By Roger ALLNUTT
The southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in this vast country and interest in the attractions in the province is anticipated to snowball in coming years as more hotels and other infrastructure come on line. The new international airport at the capital Kunming is expected to be the 4th busiest in China by 2020.
The province borders Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos and is a region of great scenic diversity ranging from dramatic mountains up to 6500m bordering Tibet to tropical lands only 70m above sea level. For much of the province the climate is sub-tropical and so visiting all year is possible.
Many flowers now common around the world originated from Yunnan which is particularly famous for flowers including camellias, azaleas, magnolia, primrose, lilies and orchids. The province is a major source for the cut flower trade in China. Yunnan means “a land south of colourful clouds” which sums up the natural beauty of the region.
Kunming, the largest city and capital of Yunnan, has a population of over 6 million and is a pleasant, well laid out city with many gardens and lakes. It has a springtime climate most of the year (its elevation is 1800m) with mild temperatures and humidity and flowers blooming all year round; it is often called the ‘City of Eternal Spring’.
In 1989 Kunming held the World Horticultural Exposition featuring the best horticultural works from all over China and over 70 foreign countries. The buildings and gardens erected for this exposition are now open permanently and are a major drawcard in Kunming. In 1989 the ‘entry’ from Australia featured a typical Australian bush garden and building provided by the city of Wagga Wagga.
This year a fantastic new Convention Center has opened; the building from above looks like a giant peacock, the symbol of Yunnan.
Kunming is one of the famous historic and cultural cities of China as well as being endowed with many natural features. There are major attractions including Dianchi Lake, West Hill Forest Park, Grand View Pavilion, Yuantong Temple and Qiongzhu Temple.
Dianchi Lake covers 300 sq km and is the largest alpine lake in Yunnan; it is sometimes referred to as “Bright Pearl on the Plateau”. Each November flocks of red-beak gulls come to the lake from Siberia for the winter. There are many pathways for walking with lovely bushland and views of the lake.
Close to the lake is Yunnan Ethnic Village a large group of ethnic’ villages’ reflecting the fact that 26 different minorities live in Yunnan province. You can visit the site and as well as experiencing the architecture and lifestyle of some of the minority peoples be entertained with a diversity of folk singing, traditional instruments and dancing all the while dressed in their colourful traditional costumes.
In the centre of the city Green Lake is a smaller, more manageable retreat from the bustle of city life. Temples, bamboo gardens, pathways, lotus ponds abound and you mingle with large crowds of locals enjoying the open spaces. The Lotus Temple is an attractive structure while the unusual Nine Bend Bridge is popular with tourists and is a place to throw food to the huge number of fish that congregate in the water below. In one of the large flower beds is a sculpture which commemorates the twinning of Kunming with Wagga.
Close to Green Lake Yuantong Temple is the most famous Buddhist temple in Yunnan. Dating from the 9th century its current design from the 15th century incorporates covered corridors, pools crossed by ornate bridges and grand halls.
A pleasant place to wander is Old Street with bird and flower markets, lots of souvenirs including jade products and more recently lots of puppies and kittens for sale, the latest must have accessory. Chinese have a fascination with singing birds and competition to have the ‘best’ is fierce.
China is taking to golf with enthusiasm and courses continue to be built in the city; the Lakeview Country Club course was designed by Nick Faldo. The sport is very much for the burgeoning middle class.
Yunnan cuisine is delicious and quite spicy. Local dishes include Bamboo Tube Chicken, Stewed Duck and the wonderfully named Crossing-the-Bridge Rice Noodles. There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from both inside leading hotels (excellent buffets are a feature) and in shopping centres.
Kunming is well served by excellent hotels including Green Lake Hotel, Intercontinental, Wyndham Grand Plaza and Wanda Vista; by western standards prices are very reasonable. New areas of Kunming are rapidly developing and excellent hotels can be found outside the city centre. I stayed at Empark Grand Hotel, conveniently near the subway (easy to use) and a large shopping centre.
Kunming is readily accessible by air from all major Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou as well as international connections with Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore and other major Asian cities. It is an excellent base for visiting other major Yunnan tourist centres including Stone Forest, Lijiang and Dali.
For more on Kunming and Yunnan province;
Roger Allnutt was a guest of China National Tourist Office and flew with China Southern Airlines from Sydney.