Xi Shan (Western Hills)
The Western Hills (Xi Shan) undulate along the west side of Dian Chi, supposedly resembling a woman reclining by the lake when viewed from the other side. But these are more than just rewarding land masses for hill-gazers. They also provide some great hiking opportunities and panoramic views of Dian Chi. The standard route people take starts at the bus stop at Gao Yao. From here you can either hike 6km to the summit or you can take a minibus to the Tomb of Nie Er (about 1.4km from the summit) for about ¥15 (bargaining necessary).
If you choose to hike, the first major sight you will come to is the Huating Temple (华亭寺), about 2km from the foot of the hill (¥20 admission). This very large Buddhist Temple is believed to have first been built in the 11th Century (last rebuilt in the 1920s) and is notable for its 500 arhat statues. The next attraction of note is Taihua Temple (太华寺), a further 1.8km up the mountain (¥3 admission). This temple dates from 1306 (Yuan Dynasty) and is best known for its pleasant gardens. Then it’s about one more kilometer to the Tomb of Nie Er (聂耳墓). Nie Er was a famous Yunnan-born composer who wrote the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China.
From this spot (which is the end of the road for minibuses) you have some options to reach Dragon Gate (龙门) – the summit and the highlight of Xi Shan. You can continue the steep, 1.4km climb by foot; take a tram most of the way for ¥20 (it goes to Sanqing Pavilion, a small Taoist temple about 350m from Dragon Gate) or you can take a chairlift all the way to Dragon Gate for ¥45. Dragon Gate (¥30 admission) is quite spectacular: a series of halls, grottoes and corridors carved from a cliff face. There are wonderful views from here (directly) down to Dian Chi. But as the paths are narrow and it’s a sheer drop, this is not a good place for those with a fear of heights.
There’s also a cable car from the Tomb of Nie Er down to Haigeng Park (海埂公园) on the opposite side of the lake. You might like to leave or arrive that way for a bit of variety and also to see whether the mountains really do look like anything at all.
Admission: Dragon Gate/Sanqing Pavilion: ¥30. Open: Attractions 8am-6pm.
Directions: The entrance to the Western Hills is about 15km south-west of Kunming’s center. A taxi should cost around ¥40-50. Or you can take Bus #5 from the corner of Dongfeng Dong Lu and Baita Lu until it terminates. Then switch to Bus #6 for the rest of the trip. Bus #44 from the main train station will get you to and from Haigeng Park.
Show the taxi driver: 请带我去西山, 谢谢。 (Please take me to Western Hills. Thank you.)