Without a proper background, Yunnan’s capital city might look like just another fast-growing Chinese metropolis. The number of inhabitants has doubled over the past 10 years, from 3 to 6 million. But if you look past the mindless developing, you can find some very authentic and interesting spots. The city displays a phenomenal melting pot for all the cuisines from all over the province. These signature snacks are sold freely on the street corners at any time of the day or night. Because of the rapid urbanization, Kunming is still mostly dominated by a real village mentality, which provides a funny contrast to modern developments.
The city functions in Yunnan first and foremost as a central logistical hub. And mostly, we will use it just as such. With increasingly fancy (bullet train) connections to other parts of the province, it makes a lot of sense as a starting point of your Yunnan tour, not only to visit the south, but now also the west and northwest.
Kunming is located on the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau, more or less 2000 meters (6561 feet) above sea level. Most of the places on this plateau are temperate during the year (15-25 degrees Celsius for about 80% of the year) but can get kind of crisp during the fall and winter, especially at night. When cloudy/rainy in the winter, temperatures hover around a lower average, but will not dip as low during the night, remaining more stable. Buildings do not have heating so that means layering up.
The rainy season here is from June to September. Rain is usually considered positive, as we have had to cope with some drought in recent years, and it can get pretty dusty and hazy towards the end of the dry season. The rain clears the air and results in incredibly vibrant greenery and an abundance of wild mushrooms and herbs. But do bring some rain gear if you visit in these summer months!
“First you take a city – divide it in seizable chunks – and start walking the heck out of it. With time a picture begins to emerge. And let me tell you this much: It’s not the safe, edulcorated, varnished image that tourist ministries, travel publications, and companies wish to sell you. Who is to blame them… After all is easier to stay on the surfaces, on the security of the shallow, and take a predictable and easy way. Follow the herd, follow the crowds! Well, you don’t have to, it’s your choice.”
– Gonzalo Gil Lavedra
Walking the heck out of a Chinese city can be pretty exhausting. We will be there to “frame” it for you. But there is truth in the statement that walking is the best way to get to know a new city. We will walk as much as possible, but take a ride wherever we need.
Apart from the city walking, both the eastern and western Kunming itineraries can be filled to the brim with either hiking or cycling, or both. We can take care of bicycle rental and arrange all necessary gear to make this tour very active!
Usually, for our Kunming itineraries, we don’t include lodging. We do recommend the following hotels.
As a low-end budget option, the Lost Garden is great with a really nice location.
Good price/quality would be the 3/4 star Ji Hotel.
Slightly more expensive and business-style 5-star is the Grand Park.
More expensive 5-star is the Artime Boutique.
Special recommendation is the Moon and Chalice, nice boutique, perfect location.
For single travelers or couples, we will arrange an SUV or spacious sedan with a driver-guide if available.
for 3-4-5 guests, we will use a Buick GL8 or Chinese brand “DaTong”.
For 6 guests and up, we’ll be traveling with an 18-seat officially registered tourist van, operated by one of the best drivers in Yunnan, Dali local Yin Guangtao.
Concerning your restaurant experiences in Kunming, we have made a few categories. From each category, we have selected all the best and most famous places to take you to.
PICTURE OF A MAP
Although the government has torn down a lot of the old city of Kunming to make a place for high-rises and shopping centers, there are still a few streets left with traditional architecture. These streets have now become pretty popular walking areas with lots of hip bars, cafes, and some nice street food. We have mapped out some interesting walking routes here, depending on where your hotel is.
On our walk through the Old Town, it is very hard to miss the Green Lake. Just next to Yunnan’s oldest and most famous university, it’s located right in the center of Kunming, and visiting it is really a must for any tourist. On any day of the week, you can expect the most colorful folk dances, opera performances, and the local grannies getting creative on ear-splitting minority-infused techno music.
Within walking distance, we can find Kunming’s largest open-air farmer’s market. If you are into eating you are in for a serious treat here. This market displays some of the freshest and most colorful produce from all over the fertile mountain slopes of Yunnan province. Meeting the friendly stallholders is always a delight. Be sure to come to this market on an empty stomach so that you can taste all the snacks. We did this tour in 2018 with internet food celebrity Mark Wiens who made a nice video on his experience.
Kunming is a major hub for tea. Grown in the south and southeast of the province, it passes through places like Menghai, Pu’er, and Tengchong before it reaches the capital. The city has some huge wholesale markets. We have our contacts at these markets. We will not try to sell you tea, but rather share our passion for the famous green leaf. Drinking tea is not only an incredibly popular pastime, but it is also a social lubricant for any business meeting, rendezvous of old friends and family get-togethers. We can set up a really informative tea session that will invite you into the world of Yunnanese tea, and make some local friends in the process!
About an hour and a half by car from downtown Kunming to the east, we find ourselves in an area with some impressive karst formations of over 270 million years old. This Stone Forest area covers about three-hundred square kilometers (or 186 miles) and has a network of narrow dirt tracks and cement roads that are perfect for cycling and hiking. You can actually climb to the top of some of these formations of eroded limestone which will give you a great view over traditional Yi villages, farming fields, and scenic lakes.
The largest and most spread-out minority group in Yunnan are the Yi people. They are traditionally mountain people who are believed to have migrated from the northern Sichuan-Tibetan plains. Because of their location often being on remote mountain slopes, they have branched off into smaller splinter groups. The people living in and around the Stone Forest are called Sani and have their own distinct dress and customs. They are famous for one of the most iconic traditional fairy tales in Yunnan called “Ashima”, which led to the area becoming the set for China’s first musical cinema production in full color.
The biggest festival for the Yi people is the torch festival, which is held every year in August. That’s right in the muddy rainy season and it will be time for one of the most popular activities in the region: bullfighting.
One of our best local Sani friends is an active member of the local bullfighting community. In contrast to Spanish bullfighting, here it will not result in killing the animals. The game has exciting rodeo elements. We will feed one of our friend’s giant buffaloes and take him for a walk to the other side of the village, where he will go for a bath.
This Zen Buddhist Bamboo temple is nestled perfectly into the hillside of western Kunming. Its grounds feature some of the oldest trees you can find around town, and artwork displays the important stories in Mahayana Buddhism in a really unique way.
Chinese people love to play. In contrast to many other languages, in Chinese, you can ask people out to go playing not only when you are a child but also as an adult. Especially during the weekends, the locals will venture out of town with their cars and bicycles, do outdoor activities, and most importantly: feast on all kinds of fresh local specialties that are not easy to find in the city. This led to the birth of a specific kind of restaurant called the “Happy Farmer’s Home”. Some of these are set up in a very creative way and promote really nice farm-to-table organic concepts, and distribute vegetable packages for their guests from the city. We happen to know some very best ones and will be so happy to bring you here for a unique feast.
2 PAX: $ 225 USD
4 PAX: $ 129 USD
6 PAX: $ 105 USD
8 PAX: $ 88 USD