The beauty of Yunnan and the mysteriously captivating life in Shangrila highland made famous by the movie, “The Lost Horizon” decades ago had been on our mind for a long time. So we had been wanting to tour Yunnan for quite some time. Finally last year, we began to seriously plan for such a tour. The only time we could possibly take such a tour would be in November.
Having checked with a number of tour companies, the tour prices per person for a seven nights packaged tour to Kunming, Dali and Lijiang was around $1500, not including out of pocket money for shopping and dining. For a nine nights packaged tour including Shangrila, the cost would come up to about $2000 per person. There will be other expenses for tour activities to be factored in for such a tour as well.
As such, we decided to plan our own tour to Yunnan. Air ticket wasn’t cheap. Silk Air flies direct to Kunming but air ticket costs too much and China Southern Airline costs about $500 and needs to transit in Guangzhou. Thai Airways so happened was having a promotion for flight to Kunming but had to transit in Bangkok. The cost of the air ticket was under $430. So we took the deal and booked our flights to include a night stay in Bangkok on the way to Kunming so that we would arrive Kunming in much better condition.
Next, we had to do our research on how to travel between the cities in Yunnan. Kunming is close to 1900 m above sea level and Dali has an elevation of 2000 m and more than 430 km from Kunming. Lijiang is about 180 km from Dali and has an altitude of 2400 m. Another 180 km away from Lijiang is Shangrila also known as Zhongdian has an elevation of over 3100 m.
We would have to fly into Kunming, travel to Dali, onward to Lijiang before heading up to Shangrila. This would allow us some time to acclimatize as we travel upward to Shangrila. We would take the same route back to Kunming before flying back to Singapore via Bangkok. This is the usual route for most travellers unless we fly out of Shangrila or Lijiang and transit somewhere before heading for home. Airfare would cost a lot more if we take this route which is not really necessary. The return trip back to Kunming would afford us more time to cover places we missed during our onward journey which isn’t bad at all.
After checking around, it wasn’t that difficult to take public buses to travel between the cities which was also very affordable. Besides, there are many buses travelling between the cities everyday and we won’t have to worry about buying bus tickets in advance. So it then led to deciding which hotel to stay in the different cities. Tripadvisor would come in handy for the research to check out suitable accommodation that was convenient and affordable for our 9 nights stay in Yunnan and another night transit in Bangkok.
Doing our own tour planning allowed us the flexibility to choose where to stay, where to visit and what activities we would like to participate in during the tour at our own time. Following a packaged tour while almost everything is taken care of, would restrict us to an itinerary which would include some time wasting shopping activities where we would likely be coerced into buying stuff that we don’t like and don’t need. We also need to get up very early everyday and return to hotels late as well as wait for everyone in the tour group at various destinations. Thus going on our own would save us more time to enjoy the activities we really like with more freedom to explore places we love.
In addition, location of accommodation for packaged tour would very likely be further away from center of attractions so that tour bus could park in the hotel. So should we wish to explore interesting places during our free time, it would not be convenient and would add to cost for transportation. Planning our own tour, we could even stay in accommodation right inside the ancient city where we could explore tourist attractions without having to take public or private transportation.
We booked our hotels months ahead from Agoda.com that resulted in substantial savings. For Bangkok, we booked Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok, a 5-star hotel via Accor Group during the super sale for around $90 including breakfast. For Lijiang, we would be using our complimentary night stay at the 5-star Pullman Lijiang Resort and Spa during the return leg of the tour.
So our airfare including public transport between cities plus accommodations excluding the Accor complimentary nights stay for the 11 days tour was under $900 per person which was pretty good, much better than taking a packaged tour. We still had quite a lot of cash to spend on shopping and dining as well as tour activities of our choice during the tour.
With all the research done, our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1 Bangkok
Singapore to Bangkok by Thai Airways 1225 to 1345
Day 2 Kunming
Bangkok to Kunming Thai Airways 1055 to 1405
Hotel: Grand Park Hotel Kunming
Spend time at Green Lake area for relaxation, shopping and dinner.
Day 3 Dali
Bus from Kunming West to Dali takes 4.5 h.
Hotel: Yinfeng Hotel
Day 4 Lijiang
Dali to Lijiang by bus takes 2.5-3 h.
Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Lijiang
Day 5 Shangrila
Lijiang to Shangrila by bus takes 4 h.
Hotel: Shangri-La Bodhi Inn
Day 6 Shangrila
Hotel: Shangri-La Bodhi Inn
Day 7 Lijiang
Shangrila to Lijiang by bus takes 4 h.
Check in hotel at Pullman Lijiang Resort and Spa (Complimentary)
Day 8 Lijiang
Stay in hotel at Pullman Lijiang Resort and Spa (Complimentary)
Day 9 Dali
Lijiang to Dali by bus 3.5 h.
Hotel: Yinfeng Hotel
Day 10 Kunming
Dali to Kunming takes 4.5 h.
Hotel: New Era Hotel Kunming
Day 11 Kunming
Full morning for more shopping before afternoon flight home.
Thai Airways Kunming to Bangkok 1520 to 1635
Thai Airways Bangkok to Singapore 1925 to 2245
Day 1 – Singapore to Bangkok
Our flight time to Bangkok was at 12.25 pm which was pretty good. We didn’t have to wake up early morning to rush to the airport. Bangkok was just a transit city for our Yunnan tour and we didn’t need to reach Bangkok very early for shopping activity. It wouldn’t make sense to shop in Bangkok and then bring more stuff to Yunnan.
We arrived Changi Airport late morning to head for an early lunch after checking in our luggage with Thai Airways. Next was a leisurely stroll into the transit area to wait for our flight. Soon we boarded our flight and landed in Bangkok on schedule. The flight was uneventful and Thai Airways service was good. We would try to avoid airlines from China if possible, especially red-eye flights. We were glad we flew Thai Airways and air ticket from this airline wasn’t cheap unless during promotional offer.
It took a while to clear Thai Custom and Immigration. Once cleared, we went to collect our bags. Soon we were out of the airport queuing up to get a ticket number to board a taxi to the city. The taxi queue system was quite orderly.
We boarded a taxi with the meter turned on and we were soon on our way to Bangkok City. About an hour later, we arrived at the hotel, Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok. The taxi driver fumbled around and handed me a taxi bill requiring me to pay 650 Thai Baht. I told him that should not be the fare and he took back the bill and fumbled around again and handed me another bill for 450 Thai Baht. I told him the toll fee plus the meter fare was just slightly over 300 Thai Baht and I handed him 400 Thai Baht. He was unhappy but took the money and then quickly drove off.
This wasn’t our first visit to Bangkok. Unfortunately, some taxi driver would still pull a fast one on unsuspecting tourists with a taxi bill demanding to be paid more than what was required. We were outside the hotel lobby with hotel staff around so this taxi driver couldn’t take advantage of the situation. There are taxi drivers in Ho Chi Min City who would not alight tourists at the hotel where hotel staff would be there to come to the aid of hotel guests. They would stop some distance away and then make demands and sometimes with threats. So taking taxi ride in foreign land can be quite a headache at times.
After this incident, we entered the hotel. Front desk staff of this 5-star hotel was professional and friendly. We were checked in very quickly. We were also upgraded to a suit on a high floor. We reminded front desk our Accor members welcome drinks and we were promptly given drinks vouchers.
We then went to our suit room and found it to be really huge. The suit included a big living area with a kitchenette and a big fridge. Bedroom was huge as well and bathroom came with a bathtub and full range of toiletries. There were two TVs, one in the living room and the other in the bedroom with plenty of channels to watch.
Wifi was excellent and the views of the city was superb. Although furniture was showing its age, the suit was clean and bed very comfortable. This suit was too big for the two of us. This really made our day for the start of our Yunnan tour transiting in Bangkok. Having settled in and with nothing else to do in the hotel we went to roam the exciting city of Bangkok.
Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok is located off the main road at Nana BTS Station. This location is very good to shop at Terminal 21 which is not far away. So we headed down the main road along Sukhumvit Road. It was just 4.30 pm and the street was bright and busy. We walked towards Asok BTS Station and then crossed the road over to Terminal 21 Mall for some window shopping. This mall is very modern and interesting. Spending time here for a quick look around would soon fill up our time to head for dinner.
We left Terminal 21 and then walked back towards Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok. After passing The Westin Grande Sukhumvit we entered Hotel Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit. This is another 5-star luxury hotel under the Accor Group. We loved to dine here and then watch Bangkok City on the top floor outside the rooftop bar for a fabulous view of this dynamic city.
We were actually very early and the buffet dinner wasn’t quite ready. My wife and I were the only diners at the restaurant and the waitress served us patiently. We weren’t very hungry so we ordered some Thai dishes from the a la carte menu. This simple dinner was great and as Accor Plus members, we enjoyed dining discounts as well. After dinner, we went up to the rooftop bar.
Outside the bar was the city soon turning to a different vibe as evening beckoned. It was still bright but the sun was already at the far end. It was great to catch the sunset on top of one of Bangkok’s high rise buildings to witness the transformation of the city from the busy hectic day to its mesmerizing night Bangkok was famous for. A slight warm wind was blowing during this sunset hour.
During our last visit, we caught the fantastic night view of the city with its glittering lights glowing all over the skylines of the city. The wind up here was always refreshing and it was getting stronger and colder after the sun went down. We took our time to soak in the moment. How often do we get to enjoy a great sunset over a great city and watch the dimming of the city turning bright again against the backdrop of a black curtain night sky giving this city another dimension that is distinctly Bangkok!
Having indulged our eyes up on the rooftop bar, it was time to descend to head back to Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok. It was already dark when we hit the street. It was a lot warmer on the street level than up on the rooftop earlier. We continued our walk along the direction of Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok but on the opposite side of the road. We passed Nana BTS Station and then walked further and eventually entered Nana Square Plaza.
There were some clothes on promotion at the open atrium area and nothing much that was worth our time to roam this small mall. So we exited the mall and crossed the road and went back to Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok. It didn’t take very long to reach the hotel. We weren’t interested in the night life here as we wished to prepare ourselves for our actual vacation to tour Yunnan the next day.
Back at Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok, with the help of the hotel staff, we managed to check in our flight for the following day. We then went over to the lounge for our welcome drinks. We settled down comfortably and ordered two slices of cakes as well with a 50% discount during the evening. We had hot beverages for our welcome drinks to go with the cakes. It was really nice to sit down to rest and enjoy our refreshment over some nice piano music at the lounge.
When we were done, we returned to our suit room. The night view of Bangkok City from our room was gorgeous too. We spent some time looking out and enjoyed this night view of Bangkok at a height. This upgraded suit was very good. Nevertheless, the room was really too big for the two of us.
We watched TV for awhile in the living room and then adjourned to continue watching TV in our bedroom. The children were kept up to date of our travel plans and all was well for the children back home as well as our first day of the vacation.
So our Yunnan tour had been set into motion with Bangkok as our first stop. We were very pleased with this arrangement and being upgraded to a suit room was an added bonus indeed. Hence, with much excitement and anticipation, we headed to bed to look forward to our arrival in Kunming the next day.
Continue to Day 2 …