Thursday, February 12: At mid-morning, we have a flight from Dali to Kunming that is delayed by nearly an hour. So far, of all the flights we’ve taken in China, it’s the norm that the plane has departed late, at least by a half-hour. Of course, any delay is frustrating, as airports are notoriously boring. The small Dali airport is especially so.
Finally, we take off for our one hour flight, but by the time we arrive in Kunming to the Kai Wah Plaza Hotel, it’s well after lunchtime. We enjoy a meal in a huge banquet room where we’re the only customers.
Soon after lunch, we take a taxi to the fabulous Yuantong Temple. This temple is considered to be Yunnan’s grandest and most important Buddhist site. While most Buddhist temples are built on a hill, you enter Yuantong Temple from above and descend along a gently sloping garden path. Giant cypress trees, flowers and tropical foliage line the garden path to the temple making for peaceful yet impressive entry.
King Yimouxun of the Nanzhao Kingdom built the temple during the late 8th and early 9th century during the Tang Dynasty, and the restorations performed from the Qing Dynasty onward have not changed its unique mixed architectural style of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties.
It’s notable that this temple sits right in the midst of Kunming and so is a surprisingly quiet oasis in the center of a Chinese city’s normal bustle and chaos.
The temple complex is built around Yuantong Hall (Mahavira Hall), which is known as the “Fane on the Water” for it is surrounded by a large pond. A stone bridge, upon which sits an elegant octagonal pavilion, connects Mahavira Hall and the temple entrance. The pavilion is connected to the rest of the complex by various bridges and walkways. This structure of a Buddhist hall surrounded by water is unique in China.
The temple is an active site of pilgrimage. Along with the patronage of the local people of Kunming and Yunnan in general, Buddhists from around the world come here to pay homage, there are special Buddhist services two times each month, and the Buddhist Association of Yunnan Province is located here.
The octagonal pavilion sitting atop the stone bridge over the central pond is dedicated to the multi-armed Guanyin and white marble Sakyamuni.
According to Travel China Guide: Yuantong Temple: Sakyamuni, Amitabha and the Medicine Buddha, all Yuan Dynasty statues, are found in the main hall. The surrounding 500 Buddhist Arhats who are carved in the walls are rare treasures noted for their perfect proportions and lively appearances. Also in this hall are two ten meter high pillars from the Ming Dynasty that are each engraved with a dragon. Their bodies and claws are extended into the air as if they are ready to fly.
Faded frescos on the back wall of the main hall were painted in the 13th century.
Behind the main hall is a new annex with a graceful gilded bronze Buddha flanked by peacocks, donated by the Thai government.
After leaving this gorgeous temple, we go next door to a Bank of China, where I need to get $500 (USD) for my trip to Myanmar. I’ve been told we should have crisp new large US dollars to exchange for the local Myanmar currency, the Myanmar Kyat, in order to get the best exchange rate. Foreigners in China are only allowed to exchange yuan for a maximum of $500 USD each day. I only had time before leaving Nanning to get about $500, plus Mike brought me $600 from home, as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get crisp new large US bills from China.
After leaving the bank, it happens to be rush hour. We cannot for the life of us find a taxi. We wait and wait, trying to flag down numerous taxis, but they’re all occupied. We decide if we walk to the major north-south road in Kunming, Beijing Lu, and walk about 10 blocks, we can eventually make our way back to our hotel, which is right on that street. We walk and walk and walk and we’re getting exhausted from the hike. Finally, we catch the eye of a three-wheeled taxi. We show him the address of our hotel from my Chinese translation from Booking.com on my phone, and we’re off for an agreed 15 yuan. Alex thinks it’s a real adventure as he’s never ridden on a contraption such as this before.
In the bar area of our hotel, we order two pizzas, Mexican and Vegetarian, and share them both. We are too exhausted from our day of travel to do much else, so we relax in our hotel. I get some night shots of Kunming from our hotel window.
In the morning, we’ll be heading to the Stone Forest in Shilin. We know it will be a hassle as we have to go to the East Bus station to catch a bus, but little do we know how much of a hassle it will be.