Kunming was the first city in Mainland China I visited (stopover at Beijing Airport doesn’t count). It was the starting and end point of my round trip through Yunnan with G adventures. Before planning this trip I knew very little about Kunming; just remembering that it played some important role in the Long March during the Chinese Civil War.
I had no idea that Kunming has over 6,500,000 inhabitants and is located at an altitude of almost 1,900 metres. Guide books added that air in Kunming is relatively clean and clear due to lack of polluting industries and that the Yi people represent a strong minority.
My Hong Kong to Kunming Dragonair flight gave me some very nice first impression aerial views over Dianchi Lake and the agricultural lands surrounding Kunming.
Despite being a megacity for European standards, Kunming is not yet really crowded with Western tourists. Accordingly English is not very common. I made a rather basic mistake by wanting to rely on my selfmade travel map based on Google Maps. With some better reading I should have known that Google is blocked in Mainland China. Therefore the bus journey from the airport to my ho(s)tel was quite an adventure. Nobody in the bus – which happened to be the wrong one – was able to understand where I should head. After some sweaty moments and with the help of some students from Thailand I finally found my accommodation – where nobody spoke English as well.
Kunming is a very safe city for tourists, so don’t be afraid even if you get lost or don’t find your place at once. If you feel completely lost just head to a coffee shop or fast food outlet. Those have usually some English speaking staff and/or Free Wifi. After you spent a day to two in the city, orientation is rather easy. The North-South axis starting at the train station is “Beijing Lu”. If you head Northwest from Beijing Lu you cross the rather unimpressive Panlong River before reaching the city centre.
One can only imagine that the centre of Kunming underwent big changes during the last decade. Today most of the city centre is covered with shopping centres, pedestrian areas and upscale residential areas. During my visit the streets were crowded, but especially the upscale shops and outlets were often rather deserted.
After several devastating earthquakes and rebellions in the 19th century much of the historical cityscape in the city centre was lost. Some of the remaining – often wooden – structures had to make way for the modern Central Business District and upscale housing projects. Along Jingxing Street the city government took a different approach and decided to conserve what remained of Old Kunming. This area was famous for its huge Bird and Flower Market, which is mostly a tourist “attraction” today.
Many of the exotic animals sold at the market are taken illegally from the rainforests of Southern Yunnan. A very sad sight – also the fact that authorities are tolerating this.
My next post will focus on my two favourite places in Kunming: Yuantong Temple and Ciuhu Park/Green Lake.