Exploring Kunming, the ‘City of Eternal Spring’

Thursday, 11 December 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SriLankan Airlines addresses rising demand for air services between the two countries with latest launch   By Marianne David Kunming, the ‘City of Eternal Spring,’ is a great entryway into China and shares an age-old historic relationship with Sri Lanka, having been a gateway to the celebrated Silk Road in days of old. The capital and the largest city in Yunnan Province of South West China, Kunming is home to several universities, museums, galleries and other important economic, cultural, and educational institutions, making it a popular destination among both leisure and business travellers. Yunnan Province is the closest to Sri Lanka in terms of interaction with China and direct flying time amounts to just over four hours. Visiting the city for the first time on SriLankan’s inaugural flight to Kunming, we were blown away by the cold at the time we landed, in the wee hours of the morning, but during the day, with temperatures hovering at around 15c, it is a very pleasant place to spend some time and get to know a whole new culture. Its unique geographic and climate conditions, abundant tourism facilities and rising position in world commerce has resulted in Kunming attracting increasing numbers of travellers from all over the world and the launch of SriLankan Airlines’ flights to Kunming last week, the National Carrier’s latest addition to its frequencies to China, addresses the rising demand for air services between the two countries. Our media tour, facilitated by SriLankan Airlines, comprised visits to Yunnan Ethnic Village, Dianchi Lake and Golden Horse and Jade Rooster Archways, interspersed with plenty of shopping and tucking into authentic Chinese cuisine. We were also fortunate to have a great guide, Monica Jin, who made our tour extra special by consistently going out of her way to ensure we had an unforgettable time.   Tourist attractions The Yunnan Ethnic Village, a national tourist attraction situated on the shore of the Dianchi Lake, showcases the different culture and traditions of the 26 ethnic groups in Yunnan via costumes, culture and cuisine. It is the perfect location to spend hours learning about the place and its people, while picking up some unique souvenirs. The Dianchi Lake located nearby, the largest freshwater lake in Yunnan Province which is also known as the ‘Pearl of the Plateau,’ provides visitors a great photo opportunity – a brisk business of photographing them feeding seagulls is in operation here, priced at 10 yuan. The area is filled with flocks of seagulls flying around or floating on the lake and is a nice place to spend some time, although there is the risk of being pooped on! Not too busy or bustling despite its many shopping malls and other buildings, Kunming has a pleasantly laidback feel to it, where visitors can walk around freely for hours and enjoy the sights and sounds. When we visit the Golden Horse and Jade Rooster Archways, we find plenty of people all around, talking, shopping at the abundant high-end malls or buying stuff at the supermarkets and street-side stalls (from speciality tea and dried mushrooms to vibrant shawls and bags and so much more), getting massaged or having their shoes polished, and tucking into piping hot street food, which is abundantly available. The two ornate arches, which stand on the intersection of Sanshi Street and Jinbi Road, were built during the Ming Dynasty. It is said that once every 60 years, with a special aligning of the earth, moon and sun, the shadows of the two arches join together and create a marvellous sight. Kunming also has several intriguing temples and historic structures which can be explored within a short time, while the legendary Stone Forest is a day’s trip away. The Haigeng Park is also a popular spot and is surrounded by a golf course, a sports centre, resorts and the Yunnan Ethnic Village. Providing stunning sights of the Dianchi Lake and mountain views, it offers visitors the opportunity to spend time fishing or relaxing in a pleasing environment when they’re done with their shopping and sightseeing. The food Kunming offers is wide-ranging and very interesting and we had something new to try out at every single meal during our time there – although vegetarians will be hard-pressed for choice given the abundance of meat dishes and presence of some kind of meat in almost everything. The cuisine is perfect for adventurous foodies, with unique and unexpected dishes on offer at every turn.     Milestone for SriLankan Airlines SriLankan Airlines launched the inaugural flight from Sri Lanka to Kunming with multi-religious observances at the airport on 1 December, followed by a brief address by its CEO Kapila Chandrasena, who asserted the National Carrier was furthering its expansion plan with yet another milestone. “Our future is in the East, led by China. We are very confident this is the right move. In the years to come China is going to play a huge role here. The National Carrier is privileged to be part of this initiative,” he added. The launch event in Kunming was a grand affair, with a gala dinner featuring captivating dance acts and other items of entertainment, including a raffle draw for two free tickets. SriLankan will operate three weekly flights from Kunming on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, while the flights departing from Colombo will be on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The National Carrier also flies to Beijing, Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong. SriLankan operates its A320 aircraft on the Kunming route, enabling passengers to enjoy the relaxing ambience and easy reclining seating on board, and also has Chinese language translators, a Chinese menu and the latest Chinese movies and music onboard, further enhancing the experience for travellers from China.   Connectivity There has been a massive increase in tourists from China to Sri Lanka in 2014, with the country recording 110,000 arrivals this year in comparison to 9,000 in 2011. Against this backdrop, the launch of operations to Kunming is an important development for SriLankan Airlines. SriLankan now has 18 flights a week between Sri Lanka and China and these flights also have immediate connections to Male, offering dual destinations on one route, in addition to immediate connections to South India. It also has connections from China to all destinations in Europe, Middle East and India in 12 hours. With 40 flights a week to eight Middle Eastern cities, 88 weekly flights to seven Indian destinations and 36 weekly frequencies to Male, SriLankan passengers can also enjoy seamless connectivity from Colombo. SriLankan’s codeshare services to the Seychelles with its sister carrier, Mihin Lanka also provides a greater convenience for leisure travellers. SriLankan Airlines has also introduced a host of seasonal offers in order to give its local clientele the opportunity to experience several destinations in the Far East, including Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming and Bangkok, at affordable fares.