Kunming - 昆明

by - May 30, 2014

The last journey of my extraordinarily fortunate year abroad would also be my third trip to mainland China in the space of four months.  Having dedicated the last two trips to the heavyweight cities of Shanghai and Beijing, I was keen to get a little off the beaten track.  With every intention of returning to China after graduating, I wanted this trip to be somewhere that was tucked away and unlikely to be passed through on a future trip.  On the border with Burma and Laos, while being accessible by direct flight from Hong Kong, Yunnan province seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  As probably the most ethnically diverse province in China, it certainly promised to be something a bit different.

After the heart breaking experience of checking out of HKUST for the last time, we made our way to the airport and flew to Kunming, arriving just before midday on a two hour flight.  Kunming is the provincial capital and, despite being a city of three million people, is known as an extremely laid back and liveable place.  Eleanor (who would be joining me for the duration of the trip) had arrived earlier and had been staying with friends in the city, so was able to give myself and Sergei (who would be joining me for half of the trip).  Sergei had totally moved out from Hong Kong (whereas I would be going back) and was able to make use of the left luggage for much of his gear at Kunming airport – 50 Yuan per bag for up to a month, for anybody who finds themselves in a similar situation.  We would be catching a sleeper train in the evening (which we had pre-booked online – it tends to be advisable to give a few days in China for sleepers), so we dumped our bags with Eleanor’s friends and headed into the city. 

We were based in the north of the town and, with a half day to see as much as possible, meandered slowly towards the train station (to exchange our reservation form for a ticket).  Our first stop was the beautiful Cuihu Park Lake which, being the weekend was full of locals doing everything from Tai Chi or dancing to Chinese checkers or getting massages.  The Chinese are, it must be said, brilliant at making the most of their outdoor spaces – something I have noticed in every city that I have visited and which makes me wish that the UK had weather that was more suited to such a lifestyle. 

Heading south we passed through the (new) old town, where traditional buildings had been demolished and replaced by replicas with all of the modern amenities.  This has been a pattern that I have seen all across China and, while these areas are pleasant to walk through (far more so than some of the concrete shopping areas of English new towns), they have certainly lost part of their character.  Two old buildings have survived though – the West and East pagodas, which flank the winding alleyways of the market district.  The old pagodas have survived the surrounding construction work to become symbols of the city.  Eventually we made it to Kunming station, which was bristling with security forces thanks to the knife attack that occurred there a few months ago.  Having followed the news story quite closely, it was surreal to walk around the plaza in front of the station where such chaos had previously ensued.  Picking up the tickets was totally painless – we handed our printed reservation across one of the counters and received the tickets in return, and after grabbing some local food for dinner we boarded the sleeper train for our next destination, Lijang.

We returned to Kunming at the end of our trip on the bus from Jianshui with time to do a bit more explori

ng in some art galleries and a day trip at the Shilin Stone Forest (see other post). 

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