China - Kunming

· Travel

I found a piece I wrote in August 2008 about a week spent in Kunming, China


Kunming is 22 degrees C 240 days of the year and is known as the Spring City. Although Kunming suffers the normal woes experienced in other major cities i.e. chronic traffic and roadside pollution, what's different is that there are glorious blue skies. Kunming sits in Yunnan and the province is a big grower of flowers and fruit. There were fruits I'd never seen before including a twig-like chewing fruit and another that's yellowy-green and looked like a balled bunch of gnarly fingers

That blue sky sticks in my mind because we could be travelling in a remote spot and come across a dirty big power station spewing smoke and still the skies were blue. It was horrible returning to HK and seeing the city virtually socked in with pollution (most of which comes from Southern China ).

We wanted to be a little more adventurous and therefore, took little trips outside of the city about 2-3 hours away. Spectacular scenic vistas can be viewed from fairly new highways.

We were very lucky to find a driver with a vehicle that was knowledgeable about the area, wasn't chatty, and was very good. There were more than a few toe-curling instances when certain head on collisions were narrowly avoided but I suspect this is normal. We found the rental very reasonable considering the distances travelled. The car was a little minivan. Of course, limos can be hired at the hotel but I liked our way better because it made the whole holiday that more memorable.


The best hotel in Kunming is The Green Lake Hotel (formally a Hilton) and, funnily enough, this overlooks a big lake with some activities in the middle including bumper cars. There are a few bars, restaurants and tea houses surrounding the lake so there's no real need to go exploring.

Minorities Village

Awful and tacky I thought. But actually quite an interesting experience. See traditional villages in this purpose-built park with private villas built around the edge. A chance to dress up (of course, I resisted initially then used my philosophy of 'no-one will know, so go flash'. I think you'll all like the hat:)).


OK, it's very spicy and even the blander food can have a kick to it. There's an excellent Thai place 20 mins walk from the hotel (turn right and just walk with the lake on your left) for moderate chilli. Roadside stalls selling skewers of meat (we tried deer and it was tasty although the afterburn was eye-watering). If you don't want to go 'off reservation' and prefer to eat fast Western food, then outlets are throughout the city. Immodium should feature in your washkit. The guide book makes a big thing about Brother Jiang bridge over noodles but while cheap, we found the experience fairly ordinary.

Some places do sell fried ants, silkworms and other niceties. It's possible to eat the usual foods though.


Not much is spoken. In the hotel, yes. A bit in shops. There are bilingual roadsigns. Most bars and eateries have pictorial menus and some English translations.


Bargain where possible. Some places are fixed prices. Markets are ripe for bargaining practice and also a Mecca for pickpockets. For golfers, lots of courses. For spa lovers, there are natural springs about 45 minutes away and cheap by HK standards - RMB168 for a two-hour thorough soak in a lavendar scented 'bath'. Very romantic. A foot massage was only RMB38 (two feet). Caves, stone forests, bumper cars, gardens, lakes - all possible to do and see. Might not be a destination for taking very young kids. Taxis are cheap and everywhere.

Getting There

Lots of shops, stalls, bars, dining establishments and markets makes Kunming a perfect long weekend away (if HK, it's less than 2 hours away direct flight by DragonAir). For four nights at The Great Lake Hotel with a glorious king-sized bed, flights, breakfast the cost was about US$1200 plus another US$600 for 'expenses'.


- We found the food in Kunming tasty but outside in the more rural areas fairly not. We stocked up on a big breakfast and took fruit, pastries and other snacks with us for additional fuel during the day and then had a major dinner back in Kunming in the evening.

- There was also an episode of not being able to change money easily. Five banks rejected our advances. Then I went into a Bank of China branch, got served initially by the duty manager (seeing bank staff and customers doing the swivel-and-stare manoeuvre when they heard my appalling Mandarin for 'exchange' was quite entertaining), filled in a form, waited in a queue, filled another form, waited, passport copy taken, cash in my grimy paw. A half hour process in other words.

- The largest note is RMB100.

- Jade comes in from Myanmar ( Burma ). We went to two massive jade shops with lines and lines of counters selling pieces ranging in price form RMB400 to RMB150,000. So it's possible to pick up some nice stuff without fear of being ripped off or getting fakes. No credit cards accepted (apart from Union Cards) and no bargaining.

- Before leaving Hong Kong, I checked the Internet every day for a weather check. Heavy rain was forecast and cold weather. Total rubbish. Rained once for three minutes. The coldest it got was around 15 degrees C at night. The two big jumpers I took weren't used. It's long-sleeved shirts and maybe a shawl or cardigan for the ladies. Of course, if it is cold when you visit, there's plenty of places to buy clothes at reasonable prices.

The photo at the top shows the Stone Forest, Shilin, Kunming

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Historical caves taken over by the Monkey King characters.

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Yummy! Deep fried silkworm

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Right in the middle of nowhere was this enormous lake. Miles from anywhere. We came across a photoshoot.