We decided to fly from Beijing to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan . Our Chinese visa was only valid for 30 days, and we didn't want to waste time taking the train. After the Trans-Siberian, we were tired of long train rides. Bordering Tibet, Burma and Laos, Yunnan nestles in the southwestern corner of China . The Yangtze, the cradle of Chinese civilization, known here as the Chang Jiang, flows a twisting course towards central China . At one point a massive rock plug stands in its way, diverting the river northeast to its fate with history. Two other rivers, the Mekong (known here as the Lancang Jiang) and the Salween (Nu) cascade down from the high Tibetan plateaus. At one point the three rivers, whose waters drain into three different seas, flow parallel to one another, separated by not more than 50 km. Each river cuts a deep gorge flanked by 4000m mountains.
South-East Asia starts in Yunnan . The range of elevations combined with the variable terrain provide microclimates for an incredibly diverse flora and fauna. Semitropical jungle, dry, rolling hills, temperate rain forest, highland tundra and icy glaciers are all found in Yunnan . One can drink butter tea in a Tibetan monastery near a freezing mountain pasture and later eat steamed pork with sugar cane in a bamboo hut in the jungle. Yunnan has always been the breakaway region of China 's history. There are over 50 ethnic groups. Most of China 's diversity is here.