Nǐ Hǎo! – Kunming, China

China’s visa is not a straightforward thing to get. Their requirements for obtaining a visa seem to change frequently, and often it seems to depend on the embassy issuing the agency. We read every online resource we could find, trying to understand what paperwork we would need to submit in order to get a visa. In the end, our list of documents included:

  • proof of flights in and out of the country
  • proof of lodging for every night of our stay in China
  • bank statement proving sufficient funds ($100 per person per day, which we read somewhere was the government minimum) for our stay
  • proof of our status in Vietnam (since we applied for our visa at the Chinese embassy in Vietnam)
  • passport photos
  • a detailed itinerary documenting our planned route in China.

This may seem like overkill, but we wanted to be sure we didn’t get rejected for any reason. There are plenty of stories online of people being rejected for insufficient or unclear documentation. Then again, there are also stories of people receiving their visas with barely any documentation submitted, so its a bit of a crap shoot. In the end, we used a service at a travel agency back in Hanoi (in April) to deal with the embassy directly to get our visas. Sure enough, after 5 days we got out passports back, each with a full Chinese visa sticker.

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province, in southwest China. Its actually really close to the Vietnamese border, and in particular to the town called Sapa that you may remember from our blog post with Heather and Kieran.

Kunming map

Beijing Street, in the heart of Kunming. For the most part Kunming looks like what we imagined a Chinese city would look like.  There are lots of tall, empty looking apartment buildings.  Everything is under construction.  The roads are clogged with cars, and there are lots and lots of people around at all times. And of course there is a sort of haze in the sky most of the time, though Kunming probably isn’t as bad as larger cities.


There is major police presence all over the city.  Mostly the police are on scooters, or these Smart-car copies.
A croquet court!  There were 2 people playing croquet, just like Canada Day at the Mous House.
A more affluent neighborhood, beside a university.  The shops are trendy and the bars sell craft beer.  It seems that some things are the same no matter where you go.
Kerry’s dream store – a mushroom emporium!  Some were for eating, others for medicinal purposes.

The first thing we learned, before we even left the airport, is that there is very little English spoken here. Almost no one we have met speaks English in any capacity, even at information desks at the train station or airport. Thankfully Google Translate is there to save the day. The ability to have live translation for signs, menus, and even for conversations is a life saver.

Buying train tickets was our first major language-related challenge.  We got shuffled around from line to line, since none of the staff seemed to want to deal with us.  The first window we went with sent us to another window, but that window apparently was for returns only and not for ticket sales. And on and on this went.  We eventually found someone who spoke a few words of English  That, combined with Google Translate (We would type in a phrase, then hold the phone up to the window so the ticket person could try and read what we were looking for), finally was resulted in success.

We also found out pretty quickly that Kunming is not much of a tourist city.  The few sights to see are all in one part of the city and can be visited in an afternoon.

Yuantong Temple, a Buddhist temple in the heart of Kunming.
Apparently the temple is more than 1200 years old.
Much to Doug’s disappointment, the Water Supply Museum was closed due to a holiday of some sort.
The aptly named Green Lake Park, the sort of “Central Park” for Kunming.
Locals feeding the black swan.  Neither of us can recall ever actually seeing a black swan before.

But the lack of tourist attractions made things interesting in an unexpected way.  For the first time on our trip, we went over 24 hours without seeing any other western tourists.  In total during our 2 days in Kunming we could count the number of other westerners that we saw on 2 hands.  We have, however, gotten plenty of stares from the locals, and also plenty of laughs at our attempted Chinese pronunciation.  Even saying “Hello” ( hǎo) is tough due to the pronunciation!  Well, we have been saying for months now that we wanted to go somewhere more off the typical backpacker path, so this is a good start.

And finally, we leave you with the area around our hotel.  Our hotel was really not in a tourist area. We picked it because of its proximity to the train station, since we planned to take a train out of the city fairly quickly.  The local neighborhood felt like something out of Blade Runner.  They love their neon lights in China!
  • Doug and Emily / June 2, 2017 @ 10:00pm / Dali, China @ Yimouxan Guesthouse




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