Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Kunming is connected by daily flights to Beijing (2 1/2 hr.), Chengdu (1 hr.), Guilin (1 1/2 hr.), Shanghai (2 1/2 hr.), Dali (1/2 hr.), Li Jiang (40 min.), Xianggelila (1 hr.), Baoshan (40 min.), Mangshi (40 min.), and Xishuangbanna (40 min.). There are twice-weekly flights to Lhasa via Xianggelila. Tickets can be purchased at the CAAC/Yunnan Airlines office at Tuodong Lu 28 (tel. 0871/316-4270 domestic, or 0871/312-1220 international). Tickets can also be purchased at the airport, at CITS and other travel agencies, and at hotel tour desks. On the international front, Yunnan Airlines and several international carriers serve Hong Kong, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Yangon, Mandalay, Vientiane, Osaka, Singapore, and Hanoi. Foreign airline offices include: Dragonair (Beijing Lu 157; tel. 0871/356-2828); Lao Aviation (Camellia Hotel, Dongfeng Dong Lu 96; tel. 0871/316-3000, ext. 5166); Thai Airways (Beijing Lu 98, second floor, King World Hotel annex; tel. 0871/351-2269); Silk Air/Singapore Airlines (Dongfeng Dong Lu 25; tel. 0871/315-7125); Japan Airlines (Bank Hotel, Qingnian Lu 399; third floor; tel. 0871/315-8111); and Vietnam Airlines (Tuodong Lu 80; tel. 0871/315-7175). The airport is 5km (3 miles) south of city center, a quick ¥30 ($3.90/£1.95) taxi ride depending on your destination in town. There are no CAAC airport buses, but public bus nos. 67 and 52 also serve the airport at ¥1 (15¢/10p).
By Train -- Kunming is well connected by rail to many major Chinese cities, but these trips can require several days and nights and therefore require some preparation. Trains run to Beijing (T62, 42 hr.), Shanghai (K80, 46 hr.), Guangzhou (1166, 26 hr.), Guilin (K182, 17 1/2 hr.), Nanning (2006, 12 1/2 hr.), Guiyang (K156, 11 hr.), Chengdu (K114, 18 hr.), Dali (K446 or K732, 8 hr.), and Shilin/Stone Forest (K440, 90 min.). Tickets can be purchased at the railway station (tel. 0871/612-2492) south of town from 6:30am to 11:30pm.
By Bus -- Kunming has a number of long-distance bus stations, all within 5 minutes of each other and the railway station, but the main one that should serve most travelers' needs is the Nanyao Qiche Keyun Zhan at Beijing Lu 60 (tel. 0871/351-0617), at the northwest corner of Beijing Lu and Yongping Lu. From here, buses go to Xiaguan (17 buses; 5 hr.; ¥119/$16/£7.75) from 7:30am to 7:30pm; to Li Jiang (9 hr.; ¥150/$20/£9.75) at 7:30am, 9:30am, 11:30am, and 2pm); to Xianggelila/Zhongdian (12 hr.; ¥174/$23/£11) at 8:20am; to Ruili (16 hr.; ¥204/$27/£13) at 3:30pm; to Jinghong (16 hr.; ¥150/$20/£9.75) at 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 7pm, and 8pm; and to Jianshui (4 1/2 hr.; ¥54/$7.10/£3.55) every half-hour from 7:20am to 9pm.
For the really adventurous, or those who are allergic to Chinese sleeper buses, cycling into Southern Yunnan from Kunming deserves serious consideration. Not only are there some beautiful back roads, but it is downhill all the way. For further inspiration and a day-to-day report from somebody who has already done this, check out www.pratyeka.org/bike/southern-yunnan.html.
Downtown sights can be toured on foot or by bike. If your hotel does not offer bike rental, the Camellia Hotel rents them for ¥2 (25¢/15p) an hour or ¥15/$1.95/£1 for the day. For a choice of mountain bikes for rent, visit Fattire Fun Mountain Bike Club at Beimen Jie 1 hao, Qianju Lu 61, off Cui Hu Nan Lu (tel. 0871/530-1755; owner Xiong Jinwu's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Flagfall for Xiali and smaller taxis is ¥7 (90¢/45p) for 3km (2 miles), then ¥1.60 (20¢/10p) per kilometer until 10km (6 miles), when it goes up to ¥2.40 (30¢/15p) per kilometer. From 10pm to 6am, the cost is ¥8.40 ($1/50p) for 3km (2 miles), then ¥1.90 (25¢/10p) per kilometer until 10km (6 miles), then ¥2.70 (35¢/15p) per kilometer. Santana taxis cost ¥8 ($1.05/50p) for 3km (2 miles) and ¥1.80 (25¢/10p) per kilometer after that; from 10pm to 6am, flagfall is ¥9.60 ($1.25/65p) for 3km (2 miles).
While many of the outlying sights such as the Bamboo Temple and Dragon's Gate can be reached most conveniently by taxi, public buses also travel most of these routes. Bus no. 52 runs from the airport to Da Guan Yuan via the railway station. Bus no. 47 runs from the railway station to the International Horticultural Exposition Park, from where you can either take the cable car or bus no. 10 to the Golden Temple. Bus no. 44 goes from a block north of the railway station to the Yunnan Nationalities Village. The fare for each bus is ¥1 (15¢/10p). Unlike other cities in China, buses have special access to the innermost lane rather than the outside lane. This is a very effective innovation and makes buses the fast way to get around the city, especially during rush hour.
Laos -- The Laos consulate (tel. 0871/317-6624) is in room 120 of the Camellia Hotel at Dongfeng Dong Lu 96 (open Mon-Fri 8:30-11:30am and 1:30-4:30pm). Transit visas (5-7 days) and standard 15-day tourist visas (valid within 2 months of issue) can be issued in 3 working days (ordinary service) or by the next working day (express service). Fees vary from ¥270 to ¥378 ($35-$49/£18-£25) for ordinary service and from ¥400 to ¥500 ($52-$65/£26-£33) for express service. You cannot currently get a Laos visa at the border. Bring two photos and complete two application forms.
Myanmar -- The Myanmar consulate (tel. 0871/316-3000, ext. 6225; fax 0871/317-6309) is located in room 225 of the Camellia Hotel (open Mon-Fri 8:30am-noon and 1-2pm). Standard 28-day travel visas costing ¥285 ($37/£19) and valid within 3 months of issue can be issued in 3 working days; for same-day service, expect to pay an extra ¥150/$20/£9.75). This visa is only good for flying into Yangon or Mandalay.
Thailand -- The Thai consulate (tel. 0871/316-2033, ext. 62105; fax 0871/316-6891) is located on the grounds of the Kunming Hotel at Dongfeng Dong Lu 50-52 (open Mon-Fri 9am-1:30pm). Note that travelers from most countries won't need Thai visas.
Vietnam -- There is no Vietnamese consulate here, but you can apply for 30-day Vietnamese visas for ¥400 ($52/£26) at the Vietnam Airlines office, Tuodong Lu 80 (tel. 0871/315-7175). Bring your passport and photo.
CITS at Huancheng Nan Lu 285 (tel. 0871/353-5448; fax 0871/316-9240; www.kmcits.com.cn; open Mon-Fri 8:30am-noon and 2-6pm) is often busy juggling international tour groups but can be very helpful with arranging accommodations, ongoing transportation, or customized tours throughout Yunnan for individual travelers. The Camellia Travel Service on the ground floor of the Camellia Hotel is the rudest and most unhelpful agency in town and worth avoiding.
For overland travel to Myanmar at the Ruili border, you will have to be accompanied all the way to Mandalay by an official travel agency-sponsored guide. Jenny in the travel agency (tel. 0871/316-0003) in room 208 of the Camellia Hotel just before the Myanmar consulate can handle all the arrangements for you, including the visa. Expect to pay about ¥1,500 ($195/£98) per person for a day trip as far as Lasio, more if you want to travel farther.
Banks, Foreign Exchange and ATMs -- The main branch of the Bank of China (open Mon-Fri 8:30am-noon and 2-5pm) is at Renmin Dong Lu 448. ATMs here accept international cards.
Internet Access -- The imposing Yunnan Provincial Library on Cui Hu Nan Lu 141 has a large number of machines on the third floor (open 9am-5pm) and the fourth (open 9am-8pm); ¥1.40 (20¢/10p) per hour.
Post Office -- The main post office (open 8am-8pm) is at Dongfeng Dong Lu 14, and another (open 9am-8pm) is west of the railway station.
Visa Extensions -- The visa office is located at counter 57 of the People's Service Center of Kunming Municipality (Kunming Shizhengfu Bianmin Zhongxin), Renmin Dong Lu 196 (tel. 0871/319-6540; open Mon-Fri 8:30-11:30am and 1-5:30pm).