Yesterday I crossed the border into China (中国; pinyin Zhōngguó, or “Middle Country”). I first took a bus from Sapa to Lao Cai, Vietnam, then took a taxi to the border. I exited the Vietnam immigration checkpoint and crossed a short bridge on foot into China.
Just as I arrived on the other side of the bridge a large Chinese tour group returning from Vietnam collectively got into the immigration line to enter China. Thankfully the line moved quickly, and anyway I realized that I would have to get used to large groups of Chinese people! For some reason they seemed to be everywhere in China.
Hekou is the Chinese border town across from Lao Cai, Vietnam. After a few tries I found an ATM that would work with my card and I withdrew some Yuan. Next I stopped at a few mobile phone stores to inquire about a SIM card. Nobody spoke a word of English except for “SIM Card” so they understood what I wanted but indicated that they could not sell me a SIM card unless I had a Chinese ID. I found a taxi and went to the Hekou North train station where I caught a train for Kunming (昆明), the capital of Yunnan.
Unlike humans, the Earth does not acknowledge any political borders so the topography did not change as I crossed into China. Yunnan, like northern Vietnam, is located in the remote foothills of the Himalayas. Kunming is reputed for its temperate climate year round, a benefit of its elevation. I arrived in Kunming near midnight, checked into my hotel and went to bed, tired from a long day of travel.
Arriving in Kunming, I was not surprised to see a large number of construction cranes throughout the city, consistent with China’s unprecedented ongoing urbanization. With a population of over three million, it is a relatively large city, but I did not find it as crowded, polluted or dirty as many similarly sized cities I had visited in my travels. On the contrary, at least in the central area, I found an orderly, modern city full of gleaming new buildings, clean streets and pretty gardens. (The peripheral areas were not so pleasing, due to the massive construction projects).
Today I explored Green Lake Park, the area adjacent to my hotel. The little lake had walkways leading from the shore to a few tiny islands that had souvenir shops, cafes and well manicured gardens. In the evening I tried to find a vegetarian restaurant affiliated with a nearby Buddhist temple but at the listed address there was a Japanese grocery store but no restaurant.