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Getting a visa for China can be costly, in both time and dollars spent. This certainly keeps China low on many people’s list of places to travel. Why spend all that time and money on getting a visa when plenty of countries will let you in for free? Thankfully there are now several Chinese cities that allow 72-hour visa-free visits. One such place is the capital of Yunnan province – Kunming. Let’s see what you can do with 72 hours in Kunming.
Thanks to its pleasant climate, Kunming is known as the Spring City in China. It’s down in the southwest corner of the country – Yunnan shares a border with Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar – but it remains cool thanks to its elevation of 1,892 meters (6,207 feet). Kunming is a prefecture-level city, with a population of around 6.5 million in that area. It’s the seat of the provincial government, and is also home to the largest businesses and universities in the province. While it’s a bustling, growing metropolis, Kunming doesn’t suffer as much traffic, congestion, or pollution as other huge Chinese cities. In fact, it’s constantly ranked as one of the best cities in China to visit or live. With 72 hours here, you’ll be able to take in the major sights in the city and even add a day trip or two.
Take it easy on your first day and stay in the city center. Start off with a stroll at Green Lake Park (翠湖公园 – cuì hú gōng yuán). This beautiful park is free to visit, and it consists of a few small lakes linked by bridges. A popular activity here is renting a paddle boat and cruising around the lakes.
If you happen to visit on a weekend, you’ll notice that the park is quite lively. Tons of locals come out to sing, dance, play music, have a picnic, or play a game of Chinese chess. Yunnan province is home to 25 of the ethnic minority (少数民族 – shǎo shù mín zú) groups in China. While many of them try to blend in during the week, you’ll see people don their traditional clothes and pull out their unique instruments on weekends at Green Lake.
There’s lots more to see here, including several pavilions, a small bamboo forest, and even a little amusement park for kids. In case you get hungry, there are several vendors selling snacks and drinks, or a few restaurants located just outside of the park.
Every winter, thousands of seagulls (海鸥 – hǎi’ōu) migrate to the park from Siberia. They’re kind of a local celebrity, as people flock here (excuse the bad pun) to feed the birds and take photos with them. There’s even a statue of the seagulls in the park.
For lunch, you’ve got to try a Yunnan specialty – crossing the bridge rice noodles (过桥米线 – guò qiáo mǐ xiàn). There’s an interesting legend behind this special dish, which you can read by following the link above.
There’s a guo qiao mi xian place on just about every corner in the city, so it’s not hard to find. There are plenty of options for what to add to your noodles, such as chicken or ham, quail eggs, mushrooms, tofu, and more. Mix it all up and add condiments such as chili or soy sauce to season it to your liking.
After lunch, pay a visit to the Yuantong Temple (圆通寺 – yuán tōng sì). Built way back in the late 8th century, this is the most famous and important Buddhist temple in Yunnan. Unlike most Buddhist temples, Yuantong is high in the front and low in the back.
It’s quite a large complex with lots to see. Various walkways and bridges take you through pavilions, temples, and halls, which are all surrounded by a pond full of fish and colorful flags.
Make sure you head to the far back of the temple grounds, where you can see a small turtle pond, various statues and carvings, and ancient inscriptions. At just 6 RMB for an entrance ticket, Yuantong Temple is a great, cheap way to spend your first afternoon in the Spring City.
While it may not be as international or cosmopolitan as Beijing and Shanghai, Kunming still has plenty of options for dining and nightlife. There are tons of restaurants cooking up quality Yunnan dishes, as well as other Chinese staples like hot pot. For fun after dark, there’s no shortage of places to wet your whistle and hear some live music. Some of our favorites include O’Reilly’s Irish Pub and the Turtle Bar. Don’t get too wild on your first night, because there’s still lots to do with your remaining two days in Kunming.