Yuantong Temple is the most important Buddhist temple in Yunnan Province, with a history spanning 1,200 years. It is not surprising, considering the unique setting and style of the temple, and its trove of treasures, that it is easily one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kunming. The temple is situated in a natural depression at the foot of Yuantong hill, in northern Kunming, and was built in the late 8th century. Today it showcases an interesting mixture of architectural styles, mainly from the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. It is an active temple and when you explore you can hear chanting and classes being conducted; monks and pilgrims can be seen going about their daily business in the complex which makes the experience feel authentic and allows some insight into the functioning of a Buddhist temple in the 21st century.
For a remarkable panoramic view of the temple complex you can climb Yuantong Hill by taking one of the stone staircases carved into the mountain on either side of the main hall. These stairways boast the most ancient inscriptions in Kunming, carved into the stone wall, and still readable after centuries of exposure to the weather. There are also some impressive statues and carvings within the temple, including two ferocious dragons carved into pillars dating from the Ming Dynasty.
Green Lake, a lovely scenic area, is ten minutes walk from the temple and there is a popular vegetarian restaurant just outside the complex.
Address: Juantong Jie, Kunming.
Opening times: Open daily: 8am to 5pm.
Admission: RMB 10.