Eternal spring

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am


If we only had to take the weather into account, then Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in southern China, is the nation's most enjoyable city. Kunming basks in an eternal spring, with winters that never get too cold and summers that rarely ever scorch or suffocate.

The pleasant climate allows for relaxed strolls through Cui Hu Park (Green Lake Park), hikes into the surrounding hills towards Dianchi Lake, or meandering walks through temples, markets and along small streams.

Cui Hu Park is centrally located and almost always busy with strollers, performers, singers and lovers. The park is small and easily covered in an afternoon, after which you can visit one of the many cafes along the lake's edges and north of the lake towards Yunnan University.

One of the lesser-known gems of the city is the Golden Temple in the northeast of town, a quiet memorial to Wu Sangui, the Ming dynasty general who opened the Great Wall's Shanhai Pass gate, allowing Manchu armies to conquer Beijing. Regardless of what you think of the general's treachery, while in Kunming he loved the easy life. The Golden Temple is a series of Taoist courtyards with pavilions and small wooden buildings.

The Bamboo Temple, in the hills west of town, has one of the largest and best maintained collections of arhat figurines anywhere in China, stored in a memorial hall in the peaceful temple grounds. Arhats are beings who have attained nirvana and once every Buddhist temple in the country had arhat figurines, but now only a handful can boast of 500 well-preserved statuettes like the Bamboo Temple.

If you are just staying within the city limits, but require a little outdoor activity, the Jinzhi River is a good option. The river, actually just a small stream, was once an irrigation canal during the Nanzhao Kingdom that ruled the region 1,400 years ago, but now the old canal is being 're-greened' and made into a pleasurable urban hike. The best place to start is on the northeast side of the Tuodong Stadium.

The countryside outside Kunming is quite beautiful; some of the best trips are out to Dianchi Lake west of the city and the Stone Forest, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Stone Forest is an amazing tableau of upthrust karst formations, brightly coloured lakes and forested highlands that attract more than 3 million visitors a year. It is Kunming's most expensive attraction.

Dianchi was once a playground for kings, but the lake has suffered a lot in the past 10 years of development. Efforts to create a bike-only green beltway around the park will help keep the scenic lake beautiful for the ever-growing number of urban tourists.

Other trips out of town include a drive to Fuxian Lake, a pretty area of forested hills and fishing villages 70km south of Kunming and Changchong Hill, the largest hill in the city. Changchong is a bit of a hike, but the reward is a view of the entire Spring City.