Nuodeng | An ancient salt village in remote Yunnan

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the development of trade routes in Yunnan contributed to the prosperity of Nuodeng (诺邓). The villages owed its prosperity to the salt, which was carried on horse back toward the north.

Built on a steep slope above the ancient salt wells, Nuodeng is famous for its ham (诺邓火腿) and for its well-preserved centuries-old residential housing made of red rammed-earth. Ancient mansions which dominate the valley, salt tax office, Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist temples, which were secularized during the Cultural Revolution.

A view of Nuodeng

A view of Nuodeng from the car park

A remote salt village

Hidden in a valley, 15 km from Yunlong (云龙) county town, a 3-hour drive from Dali 大理/ Xiaguan 下关, Nuodeng has already made it to the list of Yunnan province’s ‘Historical and Cultural Village’.

Despite being fairly remote from Dali and hard to include on an itinerary (travelers who do not want to go back to Dali have to go on a long drive from the main town of Yunlong to Shaxi 沙溪 via Lanping 兰坪), Nuodeng has already attracted the attention of domestic and foreign travelers.

In the streets of Nuodeng

In the streets of Nuodeng

Upgrading Nuodeng

Horses do not transport salt on the trade routes anymore, but you will see them carry bricks, cements and other construction material up the steep stairs of the village. There is an atmosphere of change under the sky and the centuries-old village on the hillside is getting ready for an increase in visitors.

Parts of Nuodeng were still 'under construction'

Parts of Nuodeng were still ‘under construction’

When I visited in May 2015, the road from Yunlong to Nuodeng was under construction. It was being enlarge to accommodate growing bus and private car traffic. At the end of the road, the car park was still empty, but a sign at the entrance of the village announced that they were 38 guesthouses (and counting) in the village. There was (and will be) certainly no shortage of bed in Nuodeng.

The local government have encouraged locals by promising them 10’000 RMB in compensation for transforming their courtyard home into a guesthouse. Those who did are still waiting to see the money. There is a fair share of outsiders or waidiren, people from outside the province who have come to Nuodeng, signed a 10 or 15 years lease and renting out an ancient courtyard from locals which they’ve refurbished into charming guesthouses with incredible views.

Room view from one of the recently renovated guesthouse

Room view from one of the recently renovated guesthouse

Next to the salt wells, the temple was re-built. And elsewhere in the village, the ancient salt offices and other temples, located higher up on the hill, were all being renovated. The roaring sound of the concrete mixers echoing through the village or the donkey carrying bags of cement and loads of bricks up the flights of steep stones steps and narrow alleys, men and women working to build new guesthouses and soon-to-be restaurants showed how eager were the locals to jump into modernity and embrace a new way of life.

How to visit and stay in Nuodeng

The village is situated on a steep slope. Visitors who did not book a room in a guesthouse have to meander through a network of stone stairs and narrow lanes. With a plethora of rooms of different standard and prices, some being located in a century-old wooden courtyard houses, other is more recent less authentic structures, I decided to go from a guesthouse to another and in the same time visiting the village. If you have heavy bags, you can have your luggage carried on horse-back for 20 RMB.

Gate to the ancient salt tax office in Nuodeng

Gate to the ancient salt tax office in Nuodeng

There are no restaurants in the village (so far) and travelers usually eat their meal in their guesthouses which gives any visit to Nuodeng a homestay feel and the opportunity to interact and live with and like the locals in their own home.

There are different sites to visit : the ancient salt tax offices, the salt well, ancient courtyards which belonged to wealthy locals and a number of Confucian and Taoist temples. Going up the stairs all the way to the top-end of the village, through the dusty alleys and up the stone stairs which meander between red-brick century-old houses and admire the view was the best way to feel the village.

Gate to one of Nuodeng's Taoist temple

Gate to one of Nuodeng’s Taoist temple

How to get there

Nuodeng is located west of Dali, 15 km outside of the town of Yunlong (云龙). You will have first to take a bus from Xiaguan 下关Xingsheng bus terminal (兴盛客运站) to Yunlong (云龙). The trip last around 3 to 4 hours. Once in Yunlong, you will have to rent a mini-van to drive you to the entrance of the village.

When you leave Nuodeng, you have the choice to either go back to Dali, head to Shaxi 沙溪 via Lanping 兰坪 or Jianchuan 剑川 (at least 5 hours). There are also a couple of buses towards Liuku, at the entrance of the Nu valley.

It’s probably not a bad idea to pop inside Yunlong bus station and ask about bus frequencies and travel time to your next destinations.

A horse roaming in Nuodeng' streets at dusk

A horse roaming in Nuodeng’ streets at dusk