A Travellerspoint blog

Yunnan Province. Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Kunming

A beautiful place high up in the mountains.

sunny 23 °C

Its been a while since my last blog, and I actually left the place im going to be writing about a few days ago but its a place that will linger in my thoughts for a long, long time. Lijiang, in Yunnan province, South Western China is a thouroughly unique place, is a developed city in a basin, flanked on all sides by mountains, the city itself sits at an elevation of 2400m above sea level and is only about 100-150 miles south of the Tibetan border and about 100 miles east of Burma (Myanmar). Like the rest of the province Lijiang is very much a melting pot of cultures and the faces have definitely changed from those in the north.

Lijiang itself is obviously a tourist hotspot and it shows, the old town, which is a vast maze of pedestrian streets and canals, every doorway is either a shop, restaurant or a hotel, no houses or abodes are visible here although a walk around in the morning sees the locals washing from the canals so there must be houses somewhere, that or they live in their shops. A wander through the streets in the day time is quite an experence, the narrow streets are alive with activity, tourists and large Chinese tour groups fight their way through the crowds.

Its called old town for a reason, the whole area is a Unesco World Heritage site, with a history dating back 800 years and though the actual buildings may not date back that far they are certainly a few hundred years old. In fact about fifteen years ago, a massive earthquake hit the region and while all the modern buildings were levelled, the vast majority of old town survived intact.

A walk through the town at night reveals an almost entirely different place to the town of daytime, the streets are lined with lanterns of red and bars and clubs pump out thumping dance music, its an entirely contradictory place at odds with itself and it shows on the faces of the older Chinese people walking past. The traditional and the modern, which Ive mentioned before are struggling to coexist but that gives it a charm that Ive not really encountered anywhere else.

Above everything else we have really enjoyed our time here, we had originally planned to stay here two or three nights but ended up staying for a whole week. The weather was fantastic, pushing up to 24 degrees on some days, with clear skies and for the first time, no air pollution to speak, which my lungs were extremely thankful of. On our first and last days here we visited a place named the Black Dragon Pool Park, which is a damn cool name whatever way you look at it. It has to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet, even when its being ravaged by hundreds of tourists with loudspeakers. Its a Jade coloured lake, full of fish and very still, it sits in the shadow of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xueshan) and another mountain called Elephant Hill. The lake s surrounded by little temples and forests and its all very picturesque as maybe you'll see from my limited photography skills. Its a superb place to spend an afternoon, or a day just strolling around, contemplating things or even just sunbathing. Most definitely a highlight of the trip.

After another day of wandering around and lapping up the sunshine in Lijiang we decided on a bit of adventure! An 18 mile, two day trek along Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the worlds highest gorges, at its peak reaching some 5500 metres tall. It was a two hour bud journey from Lijiang up beautiful, winding mountain roads, each corner turned revealing yet another beautiful landscape, but this was only a prologue to the real thing. Once we arrived, with a lovely Irish woman we had met at the hostel, we began the hike and after an hour I had already lost count how many times I had said, "Wow!" It was simply that breathaking.

The trail wasnt to bad for most of the mornng, and was quite a pleasant walk through the mountains under the sun, but as we hit the afternoon we reached a part of the trail called the '28 Bends', an extremely tough and tiring section of the hike where the trail snakes its way high up through the mountain a thousand feet or so in a very short amount of time. Jen wasnt really feeling up to it and decided to make use of a local who had been following us up the trail with a horse, for that very reason. But that is Jens own tale to tell, and a scary one by her reckoning, riding a horse up slippery, narrow trails must be trying on the nerves. After reaching the top of the bends we reached the highest point of our trail, we were at an elevation of 2800 metres and it was very windy but the views more than made up for the tough trekking.

After a few hours we reached the Halfway Lodge, accomadation sitting in a little mountain village, strangely enough at about halfway through the hike. As the evening pushed on, about ten more people had joined us at this little hotel that was only half built. With solar power that hadnt been working properly and a lack of hot water, but at least we had a bed, and one hell of a view. For 10 quid a night I certainly wasnt complaining.

The next day we awoke and got going pretty early, it was a pretty bleak looking day, no sun and plenty of mist but that just gave the mountains a different flavour more epic and forboding than they had been the previous day, like something lifted from the Lord of the Rings. We trekked through some more epic scenary and even through a waterfall on a high cliff, and with the high winds made it pretty tough at times.

We were extremely tired by the time we reached the end of our adventure, but its something that we will never forget as long as we live, seeing some of the most incredible landscapes that China has to offer.

We headed back to Lijiang on the same bus we came up on slept very well on our return. We spent the next two days lounging in the Sun, not doing very much, we felt we had earned that after one hell of an adventure.
We felt really sad to leave this little corner of the world but should we ever come back to China then I think that this place would be first on the list to visit again.

We jumped on an overnight sleeper bus to get to Kunming, Kunming was a nice enough place to spend a couple of days, there wasnt much to do there, but it was sunny and pleasantly green for a big city and allowed to sort out where we were going next. We also bumped into Mark and Liv, whom we met in Chengdu previously, on their way to Laos, which was a welcome twist of fate. Thats about it for Kunming though.

Until next time.

Posted by Gartt 19:28 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (4)


Pandas, Buddhas and Sunshine

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After another overnight, 18 hour train journey we arrived in Chengdu. Admitingly the journey was actually pretty comfortable as we had a 4 bed compartment to ourselves, it was nice to be in relative comfort for the first time on a train. Anyway, Chengdu. Another of China's supercities, but this one was a little bit different and you can defininately tell that we are heading south. Gone are the incescent grey hues that have painted pretty much everything so far. The city was instead painted with green, trees and palms lined the wide roads and made for a most welcome change, even the air quality seemed a little better in Chengdu. Sun, finally some sun! T-shirt weather, such a joy to behold it makes everything seem that little bit better.

As soon as we got to our hostel, which turned into one of our favourite accomodations so far but more on that aside later, we decided just to crash for the day and do nothing. There was a DVD player in the room and a large dvd library so an afternoon of slobbing became our well deserved break from the hustle and bustle of travelling through China. We booked ourselves onto a tour for the next morning to the Giant Panda Research Base just outside of Chengdu.

The tour was the first one that we had done on the trip having made our own way to the sites for everything else but it was cost effective and less hassle to take the tour. The Base was great, much better than i was expecting it to be, we arrived at feeding time for the Pandas, which granted is generally most of the day having to eat a thrid of their body weight every day in bamboo, but it was great. The Pandas were generally only a few feet away from us and there were no metal bars blocking the views, after watching the adults feed we moved onto the babies. Oh my god, cute just isnt an apt enough adjective to use, the little tykes were enough to make me go all gooey and want to talk baby-speak to them, but dont tell anybody eh? Hopefully I will be able to get some pics up of the Pandas soon.

On the tour we met another couple, Mark and Liv, from London and Norway respectively whom we got on well with and spent most of the next couple of days with checking out Chengdu and the sites, they were coincidently on the same general southern route that we ourselves are on. Thanks for a cool couple of days guys, it was great.

The most impressive place that I have seen so far in China was our next destination, Leshan, the site of the largest Buddha on the planet (233ft tall), an impressive moniker and for once it actually lives up to its hype. A single toe of this Buddha is the length of a human being, just for you to try and grasp some scale. Its truely epic to behold. If that wasnt enough, the park that it is in is easily the most beautiful thing I have seen so far on this trip, the Buddha is carved into a riverside cliff and is just a little part of a lush green mountain with countless bamboo thickets and cypress trees everywhere. There were many temple complexs dotted about the mountain and bonsai gardens. Again I will try to get some pictures up when I can but until then, google Leshan to get some sort of idea.

Im am currently typing in a mountain city called Lijiang, 2000ft above sea level. And preparing for a 3 day hike along one of the deepest gorges in the world, but more about that another day.

Posted by Gartt 05:00 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)


A pleasant surprise.

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After the not so great period we spent in Pingyao, Xi'an was superb. I really enjoyed myself there, its another big city but it had a lot of character, the city itself was China's capital in times past and as such has a lot of history about it. For a start the main city is surrounded by gargantuan walls on all sides with a perimeter of something like 8km and 8 metres wide, it also has a sizeable moat surrounding it.. Its possible to walk (or bike) the whole city along the walls. We walked the length of one side and it took a good hour. In the very centre of town there are a couple of large towers that are the focal points of the city. The Bell Tower and the Drum Tower, formerly used by monks to ring out the time of day for the city. They offer good views of the city in each direction, or at least they would do if it weren't for the smog that chokes the city during the day (a running theme of everywhere we have been so far).

One of my favorite highlights of this place was easily the Muslim quarter, a group of side-streets and alleys containing countless stalls selling anything from halal meats, nuts and dried fruits to pipes, flutes, Chairman Mao watches and even fake Gucci handbags. It was incredible on the senses all kinds of smells emanating from every which way, superb. Topped off by a visit to the Great Mosque, apparently one of the largest in China, it was a serene, calming place but obviously forgotten by the government in favour of their countless Mall and expressway projects. It was in need of renovation, in a big way. Which is a shame because its a beautiful mix of styles, a traditional Chinese Pagoda sits in the middle of the complex flanked by Islamic structures inside the buildings. It was almost as if it was at odds with itself or like it was fighting to retain its own identity in this crazy country.

We also got a chance to see the biggest Musical fountain and light show in Asia here, in a large square. It truely was epic with bursts of water shooting 30 feet into the air. In the shadow of a huge seven storey Pagoda, brillantly lit up in the night sky, I'll get some pictures up when I can.

Whoops, I almost forgot about the Terracotta Army, yes we went to see the Army and to be completley honest I came away from it feeling slightly underwhelmed. I feel bad about saying this about a 2200 year old site of undoubted historical importance but I was expecting more. Dont get me wrong it was impressive in its scale and magnitude, but there really isn't all that much to see there and we were done with the whole complex within a couple of hours. Sorry dad. :)

Wandering around the main drag was fun, but there are still too many carbon cppy shopping malls everywhere, there was a scarily upmarket mall too, which contained Gucci, Prada and Chanel shops, amongst others. I cant imagine they do much in the way of business.

It has come to my attention that China must be like the Wild West for multinationals and conglomerates, the rapid development and new real estate appearing everywhere must have chains fighting over the prime spots or even future prime spots, as the cities are only going to keep growing. A shop in the centre of a tourist hotspot must be literally priceless. Its actually a pretty scary thought, Ive even seen a couple of Wal-Marts here too, complete madness.

Posted by Gartt 20:22 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)


A shock to the system

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Leaving Beijing was both a difficult and easy thing to do. Id grown accustomed to many aspects of the city, it began to feel familiar, which was nice being so far from home. BUt at the same time I was eager to push on to the next destination on the trip, a traditional old walled town called Pingyao. From what I'd read and also from what Id heard off someone in our Hostel in Beijing it was going to be a treat. So we boarded our first long distance, overnight train in china, and it was quite the experience, unlike anything ive really done before. A massive 18 carriage train with bunk beds in some carriages for the overnights split into 'hard-sleepers' and 'soft-sleepers'. We got stuck with hard-sleepers after naively thinking we could turn up at the train station and simply get a soft-sleeper (apparently very hard to get), the hard sleepers are pretty grim. Sets of three bunks, bottom, middle and top and we also got stuck at the top with no space to breathe, with Jen being as claustrophobic as she is was not a nice experience for her, but we got through to the other side.

Pingyao was far from the mecca Id pictured in my head, instead what awaited us was a desolate, depressing place that I still havent really gotten over. Its clearly a tourist town and this being the off season you can kind of imagine the atmosphere there. Picture a traditional English seaside town, Brighton, Skegness, Weston or something of that ilk in the depths of a cold depressing December and you can kind of get an idea of the feel the place has. The town inside the walls was actually very pretty with traditional Chinese streets but the place was deserted and devoid of life, and outside the walls was like a US slum from the 70's. We originally booked three nights but only ended up staying one. Which was a shame really as the hotel was absolutely gorgeous. a traiditonal courtyard place albeit with some very peculiar young female staff (growing up in a place like that would do strange things to a person I imagine). I took a few picture of the hotel, but I couldnt bring myself to even get my camera out in town. Im making it out to be like some kind of living hell, which it wasnt. It just felt like an incredibly sad place, and I wasnt expecting it.

Its been hard lifting myself out of this little rut/depression, all ive been able to think about the last couple of days is getting the hell out of China and getting to Thailand, ive found myself tired of the constant staring of people, the constant spitting and the fact that the everywhere weve been looks like its in the middle of construction, but im in Xi'an now, the sun has been shining and its actually relatively mild rather than the freezing weather that weve had the entire trip so far. Im feeling pretty good, we may cut some things out in China and head to Thailand early but im looking foward to heading South for some of chinas greeness, hills and mountains, which have been sorely lacking so far.

I miss you all.

Posted by Gartt 01:40 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)


A city of contrasts.

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Weve been here a while now and its been a bit difficult settling in to things in this City, maybe its the culture shock or my Western sensibilties but there is something alien in this place to me. On the one hand there is beauty all around, even in a city as big as this one but then on the other theres definately a dirty underbelly to it.
Hawkers and scam artists are everywhere, seemingly the in thing right now for the city's scamsters is trying to get you into "Art Exhibitions" and then charging you stupid amounts of money for the privelidge, Im not sure exactly how it works because we havent been gulible enough to be led into one but there are loads of them trying it on, all with the same rehearsed lines of english. Im currently practising how to say "I dont speak English!" in a few different languages to see if that will help.

On the flip side of the coin, much like the Forbidden City there are little gems hidden everywhere in this city that are extremely beautiful, just yesterday we went searching for a tourist site, found ourselves a little bit lost and stumbled upon this incredible University campus on a frozen lakeside in a small forest, with a giant, very old padoga in the scenary. Jen managed to get some pictures so I'll try and get some images of this place. What I found so amazing was that this place was nestled, hidden in the middle of a grotty grimy downtown type of area.

Perhaps the perfect example of the two sides of this city is Beijing Zoo, we both like animals and wanted our first look at the Pandas, the Pandas didnt disapoint and were very fluffy looking but the point is that they were in the own plush, shiny, new looking part of the Zoo and looked comfortable and fairly well looked after. But just a few minutes strolling the rest of the park the other animals obviously werent so lucky, grim looking perspex containers with dirty water and slabs of not so kosher looking meat. Then a couple of minutes further down you happen upon this giant 50ft Lioness statue that really has to be seen to be believed, but it didnt make sense to me. It was obviously an expensive investment so why not invest in the animals? Hmm.

Its pretty much what this city is all about. Weve come across Malls that look swisher than the Bullring but in slumlike areas which leaves the places pretty deserted with loads of bored looking shop attendants, I guess this is what rapid development will do to a place. But enough of my obviously western musings, I doubt I will understand much of what is happening in this country but its truely a bizzare place for an outsider looking in, thats how it for me anyway.

And oh my god! The smog, its so bad some days I actually get light headed and you cant see the sun for the haze.

We're leaving Beijing tomorrow for hopefully a slower pace in the more traditional looking Pingyao.

Posted by Gartt 22:56 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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