Published: March 16th 2010
March 16th 2010
Our next stop after Kunming was a town that the Bradt guide to Yunnan from 2003 described as "ready for a tourism revolution". If the proposed revolution has happened, I think China has forgotten how to do them. We saw only 2 white faces in the 2 days we stayed in Jianshui and there was very little for us to do in the city itself. On our first evening we ended up in a bar (the only one in the city with an English menu) and were able to appreciate just how dead this town was when at around 10pm we asked a taxi driver to take us to a different bar and the only one he could find was a Karaoke bar, miles away and Nathan and I weren't really down with serenading each other in our own private booth so we simply went to bed.
The main attraction of Jianshui lies around 40km away and is the largest cave in China. One thing we've found in China is that tourist attractions are disproportionately expensive and the "Swallow Caves" were no exception. We handed over $8 each which was about the same price as we paid for 2 beds
for the night (in a relatively nice en-suite room) and explored an incredibly impressive collection of stalactites and stalagmites flanking a subterranean river. The cave was lit up by multicolored lights which one blog I had read before arriving had described as "naff". Funny how interpretations differ as I thought the lights really lifted the ambience and without them, I'm sure I'd have ended up in the river at some point! The cave is famous for the millions of "Swallows" (they are actually swifts) that live there in the spring summer months but we only saw the most eager of birds who obviously left their warmer habitat a bit prematurely and, like Nathan and I in Lijang, wished they'd packed a coat.
On returning to Jianshui I came to the conclusion that I could have easily come to Yunnan and totally missed this rather strange town but that I was glad and slightly proud that I didn't. It was a return to "real" China where nobody spoke English, everything was a challenge, eating was like playing Russian Roulette with your stomach (though we won every time), and we didn't have a clue whether we'd actually be able to escape
the town due to a bewildering bus system and no one to ask for help. Thankfully, we called the hotel we were planning to stay at in Yuan Yang, our next destination, as they said on their flyer that they spoke English, and they managed to sort us out - and we found the right bus first thing the next morning with spirits high.
Yuan Yang was a rather different kettle of fish. The support town of the Yuan Yang rice fields which are so popular with scenery enthusiasts and photographers. We stayed in a rather run down (but ridiculously cheap) hotel before getting on a couple of brand new bicycles to explore the neighbouring terraces. This sounds great, but "brand new" actually meant "not yet set up" and, at the bottom of a rather daunting hill my ladies-sized bike decided to start playing up. The handlebars dropped making reaching the breaks impossible and steering a challenge. Then my seat fell off leaving me dangerously at risk of being skewered by the seat post in the most unimaginably horrible way. Needless to say I was not happy and had to power up the hill holding the bike together. Thankfully
Aparently people climb up to hang those things there.
my complaint lead to getting our money back but the damage was done by this point and we had to walk to the second set of rice fields.
The second, more famous, set of rice fields is called Ba Da and the government thinks they are famous enough to slap on a 6 pound entrance fee to see what is effectively someone's farm! Nathan and I were loath to pay this and we decided to try and avoid it by hiking towards the other rice fields and then across a path through a forest we guessed was what the locals used to get to their farms! Thankfully, we guessed right and eventually got to Ba Da feeling rather smug. As far as the rice fields were concerned, they were pretty but it wasn't the right time of year to get the dramatic reflective look that happens when they are full to the brim with water and, actually, we had seen plenty of rice fields like this out of the window of our various Chinese busses and, arguably even better ones since entering Vietnam! It made me feel like the whole "go to Yuan Yang to see the rice fields"
thing is a bit of a con... perhaps if the clouds had lifted and we had witnessed a glorious sunset we would feel slightly different but our experience was generally rather underwhelming and, the horrendous 9 hour bus journey to the border the next day confirmed my belief that this trip was not really worth the effort. After nearly dying due to being driven from the hotel in ridiculously thick fog and about 3 meter visibility by our lovely - if a little mental - hotel manager, we got on our chariot for the day. Firstly the bus stopped for about 2 hours for no apparent reason about 40 minutes into the journey. Then, rather than buzz along the immaculate new toll road like a bus from Kunming to Vietnam would do, like all services from Yuan Yang to the border, our driver took the local road which remains underneath the toll road at all times, infuriatingly in sight of cars and lorries zooming along at 100km/h while we trundled at around 40 stopping to pick every man and his chicken up along the way.
Anyway, we grabbed something to eat at a road side cafe in the border
town and then negotiated the border in time to get to Sapa (the nearest touristy town) for the night. I told a traveler that we had met on the bus that I'd managed to go through all of China without getting ill and how this had amazed me. Why oh why I risked saying this with 1 meal to go I'll never know, but the word "jinx" has never been more apt....
There are more photos below