China Travels #1: Kunming & Lijiang

Thursday 28th May

Firstly, my flight was delayed. Luckily it was not by much but seeing as it was one of the first flights of the day I was not expecting that when I came out of security. Nonetheless I made use of my time and the free wifi to chat to my mother seeing as we hadn’t spoken properly in a while due to the time difference and always being busy when the other is awake. Soon enough I was in the air and looking forward to landing in Kunming. The breakfast on the plane was… Not good at all. It was congee, a type of Chinese porridge, but it was utterly bland. They also serve dried radish, a sweet bread bun and some soggy looking fruit. I can say I was pretty hungry by the time I landed in Kunming airport. Once I collected my bag I actually just sat down in the baggage claim area for a good twenty minutes. I was busy writing my previous blog post and just wanted to sit down too! Any energy or adrenaline of heading on an adventure had taken a quick vacation itself. In the end I went through and when I saw a McDonald’s, my fate was sealed. Seeing as it was going to take me another hour and a half to get to the city centre, I wasn’t going to risk going hungry any longer. Again, I took my time there. I read my book and chatted to Lisa on wechat about what she was up and how were going to meet up. I was also considering just sitting and waiting for Becky but as her flight had still not taken off, I chose against it. Thanks to Baidu Maps (the Chinese version of Google) I was able to find my way halfway to the city.. Then able to make it up from there. Kunming is still growing and building more metro lines. So far it has two that run through the centre of the city from north to South. And one that runs from the airport way out to the East that takes you only to the Kunming East Bus Station on the eastern edge of the city. When I arrived I was immediately deterred from leaving the right hand side of the building due to there being a lot of people shouting “taxi” at me. I ended up sitting down for another twenty minutes pondering my next move. I decided to walk through the bus station, buy some water, and see if I could find the local bus stop. When I came out the other side I found a row of buses going to certain places. Bingo! There was one going to the main train station for only 5 kuai. Yay! The journey took about twenty five minutes. Eventually I stepped off the bus into the searing heat and entered the train station. I dropped off my huge backpack at the luggage storage (which was only 5 kuai..!! (50p)) and headed off again to find Lisa. I caught another local bus and headed towards ‘南屏街’ Nanping Pedestrian Street. Kunming is quite developed and full of so many people. But what I didn’t expect in a Chinese City was to see a massive cathedral being built! It had a domed top like St Paul’s Cathedral in London and a pretty massive golden statue of Jesus at the front of it. I know that China does have a small Christian population but have never seen it physically before. 

Soon enough I found Lisa in the main part of the pedestrian street. As it was only half past four, and boiling hot, we decided to find somewhere to have a snack and catch up on the past week of our lives. There’s weren’t many dessert places and if there were we were in the sun so we ended up at McDonalds! Just for ice cream though. After sufficiently catching up on both of our travels we wandered around for a while. Also going into Carrefour to grab a few snacks for the gorge to pass time. Fortunately despite the two hour flight delay, Becky had arrived in Kunming and was on her way to the station. Lisa and I ate some street food to 1. put off the growing hunger until dinner time and 2. because Lisa and I are trying as many local foods as we can! (And I’ll write about those on a separate post.) So for dinner we had “over the bridge” noodles. Then we headed back to the station to meet Becky in order to catch our sleeper train to Lijiang!  We departed at 21:21 and arrived at 07:04. As hard sleeper is half the price of soft, we opted for that… It wasn’t awful. In each small cabin there are six bunks, three on each side. The bottom has the most headroom, then it lessens the higher up you go. Becky was on the top, I was on the bottom and Lisa was in the next one along on the top as well. The most exciting thing about this train was that is was a double decker! I’d seen a double decker in Lisbon but this seemed huuuuuge! After an average nights’ sleep, the train staff turned the lights back on at 5:55am which was amazingly about ten minutes exactly before the sky started to brighten. The scenery out of the window was beautiful: untouched green rolling hills and a few farms came into view every now and again. 

Soon enough we arrived. We took a taxi to the hostel as the bus ride would’ve taken us an hour and a half. Lijiang looked unfamiliar and different at first because the houses were brand new with wide roads organised in the standard grid pattern. Yet as we reached the heart of the city it began to resemble the China we know. The chaos, old buildings, varied width of roads etc. The hostel was a little hard to find so we gave the hostel owner a call and he explained the directions to the taxi driver and soon enough we arrived. It was located about two hundred metres up a windy road amongst many old houses. The hostel itself was really pretty. It has big oak doors, two courtyards, a rooftop terrace and the room beds were the coolest I had seen so far. Instead of being a usual bunk bed, there was a small staircase up to the second bunk instead. As we had arrived before eight o’clock we couldn’t check in right away. Firstly we chatted to the hostel owner and discussed our plan for the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Once satisfied, we left our things and headed into the centre of Lijiang. One edge of the old town is directly at the bottom of the hill so in we went. It was like a maze but not boring to walk around. There were rows and rows of shops and snack vendors and in some parts cafés. Lisa and I started trying the local snacks (which we’ve written about in our food review!). We wandered around the ancient town for about three hours before heading off to find a bus stop to go to a different one. We found the bus stop quite easily and were on our way to 束河古镇 ‘shuhe’ ancient town.

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It was boiiiiling. The town was smaller than the one in Lijiang but was pretty similar. There were lots of shops selling embroidered bags and purses, very colourful jewellery, silver (real) and other bits and bobs. I ended up getting a simple silver necklace chain as my other was already slightly broken (having had it for many years) and I didn’t want to risk losing it say it did break again. Soon enough we were exhausted from the heat and wandering around aimlessly so headed back into the city. We wanted to keep the day very laid back as we knew we were to be up early the next day to start the Tiger Leaping Gorge. In the evening the hostel did a free hotpot for everyone to participate in. It was delicious (very spicy) and thoroughly enjoyed! I was the first out of everyone to go to get ready to bed at nine o’clock. I was just shattered. And the idea of another early start were almost too much to bear…