Kunming

Overview

Introduction

Located 400 mi/645 km south of Chengdu at an elevation of 6,200 ft/1,900 m, Kunming, the "city of eternal springs," is surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery. It's a pleasant, well-laid-out city, with a temperate climate and many gardens and lakes. The city was a base for the Flying Tigers during the early stages of World War II. It also played a key role in the Sino-Japanese War as the end point of the Burma Road.

Kunming also has a number of golf courses. China's burgeoning middle class is enthusiastically taking to the sport of golf, and greens are being built around the city. The Lakeview Country Club course was designed by British golf pro Nick Faldo.

Kunming is home to many of China's ethnic minorities—tribal people—who consider themselves distinctly different from China's predominant ethnic group, the Han. The city is also intriguing because some of the neighborhoods escaped the ugly 1950s Chinese modern architecture that characterizes most cities in the rest of the country, although given Kunming's rapid growth and ongoing construction this may not be the case for long.

Things to see in Kunming include an interesting market, some ruined pagodas, the Yuantong Temple (a glorious building set on Green Lake) and stores selling tribal handicrafts.

Perhaps the best thing about Kunming, however, is that its traditional Chinese teahouses have survived. Tucked into side streets, they serve as neighborhood centers where older citizens play games and smoke the afternoon away—visitors are welcome.

There are many lakes and old temples outside the city that make fun destinations for day trips. Most notable are the Huating Temple in the Western Hills (built in the 1300s) and the 300-year-old Golden Temple (bronze-covered pillars, roofs and gates), linked by cable car to the World Horticultural Expo Garden.

Another attraction in the vicinity is the Shilin Stone Forest of Lunan county. These oddly shaped rock formations are actually better seen during an overnight stay rather than a day trip because they're about 75 mi/125 km southeast of town, although a highway makes it possible as a day trip.

Well-connected by road and rail, with a new airport opened in 2012, Kunming makes an excellent hub from which to explore the Yunnan province. A metro system was also introduced in 2012, and new lines are under construction.

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