Eclectic Kunming

 

Date: 20-31 Dec, 2023

We passed a village called Huangtupo (黃土坡村) on our way to Kunming. It’s located in the ancient main route to the capital. It became well-known when the emperor wanted to grant one of its villagers a government official title for successfully delivering copper (for currency minting) to the capital as robberies were rampant in the Qing dynastry. But he’s not interested. Instead, he was bestowed with great fortune and a special “Honorary Citizen” title.

After a very exuberant stay in Guizhou, we headed towards Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan. It’s amazing to see how the weather changed dramatically as we drove up the hill towards Yunnan – one minute it was misty and damp on the Guizhou side, then the mist disappeared and it was sunny and blue sky the second we got on the Yunnan side.

Found a quaint western restaurant in Qujing, Yunnan (雲南曲靖)

We immediately felt much warmer and definitely made the right decision to leave Guizhou. We took a two-day pitstop in Qujing (曲靖) at the east western edge of Yunnan and arrived in Kunming a week before Christmas.

One could see an eclectic mix of western influences in Kunming.

Kunming is also called the Spring City for its relative mild weather. Plants and flowers bloom all year round here. It’s the warm haven for black-headed gulls which annually migrate from Siberia, Xinjiang and Mongolia before the harsh winter.

These black-headed gulls are the familiar part of Kunming’s winter scene. Their heads turn white in winter.

We visited Kunming briefly just before the Covid outbreak back in January 2020. We left in a haste for we didn’t feel safe to be in a big city back then. This time, we planned to take our time and spend Christmas here.

Cherry blossom bloomed early here due to the warmer weather.

Despite its relatively mild weather, we still felt necessary to find an apartment with heating. But after scanning  the accommodation apps, I couldn’t find any with our specific requirement. Apparently, both heating and air-conditioning are considered rare luxuries as cold weather is so short-lived and summer is pleasantly cool.

Instead, we stayed at a mid-range chain hotel – a smart choice as this winter turned out to be colder than usual and we got to relax in our warm hotel room while outside was only a few degrees Celsius.

There are a few lakes and reservoirs in the city. They are next to each other and one could take a big loop around if one is up for a long walk.

Chinese hotel accommodation standards have improved in leaps and bounds in the past ten years while its pricing is increasingly competitive. The hotel we stayed is quite new and the rooms are spacious and elegant. For only RMB250 a night, it includes breakfast and self-service laundry facilities.

Found this tiny second-hand bookshop at the end of an alley – its name “Slow Book Bar” aptly reflect the mood of the city

As we are frequent traveller, it’s worth exploring specific or joint hotel group memberships to get better deals like discounts, point redemption and complimentary breakfast. There are two ways to get the best price – either make advanced bookings which in many membership schemes offer early bird discounts; or make bookings the day you check in – preferably in late afternoon when the algorithom often pushes further discounts. Either ways, make sure they come with free cancellations for maximum flexibility. 

Tasted authentic Italian food here. Notice the beautiful roses, Yunnan roses are world famous.

Both Guizhou and Yunnan have many ethnic minorities but they can’t be more different. While Guizhou’s ethnic culture is relatively insulated from modernity until recent times due to its mountainous landscape and difficult accessibility, Yunnan has an interesting hybrid of European and Southeast Asian influences since it lies at the far west of China adjacent to Vietnam, Laos and not far from Northen Thailand. The cuisine is also more diverse with more fresh spicy ingredients.

Kunming has a long historical relationship with France due to its proximity to Vietnam which was a French colony from the late 19th century to 1954. The Kunming-Haiphong Railway which connected with a major port city in northeastern Vietnam was built by France from 1904 to 1910 and it was operational until 2005.

Leisurely stroll in the old part of the city

Many French corporations (e.g. Electricite De France) invest in Kunming and there is a sizeable French population. One could still see remnants of French influence in the architectural style of the core building of the Yunnan University and old mansions in the city centre.

Weekend flea market in the more hipster area with many cafes and restaurants.
At first glance, we thought this is a florist. It’s in fact a coffee shop.

Kunming is also home to Dounan Flower Market (斗南花卉市場) – not only it is China’s biggest wholesale flower market but also the largest in Asia – exporting to over 40 countries including Hong Kong, Japan and various parts of Asia. Yunnan rose is famous worldwide.  The majority of plant extracts and ingredients of French perfume brands and well-known cosmetic brands are exported from Kunming.

Have you ever seen so many flowers and plants before?
Yunnan is succulent plant heaven for its dry warm weather.
Daunting size of the flower market – this is only one section of many.

Given its historical French connection, it’s no surprise that we celebrated Christmas at a French bistro and befriended its French chef Vincent and his wife Haiya who is from Kunming. We also met Vincent’s parents who were visiting.

Delicious hachis parmentier – it has duck meat instead of ground beef

We first discovered this little culinary gem, À Table Bakery & Cafe, when we went for dinner soon after we arrived in Kunming. I was dazzled by the beautiful pastries and bread. We went back for afternoon tea and decided that it’s the perfect place to celebrate the festive season.

Had a lovely chat with Chef Vincent and Haiya(海涯) with a treat of their beautiful patisserie

Haiya(海涯) is very welcoming and gave us lots of eatery suggestions. Apparently, Kunming has many good vegetarian restaurants and thanks to her, we got to taste delicious vegetarian version of the famous Yunnan rice noodles – Guoqiao mixian (過橋米線) and scrumptious vegetarian buffet (only RMB28 per person).

The vegetarian Yunnan noodles is so yummy
We tried the goldern ear mushroom sashimi for the first time. I really thought that I was eating sashimi.

She also recommended us to visit the wonderful Zhuanxin Wet Market (篆新農貿市場). Wherever we go, we always check out the local markets. But Zhuanxin Wet Market is not just any market. It is something of an institution – the go to place for the locals to buy the freshest local and regional produce, fruits, meat, seafood and of course the famous Xuanwei(宣威) ham. It is also the mecca for tourists to try the local food and buy souvenirs.

Couldn’t wait to get into the famous Zhuanxin Wet Market

Yunnan people have a penchant for mushrooms and flowers. Even though it’s not the season, we did see an array of beautiful fresh mushrooms. There were also rows and rows of food vendors that specialize rice noodles, crispy pork and steamed buns just to name a few.

We were like children in awe of myriads of fresh mushrooms and unknown fresh produce. They are all from Yunnan.
Tower of steaming hot buns
Strawberries, strawberries and more strawberries

It was like we had walked into an aromatic and bright-coloured maze. Our various senses were constantly stimulated – one second admiring exotic vegetables and insects we have never seen and then our nostrils overwhelmed by the beef broth, freshly ground sesame or punchy fragrance of the chicken feet salad of the Dai tribe (傣族).

A wide assortment of pickles that are essential condiments when the locals eat noodles.
All kinds of strange looking fruits

After 12 days of rather mellow and slow-paced city life in Kunming, it’s time for some physical actions. We headed to a nearby Gudui village (谷堆村) southward just outside Kunming to hike.

Went to an antique flea market
Repairing books

4 thoughts on “Eclectic Kunming”

  1. Avatar
    Carol McCallum

    Dear Kin and Akie. Another wonderful chapter to your story. I can see why you love the Kunming area of China. Your photos are delightful ❤️❤️

    1. Kunming city is lovely. The scenery and various cultures in Yunnan province are so diverse that it’s hard not to fall in love with it. We often said to each other that we are so lucky to be experiencing all this and treasure it dearly.

      Give our love to everyone!

      Akie

  2. Dear Kin and Akie,
    You are an inspiration! You are doing a very delightful documentation of China. It is impressive all the great details and special treats of each place you find out in your travels!
    I wish I could watch a documentary about you two and your travels around China!

    All the best,
    Larissa

    1. Hey Larissa

      We also love seeing your life in Japan and all the places you visited with Hiko. His motorcycling father and his family sound amazing. And your endless creativity is inspiring too!

      Do hope we can meet up! So much to catch up!

      Akie

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