The only reason I had heard of Kunming was thanks to one of my oldest friends. She and her husband adopted their daughter from Kunming years ago, and for some reason it’s a name I never forgot. So, when Cathay Pacific and I started working on what spots in China we should highlight, that’s immediately what came to mind. After a little research, I was definitely intrigued and a project was created. I’m working with Cathay Pacific to bring more attention to amazing places in Mainland China like Kunming but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. Including these reasons why I think Kunming should be on everyone’s travel to-do list.
For luxury travelers to Kunming, there are only a few options and without a doubt the best is the InterContinental Kunming. The only resort in the city itself, it very much is an urban oasis as I learned during my time with them. The sprawling property enjoys an incredible location in Kunming, but as soon as I arrived I felt as if I was in a secluded getaway. Embracing the natural charms of the Yunnan province, the hotel does an incredible job of instantly putting guests at ease. I’ve long been a patron of this luxury brand, and their presence in the Yunnan Province is considerable, with I think their Kunming property at the heart of that experience. With plenty of places to rest and relax, enjoy incredible cuisine and of course the luxury service for which InterContinental is so well known, it’s the ideal place to call home for a few days. One of my favorite experiences at the hotel though was a remarkable dinner showcasing the best of locally inspired dishes. At the on-site gourmet Chinese restaurant Shang Tao, I enjoyed the specialties of the season, including the area mushrooms for which Yunnan is so famous. Course after course of amazing food kept coming, creating an evening exploration in Yunnan cuisine that I know I’ll never forget. Add to that a world class Club Lounge, inviting rooms and outstanding service, and you have a hospitality experience in Kunming that is truly unparalleled.
Heart of Yunnan Province
China’s southern Yunnan province is large and very diverse, and since Kunming is its capital city many of these diverse traditions and cultures are on full display right there in the city. Whether it’s attending the “Dynamic Yunnan” show that highlights the music and dance of the province’s many minority groups, or sampling some street food inspired from far off locales, it’s very easy to get a feeling for the province in the middle of Kunming. One of my favorite experiences though was a visit to the city’s historic core, the Guandu. Although Kunming is a large and modern city of more than 6 million people, spending time in Guandu really is like going back in time to a slower and decidedly simpler era. For decades this historic part of the city was essentially ignored but, thankfully, in recent years the local government has invested to bring the area back to life and transform it into a tourist site. Easy to navigate with signs in a variety of languages, it was here where I admired centuries-old pagodas and old-style Yunnan homes that have nearly disappeared. It’s also the perfect place to try some local delicacies, with plenty of street food vendors offering a little bit of everything.
I love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites and as soon as I learned about the nearby Stone Forest site, I knew that I had to visit. These massive limestone formations extend for as far as the eye can see, making it seem like a vast forest of stone, hence the name. Guided by a member of the local Yi people, the experience wasn’t just about the geology of the region, it was also very much about the culture of this minority group. According to legend, the Stone Forest is the birthplace of Ashima, a beautiful Yi girl. After falling in love she was forbidden to marry her would-be husband and she instead turned into a stone that can still be seen today. It’s a gorgeous park and a lot of fun to visit. It’s also one of the best-organized UNESCO sites I’ve been to.
As with most destinations though, it was those moments I never planned that meant the most to me in Kunming. Going for a bike ride along Dianchi Lake, taking a chair lift up a nearby mountain for panoramic views and even sampling some local street food favorites, these were all very discrete and unique moments that will stay with me forever. For many of us, visiting China is still an enigma. It’s an enormous country and, frankly, most of us don’t know that much about it. Sure, we understand the basics – the Great Wall and Beijing – but beyond that, the average traveler doesn’t fully comprehend how dynamic the experience of traveling in China really is. Made up of dozens of ethnic groups, each region around the country is like its own small nation. Each spot has very specific customs and traditions, foods and holidays that make it unique. There is no such thing as Chinese culture per se, instead the country is very much made up of its individual parts that come together to create one of the most enigmatic but fascinating countries I’ve ever visited. What that means for the casual tourist is that we must force ourselves into adding those cities and regions to our China itinerary we might not know a lot about, but which will add an almost indescribable quality to our adventures. Kunming and the entire Yunnan province is one of those important places in China that I think everyone should plan to visit as they either begin or continue their education into what modern China is really all about.