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Suggestions on Kunming and Yunnan


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Yes, Xishuangbanna Prefecture is a very popular domestic tourist destination now. At Yunnan's southmost tip, bordering Myanmar. It's no longer off the beaten track. 13 million visitors a year.


A huge resort and tourist center opened earlier this year just outside Jinghong. (A 15 billion Yuan development; by the Wanda Group.)



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The last thing I want is to go to a Wanda.  I'll steer clear.


I've arranged to meet someone in Dali and was wondering if there was a way to go south out of Kunming and move around through the region southwest of Kunming and arrive in Dali, rather than going back up to Kunming and going directly from there.  Any ideas?


I'm interested in doing some tea related activities (mainly just buying some pu'er tea) and I'll go back through your posts on tea abcdefg as I seem to remember there being a lot of Yunnan specific information about buying tea but I was also wondering if it was worth going to Pu'er itself.  Or is it just a case of it being famous for tea only and not much else, and the tea being overpriced?

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As to Pu'er tea, the best place to observe its production (growing, harvesting, processing) is Menghai 孟海县。It is close to Jinghong 京洪。(An hour or two drive.)


The city of Pu'er 普洱 (used to be Simao 思茅 and is still sometimes called that on maps of the region) itself was not very interesting. In addition to being a shipping hub, it is home to large, orderly cultivated tea plantations, not the wild old trees growing back in the mountains which characterize Menghai's tea fields.


Here is a little about those mountains.




If your main interest is buying some good Pu'er tea, the best thing to do is visit one or another of the wholesale tea markets in Kunming. Selection is terrific and prices are not inflated for tourists (since few tourists go there.) Spending half a day at one of these tea markets is an adventure in itself.


I must go now, but will return this afternoon with some thoughts on how to use Dali as a hub for a trip that includes some of NW Yunnan.


Need to ask how much time you have available to give you an intelligent answer. Also, what time of year is your trip? The time of year affects what can be seen in regard to the annual tea cycle.

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The trip is next month, just before Chinese New Year.  From the day I arrive in Kunming until the day I need to be in Dali I will have around 10 days.  Like I said, it would be nice if I could head south out of Kunming and then not need to go back through in order to get to Dali.  I don't mind rough bus rides too much and I quite like staying in places over night if that makes it easier rather than just using one place as a hub.  To be honest, I could tell you all the kinds of stuff I like (rice fields, old towns, natural landscapes, anything related to ethnic minorities etc.) but judging from your posts the kind of stuff you like seems to fit in line pretty nicely with my tastes so I'd be very happy to just hear your best suggestions of what you would do.  Although I especially like not having to book accommodation in advance.


Thanks for any help you can give me. 

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Thanks for clarifying the time parameters. Glad to be of help.


Like I said, it would be nice if I could head south out of Kunming and then not need to go back through in order to get to Dali


Sure, you can definitely do that, bearing in mind that it’s less time-efficient than the usual routes which conceive of either Dali or Kunming as the hub of a wheel that has spokes extending outwards to other destinations of interest.


The benefit of doing it the way you have in mind is that you will get to experience lots of smaller towns and you will pass through plenty of ruggedly beautiful land.


Here’s one route to consider. It doesn’t involve backtracking and makes a rough circle. 1. Kunming >> 2. Jianshui >> 3. Yuanyang >> 4. Luchun >> 5. Pu’er >> 6. Lincang >> 7. Baoshan >> 8. Dali.


  post-20301-0-40637500-1449683929_thumb.jpg   post-20301-0-27998900-1449683940_thumb.jpg


These maps are small, and only intended to give you a preliminary glimpse. I’d suggest looking at the route on a larger map of Yunnan.


This route is almost surely too much for the 10 days you have if done at a leisurely pace, and will require that you only pass through some of these places without spending much or any time exploring. The three places on that route that are worth the most time, in my opinion, would be Jianshui, Yuanyang, and Baoshan. Would allocate 2 or 3 nights in each.


Your Jianshui time could include a side trip to Tuanshan, and Baoshan time could include a day trip to Tengchong/Heshun. (It's about 2 hours away, making it sort of marginal as a day trip. Actually better to spend a night in Heshun.)


Would add parenthetically that Yuanyang really only needs one pretty half day for a sunset and another pretty half day for the sunrise. So if you are lucky with the weather, you can move forward on the afternoon of your second Yuanyang day. The terraced rice fields are flooded and very beautiful in February, but weather is unpredictable this far in advance.


You may get stuck in Luchun and have to spend the night whether you want to or not. It is really remote, way back in the mountains, and busses don’t run at night (for safety reasons.)


Lodging is cheap and plentiful there; not necessary to book in advance. Ditto for Pu'er, Lincang, and Baoshan. Jianshui, however, is popular enough that you might want to look at options in advance and reserve something which appeals. Same, of course, with Dali.


The first segment, from Kunming to Jianshui, could be by train (slightly slower but more comfortable.) The rest would need to be by bus. It will be difficult if not impossible to get all the bus schedules in advance. Lots of a trip such as this will have to be planned “on the fly.”


Footnote on Kunming: If I were going to be in town during this season, I would offer to take you to the tea market and show you around. I love doing that. But I just arrived in the US for my annual “visit friends and family” trip and won’t be back in China until the last part of February.  


Best of luck. Hope you have a great time.

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Thanks for the great tips - lots to think about.  I've got my tickets in and out of Yunnan booked already so I'll probably try and get a more detailed itinerary drawn up towards the end of the month.  I might have some more questions about particulars.


It's a shame (for me) you're back in the US.  I'll be sure to make a post about how it goes once I'm back but this might not be until about early March time as I have a few other things planned for just after CNY. 

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You're welcome. Hope your trip goes well.


During the fast parts, where you don't have time to linger, it may help to think of this trip as "preliminary recon" that will allow you to identify places to which you would like to return later for a closer look when you have more leisure.

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  • 1 month later...

That ended up being longer than I had planned!  It wasn't as bad as I've made it sound and was certainly an interesting experience.


I'm going to try going to a tea market here in Kunming tomorrow (hopefully they haven't all packed up yet for Spring Festival) and chancing my arm at buying to 普洱 and 茶具.  Although, to be honest, I'm clueless and will probably get rinsed.

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Many thanks for that fine trip report, Somethingfunny. Yunnan travel still has plenty of rough edges and it's not uncommon to encounter infrastructure issues. That old road between Jianshui and Yuanyang is legendary. I took it once, and that was enough. Glad you got to try the fabulous grilled tofu 烤豆腐 in Jianshui 建水。Be sure to have some 过桥米线 in Kunming. (Cross-bridge rice noodles.) 


I went to Yuanyang one year in January and suffered through similar weather conditions; actually, less snow than you found, but heavy freezing rain and dense fog. Was not at all pleasant. Yuanyang is always something of a gamble because much of the area is at high elevation (about 3,000 meters.) Weather there is notoriously difficult to forecast accurately. 


You might have already made your trip to the wholesale tea market by now, but just in case you haven't, let me make a few suggestions.


1.  Don't worry about vendors being closed for Spring Festival. They won't be. It's too early for that to have much impact now and besides, there are so many shops clustered together (hundreds; maybe even a thousand) that you will find plenty to see and plenty of places to try the tea even if one or two vendors have shut for an early holiday.


2. Start hunting after about 11 a.m. Before that, lots of the shops have not opened for business. Plan to make a day of it. Also lots of places there to check out teapots and teacups and other tea paraphernalia.


3. Kunming has two main wholesale tea markets (some people say three.) One is north and one is south; I don't know about the third one. The north one is closer from the center of the city and I usually go there. It is huge and diverse. Located in 金买小区 near 二环北路。It is usually called 金买茶叶批发市场。Maybe jot that down or put it into your smartphone.


4. Taxi drivers all know this place. If you get a driver who doesn't, that means he or she is new to Kunming. Ask the driver to call a colleagues for directions.


5. It is also served by the # 25 local bus for 1 or 2 yuan. But getting to it requires a hike (the bus stops several blocks away) and clambering over a freeway. On the other hand, getting from the tea market back to the center of town is easy, since the bus going that direction stops on a street right in front of the main entrance. For that reason, I usually take a taxi to the tea market and take the bus back from it. Makes the round-trip cost reasonable; (20 Yuan taxi plus a 1 Yuan bus in my case.)


6. Since you are mainly interested in Pu'er tea, I would suggest the following strategy:

-- Try several examples of 生普洱 and several examples of 熟普洱。We usually drink the 生 first when planning to sample both.

-- A 生普洱 benefits more from being old than a 熟普洱。As someone who is just drinking the tea, not investing in it, I would not spend the extra money for a tea that is older than 2008. Also, before 2008 the grading and labeling standards were less strict, so you could not always tell what you were getting.

-- 2012 was a real good year for most Pu'er. (Better than some which were older.)

-- You should be able to find a decent round cake 茶饼 for between 100 and 200 Yuan. (357 Grams is the standard size; some are larger and smaller.) Older costs more, but is not necessarily better.

-- Menghai produces great Pu'er tea, so be sure to include some 孟海 tea in your sampling.


7. Make a point of also sampling one or two Dian Hong teas 滇红茶。These are less well-known abroad, but are one of Yunnan's true gems. Inexpensive and full flavored. I am drinking some now as I type this.

-- Dian Hong comes as loose leaves. The best are picked in the fall, and are available in stores now. You should be able to buy a 市斤 (500 grams) for under 100 Yuan. Quality will decline markedly below the 50 Yuan per 市斤 price point, so stay away from it. Between 50 and 100 Yuan is the "sweet spot."

-- With Dian Hong, the most expensive is not always the best tasting. Price may just reflect difficulty of manufacture. 

-- The best of it comes from west-central Yunnan, Fengqing County in Lincang Prefecture. 风庆县,临沧州。Vendors will respect you and be less likely to cheat you if you make them aware you know things like that.


8. With any of these teas, don't buy too soon. Sample plenty in several shops. Write down the store name and address; maybe snap a photo of the entrance; ask for a 名片。Come back in an hour or two to the ones you like best. Price may even go down with a return visit. Take your time; view it as educational entertainment as well as simple shopping.


9. Most of these small tea merchants love tea and love their wares. If you show interest and appreciation, they are more likely to be helpful. I think of buying tea as a social interaction as much as a commercial interaction. Don't forget to ask for brewing tips and storage tips for the teas you eventually buy. Get the story of where it's from, how it was made and so on.


10. About bargaining 讲价,it's fine to do that if you do it with a smile. Since you might not have a good idea of what constitutes a good price initially, the best strategy would be so simply ask, "Can you give me a lower price if ... (something.)" And do that only after finding a tea that you like. Don't initiate a discussion of price too soon.


For example, "Can you give me a better price if I buy a lot?" or "Can you give me a better price if I return with 7 friends, all of whom love tea?" Sometimes it also works to simply ask in a courteous manner, "Can you make it a little cheaper?" 可以便宜一点老板?


11. Nobody minds if you take lots of photos there. Best to still ask permission inside the shops since it shows a polite frame of mind.


12. Several good inexpensive places for lunch right on the same street, just next door.



Wish I were in Kunming at the moment; I would offer to take you to the tea market. I always enjoy going there. (But unfortunately, I'm still in Texas; won't return until after 春节。)

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Brilliant write-up! I've been wanting to write this for a while: you are a fine model of an exemplary poster on these forums (oh! redundancy there?). I also like how you are doing it--splitting time between Texas and Kunming and continuing to focus on the language and culture and becoming a tea connoisseur in your own right. Bravo, good Sir, Bravo!


Warm regards,

Chris Two Time

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If you're about abcdefg, I do have a couple of questions:


The bit I'm most worried about is spending a lot of time in a store sampling tea and then not buying anything.  I know, I know, I shouldn't feel pressured into buying something I don't want, and I won't.  But my usual tactic to avoid this is to not bother tasting anything at all!  When I'm tasting a tea, will they just rustle me up any old brew, or will they have me sit at the table and go through the whole process of brewing it in the little pot and pouring it into a small cup etc?  How many different teas would you say its reasonable to taste before they'd start to get annoyed with me not buying anything?

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Holy crap I drank a lot of tea today.


I caught your last post before heading off and it was all very valuable advice.  I admit I was a little sceptical but it was pretty much exactly how you described.  You go into a shop, tell them what you want and how much you're willing to spend, they'll recommend something, you ask to try it and then you sit around for half an hour drinking tea and talking about tea.


I spent about four hours in total at the tea market.  I actually only went to four different tea shops and drank tea, the rest of my time was spent walking around getting a feel for the size of the place, and making frequent trips to the toilet.


In the first place I drank a 生普洱茶 and in the second a 熟普洱茶 and made notes as I went along.  I'm not really an expert so my notes at this point were pretty much: "xxx元, 生/熟, tastes pretty good".  I was starting to think that in my price range there probably wasn't going to be much variation in quality/taste.  Then I hit the third shop and the tea they gave me, although the same price as the one I had in the second shop, was of a noticeably lower quality.  I get the feeling that the owner wasn't making it with the same level of care, but there was noway I was buying that tea.  I tried one more place and then headed back to the second shop to make my buy.  It ended up being just as much about how enthusiastic and knowledgable the owner was as it was about the flavour of the tea.


There was no hard sell anywhere, some pushed it a little more and others not at all.  I found asking for a name card and what time they were closing at made me feel more comfortable leaving without buying anything, but in honesty most of them didn't really seem to mind that much.  In fact, the place I bought the tea from, the boss wasn't even there when I went in, his mother had to phone him and tell him to come round.  Then when I went back later to make the buy he was just watching a movie on his laptop.


I also bought some 茶具 but I'm going to wait and get myself a nice proper set once I'm back in Chengdu when I have more time to do research and I don't have to be lugging it around everywhere with me.  I had a pretty interesting conversation about the merits of using 紫砂 for making 普洱.


In summary, it was a very interesting experience and I highly recommend it for anyone that's interested in tea.  It's also, obviously, a huge amount of free Chinese practice.  The only problem is that I had a proper buzz on after drinking so much tea and I'm only now returning to reasonable state of mind.

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