Visiting Kunming - What to See and Do
(Kunming Wujiaba International Airport KMG, China)
THIS AIRPORT CLOSED IN JUNE 2012
Kunming is something of an anomaly among the myriad Chinese cities that span the country. Tucked quietly away in the extreme southern province of Yunnan, it has a noticeably laid-back ethnically diverse feel. Perhaps it is the climate too, since it is never too warm or too cold. Kunming's nickname of the 'City of Eternal Spring' isn't far off the mark, making this a superb travel destination any time of year.
Sadly, there isn't much left of the quaint Old Kunming. Those wooden houses have been razed for concrete shopping malls and apartment blocks. Parks like the Cui Hu and Da Guan Yuan remind visitors of the city's green potential, while religious sites such as the Jin Dian and Qiongzhu Si provide a welcome splash of culture.
This is a city of decent shopping, dining and evening entertainment. Don't expect to be blown away by Chinese dynamism, but at least the weather is really pleasant. Most travellers use Kunming as a base for excursions to neighbouring attractions like the Stone Forest or Lake Dian.
Ten things you must do in Kunming
- One of the most gorgeous Taoist temple attractions around Kunming is Jin Dian (Golden Temple). Built in 1671, it boasts all the classic designs and details, and just above it on the hill is the Bell Tower and its giant 14-tonne bronze bell. It is roughly 10 km / 6 miles out of town, but well worth the effort.
- The nicest park in the city has to be the Cui Hu (Green Lake). Centred around a lovely little lake, there are pavillions, pathways, benches and grassy lawns to enjoy. While it is bustling on weekends, the Cui Hu is relatively calm during the week, offering a welcome respite from the concrete of the city. All the same, weekends are when it is at its most fascinating, as the many minority groups of Yunnan come out to sing and perform in true traditional folk Chinese fashion.
- To see where all the cool locals and expats hang out in the evenings, head down to Wenhua Xiang. This five-block strip of university students, backpackers and other youthful folks features the liveliest scene in Kunming. Diverse dining, casual bars, bakeries and English book shops provide plenty of diversion.
- Be sure to save time for a day trip to the Stone Forest (Shi Lin), some 90 km / 56 miles south-west of the city. A literal forest of stone pinnacles pierce the landscape, as paths, pavilions and a pond or two help visitors explore this surreal natural wonder in safety.
- According to many who know, Kunming has China's best golf courses. They are beautiful, well designed and easy to reach from the city. The Spring City Golf and Lake Resort is the tops by all accounts, boasting separate mountain and lake courses. The Lakeview Golf Club is another beauty, regularly making it into Top 10 listings for Asian courses.
- The main reason to visit Qiongzhu Si, one of Kunming's top Daoist temples, is to marvel at the 500 or so frescos of wildly different monks carved into its walls. It is really quite an impressive mural, and the temple itself isn't bad either. Built in 639 AD and restored in 1428, this is certainly the oldest landmark in the city.
- There's plenty of modern shopping on hand in Kunming, but for a more traditional market experience, head over to the Guwan Cheng or the Flower and Bird Market in Jingxing Jie. Both of these local markets have a fun selection of curios and antiques (which may or may not be authentic) and other interesting stalls.
- Spend an afternoon in the rolling foothills outside of town at the Haobao Jing Organic Farm, where you can enjoy a healthy delicious lunch that came right from the farm itself. It is actually an eco-resort of sorts, with 20 rooms for guests. The real attractions are the views, the food and the overall pastoral atmosphere.
- The best venue in town to learn about the heritage of Kunming and this southern region of Yunnan is the Shi Bowuguan, a museum showcasing the artefacts of the ancient Dian nation that once lived here. There are some lovely treasures on display, and this is a good introduction to the rich ethnicity of this region of China.
- The Sleeping Beauty Hills, or Xi Shan as they are known locally, form a beautiful natural park on the western side of massive Lake Dian. Several ancient Daoist and Buddhist temples grace the area with excellent carvings and other features. It is a full day outing to really enjoy this huge park, but a cable car helps get you up to the top of the hills with ease.