Published: September 13th 2011September 2nd 2011
Friday Sept 2
Had an easy trip to Kunming in Southern China. It was interesting to see the mighty Mekhong river from the air, as we crossed from Thailand into Laos - it must be about a kilometre across. Well before we got to Kunming I noticed that there was a lot of smog in the air, and it is indeed pretty bad once on the ground. After checking into the Camellia Hotel (200Y = about $US35), I set out to get a SIM card for my phone. In Thailand that would be really easy, but here it turned out to be much more laborious. I had to walk for 20 minutes to find the right shop - I was told to go to a post office - when I got there I waited 20 minutes to get served – they told me to go to another shop, and gave me false directions to get there. They in turn sent me around the corner to the correct shop. I got the card OK, but was then told you can't ring outside China with it. Doesn't matter too much - I really only want it to ring hotels inside China.
Kunming actually looks very clean, well designed and modern. (Although the traffic was terrible coming in from the airport.) There are lots of people on small electric scooters, often in lanes set aside for them.
The roads and pavements are wide, and there are tall impressive buildings everywhere. The restaurants don't really stick out the way they do in Thailand, you have to look closely to find which shops are restaurants. And of course few of them have English menus etc. Through a nearby youth hostel I booked a train ticket to Lijiang for tomorrow.
Sat Sep 3
I got to the train station in plenty of time. The size was pretty impressive. Huge. When the train finally opened for boarding I found my carriage, only to find that it was set up in claustrophobic little cubicles with bunks. Each cubicle housed 8 people, with 4 sitting on each of the 2 bottom bunks, luggage on the top bunks. Unfortunately this meant that I had almost no view, (I was well away from the one smallish window) and was in a rather confined space with 6 Chinese companions for the next 8 and a half hours. The train
ran very smoothly. My fellow travellers were mostly very talkative, and were patient with my limited Chinese. Only one of them could say anything at all in English, so she had to work hard as an unpaid interpreter. A lot of the scenery was quite nice, with very pretty cultivated valleys (corn, rice, sunflowers and tobacco) between steep mountains. The further we went the hiller it got, until we were in tunnels practically all the time! The smog did not let up. It was smoggy all the way to Lijiang! I shared a taxi with 4 of my companions and one of them shouted us all to dinner at a chicken 'hot pot' restaurant. The soup was a wonderful rich flavour but the bits of chicken they added were a little tough and gristly.
Lijiang has an old town full of preserved old buildings and tiny laneways. It looks lovely. I checked into a hostel there, and the manageress met me at the main road and took me down through the maze of cobbled streets to the hostel. It was quite a nice place, with some very friendly and helpful staff.
I got a double room with shower for 120RMB.
Sun Sep 4
It was raining in the morning, and there were few people about in the lanes.
Later on it fined up, and the number of tourists exploded. In the central part of the old town there were thousands of tourists, 99.8% of them Chinese. You could walk past hundreds of people without seeing a western face. The old town is full of restaurants, tiny bars with singers (at night – often they only have one or 2 customers), souvenier shops, and some shops with nice looking arty stuff. High season was apparently 4 weeks ago, and at that time you could barely move in the main square. Now it is very busy, but not annoyingly so.
I checked out the main sights in the old town. One place has a nice lake with a backdrop consisting of a hill and even further in the distance a huge snowy mountain. But on this day you couldn’t see the mountain due to the clouds and mist. No problem, some people had a little booth there, and were taking photos of tourists, and then immediately photoshopping in the mountain in brilliant weather before printing out the photo! Very amusing.
Lijiang’s old town is full of small restaurants and snack bars, many selling weird looking and weird smelling dishes. And hardly any of them have an English menu. One English menu I saw was itself so weird I completely lost my appetite: “Sheep’s tongue of farmer’s delight”, “Goat intestine improves the country flavour”, “Cold liver from yak herd” – that sort of stuff.
In the evening I went to a performance by a Naxi orchestra (Naxi are the local ethnic group). Very interesting experience both aurally and visually. Half the orchestra are very advanced in years, and about 8 of them are in their 80s.
There are more photos below