Tag Archives: kunming

China an overview


Well the time has finally come to leave China and move on to the next leg of our little adventure. I guess it is time to take stock of what we have done, where we have been and run through the highlights and lowlights of the time spent in China. We are actually not entirely finished as we will be back in Hong Kong in October and may pop into Macao for a day or two depending upon how the other plans go.

Overall our time in China has been fantastic and I would highly recommend this as a tourist destination for any of you. There are some myths about needing mandarin to travel in China which are quite frankly totally wrong. After a cumulative 7 months full time here we would be lucky to know 20-30 words and have been completely off the beaten path where no English is spoken. The Chinese people are really helpful and a couple of bits of technology gets you through most binds (see Jill’s travel tips section).

So in summary we spent –

205 – Days in China
50 – Cities slept in (more visited or day tripped)
25 – Provinces visited (of 32)
China Map

We have been discussing our best and worst bits and came up with very little on the negative side with the overall impression being ridiculously positive. The other thing we tried to do was to develop a must see itinerary for those seeking to travel here. China however is like Australia and the distances and travel times make seeing everything impossible unless you have unlimited time (there are still things that we missed out on and want to see).

The other thing that stumped us was that some of the must sees (Terracotta Warriors and 3 Gorges Cruise etc.) were some of the least impressive things that we have been to…but how can you really come here and not see them…so despite being so-so I guess they remain must sees. They were ok and it is nice to say that we have been but there is so much better to see in China and if time were limited (which it almost always will be) there are much better places to go.

The other thing was that Jill and I liked different things. She has turned into a mountain goat while here, relishing the stair climbs (that are everywhere)…while I have gone the other way cursing stairs at every opportunity. Obviously there are some things that were awesome for both of us. The Great Wall of China is an absolute must and the best spot is the Mutianyu section (about 60kms outside of Beijing). The other thing that must be done is getting into some of the provinces. Each minority of China is quite different and these differences should be experienced. So here it is…

Traditional Must Sees

The Great Wall of China
Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square
The summer palace
Gate of heavenly peace
Mao’s Tomb
Walled cities
Hanging Monastery
The terracotta Warriors
3 gorges dam
Tibet ?

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Most of these are easy to achieve from Beijing with limited travel times and this could be done in a two week stint if you push a little bit. The warriors is a quick pop across to Xian where the Muslim quarter is a must. Xian is a walled city but Jill’s suggestions are that Pingyao and Datong are better examples and from Datong you can also see the hanging monastery and Yúngāng Caves..head down and out through Shanghai and all of this within the two week journey.

Tibet is a whole other issue. There seems to be a global interest in Tibet given the Dalai Lama scenario but having been there we would never return. The Everest leg was nice and something we will no doubt brag about down the track but way too difficult to be worth the 2 hour photo shoot that we got. Especially given that a lot of the time it is clouded over and you don’t get a nice view (we were blessed with perfect weather). The food was terrible but the road between Lhasa and Shigatse was the highlight but it is a tough schlepp and should not be taken lightly.

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Lesser known gems

These are the things that do not immediately come to mind when you think of China but having been there and experienced them they are VERY high on both of our lists. We would do almost all of these before the last 3 on the earlier list…but they are less famous.

Guilin to Yangshou river rafting
Jiuzhaigou – Jiuzhai national park with blue lakes and waterfalls everywhere
Harbin – ice festival
Kunming – Stone forest
Kashgar – livestock market
Chengdu – panda breeding centre + giant Buddha at Leshan

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This list of places will probably not make an initial itinerary however were really nice spots to either kick back or enjoy a lesser paced time getting to know the real China or seeing sights in a less hectic manner. Nice if you have heaps of time but sadly will be missed by most.

Dali – walled city
Dandong – North Korean border
Shanhaiguan – wall meets ocean + first mountain pass
Mountains – Wutaishan, Mianshan, Taishan,
Xiahe – monastery (more Tibetan than Tibet)
Anshun – biggest waterfall in China
Hohhot – Inner Mongolia
Hangzhou – west lake
Shangri-la – mini Tibet

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After this there were a bunch of cities that we stayed in that we found to be totally charming and full of the local Chinese culture and lifestyle but not necessarily likely to get a tourist visit. We would go back to them as we had a really good time eating, drinking and mingling with the locals. Places like Xining where we relaxed after the Tibet ordeal, or Yinchuan where they had 20 quai massages and free street theatre, or Guangzhou where we lazed eating super cheap food in a street that turned into restaurantville after dark.


You need to speak Chinese – rubbish…almost every Chinese person you meet will try and help you as much as they can. If you have a smile and a nice attitude you will never go wrong. A translator app on your phone and a dictionary style app like Pleco will get you through every drama.
Don’t eat the street food – rubbish…this is the tastiest, cheapest and best food to eat in China. It is clean, and turned over so frequently that most of the time it will be made in front of you. There is tourist food with snakes, bugs and scorpions etc but these are mostly for show and photographs. The every day stuff is fine.
China is dangerous – rubbish…be aware of your surroundings, as you always should be in any country, and you will feel and be safer than you would on any Australian street.

The bad bits

The absolute epitome of all things that are wrong with China exist and are openly displayed by one group especially…The Dama. This is not to say that these traits are not widely available but the Chinese Aunties (or Dama) are the group that has embraced or inherited all that is wrong with China. They are by no means the cause of it…but when looking at the offensive behaviour that exists in China…7 out of 10 times you will see it displayed by one of these aunties.

By night they are happy middle aged women dancing in the parks and public spaces (pissing off the locals with the loud music but amusing the tourists). But during the day they are the phlegm spelunking, bodily fluid hacking, phone yelling, street blocking, child pissing, line ignoring, elbow throwing, crowd pushing group that is oblivious to and ignorant of all those around them.

In a newspaper rant the Chinese papers tried to explain the attitude claiming that … Growing up during the Chinese revolution these Dama worked hard and didn’t enjoy good life when they were young; they only tried their best to save money. Now their children have grown up. With retirement pensions, they have more free time and money to spend on their own life. This explains some of it but not all.

The older generation has some of the worst Chinese traits, the younger generation has reasonably few of them…but the Dama…the Chinese baby boomer equivalents are shockers. And they are mostly women…probably because the men had chain smoked themselves into an early grave. The middle group that is the Dama is atrocious and the worst China has to see and offer.

But the future is bright. The current generation is influenced by the poor examples set and is revolting against this. They are more polite, more aware that other people exist, and less likely to hock bodily fluids around the streets. There is still a long way to go…yelling still takes place and the ignorance of those around them remains high. Smoking will be the next hurdle to be fought as it is impossible to go anywhere without being swamped by cigarette smoke (despite no smoking signs everywhere). No meal can be eaten without half the restaurant firing up after their food.

A Snapshot

Once again we will finish on a selection of thumbnails of our favourite moments…needless to say after 7 months there are too many to try and put on our little post. If anybody is thinking of a trip here we would be happy to provide any advice or share any insights we may have that may help your planning.

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Last minute thoughts

China has recently introduced 72 hour Visa free cities…20 of them in total. This presents the perfect opportunity for stopover tasters as you head to other destinations. Guilin is one of these and was my favourite spot…72 hrs would be enough time to fly in, poke around, crash, take the raft to Yangshou, poke around, crash then return to Guilin for the flight out. This was debatably our best day and certainly one of our best days in China.

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And the adventure continues…


The stone forest and LiJiang


After Jill finally got the assignment finished we got back on the road and returned to Kunming (the site of our Chinese New Year escapades). We tried a different hostel which was ok without being startling and made plans to hit the stone forest (Shilin) which is a 350 sq/km area of limestone rock formations. This place was spectacular but was also the most expensive day that we have had since arriving in China. The site is 120 kms from Kunming so by the time you pay for the cab to the bus staton, the bus to the site, the entrance fee and the electric shuttle bus fee and then the return journey, the numbers got very big quite quickly (by China standards).

That said, the park was brilliant with stone and rock formations as far as the eye can see and you basically had free reign to explore as you saw fit. There was the electric busses that followed a loop but you could get off at any time and explore away. We got the bus initially but ended up walking the whole way so that we could check out all the sights.

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Leaving Kunming we hopped a flight to LiJiang and set up camp in the heart of old town. Having spent a week in the Xiamen old town I had an idea of what to expect…boy was I wrong. The two were poles apart. Xiamen had authentic alleys where people lived and worked as the would have 200 years ago and was dirt cheap. LiJiang was the pretty tourist area with nothing but shops, bars and restaurants charging a premium on any item you even paused to look at.

LiJiang is without a doubt the most expensive town we have been in within China. By way of example, a 650 ml beer normally costs between 10 and 20 RMB…in Xiamen we were getting it for under 3…but in LiJiang they were trying to charge over 50 RMB. This extended to the food and coffees as well as the touristy junk that we did not get. On arrival we stopped for a coffee on the way to the hostel and paid 68 RMB ($11-14) for Jill’s latte and 45 ($7-9) for my long black.

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As an extra bit of excitement while we were in old town the building across the alley from where we were staying caught fire and had flames leaping about 20 meters into the air. Old town is essentially all made of wood and a fire is needless to say devastating. All hell broke loose as every man and his dog donned their fire fighting equipment and got to work in putting out the blaze. The chefs from the restaurants were running away from the blaze carrying the gas bottles, the smoke was billowing and we were prepped for a rapid departure should it be needed.

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About three hours later all was calm and the fire was out. It was actually a very efficient exercise and in a wooden tinderbox part of town it was beautifully contained to just the one building. The next town that we are to hit (Shangri-La) had a similar incident and 2/3 of the place went up displacing over 3000 people.

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LiJiang is the launching point for places such as the Tiger Leaping Gorge, Dali and Shangri-la. Jill had been wanting to go to tiger leaping gorge since the first moment she read about it. My response was along the lines of the nomenclature is false advertising…and that if I did not physically see a tiger leaping across the gorge then it was a waste of our time and money and I would be disappointed.

Anyway as a good husband we went to tiger leaping gorge…you guessed it…no tiger…no leaping…but there was a pretty spectacular gorge. And a shed load of walking down and then back up a 1600 meter vertical drop to the water level. My calves burned on the way down and my thighs on the way up. Until I gave up and paid to ride a horse the last 3-500 meters of the vertical climb section…Jill walked the whole way and found me waiting for her at the top with a cold drink.

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The first thing to mention was the drive to the gorge. It was alongside a super steep vertical drop in a bus that barely fit on the road…with sections of the road that had crumbled away under earlier avalanches. At one point Jill claims that she saw a car in the water below that had obviously missed a turn. All of this while our bus driver was chatting away on his mobile phone and belatedly jerking into corners.

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The next bit was the trail…1600 meters down…on a track that would trouble most goats. Upon reaching the bottom you see the rock that the alleged tiger leapt to. To get there we paid an extra 10 yuan each to wander across a rope bridge made out of balsa wood. We then stood on the rock amongst the rapids as they raged past us…then braved the bridge back to the trail upwards.

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As we huffed and puffed our way up the path there was a ladder that cut out a big chunk of the zigging and zagging as we climbed. This was a vertical ladder with rungs at double the normal height…that was quite frankly terrifying…that we both climbed. Thankfully you were facing the cliff so did not see how bad it could have ended.

All things considered a great (but exhausting) day.


Chinese New Year

Having left India we landed in Kunming in China’s south for Chinese New Year. The first thing we noticed was the cleanliness, the streets are 3-4 lanes wide, they are fully paved to the edge where they meet with a footpath, there is no litter and people are not urinating in the streets. I put us in a black list taxi that took us directly where we needed to be with no fuss and for the agreed upon price.

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The hostel was neat clean and slotted us into a bed straight away. This allowed us to sleep off the fact that we had been awake for 44 of the previous 48 hrs (mostly due to the Kolkata hovel). A few hours nap, up for lunch, down for a nap, up for dinner, sleep overnight…the world is good again.

Hit the few tourist things that there was to do in Kunming, lake, pagodas, mosque etc…got photos. The most had conversation was us revelling in how clean China was and the inevitable response of…REALLY…from every westerner that we met. For all of the dirt in China, the spitting, the smog, the fires, the fossil fuels being burnt every 15 feet…it is spotless compared to India.

Our gastronomic enterprises were not deep fried or curried and surprisingly the chilli content was higher. There truly is something to be said for simple food well executed. A dumpling, some noodles with simple sauce, steamed vegetables with a touch of chilli or sauce. We are loving this break from the curries. There is a local delicacy called across the bridge noodles. This is a huge bowl of steaming broth and a range of raw ingredients that you quickly dump in the bowl in whatever proportions you wish, to cook. A few minutes on and tuck in. It is a great meal but a little bland. It benefits greatly from a dollop (or two) of the chilli that is on every Chinese table.

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For those who have not experienced Chinese New year in China then suffice to say it is feral. It goes for weeks and up to a month in some places. We picked a small (ish) town so got the abridged version, but by all accounts Beijing and Shanghai are crazy. The fireworks start very early and finish very late every day. The daytime ones are generally set off by mischievous chefs who run out of the kitchen, stand around like giggling schoolgirls and let off massive bangs…scaring the life out of the waitresses…and then running back to the kitchens giggling madly.

We hooked up with a Brit and a Canadian who speak Chinese and along with a Melbourne girl we all headed out for Chinese New Year’s Eve. Having linguists meant we were not limited in our choice of venue and away we went. After a quite few drinks we left the hostel at 8pm in search of a meal…found a joint and ordered up a storm. We ate, drank, sang, got adopted by the staff…the owner heard we were there and came from his other restaurant to join us…armed with Baijiu (triple distilled rice wine). Anyway…well after 2 am we left after having had fantastic night.

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