Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kunming, The Beauty and Culture of China

There are many things that I will never learn about China.  It's a subject not only on travel, but also culture, politics, and history, that would take much longer for me to study than the time I have left on this Earth.  It's one of those places that are always full of surprises.  I like surprises.
Kunming is one of the best surprises that I've seen in China.  It's a bustling overpopulated city, with great food, good shopping, lots of traffic, and fairly cheap hotels.  It's a balance between old and new, and I'm not sure which one is winning.

Dianchi Lake is on the south side of the city of Kunming.  This is a place of beautiful gardens and something called the Yunnan Ethnic Village or the Minorities Village.  This place showcases 25 different ethnic groups from the Yunnan Province.  They have food, crafts, lifestyle displays, and even music and dance.  It's an organized way for you to get to know the ways of their ancestors.  In a country that's modernizing at an uncanny speed, this is a good thing.  It keeps the system going.  It keeps the people attached to their roots.  It's also a lot of fun for the tourists.

Now, if you like shopping, Kunming has got it.  There are high end stores downtown.  There are market areas, like Nanping Business Street, and they have a couple of other open market areas as  well.  Each area is a little different from the others.  Nanping is one of the oldest, but not in the best shape.  These places don't care much about hours either.  They're open well into the night, and at night, people selling stuff out of the trunks of their cars are everywhere downtown.  As far as the eye can see.
Kunming is a bustling city, with a bright modern future.  It is also a great place for history and the past.  There are skyscrapers here and there are ancient temples.  It is rumored that not only was this place temporarily ruled by Genghis Khan, but it was also visited by Marco Polo.  It's not that this place is out of the way.  It's just that this place is nice and it has a few activities and other attributes that no place else has.
Now, why do I mention it on my blog?  Well, it has some very unusual features.

First and foremost, there is the Stone Forest.  This place reminds me of Tsingy Park in Madagascar.  There are hundreds of acres of these naturally formed spires.  Here the locals will tell you that many of them remind people of animals or other items.  One of them is a hanging rock, which precariously hangs as suggests its name.  The myth here is that if you truly love your lady, you will risk all and stand under the rock to prove your love.  It's a good thing that chivalry and proving oneself hasn't gone out of fashion.

Regardless, there is nothing like a labyrinth of stone spires to make for a very interesting day out of the city.  You can normally book a tour that drives you out on a bus for the day.  It's a nice ride and a fascinating look at mother nature.  There are also some caves in the area with some amazing formations, and one of them has a lake in it.

Not far from Kunming City is a wonderful ancient religious site called Dragon's Gate.  It is a thousand steps or so up.  The good thing about this is that there is also a cable car that you can catch in Haigeng Park.  There are also two wonderful old temples in the area to visit, Huating and Taihua.  This is a wonderful country visit from the city, with views that normally only angels have.  It's well worth the visit.

Now, there are many things to do in the area.  There are influences from a lot of different cultures.  That alone would keep you busy for quite a while, what with some of the cultures in the area being influenced by nearby Myanmar and Vietnam.  But, this is the modern age.  This is the time when China is moving ahead, modernizing everything, and keeping its economy going in some very strange ways.

Not far away is the city of Chendong.  This city was farmland not so long ago.  There are quite a few of these cities cropping up in China, and they are fascinating.  The government is building them to offset a possible real estate bubble.  The thing that strikes me about these cities, which are becoming more and more well known, is that there are little to no people there.  There are empty apartment buildings, empty shopping malls, empty houses, even empty subways.  It's eerie and worth the visit outside the box just to take a look.  How often do you get to see a vacant large city?
So, if you want a place that has reasonable hotel prices and a lot to see and do that you won't find anywhere else, come to Kunming.  Take a look at the past and the future.  Have some Over the Bridge Noodles, see some cultural dance and crafts, visit some temples, take a walk on the wild side, and enjoy a unique place with a lot to offer.  And remember, this is one of the lesser crowded cities in China, and the pollution is less than in a lot of areas.

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