A city of eternal spring, a gateway to the Silk Road (the Ancient Tea-Horse Road), a Chinese military centre; in its 2,400-year long history Yunnan’s provincial capital has been many things. Thanks to its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer and the protection from the vast Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, its temperate weather year-round has earned it the title of Spring City. It was once, and still is, the trade hub between China and many of the Southeast Asian countries. And nowadays its comfortable climate, numerous attractions, and ethnically diverse population have transformed Kunming into a tourist paradise, with approximately 800,000 foreign tourists visiting the city each year.
The city of Kunming was first founded in 765 A.D., but ancient settlements around nearby Lake Dianchi date all the way back to 279 B.C. In 1276, Mongol rulers named the area Kunming County and made it the capital of Yunnan. Many scholars believe Kunming was once the ancient city of Yachi Fu or “Duck Pond Town”, which was described by Marco Polo as a place where people ate raw meat and used cowries (snail shells) as currency. Today Kunming is as fascinating as Marco Polo found it all those years ago, although we recommend you don’t try to pay for your hotel room in snail shells!
The city is now a mismatch of modern commercial districts, residential districts, preserved districts of the ancient city, and university campuses. Every day the city comes to life, with students rushing to their classes, retirees practising Tai Chi in the park, backpackers embarking on their next adventure, and ethnic minority groups performing age-old rituals. The city has a population of about 6.5 million people, meaning that the streets are always crowded, lively and full of interesting characters.
No matter where you go in Kunming, you’re bound to stumble upon some new attraction. The city is home to many charming parks, of which Cuihu Park and Daguan Park are considered the most popular. If you fancy a relaxing day out then Cuihu Park, with its lotus covered pools, flocks of tranquil black-headed gulls, and hauntingly beautiful willow trees, is the place for you. Alternatively, if you like to move at a faster pace, then Daguan Park’s strange mixture of raucous fun fairs and boisterous youths, set directly alongside the majestic 300-year-old Daguan Pavilion, makes for an intriguing world of polar opposites. There’s even a zoo in Kunming, where visitors can enjoy the tranquil peacock garden, butterfly enclosure, aviary, aquarium, and the “sea of flowers” that engulfs the zoo every spring and summer.
At some stage in your life you must have surely asked yourself the all-important question; where is the largest copper temple in China? Well there’s no need to lose any more sleep over it because it’s right here in Kunming! In the northern suburbs of the city, you’ll find the Golden Temple, which was constructed in 1602 from a whopping 200 tonnes of copper. Everything, including the roof-tiles and doors, is made of copper and its shimmering appearance is what earned it its name. That being said, a visit to the temple may just leave you asking more questions, like why would you build a temple out of copper? We’re not quite sure why either, but it certainly looks magnificent!
However, if you’re desperate to learn about the history of the temple and the city itself, Kunming boasts 6 different museums that will cater to all of your academic needs. There’s the Yunnan Provincial Museum, the Kunming City Museum, the Kunming Natural History Museum, and the Yunnan Ethnology Museum, to name but a few. The Yunnan University Museum of Anthropology even has a rare exhibit featuring traditional wooden-body armour from the Yi ethnic minority. Visiting any of these museums is the perfect way to see a few of Yunnan’s hidden treasures and take a few interesting stories back with you. Who needs a souvenir when you can recite the Latin names of Yunnan’s 17,000 species of plant?
Kunming is a treasure trove of tourist attractions, from the Tanhua Temple, with its 300-year-old orchid cacti, to the alien landscape of the Stone Forest. The city boasts a wide variety of both Western and Chinese-style restaurants, cafés, and bars, which together make for a vibrant nightlife. Hotels and hostels of varying quality are scattered throughout the city, catering to a myriad of tourists from different backgrounds. So, if you’re tired of traveling to the same boring destinations, we’re sure a trip to the Spring City will put the spring back in your step!