Kunming, as the capital city of Yunnan, serves as the center of the province in terms of politics, economics and culture. Although a huge city (population 3.75 million), Kunming is exceptionally clean and tidy. What's more, the city has the best climate of all Chinese cities, popularly known as the "Spring City". Kunming does not have severe winters or hot summers and the natural features of the four seasons are clearly defined. Tourism is now one of the major incomes here. The recent 1999 Kunming International Horticulture Exposition gave the city a major face lift, making it an even more attractive spot to be based for travel in Yunnan.
Main attractions in Kunming
The best of the world famous Stone Forests (Shilin) of Kunming are in Lunan County, 90km south of Kunming. Due to a process of weathering and erosion, nature has created an art gallery of stone sculpture here. This typical Karst physiognomy takes the form of a forest of stone pillars and boulders. It is as if the countless stone shapes have sprung from the ground, assuming different shapes as if vying to surpass each other in grandeur and sublime beauty. Some look like sheets or pillars, others resemble swords raised towards the sky while others, standing in pairs, suggest scenes of young lovers overjoyed in reunion or sad at parting or of a mother and child strolling side by side. Among the sights in the Stone Forest are Lion Arbor, Sword Peak Pond, Lotus Peak, Moon Lake, Jade Lake, etc.
The Western Hills
The Western Hills, about 15 km from Kunming city, lie along the western shore of Dianchi Lake. It stretches from north to south for about 40 km. The Hills resemble a reclining maiden lying on the banks of Dianchi Lake with her long hair flowing down into the lake. As a result, the Western Hills have the nickname of the "A Sleeping Beauty Hills". In actuality, the Western Hills is a forested and lovely park which is perfect for hiking. Some of the major sites include: Huating Temple (Huating Si), an ancient Buddhist temple that was originally a retreat for the local ruler; Taihua Temple (Taihua Si), with its charming orchard courtyard; Sanqing Pavilion (Sanqingge), a Daoist temple dedicated to that religion's three major deities; and Dragon Gate (Longmen), a collection of Daoist caves and sculptures.
Golden Temple Park
The most interesting attractions in the Golden Temple Park (Jindian Gongyuan) are the Taihe Palace (Taihegong) and the Golden Temple (Jindian). Taihe Temple is the most important and active Taoist temple in Yunnan. Atop the front gate, is a large horizontal board inscribed with the Chinese saying "Ying Wu Chun Shen", meaning "Spring abounds on Yingwu Mountain" (the site of the park). The Ming Dynasty Golden Temple is the most unique and well known structure in the park. It, like Taihe Temple, is a Taoist temple. However, the special thing about Jindian is the architecture. The walls, sixteen pillars, rafters, roof tiles, altar, statues, altar-hanging, the horizontal inscribed board, the table and even the banner on the right in front of the temple are all made from bronze. The whole temple weighs more than 280 tons, making it not only one of the four largest bronze temples in China, but also the heaviest and best preserved.
Yunnan Nationalities Village
The Yunnan Nationalities Village (Yunnan Minzucun) is located on the northeastern shore of Dianchi Lake and is a good place to show visitors to Yunnan the cultural ways and traditions of the numerous ethnic groups in the province. In the Village compound, 25 different independent villages have been planned, but at present only about 20 have been constructed. In addition to these "ethnic villages", there are activities that take place such as a welcoming ceremony with performing White Elephants, the Dinosaur Island theme park area, a concert area for ethnic singing and dancing performances, as well as an Asian Elephant show in the Plaza of Ethnic Unity. The climax of a visit to the Nationalities Park is a film shown on a fountain of water. The "villagers" are all chosen from the youth of the relevant nationalities to act as guides and performers for tourists. The three major villages represent the Dai, the Bai and the Yi nationalities.
Although Expo '99 ended in October 1999, the Expo '99 Garden (Shiboyuan) now serves as a permanent gardening center in Kunming. The garden is now divided into the China Hall, the International Hall, the "Man and Nature" Hall, the Science and Technology Hall and the Greenhouse. The China Hall is composed of 34 sections according to China's provinces and regions, while the International Hall is comprised of 30 sections. As an international botanical garden incorporating educational and recreational activities in one location, the Expo '99 has emerged as a significant Kunming landmark. We recommend you spend at least a half a day in this lovely world class garden.
Bamboo Temple (Qiongzhu Si), a Tang Dynasty temple known for its Arhat statues, is arguably the most famous of Kunming's temples. Arhats are famous monks and "saints" of Chinese Buddhism, usually displayed in large groups of 500 or more. The Arhats of the Bamboo Temple were made over a period of seven years by a famous craftsman from Sichuan called Li Guangxiu. His masterpieces are extremely realistic and lifelike, even if some of the statues are a bit surreal. The temple is located on the Yu'an Mountain, about 15 km from the center of Kunming. On each side of the temple gate stand four ancient Cypress trees, planted during the Ming Dynasty, more than 400 years ago. Entering the temple, the first thing visitors notice is the carefully designed courtyard, spread over four layers, one on top of another. The Main Hall contains a trinity of enormous gilded Buddha statues seated on lotus thrones.
Dian Lake (Dianchi), the sixth largest freshwater lake in China, also known as Kunming Lake or Kunming Pond (Kunming chi), was formed by the subsidence of a fault zone. The lake and the area around the lake is regarded as the center of Kunming's attractions. Around the lake are a fair number of interesting sights namely several smaller parks, resorts and the " Yunnan Nationalities Village ". There are many leisure boats available for touring the lake. It is located 10 km from the city and covers a total area of 198 square kilometers. The Lake covers a vast area in Southwest Kunming, the beauty of the lake can be appreciated from Daguan Tower, the Western Hill Park , or the " Yunnan Nationalities Villages .