Robin and I arrived in Kunming on May 2 after an exhausting overnight bus journey just in time to miss the one day train to Lijiang. Not to worry, there was just enough to see in Kunming for a pleasant day sightseeing before the night train.
We visited the east and west pagodas, wandered around market streets crowded because of the May 1 long weekend, and found a long table.. apparently there is a tradition in small villages that everyone brings their table to the town square to form one long table. They recreated this in the big city of Kunming by setting up tables the entire length of the pedestrian street between the east and west pagodas and serving a catered lunch. There were dozens of drums all the way down the long table, and eventually a large group of teenagers in traditional costumes came out to play. There was also traditional dancing on a stage.
After we got bored of the festivities, we wandered through more crowded streets to Yuantong Temple. This is a beautiful place with several ponds full of fish and turtles. From the temple, we had some food at a nearby restaurant serving vegan "meat" (like Chuchai in MontrÃ©al) and then spent a few hours relaxing in the city’s main park before heading to the train station for our night train to Lijiang.
Kunming is pretty nice overal.. much cleaner than Vietnam. There are no loud, stinky scooters on the road. Instead, electric scooters and the occasional "big" bike. There’s a lot less litter on the ground, not because Chinese people litter any less but because there are armies of workers wandering around cleaning it up. The big exception is the toilets. Chinese toilets are terrible. I don’t know how they manage to be so bad.. I’ve used squat toilets elsewhere in Asia that are much cleaner.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Lijiang is awesome. The old city is a preserved heritage site with beautiful carved wooden buildings all over. There are stone walkways (motor vehicles are banned) with canals flowing alongside, which used to be the city’s drinking water system. If you’ve ever read Memoirs of a Geisha, this is what I imagine Gion looked like around the time of the book – moreso than anywhere in Kyoto itself even!
(We visited Kunming on May 2 and Lijiang on May 3)