Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kunming and the Kingdom of the Little People - Yunnan, China

Our Yunnan trip itinerary looked a little like this:

1st - 3rd Aug - Kunming (Dwarf Empire)

3rd - 4th Aug - Lijiang (Old Town and Park)

4th - 5th Aug - Tiger Leaping Gorge (Trek)

5th - 11th Aug - Shangri-la (Old Town, Nixi Village, Baishui Tai, Tibetan Home Stay)

11th - 13th Aug - Shaxi Town (Old Town and Shibao Shan)

13th - 15 Aug - Return home via Lijiang and Kunming

A smarter method may have meant flying out of Chengdu, Sichuan. However, we were a little limited on time and not bite off more than we could chew. Here's the trip:

1st Aug 2014: Kunming 

We had an evening flight from Zhuahai, Jinwan International airport to Kunming, Yunnan. We took a taxi from our apartment in Xiangzhou, Zhuhai which took about an hour and cost in the region of 150RMB or 15GBP. We arrived at the airport two hours prior to our departure to be on the safe side although in reality an hour would have been fine as surprisingly it wasn't busy even though it was the school holidays. We flew with China Southern and it was a decent enough service.

Arriving in Kunming, the first thing we noticed was how fresh and cool the climate was compared to Zhuhai. Bring layers. From there we needed to get to Jinmabiji Square, Jinbi Road, (昆明市金马坊书林街口桥香园)
From the Train Station: Walk to Beijinglu from the exit of the train station,go straight about 200 meters to the first traffic light, then turn right to Yongping Rd, you can take the bus NO.107 (5 stops) OR K12 (4 stops) to Jinmafang(金马坊.
Taxi fee approx. 15RMB from there.

From The Changshui Airport: 1. Directly outside arrivals is a small ticket booth for the shuttle buses opposite. Buy a ticket then take the shuttle bus No.1 to West Inn Hotel(西驿酒店, Xiyijiudian). From there you can get a taxi for around 15RMB or take the bus No.98 (6 stops) to Jinmafang(金马坊)
The shuttle bus from the airport is 25RMB per person, it takes about 1 hour to arrive at the city. The shuttle bus runs from 09:00 to 24:00 and leaves every 30 min. The taxi fee from the airport is about CNY100.

We were staying at 'The Hump' hostel which was decent value and a good location. The staff were nice enough, but didn't seem comfortable answering questions on local attractions to which they really should have been adept. Rooms had great character and we stayed in a nice double and there were ample restaurants, BBQs and bars nearby. The square was picturesque and had a nice feel for a city.

Jinmabiji Square at night

2nd Aug 2014: Kingdom of the Little People

Having watched a documentary on Vice and realising it was close by, we wanted to visit the 'Dwarf Empire' AKA 'The Kingdom of the Little People' to witness its awkward splendour first hand. Our hostel offered a minibus for 200RMB return for up to six people which would have been great value had we been able to find others wanting to make the trip but alas it was just the two of us. There wasn't much information on getting there independently but we did some digging and came up with a plan. it isn't perfect but it's better than nothing if you want to try!

You first need to take a taxi to the 'bus station' called Liang Jia He Che Chang (梁家河车场), it's more of an outpost than an actual station. Then take the bus to Hai Kou (海口) for under 8 RMB per person.

Bus to Hai Kou
When you get to Hai Kou you should take another bus to Xi Hua Jie Shou Fei Zhan (西华街收费站) then get off at the exit with a giant butterfly. From there you will need to take a private car to the Butterfly Park as this is how it is advertised.

I have since found some information via a Chinese website which may be better:

You may be able to take a direct bus from Po Shin Street Bus Stop (宝善街车站) Behind East Square (东风广场后面). This may take you there directly although departure times are unclear and may not be convenient depending on where you are staying in Kunming. If you try, comment on your trip to let us know how it went!

Map of East Square

Our experience was a little different as before we reached Hai Kou our helpful driver managed to flag down another bus going the opposite direction bound for who knows where and told the driver our intended destination. I'm assuming we cut out the rest of the trip to Hai Kou and boarded the Xi Hua Jie Shou Fei Zhan bus. We changed buses in the middle of the busy road and weren't on the second bus for long before the driver told us to get off at a fork in the road but didn't need to pay. Here there was a sign for the park in the form of a butterfly and 4 or 5 greedy private drivers. They first asked us for 100RMB to go to the park, I quizzed them about how far away it was and they said about half an hour so I offered 50RMB which he was more than happy to take. It turned out the park was only 10 or 15 mins from there so we paid double what we should have, whatever I don't think the driver will retire in his mountain condo just yet.

Park entry fee was 100RMB per person. Upon entering there is a butterfly park immediately to your right in a well kept garden. I'm not really into this sort of thing but it was pleasant enough.

In the butterfly park

The main event is the show performed by the 'Little People' at 10:30am and 15:30pm each day (not sure which day they have a break,check). We arrived around midday so had time to walk around the park and get some food. At the far end of the complex is a bizarre collection of animatronic dinosaurs, some more impressive than others but worth a visit. There are accompanying sound effects which are pretty comical.

Kate running from the dinosaurs

Soon it was showtime, we gambled on the rain staying away and sat in the unsheltered seats at the front for the best view. The music played and a lackluster opening performance by the 'Little People' in various costumes waving fairy wands and swords ensured. Following this there were mostly dodgy singing performances and all the while customers are encouraged to buy flowers to offer the performers or pay to have your picture taken close to the stage. There was also an impressive tightrope walk by an able bodied person over the auditorium. There were mini motorbikes at the front of the stage which remained unused. We visited on Chinese Valentine's day and many performances were love songs so perhaps we didn't get to witness the standard set. 

King of the Little People is offered flowers 

Hanging with the star of the documentary

After the show we were directed to a metal cone where people rode in motorbikes, the best view is available if you take the path above the stage and view from above.

The Death Cone

The 'village' where the little people supposedly live
We didn't have a plan for getting back but from the car park we made inquiries with various drivers and found a bus going back to Kunming town with spare seats for 15RMB each. The bus was full of Chinese 'Aunties' and we had a great laugh with them on the way back with lots of impromptu singing. We were dropped off somewhere we didn't recognise so took a taxi back to the hostel for 30RMB.

It was a fun adventure and perhaps we got lucky on the way back. It would definitely have been easier booking a group trip via the hostel had other's been interested and as you can see we didn't save much cash but we took up the challenge and won and had some great experiences along the way.

I can't say I came out feeling one way or another about the park from an ethical perspective. Relatively, it is a real option for people with these conditions to make a decent living in a country void of opportunities. This definitely doesn't make it right and it wouldn't fly in 'developed' countries. The fact this type of spectacle exists should serve as an embarrassing reminder to the government that there is so much more to do in the way of disabled employment opportunities. Having said that, the staff looked happy, the audience were generally respectful and it was far from the freak show I feared it could have been. Worth a visit.

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