Woke up as we were arriving into Kunming, capital of the Yunnan province, after a surprisingly comfortable overnight sleeper journey. Soon discovered we had been dropped off at the “new” bus station – in the middle of nowhere, so we then had to figure out how to get back into town. Luckily we found a nice lady who spoke a bit of English and who explained to us where we should go and with a bit more luck we found our bus and figured out how to buy tickets! This was going to be a lot harder on our own without the Mekong Cafe to help us out and translate for us!! We arrived at the “main” city bus station, only to find that our new Aussie travelling companions – Dane and Lisa – had also been sent here in search of the train station. After a lot of being sent round in circles by locals (who I’m sure were taking the piss out of the stupid white people who couldn’t speak Chinese!) we finally found the bus we needed but we couldn’t work out where its bus stop was so we gave up and flagged down a taxi to get us to our hotel! By this time we were exhausted from the bus journey and the mental exhaustion of trying to get anywhere with only basic Chinese. Found our hostel ok, nice central location on the Jinmabiji Square, and settled into the comfy sofas to pass out. Dane and Lisa joined us and we recharged and were about to head off to explore when the skies when black and the rain came down. After half an hour or so it died down so we did head into town, up the main pedestrianised shopping area (full of people on scooters and mopeds which is incredibly dangerous, especially as they are electric and you can’t hear them!). Found our way to the bird and flower market, which sells a lot more than just birds and flowers, for example a huge fish shop with golfish jumping out of the tanks onto the pavements and tons of other kinds of animals! Spent a fair amount of time wandering through the market before heading back to the town centre to get some provisions and explore the malls and then back to the hostel for another relax. Said our goodbyes to Dane and Lisa who were headed off to the Terracotta Warriors on a 36 hr train and headed out for some dinner, finding a really nice local noodle shop on the recommendation of a Chinese man we befriended in the street! Had a hilarious experience with the old lady who ran the shop trying to order some dinner – eventually we got our noodles for next to nothing which were very good! Headed back for an early night feeling a lot better about Kunming than earlier in the morning!
Had a bit of a lazy morning to recover from yesterday before setting off back in to town to visit the Yunnan Provincial Museum which had a very impressive photographic exhibition to celebrate 100 years of railways in Yunnan and some equally impressive collections of brass objects and various other local artefacts from a long time ago when China was split into many kingdoms. Went for a long wander through the backstreets and markets in search of local activity after the museum which resulted in us finding a really cool local square where old men go to take their pet birds for some fresh (smoky) air and another square where people were singing and dancing and playing cards and Chinese chess. Made lots of new friends, mainly in sign language or basic formalities, especially during the half hour or so we were sheltering from the rain with a really nice Chinese couple who I tried to have a basic coversation with (with the help of my tranlastion guide!). Once the rain has stopped we set off in the direction of Green Lake Park in the North of the city where it was all going on. Stopped off for some yummy noodles before heading into the park (which is actually mainly lake surrounded by lots of sidewalks and squares where people were gathered to dance, sing, play music and generally have fun! Quite a fun experience seeing the huge range of social activities going on. Set off back into town in search of a Pu’er tea house (local green tea) for a sit down and relax and a sample of some local tea which was very nice but went on for ages as each pot of tea makes about 20 servings! Ended up buying a small pack and making our excuses so that we could go and look round the market before heading out to a famous local restaurant to try the local dish of “over the bridge noodle” which involves getting a bowl of steaming hot broth and all the meat and noodles and veg on the side which you put in and stir round and wait for it to cook! Good fun but it didn’t taste that great and I’m fairly sure it resulted in me eating intestines of some variety (I hadn’t spotted them on the menu until after I’d eaten!).
Another lazy morning before we finally got up and headed to the train station to book our tickets to Dali for tonight which was a bit of an experience in itself, luckily the people at the hostel had written down in Chinese what we wanted to book which made it much easier. Starting to get the hang of how things work over here and having a slight grasp on the language helps massively, who knows maybe I’ll be fluent in Mnadarin before long! After succesfully booking our tickets we headed off to the Daguan Park south of town with the intention of going out across DianChi Lake and to the mountains on the western shore. Had a nice walk through the park but slightly annoyed that we had to pay 20 yuan to get in (to give you an idea – a big bowl of noodles costs around 4-6 yuan!). Got to the ferry dock only to discover that it was going to cost 60 yuan each just to get across the lake, never mind all the entrance fees and park fees on the other side so we thought better of it and reluctantly abandoned that plan, shame as the views are supposed to be amazing! Headed back into town for some lunch and then a wander round the southern end of town to see some old Tang dynasty pagodas and round some more markets before heading back to the hostel for some dinner and to pick up our stuff in preparation for our overnight train ride to Dali tonight! (Lots more photos have been uploaded to the snapfish site, see my facebook profile – which I can’t access over here so please excuse me for not replying to anyone for the nex few weeks!)