Basking 2000m above sea level in the fertile heart of the Yunnan plateau, KUNMING does its best to live up to its traditional nickname, the City of Eternal Spring. Until recently it was considered a savage frontier settlement; the authorities only began to realize the city’s promise when people exiled here during the Cultural Revolution refused offers to return home to eastern China, preferring Kunming’s climate and more relaxed life. Today, its citizens remain mellow enough to mix typically Chinese garrulousness with introspective pleasures, such as quietly greeting the day with a stiff hit of Yunnanese tobacco from fat, brass-bound bamboo pipes.
The city’s potential as a hub for both domestic tourism and cross-border trade has seen Kunming develop rapidly in recent years. With its sprouting malls and streets bustling with shoppers from every corner of the country – not to mention some interesting markets and an excellent museum – Kunming is no longer the sleepy outpost of old, but the growing tourist infrastructure, together with a student and expat-fuelled nightlife, ensures the city is an enjoyable stop-off. Which is just as well, as virtually every traveller coming through Yunnan will end up here at some point.