The 2006 It List

by Charles Runnette

Yunnan, China

Rivers poisoned by chemical spills, smog–choked cities, massive dam projects: Not too many folks think about heading to China for an ecologically wholesome getaway. But few have heard of Yunnan Province—which is about to change. In 2005, 1.7 million foreigners visited Yunnan, in the southwestern part of the country; this year the provincial government is expecting 17 million. Why? Bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar, Yunnan is a lush, mountainous belt of green with 26 different ethnic cultures, 3,000 rare animal species, and stunning natural wonders like Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge. China is marketing the region as "Shangri–La"—and indeed, James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon, which originated that term, was set here. But more important—and more surprising—Beijing is making it a model for ecotourism, bringing in Western environmental groups to help develop nature–friendly projects. The government recently set aside 16 million acres—four times the size of Yellowstone—for the new Great Rivers National Park, and no modern buildings are allowed within the Old City of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for its elegant and simple traditional Naxi architecture. Banyan Tree, the Singapore–based luxury hotel group, recognized the area's potential and last fall opened a lodge in the village of Ringha. Although it mimics the local architectural style, it does so pretty darn fabulously—if a traditional Tibetan farmhouse ever appeared in Architectural Digest, this is what it might look like.

Banyan Tree Ringha
Tel: 86 887 828 8822
Tel: 866 822 6926
Fax: 86 887 828 8911
Email: reservations–ringha@banyantree.com

See also "Shangri La's Last Stand," a feature on Yunnan from the January 2006 issue of Condé Nast Traveler

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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