Over the last National Day holiday, we went for a little break to Mile (弥勒市). A short and easy fast train ride away from Kunming, with hot springs, a curious art park and vineyards as the main draws, it made for a relaxing short trip destination.
Located just 150 kilometers to the southeast of Kunming, in Honghe Hani and Yi Autonmous Prefecture, Mile feels decidedly more tropical than the Spring City. The city is home to about half a million inhabitants, many of whom belong to one of the Yi minority subgroups. It is 500 meters lower in altitude than Kunming, spread around a cluster of lakes and surrounded by hills.
The lakes are ringed by well-maintained parklands with palm trees and classical bridges, and even an artificial beach. Unfortunately no swimming is allowed in the lakes.
Mile is designed for visitors and the vibe is a bit like a resort or retirement village. Because of Golden Week it is a bit busy with families on holiday, but not too overwhelming. There are shops selling swimming gear everywhere and we almost return home with a giant inflatable lobster.
Alongside the edge of one of the lakes stalls are selling souvenirs, people are boating and there is a pleasant beer garden overlooking the lake.
Mile's 'ancient town'
An 'ancient town' with an imposing city gate has been built between the two main lakes.
Inside the gate is a townscape designed to resemble a Suzhou water town, a waterway with cute little bridges running through the center of it. The Mile ancient town is quite new and waiting for more shops, bars and restaurants to open up and throngs of day-trippers to meander its flagstoned streets. When we visited, only about a quarter of the shops were in business. The ancient town, quiet as it is, is a pleasant place to have dinner or a drink and an evening stroll.
Here they have given the customary evening minority dancing for the tourists a raucous twist, as half-naked and painted Yi men with pheasant feather headdresses dance around a roaring fire in the main square.
Mile's hot springs
Mile's biggest draw is the hot springs that are dotted around the lakes. There are several resorts in the middle of the city, but there is also a camping ground outside the town with access to an outdoor pool and a hot spring. It is possible to book a hotel which comes with a visit to the hot springs included, but we opted for an Airbnb right between two of the lakes, a five-minute walk away from the 'ancient town'.
If soaking in a hot tub is not enough, there are several interesting sights surrounding the town. We took a taxi through the vineyards that surround Mile, to see the fascinating follies that Local artist Luo Xu (罗旭) has built around a lake.
The organic and irregular looking buildings remind us of anthroposophical building principles and several signs in the park confirm that the buildings express his particular philosophies. One example is the so-called Xiuwei gate, a square base that transforms into a round roof. The gate expresses the principles of Xiuwei — 'xiu' meaning progress through change, and 'wei' meaning achieving succes through perseverance. The idea of change is expressed in roundness, and the principle of perseverance through the square shape of the base.
The buildings are situated in what is very much a landscape-in-progress — walkways meander around the lake, grassy slopes invite you for a picnic, row upon row of planters promise blooming hillsides in Spring — while construction work is going on further up the hillsides. There are some windmills at the edge of the lake that serve no function but a quaint backdrop to selfies.
When we visit it is really hot and many people take the bus (20 RMB) to drive up to the follies instead of walking in the blazing sun.
There are different clusters of buildings, all made of red brick. The first one serves as a street with food stalls.
The next one is a museum that showcases traditional grape harvesting tools and oil paintings.
The most iconic building — shaped like a cluster of terracotta bottles — is the venue of a theatre performance.
We enjoy the cool interior but sneak out halfway through the performance, back into the blazing sun. A bit further are more buildings in a similar style, looking like a hotel.
A sign explains that Mile is part of the development of the Kunming One Hour Economic Zone. 4 billion RMB has been invested in the development of the area, aiming to attract Kunming people looking for a spa weekend break or a laid-back place to live that is not too far from the big smoke.
This development ticks several boxes of Yunnan government policy: it's a 'healthy living destination' and provides employment, thus aiding rural poverty alleviation. More information about the urban planning — encompassing not just Kunming but developing and connecting the whole area around Dianchi Lake — can be found at the Urban Planning museum (explanation only in Chinese).
The longest part of the journey is getting from Kunming to the Kunming South Railway Station in Chenggong. From there it's 35 minutes on the fast train to Mile, where taxis take you from the railway station to Mile proper in about half an hour.© Copyright 2005-2020 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.