Kunming – Backpacking the City of Eternal Spring

4 days exploring attractions in Kunming, the City of Eternal Spring, the lively and lovely capital of mountainous province of Yunnan in China, 2000m above sea level.

Kunming city. Yunnan, China.
Kunming – first impressions.

Day 1: Downtown, Yuantong Temple

Almost four days after leaving Singapore on a bus, I finally arrived at my first proper stop – Kunming, on my overland journey across Southeast Asia, Yunnan, Beijing, and eventually, Russia, via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Weary eyed, dry throat, fumbled my way to the hostel after a short bus ride across the city. Public buses (¥1-2/trip, ~0.40-0.60  SGD) are convenient and a relatively fuss free to get around, though I was glad I still remembered some Chinese as most signs were in Chinese.

Kunming city. Yunnan, China.
Public buses are inexpensive and not too difficult to get around with.

Got a little lost, made a few unnecessary rounds, and got a couple of shots of the neighbourhood.

Kunming city. Yunnan, China.
Hospital/ traffic junction near the hostel.

Took a short break, then went headed for a walk around old streets/ bird and flower market area.

昆明老街. Kunming Old Street/ Bird and Flower Market. Yunnan, China.

Nice place to spend an afternoon walking around. Old streets, old stalls, some touristy stuff.

昆明老街. Kunming Old Street/ Bird and Flower Market. Yunnan, China.
I like the contrasts in the city,
Kunming city. Yunnan, China.
Boulevards and city life.

Yuantong Temple

After a couple of hours in the area, I made my way through some beautiful boulevards, crossed some busy streets and found myself at the Yuantong Temple (¥6).

圆通寺, Yuantong Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.

Probably the most famous of temples in Kunming, Yuantong Temple bears both historical and cultural significance. 1200 years of history intertwined with elements from the different dynasties across time.

圆通寺, Yuantong Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Large pond in the temple.

The large pond surrounding the central hall was a nice touch, but a little dirty. It was great that there weren’t any crowds in the temple, a nice escape from the bustling streets just beyond the temple gates.

圆通寺, Yuantong Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Carved wood panel.
圆通寺, Yuantong Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Chinese dragon fountain.

Green Lake Park

Pardon the random captions. I found the Chinese fascination with dragons fascinating. I spent a good hour exploring the grounds and then back to the busy streets, towards the Green Lake Park.

翠湖公园, Green Lake Park. Kunming, Yunnan, China.

Green Lake Park is a lovely urban park in the city. There were lots of different activities going on in different areas, from kids on excursions, old ladies dancing, lovers dating, artists painting, and families rowing boats around the lake.

翠湖公园, Green Lake Park. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Green Lake Park.

There are interesting spots around the park such as pavilions and historic water pumps. The lake is apparently also a hangout for migratory birds in winter.

翠湖公园, Green Lake Park. Kunming, Yunnan, China.

Chilled till it started to get cold, then took a long walk back to the hostel. Lots of interesting sights along the way, and a glimpse into city life in China.

Day 2: Bamboo Temple (QiongZhu Si)

Just over a week back, 2 days before leaving Singapore, I had just completed my final paper in University for my Bachelors. I had a job in hand from a couple of months back but wasn’t exactly satisfied with that option so I had continue to apply, but did not hear back from any of the applications so I thought I was done with applications by the time I left Singapore to travel to China.

Long story cut short, had to do a phone interview that morning in Kunming (glad to have been given the opportunity), cleared an associated assessment, and had about another half a day to do some exploration. I thought the interview didn’t go too well, but the application turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me in the recent few years (apart from discovering travelling and meeting amazing friends all around the world).

Bamboo Temple

Upon suggestion by the hostel, I decided to visit the Bamboo temple (¥5), a little out of the city center, in the surrounding hills, for the rest of the day. It took quite a bit of effort finding my way there.

After 2 bus rides and over an hour, I found myself here, in front of this temple in a bamboo forest. Nothing terribly special or impressive, but very peaceful and quiet. The temple also has a long history dating back hundreds of years, and is well maintained. I thought the luohan carvings, probably the highlight in this temple, were really impressive but maybe a little creepy.

筇竹寺/ Bamboo Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
筇竹寺 (¥5).
筇竹寺/ Bamboo Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.

The lone joss stick is a good approximation of the crowd at this well hidden but not so secret place.

筇竹寺/ Bamboo Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Devout devotee.
筇竹寺/ Bamboo Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
The inner compounds.
筇竹寺/ Bamboo Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Had quite a fresh look, despite its age. Probably gone through several rounds of refurbishment and reconstruction.
筇竹寺/ Bamboo Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
I bite.
筇竹寺/ Bamboo Temple. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
The stairs to … somewhere.

I probably spent an hour or 2 thoroughly strolling the grounds and then made my way back. The van that took me down the mountain/hill didn’t seem too legit but I didn’t have much of a choice. Anyway, it brought me to the little cluster of shop houses at the foot of the mountain and I had to walk some distance to catch the bus back to the city center. Which wasn’t too bad a thing. More sights, photos, and random musings.

Suburban shops in Kunming. Yunnan, China.
Suburban shops.

Having read so many business cases and news articles on Walmart, it was hard to hide my excitement when I finally saw one in real life. Really noob, but yes this was my first time seeing a Walmart. Grabbed some goodies and continued on the long walk back.

Groceries from Kunming.
And then, out of nowhere, a wild Walmart appeared! Here’s the haul.
Highway sign in Kunming. Yunnan, China.
No horsing around on the highway.
Modern apartments in Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Kunming is (kinda) a modern city.

And that concluded my second day in Kunming, my 5th on the road.

Day 3: Stone Forest (Shilin)

In Kunming, there’s this Shilin that tourists are all talking about, which didn’t involve any food but lots and lots of rocks. I’d recommend allocating a full day if possible for the massive grounds of the Stone Forest. Or half if you get bored easily. The rocks may just look the same after some time.

Getting from Kunming to Stone Forest (Shilin)

The Stone Forest was more out of the way than the other usual attractions, but decently easy to get directions given it’s popularity. Most people hire cars for a day to visit there, but for the budget backpacker, public buses does just as well. First get to Kunming Eastern Bus Station. There, you’d find dedicated bus services that’ll bring you all the way to the Stone Forest. The buses from Kunming stops (at the parking lot) near the ticketing area, but the Stone Forest itself is still a short distance away. Trams are available for the final stretch (for a fee), but I decided to take the long walk in.

Stone Forest (Shilin)

Of all the places I had been in Kunming, this was definitely the most crowded. The picture doesn’t show it, but it was difficult to get a shot that was not overcrowded with Chinese tourists posing in uhm, not so flattering poses.

石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
石林 (¥88 for students/ ¥170 ).
石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
From a pavilion perched on top of the rocks (visible in the previous picture).
石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
From a further pavilion. Beautiful Karst landscape.

A little hard to imagine that the Stone Forest, a UNESCO world heritage site, was once a sea, over 270 million years ago, and time, together with forces of nature, shaped it to what it is today.

石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Somehow couldn’t get myself to just enjoy the beauty of this spot because Singapore has taught me to look out for potential mosquito breeding spots.
石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Mind your head while you take a break.
石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Down the crack.
石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
The secret gathering.
石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Science, nature, or art?
石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Kunming city in the distance. A little reminder that despite being in a fairy tale like landscape, city life is just an hour away.

Many tour groups come all the way just to see this tall standing rock and hear varying versions of the local ethnic folklore from tour guides. It’s a story of forbidden love and fossilised lovers. Yea I got that just by standing there and unwittingly picking up all these from the passing tour groups on loudhailers.

石林/ Shilin/ Stone Forest. Kunming, Yunnan, China.
The rock of Ashima.

Getting from Stone Forest back to the Kunming

And then it started to get dark so I made my way back to the city. Transport was less dodgy here as the attraction is frequented by tourists. The bus schedule was abit of a concern though, the last bus can be quite early and missing it may mean quite abit of trouble arranging for transport (while staying safe and not getting ripped off).

Kunming city.
On the way back to city. Loaded.
Kunming city. Yunnan, China.
Streets of Kunming at night.

Kunming by Night

It was a long ride and it was totally dark by the time the bus arrived back in the city. Rather famished by then as I had not had a proper lunch.

Kunming city at night. Yunnan, China.
Fancy dress party?

When night falls in Kunming, stalls such as the one below sprout all over the city, selling barbecued skewers and fried carbs. I picked a stall with a decent size crowd. The noodles were really, really good. I wasn’t sure what skewers I was having, and only found out that I had ducks’ tongues when I showed my roommate back in the hostel what I had for dinner.

Roadside barbecue/ barbeque, Kunming, Yunnan, China.
Anything you want barbecued, will be barbecued.
Roadside barbecue/ barbeque, Kunming, Yunnan, China.
A roadside affair.

I liked the noodles the best. Had a great dinner, a great chat with room mates at the hostel, and a great rest on my final night in Kunming.

Roadside barbecue/ barbeque, Kunming, Yunnan, China.

Day 4: Lufeng Dinosaur Valley

Getting to Lufeng Dinosaur Valley

Day 4 was technically not in Kunming, then again, not exactly far off too. I was bound for Dali, but between Kunming and Dali, I made a small detour to a place that’s more historic than any history, the valley of dinosaurs. Lufeng Dinosaur Valley (¥120) was apparently where lots and lots and lots of fossils were found, many (or most?) of them supposedly found facing the same direction. Indeed some mystery, or at least some mysterious sounding story. It was probably more of the kid in me wanting to see some real dinosaur (bones) that dragged me off the trodden path to take a detour which involved getting the bus driver to drop me off in the middle of the highway to wait for another bus I wasn’t even sure at all if it existed. Glad I survived the journey-¥39 total-and the dinosaurs.

Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
Entrance to the valley.

Lufeng Dinosaur Valley

Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
Not the real stuff. But pretty.

The park was large and included a small amusement park and other stuff but the highlight for me (and probably for anyone willing to make the long trip here) was the building where all the fossils were. Apart from having one of the largest collection of fossils, the fossils here are also supposedly more complete than those found elsewhere, and include a wide mix of species. Despite the first discovery of fossils here in the 1930s, the park is relatively new (2008), with lots of unsolved mysteries and research and excavation still going on (which is really cool).

Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
Small fossils.
Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
Slightly bigger fossils.
Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
More fossils.
Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
Even bigger fossils.
Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
Close up fossil.
Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
Hugeass fossil. I think this was the biggest one. Could hardly fit it into the photograph.
Lufeng Dinosaur Valley. Yunnan, China.
Work in progress.

Actually I can’t be sure if all of them were real, but nevertheless fascinating. It was also not too crowded. A little under visited in my opinion, but great that I didn’t have to deal with the crowds. With the kid in me satisfied with the dinosaurs, it was time to move on to Dali. Here comes the next headache, finding a bus that would get me to Dali.

Getting from Lufeng Dinosaur Valley to Dali

Took a long walk with my bags and all to the Lufeng service station where buses frequented. Tried flagging for buses along the highway and it took quite some time before a driver agreed to get me somewhere further down where I could get buses that go to Dali.

Highway outside Lufeng Dinosaur Valley.
Where I was desperately flagging for buses.

Lots hassle and anxiety later, I got on to this bus, which was to get me right to Dali.

Bus from Kunming to Dali.
The Dali Express.
Snacks at a rest stop along the highway. Yunnan, China.
Snack break at a highway stop.
Along the highway from Kunming to Dali. Yunnan, China.

There’s a certain kind of energy I felt in China which I didn’t quite feel in many of the countries I had visited, that of growth, development and rejuvenation. Roads and highways were excellent, yet were still being improved. Construction work going on all around, with few spaces left untouched. This energy was not restricted to areas close to the cities, but reached far into the mountains. Not too sure if this is exactly great for the environment and for culture, but still something unique and notable, yet intangible.

Fields along the highway from Dali to Kunming. Yunnan, China.
Fields along the highway.

Definitely much more to see and do in the areas near Kunming, such as the Dongchuan Red Land, which seems amazing. Maybe next time, but for now, off to Dali!

Kunming (Yunnan, China) Itinerary

Time needed: 4 days.

4 Day Kunming Itinerary

  1. Day 1

    Bird and Flower Market
    Yuantong Temple
    Green Lake Park

  2. Day 2

    Bamboo Temple (QiongZhu Si)

  3. Day 3

    Stone Forest (Shilin)

  4. Day 4

    Lufeng Dinosaur Valley (KongLong Gu)


  • Actual travel dates: 14 May 2015 – 17 May 2015 (4 days, including Lufeng Dinosaur Valley)
  • Accomodation: ¥91 (~S$18 for 3 nights)
  • Attractions: ¥219 (~S$44)
  • Food: ¥179 (~S$16)
  • Transport (excl bus to Dali from Lufeng): ¥117 (~S$24)
  • Bus to Dali from Lufeng: ¥110 (~S$22)
  • Total:  ¥713 (~S$155)

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