Travel guide to Kunming, China

Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is known as the “city of eternal spring.” Located in the middle of the Yunan Plateau 6,300 feet above sea level, subtropical Kunming is skirted by mountains to the north, east, and west, while to the south lies a large lake called Dianchi. Kunming has a mild climate and flowers bloom most of the year round. But its association with eternal spring can be misleading, because there are sometimes cold winds in winter, chilly days in spring, and heavy rains in summer. Generally speaking, though, the city’s climate is kind to travelers most of the time.

Kunming (A good place for your China vacations) has a history spanning more than 3,000 years. It is known to have been a small settlement as early as 109 B.C., trading in salt, silver, gold, silk and lumber. Through the eighth to the 13th centuries, it was the secondary capital of a small kingdom in the region, before falling to the Mongols in 1374. A small group of Mongols still exists at Tonghai, about 75 miles south of Kunming.

Yunnan Province, so named because of its location to the south of the Yun Mountains, is the home of 33 ethnic groups including the Han.

Xishan, or West Hill, is a 30-minute bus ride from kunming. It is really made up of four hills, which form a contour resembling a sleeping beauty, whose hair flows down to the water. For this reason Xishan is also called a sleeping beauty mountain. A forest stretches for several miles, containing ancient buildings such as the Huating Temple, the Taihua Temple, and the Sanqing Pavilion, nestling almost unseen, among the thick foliage. From Xishan you can get a fantastic view of Lake Dianchi.

Dianchi, also known as Kunming Lake (A good place for your China vacations) , covers 130 square miles and was formed by a geological fault in the central Yunnan Plateau. It has long been famous for its fish. Indeed, Marco Polo praised the variety and bounty of catches in his 13th century account of his travels in the region. Now the blue lake is dotted with many white sails of long flat boats.

The famous Stone Forest is located 73 miles southeast of Kunming within the boundaries of Lunan County. It is also known as the Stone Forest of Lunan.

About 330 million years ago, the area where the Stone Forest now stands was submerged beneath the sea, and deposits of limestone built up there. As a result of countless earthquakes and movements in the Earth’s crust, the ground was thrust up and the sea subsided to give way to a tableland. The constant seeping of rain water containing carbonic acid through the cracks in the limestone, gradually dissolved much of the stone pillars remained –a most enchanting formation, which, from a distance, resembles a forest of pines. Scattered through this strange landscape are natural and artificial ponds, tiny bridges and classical pavilions. The tallest stone pillar towers 99 feet. The most interesting sights are the “Sword Peak Pond”, “Lotus Blossom Peak”, “Jade Lake in the Stone Forest”, and the “Peak View Pavilion”.

While in Kunming, one should also try to catch a glimpse of the various costumes of the many ethnic groups in Yunnan. The best chance is probably during the Water Splashing Festival, a traditional gala held every April to celebrate the new year on the calendar of the Dai, Blang, Benglong, Achang and Wa peoples. At the festival, people splash water on each other as a symbol of best wishes for a long life and a good harvest. The biggest celebration is usually held in Xishuangbanna, a fertile tropical area about 400 miles south of Kunming.