Updated: 2012-04-27 07:40
With thousands of mountain tops and valleys, the Stone Forest is a natural wonder. [Photos provided to China Daily]
October to February is the best time to visit the Green Lake.
Southwestern hub refreshes with natural and cultural attractions
Known as the City of Eternal Spring for its pleasant climate and flowers blooming all year long, Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in Southwest China, boasts numerous natural attractions and cultural heritage sites that make delightful detours for any traveler. Kunming served as a gateway to the Silk Road that facilitated trade with important regions including Tibet, Sichuan, Myanmar and India.
In modern times Kunming's proximity to Southeastern Asian countries has helped it become an economic, political and cultural center in Yunnan as well as a transport hub linking China and Southeast Asia.
More than 20 ethnic groups including the Yi, Bai, Miao, Dai and Hani thrive in this area. These groups offer unique and colorful attractions, such as the Torch Festival of the Yi, indigenous cuisines and local customs.
Expansive highland scenery and exotic wildlife further off beckon, but there are too many attractions to cover in just a few days. Here are some spots to get started.
1. Shilin Stone Forest
Located in Shilin county 85 kilometers southeast of Kunming, the Stone Forest is considered a natural wonder.
An old saying goes "if you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time".
The park covers an area of 400 square km and includes stone peaks that rise abruptly from the ground in numerous layers like bamboo shoots, verdant forests and historic pagodas.
The roads leading to the attraction wind around the peaks and surprise visitors with breathtaking vistas.
The Stone Forest is in some ways like a real forest. Visitors scaling the highland will be rewarded with a panoramic view of thousands of mountain tops and valleys, just like a vast, black forest.
Chinese and overseas geologists have proven that the Stone Forest is more than 270 million years old. The area used to be ocean and it was during this period that the rocks were eroded by water and shaped in the way they are seen today.
2. Green Lake Park
Compared with many famous lakes in China like West Lake in Hangzhou, this Kunming attraction can seem like nothing special. But it can offer a relaxing, sunny afternoon stroll or lakeside coffee break to enjoy the beautiful sunset. Paddle boats are also available.
The Green Lake has pleasant weather all year round but the best time to visit is from October to February, when red-beaked gulls from Siberia migrate south and make their home here.
Getting to the park, which is located downtown between Yunnan University and the Bird and Flower Market, is easy.
3. Bird and Flower Market
This is one of the most interesting attractions in central Kunming, serving as a shopping destination for all kinds of items such as flowers, name stamps, camping and hunting gear, live baby turtles and dried lizards.
The market offers shops and stalls built in the typical architecture of the region. Wooden houses with grass growing from their roofs line streets where small alleys devoted to flowers and caged birds are found.
Eating and drinking
As a branch of Yunnan cuisine that is also known as Dian cuisine, the attractions of Kunming dishes lie in their mixture of sour and slightly spicy tastes.
Most of the ingredients are green, fresh and natural, including vegetables, fruit, bamboo and flowers.
One traditional dish, guoqiao (across the bridge) rice noodles, are prepared at the table by adding raw ingredients into a bowl of hot broth.
The name of the dish comes from a story in ancient times, when a devoted wife preparing lunch for her husband discovered a way to keep soup boiling hot - by topping it with a thin layer of vegetable oil - so that her husband could have a hot meal after crossing a long, wooden bridge to get home.
The dish is made of broth, sliced meat, rice noodles and local seasonings.
Other typical dishes include steamed-pot chicken, earthen pot fish and Xuanwei ham.
There are several choices for nightlife in Kunming. Camel Bar and Top One are two typical expat bars in the Golden Horse and Jade Rooster Memorial Arches (Jinmabiji). Discotheque in Bao Shan Hotel also offers good entertainment and joyful shows.