Toilet star rating = God bless!
The Lonely Planet describes Kunming as being a popular destination with Chinese tourists. The city itself doesn't have much in the way of appeal for tourists though, all the sights being out of town. The train from Xian to Kunming took 24 hours so we decided to save time and fly. It only cost us around $200 and we arrived at Kunming airport about 12.30am after a pleasant flight. We took a taxi to The Hump Hostel, checked in and crashed out.
We were a little unsure of our plans but the staff at the hostel were extremely helpful. We decided we'd head out to the Stone Forest, as originally planned, then fly to Guilin late that evening (avoiding another 18 hour train journey). We enjoyed a Chinese breakfast of congee and pancakes on the terrace overlooking the city. The pancake was good, but I can live without congee. To get to the Stone Forest you need to take a bus to Shilin, a little town some 70 kms from Kunming. Shilin is home to the Sani minority people, who use the Forest to extract every last yuan from the Chinese tourists who flock here. And flock they do! After we forked out the extravagant 175 yuan entry fee we beheld, not so much a natural wonder, but a theme park filled to overflowing with 'black headed commoners' (a Chinese expression).
It sure was an insight into Chinese mass tourism. The main forest, which is basically a limestone karst outcrop, seems almost totally artificial, with the concrete paths almost melding into the the natural grey rock. Some of the rocks had carved and painted slogans on them. Tour guides marched columns of tourists through this obstacle course explaining the significance of certain outcrops - 'this is woman waiting for husband... this is old man sitting for fish' and some such pap. It was a little disappointing. But the park did have impressive auto flushing toilets (essential in China!) featuring a small 7 inch TV screen showing a documentary on the geological formations of the park!
We got back into the city in the late afternoon and found a really flash restaurant for dinner. After a veritable feast, during which we congratulated ourselves on having eaten so well without any ill effects to date, we wandered the three blocks back to the hostel. A block from the hostel though there was an omnious rumbling from within. Oh no, spoke too soon! We picked up the pace but only just made it in time. We chilled at the hostel with a beer while we waited for the taxi to the airport, but I was feeling decidedly off now. There was a repeat performance at the airport (which had the worst stinking toilets I'd encountered on the trip to date). Although Shelly was fine I had a terrible flight fighting the shivers and a fever. It was an inauspicious welcome to Guilin.