We arrived in Kunming on Monday morning and set out to find a hostel. We had heard good things about the Cloudland Hostel from other travelers, so we headed there. It is down a side alley, a bit tucked away, which makes it quieter and less busy. Walking in the door, we saw a small goldfish pool, ping pong table, and a pool table in the outside courtyard. We walked past these to the reception desk where they confirmed that they had a room for a couple of nights. It wasn’t ready yet, so we set our bags down and went into the lounge/restaurant area to wait. It has free Internet, a very cozy interior, and a nice café feel.
One interesting thing is that it is heated by what I call “hot pots” because I don’t know what their real name is (not to be confused with the food dish “hot pot” which is a bunch of stuff in a bowl sitting over a flame in the middle of the table). These hot pots are small cast-iron cauldrons into which are placed pieces of charred wood. Because the wood is already burned, it produces no smoke and little flame. However, it gives off the perfect amount of heat to have close to a couch with a group of travelers huddled in conversation.
We ordered some food from the kitchen and a pot of green tea. The tea was served, drank, and the water refilled in the span of 15 minutes. Kunming is a chilly town, it was about 12C upon arrival here. The food eventually came and we ate quickly. It was quite tasty.
When our room was available, we went up and dropped off our things. We got a double room, since we would be here a couple of days and wanted to be able to spread out quite a bit to rearrange things in our bags. There were also quite a few electronics devices which needed charging and so would have to be left in the room while we couldn’t watch over them. The double room had a second room attached with a couch and a table, presumably for entertaining guests. One other notable thing was the lack of heat! But that was not a big problem and really only served to promote hanging out in the lounge.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, it was back to the lounge for some Internet time and to watch some DVDs on the huge TV setup. We were determined not to put on our boots or leave the place again for the rest of the day. It was time to relax and rest up after the grueling pace we’d set over the past few days. We accomplished our mission and had dinner and a beer there in the evening.
The next day, we were going to try to visit the Stone Forest, a local tourist attraction which seems to be a bunch of stones deposited at random in a field. I’m not that familiar with it, but it was apparently formed naturally while the region was underwater. It is about 2 hours outside of the city by bus. Private tours only accept between 4 and 6 people, the bus transfers are difficult and don’t get you all the way, and group tours had already left for the day.
So instead, we went to a set of mountains north of the city with the travelers we met from Belgium. These were nice, but a bit touristy, with a flea-market of sorts selling overpriced junk. But there were a couple of man-made features and shrines to see and photograph. We haggled with a guy to bring us all the way back to our hostel (we had to take a taxi, 2 busses, and a private van up) for 50Y, or less than $1 for each of the 7 of us.
Our train to Chengdu didn’t leave until 8pm, so we had pretty much an entire day to kill before getting on board. As it turned out, a friend of a friend of ours was living and working in Kunming! So we were able to get in touch with her and we met her for dinner. On the walk there, it started to rain for the first time since we’ve been traveling. It wasn’t fun.
But when we got to the restaurant we dried out fairly quickly. The dinner was good, and we ate some fairly exotic things. Like a dish made with black-skinned chicken, deep fried goat cheese, and a deep fried peanut dish. It was all really good, especially the peanuts. We caught a cab back to the hostel to get our stuff and then off to the train station.
The Q Club
The Q Club is the name we gave to a group of Quebecois and French people who are staying at the hostel. When we arrived on Monday morning, they were parked on the couch watching movies. When we went to bed that night, they were in the same position. We talked about it all day amongst ourselves and figured that they were probably just taking a break from doing things, the same way we were.
But the next morning, they were there again before we arrived! Watching movies and sitting on the couch like a bunch of couch potatoes. After we returned from the mountains, at around 6pm, they were still where they were sitting when we had left. So Brian decided he needed to take over the couch. He had to sit through a couple of bad movies, but with the help of our Belgian friends, he did it. The Q Club is probably on that couch right now, fearing that at any moment a multinational coalition will retake their spots.