Kunming is one of the cheapest destinations to reach by air from Hong Kong and yet also provides a springboard to one of China’s most incredible provinces. I had originally booked to visit this area last Spring and, after that fell through, Yunnan province became an itch I really needed to scratch. I never thought I’d choose it as my Christmas destination – after 4 months in a primary school I figured a warm Thailand beach would be what I craved. But Yunnan provides a different sort of relaxation. In place of blue seas are snow capped mountains; instead of beaches there are vast, incredible landscapes. I couldn’t wait.
And every rural wonderland needs a transport hub and that’s pretty much Kunming’s function. With trains and buses across the region and beyond as well as flights to various places in Asia, Kunming is a good place to start wherever you’re heading in southwest China. However there’s a nice charm to the city and it’s definitely more than just a sprawling mass which is what quite a few Chinese cities amount to.
My flight arrived pretty late at night which meant the new airport subway was no longer running. I opted to take a taxi and luckily bumped into someone who was also heading to my hostel whilst passing through customs. We ignored the dodgy looking touts who hassles us at Arrivals and headed out to the slightly more official taxi rank outside. From here, a taxi to our hostel in centralish Kunming was about ¥118 (split between two).
The hostel in question was Kunming Upland Hostel and I’d definitely recommend it. Located a stone’s throw away from the spectacular Green Lake (see below) and about a 20 minute walk to the commercial centre, it’s a funky YHA hostel and feels like a TARDIS once you walk inside. The bar/common room is fantastic and though I didn’t try any of the food it looked/smelt good. So many of the hostels I’ve stayed in in China have lacked character so it great for this one to buck the trend. The staff can also sort out train tickets (for a ¥15 fee) which came in very handy.
As previously mentioned, the hostel was located next to by far the best attraction within the city. The Green Lake park is a gorgeous amalgamation of a, you guessed it, lake and a park. It somehow manages to be both relaxing and quintessentially Chinese at the same time. One of the advantages of visiting in winter was the addition of hundreds of Siberian birds who had migrated from the cold weather in the north. Locals were poised at the edge of the lake waving pieces of bread in the air for the birds to come and collect. Occasionally, seemingly for no reason at all, all of the birds would scatter and circle round the sky making for an amazing spectacle. It was seriously cool.
Other places worth a look in Kunming include the Yuantong Temple (¥6 entry) which isn’t very far from the park. It’s always a win to see traditional Chinese architecture. The main shopping district of Dongfeng is a great place to wander round too. A lot of is pedestrianised and there are side streets that lead into small markets.
There’s no shortage of food in Kunming either. If you’re sick of Chinese food, Salvador’s is a great little cafe with an extensive and delicious menu. It’s more expensive than a local eatery but coming from Hong Kong I thought it was dirt cheap for what you get. Its cosy atmosphere makes for a great place to escape the bustle of the city.
Despite that bustle though, Kunming is a very friendly, welcoming city. I only stayed for a couple of days but was approached by numerous locals who wanted to practice their English (and tell me about all their dead relatives…) or just have a chat. China is a big daunting place and the locals do get a bad rep – sometimes justifiably- but there are plenty of good eggs here too.