Being the world’s most populated country, China is definitely leading the world in every aspect. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are China’s three famous cities that need no introduction to the world. These cities’ roles in the growth of China’s economy are impressive and undeniable. Progressive development, skyscrapers, shopping paradise, happening nightlife are some of the reasons why these cities never stop receiving tourists.

However, apart from these never-sleep cities, China has a lot more to offer. This includes the more laid-back Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. Located at an altitude of 1,900 metres above sea level in the middle of Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, Kunming’s annual average temperature is 15oC, hence its nickname the ‘City of Eternal Spring’.

Gaya Travel was invited by Malaysia’s very own low-cost airline, AirAsia, to join their Media Familiarisation Trip to Kunming for six days and five nights, from the 5th until 10th of December 2014. Interestingly, Air Asia now provides in-flight Wi-Fi for only RM5 (promo price) for 3Mb. Although the Wi-Fi service is limited to instant messaging services like WeChat, Whatsapp and Line, at least it keeps us connected with our loved ones during the journey on the airline. Who could imagine that we could get connected with our loved ones 10,000 feet in the air? Our flight from KLIA2 to Kunming took about four hours.

DAY 1

Upon arrival, we had a very pleasant introduction of Kunming when we were greeted by the 14oC temperature and the bluest sky we have ever seen! The good weather definitely makes us more excited to explore Kunming. If you intend to visit Kunming during winter like we did, we highly recommend that travellers bring thick clothes, winter jacket, gloves or anything that can warm you up. On some days, temperatures could be as high as 23oC; however, because of the wind chill factor, you definitely want to wrap every inch of your skin.

As we arrived late in the evening, we went straight to check in at the Kunming Hotel on Dongfeng East Road, Panglong District. Kunming Hotel is a 3.5-star hotel that is strategically located, about 10 minutes of walking to the city centre. Since we were free on the first night, Gaya Travel decided to take a peek at Kunming’s city nightlife.

The roads were packed with cars and motorcycles, people walked from all directions, colourful neon lights illuminate the night, Christmas sales everywhere and buskers performing. International designers’ boutiques can be seen on almost every street. We also stumbled into street sellers selling socks, shawls, street food and more at reasonable prices.

Gaya Travel assures that walking in Kunming, especially at night, is absolutely safe. However, since some motorcyclists tend to use the pedestrian way to avoid heavy traffic on the main road, do be extra careful when walking. Other than that, travellers are sure to enjoy walking through the crowd and be mesmerised with Kunming’s nightlife.

DAY 2

The second day began with a ninety-minute drive from the city centre to the must-visit destination in Kunming, the Stone Forest. Located about 120km from Kunming, the Stone Forest is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites that is indeed a must-visit place.

Stepping into the Stone Forest is like being in one of the sci-fi movie sets, surrounded by huge stones that stand tall like trees, hence the name Stone Forest. The feeling of being able to witness this typical example of karst topography, which has been in existence over 270 million years, is indescribable. The intricate formation of the natural stones is unbelievably gorgeous. Although science can logically explain the occurrence of the stones, we simply praised God for creating such beauty.

Gaya Travel suggests that travellers spend at least two hours exploring the Stone Forest. We spent almost three hours here, which we still felt like it was not enough. Covering an area of 400 square kilometres, make sure you wear comfortable footwear when visiting the Stone Forest since it involves lots of walking and climbing steep and narrow stairs.

After we were done admiring the Stone Forest, we then headed to Jiuxiang Scenic Region to visit the famous karst caves. Located in the Yilliang County, Jiuxiang Scenic Region offers amazing landscape consisting mountains, rivers, valley, caves and more that will leave travellers breathless. To begin our exploration in Jiuxiang Scenic Region, we were brought down to the lower part of the mountain by an elevator and the long walk started from the moment we stepped out of it. The sound of the waterfall seduced us to quickly enter the cave as we were excited to see what holds inside this mountain.

We were fascinated by the limestone formation, rivers flowing in the caves, accentuated by lighting effects that left us in awe. Travellers should take all the time in the world and feast their eyes with the beautifully unique caves. Expect lots of walking and climbing stairs; however, travellers can also opt to be manually carried on sedan chairs to traverse the caves.

After walking through the caves, going through bridges and climbing numerous stairs, we finally reached the point where there were gondolas that took us to the exit point, completing the journey. Riding the gondolas was a good end to the long walk through the caves since it offered us the bird’s eye view of Jiuxiang Scenic Region landscape.

Gaya Travel spent almost three hours exploring this magnificient landscape. Although we were exhausted from the long walks at the Stone Forest and the Jiuxiang Scenic Region, we were glad we did it as the experience was priceless. Before we headed back to central Kunming, we stopped by at a halal restaurant that served up vegetables and chicken, including goat cheese, which tasted like fried tofu albeit with a thicker texture. We managed to offset the burned calories by enjoying dinner that was fit for a king.

DAY 3

Since the previous day was tiring, the third day in Kunming was more relaxed. We visited Yongning Mosque, a well-known house of worship in Kunming located at the West Section of Jinbi Road. The mosque is a three-storey building with complete facilities.

The mosque’s humble entrance made us feel like we were walking inside our own house with a huge courtyard, hinting that the venue is not only used for praying but the social centre for Kunming’s Muslim community. Since Muslims are the minority in Kunming, it is important to have a mosque that functions as a house of worship as well as the provider of social support, the place where communal activities take place.

The ground floor of the mosque is a quadrangle courtyard with a row of stalls selling variety of halal food, including a large dining area for people to dine in. These food stalls not only attract Muslims but also non-Muslims to have their meals here.

The spacious prayer hall of Yongning Mosque is located on the first floor of the building. The prayer hall is well maintained and spotless. Many copies of the Quran and other religious books are made available to worshippers. The second and third floors of the building are reserved for religious classes, events and functions such as wedding ceremonies or family gatherings.

Two minutes’ walk in the opposite direction of the Yongning Mosque brought us to the landmark of Kunming, the Jinma Biji Square. The area takes its name from the two gateways, Jinma and Biji, which means golden horse and jade rooster respectively, standing imposingly in the center of the square. We were lucky to stumble upon a group of oldies singing and dancing in one corner of the square. They were friendly and even invited some of us to join in the dance. Jinma Biji Square is strategically located in the middle of Kunming city and is surrounded by multitudes of shops. If you want to spend your Yuan, this is one of the areas that you would want to visit.

After a short stop at the city, we then headed 250km to the northern part of Kunming, the Dongchuan Red Land. It was a four-hour drive from the city, situated at an altitude between 1,800 and 2,600 metres. Dongchuan Red Land is located in an area where facilities are limited.

Upon arrival at the guesthouse, we were surprised and pleased to find that all rooms are equipped with heaters and the bathroom come with water-heaters. Due to the altitude and winter season, the temperature could get as low as 0oC at night. We were already freezing at 3oC temperature and we can’t imagine what 0oC would be like. Although the guesthouse is located in a rural area, it still offer good Wi-Fi connectivity. We definitely enjoyed the serenity and spent the rest of the night stargazing with cups of hot tea and instant noodles in our hands.

To be continued soon on the rest of the journey through Kunming, stay tune!

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