The asian hostel phenomenon
03.26.2012 - 03.30.2012 80 °F
Throughout Asia we haven’t stayed in many hostels because the hotels and guesthouses provide much more value for the same price point. Kunming was a perfect example of this phenomenon. We had great directions from the out of town bus depot to a popular hostel located in the middle of town next to the Zhong ai Archway, so we stayed there for our first night. When we looked for alternatives, we found for just $1 more a night, we could stay in a 14th floor business style apartment with our own bathroom, kitchenette, window, LAN line, shower, tea cups and more! So we ‘upgraded’ and moved into a building full of locals on East Renmin Road near the Yan’an Hospital.
We really enjoyed our stay in Kunming; it’s relatively very clean and the traffic is divided into separate lanes so scooters and bicycles don’t have to battle with taxis and cars. Scooters are all electric, so there is little noise pollution. We have been super impressed with the activity level of people (especially elderly folks) in China. In the mornings and evenings, the parks and public squares are full of people dancing to music in what appears to be a form of exercise. It is quite peaceful to watch, especially when the older ladies use hand fans as a prop when performing synchronized motions. We love that the cities invest in public workout equipment and joined in the fun by doing our own little workout routine with Robin focusing on PT exercises for her healing knee.
When touring big cities like Kunming, our route is generally defined by three things. First, we look for big green splotches on the map and hope they are green ways or some sort of park. Second, we make a shopping list so we have a few goals to try and achieve, and then we try to throw in a few touristy sites. For the shopping list this time, we wanted to find a market to buy Robin some new sunglasses, and find an electronic store to get some replacement earbuds. The streets here have a different feel than when we were in Vietnam; even though the streets were bustling and busy, the scooters were eerily quiet (cause they are electric), and made for an additional obstacle when navigating the streets since you couldn’t hear the scooters coming. While biking through the city we stumbled upon a street near Yunnan University that was similar to Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. On this street full of cafés and youngsters we were excited to find some sort of Asian style burrito stall with lots of options we didn’t quite understand.
We found sunglasses for Robin in a market that boasted being the biggest ‘flower and bird market’ of its kind and found earbuds in a loud and crazy electronic mall where each floor was dedicated to similar items; one floor for laptops, one floor for desktops, one for peripherals, etc… the baffling thing about these electronic malls are that they seem to be composed of independently owned stalls but they all sell the exact same stuff for the exact same price! How the vendors survive is a mystery to us…
Green Lake Park was apparently THE place to be if you were over 50 and wanted some action. The island park was completely packed with dancing groups, battling bands and games. We seriously couldn’t believe how many performances were going on at one time; in an area the size of Lake Merritt’s Fairyland, there must have been 600 active people. 8 different 10 piece bands playing over each other, 15 different 20-30 people dance groups playing their own dance songs, people playing mahjong, old men flying kites, and lots of additional spectators. In the middle of it all was Kunming’s Water History Museum that Robin found quite interesting. There were pipes inside that were built in 1917!
Navigating around isn’t so easy when all the streets are in Chinese characters and your map isn’t to scale… by the time we found Lotus Park, the sun was setting. We picked up a watermelon from a curbside vendor and enjoyed the sunset from the parks central pagoda. For dinner we ordered some rice “wine” and the waitress did a confusing double take and then brought the manager over to make sure we understood that the type of wine we ordered was 52% ABV. We insisted that this would be alright and couldn’t wait to see what this “wine” was like… turns out it’s a lot like Japanese saké . On our way home we were pleasantly surprised with how the city we saw by day changed faces with the night; all of the buildings lit up with neon colored lights and was very beautiful with reflections on the river waters.
On another one of our explorations, we went outside of the city and rode a 40km loop to the Dragon Gate Scenic Park in the western hills that is littered with temples that overlooked the city. (Note: If you like turtles as much as Perlyberg does¬, we found the biggest turtle sanctuary ever in the Tai Hua Temple)
Our route was planned purely by the roads we thought existed on the little tourist map we had… during this ride we must have seen every kind of road in existence. We battled a dust filled headwind on a dirt road trucking highway, we road through construction barriers and alongside the new train line that was being built, we cycled on what we would call a ‘no pedestrian freeway’, we followed a dirt path along a water canal for as long as we could, we cycled a posh waterside wharf and in a few different types of city lanes from separate bike lanes to mixed traffic tunnels. We didn’t realize it until we got to the mountain park and had a strange peaceful feeling and we couldn’t remember the last time we had been in a forest or seen so many trees! It was a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the city below and we actually saw local bikers in spandex for the first time in Asia! In this picture Kevin is pointing to where we started the ride: