Kunming, China – City of eternal spring

Kunming – The City of Eternal Spring

We’re back in China! This time we are in Kunming, a city in the Yunnan province.

First of all we have some background information about the trip from Vietnam by train. In the previous post I told about Sapa, so from there we went to the border town Lao Cai, quickly crossed the border to China without any problems (we got the visa in Hanoi) and took a train to Kunming.

Early in the morning the train arrived at the train station in Kunming, which looks more like a giant starship :-). We’d already forgotten how huge everything here in China, the Chinese have a mania for gigantism. The railway station in the southern part of the country is one of the key points in the country, with tens of thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands) of people passing through here during the day, so it’s reasonable in terms of size.

Kunming Railway Station

Kunming Railway Station

Immediately upon entering the city you find yourself in a whirlwind of bright signs, lots of people, and the smells of Chinese food that is not to be confused with anything else.

Kunming photo

The area near the train station

Compared to Vietnam, it seemed very quiet here: the fact is that most bikes are electric and therefore silent, while in Vietnam there is a cacophony of sounds and signals.

Kunming is the economic and administrative center of Yunnan province, with skyscrapers, wide streets, offices of large companies and corporations.

Kunming photo

Despite this, Kunming leaves an impression of a quiet and unhurried city, in which it is pleasant to be and walk. Here are grandmothers falling asleep in the park.

Kunming is also called the “city of eternal spring” because of its mild climate. Since it is located at a certain altitude above sea level, it is not so hot here in summer, the average summer temperature is about +20 degrees. And thanks to the southern latitudes in winter in the coldest months the average temperature is about +8 degrees.

We were met by a fairly cool weather (in contrast after Vietnam), so we had to wear a jacket, but it’s so easy to breathe!

Kunming downtown

Attractions in Kunming

There aren’t many sights in the city itself, but taking a walk during the day is a great idea, which we did while we were waiting for the train to Lijiang.

Green Lake Park.

A great place to get in touch with local life, watch people doing tai chi, and maybe even join them :-)

Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park

The park is located on islands in the middle of the lake, where the red-billed gulls arrive in November and people look forward to the event.

The lake in the middle of Kunming

We happened to be here on a Sunday and got caught up in some festivities, with concerts, round dances, music, and general merriment. The Chinese know how to have fun. Grandpa playing a local musical instrument

The province of Yunnan is populated by many ethnic groups (more than half in China) and in the park they dress in traditional costumes, break into groups and have fun as they can.

Three years ago, on our first visit to China, we were surprised by the activity of Chinese pensioners. And now we met them: some of them sing, some of them dance, and these people take tea in thermoses and read something.

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A mosaic of small Yunnan nationalities

In Green Lake Park, you can sit on the shore of the pond and feed the fish and swans. There are also many tea shops, but the prices are steep!

Kunming Attractions – Green Lake Park

Kunming is home to a large number of Hui (Chinese Muslims), so you can find a mosque right in the center of the city, such as the 400-year-old Nancheng Mosque.

Kunming Mosque

In the city center there’s a small pedestrian street called Zhengyi Rd where you can eat at street kiosks, check out the merchandise in the stores, and do a little shopping.

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The Chinese don’t hesitate to tear down the really old buildings and replace them with the same ones but with new materials that look just like the old ones. Here are such contrasts – the “ancient” gate against the background of a skyscraper. That’s all China, they look to the future, but remember the past.

What else is there to see in Kunming? Go to the Yuantong Temple to the north-east of Green Lake Park and visit the Tang Dynasty Pagodas (West and East) . At the time of our visit, they were under renovation.

The main attraction in the vicinity of Kunming is Lake Dianchi, and the interesting sites and Xi Shan Mountains on its shores.

We saw all sorts of unusual things in Kunming – tell and show!

I of course knew that they grow square watermelons in Japan, but the Chinese went further – they make laughing pears! By the way, you can still buy and eat normal southern fruits here, further north in China they will be more expensive. (More mango and salak in the photo).

If this is your first time in the Middle Kingdom, you’re unlikely to know about such a delicious food as baoji – steamed Chinese cakes. In Kunming, we found simply divine baozzi with vegetables for 1 yuan – marked the point on the map at the bottom of the post.


Here you can see another unusual phenomenon: small live turtles packed in a keychain with some kind of liquid. Many people buy them to release them, but there are also cases when they just wear them for beauty, until the turtle suffocates…The Chinese have a very peculiar attitude toward animals.

Live turtles in key chains

Live turtles in key chains

In recent years in China have come up with this thing – insulation for riding a bike. Indeed, the wind is cool here, and ride it really cold, so that such a cozy thing is very handy!

And this is essentially a motorcycle, just packed in a metal case – warm and comfortable, of course if you’re Chinese :-) Drawings from Disney cartoons on the side also pleased.

Chinese transport

Kunming China how to get there?

Kunming Changshui Airport was built in 2012 and is scheduled to become the fourth busiest airport in China. There are flights from here to all of Asia as well as to Europe and North America.

From Kunming, there are several railroad branches in different directions: to Chengdu, Shanghai, Nanjing, to the Vietnamese border and on to Hanoi, and a branch northwest to Lijiang, which we took a little later.

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There are four trains a day from the city to Beijing, and they spend 34 to 48 hours in transit. Nowadays a high-speed railway line is being designed to connect the main city of Yunnan with the capital and other major Chinese cities – it is expected that the trains will cover a distance of 3000 km in 13-14 hours.

The city has as many as 5 bus terminals: eastbound buses leave from the east terminus, westbound buses leave from the west terminus, and so on, so you can get to Kunming by bus from neighboring large cities.

Kunming on a map

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Kunming – China’s city of eternal spring, ethnic diversity and stone forests

Kunming and Dianchi Lake. Photo: odysseantravel.com

The jewel of China’s south, the last frontier on the road to Tibet and Southeast Asia, is multicultural Kunming. The city has become one of the most attractive travel destinations in recent years . Tourists, anthropologists, and foodies alike will love it here: the city has no shortage of beautiful views, good weather, ethnic diversity, and delicious treats.

Spring all year round

Kunming is located 2 km above sea level. The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains, which largely determines the specifics of the local climate: here almost all year round warm spring weather persists. It is never too cold in winter, and never too stuffy in summer. This is why Kunming is called the city of eternal spring (春城 Chūnchéng). Visitors note how clean and pleasant the air in the city is for breathing.

The Last Frontier on the Road to Southeast Asia

Kunming is considered an important frontier on the way from China to the south. In ancient times the city was at the crossroads of caravan routes between Southeast Asia, India and Tibet. Throughout history, Kunming has played a major role in the war effort in southern China.

Changshui International Airport. Photo: joglowisata.com

In 2012, Changshui International Airport opened in Kunming. Six years later, it was already ranked sixth among all mainland Chinese airports in terms of passenger traffic. The airport serves as a transfer point for many airlines flying to Southeast Asia. The plan is for Changshui to soon become the fourth busiest airport in the country.

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Yunnan province has an extensive network of roads and high-speed railroads, which ensure a constant flow of passengers and goods through Kunming City to Southeast Asia.

Buildings with a very unusual layout can be found everywhere in the city. Architecturally, they resemble the traditional buildings of Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Of course, Kunming has many migrants, especially from Laos and Myanmar. There are cafes and restaurants specializing in Myanmar and Laotian cuisine at every turn.

A lake the size of Malta

Beyond the city limits, Lake Dianchi (滇池 Diānchí) spreads out at the foot of the majestic Xishan mountain range. It seems huge even from an airplane window. The surface area of the lake is 300 square kilometers – like the entire Malta, although it is only the sixth largest freshwater lake in China (the largest is Poyang Lake).

The area near Dianchi was first inhabited by people in the 2nd century B.C. This is where the city of Kunming grew up. There are many local landmarks near the lake. There stands a mausoleum in memory of the local composer Ne Era (聂耳 Niè Ěr), author of the music of the Chinese anthem.

The view of Kunming and Dianchi Lake from Mount Shishan. Photo by the author

Kunming people like to come to the lake in the evening to watch the sunset, enjoy the view of the pagodas and temples lined up on the shore, and listen to the cries of seagulls, of which there are as many here as at sea. The expanse of water is furrowed by hundreds of small boats and boats. It is forbidden to swim in the lake: it is under the special protection of the local authorities.

A Multicultural Atmosphere

Kunming is the administrative center of Yunnan Province, which is rich in minority ethnic groups. The Dai (傣族 dǎizú), Miao (苗族 miáozú), Hui (回族 huízú), Yi (彝族 yízú), Bai (白族 báizú) are found here, wa (佤族 wǎzú), foxu (傈僳族 lìsù zú), hani (哈尼族 hāní zú), nasi (纳西族 nàxī zú), yao (瑶族 yáozú) and 15 other nationalities! Minorities make up about 13% of Kunming’s population, most of them Hui, Yi, and Bai.

The Jingpo or Kachin people in the Nationalities Village. Photo: mini.eastday.com

The Wa ethnic group, for example, can be distinguished by their dark skin and short stature. They have bright traditional attire, rich in red, green hues and embroidered with beads. The Dais celebrate the Water Pouring Festival (泼水节 Pōshuǐ jié), the equivalent of the Thai Songkran New Year. Pouring water is a way to wish others happiness and prosperity in the new year.

You can get to know other ethnic minorities in Yunnan province at the Yunnan Village of Nationalities (云南民族村 Yúnnán mínzú cūn). It is an open-air museum, where you are greeted by members of all 25 Yunnan mini ethnic groups themselves in traditional attire and with traditional treats. There are authentic buildings, people dancing national dances and folk music.

Address: 西山区滇池路 1310 号云南民族村 (Yunnan Ethnic Village, 1310 Dianchi Road, Xishan District)

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Guandu Ancient Town

The ancient city of Guandu (官渡古镇 Guāndù gǔzhèn) is a whole complex of Buddhist temples and Taoist pagodas, bridges and lakes. There are also shopping streets in the town. On them are cafes in the traditional style and many stores selling handicrafts.

Buddhist temples from imperial times stand quite close in Guandu, in a small area of 1.5 square kilometers. If you walk through the courtyards of the different temples, you can see how the style of architecture has changed over time. The temples are active: if you’re lucky, you can watch the monks drill the novices.

Photo: 魅力昆明

In the traditional Guandu gazebos by the lake, hundreds of locals gather in the evenings to smoke pipes and play traditional instruments. You can buy souvenirs and traditional clothes from the vendors here, and try local delicacies.

The ancient city is crossed by the Baoxian River (宝象河 Bǎoxiàng hé), where the ancient ancestors of the local people once lived – they used to fish and extract snail shells from Dianchi Lake.

Address: 昆明市官渡区珥季路官渡古镇 (Guandu Ancient Town, Erji Road, Guandu District)

Temple with Steps Down

Next to Kunming Zoo is the Yuantong Temple (圆通寺 Yuántōng sì), the largest Buddhist temple in the city. It has been in operation for 1,200 years, and the provincial clergy are based here.

The temple complex is remarkable because the steps at the entrance lead visitors down instead of up. This way you can see almost all the buildings and the lake full of carp from the top. In the mountain behind the temple there are two caves, according to legend, in them once lived a dragon. In the main hall, tourists await 3-meter statues of Shakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha and many others.

Photo: 老 AO, poco.cn

Thanks to the restoration, even today we still admire the beauty of the pavilions, the exquisite wall carvings, and the religious motifs. In the temple, you can place a candle, make a donation, listen to the prayer chants of Buddhist monks and stroll through the fragrant, calming courtyards.

The address is 五华区圆通街 42 号 (Wuhua District, Yuantong St. 42)

China’s largest man-made waterfall

Pubu Park Complex (昆明瀑布公园 Kūnmíng pùbù gōngyuán) is located to the north of the city and is named after a wide artificial waterfall. It is a young park, having been built only seven years ago. The waterfall in the park is special – you can walk under it, but it is better to take an umbrella. The length of this waterfall is as much as 400 m and the height is 12.5 m. It is currently the largest artificial waterfall in all of China and yet another example of the Chinese love of all things gigantic.

Photo: Political Affairs

Address: 盘龙区盘江西路与 Z107 交汇处 (Panlong District, Intersection of Panjiang West Road and Z107)

Shilin Stone Forest and Breathing Cave

The Stone Forest is not in Kunming itself, but 80 km southeast of the city. It can be reached quickly by train. Shílín (石林 Shílín) is a unique natural phenomenon. Here the rocks of karst rocks of bizarre forms reach 30 meters in height, forming a real forest. The rock forest is the result of thousands of years of weathering and rainwater erosion. Some of the stones look like trees and some even like animals.

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Photo: Travel Daily Media

The cliffs are also interesting with a large number of unusual caves. For example, Qifeng Cave (奇风洞 Qífēng dòng) can “breathe”. During the rainy season, it sometimes makes a sound similar to the breathing of a tired, panting bull – this is how the Chinese describe this phenomenon. If you seal the entrance to the cave with clay, and it is only one meter in diameter, then at the moment of “exhalation” the cave will destroy the clay flap.

Address: 云南省昆明市石林彝族自治县石林中路延长线 (Shilin Middle Road Extension, Shilin Yi Autonomous County, Kunming City)

What to try in Kunming ?

Kunming’s cuisine is eclectic and spicy. It has been shaped by the tastes of the many ethnic minorities living here.

Photo: 21dapin.com

True foodies come to Kunming to try the Yunnan rice noodle soup 过桥米线 guò qiáo mǐxiàn. This name literally translates as “noodles crossing the bridge.” Legend has it that there was a scholar in Yunnan province who spent all day preparing for his examination to become an official. To get some privacy, he retired to an island in the middle of a lake, where his wife would come over the bridge every day and bring him food. The husband was so engrossed in his preparations that he forgot to eat, and when he came to his senses, he ate cold meals. The wife came up with the idea of carrying her husband a pot of noodles and a greasy chicken bouillon. The thick layer of fat kept the heat out, so the noodles didn’t have time to cool.

Modern restaurants and cafes bring a hot plate of broth with only spices and thin noodles added in advance. The rest of the ingredients are put in the broth at will in free order: a wide variety of vegetables and meats are offered.

Photo: 平行天下下

Also don’t pass by the candied flower cakes (鲜花饼 xiānhuā bǐng), usually filled with rose. The baked dough is very soft, and the rose is surprisingly not at all bitter – it is sweet and fragrant. At Changshui Airport and many other places in Kunming, you can buy a gift set of such cakes for friends and family. Rose in general is an important ingredient in many local dishes, and rose bushes grow everywhere.

Baba scones. Photo: 魅力昆明

The bābā, a baked flatbread with a filling, first gained popularity during the Qing period. This snack is made by hand from elastic dough. The filling consists of bean paste, sesame seeds, peanuts, salt and pepper. If you stroll through Guandu early in the morning, you will hear bicycle callers shouting over the loudspeaker, “Baba from Guandu, buy baba from Guandu.”

How to get to Kunming?

There are no direct flights from Moscow or St. Petersburg to Kunming. But you can make a connection in Beijing, Shanghai or Wuhan.

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Dmitry Vogranenko

This material was prepared by an ECD guest writer. If you want to place the article on our site, write to [email protected] . In the subject line specify “I want to write about China”.

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