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View of the Stone Forest, or Shilin, in Kunming from atop one of the stone formations.

8 Things to do in Kunming

Also known as the “Spring City”, Kunming in Yunnan, China is famous for its amazing weather all year round. Due to its high elevation, daytime temperatures are usually around 15 – 25 degrees Celsius. If you are looking to escape the summer heat or the winter frost, Kunming is an excellent choice. Here are 8 things you can do in Kunming to keep you busy:

1) Visit the Stone Forest (Shilin)

View of one section of the Stone Forest or Shilin near Kunming city.

Take a direct bus from Kunming’s bus station, which drops you right at the Stone Forest mini-bus station. The Stone Forest (Shilin or 士林) is a natural wonder: years of sediment build-up and erosion have created stones of various shapes and sizes. The entire area is for you to explore. You can hike up some of the stones, go inside crevices and holes or even walk along valleys flanked by towering stones. For the less adventurous, you can take a hop-on and hop-off mini bus that will take you to various spots in the park.

2) Visit the Earth Forest (Tulin)

View of a section of the Earth Forest, or Tulin, in Yuanmou county near Kunming city.

The Earth Forest (Tulin or 土林) is the next of the three famous forests in Yunnan (namely the Stone Forest, Earth Forest and Sand Forest). Located in Yuanmou county, you can take a train from Kunming to Yuanmou before transferring to a bus that goes straight to the Earth Forest. The Earth Forest is best seen in the late afternoon, when the orange hues of the sun shine onto the various earth formations. You can walk alongside these formations, explore the little holes under the formations or simply sit and stare in awe.

3) Explore the Ethnic Minority Village Museum

View of the totems that a particular ethnic minority group would erect in front of their houses at the Ethnic Minority Village Museum in Kunming.

The Ethnic Minority Village Museum is located near Dian lake (the largest lake in Kunming) and can be easily accessed by public bus. In its sprawling compound, you can see the best representations of all the ethnic minority communities in Yunnan. Every ethnic minority group has its own distinct culture, costume and architecture. In a day, you can briefly understand the differences between these groups of people. Do not forget to take a look at the performances by the various ethnic minority groups at different times throughout the day!

4) Cycle around Dian lake (Dianchi)

View of the West Mountains from Dian Lake (Dianchi) in Kunming.

No trip to Kunming should leave out the Dian lake (Dianchi or 滇池), which is flanked by the beautiful West Mountain. Rent a bicycle or use a bike-share and cycle around the lake. A full round might take a whole day, so just an hour or two along the promenade will do. The area is especially beautiful at sunset, when the lake glows together with the horizon. If you are up for it, you can also climb up the West Mountain (or take a cable car) to enjoy a panoramic view of Kunming city.

5) Taste various teas at a teahouse

Display of the various types of tea that this particular teahouse sells.

Yunnan is the tea capital of China, so you have to try some of its famous teas when in Kunming. Although Kunming does not produce much tea, it is the centre of the tea trade in Yunnan. There are so many variants of tea in Yunnan; beginners might feel overwhelmed and scared to enter a teashop. Not to worry as the owners are extremely friendly and would slowly go through the various types of tea and their associated tastes. One of the best teahouse complexes that locals go to is Kangle Cha Cheng (康乐茶城), which is located south of the city centre and easily accessible by public transport.

6) Pray at Yuantong temple

View of the main pavilion and hall of the Yuantong Temple.

One of the grandest and most important temples in Yunnan province, Yuantong temple has a history that goes back 1200 years. The complex is huge and there are many halls that you can explore. Come around lunchtime and you can also queue up with the locals for a free vegetarian meal. If you are lucky, you can also observe a Buddhist prayer service, where hundreds of devotees dress in black robes and chant Buddhist scriptures.

7) Eat Over-the-Bridge Rice Noodles

VIew of the sumptuous spread that comes with an Over-the Bridge Rice Noodles.

The Over-the-Bridge Rice Noodles (过桥米线 or Guoqiao Mixian) is a Yunnan specialty and the best can be found in Kunming. You are served a bowl of piping hot soup that is brewed for hours using whole chickens, pork ribs and Yunnan ham. The ingredients are served separately and raw so you will have to put them into the soup yourself. Start by first cooking the meats, then the vegetables and finally the noodles. Like how the locals do it, finish the soup by drinking it straight off the bowl.

8) Take a stroll around Guandu Ancient Town

The night view of the main street of Guandu Ancient Town.

Located south of the city centre and easily accessible by public transport, Guandu Ancient Town is a great place for a stroll in the evening. There are many street food stalls inside the ancient town where you can have traditional Yunnan street snacks. You can also see locals dancing in the town square, or if you are lucky, see a traditional Yunnan performance at the open-air theatre. Head to the northeastern exit of the ancient town in the evening and you can see a long stretch of street stalls. Grab a snack, buy some fruits or shop at that night market before heading home.

Kunming is an excellent place to spend a few days exploring. Furthermore, it is a convenient transportation hub to the rest of Yunnan, including the ancient cities in the north and the tea plantations and rainforests in the south. These 8 things to do in Kunming will definitely keep you busy!

Still unsure whether Yunnan is for you? Let me convince you why you should visit Yunnan in China. Also, make sure you know which ancient cities you have to visit when in Yunnan.

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Image credits: (2) – Mebu ; (5) – Zctea

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