Kunming is the provincial capital of Yunnan province and the region’s main transportation, education, and commercial hub. It is the main point of entry for travelers to Yunnan and it boasts bus, train , and airplane connections to all the Southeast Asian countries. It also served as a major hub in WWII and was the terminus of the infamous Burma Road. It’s also a big city with 6.9 million people or so and has some of the typical gray Chinese cityscape but it’s also surrounded by some fantastic nature. It’s been nicknamed the “Spring City” for its fantastic weather. The city is situated in a subtropical zone but is 1800 meters above sea level. This helps temperatures warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Average daily highs in December are around 60F 15C and high temperatures in the peak of summer are an excellent 75F 24C with little humidity. Stepping off the airplane into this weather was incredible after the muggy Beijing.
I got in pretty late at night (due to the cheaper flights leaving either late or way too early) and hopped in a 25 RMB taxi to the incredible Cloudland Hostel. I highly recommend this if you are heading to Kunming. Chill laid back groovy interior , nice muzak , a cool bar on the inside stocked with big bottles of Beer Lao , Dali beer and others (but those were the most important by far don’t worry about the rest). This hostel is also four stories with a nice sundeck on the roof! The other hostel in town , Hump Hostel, was pretty nice too but I really really liked Cloudland , go there!
The first full day in town was pretty relaxed. I rented a bicycle for 30 RMB for the day and just cruised around the streets of Kunming. I went up to the pretty nice CuiHu Park , which has a large lake , paddle boat rental , some restaurants , the town water pump museum , and is overall a nice relaxing area. Just north of the park is Yunnan University. I went to campus just to check things out and found a Chinese dreadhead! One day into Yunnan and already I’ve found one! After walking about on campus I rode my bike to the central plaza in Kunming , Jinbi Plaza , and walked around in the area looking at the vendors and restaurants. I stopped in at the Brothers Jiang restaurant to sample the local dish ,过桥米线 Guo Qiao Mi Xian (Over the bridge rice noodles). A pot of steaming chicken broth is brought out and then one proceeds to pour in their raw veggies , meat , egg , and noodles. Let it cook for a little bit and then enjoy! I got the seafood version and it was exquisite. After the meal I went back to the hostel to read a book and as so often happens in China was approached by some Chinese university students who wanted to hang out. We made plans to play some Badminton at their university the next day and then I was off to drink some BeerLao! ( One of the finest macro-lagers in Asia I’d say) and hit the hay early.
The next day my friend Olivia was due in from Shanghai at 4pm so I just sunned on the rooftop with my book , Tai-Pan – James Clavell , you should definitely check out his Asian series. Great and very very long (mostly weighing in at over 1000 pages in paperback editions) which satisfies my book cravings. My friend Olivia arrived at the hostel and then it was immediately off to rent bicycles and cycle to Dianchi (Lake Dian) with our new found friends. Lake Dian lies at the feet of the Western Mountains and is a nice place to cruise on bikes and take in the scenery. After we went to a local restaurant and ordered a ridiculous amount of food. Olivia and myself are used to Shanghai prices so after seeing 6RMB per plate of veggie dishes we assumed they would be small and ordered a lot of them , much to our surprise each less than $1 USD dish was huge. We sat for a good part of two hours not wanting to waste any of the great food. After gorging and almost entering a food coma , it was back on the bicycles to cycle to Yunnan University Lake Campus to play some badminton. I haven’t played sports in forever and it was quite fun. I was reminded of University soo much , just riding around bicycles through campus , and hanging out at the sports complex , made me quite nostalgic for Kent State.
The next we rose early to take the long and convoluted journey out to the JiuXiang Karst caves. It involved taking city buses to the Eastern bus station , an intercity bus to YiLiang city and then finally one final bus to JiuXiang. The path was quite spectacular and wound through the mountains and we passed over a bridge near a dam and I swear this bridge was 200 meters tall. At point through we passed near a factory settlement that was belching noxious gases and the town was just dirty and smelled horrible , I felt terrible for the people I saw walking around without masks and the children playing outside , children who probably have never lived without that awful smell. I think after around 4 or 5 hours we arrived to the 20 square kilometer park area.
The first attraction after arrival was a quite journey in a small boat with rowers going down a river through a tight rift in the stone with towering rock walls on both sides. After this we descended down into the caves with the roaring river right beside. The caves themselves are lit up in Chinese fashion , think multi-colored lights everywhere. This effect in the cave was great and one of the best attractions was the area titled Fairy Goddess Palace. Once you arrive in the area you will see why it’s called that. Another great site was the naturally formed “Rice Paddy” stone formation. It really looks like a paddy with its series of pools that descend down the rock wall. After emerging from the caves you took a quick little cable car ride back to the main area. We had a bunch of spicy fried stinky tofu. This version of stinky tofu wasn’t bad but I do admit it takes some getting used too and I prefer the non-smelly version. After dinner it was time for the long and arduous bus rides back to Kunming.
Our last day in Kunming , July 2nd , we again headed for Lake Dian and from there took a city bus to the Western Mountains (XiShan 西山）。 This area has a walk through the forested sides of the mountain (although it’s just a road with beeping , smoke emitting cars for a while until you the ticket area). We choose to foot power our way through this. On the way up you can opt to check out a view temples that are probably worth visiting but after a year and a half in China I’ve felt I’ve seen enough temples, after a while they all become the same. The hike up offers some gorgeous views of Lake Dian and the urban area sprawling out after that. These mountains aren’t too tall thankfully and we made it up and down successfully after a few hours. After hopping a bus back to town we grabbed our things and went out to the train station for our overnight sleeper train to Dali!!