Kunming has evolved at a heady speed, with new developments cropping up almost every which way you look. But there’s still old-world charm and easy-going vibe to be found here in the capital of southwestern Yunnan province. In fact, China’s ‘Spring City’ (the nickname stems from its mild climate) is also often hailed as one of the country’s most liveable.
With gracious parks and lakes and popular pastimes including birdwatching and tai chi, it’s easy to see why. While some pass through Kunming as a gateway to Yunnan’s striking mountainous landscapes and Shangri-La, there are plenty of things to do in Kunming itself, especially for travellers who appreciate a slower pace.
Here are just some of the ways to while away your time in laid-back Kunming. You may even go home with a new hobby or two.
1. Go Birdwatching
Birds – and birders – flock to Kunming during the annual spring and autumn migrations (April and September) when you can spy species such as the Siberian Rubythroat and Taiga Flycatcher. Black headed gulls, meanwhile, can be seen until December, and there are year-round opportunities to break out the binoculars and observe the city’s full-time residents, among them, little egrets, grey herons and Eurasian moorhens. Dianchi Lake and Green Lake Park are two of the best places in Kunming for bird watching.
2. Practise Tai Chi like the Locals
An ancient martial art form, tai chi is widely practised across the world for its meditative and physical health benefits. Kunming is no exception. An early morning meander through one of the city’s many parks will reveal the martial art form in action, with a mostly elderly population going through the motions. Since 1992, international travellers have been honing their skills here, too: Yunnan Sha Guozheng Marshall Arts and Tai Chi School offers morning and evening classes in tai chi.
3. Browse the Dounan Flower Market
Flowers convey a sense of the spring whatever the season and, fittingly, in the ‘Spring City’ of Kunming you can expect full blooms year round at China’s largest wholesale flower market. More than three million flowers pass through Dounan Flower Market daily; there are early-morning flower auctions and schools offering classes in floral design. Casual shoppers can pick up all manner of fresh cut flowers – from carnations to roses and bluebells – at a fraction of the price of retail florists elsewhere. For more flower-spotting, notably camellias, pay a visit to the city’s 44-hectare botanical garden, affiliated with the Kunming Institute of Botany.
4. Stroll Through Kunming’s Parks
There are few better ways to relax than to stroll through a park on a warm, sunny day. With its balmy climate and abundance of wide, open spaces, Kunming offers visitors the chance to do just that. In Green Lake Park, cafés and tea houses – serving Yunnan’s own pu’er brew – line the pavements while rolling hills extend over 22 hectares, to be precise. The park’s name references its four ponds, connected by a series of scenic bridges within the park. To the southwest of the city, Daguan Park is another standout, with a historic pavilion, several lakes, art installations and gardens. And seven kilometres to the northeast awaits the hilltop Golden Temple, dating to the 17th-century Ming dynasty; it’s part of a massive park that lures worshippers and picnickers alike.
5. Try Forest Bathing in Shilin Stone Forest
Forest bathing and nature therapy may be a recent wellness trend, but the concept of relaxing in nature is as old as time. In Shilin Stone Forest, an hour’s drive from Kunming city centre, forest bathing takes on a slightly different form; the 270-million-year-old forest is filled with unique rock formations that stretch over 300 kilometres. Caves, ponds and waterfalls surround the limestone formations, parts of which lie within Unesco World Heritage sites.