LearnChinesewith Us!Start Learning!
While it’s definitely a big city, Kunming (昆明 – kūn míng) has plenty of options for outdoor activities a short trip away. With mountains, lakes, gardens, and temples in every direction, you’re spoiled for choices here. We’re going to take a closer look at some of the best day-trips available from the Spring City (春城 – chūn chéng) in a new series of posts and videos. First up, we head a short distance from the city center out to the Western Hills (西山 – xī shān) of Kunming.
This massive scenic area is formed by three mountain ranges – the Huating, Taihua and Luohan. They’re located on the eastern bank of Dianchi Lake (滇池 – diān chí), which is the largest in all of Yunnan province. It’s nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty Hills” (睡美人山 – shuì měi rén shān) as they’re said to resemble a beautiful girl laying beside the lake with her hair flowing into the water. The entrance of the scenic area is about 15 km outside of the city, making it a very popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Throughout the scenic area, you’ll find temples, pavilions, historic sites, caves, and numerous viewpoints.
You’ve got quite a few options for your visit to the Western Hills. The highest point is just over 2,500 meters, and you can basically hike all the way to the top. It’s a pleasant walk through the trees, with plenty to see along the way.
Alternatively, you can take the lazy way and ride the tourist bus or a sightseeing golf cart, or you could just take the cable car up to the top. Perhaps the best way to go is a combination of all the options. Our our trip, we hiked all the way to the top and took the cable car and the bus down.
There are a handful of temples scattered around the Western Hills. Not surprisingly, you have to buy an extra ticket to go into the bigger ones. For 20 RMB, you can visit the two most important temples.
The Huating Temple (华亭寺 – huá tíng sì) has a history going back 900 years, and it’s one of the largest Buddhist temples in the province. It’s been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over the years, with the current incarnation dating back to 1923.
A little further up the path and you’ll reach the Taihua Temple (太华寺 – tài huá sì). It’s the oldest in the scenic area, built way back in the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368). This temple is famous for its many rare species of flower, so consider visiting in spring to really see the place in full bloom.
The Western Hills are also home to the tomb of Kunming’s most famous musician – Nie Er (聂耳 – niè ěr). He composed the March of the Volunteers (义勇军进行曲 – yì yǒng jūn jìn xíng qǔ) – the national anthem of China. He tragically died at the age of 23 while swimming in Japan.
The most important and most impressive sight at the Western Hills is the Dragon Gate (龙门 – lóng mén) grottoes. It took 72 years for craftsmen to carve them out of the cliffs during the Qing Dynasty. Stand here and be in awe of how they managed to complete such a project that started over 200 years ago. In addition to the grottoes and the Buddhist statues they hold, you get a great view of the lake and the city.
Continue up the stairs and you’ll get to the highest point at the Lingxu Pavilion. Hang out for a while to enjoy the beautiful panoramic view before heading down.
The scenic area is open daily from 8:30-6 and is accessible by quite a few local busses or taxi. It doesn’t cost anything to hike in the hills, but you’ll need to buy tickets if you want to check out the bigger temples (20 RMB for the two) or the Dragon Gate (40 RMB). You can also buy one-way or round-trip tickets for the tourist bus and cable car. There’s a combo ticket that includes everything (100 RMB), which might be worth it if you plan to spend all day there and actually see it all.
We’ll have a video on the Western Hills later this week, and a few other great options for day-trips out of Kunming in the months to come.