I never really liked this kind of journalism. Leaning far too heavily on snap impressions gleaned from a day or two of travel, this unnamed correspondent makes mistakes that could easily have been avoided with some basic background research.
I'm not sure what day the reporter visited the city, but Kunming's air quality is downright pristine when compared to other inland Chinese cities like Xi'an or Wuhan. In fact, Kunming ranked 4th out of the 31 major cities with at least 351 days of "fairly good" air quality by China's National Bureau of Statistics.* A major factor behind this ranking is the relative absence of heavy industry. Yunnan doesn't have a ton of mega-manufacturers. Those that are present, like Kunming Iron & Steel Company (abbreviated in Chinese as Kungang), tend to operate a safe distance from Kunming. In Kungang's case, 20 miles (32 km) away. The larger factories closer to Kunming - like cigarette manufacturing - are generally less heavily polluting. Meanwhile car ownership, while increasing rapidly, still lags far behind the more industrialized centers to the east. The city government has taken at least a symbolic interest in addressing auto emissions by holding monthly car-free days. They're also planting a heck of a lot of trees.
Similarly, the reporter's "affluence" argument is a bit problematic. To begin with, the evidence is shaky. Smog is clearly not what it's made out to be. And a smattering of high-end retail hardly counts as anything besides a convenient anecdote. I'm no economist but if you look at GDP per capita Kunming (at ¥7,833, US$1,141) doesn't hold up so well when compared to other cities like Shanghai (¥57,310, US$8,346), Chengdu (¥20,625, US$3,004), or even Nanning (¥16,121, US$2,348). Even discussing affluence in broad general terms can obscure the fact that while a small but growing number do sport Gucci bags and drive BMWs, the vast majority survive on less than US$200 per month.
I'm not out to poo-poo travel writing. Last September The New York Times travel section ran a terrific piece on Kunming (travel.nytimes.com/[...] Unfortunately, this reporter just didn't do his or her homework.
*The figures are from 2004, the last year I could locate specific numbers. In 2006, Kunming was listed as Class II, meaning it had "fairly good" air quality. Only two cities in 2006 - Lhasa and Haikou (the provincial capital of Hainan) - were listed as Class I, meaning they had "excellent" air quality. Most of the other cities in the Class II category were either located directly on the shore or had far smaller populations than Kunming.
2004 data: www.allcountries.org/[...]
2006 data: www.china.org.cn/english/MATERIAL/189327.htm
I haven't tried their Heineken but I can say that they are walking a thin line on their "Qingdao Laogao" beer. Despite the name it is a copycat brand of no relation to the original Qingdao. When they first opened they didn't even mention the Laogao part. If that's any indication, you may be right about those Heinekens.
Personally I think Uprock's atmosphere is a welcome change in Kunming's nightlife scene, but I am definitely annoyed about the alcohol situation.
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Despite the mixed response from GoKunming readers, I'd strongly recommend Vintage Café. It is easily one of the best new(er) restaurants in town. The food is great, the atmosphere is comfortable, and the prices are a notch lower than its competitors.
Vintage is worth a visit if, for no other reason, it is one of the very few restaurants in Kunming with proper hamburgers on offer. I usually alternate between a cheeseburger and one of their sandwiches (the ginger chicken makes for a great lunch if you're looking for something light). The Western dishes all have zesty flavorings that are surely the work of someone who knows what s/he's doing in the kitchen.
The same might not be said for their Asian offerings. I've heard more than one complaint about their Vietnamese and Chinese food (though I haven't really tried, so I don't know personally).
Coffee-wise, this is one of the best places to get your java fix. The basic choices are all served as Americanos (espresso + hot water) rather than the more common drip coffee. Prices start at ¥12 for a large cup made with Vietnamese beans. It may take a few minutes but the quality is superb. I'm still not too keen on the glass mugs, but all things considered I don't think it makes much difference.
While you're sipping your coffee Vintage can be a great place to study or lounge with friends. The ambiance is a tad quieter and brighter than most of what you find in the Wenlin-area. Jazz tracks buzz just an octave above background chatter. A wide layout and a light color scheme mean you don't need an overhead death-ray to see what you're reading.
As for the servers, they have never seemed inattentive or unfriendly to me. If it seems they're slacking, maybe they are (you might too if you were earning the same wage). Just wave and they'll come right over.
Arguably the most popular and best all around Western restaurant in Kunming, Salvador's has been a fixture of the international community since it opened in 2004. Originating in Dali, the café's funky ambiance is very much in the spirit of its namesake, the eccentric Spanish artist Salvador Dali.
The relaxed environment, suave tunes, and top-notch menu are great for anything from a hearty breakfast and coffee to a Friday night drink with friends. Readers of GoKunming.com recently voted Salavador's "Best Café" and "Best Cocktails" for 2007. There's no doubt Salvador's earned every vote.
Nearly every item on the menu stands out among foreign cuisine in Kunming. The mix of offerings is perhaps a uniquely American blend of Mexican, Italian, and even Middle Eastern fare. My personal lunch/dinner favorite is the Deluxe Quesadilla (available with a choice of chicken, beef, or shiitake mushroom, ¥24), served with a side of salsa that actually tastes like salsa. The spaghetti selections are also excellent, one-upping even the city's Italian restaurants. After meal options are just as appetizing, featuring ice cream sundaes like the "UFO" and the "Star Destroyer." Beware though of the milkshakes. Despite the best efforts of the management, the staff routinely over-blends and under-fills them. The result, unfortunately, is the somewhat typical "milky shake" found at many a Chinese Western establishment.
Though Salvador's last call on the early side at 11:00pm, it is in fact one of the better bars around. The best time to enjoy their strongish cocktails is during the generous happy hour (4:00-8:00pm, daily) when Gin Tonics, Vodka Tonics, and Screwdrivers are all available at ¥10. Beer drinkers might be at first disappointed with the absence of the local Dali Beer, but can find solace in the moderately up market – though superior – Lao Beer.
When it comes to coffee, it is obvious that Salvador's takes its Coffee House moniker seriously. With imported Nuova Simonelli espresso machines and a specially selected blend of Yunnan coffee beans, the entire range of their java selection is phenomenal. Until 2:00pm each day you can enjoy a bottomless cup of regular brew coffee (¥12). While free refills go together great with complimentary WiFi access, the real draw is the espresso drinks (¥10-28). Thorough staff training produces a consistently tasty cup. For those that can't get enough, you can take a bag home (¥38 for a small bag, ¥72 for a large).
While Salvador's certainly deserves its reputation among the international resident community with authentic recreations of Western cuisine, the secret to its success lies in its ability to attract ever-greater numbers of local Kunming fans. If you plan on making a first time visit, it is best to avoid the usual lunch or dinner rush and try mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Salvador's makes an effort to be welcoming to new visitors, with menus available in Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, and Thai.
In all fairness to Salvador's, the "58 yuan" coffee you're talking about includes both ice cream and liqueur (Kahlua or Bailey's) [see: <a href="http://www.gokunming.com/en/microsites/salvadors/menu.php]." rel="nofollow" target="_blank">www.gokunming.com/en/microsites/salvadors/menu.php].</a>
Though I haven't been to Q's, I had a similarly disappointing experience at UBC Coffee where my Americano topped ¥40.
The cheapest places I've been to for a decent cup of coffee in Kunming are Dona Donuts (¥5, Jianshe Lu) and McDonalds (¥6).
Although it goes without saying that neither beats Salvador's in terms of taste or class.
Library by day, pub by night, Chapter One is great for both weekday studying or Friday night libation. Despite its mediocre food offerings, Chapter One has a solid drink menu and a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.
Food. Last spring I'd come in several times a week for the inexpensive but tasty Indian curry. Over the summer, however, the Indian menu was spun off to create Indian Kitchen (two shops down on Wenlin Jie). Besides the decent burgers, the remaining food leaves a lot to be desired.
A cheese pizza I ate a couple of weeks back had an almost milky consistency and had the aftertaste of some kind of fruit.
Drinks. Chapter One has a comparatively good selection of alcohol. You can choose between slightly up-market imports like Beer Lao (¥16) and old standbys like Dali or Qingdao (both a reasonable ¥8). The bar has at least two or three options for popular liquors like whiskey or vodka. Non-alcoholic options are pretty standard, though I wouldn't recommend the coffee.
Ambiance & Service. With its comfy lounge-like set-up, Chapter One is one of my favorite places in Kunming. The second floor features cushy-couches and sturdy large wooden tables. I've spent countless hours reading and studying there. The servers are friendlier than average, and while helpful generally leave you alone.
Unique Feature. Unlike some other expat restaurants lined book shelves, Chapter One's book collection is definitely worth browsing.