Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province holds much more than the majority of the foreign traveling community gives it credit for. A city under new development like almost every city across China, there is a lot of construction in downtown though we only saw it in passing in an out of Kunming.
A lot of people I’ve talked to and about what I’ve read say there isn’t much to do in Kunming. I agree that it’s a better place to stay 2-3 full days versus a week, but there is enough to keep you busy. Of course, it pays to find out where the locals and Chinese tourists go.
The highlight for us was visiting the Yunnan Ethnic Minority Village，云南民族乡. http://www.chinatourguide.com/Kunming/yunnan_ethnic_village.html
With 26 different ethnic minorities across Yunnan, it’s of course extremely hard to experience a lot of them in one trip. To solve this problem, the government decided to set up an area to preserving the ethnic heritage of these minority groups. Call it a minority Disneyland, if you will, but without any kitschy rides or make believe. It’s a beautiful oasis a 30 minute bus ride from downtown.
The day we visited was October 1st, National Day in China, so there may have been more complimentary things to do than usual, but here are some pointers. Upon arrival, get some snacks from the food vendors outside the main entrance. There is plenty of clothing and souvenir shopping to do in the entrance ‘town,’ so no need to buy from the outside stalls.
After buying your ticket, and posing with the girls, get an English guide from the tourist information booth to the left of the ticket gate. I definitely recommend checking out the afternoon or evening showing of, 红土乡披, The Red Soil Village Show.
The show was the best way to get a taste of all the ethnic diversity across Yunnan province and a way to get a glimpse of what culturally defines each group. From drumming and fire breathing bull tusk banging, to beautiful women on elephants and the process of rice cultivation, it’s a high energy capturing hour plus. It’s not for anyone sensitive to blasting music as evident in the multitude of video I took. The difference in distance between these minority groups is extremely minimal compared to the cultural difference in dress, architecture, and topography that define these people.
You could wander the space for an entire day and still not visit all the minorities. We loved having rice wine and chatting with the Wa tribe. During the show they had the drums and fire show and were very low key, spirited people. We enjoyed chatting it up with one of our hosts and of course he poses beautifully for a shot.
Yunnan is special in that it cultivates minimal amounts of tea, instead, coffee! Really fabulous coffee too. It’s robust, dark and super flavorful. If you do decide to buy the touristy stuff, it’s tasty but is a ripoff as each can is actually less than half full and it’s ready made powder so not a connoisseur’s choice, but the barrel cans are cool! To get the whole bean good stuff you have to seek out a speciality coffee shop and purchase the vacuum sealed excellent pick.
If you want to look like one of the locals, you can rent an outfit and pose for the camera. Warning- other passer buys then think they have automatic license to photograph you too. I’m guilty. I had to join a small group taking photos of these adorable stranger children. What I love about China, even when you don’t know a person’s kids you still call each other brother and sister.
When eating in Kunming, don’t miss the “Crossing Bridge Noodles.” It’s a sumptuous mix of hot broth and all the sides you add yourself. Kind of like a mix between shabu-shabu and hot pot. Find these available on almost every street corner, all offer different options based on your hunger factor.
Where to stay; I definitely recommend the Kunming Upland Hostel http://kunming.two-star-hotels.com/hotel/kunming-upland-international-youth-hostel.html. Gorgeous rooms, great food, lounge area and staff are attentive and fun. Though if busy, be patient with the service staff of young ladies.
Further south by foot is the bird and flower market, in the Kunming Old Street area, a must see.
This market is many blocks full of all sorts of goodies, giant tobacco pipes, pelts of fur, and live critters, spend a couple hours perusing. The locals told me all the animals are used as pets, not for consumption as one might thing, though you never really know! Get some good laughs and shocks throughout.
All in all, Kunming has more to offer than was expected and I know there are other hidden gems to discover.