Doing The Usual and Unusual in Kunming

Planning for Kunming, I made sure to include “the usual” – the things I try to do in every city:  a day trip outside the city to the stone forest, a walking tour of Green Lake and Yuantong Temple inside the city, and a foodie experience.  But in Kunming, there was a BONUS – unusual experiences that were surprising, stunning and shocking – in a good way!  Even more… I found Kunming a feast of Incredible Edibles and I vividly remember eating my way through my days in Kunming.

Always, the characters that my camera captures are my best memories – the family of four generations coming to give thanks at the temple, the elegant rocket scientist,  the Chairman Mao look-alike watching the dancer, the charming couple at the stone forest, and so many more at the “usual” things to do in Kunming.

Outside Kunming, Shilin – the Stone Forest – is about a 2-hour drive through and around small rolling mountains and farmland.  Two things stood out for me about this attraction:  the weirdly sculpted shapes of the stones and the pride of the local people working in and among them.


Inside the city, Green Lake is the serene heart of a humming cultural and business sector.  On an island in the center are the usual temple, the usual shops, the usual interesting posters, and the usual evening dancers. I say “usual” because I find them and love them in every city in China.

Also in the heart of Kunming is the Yuantong temple complex, with iconic images and but buildings of different styles and ages.  As usual, I loved the time spent there.


But then there was “the unusual” – the surprising, the moving, the shocking experiences that make Kunming live on in my mind.

Surprising?  The striking building with the unusual logo in the compound behind my hotel.  Several times I looked at it, and when my curiosity got the best of me, I walked right in. It seemed like an art gallery or special tea shop, but in fact is was the “office” for a celebrated historical film producer. I was given a DVC copy of Delamu – the Story of the Tea Horse Road produced by Tian Zhuangzhuang – the owner of both is building and the hotel I had just happened to find – great serendipity!

Moving?  The theatrical performance  Dynamic Yunnan featuring the amazing dancer who imitates a peacock so charmingly.  The evening is a series of dramatic dancing and drumming that showcases different Yunnan ethnic groups – absolutely riveting!

Shocking?   Well, I took a maintenance day to replace my tired and smelly walking shoes, to get my shaggy hair cut, and then…. to try a massage for my aching legs.  I successfully negotiated, with no Chinese, great new shoes, a super hair cut, and so, why not a massage?  Imagine you are lying naked under a sheet, and you look over to see a girl lighting the three charcoals with a cigarette lighter. Not one gizmo, but about 10 of them with red hot charcoal nibs.  I panicked.  I thought I was about to be branded up and down my back.  Clutching my sheet, I demanded an explanation – and people scurried everywhere, in and out of the room…. until I finally understood, the charcoal heated the air inside the rubber rings and they were placed to bring heat and blood to meridian points as per Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the end, it was terrific and my knees were very grateful.

Of all the cities in China, Kunming seems the most relaxed.  I was so pleased with my choice of hotels – the Kunming Datongdao (Thoroughfare) and the authentic neighborhood I found myself in.  From Kunming, I had plans to travel by afternoon train to Dali and then Lijiang to see more of Yunnan.  I left Civilized Kunming supremely pleased with what has transpired as both the usual and the unusual!!

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