Diverse cultures and landscapes in verdant Kunming

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World Horticultural Exposition mascotThe southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, bordering Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos, is a region of great scenic diversity, ranging from dramatic mountains rising as high as 22,000 feet on the frontier with Tibet to tropical lowlands only 250 feet above sea level.

The name Yunnan means "a land south of colorful clouds" in Mandarin, which sums up the natural beauty of this verdant region.

Many flowers now common around the world originated in Yunnan, which is particularly famous for blossoms such as camellias, azaleas, magnolias, primroses, lilies and orchids. The region is a major source for the cut-flower trade in China.

Yunnan's largest city and capital, Kunming, is often called the "City of Eternal Spring," thanks to its mild temperatures and humidity and its flowers that bloom year round. The city of more than 6 million is pleasant and well laid out, with many gardens and lakes.

In 1999, Kunming held the World Horticultural Exposition featuring the best horticultural works from all over China and more than 70 countries. The buildings and gardens erected for this exposition are now open permanently and are a major draw in Kunming. I was fortunate to attend the expo in 1999, and it was fascinating on a recent visit to see how the gardens have developed since then.

Kunming is one of the most famous historical and cultural cities of China; it's noted for its natural features, as well. Major attractions include Dianchi Lake, West Hill Forest Park, Grand View Pavilion, Yuantong Temple and Qiongzhu Temple.

Natural highlights

Dianchi Lake covers 116 square miles and is the largest alpine lake in Yunnan. Each November, flocks of red-beak gulls come to the lake, sometimes referred to as "Bright Pearl on the Plateau," from Siberia for the winter.

Close to the lake is Yunnan Ethnic Village, a large group of re-created communities representing the 26 ethnic groups that live in Yunnan province. Here, travelers can observe the architecture and lifestyle of local ethnic groups and be entertained by a diversity of folk singing, traditional instruments, colorful costumes and dancing.

West Hill Forest Park, also close to Dianchi Lake, is an area of mountains, greenery and many temples and pavilions.

In the northern part of Kunming, the Golden Hall Scenic area also is rife with temples and pavilions. Must-sees include the largest bronze hall in China and an outsize camellia garden.

Some Chinese tee

China's burgeoning middle class is taking to golf with enthusiasm. In Kunming, no exception to the craze, new courses are being constructed. The Lakeview Country Club course was designed by Nick Faldo.

Golf in KunmingYunnan cuisine is delicious and quite spicy. Local dishes include bamboo tube chicken, stewed duck and the wonderfully named Crossing-the-Bridge Rice Noodles.

In Kunming, clients should be instructed to try Jixinyuan Restaurant, Laodianwei Restaurant or perhaps the evocatively named Jixinglong Stewed Goose Restaurant.
Kunming is well served by excellent hotels such as the Green Lake Hotel, Harbor Plaza, Bank Hotel, Kaiwah Plaza and Courtyard by Marriott. A pleasant business-style hotel in the city center is the Golden Springs Hotel. Of note to homesick U.S. visitors: Just down the road from the hotel lies a large Walmart.

Kunming is readily accessible by air from all the major Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, as well as via international connections with Bangkok; Singapore; Seoul, South Korea; and other major Asian cities.

For more on Kunming and Yunnan province, contact the China National Tourist Office in New York at (888) 760-8218 or Los Angeles at (800) 670-2228 or visit www.cnto.org.  

This report appeared in the June 7 issue of Travel Weekly.

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