Lao PDR Consulate
One of the reasons for staying at the Camelia Hotel (besides the spacious yet reasonably priced rooms, see right) was the convenient access to the Lao Embassy, located on the second floor of the hotel. Thursday morning, I wondered into this office and filled out the paperwork necessary to get a two-week visitor visa for the Lao People's Democratic Republic. By locating the office in the Camelia of Kunming, one of the mainstays of backpackers, one gets the impression that the only people heading for Laos are the occassional foreign travelers headed for the overland trip. Indeed, there were no other customers this morning, but this did not stop the man behind the desk from charging me an additional "express charge" for requesting my visa the same day.
So I set off on a long walk to acquaint myself a bit with the city of Kunming. One of the first things that strikes you is that this is a city. This is a city I have never heard of before planning this trip, and yet it boasts many shining skyscrapers, hordes of rushing commuters, and a Happy Tom fast food on every corner (or at least now and then). Of course, I spent most of my time just in the city center, which in some ways, seemed made to impress. I decided to head for some quieter quarters.
Not far down the road, I found the Yuantong Temple, a nice retreat from the busy city life outside. The temple grounds were a bit crowded, but managed to house a convincing courtyard complete with a little pond and a bridget crossing over it. This being a weekday, I expected maybe a few tourists and some older women, but I found more than a hundred elderly women squating around the perimeter of the courtyard. These women were chatting with each other and making prayer and perhaps just passing the time in the relaxing quarters of the Yuantong (though made less peaceful by the presence of so many people). One of the more interesting buildings, pictured here, seemed an interesting combination of architecture that you might find in Thailand, Burma, or even the Middle East, but not China.
Old vs. New
After a failed attempt to come up with a restaurant for lunch, I ended up with a chocolate ice cream. However, along my search, I had happened upon a quaint neighborhood of ancient buildings that seemed to be in severe danger of being destroyed in the coming years. I say this, because, there were entire blocks of cleared land that seemed to be prep'ed for construction of skyscrapers or other grand structures. I could definitely see how some of the older buildings appeared to be on their last limbs, but this seemed like the kind of area that the UN should declare a world heritage sight or something of the sort. Anyway, I snapped a few photos to remember this vanishing landscape and headed back for the hotel.