The city of Kunming stands along Dianchi Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in China.
Kunming and the ethnic groups near Tibet, in the province of Yunnan. The large city of the Chinese south encourages you to stop there, however, you should be aware that the recent tourist boom has transformed the capital of Yunnan into a concrete town on the edges of the old districts. The first advantage of this town (3 million inhabitants): its national flight connections, particularly with Shanghai and Guilin (CNY 850 for 870 miles), and also its international scheduled flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Singapore... Second feature: this is the departure point to go and meet other ethnic groups (Yi, Naxi, ai (Minjia), Dai (Thai)) and to visit not just fascinating villages but also the towns of Dali, by the edge of Lake Erhai, and Lijiang on the Tibetan steps. Kunming is 6,560 feet high. This is the "City of the Eternal Spring" with an average temperature of 18°C all year round. To see: the Old Town that has preserved some houses in brick and wood, and several markets with their little restaurants and kitchens opening onto the pavement, offering delicious and rather spicy cuisine. Speciality: the noodles "that cross the bridge", a type of very hot stock, accompanied by meat and vegetables that you cook in the bowl yourself. Also visit the West Temple pagoda (Xisita), where old people meet to play cards and drink tea. Lake Dianchi (25 miles long by 5 miles wide) is south west of the town. On the north bank, the Provincial Museum, dedicated to the Yunnan ethnic groups, is worth a long stop. A cruise allows you to discover a Taoist temple and its Pavilion of the Three Clarities (Sanqingge). Also very famous is the Kunming Botanical Garden, which organises a well-known flower exhibition each year. However, the most visited site in the region continues to be the famous Stone Forest (Shilin), 74.5 miles from the town centre. This is a forest where the trees are actually rocky spikes, from 16 to 100 feet high. Here, the karst takes on fantastic and strange animal shapes. Visit in the afternoon, when the numerous Chinese tourists leave. 250 miles from Kunming (CNY 350 for a 45 mins by plane), Dali and its surrounding area is worth a two-day visit in the impressive surroundings of the Cangshan mountains. The Old Town and its houses with impressive gates made by the Bai ethnic groups has to be visited on foot: strings of shops and restaurants where travellers meet from all over the world; the site of the Three Pagodas (Dali Santa), and the Dali Museum, with its bronze drums... A cable car takes you to the Zhonge temple for a superb view. A crossing of the Lake Erhai other than by minibus allows you to reach the coastal villages and their markets, like the Wase, for example. The lake is lined by reeds, sampans, and cormorant fishermen. You should not miss the market of Shaping, north of the Erhai, amongst others. Every Monday morning, this is a meeting place for the minority groups coming down from the mountains, particularly the Bai. Amongst live pigs, gifts for the dead, and... travelling dentists, you can find ethnic costumes, pottery, batik, and basketwork items, for which you should actively bargain!