What to see in Kunming: Complete Travel Guide

Kunming - Green Lake

The capital of Yunnan: where is it, what to see in Kunming and where to stay?

Where’s Kunming?

Do you know where Kunming is and what to see in Kunming? Kunming, is located in the Chinese province of Yunnan, located in southwest China. The first thing I heard about Yunnan province was what I read on the Lonely Planet I had carried with me on my trip through Southeast Asia. It was entitled: “Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Greater Mekong”. It said that if you only had time to see one province in China, it must have been Yunnan.

They also warned you that if you started your trip to Yunnan you would probably end up staying and not seeing anything else. In my case they were completely right, I fell in love with Yunnan and ended up staying 7 years living in Kunming.

Bus trip from Vientiane to Kunming

The first time I went to Kunming was from Vientiane to Kunming by bus. On the bus I began to notice the difference between China and the other countries I had been to. No one understood a word of English anymore, sometimes you hear spitting and the only foreigners were me and an Australian guy.

I spent the more than 30 hours of the trip sleeping. I also took the opportunity to learn my first words in Chinese with the help of the Australian who knew a lot: nihao (hello) and xiexie (thank you). We arrived at Kunming around nine o’clock at night. We took a taxi to go downtown and ask at a few hostels. I was lucky that the Australian guy spoke Chinese, who else would know. In the end, after a while searching, we stayed at the Cloudland Youth Hostel.

Kunming, the city of eternal spring

In the following three days I could see that the city of Kunming was more beautiful than I expected and that it was probably true that it is the most peaceful provincial capital of China. Although it is estimated that there are about 6 million people living in Kunming, the pace of life is quite calm.

Kunming is famous in China for being “the city of eternal spring”, where it is never too hot or too cold. People are not used to seeing tourists at all and often they stare at you. Almost nobody understands a word of English and almost all the food is accompanied by spice. Something that also surprised me a lot is that maybe 90% of the motorcycles are electric. That’s a lot of bikes here. Spitting on the street and unclean toilets are also the order of the day unfortunately…

What to see in Kunming?

The best places to visit in Kunming

1. The Green Lake

The Green Lake, located in the centre of the city is the most famous lake in Kunming and is an ideal place to go for a walk. Every morning there are people playing badminton, practicing traditional dances or doing Tai Chi. They are usually older people but you can join in if you like. (Video about the Green Lake).

2. Yuantong Temple

The Yuantong Temple, which is in the center of the city, near the Green Lake. It was built in the 8th century and is the largest Buddhist temple in Kunming. The entrance to the temple only costs 15Rmb (2 euros).

3. The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple, which is 12km outside the city, is a Taoist temple built during the Ming Dynasty in 1902. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and a pagoda it is another good place to spend a day between nature and temples.

4. Jinmafang Square

The Jinmafang Square is characterized by its giant arch-like gates, the Golden Horse Gate and the Jade Cock Gate. It is considered the center of the city and is one of the most emblematic places in Kunming.

5. The streets of Nanpingjie and Zhenyi Lu

The streets of Nanpingjie and ZhenYi Lu, which are the main shopping streets. They are right next to Jinmafang Square. They are perfect for buying clothes, tasting local food and seeing the daily life of the Chinese.

Yunnan Kunming Nanpingjie 500x375 - What to see in Kunming: Complete Travel Guide

6. The Pagodas of the East and West

The East and West Pagodas, built during the Tang Dynasty, are two pagodas facing each other at a distance of 200m. They are in the center of the city, near Jinmafang Square.

7. The Dianchi Lake

Lake Dianchi, is the largest lake in Yunnan province with 298 km². It is on the outskirts of the city. It is advisable to climb the mountain Xishan to appreciate the lake from above. You can also make a visit by bike and take a walk around the lake.

8. The Shilin Limestone Forest

Shilin Limestone Forest, 86Km from Kunming, is a park surrounded by high rocks that come out of the ground and create a kind of stone forest. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007. The entrance fee is not cheap, it costs 175Rmb (20 euros).

Where to stay in Kunming?

In Kunming you will find many good places to stay. If you are looking for a five star hotel, you can stay at the Grand Park Hotel, right in the city center and opposite the Green Lake for about 50 euros a night.

If you prefer a hostel, the best one in town is undoubtedly the Upland International Youth Hostel, also in the city center, next to the Green Lake and with nice backpacker’s environment. You can stay in a dormitory for 5 euros and in a private room for 20 euros.

What to see in Kunming:

Partying in Kunming

If you are looking for a nightlife scene, Kunming is also the ideal place. You can find parties every day in Chinese discos or on weekends in popular bars for foreigners such as The Turtle and Barfly. Although every year there are more foreigners living in Kunming, it is still, as far as possible, a city rarely frequented by foreigners and tourists. Therefore, when you enter a discotheque you will probably be surprised by some Chinese greeting you or even inviting you to stay with them to drink beer. Don’t expect cold beer, they usually order twelve at a time.

By the way, don’t imagine a discotheque like in Spain either. There is not a big room to dance and a bar where everyone pays for their own drinks. Here, everything is full of high tables where groups of friends stand with their piles of beers. They chat, play drinking games and occasionally, if they get too drunk, they dare to climb up on the podium to dance like crazy.

You can visit the Gokunming website to see what events are taking place in the city or also, if you are thinking of going to live in Kunming, on that website you can look for a job, find a flat and schools where you can learn Chinese in Kunming.

From Kunming to the old city of Dali

After visiting Kunming I spent 3 weeks in the ancient city of Dali, living with monks in a temple and practicing Shaolin Kung Fu with them. It was a unique and unforgettable experience that you can read about by clicking on the link.

If you come on a trip to Yunnan you can also check out the Top 8 Places to See in Yunnan. And if the post about what to see in Kunming has been useful and practical, remember to rate, comment and/or share. Thank you!

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Author: Marcos Silva

Hi! I'm Marcos. One summer day I decided to go on a trip around Asia to see the world and I liked it so much that I ended up staying. Almost without realizing it, I have been in Asia for 7 years, of which I have spent most of my time living in China and traveling to countries like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, India... Now I dedicate myself to writing on the travel blog and organizing routes around China where I also guide.

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