Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kunming: A Rough Guide

Long overdue for an update, I've decided to present my recent travels in Yunnan in the form of a rough guide that other travelers can emulate or at the very least use for insight in addition to the other guidebooks. 

Kunming is Yunnan's capital and largest city.  If you are a fan of Spring then you may want to move here, as the weather is pretty mild year round.  It is very much the modern city and those travelers missing their McDonald's and Starbucks will be happy to find these corporate giants here along with Walmart.  Many backpackers we spoke to hated Kunming and were in a rush to escape.  Daphne and I, however, found ourselves loving the place.  It was clean, quiet, people drove electric bikes, and food was was very good and cheap. 

Getting There and Around
Interestingly enough, the three regional bus stations are all farther away than the airport and train station, so be sure to check with your hotel how long it takes to get there.  And when you buy your ticket, do check which bus station it's for.
Local buses are very cheap at only 1-2RMB(~0.30US) a trip.  Make sure you know ahead of time which bus to take and when to get off, unless you can read Chinese.

As far as I could tell, all the taxis are fair and won't lead you on wild goose chases to jack up the rate.  However, when you flag one down they might not take you if your destination is too far or not far enough.

It goes to Dali and then from there to Sichuan.

Flying by air is fast but very expensive in China.  More expensive even than flying within the US.

Dangers and Annoyances
While traveling in Yunnan I told several people about how I got pick-pocketed in Kunming.  Often my audience would then ask, "at the bus station?" Yes.  It is that common.  Also, I got my wallet taken out of my FRONT pocket, so be aware that these guys are good.  Other than that, pretty safe city.  Although, I did see one nightclub with metal detectors at the door.  There might be a reason for that...

I am a budget traveler so from a budget traveler perspective Kunming, all of Yunnan actually, is pretty expensive when it comes to accommodations.  We ended up staying in two different hostels which were pretty cool, but not all that cheap.  They were on separate sides of town and give a different impression of the city, depending which you choose to stay in.

Kunming Cloudland Youth Hostel
Quiet part of town, no other hostels or hotels nearby so make sure you have a reservation before showing up at their door.  Our first night we stayed in a dorm with shared bathrooms but the following night we got a room for just us with on suite bathroom.  There is a bar downstairs and the staff is very helpful.  A couple of small parks nearby and some very cheap local food.  Just across the street on Xin Wen Lu there are several affluent nightclubs and really good Sichuan noodles.

No, it's not that, it means the hump over the Himalayas, referring to some wartime airplane route.  This place is more expensive than Cloudland, but it has its central location and nicer rooms to thank for that.  Lots of modern shopping chains and busy nightlife, this is where the beggars spend their afternoons.  It is actually so loud at night that Hump provides you with complimentary earplugs if you go to bed early.

Places and Things
Green Lake Park
Big lake, very pretty park.  Really, the Chinese know how to make a park.  At sunset you can see a daily tradition where the Chinese will do choreographed dancing to traditional and modern music.  In fact, this odd tradition is practiced at sunset in every city in Yunnan I visited, either in a park or other public square.

 [Lotus Plants Have Taken Over The Lake]

 [This Is What's Missing From Your Life]

After strolling through the park head north to where the University is.  There are many good restaurants and bars to check out but make sure you don't go late, the restaurants there close at 10pm. 

Dynamic Yunnan
Yunnan has a lot of ethnic groups, from Dai(Thai) people in the South, to Naxis and Tibetans in the North.  To celebrate this, Kunming puts on a nightly dance performance sampling the dance and music of the different people in Yunnan.  Honestly, this an amazing performance and if you are in Kunming while this is going on, DO NOT PASS IT UP!  It was the best musical performance I have ever seen.

Bamboo Temple
Nothing too special, just one of many Buddhist temples you will see on your trip.  The highlight was when drank a pot of tea in the courtyard, very relaxing.

Xi Shan
A hill with some walking and some temples.  Good view of the massive Dian Chi lake.  If you got there with Lonely Planet, DO NOT use the alternative route going down the hill to the main road that they suggest, it doesn't work.  Go back the way you came and take the bus at the entrance.

 [Some Deities]

[Daphne Touches The Dragonball]

[Make A Wish And Land Your Coin In The Dragon's Mouth]

[A Most Excellent View]
Wholesale Tea Markets
Kunming is a tea hub.  You will find many small tea shops here, but there is all a cluster of warehouses in the north part of town (Xiaozhuang Village, Panlong District) where competition keeps prices low and quality high on tea and tea ware.  


  1. have you tried Accross The Bridge Noodles yet - a Yunnan/Kunming speciality...

    I'd also recommend a day trip to the Stone Forest of Shillin

  2. Across the bridge noodles are yummy. The Stone Forest was way too expensive so we skipped it.