My 'Four Hours in Kunming'
I caught Newsweek’s “Four Hours in Kunming” piece online, part of their continuing series of pared-down travel recs, and was inspired (or perhaps uninspired) enough to write a couple of my own:
Four hours in Kunming for the bourgeoisie:
Instead of Yunnan Nationalities Village, check out Yunnan Nationalities Museum. Granted, there are no giant stone phalluses surrounded by crowds of half-naked Wa minority dancers, but the overall picture you’ll get of the ethnic minorities of China will be a bit less exploitative. This is one of the best museums in Kunming (read: actually worth going to) and boasts a wide range of textiles, jewelry, and displays of the art, archetecture, and traditional tools of the 25 official minority groups represented in Yunnan.
Climb Xishan if you’re feeling energetic, but if you’re super lazy like me, catch a bus to Golden Temple, north of the city. Make the much shorter trek to the top for a decent view of Kunming and then explore the temple complex and surrounding parks and gardens. Bring a frisbee and take advantage of some of the only open grass in the province. If you’re rich, head next door and pony up the 100 (or is it 200?) RMB to visit the World Hortacultural Expo 99 gardens, then feast at the excellent Thai restaurant inside.
Skip 1910 La Gare du Sud and try out ShiPing Huiguan for Yunnan fare in a historical courtyard complex just south of Green Lake Park. Same food, half the price, half the tourists, and better local atmosphere (although the place is upscale and really clean). Periodic performances of traditional Yi minority songs by beautiful girls in costume are unintrusive and actually add to the experience. Stroll down to Green Lake Park after dinner and watch all of Kunming come out to play. (For the adventurous, try out any one of these restaurants specializing in Yunnan mushrooms. It’s all in Chinese, I know, I know, sorry.)
Instead of drinking Pu’er tea to relax, head to the natural hot spring spa, Dianchi Spring Spa, near lake Dian. Forget four hours, because for just over $10 US, you can the whole day relaxing in beautiful outdoor pools of scalding hot water. Throw in a few more bucks for massage, rubdown, fish eating your skin off, bowls of delicious ramen and pitchers of ice cold beer etc. This place is posh and clean and will give you fluffy terrycloth bathrobes and enormous towels and will not steal your swimsuit if you leave it behind. Oh yeah, they’re open ‘till 3 AM. Find them here.
Four hours in Kunming for the proletariat:
Check out the awesome free (or very cheap) exhibit on the minorities of Yunnan at Yunnan Nationalities University on 1-2-1 Street. Bus 10 and/or 55 will get you there, get off at the Minzu Daxue/ 民族大学 stop, walk through the main gate and ask around, someone will direct you to the museum.
Grab a map and stroll through Yunnan University’s campus south to Green Lake Park and then over to Yuantong Temple. Admission to the temple should be around 5 RMB, it’s a legitimate working temple filled with average Kunming people and few tourists. Don’t be afraid to wander off the main streets into some of the tiny alleyways and explore along the way. If you notice a wet market, step in and check out the selection of unidentifiable produce, tofu products, and animals you’d never want to eat. Help yourself to some grilled tofu, deep fried corn cakes or potatoes, fruit on a stick, or whatever other street food you happen across.
Eat at Heavenly Mana (located just next to Salvador’s Coffee Shop on Culture Alley). The menu boasts all the local Kunming specialties and has been fully translated into English. It’s a challenge to spend more than 15 RMB/person on a meal here, but if you’re looking to splurge, grab some homemade ice cream (10 RMB) at Salvador’s after dinner, or walk north along the alleyway about three minutes and get a cup of pure mango (5 RMB?) in the blender from Fresh juicebar.
If all the walking around tired you out, go to Linna’s Massage for a fantastic massage in a very unadorned little shop. Linna is blind, fluent in English, and reads English braille fluently as well. Her mother and a couple other staff also give massages — prices are clearly marked and last I was there it cost 25 RMB/hour for full body massage. Linna’s is located a 5 minute walk past the main gate of Yunnan University on Qingyun Jie/ 青云街.