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Mark Hiew (more chengdu)
You’ve surely heard about funky Kunming, capital of Yunnan province. It’s arguably a rival to Chengdu for top spot as China’s southwest cultural center. Kunming bills itself as the city of “eternal spring,” and, given its proximity to Southeast Asian borders, has the reputation of being a cosmopolitan backpacker haven (as oxymoronic as that sounds).

First of all, for those expecting year-round temperate weather, don’t be fooled by Kunming’s tourism campaign: It’s not always warm and sunny! While there in January, we found the city to actually be colder than Chengdu was at the time, and similarly grey and rainy to boot. However, the rest of it is true: Kunming is an offbeat, arts-loving city with a welcoming, laid back feel, and should be on the list of anyone traveling through southwestern China.

Find a place that suits your budget around Green Lake Park, a picturesque centerpiece lined with bars and teahouses. Nearby, wander the graffiti-tagged alleys amid the city’s sloping lanes, filled with boutique stores carrying everything from graphic design books to chic stationary. Then, head for Wenlin Jie, a strip of buzzing Western and local restaurants, coffee shops and bars with a density and mixture unheard of in Chengdu. And if you’re craving live music, ever-popular bars such as the Halfway House and Soho feature a varied lineup of alternative bands.

Among the other sites worth seeing is the Bird and Flower market, which offers a great chance to see the locals in action, as well as to bargain for the sort of trinkets and gifts sold for higher prices in Dali or Lijiang. While wandering along a side street, we passed through a memorabilia shop containing old Maoist bric-a-brac, into an old hutong courtyard where a rousing amateur concert was taking place. While such chance discoveries also occur in other cities, Kunming’s condensed size and pedestrian-friendly streets makes such exploration particularly rewarding.Of course, Yunnan is famous as a travel destination for outdoor adventure and to sample the cultural diversity of its myriad ethnic minorities. So while Kunming undoubtedly charms visitors into lengthier stays, make sure you get further out to some of the provinces other attractions, such as Tiger Leaping Gorge, Lugu Lake and Xishuangbanna, China’s own miniature Southeast Asia.

To Get There:
Travel Information: Kunming is easily accessible from Chengdu by plane or train.
Direct flights to Kunming are bountiful: RMB 350-550 depending on season.
Travel time: ~70 mins
Trains: ~RMB250 for a hard sleeper
Travel time: ~18 hou

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