk upstream, you can discover half a dozen waterfalls on Duoyi river. Walk your way up in the hills and, if you are lucky with the fog, you will be in the best place for a fantastic picture.

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Travel Photography Tips

  • come to Luoping in February and March to catch the market vibe, the bee keepers and the awesome yellow colour that cover the valley
  • walk around the markets to shoot the locals and the market life. The people here are very friendly and welcoming
  • remember the most important question for any photographer : Wǒ kěyǐ ba pāizhào? Can I take a picture of you?
  • when in Luoping, have a walk on top of one of the many hills around the town. You will be awarded with the best view and the perfect spot for your landscape photography
  • visit the Jiulong Waterfalls in the early morning. The mist in the valley will add that mysterious factor that will make your photo just perfect
  • follow the Duoyi river and have a climb for a good vantage point, another site for landscape photographers
  • check the map for the top sites to visit

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Duoyishu – The unexplored Yunnan region : how to access and photograph it

The Yuanyang province is an agricultural region known for its crops of rice fields. Perched between 1400 and 2000 meters, many generations of the Hani minority have sculpted the fields relief to implement the own special irrigation technique.

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The Duoyishu village is an extraordinary example of this kind of farming that has now become an amazing tourist place. Hundreds of visitors – and lots of enthusiastic photographers – come at dawn time to throng over the balconies built in few strategic place on the hill side. They all share a few inches of the unique viewpoint.

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These balconies were built by a private company, together with the restaurants and a big parking space to host the many tour buses. The area is delimited and you need to buy a ticket (RMB 180, AUD 38, USD 28) to access the main five viewpoints. You can also decide to bypass the Duoyishu village all together and, although you will miss an awesome view, you will probably feel less guilty in knowing that none of this entrance fee is actually going to the local farmers, subjects of million of photos.

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Can people access the rice fields? The answer is yes, although it took a long legal fight by the Hani farmers which can now host some of the tourists arrived here to admire their unique rice fields

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Today, most the local farmers have a guest house and the rice plantation is no longer their principal income. There are many guest houses in front of the rice fields and these are the best places to stay during your photography trip. From here you can wander around and discover your unique photography spots.

The best time to come here is March, when the rice fields are full of water. However, if you are in the region in the other months of the year, I would definitely plan a visit anyway, you will have a different view, a different way to discover this area

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The Yuanyuang region is mostly populated by the Hani minority. In most of the days they have a market in the villages around Douyishu. My favourite one is in the Sheng Cun village.

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Travel Photography tips

  • come here in March, when the rice fields are full of water. However, if you are in the region in the other months of the year, I would definitely plan a visit anyway, you will have a different view, a different way to discover this area
  • stay with the local farmers and you will be able to wander around with your camera
  • do not miss any sunrise and sunset when here. They are both great opportunities for you photography
  • if you have a DSLR and you are travelling light just plan to take with you a lens to cover between 18-20 and 110-120mm. This will help to take some fantastic landscape shots as well as portraits and life style photography at the local markets
  • check the map for all the major points to visit

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Kunming – The unexplored Yunnan region: how to access and photograph it

The unexplored Yunnan region (South of China) : how to access and photograph it – Kunming

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan district, one of the most remote provinces in China. You can here discover the cultural wealth in the wide variety of traditional clothes, colors and smiles.

In this Chinese trip remember always:

  • the most important question for any photographer : Wǒ kěyǐ ba pāizhào? Can I take a picture of you?
  • the reference map at the end of the post

The city of eternal spring

I lived for 6 months in Kunming and with 8 millions people around me, it’s really an anthill. For China, it is the 16th most populated city. It is regarded by the citizens of Beijing and Shanghai as a resort place and it is nicknamed “the city of eternal spring”.
In winter, from October to early April, thousands of black-headed gulls migrate here from Siberia to stay in the DianChi Lake, on the edge of the city, and the Green Lake. This is an artificial lake built over 300 years ago in the city center. It is a real tourist attraction in the migration months. The local government even allocates annually special funds to encourage people to feed the birds that sleep around the great DianChi lake and they commute to feed in the early morning to the Green Lake

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If you are interested in birdlife photography, this is a must go place to visit

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Outdoor life

Chinese people love to spend a considerable amount of time in public parks and gardens, doing sports and performing group activities as dancing. This is part of the Chinese culture, and interesting part of the local life to observe.
There is a very sweet and pleasant feeling to watch the sunrise with the birds singing and the traditional music on speakers with the elderly people doing their gym, dancing, playing badminton and many other activities (sometime unusual ones).

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The Confucius Park is for the lovers of the Chinese chess and the game of Go. This place is very popular with the male population, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, surrounded by the excited and sometime loud strategy discussions. Move away from the gaming groups and you will find a quiet area in the middle of the urban traffic where time has no hold. This is the perfect place for a break, admire the local flowers and be part of the unique Chinese atmosphere with plenty of portrait photography opportunities

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Urban Landscape

Everyone knows that China is the top concrete consumer in the world. Kunming is a huge construction site. Buildings grow one floor a day and companies build up to 15 towers at the same time! If you like to wander between tools, hoists and the surprised eyes of the local workers, do not hesitate to do it! Do not feel afraid to walk everywhere camera in hand. Such a great place for urban and portrait photography.
Sorry for the street art fans, you will find only displays of the Communist Party here 🙂

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If you don’t suffer of acrophobia, you will have plenty of opportunities for landscape photography from the top of the buildings. It’s very easy to spot a tall building, take the elevator to the top (it is better to choose a finished building cause 28 floor by foot it’s tiresome..) and sometimes the roof door is open and you have 360 degrees of amazing view.

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Suggestion : bring empty SD card and full battery…;)

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Around Kunming – XiChan’s Mountain and the Stone Forest

Go to climb the XiChan’s mountain, overlooking the DianChi’s lake, for a good day out of the city. You can take the cable car to reach the point of view or you can climb through the forest crossing many of the local temples. This path will be your first pilgrimage in the Chinese religion.
From the peak you will have a wonderful view over the huge lake and you can finally realize how big is actually the city.
I would highly suggest also to go to the famous Stone Forest, or Shilin (80 km east of Kunming) – an unusual limestone formation and an amazing site for some landscape photography. Shilin is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Travel Photography Tips

  • come to Kunming in winter (from October to April) if you love bird life and bird photography; you will be rewarded with the fantastic show that is the migration of thousands of black-headed gulls from Siberia to here
  • wake up for an early visit to the local parks. Thousand of locals are there for the daily exercise. Not to be missed
  • visit the Confucius Park for the best portrait opportunities of the elderly chess players
  • wonder around the construction sites. Many possibilities to document the local life of many Chinese builders in these years of huge economy expansion
  • walk or take a lift to the top of the buildings for the best landscape photography. Doors are often open 😉
  • climb to the XiChan’s Mountain for the best vantage point of the city and the lake around it
  • plan a visit to the famous Stone Forest, or Shilin (80 km east of Kunming), an amazing site for landscape photography
  • remember the most important question for any photographer : Wǒ kěyǐ ba pāizhào? Can I take a picture of you?
  • check the map for the top sites to visit for your photography and food experience

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Map with top sites to visit

The unexplored Yunnan region (South of China) : how to access and photograph it

Monks of the monastery

Located in the south west, the province 394,000 km square is the area comprising the largest numbers of different ethnicities. With the proximity to the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam there are 25 different ethnic groups.
You will discover famous tourism sites and unexplored areas : the capital city Kunming, the rice fields of Yuangyuan, the city of Dali, the Luoping landscape, the old city of Lijiang but also a wonderful trek on the edge of the Himalayas and a small village on the silk road.

Unfortunately in Yunnan nobody speaks English so you should learn a little Chinese and this is surprisingly easier than it seems. Speaking few words of Chinese show the locals how interested you are to their culture and as a result people will be keen to help you. (we will give you a pinning form)

Kunming, the Yunnan district capital

The present Kunming airport will become the second of China and will serve all big cities of south west Asia. As of January 2015, it costs around 120 rmb (25 AUD, 17EUR, 19USD) for a taxi to the city center. To avoid unusual high fees, ask for the taxi meter : “Da Biao”.

Spend few days to make a tour of the city, visit the green lake, see the parks early in the morning, wander throught Bird and Flowers Market – typical Chinese market where you can find everything from kitsch to weird – stop to see the “Jing Xing Jewelry World” before going to eat at the delicious restaurant Laofangzi, in the middle of the flowers market.

market

The photography market

If you are in Kunming and you need photographic and/or computer equipment, go to the Electronic Plaza in Yuantong road, which has all that exists. In China, there is a million photographic lovers (Don’t talk to me selfie!) It’s a really huge business and sometimes you will be jostling in a spot…

photo mania

Remember: the marked price is an indication, everything in China can be negotiated, especially if you are a foreigner.
I want …: “Wǒ yào… “- too expensive! : “Tài guì le!” –

And most important, when you travel in the region and you need to buy a ticket, remember this basic sentence – I want to go … : “Wǒ yào qù …” – and the finger on the map 😉

The Yunnan region is well served by plane or by bus/train, as a cheaper alternative. There are several bus stations, based on the geographical direction of your destination. Take a sleeper wagon for a comfortable overnight trip or choose just a seat for a real matchless experience.

The sites visited in this Yunnan travel photography series

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