Whirlwind through Yunnan, China!
Trip Start Jan 07, 2008
22Trip End Jun 15, 2008
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My first eye-opening stop in China was the crappy little border town of Hekou. I thought I had planned it so I would be able to take the mini-bus from Sapa, cross the border and just jump on a bus to Yuanyang. I'd forgotten that China is one hour ahead of Vietnam. NO ONE in this town speaks English and even cares to help me communicate! I realize how spoiled I have been so far on this trip and am worried about the next few weeks...
I manage to find an ancient, dirty, smoky bus that takes the scenic route (i.e. the dusty and incredibly bumpy dirt road that is directly underneath the new elevated concrete highway) to the town of Yuanyang. The town is famous for steep hillsides with undulating rice terraces that are water filled all year round. The problem is that the terraces are pretty far out of town and I haven't seen anyone that may want to split the 200 Yuan ($30) taxi fare for a 1 day tour. Oh well, this is why I came here. I even shell out extra to go back out at night on the off chance that I'll get to see the colors of the sunset reflected in the pools. I do and it makes the 3 hours sitting there with amateur Chinese photogs worth it. There is only one restaurant in Yuanyang that has an English menu. I eat there twice. The one other restaurant I go to, I end up in the kitchen pointing at ingredients that they stir-fry together for me. Not great but I didn't starve.
On the way to Kunming I stop in Jianshui. It isn't in my guidebook and there really isn't much there but I just can't sit on the bus with the smoking, lugie hocking Chinese men for the whole trip to Kunming. I have no idea where to go when I get off the bus and stand outside looking lost for 15 minutes before a sweet girl helps me get a taxi to a decent guesthouse by the Old Town
I get to Kunming, spend one night and then grab the tourist bus to the Stone Forest in Shilin. An hour and a half into the ride I start to see large open spaces and even farm land with limestone rocks and pillars scattered about as if a giant has thrown them around like marbles. The Stone Forest is a developed park area that costs $20 and is much visited by Chinese tourists. The crowds are insane but the park is huge and if you walk instead of taking the trolley cars (as most Chinese do) and get off the paved road and onto the paths it is easy to get away from the people. I spent about 8 hours getting lost in the maze of huge pillars. From the highest point, Lotus Rock, you can see that the land is covered in rocks all the way to the horizon. Really amazing stuff.
Back in Kunming I meet up with my friend Stacy who has flown in from Tennessee for 10 days. We have a flight that same day to Zhongdian in the north of the province. Zhongdian has unofficially renamed itself Shangri-La in an effort to reel in tourists. It is much cooler here and many of the people are of Tibetan descent so it feels different than the China I have already seen. Our first day in town we walk to Ganden Sumtseling Gumpa, a 300 year old Tibetan monastery with a population of 600 monks
We hop a bus the next day to Deqin. It is a beautiful but stressful and smoky (of course) ride up into the Mele Mountains along a road just barely wide enough for 2 cars. We end up in an old Tibetan house that is now a lodge run by a crazy drunken Irish guy that I met in Vang Vieng, Laos back in February. (The world keeps getting smaller and smaller...). It is cold and rainy here and the old houses aren't much for keeping out drafts. We spend much of our time huddled around the wood burning stove drinking hot tea. During a break in the rain we walk to the next town up, Feilai Si, to see Snow Mountain and the glacier.
We stop in Zhongdian again for the night on our way to Tiger Leaping Gorge. When we get to the gorge we grab the essentials out of our big bags and head out for a 2 day trek into the deepest gorge in the world. I'm not sure exactly what that means or how the measure it but that is what they say. The hike starts out easily enough but next thing we know it is high noon and we are climbing the part they call 29 bends
Old town of Lijiang is also a big hit with Chinese tourists. The winding, cobble stoned streets and lined with waterways and souvenir shops. We make an attempt at the tourist thing but are both still pretty tired from the stomach bug. Again, Stacy is more of a trooper than me: I was only mildly ill but still feel exhausted. But I also have to go back to the bus station 3 times that day because I had left my trekking shoes on the luggage rack yesterday. Despite all the help from the hotel owner, we find the bus and driver but he didn't find the shoes... Hmmm...
After a couple days in Lijiang we head to Dali. Initially Dali doesn't seem too much different than Lijiang: cobblestones, souvenirs, Old Town, heaps of Chinese tourists. But we find some cool little foreigner restaurants and bars and meet up with some people we met in Tiger Leaping Gorge
We are back in Kunming the night before our flights: Stacy back to the US and me to Chengdu en route to Nepal. I don't think I've crammed this much into 10 days since I've started the trip. I'm tired and quite sick of China. Now my major dilemma is which trek to do in Nepal: Annapurna or Everest Base Camp!