What we did not know as we landed at Kunming's brand new airport was the elevation gain that we would experience between the two cities. At over 6000 feet, Kunming was much cooler and we could walk much longer with our backpacks without the effort showing. Unfortunately, the presence of a brand new airport meant that we had to cart these over a longer distance. An express bus transported us to a downtown location where we hailed a taxi driven by a masked woman who deftly took a short cut to our hostel at minimum fare. We were pleasantly surprised to see the narrow road in front of the hotel. Every city we had been in China had roads that took forever to cross.We soon realized our error. It was not the road that was narrow. The entire middle section of the road had been dug up to build Kunming's subway (metro) system. Much of the city was being heavily transformed to accommodate this and this marred the appearance of the city somewhat. Maybe the mask on our cab driver's face was due to the presence of dust in the city.
In quick time we had checked-in to our hostel and within an hour taken a trip on a local bus to the Yaotang temple. Reading these blogs may give you the impression that we are devout Buddhists, but our motives are much shallower. Buddhist temples in China usually have Vegetarian restaurants attached and this is what we were really after. The temple itself was picturesque and we enjoyed blue skies and sunny weather along with a cool breeze after several hot and rainy days in the lowlands. But we were not so lucky with the Vegetarian restaurant. After asking around, we ultimately learnt that the restaurant was also being renovated. We accepted this setback in good grace and stepped into a modern eatery for pizza and coffee! Served by smart, young women who knew how to deal with foreigners.
A short walk from the temple was Kunming's equivalent to a people's park. The expansive Green Lake Park that saw plenty of people enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. Unfortunately, they seemed to have no clue on how to cooperate with other people. There were two sets of musical groups 10 feet away from each other that were blasting their music loud, utterly disregarding the other. A pair of singing women with instrumental accompaniment gave excellent accounts of themselves singing melodious traditional Chinese music. Unfortunately, the nearby group's rendition of a totally unrelated song (also traditional Chinese) did not resonate well with their effort.
The Bamboo Temple, which is a short trip to a hill outside the city required us to change buses. We enjoyed the sight of the city and suburban buses sharing the same bus stops which were very well signed in English, making it easy for us to follow the instructions given to us by the English speaking staff at the hostel. We noticed that the bus numbers had been thoughtfully painted on the back side of the right side rear view mirrors. When several buses arrive at the same time at a bus stop, they all line up one behind the other. Since these mirrors stick out, passengers can easily view the route numbers from a distance.
The C61 bus that took us to the Bamboo Temple seemed to be privately owned as it kept stopping for several minutes waiting to fill up. It was also being used to deliver the occasional kitchen utensil to shops along the way. We later saw that even long distance buses were used for such extra curricular activities. Once past the ring road, the bus climbed steeply up a hillside for a few kilometers before reaching the Bamboo Temple. It looked like it was going to rain. The Bamboo Temple was even more beautiful than the Yaotang temple in its appearance and its cool location on a hill in a deeply wooded section made for a very serene atmosphere. Originally raised during the Tang Dynasty, it was rebuilt in the 19th century by master sculptor Li Guangxiu and his apprentices. Inside the main temple chambers are 500+ sculptures of various persons depicted in different poses and expressions. Some are realistic and some are fantastic. The most striking tableaux surrounds the staid Bodhisattva images. A series of figures seemingly surfing the waves of an ocean riding on top of various animals, birds, fish, dragons and other fantastic creatures. No two figures were the same. We read that the sculptor had to go into hiding since it was felt by some of his powerful contemporaries that some of these sculptures resembled them too closely.
While the Bamboo Temple did not have a vegetarian restaurant in the premises, it did have a restaurant with a welcoming owner and an English menu and we had a pleasant meal in the lovely, uncrowded temple. As we were prepared to depart, we spotted the same C61 going downhill and were happy to be ferried back to town by the same familiar crew.
It was not just us who came down but the rain as well. And this downpour was more tropical in nature and within a few minutes mini water pools had formed in the city. V's troubles with his water absorbing shoes began again. The area around the hostel had plenty of shoe stores (some even selling top hiking brands), but we could not find a good fit. Despite not finding a replacement, V's shoes now sit in a trash bin in Kunming. It would have to be just sandals from now on.
We could not find any more reason to hang around in Kunming (within 24 hours!) and decided to head southwards in our inevitable journey towards Laos. Kunming's bus stations seemed to be located even farther than the airport. We walked a kilometer carrying our packs to the bus stop to catch No. 103 which took us to the Kunming Nan Qi Che Zhan (South Bus station). In the rainy crowded city, this seemed a better bet than waiting for a taxi.
At the bus station, V was delighted to spot two Laotian registered buses bound for Luang Prabang and Huayxay. We still have one more week to go in China before we start thinking of those destinations. We got ourselves tickets on the 5:30 pm bus to our next destination, Jian Shui. Little did we realize the adventure that was in store for us on the 4 hour journey.
Thought you would land up there. Enjoy the monkey picked oolong tea From, on Jul 4, 2012 at 02:43AM
This is the problem - when a pretty city becomes a typical China megapolis, the charm leeches away somewhat.
I can understand V's problem. Usually in other countries, I have to go for the smallest size available in clothes & shoes. But in China, even the largest size wouldn't fit. Truly they are the land of the petite - especially the women. From , on Jul 9, 2012 at 02:58AM