Yunnan (Kunming, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Dali)
19.11.2012 - 28.11.2012 14 °C
As Kunming is affectionately known as the 'spring city', this may not conjure up images of high rise concrete buildings, traffic, crowds and smog. But that is unfortunately what we arrived to! Being tired of big cities after our week in Beijing, we thought we'd spend just one day here and then get a night train up to Lijiang. We started the day by going to see the flower and bird market, where you can buy any animal imaginable. From puppies to squirrels, beetles to chinchillas. Whilst we were there, we witnessed a hamster theft! An old woman stuck her hand in a box of baby hamsters, stuck two in her pocket and briskly walked away! We then made our way up to Green Park Lake, but we started to feel a little like the tourist attraction as the majority of the locals were staring at us. One even took a picture! We couldn't figure out if it was Shaun's tattoo, the fact he was a foot taller than everyone else, or just because we were the only westerners in the place. We then had just enough time to try the Yunnan delicacy 'Across the bridge noodles', which consisted of a large bowl of boiling broth and a plate of raw meat, a raw egg, and some rice noodles that you throw quickly into the bowl for them to cook. I mainly ate the noodles and left the meat because from what we could tell it consisted of tripe and chicken neck! We then caught the sleeper train up to Lijiang.
Arriving in Lijiang early in the morning felt like walking on to the set of an old kung fu film. The old town was filled with traditional Naxi wooden architecture, cobbled streets and wooden bridges over the innumerable canals that ran haphazardly through the town. All to a dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The streets were empty at this time and the whole place had a calm, mysterious feel, but when we ventured back into town later on that day, the hoards of tourists had piled in and the wooden buildings had opened up into various tea shops, restaurants and souvenir stalls. It kind of felt like a like a Disney version of China, but we both enjoyed ambling round the shops, trying the different foods (I think Shaun is making it his mission to try every animal on offer... today it was Yak hooves) and soaking up the busy atmosphere.
Early the next morning we caught a bus to the Tiger Leaping Gorge for a two day trek. At 3900m, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world. We were dropped off on the side of the road with a very basic map, and swiftly formed a group with 2 Chinese guys, a Spanish guy and a German guy, (who, unlike us, looked like they knew what they were doing!) and began the assent up to the upper trail of the gorge. After a couple of hours we stopped for lunch, and the benefits of hiking with Chinese people quickly became evident as they could order all of our food, and for once we actually knew what we were eating.
After lunch came the most difficult part of the trek; the '28 bends' up to the top of the mountain. It was definitely more like 58 bends and towards the end of it we had to stop after every few minutes because I was pretty sure I was going to die. At one point Shaun had to take my bag off me because he said I'd never make it otherwise! I was blaming the altitude but seeing as the Chinese guys who smoke 20 a day and were carrying their camping gear had to keep stopping to wait for us, I started to realise that it may have been my lack of general fitness. I didn't moan too much though, but I think I may have protested more if I'd have been able to catch my breath for long enough.
When we got to the top the views were incredible, but I think I would have appreciated them more if there had been a cable car to take me to the top! We then continued along the gorge to the Half Way guest house . The upper trail that carved its way through the mountain side was so dizzyingly high up, and it was mainly narrow paths with lose stones and shear drops. In places we found ourselves edging our way round fallen rocks and climbing across waterfalls as the mountains loomed above us menacingly making us feel unimaginably small.
After 6 hours we finally reached the guest house, I was absolutely exhausted and was craving beef stew with a Mellors muffin! But instead, the Chinese guys ordered a chicken hotpot for 6, which I guessed wasn't too different. However, when they told us it included a whole chicken, I didn't realise that this meant a whole chicken. When I saw its head bobbing on the top, my appetite disappeared. Shaun however obviously loved it, and even ate one of the chicken feet... I stuck to rice.
The next day we finished the remainder of the 23km trek and were joined half way by a very cute dog that decided to come along for the walk. At one point, to reach the river at the base of the gorge, we had to climb down a set of steal ladders that were bolted into the rock... I think it was at this point that Shaun suddenly decided he was scared of heights!
We returned to Lijiang that night thinking that I would never be able to walk again!
After the trek we were feeling completely worn out, so decided to head down to Dali for a few days to relax. Dali was beautiful, and kind of like a less manufactured version of Lijiang, with its crumbling little stone buildings with yellowing grass sprouting from their roofs, and people selling vegetables and other food from carts and baskets along the cobbled streets. It seemed like the perfect place to wind down for a few days. The hostel had two kittens and a puppy, so Shaun didn't really want to leave the common room, never mind the town. But unfortunately for him I'm not good at doing nothing, and tend to feel restless rather than relaxed... so i did end up dragging him round the old town, to the local morning market and to Erhi lake. Poor Guy.
We then got the bus back to Lijiang for our flight to Laos. On the way back the bus stopped at a 'service station'. The toilets consisted of a trough and nothing more. So my last memory of China will now be squatting alongside middle aged Chinese women, whilst they are having a wee and coughing up phlegm as if their life depended on it. Scarred for life.