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Riding into Kunming's future

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Today was the opening day for two of Kunming's long-awaited infrastructure projects. Kunming Changshui International Airport and line six of the city's nascent urban rail network both opened their doors — Changhsui at 8am and the light rail station at 9am.

GoKunming visited the new station to ride the train to the airport and see if the five year wait and roughly 33.5 billion yuan spent (US$5.3 billion) were worth it.

Light rail line six runs from Kunming's East Bus Station to the airport and there are currently no stops in between, although two along the way are under construction.

Inside, hundreds of people were milling around, taking pictures and trying to figure out the bilingual automated ticket machines. Tickets on opening day were only one way and cost five yuan. In the near future rechargeable travel cards will be available and discounts will be given to students and the elderly. People over 70 ride for free.

Security was heavy but the atmosphere was one of excitement and anticipation. We noticed a conspicuous absence of travel bags and luggage among people buying tickets. It turned out most were there for the same reason we were — to ride the new elevated train and see the airport firsthand. A security guard told us the station was selling about 1,500 tickets per hour.

When the train arrived dozens of passengers chose not to get off, content to ride it back and forth between stops. The air-conditioned journey to Changshui takes 25 minutes and provides elevated views of Kunming's outskirts when not passing through tunnels.

We arrived at the airport and queued up in a sea of humanity as people didn't understand how to swipe their train cards and pass through the turnstiles. Airport personnel were everywhere and cheerfully helped people to get through.

Despite the travelers checking in and the throngs of sightseers flocking to the airport, Changshui did not seem busy. It is a massive five-story structure and easily accommodates travelers and those there to witness Kunming taking a giant step toward becoming a truly international city.

Although media reports claimed the first flight out of Changshui was destined for Lijiang, several airport employees assured us the 8am maiden flight actually departed for Harbin. It left on time, and the first flight into the airport from Lijiang also came in on schedule.

Changshui Airport is operating a diminished flight schedule until July fourth but still has international departures heading to Singapore, Bangkok, Kathmandu, Mandalay, Yangon and Phnom Penh. Kunming's furthest non-stop connection on the first day was to Beirut.

As noon arrived many people began to unpack lunches and sit down for indoor picnics. Other people jammed into the airport's restaurants, only half of which are open before July. Hundreds of new employees provided directions and pointed the way for travelers and sightseers alike.

Conspicuously absent from the airport and its surroundings are any lodging options. There are no hotels inside or around the airport complex although at least two are under construction nearby. Both are far from completion and it appears travelers with long layovers will have to find accommodation in the city.

Outside of Changshui a queue of empty taxis stood ready to head back into town. Our trip to Green Lake Park by taxi took 30 minutes through light traffic and cost 80 yuan, which included a 10 yuan toll.

The day's travels provided us with evidence that Kunming's determined push to become an internationally visible city is starting to pay dividends.

Photos: Yereth Jansen

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Cool, so for now the best way (cheapest probably and get to ride the new rail system!) to the airport is a bus to the East Bus Station then rail to the airport. Excellent!

I am unbelievably pleased that it's turning more international as a whole. It's a good improvement to Kunming's infrastructure and a step forward! I should be flying out of it in 2 weeks time, so looking forward to that!

Great timely report. No hotels up and running by airport, but that's Kunming for you. On the plus side, the metro is working. Looking forward to using the international terminal, as the old airport international terminal was tiny and useless service wise.

Took the #1 airport shuttle bus to XiaoXiMen yesterday evening. Clean and comfortable, but it took an hour to get there. 25RMB.

There's a flight from Kunming to Beirut? Wow...

A taxi ride in early morning (35 mins from Cuihu area) also costs approx. 80RMB plus the toll. I paid 120RMB (toll is included) for a pickup service. Most taxi drivers haven't been to the new airport yet, and some taxi drivers are not willing to go, especially in the early morning. I was told a taxi driver sent a passenger to the old airport and asked him to take airport shuttle there. No Wifi at the airport yet. Limited food choices (noodle or mixian). Check-in and security check were fast and smooth.

Refreshments-wise, there's also Starbucks, fruit/juice bars, KFC, standard coffee bars, etc. And for entertainment, no one had mentioned the dancing fountains yet....! Woohoo!

Ocean, what time of day did you take the airport shuttle bus?

@blobbles: Ha! Not me, honest! I was seeing someone off, not flying myself.

@Go Fish: I took the shuttle bus leaving at 9pm and the traffic wasn't too bad. Goodness knows how long it would take to get into town during rush hour.

does anyone know how often the light rail and the shuttle bus go to the airport?

I'm excited about the airport, but unfortunately a bit stressed out because I have an 8am flight in a few days and there's no hotel near the airport where I can stay, and I'm not the familiar with Kunming (I live in the Lincang area). I do know that taxis can be hard to come by, though, which worries me for early morning.

Does anyone have any suggestions for where I should stay the night before to make sure I can get a taxi to the airport / be nearest to the airline rail? (Sleeping at the airport is an option, too, haha. Can't miss this flight)

@Savannah
Not sure if it helps - bit vague - but I noticed the #1 Airport Shuttle bus stopped outside the Xiong Ye INternationasl Hotel, about halfway between the airport XiaoXiMen. Assuming you can pick it up there too (don't see why not), it's about 30-40 minutes from the hotel to the airport. Not a cheap hotel though, I'd guess...
www.hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Xiong_Ye_International_Hotel.htm

Hire a car service to pick you up— there are a few listed in the GoKM classifieds section.

i went to and from the airport yesterday on the shuttle.

in short, there are 3 lines, however the departure and return route doesn't always have the same stops.

here's a picture of the ticket, with the routes...
tinypic.com/r/2vvn80p/6

it's 25rmb per ticket, and the shuttle departs every half hour. if you have inquiries, you can also call the hotline: 0871-7115051

i rode the #1 line from xiaoximen (西驿酒店 west inn kunming) and travel time was about 40min.

@savannah
Sleeping at the airport maybe prohibited for security reasons. The light rail starts too late for an 8am flight. There are no hotels inside or any where nearby the airport. This leaves you with a choice of taxi, shuttle bus, or car service.

The airport express busses are supposed to be starting at 5am, not sure if it is true though. #1 runs from the old Nanjiang Hotel at Xiaoximen.

en.kunming.cn/index/content/2012-03/05/content_2865380.htm

Otherwise I have found that it is no problem getting a taxi early in the morning from the Kundu area, much easier than later in the day. Around 6am plenty of taxis still show up to take people back from a night out and they always seemed to be happy to take me rather than someone likely to throw up inside their car.

Fun read, got to love the excitement and buzz over the new airport. I expect a lot more to come with Kunming's rapid development, as you guys have noted! I feel quite fortunate to be able to witness this transitioning period of a Chinese city.

I flew out of the old airport and in to the new one this weekend, and there is a stark difference. All the signs are clearly marked in English and Chinese, staff are extremely helpful, everything is laid out logically and in general it is just a pleasure to walk through the gorgeous architecture.

The metro system was a bit less impressive as it actually ran far slower than most cars on the highway next to the track...but I expect things will speed up as the system is broken in. In all fairness, being able to walk down from the airport directly into the metro station is great, and the machines that sell the tickets for the metro system are easy to use. The cars were not bad, but at least for airport line it seemed they skimped on some of the extras (like a durable floor that doesn't show a million stains, handles to hold on to, or signs printed without typos). All in all really amazing to see how far Kunming is reaching.

Google Maps is still saying WuJiaBa is Kunming's airport. I've reported the error to them. Does anyone know a link to an online map which shows ChnagShui so I can see how to drive there (...well sign-posted, I know) and back (...less so!). Thanks.

Brilliant. Thanks Dan

My experience at the new airport was that it certainly looks impressive, but some of the services still need more time before they could be considered adequate. I'd been looking forward to the wifi there - anyone know how long till it will be operating? Information desk staff had inadequate English - and even in Chinese I got incorrect information in response to the simple (but important!) question of where Starbucks was.
Hope they can quickly get things running smoothly.

Used the new airport recently and it reminded me of HK airport on a smaller scale. A couple of problems though:

1. One of the restaurants there is completely hopeless - it had 6 people trying to figure out a couples bill for about 15 minutes. In this time no one got served, plates were piling up and at least 4 customers (including me) walked out. Very idiotic behaviour yet quite entertaining! This was the western styled place on the left hand side upper level as you walk in.

2. I arrived late at night (1am) and had to wait 45 minutes from the time I arrived at the luggage carousel until the luggage showed up. Not sure what was going on but expect delays if you arrive late I guess, as they probably have to wake the workers up.

The bus service is brilliant, won't use the train until it goes all the way to the city (anyone know if the train is supposed to go on the bridge supports that sudden have no bridge part, which you see on the way in/out of the airport? If thats where the train is going to go, it will be a hell of a long time before it gets to the city...)

Does the East bus station serve Qujing?

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