Flying into Kunming three days ago was a jarring experience. The Yunnan provincial capital, known as the “Spring” city due to it’s subtropical, highland location almost 2,000m high, didn’t offer me a warm welcome. I went from beach weather in Sanya to frigid cold. That aside, I have quickly found warmth in the people and easy-going, mixed culture. Kunming has soul.
An American expat, Kevin, I befriended in Shenzhen quickly plugged me in thanks to the time he spent living here. He put me in touch with an American friend, Charlie, who works at a brew pub called Humdinger. The city has a budding beer-making culture and more pubs are set to open in the near future. Dave and his Chinese wife, Yujia, opened Humdinger (try a pint and homemade pretzel for 25 yuan!) a year ago and also run an outstanding hostel called Lost Garden (60 yuan 3-bed dorm room, 240 yuan single), where I’m staying. The quiet, recently-renovated hostel is in an excellent, central location — off Huanggong Dong Street beside Green Lake Park — a short walk from Humdinger, off Renmin Zhong Road.
After taking the Airport Express No.1 line (25 yuan) to the West Hotel, followed by a short taxi ride, I checked into the Lost Garden and headed over to Humdinger. I braved the cold at Humdinger’s new, outdoor bar to chat with Charlie, and before I knew it, I was tapping into Kunming’s lively expat scene. Charlie took me to his music gig at a Chinese bar and I quickly learned that the foreigners I met came to Kunming on a whim and ended up staying. The city has a year-round mild climate (usually) and unique culture, home to the Yi people and other minorities, at the crossroads of SE Asia, not far from Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar.
Strolling through Green Lake Park on a Saturday afternoon, you will find large crowds dancing, some in colorful garb. When you get hungry, try Yunnan’s famous rice noodles or minority cuisine (I had a spicy sampler platter of pineapple rice, pork, cucumbers, eggs, and mushrooms, all served on banana leaves at a Dai restaurant). When you get tired, relax at one of the numerous cafés that line the park. Nearby is 1,200-year-old Yuantong Temple (6 yuan admission) and the Bird and Flower Market, where you can shop for souvenirs and walk the old streets (the little alleys off Nanping Street were my favorite).
The city serves as a gateway to the Stone Forest and Lijiang old town — both UNESCO World Heritage sites — for most tourists due to it’s bus/train links. However, I will be using a different mode of transportation when I leave Kunming. Kevin has graciously offered me his motorbike to tour the mountains and valleys of Yunnan!