Kunming is the capital city of the Yunnan province in southern China. Kunming offers the following points of interest for tourists and photographers;
- Yuantong Temple
- Green Lake
- Stone Forest
- Dian Lake
- Trips to Dali, Lijiang (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Shangri La
Kunming is a large city but the good news is that it’s walkable. Hotels in Kunming are good value and plentiful, you should find one easily within your budget.
There are lots of good value hotels near the train station in Kunming, I’d recommend staying here especially if you arriving / leaving by train. You can walk to the main shopping district of Kunming (above), various restaurants and the points of interest such as the Yuantong Temple and Green Lake Park.
Yuantong Temple is a Chinese temple you should make a couple of hours to visit whilst in Kunming. The temple dates back over 1300 years to the Tang dynasty. During the Ming and the Qing dynasties the temple expanded to what it is today. In recent years the temple has been expanded more with funding coming from another Buddhist country, Thailand.
In the lake which the temples surround you should keep your eye out for water turtles, there are quite a few swimming about.
It’s worth walking to Green Lake Park in the center of Kunming although I thought that the lake in Yuantong Temple was greener than the lake in the park and would deserve the name ‘Green Lake’ more than the actual lake in the Green Lake Park. This park is to Kunming what Central Park is to New York and worth a visit. There are lots of traditional well kept Chinese buildings and bridges in the park making it the perfect location for photography in the city.
If you have a week or so to spend in the Yunnan province then you must visit the historic Chinese towns of Lijiang, Dali and maybe even Shangri La in the mountains. Shangri-La is a city in the mountains of Yunnan as well as a famous hotel chain. I visited ancient Dali and Lijiang, I recommend you stay at least 1 night in each of these cities.
Dali is a 4 hour bus ride from Kunming. Dali is an ancient Chinese city which is very well maintained and perfect for photographing. The ancient city is famous for, The Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple, Dali Ancient City (entrance above) and Foreigner’s Street Central Square. If you want an authentic Chinese experience then I recommend you spend a day or two in ancient Dali.
Lijiang is a 3 hour bus ride from Dali. The old town of Lijiang is a UNESCO world heritage site which makes Lijiang more popular than Dali, although I found them to be both as beautiful. A symbol of the old town of Lijiang are the water wheels (above), you’ll see crowds of Chinese tourists taking selfies and Instagram photos around these wheels. Whilst walking around the old city you’ll see lots of buns being sold, these are known as Lijiang Stuffed Buns, I recommend you try one, they come in two flavors, minced ham or sugary.
If you do go to Shangri La, it’s in the mountains and 4 hours away from Lijiang.
This site is all about overland travel and this part of the journey overland from Kunming, China into Luang Prabang, Laos is not a famous overland route. There is talk about making a train line through Laos and Thailand, all the way down to Singapore but if you make the journey overland today you’ll have to take this bus (above). The journey takes 24 hours and the good news is that you get a very small single birth on the bus so although it’s a little cramped you can stretch out. The bus stops regularly for bathroom and food breaks as well as to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.
The good news about entering Laos is that you can buy your visa on arrival at the border. You’ll need to fill out a form, provide passport photos and pay from $30-$40 (depending on your nationality). It’s cheaper to pay in US Dollars, so buy some before arriving at the border.
In Laos they speak a language very similar to Thai and I can speak Thai. I offered the Laos immigration officer $5 to stick the Laos visa on top of old stamps in my passport to save pages in my passport. He was very angry I asked him this and put the Laos visa on a new page.
The bus left Kunming in the evening around 6-30pm and drove through southern China to the border at night. Early morning was when we went through the border, first exiting China then entering Laos. The bus drove all day through Laos before arriving in Luang Prabang a little behind schedule at around 8pm.