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Published: October 3rd 2012
We decided to take a train to Dali. We actually wanted to take a taxi but the lady in the hotel reacted with horror. She seemed to think that the expense was much too much for us. Maybe something in our appearance? So we arrived at Lijiang’s very modern train station, only to find we had to get our cases up a near vertical flight of stairs to get to the platform. We both had about 20 kilos each. Micha was pushing me from behind. Somebody took pity on me about half way up and grabbing my suitcase easily hoisted it up the rest of the stairs. Poor Micha thought he was going to have a heart attack. But we finally made it on to the train. The train was really old. We sat downstairs on a bunk. There were another two tiers of bunks above us, the top one was claustrophobically close to the ceiling. Luckily we weren’t spending the night – our two hour journey only cost about $5 each.
We passed nice scenery on the way to Dali. The weather, while not sunny, was not raining. People were out in force working in their fields,
visibility was fairly good of the lake and surrounding mountains. Little did we know, we should have treasured that moment and whipped out our cameras and taken lots of photos. It started raining shortly after we arrived and paused only as we were leaving. We took a taxi to our hotel and at first I was a bit disappointed. The rooms seemed sort of cold to me, lacking in personality. I had a similar feeling to when we arrived in Hanoi from Laos.
The next morning, although it was still raining, I woke up and felt differently. I decided I really liked the room, it was very big and even had a large sitting area. We spent a comfortable three nights there. You could see the lake from the balcony and from the roof you could see the three pagodas. Dali isn’t like the other places we visited. Its atraction doesn’t strike you right away, you have to go looking. The town itself doesn’t make a good impression. It is basically just a few big shopping streets, catering to the Chinese tourists, mostly of no interest to us. We did notice that shopping is more competitive here,
prices were cheaper and even though you still had to bargain the starting point was lower.
We ate mostly on Foreigner’s street in one of the cafes serving Western breakfasts. The first day we were there we had just bought tickets for the cable car up to Cang Shan. It was raining, but not too much, we didn’t expect to see much. While eating our breakfast we had a nice, long chat with a high school student that wanted to practice his English. It was the only time that happened to us in China. It was fun talking to him and we were glad to help. Before we took a taxi to the mountain we had a quick wander around the market. Very colorful, many interesting unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. Lots of different eggs, some quite blue.
Before we got into the taxi an old man approached, wanting to sell us something. We really didn’t want it, whatever it was, but he was persistent. He had an old scroll (at least it looked old, I don’t pretend to know about these things, I am aware that nearly everything for sale in China is a
fake) of about 3 meters and he was only asking about 60 yuans for it (less than $10). So we bought it, and we didn’t even bargain. Because of its length, we don’t really know what we will do with it, and we also don’t know if it’s a fake but it doesn’t matter. It’s much nicer than the things I have seen for sale and I think that we got quite a bargain.
We set off for Cang Shan in only slightly raining weather. We hopped on the cable car and rode up and up through the clouds, through the rain, could hardly see anything, only the other cable cars as they passed next to us. The ride went on for a long time, we looked down onto towering trees and still we rode upwards. One place I checked said that we were at a height of 3,900 meters but I doubt that. We didn’t have any breathing problems, the air was cool and fresh. Somewhere else said we were at a height of 2,700 meters – that sounds about right. There is a 11 km hiking path but it is closed at the moment. Instead
there is a 4 km path at the top of steep 100 meter stairs. We spoke to some people that had just come down and they said it was a nice, easy walk but the rain was quite heavy by now and the stairs were wet and slippery so we decided not to. There wasn’t much to see up there in the clouds. On a clear day you can see the lake and the surrounding snow capped mountains – according to the photo on our tickets. We wouldn’t know about that, we could barely see the lake. But we enjoyed our time in the mountains, the cable car was quite fun and there was something exciting about being up amongst the clouds.
While at the top, I went to the toilet, paid my five yuan or whatever, and encountered my first row of toilets without doors, just with little dividing walls between them. There were a lot of Chinese women there and there was much hilarity and shouting about what the laowai was going to do. Not really wanting to be the center of so much attention, I asked where the toilet paper was. Hello? Toilet paper?
I knew there was no toilet paper, I don’t know why I asked, must have been the only conversation I could think of in the circumstances. As soon as the Chinese left my lips, the women stopped laughing, and not sure what I had understood, quickly left the “restroom”, leaving me alone. Problem solved.
We went back to the old town and went for a walk to the three pagodas across town. We didn’t get there till nearly 4:30 and they were closing at 5:00. You can’t go into the pagodas, just walk around the gardens and take photos. By now it was raining quite heavily so we decided at $20 each that it wasn’t worth it and just took a few photos from outside. We went back to town and I decided that I wanted a foot massage.
The place that I meant to go seemed to be closed so we went to another one that we had seen. It seemed bigger and cleaner than the first one. We got a herbal foot bath and about 30 minutes of reflexology. Felt great. We couldn’t talk to them because they were deaf and dumb
but they showed us charts so we could see what parts of our body corresponded with the part on our feet that hurt when pressed. Lots of things hurt – I guess that’s not good. At the end of the massage, I wrote them a letter thanking them and asked what time they closed because I wanted to come back tomorrow. After that we had dinner and got back to the hotel at about 9:00. Another day gone. Time is flying.
On our last day in Dali I made a mistake, It is the only time I did it while we were here. I let my guard down. We rented a car to take us around the lake and an enterprising English speaking driver. It was quite cheap for a whole day. Then we found out why. We only stopped at places that had an entrance fee that included ethnic dancing, tea ceremonies, tea buying, souvenir buying, cormorant fishing, eating lunch, etc. We only did that at one village and although we did buy some tea, we didn’t buy anything else. We refused to go to any other villages and weren’t even hungry after eating some baba
so we didn’t want lunch. We must have been a big disappointment to our guide.
We were also disappointed. Once our guide realized that we didn’t have deep pockets he drove quite fast past some of the nicest scenery. The weather was even quite OK for a while. But we whipped by green rice fields with a backdrop of lake and mountains, catching only the barest of glimpses. This is the photo that I didn’t get: the lake and mountains glittering in the background, with a shimmering green rice field in the foreground. In the middle of the rice field is a solitary man, wearing bamboo hat and a red jacket, riding his bike slowly home. I can still see it in my mind though. There were quite a lot of photos like that. On the other side of the lake, becoming aware of our dissatisfaction, he did stop a few times but the other side of the lake wasn’t nearly as scenic and I would advise sticking to the west side and returning on that side.
You can do it yourself, you don’t need a car and driver. You don’t have to go
to the part of town that requires an entry fee. The west side is extremely scenic – small rustic villages, endless green fields, blue lake and green mountains. The east side of the lake wasn’t so interesting. There are no fields, just a strip of road and then the hills starts. Also it was a long time to spend in the car. The trip was supposed to take about eight hours, due to our non-participation in various activities it only took six. Poor backsides, don’t like sitting so much. If I come again, I will only visit a few villages on the east side and do more walking. Still the day did have some nice parts and just the fact that it wasn’t raining all day, was a reason for celebration.
So I went back to the massage parlor and had another herbal foot bath, reflexology and also a shoulder massage this time. Micha didn’t want a treatment so he went for a walk. There was a young Korean guy for company this time. Due to the lack of other photo opportunities he was taking quite a lot of photos of me. I had my eyes closed,
but I felt quite embarrassed. He didn’t know that it is I that takes the photos, and while I think that all those people that don’t like having their photo taken are really very silly, I, in actual fact, also don’t like having my photo taken. I had actually meant to take photos of him while he was having his treatment but I decided not to, some people find it intrusive.
This is the address of Jireh Deaf Maasage Centre in Dali: 40 Foreigner Street Plaza (以勒聋人按摩中心Yǐlēi lóngrén ànmó zhōngxīn)
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