My Chinese visa is only good for 60 days, which meant that by early July I had to leave the country to renew it. Even though I am close to the Chinese border, Xizhou is so rural that it requires an extra trip to Kunming (6 hour train ride, or 1 hour airport ride) to fly internationally. The rainy season constantly disrupts airports, so my boss recommended that I fly to Kunming, spend the night, then fly to Thailand the next day.
At first I thought that was overkill, but the second I got in line for security in Dali, I heard over the loudspeaker that my flight was delayed because of “schedule congestion.” Impressive, considering there are maybe 10 airplanes that go to and from the Dali airport every day.
I had only heard negative things about Kunming before I left, and the guidebooks didn’t make me very hopeful either. Everyone said it was a boring, big city with little culture or history left, and the only highly recommended activities (a stone garden, colorful terraces) were far away.
I ended up falling in love with Kunming almost immediately. The city reminds me of a mix between Taiwan and Japan.. Thick trees provide a canopy over the narrow streets, and made the city feel pleasantly green and approachable. It seemed that every block had a small bubble tea shop with an English name displayed in cutesy block letters. I also saw many joggers – something I rarely see in China, which also made it feel more western. Kunming strikes me as a place that would be wonderful to live in, but not visit as a tourist.
I skipped the many hip dinner cafes I saw to go to an open erkuai restaurant that looked particularly busy with locals.
Afterwards, I tried “cheese” tea, mostly just because what on earth is cheese tea. It turned out to be regular tea with a heaping spoonful of a thick, yogurt/cheesecake-inspired drink on top, which you then mix all together to get a drink that resembles a thick milk tea. I was pleasantly surprised!
Before heading off the airport again, I stopped at one of the many xiaolongbao places scattered throughout the city for breakfast. Xiaolongbao are bite-sized pork baozi that originated in Shanghai, but have been increasingly popular throughout the rest of China.
Other travel recommendations:
– The airport is about 1 hour away from the city. If you don’t want to take a taxi, you can take the airport shuttle bus (25 RMB) or the local public bus 919 (13 RMB, takes about 10 minutes longer).
– I stayed at Cloudland International Youth Hostel, which was just perfect: centrally located, cheap, and very clean.
– The best restaurant/shop street is Wenlin street, just north of Cuihu Park. Each shop has such a distinct style!