kunming

11 Best Things to Do in Kunming 2023 (Plus a Food Guide!)

Kunming boasts a rich history spanning over 2,000 years of city building, along with intriguing prehistoric and ancient Dian cultures that are just waiting for you to dive into.

Being the central hub of Yunnan, Kunming serves as the launchpad for travelers heading south to the vibrant Xishuangbanna and west to the captivating regions of Dali and Lijiang, where you’ll find some of the most colorful ethnic traditions in all of China.

What’s striking here is the friendly and welcoming nature of the locals. Shaped over time by the influences of various ethnic groups, Kunming folks have a unique vibe that sets them apart from other Chinese cities.

And let’s not forget the fact that Kunming is a true “flower city,” boasting a bustling flower market where you can score all sorts of blooms, including beautiful blue and red roses, all at wallet-friendly prices.

So, in this travel guide, I’m here to give you the lowdown on Kunming – from its vibrant ethnic culture to the best things to see and do, to where you can savor some delicious local grub and pretty much anything you’re curious to learn about this city.

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🌟Kunming Travel Planning Guide

Considering a last-minute trip to Kunming?

🇨🇳 Top Activities and Tours in Kunming:

1. 1 Day Stone Forest & Jiuxiang Cave Tour
2. 1-Day Dongchuan Red Land Photography Private Tour from Kunming
3. Yunnan Wet Market + Wild Mushroom Hotpot +Tofu Making Eco Tour
4. Half-day Kunming Street Food Tour


🏨Top Hotels in Kunming:

CitiGO Hotel (⭐️ 4.8 budget-friendly)
Sofitel Kunming Hotel (⭐️ 4.7 mid-range)
HUALUXE Kunming (⭐️ 4.8 mid-range)
Mengjing Wangyue Courtyard Hotel (⭐️ 4.9 budget-friendly)

🌐Make sure to install ExpressVPN in advance for unrestricted internet access during your stay in China!

🌏 Where is Kunming Located

Kunming is the capital city of Yunnan province in southwestern China. It’s known for its pleasant climate, diverse ethnic cultures, and scenic landscapes. Situated in the southern part of the country, Kunming is nestled in a mountainous region, often referred to as the “Spring City” due to its mild and temperate climate throughout the year. It serves as a gateway to exploring the rich cultural and natural wonders of Yunnan, including the famous Stone Forest and Dianchi Lake.

👑 Top Must-Visit Places in Kunming

1. Dianchi Lake

Dianchi Lake

If you visit Kunming, a must-visit destination is Dianchi Lake, situated at an altitude of 1,886 meters above sea level. Dianchi Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Yunnan Province spanning 330 square kilometers, is fed by over 20 rivers, earning it the moniker “A Pearl on the Plateau.”

During the months of November to March, Dianchi Lake becomes a winter home to thousands of black-headed gulls. One of the prime spots to witness these gulls is near the Haigeng Dam on the lake’s edge.

Near the dam, you can purchase a bag of bird feed for CNY 10, or alternatively, bring your own bread or other treats to offer to the gulls.

For an optimal travel route, start by taking a car to Haigeng Park. From there, enjoy a leisurely walk or a bike ride along the picturesque Dianchi Lake. For the best experience, it’s highly recommended to feed the gulls at Haigeng Dam in the morning or during the evening hours. The least recommended time for this activity is around noon, when the gulls might be less active.

Where do the black-headed gulls at Dianchi Lake come from?

The black-headed gulls at Dianchi Lake primarily originate from Siberia, Russia. As the northern hemisphere experiences colder temperatures, Siberia, located at the northernmost edge of Asia and prone to severe cold waves, can plummet to frigid temperatures as low as minus 70 °C during the winter. Such extreme cold poses significant challenges to the black-headed gulls residing there. Consequently, like many other birds, they migrate south for the winter and return in the spring.

🔴Chinese: 滇池, Dian Chi
🎫Admission ticket: Free

2. Western Hills

Western Hills

Western Hills, positioned on the west bank of Dianchi Lake, stands as Kunming’s tallest peak. It’s a favored destination for locals seeking a pleasant environment with lush forests and blooming flowers for weekend leisure.

Noteworthy attractions at Western Hills encompass Huating Temple, Taihua Temple, Sanqing Pavilion, and Dragon Gate.

Sanqing Pavilion, a distinct Taoist complex, initially served as the emperor’s summer retreat during the Yuan Dynasty. Ascending more than 1,000 stone steps, the pavilion gives the illusion of a “castle in the air” and provides both temple exploration and sweeping views of Dianchi Lake.

Dragon Gate showcases a karst landscape primarily composed of limestone. Along the way, visitors encounter reliefs, stone carvings, and caves. From Dragon Gate’s summit, one can gaze upon the expansive Dianchi Lake.

Following your visit to Western Hills, consider heading to Chamahua Street at the mountain’s base to savor a variety of Yunnan delicacies, including roasted rushan cheese crossing-the-bridge noodles and more.

P.S. It is highly recommended to take the ropeway to Western Hills for its panoramic views, allowing you to admire Dianchi Lake from a lofty vantage point.

🚗How to get there: Take Line 3 of the Metro to Western Hill Station, followed by a southeastward walk of approximately 1.5 kilometers to reach.

🔴Chinese: 西山, Xi Shan
🎫Admission ticket: CNY 30
🎫Combo Ticket: CNY 70 (This includes the entrance fee for Dragon Gate, a one-way ride on the Dragon Gate ropeway, a one-way journey on the sightseeing battery car, and a round-trip on the tourist bus.)
⏰Opening hours: 8:30 – 17:30
⏳Recommended Time for a Visit: 3 – 4 hours

3. Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park, positioned at the heart of Kunming, lies opposite the main entrance of Yunnan University, steeped in numerous historical recollections of the city.

A visit to Green Lake Park offers not only the chance to admire its ancient edifices but also to explore a museum cluster. Furthermore, Kunming Old Street is conveniently located nearby.

This park beckons visitors throughout the year, showcasing cherry blossoms in spring, lotus blooms in summer, autumnal foliage, and seagull feeding in winter. It is renowned as a prime spot for gull watching, with the best viewing window from November to March, with November as the peak time.

The most vibrant moments at Green Lake Park occur during weekends, when people from diverse ethnic backgrounds gather to partake in traditional folk dances and music.

⭐Recommended attractions: Goldfish Island, Bamboo Forest Island, Palm Islet, Haixin Pavilion, Zhonghai Pavilion

🚗How to get there: Take bus 100, 101, 124, 133, 235, or Z5 to Cuihu Dongmen (East Gate of the Green Lake Park) Station

🔴Chinese: 翠湖公园, Cui Hu Gong Yuan
🎫Admission ticket: Free
⏰Opening hours: 07:00 – 23:00

4. Yunnan University (Donglu Campus)

Yunnan University

As you step into Yunnan University, you’ll immediately notice an eclectic mix of building styles that catch your eye. You’ll come across the iconic Huize Hall, the traditionally-styled Gong Hall, Zhigong Hall, and the charming courtyard-style Yingqiu Hall.

The Donglu campus, snugly nestled beside Green Lake Park, offers a unique blend of Western elegance and ancient Chinese charm, all in a peaceful setting.

But the real magic of Yunnan University reveals itself during two special seasons: March, when begonias burst into bloom, and November, when the ginkgo trees turn a brilliant yellow. Yunda Ginkgo Road, stretching about 300 meters from Wenyuan Hall to Huize Hall, becomes an absolute must-visit for folks in Kunming who want to revel in the beauty of autumn ginkgoes.

🔴Chinese: 云南大学, Yunnan Da Xue
🎫Admission ticket: Free (advance booking required)
📍Location: No.2 Cui Hu North Street

5. Kunming Old Street

Kunming Old Street

Kunming Old Street, kickstarted back in the Ming Dynasty, boasts a whopping 900-year history. It weaves through various streets like Guanghua Street, Jingxing Street, Wenmiao Street, Qianwang Street, and Wenming Street…, creating a charming web of old streets and alleys.

As you stroll along, you’ll be surrounded by the architectural splendor of the Ming and Qing dynasties—think weathered stone roads, red brick walls, black-tiled roofs, and intricately carved wooden windows. These elements serve as living relics of Kunming’s bygone era, with old taverns, teahouses, workshops, and apothecaries sharing tales of the city’s past.

This old street is a culinary treasure trove, offering local delights like Rice Noodles with Tofu Puddings, Yunnan Stuffed Buns, Roast Rice Cakes, and delectable flower cakes, all served up in charming wooden buildings.

Getting around is a breeze, and there’s no shortage of accommodation options nearby. Whether you’re into upscale hotels or budget-friendly stays, you’ll find the perfect lodging to suit your preferences.

🚗How to get there: Take Bus 1, 2, 54, 61, 69 and Bus 237 to the Stop of Wenmiao (文庙).

🔴Chinese: 昆明老街, Kunming Lao Jie
🎫Admission ticket: Free
⏰Opening hours: Open 24 hours

6. Guandu Ancient Town

Guandu Ancient Town

Head southeast from Kunming’s city center, about 10 kilometers away, and you’ll stumble upon the renowned Guandu Ancient Town. This place is a historical and cultural gem, often considered one of the origins of Yunnan Culture.

The charm of Guandu Ancient Town lies in its old-world vibe, boasting “six temples, seven pavilions, and eight shrines” within a compact area of less than 1.5 square kilometers.

Delve into the rich tapestry of intangible cultural heritage that Guandu Ancient Town has to offer. Explore places like the Yunnan Chinese Chess Museum, Carved Copper Workshop (乌铜走银传习馆), and Yunnan Opera Workshop (滇剧花灯传习馆) to immerse yourself in the local culture.

And for all you food lovers out there, Guandu Ancient Town is your culinary playground. From the famous Guandu Baked Cake (Guandu Baba) and hearty rice noodles to Ersi, Shao Erkuai, and mouthwatering Western Yunnan and Burmese fare at spots like Ah Bo’s Burmese Cuisine or Kaili-style Sour Soup Chicken—these are all beloved delicacies that even the seasoned residents of old Kunming can’t resist!

⭐Recommended attractions: Miaozhan Temple (the No. 1 of the six temples), Jingang Pagoda, Tuzhu Temple, Fading Temple, Linyun Pavilion.

🚗How to get there: Take Bus 31, 165, 169, 174, 185, 908, and Bus k15 to the Stop of Guandu Guzhen

🔴Chinese: 官渡古镇, Guandu Gu Zhen
🎫Admission ticket: Free

7. Yunnan Provincial Museum

Yunnan Provincial Museum

Established back in 1951, the Yunnan Provincial Museum is your go-to spot for all things art and history. They’ve got an impressive collection of over 230,000 pieces, covering everything from bronze ware and ancient coins to porcelain, old-school Chinese paintings, stone tablet rubbings, and even stamps.

Head up to the second and third floors, and you’ll find six permanent exhibitions that’ll walk you through Yunnan’s journey from ancient days to modern times. And if you’re down on the first floor, you’ll stumble upon some special exhibitions.

When it comes to Yunnan’s cultural treasures, bronze ware takes the cake. It’s not just a big deal in Yunnan’s history but also a heavyweight in the global bronze scene. This Yunnan bronze culture, with its spotlight on the Bronze Vessels of the Dian Kingdom, packs a punch in terms of artistic flair and cultural depth. It’s been turning heads worldwide since the last century.

If you happen to find yourself hanging out in the first-floor lobby of the museum, don’t miss the chance to savor some real-deal Yunnan Coffea Arabica.

🚗How to get there: Take bus no. 31, 174, 185, 186, 232, 253, 255, 908, C85, C142, C143, or K15, and get off at Guandu Guzhen Station, and then walk about 500 meters to get there.

🔴Chinese: 云南省博物馆, Yunnan Sheng Bo Wu Guan
🎫Admission ticket: Free (no reservation is required in advance)
⏰Opening hours: 9:00 – 17:00 (closed on Mondays)

8. Dounan Flower Market

Dounan Flower Market

If you’re a flower fanatic, the Yunnan Dounan Flower Market is basically your version of paradise. People say if it exists in the world of flowers, you’ll find it here. Plus, compared to other flower markets across China, the prices here are pretty budget-friendly.

Dounan Flower Market is huge and split into various sections. Down on the first floor of the main hall, you’ve got a treasure trove of all kinds of blooms. Pop up to the second floor, and you’re in succulent plant paradise. There’s even more to explore – Flower Boutique Hall in Hall 1, Huadu Souvenir Hall in Hall 2 (they’ve got cool flower-related products), Life & Art in Hall 3, and Ocean World in Hall 5, along with other spots making up the Flower Culture and Art District. It’s a full-on flower fiesta!

If you’re planning a visit, aim to get there after 4:00 PM. The place really comes to life from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Daytime is for retail therapy, but once the sun sets, it’s all about wholesale flower deals.

🚗How to get there: Take subway line 1 or line 2 and get off at the Dounan Flower Market Station. Walk around 5–8 minutes to the market areas.

🔴Chinese: 斗南花市, Dou Nan Hua Shi
🎫Admission ticket: Free
⏰Opening hours: 9:00 – 24:00

9. Stone Forest Scenic Area

Stone Forest

The mind-blowing Yunnan Stone Forest, tucked away in Shilin Yi Nationality Autonomous County, about 120 kilometers from Kunming. This place is like a nature wonderland, sitting between 1500 to 1900 meters above sea level. People swear it’s a spot where winter forgets to be chilly, summer keeps its cool, and every day feels like a gentle spring hug.

Mother Nature must have had a field day shaping these hard rocks into the extraordinary formations you see today. When you wander through the stone forest, you’ll come across clusters of peaks, mysterious caves, serene lakes, cascading waterfalls, and hidden underground rivers, each rock telling its own unique tale.

The Stone Forest Scenic Area is packed with incredible spots, including the Greater and Small Stone Forests, Naigu Stone Forest, Zhiyun Cave, Long Lake, Moon Lake, Qifeng Cave, and the Dadie Waterfalls.

Greater Stone Forest

It’s sprawling, with a sea of dense stone peaks. These peaks stand tall and proud, with some reaching over 40 meters high.

Small Stone Forest

Nestled in the northeast of the Greater Stone Forest, it’s on the smaller side but packs a punch with its most famous attraction, Ashima Stone.

Naigu Stone Forest

Covering a solid 10 square kilometers, Naigu Stone Forest is the whole package. It’s got spiky stones, karst caves, a grand waterfall, vast grasslands, and a black volcanic block causeway that’s all shades of impressive. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel small in the grand scheme of nature’s artistry.

P.S. To make the most of your visit, consider hiring a guide who can regale you with the fascinating stories of the Stone Forest Scenic Area.

🚗How to get there: the most practical and fastest way is to hire a private car with a driver.

10. Jiuxiang Scenic Area

Jiuxiang Scenic Area

Jiuxiang Scenic Area, a short hop from the Stone Forest, is a real gem in the world of national scenic spots, all about that breathtaking karst cave vibe; it’s packing one of the planet’s biggest clusters of caves.

Now, once you’re in, you’re in for a visual treat. Picture this: lush forests, cascading cave waterfalls, meandering rivers, dramatic canyons, stalagmites, stone columns – it’s a wild mix. Inside those caves, it’s like a disco with those lights flickering and colors going all wild. Especially up top of the cave, those stone columns and stalagmites come together in a glorious mashup.

The cave’s vast and winding, riddled with holes within holes, earning it the name “Karst Caves Museum.” Honestly, the cave’s interior is so mind-blowing, that words struggle to capture it all.

Green Shady Valley, it’s a kilometer of pure greenery, flanked by a sea of lush trees. For a real thrill, hop on a boat and cruise through the canyon – your voice is gonna echo off those towering cliffs.

Then there’s the Grand Underground Valley – an underground canyon like no other in China. It’s over 100 meters high and 3-5 meters wide, with those sharp cliffs and a river that’s in a hurry.

Don’t miss the Twin Waterfalls, this beauty forms when two streams of water merge and take a 30-meter plunge from a high cliff into an underground cave. It’s like nature’s own water show!

🚗How to get there: Private vehicle service would make the tour more convenient and better use your limited time.

🔴Chinese: 九乡风景区, Jiu Xiang Feng Jing Qu
🎫Admission ticket: CNY 60
⏰Opening hours: 09:00 – 18:00

11. Dongchuan Red Land

Dongchuan Red Land

Dongchuan Red Land, you could say, is a stunning little corner near Kunming. It’s roughly 200 kilometers from Kunming and just about 40-50 kilometers from Dongchuan itself.

When we talk about “Red Land,” we’re talking about a place called Huashitou Village. Right in the heart of this spot, in the surrounding 20 kilometers or so, you’ll find the densest, most typical, and most unique red soil anywhere in the Yunnan highlands. Some folks even reckon it’s the most jaw-dropping red land you’ll come across worldwide, second only to Brazil.

Yunnan enjoys a warm and humid climate, and over time, the iron in the soil goes through a slow and dazzling transformation as it oxidizes.

The beauty here is on display all year round: in February and March, you’ll see the red land blending with traces of snow; come April and May, the wheat fields turn golden ripe. Then, from September to December, some parts of the red soil have been freshly plowed while others are adorned with green barley or wheat and other crops.

When you take in this panorama from afar, it’s like a painting you’d only find in dreams, set against a backdrop of blue skies and fluffy white clouds, creating a truly spectacular red land scenery.

Now, the red land attractions are scattered around, but they all revolve around Huashitou Village, giving you three main ways to explore: the northwest route, the northeast route, and the southern route.

Northwest Route: Damakan – Qicaipo – Jinxiuyuan

Damakan

Damakan, it’s the name of a village, and it’s just a short 5 kilometers down the road from Huashitou Village. You should find yourself up on this high slope by the roadside – the ultimate spot for capturing those stunning red land vistas and catching the most epic sunrise. The prime shooting time? You’re looking at around 6 or 7 in the morning, right before the sun peeks over the horizon.

This is when every household is in full breakfast mode, and you’ve got these wisps of smoke floating through the air. As the morning sun plays hide-and-seek through the trees and dances with the mist created by the temperature difference, trust me, your photos are going to be next-level stunning.

A word to the wise: it can get pretty chilly in the early hours, and since you’ll be perched up on the vent for that killer shot, make sure to bundle up and stay warm.

Qicaipo

Up in the northern reaches of Huashitou Village, you’ll stumble upon Qicaipo, a big name in the Dongchuan Red Land scene. It’s like the poster child for China’s Red Land, renowned for its vibrant, eye-popping layers of color. The red land at Qicaipo is like a burst of fireworks, hitting you right in the feels.

This spot is no low-rider; it’s perched up high, and when you stand there and gaze out over the Qicaipo’s red land, your eyeballs are in for a real treat. Peering down from the slope’s peak, the natural red soil splashes a brilliant palette, almost reaching up to the sky. From a distance, it’s like Gog himself took a brush and painted a vivid canvas, showcasing an irresistible blend of colors and those graceful curves.

Now, when you’re on that hillside, break out the wide-angle lens for some seriously rich shots. And here’s the cool part – you can add a touch of human vibe to your photos by snapping the local farmers hard at work in the fields. It’s got that real down-to-earth, human touch that’ll make your shots pop.

Jinxiuyuan

Jinxiuyuan, it’s like the twin of Qicaipo, rocking the same colorful and beautiful layers. When the wind picks up, it’s like a dance party with the crops in the red land swaying and grooving to the rhythm—so vibrant and alive. Plus, there’s this big rolling hillside right here that’s just waiting to be explored.

Northeast Route: Luoxiagou – Laolongshu – Yueliangtian

Luoxiagou

Luoxiagou, it’s like this standout hill deep in a valley, with farmland and villages on top, hugged by mountains all around. Now, if you’re chasing that perfect sunset, this is the place to be.

When the sun starts its descent, the red earth in Luoxiagou throws back the shadow of fluffy white clouds, creating this cool layered effect of light and dark. It’s a sunset view you don’t wanna miss.

Laolongshu

Meet Laolongshu, the sacred tree – a massive, ancient fir tree that’s been around for a cool thousand years. It went through a rough patch when it shriveled up for three years, but then it bounced back, sprouting new branches like t was no big deal.

For thousands of years, this old tree has been standing guard over this huge red land, just like a solemn and sacred warrior god.

Yueliangtian

Yueliangtian, a bit of a trek at 20 km from Huashitou Village, is a breathtaking mix of terraced fields and valleys. It’s the only place in Huagou Village where rice thrives in those terraces.

Spring is the time to visit, catching the paddy fields in their prime right after they’ve been irrigated. For the best shots, set your sights on April and May when those fields glisten, mirroring the vivid blue sky and fluffy white clouds.

But that’s not all – there’s a stunning canyon scene right by Yueliangtian. When you blend the canyon and terraces, you get these captivating lines and layers, making it a paradise for photographers.

Southern Route: Yuepu’ao – Luosiwan

Yuepu’ao

Just a stone’s throw from Huashitou Village, you’ll find Yuepu’ao, a cozy little hillside. The red land views here are something else, known for their sleek and stunning lines, much like what you’d see at Qicaipo. Those charming villages all neatly arranged nearby just make the whole scene even better. If you’re gunning for the best shots, make it here right after sunrise.

Luosiwan

Luosiwan, less than 1 km from Yuepu’ao. This place is dotted with plenty of houses, which can add some serious charm to your shots when you’re framing your pictures.

Transportation and Lodging

🚗How to get to Dongchuan Red Land: When it comes to getting around in the Dongchuan Red Land, there aren’t any shuttle buses in sight. This place is pretty vast, so you’ll need your own wheels.

The easiest way to explore is by booking a tour or getting yourself a chartered bus. If you’re crunched for time, you can pretty much cover everything in a single day with a chartered bus.

However, if you want to catch those epic sunrise and sunset views, it’s a good idea to plan for a day and a half to fully enjoy and capture the beauty of this place.

🏨About accommodation: In the villages surrounding the Red Land, numerous farmhouses have sprung up recently. They provide food, transportation, and a place to stay. If you’re into photography, just hit up the owner for tips, but keep in mind, English isn’t their strong suit in this minority area. Even Mandarin might be a bit of a language hurdle.

Accommodations here are pretty straightforward. In the off-season, you’re looking at around CNY 60-100, which covers your meals too. However, when peak season hits, brace yourself for prices to soar to 2-3 times that amount.

🔴Chinese: 东川红土地, Dong Chuan Hong Tu Di
🎫Admission ticket: Free
⏰Opening hours: Open 24 hours

⭐ Where to Eat in Kunming

Nanqiang Street

Nanqiang Street, with a history of over 90 years, embodies that classic Kunming vibe. It’s the go-to spot for a diverse food scene at the heart of Kunming.

Here, you’re in for a treat with not just local favorites like rice noodles, but also exciting options like seafood paella and ramen. And hey, if you’re up for a chill time, there are cozy cafes where you can soak in the relaxed Kunming pace.

Yuanxi Road

Yuanxi Road, right by Yunnan University, is a popular snacking haven in Kunming, always drawing curious explorers. This street is teeming with small, hidden gem restaurants, some of which you might not even know about unless someone tips you off.

Think of Dajiale’s famous golden pig feet that have been a hit for over two decades, the must-visit Yuanxi barbecue joint, and don’t forget to sample Yangdama Paocai’s delectable fruit pickles. This street, just a few hundred meters long, is perfect for leisurely strolls, where you can easily lose track of time.

Chamahua Street

When talking about snack streets in Kunming, Chamahua Street at the base of the Western Hills is a must-mention. This lively street is a culinary hub, not only showcasing Kunming’s own delicacies but also offering a taste of other Yunnan cities.

Picture grilled rushan (a milk-based delight), refreshing cold rice noodles, and savory roast beef and lamb. If you’re eager to savor the flavors of Yunnan all in one go, Chamahua Street is the place to be.

Xiangyun Street

During my visit to Kunming, I discovered a delightful surprise – the local practice of pickling fruits like pineapples and peaches. There’s this inconspicuous fruit pickles shop tucked away on Xiangyun Street (at No. 49 Xiangyun Street) that lures in a steady stream of curious visitors.

And if you’re in the mood for more culinary adventures, you’ll find other popular spots nearby, like sugar water shops and the Wuyishan baked cakes shop, well worth checking out.

Shuangqiao Night Market

Shuangqiao Night Market is a year-round hotspot, and the evenings there are a real buzz. It’s not just a food haven; it’s a hub for all sorts of entertainment. When you visit, you can relish in delights like roasted tofu, mouthwatering hot pots, and flavorful kebabs—a true source of joy.

Wild Mushroom Street

Situated adjacent to the nation’s largest wholesale wild mushroom market, this street is a culinary paradise for mushroom enthusiasts. It’s dotted with restaurants that serve up a diverse array of mushroom dishes.

If you find yourself in Yunnan during the rainy season (from May to July), a visit to this renowned mushroom street is a must. Indulge in the delightful flavors and taste the goodness of freshly harvested mushrooms.

😋 What to Eat in Kunming

Rice Noodles

In Kunming, you’ll never grow weary of digging into rice noodles. Out of all the noodle options, the big names are cross-bridge rice noodles, small pot rice noodles, and Rice Noodles with Tofu Puddings.

But here’s the scoop: while cross-bridge rice noodles have earned their stripes nationwide, it’s small pot rice noodles and Rice Noodles with Tofu Puddings that truly hit the spot for the folks in Kunming.

Small Pot Rice Noodles

When it comes to small pot rice noodles, each bowl is a solo act, cooked up in a little pot with its own special sauce, a heap of tasty ingredients, and a flavorful broth. What sets it apart is that you can jazz it up with extra fixings as you please. The authentic way to savor small pot rice noodles is to toss in some minced meat, Chinese leek, and pickled veggies, and don’t forget a piece of pungent stinky tofu on a long stick – and boom, it’s ready to serve!

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Rice Noodles with Tofu Puddings

Rice Noodles with Tofu Puddings come in two flavors: meat and vegetarian. The main difference? Whether there’s some saucy meat action going on. In the meat version, you’ll find sauce-soaked meat, chili peppers, and pickled veggies all mingling with those fresh, silky, white tofu puddings. It’s a symphony of salty, spicy, sour, and sweet flavors that come together to create a wonderfully complex and rich taste.

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Steamed Rice Cake (Ersi)

Ersi, a quintessential Kunming snack, starts with high-quality local paddy rice as its primary ingredient. This rice is transformed into rice blocks, which are then cut into noodle-shaped Ersi.

You can enjoy Ersi in various ways—boiled, fried, or marinated. When you tuck into a bowl of Ersi, you’ll experience the magic: the thick, flavorful soup seeps into the soft and chewy Ersi, mingling with fresh meat, peas, ham, and other ingredients. It’s like a warm, hearty hug in a bowl.

🏠 Shop recommendation:

Steam-Pot Chicken

Steam-pot chicken is all about cooking chicken in a pot over boiling water. The unique aspect of steam-pot chicken is that the cooking method allows the chicken to retain its natural flavors and tenderness. The steam condenses into a flavorful broth, preserving the chicken’s original taste. Fuzhao Lou in Kunming is the place to be if you’re craving this mouthwatering specialty.

🏠 Shop recommendation:

Dai Cuisine

Kunming’s got a whole bunch of delicious eats, and you can’t leave out Dai cuisine. Their tangy and spicy flavors are like a direct hit of summer for the locals.

Think secret lemon shrimp, chilled lemon chicken, pineapple rice, and sour soup hot pot – these zesty Dai dishes are sure to wake up your taste buds and leave you craving for more. Super tasty stuff!

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Wild Mushroom Hot-pot

The prime time for savoring wild mushrooms in Kunming is early summer—specifically, June and July. During these months, you’re in for a treat with the Yunnan Wild Mushroom Hot Pot. It’s like a special summer edition in Yunnan’s culinary scene. Yunnan’s got this crazy cool nature scene with all kinds of wild mushrooms, and this hot-pot dish really takes advantage of all that natural goodness.

🏠 Shop recommendation:

Yunnan Stuffed Bun

Yunnan Stuffed Bun is like the real deal snack in Kunming! It’s got layers of fluffy, perfectly shaped dough that you can pop into your mouth all at once or tear into, enjoying each layer. Back in the day, these buns were stuffed with hams, diced meat, minced mushrooms, and the classics. Nowadays, they’ve gone all fancy with new flavors like sweet sesame peanut and milk brown sugar fillings. Yum!

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Guandu Baked Cake (Guandu Baba)

In the Kunming dialect, “Baba” translates to “cake,” and when you stroll the streets of Guandu, you’ll spot plenty of folks clutching their Guandu Baked Cakes, munching away as they walk.

Now, these Guandu Baked Cakes come in a variety of flavors, like bean paste, meat, and pickled vegetables, even rose sesame—so you’ve got plenty of tasty options to choose from.

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Yunnan Arabic Coffee

When you find yourself in Kunming, you absolutely gotta get a taste of Yunnan Arabic Coffee. The region boasts some fantastic environments that are just perfect for growing this coffee, so you know it’s top-notch. This coffee has that right balance of acidity, a powerful aroma, and a smooth, mellow flavor.

You can pick up some coffee beans at specialty shops scattered around Kunming. Take ’em home and brew up your own delicious cup. But if you’re in more of a try-before-you-buy mood, swing by a coffee shop on Kunming Old Street.

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Flower Cake

Kunming is a flower paradise, and you’ll find flower cakes aplenty on its streets. The star of the show is the Kunming flower cake, primarily crafted from luscious rose petals. While there are other floral flavors available these days, the classic choice that still reigns supreme is the timeless rose flower cake.

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Roast Rice Cake

You won’t believe how popular Shao Erkuai is in Kunming! It’s this unique local snack that you can easily spot at any corner or street in the city.

Erkuai is made from different types of local rice. They take these thin, round pieces and toast them over charcoal until they turn fluffy and slightly chewy. And they’re dressed up with a range of sauces and side goodies to suit your taste.

The most basic combo involves wrapping it around a deep-fried dough stick, but if you’re feeling fancy, you can go all out with chicken, poached eggs, hams, and more. That’s how you do it like a true local!

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Xuanwei Ham

The folks in Kunming have a special fondness for ham, especially the renowned “Xuanwei ham.” It’s big in size, light on bones, boasts delicate skin, thick meat, and just the right balance of fat and lean meat.

In traditional Dian cuisine, it’s a go-to ingredient for enriching the flavors of hearty stews and soups. Plus, taking some home to add that mouthwatering touch to stir-fries is always a delicious idea!

🏠 Shops recommendation:

Stone Forest Milk Cake

Stone forest milk cake is like this cool cheese whipped up by the local Yi folks in Yunnan. They make it from goat’s milk and it’s got this amazing milky fragrance going on.

In the world of Yunnan grub, you’ve got this famous dish called “steamed milk cake with ham.” Basically, they steam this milk cake along with Xuanwei ham. It’s like a wild mix of creamy milk vibes and that salty ham goodness. It’s kinda quirky, but trust me, it tastes oh-so-good!

🏠 Shops recommendation:

🛫 How Do I Travel to Kunming

By Plane

Kunming Changshui International Airport

Kunming Changshui International Airport stands as one of China’s key regional hub airports, boasting significant annual passenger traffic. Kunming is frequently hailed as a prime transit city in China, with popular transit routes like Kunming-Xishuangbanna, Kunming-Tengchong, Kunming-Mangshi, and Kunming-Puer.

For those aiming to reach downtown from the airport, here are a few options:

  • Taxi: A taxi ride takes about 30 minutes, covering a distance of approximately 28 kilometers from the city.
  • Airport Bus: Opt for the airport bus for a direct journey to the city, lasting around 40 minutes and costing CNY 25. Board the bus at the Kunming Station city terminal.
  • Subway: Take Line 6 to reach the city and transfer to other subway lines to reach various scenic areas. The subway operates daily from 06:20 to 22:55.

By Train

Kunming Railway Station

The Kunming Railway Station serves as the originating and terminating point for three major railway lines: the Shanghai-Kunming Railway, the Chengdu-Kunming Railway, and the Nanning-Kunming Railway. Additionally, it holds a pivotal role as a significant railway transportation hub station in the southwestern region of China.

☀️ Best Time to Visit Kunming

Kunming boasts a perpetual spring-like vibe, making it an incredibly pleasant city year-round. It’s the kind of place you’ll fall in love with, regardless of when you decide to visit.

The weather in Kunming follows a low-latitude subtropical plateau mountain monsoon pattern. Warm, humid air from the southwest Indian Ocean ensures ample sunshine and minimal frost year-round.

The annual average temperature hovers around 15°C, and Kunming experiences the smallest temperature fluctuations across the year in the entire country. With flowers blooming throughout the year, Kunming proudly holds the title of “Flower City.”

For the best experience, plan your visit between December and March. During this time, Kunming’s Green Lake and Dianchi Lake offer delightful encounters with seagulls. Alternatively, from March to October, the city bursts into a riot of colorful flowers and abundant fruits. It’s the perfect time to revel in the blossoms and savor seasonal delights.

And don’t miss the rainy season from July to August when Kunming’s markets are teeming with a variety of mushrooms. Happy travels!

🏨 Where to Stay in Kunming

CitiGO Hotel

CitiGO Hotel
⭐️ Rating: 4.8/5 | 🤑 Cost: approx. $48-55 USD | 🏩 View on Trip
  • Highlight: youth-oriented, technology, fashion

This hotel sits right by the Green Lake, and you get a sweet view of the lake as soon as you step out. Now, the lobby isn’t your usual hotel lobby; it’s more like a party in full swing, complete with a bar, a spot for jamming on instruments, a chill-out area, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

When it comes to the rooms, they’re decked out with tech. You walk in, the electric curtains glide open, you can tweak the air conditioning, lights, and TV straight from your smartphone. Only hitch here is that the rooms are kinda on the cozy side, especially the twin rooms – they’re around 20 square meters.

Sofitel Kunming Hotel

Sofitel Kunming Hotel
⭐️ Rating: 4.7/5 | 🤑 Cost: approx. $112-150 USD | 🏩 View on Trip
  • Highlight: the most budget-friendly five-star hotel

This French luxury hotel brand comes fully loaded with a gym, pool, and spa. And let’s not forget the must-visit top-floor bar – it’s the highest spot in Kunming, boasting breathtaking sunset and nighttime views!

As for the rooms, they’re oozing with cultural design flair, keeping things chic and ahead of the curve. Plus, those large floor-to-ceiling windows in the interior, giving you total control over your cityscape view.

HUALUXE Kunming

HUALUXE Kunming
⭐️ Rating: 4.9/5 | 🤑 Cost: approx. $110-148 USD | 🏩 View on Trip
  • Highlight: the best hot spring hotel in Kunming

The HUALUXE Kunming Hotel sits right on Kunming’s Dianchi Lake and is conveniently close to the Yunnan Ethnic Village, making it an ideal base for exploring the city. This place is like a green oasis, with trees, flowers, bridges, and flowing water jazzing up every corner.

They’ve got an outdoor garden hot spring pool with epic views, and you can even score your very own private hot spring. The pool might not be massive, but it’s tucked away in this lush garden setting, and there are some sneaky hidden pools where you can practically have the whole thing to yourself, making for some seriously comfy soaking.

Mengjing Wangyue Courtyard Hotel

Mengjing Wangyue Courtyard Hotel
⭐️ Rating: 4.9/5 | 🤑 Cost: approx. $56-75 USD | 🏩 View on Trip
  • Highlight: the best hotel with ethnic culture, budget-friendly

This place rocks a courtyard house style, where they’ve blended the courtyard design and room layout with a dash of classic Ming and Qing dynasty vibes. It’s got that old-school charm but doesn’t feel outdated.

Every room has its own unique setup, decked out with antique furniture like old-school tables and chairs, plus some handmade embroidered pillows. It’s impossible not to notice all these culturally rich gems surrounding you.

🌸Final Tips on Traveling to Kunming

  • Kunming newcomers, beware of the acclimatization curve – pack some stomach meds just in case.
  • High-powered sunscreen is a must-pack for visiting Yunnan.
  • Got extra Kunming time? Crash a night for the Dounan Flower Market after dark, even though most folks hit it up during the day. The 9 pm nighttime flower market is a game-changer.
  • Taxis aren’t my thing in Kunming; buses and the metro rock the city transport scene.
  • Heading to the Stone Forest? Stay near the subway line; it’s a long haul from downtown, and Kunming traffic is the real deal. Plan your time right.
  • Don’t let the Yunnan Ethnic Village slip through your fingers; you might regret missing it.
  • Locals might not vibe with Green Lake Park, but for tourists, it’s a slice of local life you won’t want to miss, perfect for a post-dinner stroll.
  • Check that weather forecast; if rain’s on the horizon, load up on extra layers. Rainy days in Kunming can give you the chills.
  • Finding an authentic Dai restaurant? Keep it simple. Look at the decor and hear how the staff chit-chat – bamboo furniture, Dai conversation – that’s your real Dai deal.
  • Want to feed the seagulls? Head to Dianchi Lake & Haigeng Dam in winter; that’s when the seagulls throw their party – don’t bother outside of that season.

China Travel Planning Guide&FAQ

🎫Do I need a visa for China?

Yes. Most visitors to China will need a visa to enter the country. The type of visa you need will depend on the purpose and duration of your trip, as well as your nationality. If you are a resident of the US, you must apply for a Chinese visa at the Consular Office in the country. On the other hand, inhabitants of countries like Japan, Canada, and the UK can request a visa through the Chinese Visa Application Service Center.

🤔Why is it necessary to install a VPN in China?

In China, the government has strict regulations on internet access, leading to the blocking of popular websites and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube. To access these sites, a VPN is suggested as a means of bypassing the restrictions. It is important to choose a reputable VPN provider and use caution while doing so. ExpressVPN has been historically deemed the most reliable VPN for this purpose, despite being heavily targeted by China’s censors. Nevertheless, it is still a widely preferred option owing to its ease of installation and user-friendliness.

📲Is it necessary to have a Chinese SIM card while in China?

Yes. It is crucial to acknowledge that accessing the internet in China may pose limitations due to certain websites being prohibited or filtered. To ensure uninterrupted connectivity while staying in China, purchasing a local SIM card is advisable. For optimum results, acquiring SIM cards from either China Unicom or China Mobile is recommended. While China Mobile has the most comprehensive coverage in China and is a market leader, China Unicom is more compatible with foreign phones, enabling 3G and 4G services. Or you can purchase a SIM card online.

🔮Should I buy China travel insurance?

Yes. Although China is generally a safe country for travel, it is still possible to encounter accidents or other unexpected occurrences. Therefore, obtaining travel insurance can provide a sense of security and financial protection. In my research, I have found that World Nomads is a reputable travel insurance provider that covers a wide range of activities and is recommended for the average traveler. Nevertheless, I advise you to compare insurance quotes from various providers before making a decision.

🚙Can you rent a car in China?

Unfeasible. Obtaining a Chinese driver’s license to rent a car and self-drive may seem like an option, but it is not a practical choice for most foreigners. Therefore, many prefer to opt for a driver or public transportation when navigating China, as it proves to be more convenient.

✈️What’s the best site to purchase flight tickets for China?

I suggest using Trip for affordable flights to China. As a China-based company, they often offer lower prices compared to foreign companies. Additionally, they offer English-speaking phone support in case of any issues.

🏡What is the best way to book hotels in China?

Not only does Trip offer a wider range of flight options, but it also provides a greater selection of hotels to choose from. Moreover, Agoda is a reliable resource for hotels throughout Asia.

🎒What do I pack for China?

Travel adapter and converter: China uses a different electrical system than many other countries, so it’s important to bring a travel adapter and converter if you plan to use electronic devices such as phones, cameras, and laptops.  
Sunscreen: The UV index in China can be high, particularly during the summer months, and prolonged exposure to the sun without protection can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Deodorant: It should be noted that finding deodorant in China may not be a simple task.

📚Can a guidebook for traveling to China be useful?

Yes. If you’re planning to travel to China for the first time, a travel guidebook can be a valuable resource, and Lonely Planet is one of the most reputable guides available globally. Its comprehensive itineraries and recommendations take into account your personal preferences and can save you both time and money. The insider tips are also extremely helpful in navigating China’s unique cultural landscape like a local.

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