Three parallel rivers Travel Guide

A comprehensive travel guide for Three Parallel Rivers, including top attractions, activities, itinerary, accommodation, food, culture, transportation, and more.

Introduction to Three Parallel Rivers

Three Parallel Rivers National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Northwestern Yunnan, China, where the Jinsha, Lancang, and Nu rivers run parallel to each other for over 300 kilometers. The park has numerous natural wonders, including the deepest canyon in Asia, the unspoiled forest, and rare endemic species, making it a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. Additionally, Three Parallel Rivers is a region with a rich cultural heritage, with various ethnic minority groups living here, including Lisu, Tibetans, Naxis, and Bais, each with unique customs, rituals, and festivals.

List of Places to Visit in Three Parallel Rivers

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

  • Yunnan Ethnic Village Museum: This museum showcases the traditional architecture, clothing, crafts, and customs of 25 ethnic minorities in Yunnan, including the ones residing in Three Parallel Rivers.
  • Dongba Cultural Museum: This museum exhibits the Dongba script, the only hieroglyphic script in the world still in use, and the Dongba culture of the Naxi ethnic group.
  • Songzanlin Monastery: Also known as Ganden Sumtseling Monastery or ‘Little Potala Palace’, it is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan, situated in the valley of Shangri-la.
  • Old Town of Lijiang: Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this charming medieval town features a network of canals and bridges, traditional courtyard houses, and the ancient Dongba Culture.

Natural Attractions of Three Parallel Rivers: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

  • Tiger Leaping Gorge: The deepest canyon in Asia offers heart-pumping hiking trails with breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks and the turbulent Jinsha River.
  • Haba Snow Mountain: The highest peak in northwestern Yunnan, reaching an altitude of 5396 meters, is popular among mountaineers, trekkers, and winter sports enthusiasts.
  • Shangri-la: Known as the “Lost Horizon,” this mythical utopia is a place of dramatic landscapes, pristine lakes, rolling fields, and virgin forests, perfect for trekking and camping.
  • Meili Snow Mountain: Revered by Tibetan Buddhists as the home of Kang Karpo, a sacred peak of 6740 meters, this mountain range is a natural splendor of glaciers, rivers, and valleys.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Three Parallel Rivers

  • Tiger Leaping Gorge Trek: A two-day adventure offering stunning views of the gorge, waterfalls, and the surrounding mountains. The trek starts from Qiaotou village in Lijiang and ends at Daju village.
  • Yubeng Village Trek: A challenging five-day hike that takes you to remote and unspoiled destinations in the Meili Snow Mountain range, including the Yubeng Waterfall, Ice Lake, and the sacred Dongzhulin Monastery.
  • Shangri-la Biking Tour: A ten-day cycling tour that covers over 400 kilometers, taking you through the beautiful scenery of Shangri-La, including the Baima Snow Mountain, Napa Lake, and the Dukezong Ancient Town.
  • Haba Snow Mountain Summit Trek: An intense four-day hike requiring mountaineering equipment and experience, rewarding you with panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges and glaciers.

Best Things to Do in Three Parallel Rivers: Activities and Tours

  • Rafting: The Jinsha and Nu rivers are ideal for rafting, offering a thrilling adventure through the rapids, with the stunning backdrop of the mountains and forests.
  • Cultural Tours: Take a guided tour to explore the local cultures and traditions of the ethnic minority groups, including visiting local families, trying ethnic cuisines, and attending folk festivals.
  • Bird Watching: Three Parallel Rivers is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over 150 species of rare and endemic birds, including the black-necked crane, giant hornbill, and snow partridge.
  • Photography: With its stunning landscapes, dramatic skies, and colorful cultures, Three Parallel Rivers is a photographer’s dream come true.

Week-Long Itinerary for Three Parallel Rivers

Day Itinerary
1 Arrive in Lijiang, explore the Old Town, and visit the Dongba Cultural Museum.
2 Hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge and stay overnight in a guesthouse.
3 Visit Shigu Town, the First Bend of the Yangtze River, and continue to Shangri-la, stopping at Napa Lake along the way.
4 Explore the Songzanlin Monastery and hike up to the Shangri-la Alpine Botanical Garden.
5 Drive to Zogang, start the Yubeng village trek, and stay overnight in a local guesthouse.
6 Hike to the Yubeng Waterfalls and Ice Lake and return to Zogang.
7 Drive back to Lijiang and explore the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Baisha Village.
8 Depart from Lijiang for your next destination.

Food and Drink Scene of Three Parallel Rivers

Must-Try Dishes

  • Guoqiao Rice Noodle: A famous snack in Lijiang, made of rice flour, sliced meat, vegetables, and a spicy broth, served in a big bowl.
  • Yak Meat Hotpot: A hearty and warming dish, used to be a staple for the local Tibetans, made with yak meat, vegetables, and spices, served in a communal pot.
  • Steamed Potatoes with Cheese: A popular dish in Shangri-la, featuring fresh potatoes steamed with Tibetan-style cheese and served with a side of chili sauce.
  • Pu’er Tea: This fermented tea is a specialty in Yunnan, with various flavors and ages, and is believed to have health benefits.

Local Beverages

  • Highland Barley Wine: A traditional Tibetan alcoholic beverage made of barley, served hot or cold, with a unique and earthy flavor.
  • Butter Tea: Also known as po cha, it is a staple in Tibetan cuisine, made of tea leaves, yak butter, salt, and milk, offering a salty, buttery, and creamy taste.
  • Honey Pomelo Tea: A refreshing and sweet tea, made of honey, pomelo, and tea leaves, perfect for summer days.

Where to Stay in Three Parallel Rivers: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

  • Lijiang: InterContinental Lijiang Ancient Town Resort, Pullman Lijiang Resort and Spa, Shiner Hotel, Panba Hostel.
  • Shangri-la: Songtsam Lodges, Shangri-La Resort, Soara Tibetan Style Hotel, Tiger Leaping Gorge Hostel.
  • Meili Snow Mountain: Mingyong Guesthouse, Meili Snow Mountain Lodge, Feilai Temple Inn.

What to Buy in Three Parallel Rivers: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

  • Jade: Yunnan is known for producing high-quality jade, ranging from white to green to black, which is often used to make jewelry or decorative items.
  • Tibetan Incense: A fragrant and traditional offering for Tibetan Buddhists, made of herbs, roots, and spices, with various medicinal properties.
  • Yunnan Tea: Yunnan is famous for its tea, especially the Pu’er tea, which comes in various qualities and ages, and is often used as a gift or souvenir.
  • Handicrafts: Three Parallel Rivers is home to various ethnic minority groups, each with unique handicrafts, such as embroideries, batiks, wood carvings, and silverware.

Local Culture and Customs of Three Parallel Rivers

Three Parallel Rivers is a land of diverse and vibrant cultures, with over 20 ethnic minority groups living in the region, each with a unique history, language, and customs. Some of the notable customs and festivals include:

  • Torch Festival: Celebrated by the Yi and Bai ethnic groups in June or July, featuring torch-lit processions, horse racing, and outdoor concerts.
  • San Duo Festival: Observed by the Tibetans in February, which marks the end of the harvest season, featuring Buddhist ceremonies, traditional dances, and ox fighting.
  • Dongba Festival: Celebrated by the Naxi ethnic group for three days in July or August, featuring horse racing, tug of war, and traditional music and dance performances.

Best Time to Visit Three Parallel Rivers

The best time to visit Three Parallel Rivers is from April to October, when the climate is mild and the skies are clear. However, depending on the activities and destinations you choose, the ideal time may vary. For example, the best time to trek in Tiger Leaping Gorge is from September to December or from March to May when the weather is pleasant, and the crowds are fewer.

Do’s and Don’ts of Three Parallel Rivers


  • Respect the local customs and traditions and dress properly when visiting religious sites.
  • Try the local food and beverages, especially the specialties.
  • Take appropriate precautions when engaging in outdoor activities, such as hiking or biking.
  • Bargain when shopping at local markets or bazaars.


  • Engage in any behavior that may harm the environment, such as littering or feeding wildlife.
  • Heighten or mock any religious or cultural entities or customs.
  • Engage any person or activity that is related to drugs.

Safety and Health

Safety in Three Parallel Rivers

Overall, Three Parallel Rivers is a safe destination for travelers. However, as with any travel destination, it is essential to take some precautions, such as:

  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas.
  • Carry only the necessary documents and money, and keep them in a secure place.
  • Use reputable and licensed tour companies when engaging in outdoor activities and adventures.
  • Take adequate medication and vaccinations before your trip as required.

Health in Three Parallel Rivers

The altitude and the natural environment of Three Parallel Rivers may pose some health risks, such as altitude sickness or insect bites. Therefore, it is vital to:

  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
  • Wear appropriate clothing, such as sunblock or insect repellent.
  • Take some medication for altitude sickness, such as aspirin, Diamox, or Ginkgo biloba.
  • Avoid drinking tap water and eat only in hygienic and reputable eateries.

Getting to Three Parallel Rivers: Transportation Options and Logistics

Airports Near Three Parallel Rivers

Lijiang Sanyi International Airport is the nearest airport, located 30 kilometers from Lijiang city center.

Bus Stations Near Three Parallel Rivers

  • Lijiang Bus Terminal: Located in Lijiang city, with regular buses to Shangri-la, Tiger Leaping Gorge, and other destinations in Yunnan.
  • Shangri-la Bus Terminal: Located in Shangri-la city, with regular buses to Lijiang, Deqin, and other destinations in Yunnan.

Other Options

  • Private car/taxi: Hiring a private car or taxi is a convenient and flexible option, but it can be a bit expensive.
  • Train: There is no train station in Three Parallel Rivers, the nearest one is Lijiang Train Station, which connects to Kunming, Dali, and other major cities in Yunnan.

How to Get Around in Three Parallel Rivers

  • Bus: There are regular buses running between major destinations in Three Parallel Rivers, and the fares are relatively cheap.
  • Taxi: Taxis are available in most cities and towns, but it’s advisable to negotiate the fare in advance.
  • Bicycle/Motorcycle: Bicycles and motorcycles are available for rent in some cities, and it’s an enjoyable way to explore the surrounding areas.
  • Trekking: Hiking is the best way to explore the natural wonders of Three Parallel Rivers, and some trails are well-marked and maintained.

Where to Go Next from Three Parallel Rivers: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

  • Dali: A charming ancient city in central Yunnan, famous for its Bai ethnic culture, historic architecture, and serene nature.
  • Jinghong: A bustling city in Xishuangbanna, southern Yunnan, known for its lush tropical forests, diverse ethnic cultures, and exquisite Dai cuisine.
  • Lugu Lake: A picturesque alpine lake on the Yunnan-Sichuan border, home to the Mosuo ethnic group, famous for its matrilineal society and romantic customs.


Three Parallel Rivers is a gem of Northwestern Yunnan, offering a unique blend of natural wonders, ethnic cultures, and adventurous activities. Whether you’re a nature lover, culture buff, or adventure seeker, Three Parallel Rivers has something for everyone. Plan your trip well, take some precautions, and immerse yourself in the charm and beauty of one of the finest destinations in China.