I am really interested in heading out to Gaoligongshan (高黎貢山) -- it is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world and apparently still very undeveloped. It seems pretty hard to get out there and since it's not on the "beaten track" I can't find any info in the guidebooks. Anyone reading this have any idea how to get from Kunming to this area, and where to stay once you get there?
Honestly pretty much everywhere from Kunming northwest will be a lot more comfortable than Nanjing this time of year. Even in Kunming and Dali, you'll want a long-sleeved shirt for the cool rainy days or most evenings. I just got back from Zhongdian (Shangrila) last week and it is downright cold in the mornings. Bring a jacket.
As a side note, if you're planning to go to Zhongdian, there are two things to keep in mind: first, it is best to stay in or near the old city. The rooms are better, the food is better, the atmosphere is better. Second, get out of the town as much as possible. Its kind of awful unless you make day trips out. And don't worry about getting up early, there's almost no nightlife so it won't be hard.
Rent in Kunming depends largely on what part of the city you are renting in. Two of the major universities, most western cafes, and the idyllic green lake park are all located within a 10-minute stroll of each other. This is the highest rent area, although it's still much lower than most major cities in China. A room in a fairly modern two or three bedroom with a western toilet might run around 700 RMB, renting your own (furnished) place would be more like 2000-2500 RMB/month.
If you're willing to live a bit farther away, or rent an unfurnished or older apartment, you can pay less. My fully furnished 2BR is 1100/month (I split with my housemate), and it is a 20-minute walk from the housing crunch area (Wenlin Jie).
Utilities: my apartment seems to cost about 50/month for water, 100/month for phone and internet, 20/month for trash and management, 50/month for electricity, and 10/month for gas (for the stove).