Peak to peak via Fuzhou and Kunming

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Welcome to the third instalment of my recent trip to China. My journey began in Shanghai, after which I visited the cities of Suzhou, Nanjing and Hangzhou. Moving on from Hangzhou I gave myself a couple of days rest – by climbing a mountain! Well, it’s not really a mountain in the ‘Everest’ sense but the Huangshan Peak (also called Yellow Mountain) in the Anhui Province of eastern China is a popular place of pilgrimage for Chinese people and is a hard day’s slog up to the summit. The scenery in and around the mountain is supposed to be fantastical, reminiscent of the film Avatar (although Director James Cameron got his inspiration from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park). I say ‘supposed to be’ because for the day climbing up to the top, the night at the summit and the day descending I couldn’t see a thing! The mountain is famed for its mystical foggy vistas but I clearly timed it very badly and managed about five worthy photos in 48 hours. Non-stop rain and overcrowded hiking paths did nothing to improve my mood. There was only one way to do that and that was head to the city to dry out and get collecting prices again!

Can't see the forest for the trees

Can’t see the forest for the trees

I flew to Fuzhou, a port city with a population of three million people, on the East China Sea coast. It lies strategically 200 kilometres northwest of the island nation of Taiwan across the Taiwan Strait. I have to admit that before ECA started publishing Fuzhou as a cost of living location, I’d never heard of it. It’s certainly nowhere near as large as the likes of Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing. In fact according to Nations Online it is only the 27th most populated city in China. This is reflected in the relative availability of imported goods about town. There are no one-off gourmet food shops selling French cheeses or Italian salami. The best bet for any hard-to-find imports is probably from Carrefour, although even there the choice is limited compared to other Chinese cities.

The Fuzhou skyline

The Fuzhou skyline

Over the past few years ECA has increased its location coverage in China and the number of cities now published is 23. The last two decades have seen the number of Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities increase and with it increased foreign investment as more companies have entered the Chinese market. It may seem strange that I was in a place which seems comparatively insignificant within China, but with so many large cities they all need to be covered! Depending on the criteria used Fuzhou can be considered to be either a Tier 2 or a Tier 3 city.

So what exactly are these tiers then? Well, there is no official classification but factors such as population, GDP, competitiveness, infrastructure and cultural significance all play a part. It’s generally agreed that there are four Tier 1 cities – Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. After this the second tier cities include the provincial capitals, large ports and developed cities with large economic influence and these are often the fastest growing cities in China. It should be noted, however, that there can still be significant differences between these second tier cities. These webpages from Jones Lang LaSalle and Sinostep shed further light on the tier classifications, with the former even including Tier 1.5 cities. One simple, but amusing, classification I came across on a forum was that a Tier 2 city has both Starbucks and Costa Coffee, and Tier 3 has only one or the other. Incidentally, there are no Costa Coffee outlets in Fuzhou, only Starbucks!

Kunming's Yuantong Temple

Kunming’s Yuantong Temple

The same is true of Kunming, the next city in my trip. This was a shame as I had taken a preference to Costa Coffee chocolate muffins over the Starbucks ones up to this point. The Sinostep link above includes Kunming as a Tier 3 city and I have to say that I found it similar to Fuzhou in terms of availability of goods. Certainly not as good as Tier 2 cities Nanjing, Hangzhou and Suzhou. With around 3.5 million people, Kunming is larger than Fuzhou. It also sees far more foreigners, mainly due to tourist activities which abound in the province of Yunnan of which Kunming is the capital. As well as being the chief tourism and transportation hub of Southwest China, Kunming’s proximity to Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar is also key to its economy.

The central pedestrianised shopping area around the New Era Hotel is abuzz with activity with shoppers, coffee sippers, and suited and booted businesspeople everywhere. But away from here there are pockets of tranquility such as the Yuantong Temple, the city’s most noted shrine. There is also a popular road to the north of the city called Wenhua Alley, a fairly low key neighbourhood but one which abounds with Western eateries such as Salvador’s Coffee House.

The postcard view of Lijiang

The postcard view of Lijiang

Whilst in the Yunnan Province I couldn’t resist the pull of joining the tourist trail for a few days and so I headed to the city of Lijiang, which has one of the most fascinating Old Town’s in the world. If you ever get the chance I definitely recommend spending some time here getting lost in the backstreets and alleyways. Also highly recommended is the sublime Tiger Leaping Gorge, a few hours drive to the north of Lijiang. It has one of the deepest gorges in the world with sheer mountain walls plummeting from over 3.5 kilometres straight down to the banks of the mighty Yangtze River. This two day trek more than made up for the disappointment of my foggy time on Huangshan Peak.

My next post will be my final blog reporting from China but before then I’ll leave you with the answer to my poser from my last post. Which five countries in the world don’t have an airport? Well, maybe surprisingly they are all in Europe; Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City.

About wanderingmark

World traveller, researcher, photographer, collector of interesting facts and cost of living data research for ECA International (
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