Two days is plenty to get a flavor of Kunming and its major sites. We spent two lovely days visiting temples and markets (the Yunnan Provincial Museum was closed), but when we had a few more hours in Kunming on our return journey, I was happy to hole up in an English-language bookstore and coffee shop and write postcards. That said, it’s a good place to provision yourself before heading out into the relative hinterlands. If you forgot anything hiking-related (ahem, hiking boots), there are a few well-stocked outdoor-goods stores ready to serve you.
Places to See | Eateries | Accommodations | Other sites in Yunnan
Places to See
Yuantong Temple (圆通寺)
This is one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples I’ve been to in China. That, or I saw the nicest weather there. Whichever it was, the temple grounds are a lovely place to wander or to sit and read and enjoy the rare moment of quiet.
The temple is located in the northern part of the city, just south of the Kunming Zoo. There is a small admission fee. [October 2008]
Bamboo Temple (筇竹寺)
The Bamboo Temple is famous for 500 carved sculptures of Buddhist arhats. Many of these colorful figurines could come straight from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. In this case, I can’t say it better than Lonely Planet: “Down one huge wall come some 70-odd incredible surfing Buddhas, riding the waves on a variety of mounts — blue dogs, giant crabs, shrimp, turtles and unicorns.” Sadly, photography is prohibited.
Getting to the Bamboo Temple (admission 10 RMB) is a bit of a hassle. Lonely Planet says minibuses leave from opposite the Yunnan Fandian; we spent an hour looking for them to no avail. A taxi was a much easier option. Metered fare to the temple should cost less than 50 RMB. On our way back, we negotiated with one of the minibuses waiting for passengers outside the temple exit.
A small vegetarian restaurant in the temple complex served a delicious and inexpensive lunch. [October 2008]
The market across the street from the Yunnan Provincial Museum (on Wuyi Lu) was a great find, courtesy of our hostel’s complimentary map. Vendors sell everything from candied winter melon to beautiful wool scarves, and the street food was especially tasty. I highly recommend a sandwich of chopped pork inside a bun, described to me as a Kunming hamburger.
If you’re buying souvenirs, bargain hard. We found out too late that starting prices were significantly cheaper in Lijiang. Nice wool scarves should cost around 20 RMB — not 45!
We ate well in Kunming, but only when we stayed away from Lonely Planet’s recommendations. Follow the locals — they may not speak English, but if you’re adventurous, you’ll find something delicious. If you end up staying at the Cloudland Hostel, there are several breakfast spots nearby that serve up delicious bowls of porridge with you2tiao2 (savory donuts).
Lonely Planet’s suggestion of the White Pagoda Dai Restaurant in Kunming is definitely not recommended. Maybe LP’s praise went to their heads, but the food was mediocre and the service downright hostile.
Kunming Cloudland Youth Hostel
This hostel is delightful. The room was spotless and comfortable, but the staff here really shines. The manager, Jane, was a huge help with booking our bus and train tickets. She also gave great advice on where to buy the aforementioned hiking boots (an outdoor store called “On the Tourist’s Way,” address sadly not noted). And when we were passing through Kunming on our return trip, they let us stow our luggage for the day, no questions asked.
A bunk in a four-bed mixed dorm costs 40 RMB. Private rooms are also available. Bookings can be made through hostelworld.com. The hostel is located at 23 Zhuantang Lu (篆塘路). [April 2010]