Overland Kunming to Hong Kong
- This article is an itinerary.
South West China is, in some ways, the most exotic area of China, largely populated by various ethnic minorities with interesting handicrafts, languages, folk music and so on. It is also a poor area, relatively cheap to travel in overall.
Some areas have been or are being developed for tourism; there you can expect to find some modern amenities, Western food, English speakers and (by Chinese standards) high prices. Once you get out of those areas, expect none of the above.
For some parts of this trip anyone who does not speak Chinese will definitely need a Chinese phrasebook.
On the overnight buses, you have to remove your shoes when boarding and put them back on to get off for food and restroom stops. You may want to buy a pair of "kung fu" slippers (¥15-20) to make this easier, even if you normally travel in boots or laced shoes.
The two end points, Kunming and Hong Kong, both have good air links to various places. See their articles and Discount airlines in Asia for details. Both also have rail connections to the rest of China.
From Kunming, the most interesting route is to travel either by train or bus into Guizhou, a relatively poor and non-touristic province with many ethnic minorities, then by bus through less traveled country to Guilin. This article treats that as the main route; various other possibilities are under alternate routes below.
China has a system of fast bullet trains, relatively new, already quite extensive and still growing. Major lines into this region, under construction but not in service as of early 2013, are:
- Shanghai to Kunming, via Changsha and Guiyang, due to go into service mid-2013
- Guangzhou to Chengdu, via Guilin and Guiyang, due to go into service in 2014
As these lines come into service, they will make new routes for much of this trip possible. The rest of this article, however, will ignore those possibilities.
Kunming to Anshun
Anshun is a moderately interesting town and the hub of Western Guizhou. China's biggest waterfall is nearby and there are also a number of caves in the area. The region produces a lot of batik work, generally with indigo dyes; you see much the same stuff here that is sold in the provincial capital Guiyang or in more distant tourist areas like Dali or Yangshou, but if you bargain hard it is cheaper here.
The overnight Kunming-Anshun bus is not recommended; it is at least 16 hours and neither clean nor comfortable. Take the train or break up the journey with an intermediate stop, perhaps at Qujing in Eastern Yunnan or Pan Xian in Western Guizhou.
Anshun to Kaili
From Anshun, it is a couple of hours by bus to Guiyang, the provincial capital. This is not a particularly interesting town, but it might be worth looking around and visiting some of the many handicraft and souvenir shops. A possible side trip would be to go a few hours north from Guiyang to Zunyi. This is an important site for Chinese Communist history and the scene of the Zunyi Conference during the Long March.
From Guiyang, it is about four hours by bus to Kaili, a trading town with many interesting villages nearby. This is the hub of Eastern Guizhou, probably the most interesting place on this route.
Alternately, you could take a train to Kaili from Guiyang or even directly from Kunming. Trying to get the train from Anshun is not recommended; it is hard to get seats except at major stations.
Kaili to Congjiang
The trip from Kaili to Guilin is a fairly long journey on a series of buses. There are some overnight buses, but the scenery — mountains, terraced fields, ethnic villages — makes it worth traveling by day.
The first step is to get to Congjiang, a fairly uninteresting place in the South of Guizhou. There is a direct Kaili-Conjiang bus, eight hours through interesting scenery.
Conjiang to Guilin
From Conjiang, two more buses get you to Guilin:
Sanjiang is worth a stop. It is the capital of a Dong minority area and has some sites and shopping.
Longsheng, between Sanjiang and Guilin, has the famously scenic "Dragon's Backbone" rice terraces. If you haven't already seen more than enough terraced fields in Guizhou, you might stop for these.
For most Western tourists, the main reason for going to Guilin is to get to Yangshuo, an hour and a bit south by bus. However, Guilin itself might be worth a stop. Certainly it is very popular with Chinese tour groups.
Guilin to Hong Kong
From Guilin, continue to the tourist town Yangshuo, then:
- either go on by overnight bus to Guangzhou, Zhuhai or Shenzhen
- or come back to Guilin to get a train to Guangzhou
Either way, you can reach Hong Kong.
Probably the most interesting route would be:
- overnight bus to Guangzhou, which is more comfortable than the Zhuhai bus
- spend some time in Guangzhou
- two hours by bus to Zhuhai
- spend a night in Zhuhai since it is cheaper than Macau
- rise early to avoid crowds, walk across the border to Macau
- spend some time seeing Macau
- take the ferry to Hong Kong
The fastest route is an overnight bus to Shenzhen, right across the border from Hong Kong.
Kunming to Nanning or Guilin by rail
From Kunming, you can take a train through sensational mountain scenery to Nanning, the capital of Guangxi. From Nanning, it is a short trip by bus or train to tourist center Guilin. See above for routes from Guilin to Hong Kong.
There are also flights possible to both Nanning and Guilin from most major cities in China.
From Nanning into Southeast Asia
Nanning to Hong Kong along the coast
Staying within China, one could also swing south from Nanning, toward the coast instead of toward Guilin, making for Beihai, optionally by ferry to Hainan, then on to Hong Kong via Zhanjiang and Zhuhai.
Kunming to Hong Kong by (mostly) air
The fastest reasonably priced way from Kunming to Hong Kong or vice versa is by a plane/ferry combination, about 4 hours / ¥850+. You could fly directly to Hong Kong, but it is usually significantly cheaper to land in Shenzhen and take a ferry.
Many foreigners in China need to get a new visa every six or 12 months and Hong Kong or Macau are good places for this. For most passports you can get a multiple entry business visa with just a photo and money. The plane/ferry combination is the usual method for such "visa runs".
Kunming - Hong Kong
- Take the plane from Kunming to Shenzhen (cheapest ¥650; normal ¥850)
- Take the free airport bus from Shenzhen airport to Shenzhen airport terminal ferry
- Take the ferry to Hong Kong Kowloon (about ¥200)
That's it. For about ¥850 you can go to Hong Kong.
- Take the ferry from Hong Kong to Shenzhen airport (about ¥200)
- Take the free airport bus to Shenzhen airport
- Take the plane from Shenzhen to Kunming (about ¥700)
A convenient way to book the ferry and plane ticket together is at the China Travel Service (HK). It is easy to find as it is directly opposite Chunking Mansions in Kowloon where many backpackers stay.
All the cities have hotels, generally moderately priced. 60 to 100 for a clean double room with shower, and sometimes with breakfast, is typical. In touristic areas such as Kunming or Yangshuo backpacker dorms in the ¥20 range are also readily available.
These areas are generally quite poor and petty theft is common. Take precautions against pickpockets and watch for things like razor attacks on luggage during bus or train rides.
Armed robbery is rare, but has been reported. Victims are generally lone travelers, often female. Try to stay in a group, especially on treks through isolated areas.
Altitude sickness is a risk in some areas, especially if you go west of Kunming up toward the Himalayas.
Both cities are also well connected to the Chinese rail network. From Kunming, the possibilities are:
- West to Dali, a popular overnight tourist route; see Yunnan tourist trail for more.
- North into Sichuan, heading for Chengdu.
- Northeast into Guizhou, described in routes above. That train continues on into central China.
- Southeast into Guangxi, described in routes above.