China #8: Sight-seeing in Kunming, Yunnan (云南昆明)
Sights: Kunming City and Around
Region: Kunming Capital City, Yunnan Province
Kunming is the capital city of Yunnan Province. It is also known as the "City of Eternal Spring" (春城). It used to be an important town on the Silk Route (丝绸之路) and had developed into a modern city. Nevertheless, it is an important transport hub to various places in Yunnan.
Kunming was the first city I visited in Yunnan Province after leaving Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (广西壮族自治区).
After a couple of days in Kunming City, I went to Yuanyang Hani Terraces (元阳哈尼梯田) in Yuanyang County, Honghe Prefecture (红河州元阳县), to the south. Four days later, I was back in Kunming for a night before continuing north to Dongchuan Red Land (东川红土地) in Dongchuan District. Three days later, I was back in Kunming again where I visited the Stone Forest and Yunnan Nationalities Village.
Instead of writing my Kunming stories as multiple articles, I will sum them up in this post for easy reference.
Where I Stayed
I stayed in The Hump Youth Hostel (驼峰客栈) all these while — twice in the dorms and once in a twin-bed room. And their wonderful bar is not to be missed.
Sight-Seeing in Kunming
1. Cuihu Park (翠湖公园)
Cuihu Park, or Green Lake Park, is an urban park in Kunming City. The small park is not much of an attraction itself — except during winters when large flocks of seagulls migrated here from the north to escape the cold. And I was in Kunming at the right time — going into winter — to check out these migratory birds and the spectacular sights they created.
Birds migrating to warmer southern cities before winter is a natural phenomenon but the sheer number of red-billed gulls gathering in a small park was no coincidence — they were largely attracted by tourists feeding them.
Occasionally, someone would blow whistles to frighten the gulls and caused them to take off to the sky in flocks — and that's when to hold on to cameras tightly and protect the face as the birds can fly right smacked into anyone standing near the pond.
And when they fly around like this in the sky, beware of their droppings!
2. Dianchi Haigeng Park (滇池海埂公园)
Dianchi (Dian Lake) Scenic Area (滇池风景区) is actually a large area with Dian Lake, a large freshwater lake, as its centre. The scenery at Dian Lake is nicknamed "Sparkling Pearl in a Highland" (高原明珠) as the lake looks like a bright pearl in the highland.
There are several sites of interest in Dian Lake Scenic Area, including Haigeng Park (海埂公园), Yunnan Nationalities Village (云南民族村), Xishan (or West Hill) Scenic Area (西山风景区), etc. The sites are linked to each other by cable cars, ferries and buses. Each site has its own ticket.
In Haigeng Park, most of the lakeside scenery were man-made and with withered trees nearer to winter. If it weren't for the seagulls on the lake to save that day, it would have been a wasted visit.
The only reason why I was in Haigeng Park was because it was next to Yunnan Nationalities Village. However, I should have visited the Village first and leaves Haigeng Park till late afternoon — instead of getting hotter by the hours in the morning, it will get cooler in the late afternoon. But watching sunset from Haigeng Park is available only on weekends as the park closed at 5pm on weekdays.
3. Yunnan Nationalities Village (云南民族村)
There are two ways to gain better understandings of the various ethnic minorities (or nationalities) in Yunnan — 1. to travel to all their villages; 2. to visit Yunnan Nationalities Village. To visit all the villages is too time-consuming for travellers.
Yunnan Nationalities Village is like a theme park where replicas of houses and symbolic monuments of various ethnic tribes are showcased. It is the easiest way to have glimpses into the culture of each tribe and their costumes. There is also a cultural arts museum to showcase handicrafts of the skilled and ingenious people.
The commercial area was free to enter (behind the arch above). Ticket would be required only when entering the compound of "ethnic villages" to watch the various performances put up in different villages.
In the ethnic villages, most of the replicas of houses were stages for the performers, who were dressed in traditional costumes of various ethnic minorities, to dance and sing folk songs. The performances were scheduled back-to-back with sufficient time intervals for visitors to get to the next village. There were at least two showtimes for each performance a day.
At the end of each performance, performers would invite audiences to join in and dance with them. This would be great opportunities to learn some dance steps of different tribes.
There were also snacks from different tribes to try.
There was also a large-scale performance titled "红土乡情", where many performers were involved, on a big in-house stage — tickets sold separately. The theme of the dance performance changed from time to time.
It would be better to be at Yunnan Nationalities Village in the morning to have sufficient time to check out all the villages and respective performances.
4. Shilin Scenic Area (石林风景区)
Shilin (Stone Forest) Scenic Area is located in Shilin Yi Autonomous County (石林彝族自治县), about 78Km from Kunming. The stone forest is well-known for its limestone formation and one of the largest in the world. It is one of the "must-visit" attractions of Kunming — well, decide for yourself. #UNESCO
I did a day trip from Kunming and found it to be quite rush. There were other sites of interest around Shilin Scenic Area that could be further explored. Staying in Shilin County would have allowed more time to explore the surrounding area and understand the local culture, not just visiting the stone forest alone.
The stones in Shilin looked like they were sharpened and rested on one another. And they might collapse during heavy storms — some did collapse just 2 weeks before my visit and were cordoned off.
Shilin is the hometown of the Yi ethnic minority (彝族).
The Yi people has a legend of a beautiful Yi girl, named Ashima (阿诗玛), who turned herself into a stone after she was forbidden to marry her chosen suitor. That stone, aptly named "Ashima", can be found standing in Little Shilin (小石林) in Shilin Scenic Area.
Above were the more significant places I visited in Kunming City. The next two stories will be on Yuanyang Hani Terraces (Story #9 and Story #10) and Dongchuan Red Land (Story #11) as mentioned earlier. After Dongchuan, I would be back in Kunming City before heading off to Dali Ancient City (大理古城).