Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Postcard from Kunming


I spent a few days in Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province, in May. It’s a pleasant, but not desperately interesting city. Looking back, there are a few things that stick in my mind: cool evening breezes; electric motorbikes gliding soundlessly round corners; overpasses, underpasses; shopping malls; the view of mountains behind the city’s modest skyscrapers on the drive in from the airport; more shopping malls; taxi drivers caged inside their cars; markets selling a hundred varieties of mushroom; and overall, a sense of stillness, order and calm, which I was surprised to find in a Chinese city. This is a slightly random selection of pictures of Kunming from the few days I spent there.

These China posts are actually being sent from Luang Namtha province in Laos, where I’ve been for the last week. I couldn’t access my blog in China as WordPress is blocked there, and I didn’t do anything clever with my laptop before leaving Vietnam. So the blog is lagging a little behind real life. For the next couple of months, I’ll be on my Big Mekong Trip, following the river, loosely, from southern China, through Laos and Cambodia, and finally into the Mekong delta in the south of Vietnam. Once the blog has caught up with where I actually am, you’ll be able to follow my progress here.








9 Responses to “Postcard from Kunming”

  1. Walter Lustig

    Hi, Your blog entry caught my attention as I lived in Kunming for a year back in 2010/11. You are right, the city is nothing special though it is not that bad either but it is a good starting point for other travels in Yunnan, like when going to to Dali, Lijiang or further north, or down to Xishuangbanna which Chinese call China’s Thailand.

    Excellent shots, BTW.

    I am traveling SEA myself, so I should watch out for your reports … I just arrived in Siam Reap for my month in Cambodia before moving on to Vietnam and Laos.

    Yes, unfort. WP together with many other sites is blocked in China but there are ways around that as you know but which can be a bit tedious at times.

    Enjoy yr trip and safe journey.


    • Jon Sanwell

      Thanks, Walter

      Xishuangbanna was my next stop o this trip. I didn’t Know that the Chinese call it China’s Thailand, but I can certainly see why. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it any further north than Kunming, but I would have liked to have visited Dali and Lijiang.

      Hope you’re enjoying your trip,


  2. fotograffer

    Nice shots, especially of the people. We are thinking of doing a trip to see what is left of prerevolutioary china probably inter more rural areas. Any suggestion?

    • Jon Sanwell


      I can’t give a huge amount of advice about China, as I’ve only really been to one corner of one province, Yunnan. The Yuanyang area (featured in my last couple of posts) in the south of Yunnan has fantastic scenery and some interesting towns and villages. Also, Xishuangbanna, the region that borders Laos and Myanmar (and which I’ll be featuring in my next post) is well worth a visit. Jinghong, the main town in the region, feels more like Thailand or Laos than China, and there are some great little market towns in the surrounding area. A lot of Yunnan province is rural, and it’s a long way from Beijing, so it might be the kind of area you’re looking for.

      Hope that helps,


      • fotograffer

        Thanks Jon. You’ve been more than helpful. Just the kind of information I am looking for and confirms what I had read earlier.

  3. flasmana

    Hi Jon,
    I always admire your shot and since I will go to Kunming this Summer so this post quite a reference for me. Big Thanks.
    Anyway I know perhaps many people already asked you how to make people to be a model like in your photos. Do you have several tips? I found it’s a bit tricky when asking them to be my photo object. Many thanks 🙂

    • Jon Sanwell


      My main advice for taking pictures of people, in Kunming or anywhere else, is:
      – be friendly and honest. A smile and open body language go a long way when there is a language barrier. If someone clearly doesn’t want to have their picture taken, then I move on. I don’t hide round corners or take pictures furtively, I’m completely open about what I’m doing.
      – get close. I don’t use a long lens, so I’m physically close to the people I photograph. This helps to establish some kind of connection, even if only for a minute or two.
      – be patient. Often, the best pictures come after I’ve spent a little time with a person. A lot of people are a little nervous having their picture taken, and this can come across in the first couple of frames. I often find that once someone has seen their picture on the camera’s screen, they relax a lot more, and that’s when the good pictures happen. Showing someone pictures you’ve taken of other people can also help to convince a reluctant subject to let you photograph them.
      – hang about. If you find a good location, like a market or a particular street, stay there for a while. Sit down, have a coffee. People will get used to you being there after a little while, and the pictures will come more naturally.

      I hope that helps. have a great trip,



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