The Western Hills, or Xi Shan, make a popular day trip for Kunming residents. The hills rise up beside Lake Dian and from the top there are superb views over the lake and back to the city. A bewildering tangle of footpaths connect lookouts, restaurants, temples, pavilions, sculptures and sites of curious legends.
At the Hall of the Divine Parents, large statues of those amazing parents gaze down on padlock salesmen. For some reason you should purchase a padlock, have your name engraved on it and then leave it locked to the stairway guard rail. Nearby is Phoenix Rock where, the sign details, 'the Jade Mother ordered the Mystic Girl of the 9 Heavens to confer upon them the book of the 5 talismans and 5 ways of victory.' And then it turned out the Mystic Girl was actually a phoenix.
I ignore the signs and stride back down to the bus stop at the base of the hill, where there are a couple of beautiful temples to visit. Taihua Si has a lush woodland setting. Huating Si has the biggest and most dramatic doorway guardians I've ever seen. Too bad you can't photograph them. Inside the main building there's a huge cast of surfers, although they don't have the class-winning style of the surfing Buddhas at Qiongzhu Si.
It's late afternoon by the time I get back to Kunming to head to the modern-as-tomorrow train station, a final reminder that Kunming is the New China, not the old one. Some old China remains: the dining car looks familiar.