Yunnan Province, 1,200km (744 miles) NW of Hong Kong, 450km (270 miles) SW of Guiyang
As the capital of Yunnan Province, Kunming, also known as the "city of eternal spring," was once one of the most pleasant and relaxed cities in China. These days it is quickly becoming as crowded as Shenzhen and Guangzhou. In addition that rapidly growing number of private cars, combined with the city's elevation, is making pollution a very serious problem. Though it was founded over 2,000 years ago, the city did not gain prominence until it became the eastern capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom in the 8th century. By the time the Mongols swept through in 1274, Kunming, or Yachi as it was then known, was enough of a flourishing town to have attracted the attention of Marco Polo, who described it as a "very great and noble" capital city. The city's bloodiest period occurred during the Qing dynasty, with a series of Muslim rebellions. In the late 19th century, foreign influence appeared in the form of the French, who built a narrow-gauge rail line to Vietnam still in use today. During World War II, Kunming played an important role as the terminus of a major supply line (the famous Burma Road) in the Allies' Asian theater of operations.
Today, Kunming's wide streets, towering office blocks, and giant shopping centers all convey the impression of a modern, 21st-century city. Sadly, much of the development of recent years, most of it on account of the 1999 International Horticultural Exhibition, has come at the expense of traditional wooden dwellings and artisan workshops, which have all been razed in the process, taking much of the city's original charm with them. Still, Kunming remains a useful starting point even if its offerings do not match some of Yunnan's other treasures. A subtropical location and high elevation (1,864m/6,213 ft.) give Kunming a temperate climate year-round. Its days are filled with sunshine, making almost any time good for a visit, though the balmy months of September and October are especially fine.