This article discusses overland travel between Hong Kong and Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in the southwest of China. It passes through a famously scenic area around Guilin. The trip could be done in as little as two days taking fast trains, but to enjoy the scenery, shopping and bars en route, ten days or more is usual.
- This article is an itinerary.
Southwest China is, in many ways, the most exotic part 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.
Hong Kong International Airport is the hub for international travel. Just across the border in the Pearl River Delta region, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen also have major airports. Macau, across the mouth of the Pearl from Hong Kong, also has a large airport and some of the low-cost airlines go there instead of Hong Kong, partly because the landing fees are lower. Along the way, airports at Guilin, Guiyang and Kunming offer extensive services throughout China.
All airports mentioned here have international connections with Hong Kong being the most comprehensive.
All the cities mentioned above have good rail connections to the rest of China. Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Guilin and Kunming are also on the national high speed rail grid with services to Beijing, Shanghai and most other major Chinese cities.
Much of this article was written before the high-speed lines to Guilin, Hong Kong and Kunming came into service, so it emphasizes bus travel. Today, however, the fastest and most comfortable routes are by fast train. It is also possible, and recommended, to mix the methods of transport, for example getting to Guilin by train then continuing to Kunming on the more scenic bus route described below.