Kunming - capital of Yunnan province
Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province. It's a big city with 6 million inhabitants. The city is the political and economic heart of Yunnan and the entrance port for most travelers visiting Yunnan. At an altitude of almost 2000 meters, it is also blessed with a mild climate but that said, winters can be quite cold and summers can be hot.
The city's history goes all the way back to the 4th century BC but Kunming, as a city, was founded as a city in 765 CE when it was known to the Chinese as Tuodong.
During the Ming dynasty the city walls were build but there's not a lot left of them these days.
Getting there and away
Kunming has the 4th largest airport in China with connections all over the country and some international destinations. The airport is a few kilometers east of the city center. Railway and bus stations are located on the south part of the city center with accommodation conveniently nearby.
Cycling in and out of the capital of Yunnan is not a big problem too. The road to Jinghong , Xishuangbanna leads west out of the city. Follow East Remin Lu to the T-junction and go left, it's about 7 km from the Camellia Hotel.
For a nice road along Dianchi lake, follow directions to Western Hills which will lead you all along the west side of the lake. For more about this route, see this page
There are a few other routes out of the city. If you follow the direction to the airport soon you will find road marks for Shilin (Stone Forest). You can also follow directions to Tonghai and Jianshui, here's more about that route. This last route is less traveled but worth the experience.
Going to north east Yunnan is an option few travelers ever do. I cycled once from Sichuan into Yunnan using this road. The road leads to Sonming, Zhaotong and further north to Junlian and Sichuan province. Here's the description of that road.
Kunming is quite easy to go around. The easiest way is by taxi. Taxis to the airport cost around Y15 and it takes about 20 minutes. A taxi in the city should start with Y8 with Y1.6 added for per extra km.
Nearly two hundred public bus lines crisscross the city center, covering the whole prefecture. Prices are usually Y1 for a no air-conditioned and Y2 for air-conditioned.
Cycling is common, like in many cities in China there are parking areas for your bicycle and it should be safe. However, don't leave anything on your bike.
Much of the city center is transformed into a pedestrian zone where cars, motorbikes and even bicycles are not allowed. If you have to cross here with your bike, you have to walk.
Kunming has a wide range of hotels, check the following links for hotels in the capital of Yunnan.
Things to see
You can easily spend a week in Kunming as there are plenty of sights to see in the city center alone. One of the main attractions is the majestic Yuantong Park (which contains the zoo) and the Yuantong Temple. The temple is located on the north site of the city center.
The Greenlake Park lies just of the Yuantong Temple and is an oasis of peace in the busy city. Here you will find many Chinese feeding the birds in their free hours.
Northwest about 12 km from the city center is the Qiongzhu Si (or Bamboo Temple) built in 639 and rebuilt in 1422 to 1428. The temple is an amazing piece of Chinese art. The temple is still very much in use by the locals.
In the southern parts of the city center you can visit two more pagodas: West Pagoda and East Pagoda. Both are over 1000 years old.
The "Garden of the Word Horticultural Exposition" is located 6 km north in the northern suburbs.
Dian Lake is also worth a visit. The lake lies just south of the city center with on the east shores the Western Hills with some nice pagodas.
Going east, around 80 km lies Shilin, the Stone Forest. It's actually not a forest. Some find the forest disappointing but I find it fascinating to see how, at this particular place, 1900 meters above sea level, nature has shaped these rocks.
I find it certainly worth a visit. If you are on the way to Guizhou, stay in Shilin and spend a day wandering around outside the (tacky) park. Here's more about the Stone Forest.
There are two excellent bicycle shops in town. The first is located near the Greenlake Park. Xiong Brothers' Bike Shop has a reasonable collection of good materials. They can fix your bike for almost any problem. There are reports of ripping foreigners off. In fact, they did repair my bike once for free, changed materials (I brought them in myself) but they didn't charge me anything.
The address is:
Behind the Wallmart in the city center of Kunming you will find another excellent bicycle shop. They are maybe a bit more expensive but they will have for sure more material.
In the area of the PSB office and the Lao and Myanmar embassy in the Camellia Hotel, near the second Wallmart there are another view decent bicycle shops. They are worth checking out for some spare stuff.
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South Yunnan: Tonghai and Jianshui
Jianshui and to a lesser extend Tonghai are great cities to visit, though few travelers go there. The problem with both cities is that they are a little "at the end of the road". Still, if you want to cycle from Kunming to Guilin, than this is your change.
Map of Yunnan
Baoshan is a kind of "forgotten" province in Yunnan. Not many people visit this really beautiful and very different part of China. Which is not fair as Baoshan has plenty to offer in terms of culture, spectacular nature and most of the year warm weather.