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Published: February 27th 2008
From Hostel to Hotel
The temperature in Yunnan province was quite pleasant 15-20 degrees during the day and down to 5 degrees at night. Seldom wasteful, Chinese people don't bother to heat their homes during this time of the year. We spent a number of nights in hostels, but now we were longing to be warm and enjoy a hot shower. So we agreed to book into a 4 star hotel in Lijiang for just one night
, to get cleaned up. The rate was still ridiculously cheap by North American standards and only twice that of the hostels. So we booked ourselves in to the Zen Garden Hotel.
The first trick was finding the place. The taxi could only take us to one of the entry points into the old city, at which point you have to walk. Narrow laneways twist and turn, there is no perpendicular layout to the town. We would stop and ask directions, but there are so many hotels in the town that most people couldn't help us. Finally, we found it and instantly fell in love. An old wooden courtyard complex with a little garden and pond. The reception area furnished
with beautiful antiques and a little firepit of sorts. As much green tea as you want while you warm yourself by the fire. The rooms had little space heaters and electric blankets on Western mattresses and the water...ever so hot. From our second floor balcony we had a view of the old city. We knew we wanted to stay more than one night as soon as we saw our room. We went downstairs to find out if there was vacancy for a 2nd night.
Yes there was. We were happy.
Lijiang the City
We spent our first day just wandering about the old city, which is around 800 years old, discovering its nooks and crannies. The water supply plan for the town allows different uses as the water flows away from the Yulong Mountain. The first sources of water are for consumption (or were before we moved to all bottled water), or washing vegetables etc. In the town, the water moves through little canals where it is permittable to wash your clothes. Not until the water has passed outside of the town is it allowed to be used for waste management. An old and relatively
smart system. Point being, we saw lots of people washing their clothes in the canal.
The Naxi courtyard homes are often built of wood. The inner courtyard is protected from the wind, but allows the sun to enter and heat the space. In 1996 a 7.0 level earthquake hit this town and destroyed a number of the homes, but we still found quite a few old homes, more than slightly tilted from the earthquake. In fact, one evening, our reception attendant told us about his experience with the earthquake while we shared some tea.
Lijiang has a very different feel than Dali. Dali was laid back whereas Lijiang has a party atmosphere. Every evening there was dancing around a bonfire in the square... yes Craig and I joined in. We explored Canal Street which is lined with bars each boasting a Naxi dance troup who would perform to traditional music with a techno beat, while patrons drink overpriced beer. On the streets people were singing raucously out of the windows, across the streets in a call and response style from bar to bar. The streets were packed with Chinese tourists sporting colourful furry cowboy hats, often with tassles.
This is intriguing, because generally Chinese people are very modest in their behaviour, something about Lijiang lets people let loose.
That evening, as we sat around the firepit, no we didn't last long on Canal street, we met a lovely couple from Australia, Ivan and Marie who were staying the entire week. They were able to give us some suggestions as to what to see outside of town. We decided to visit Tiger Leaping Gorge the next day. (It can be done as a two day hike, but not with Craig's fractured wrist.
) Overly comfortable at this hotel, we couldn't imagine leaving. We went back to reception and asked to stay a third night
Tiger Leaping Gorge
On the way to Tiger Leaping Gorge is a beautiful wetland park called Lashihai. Here you can go horseback riding or hire a boat and quietly paddle about the wildlife. We arrived quite early so it was quiet, however business was picking up by the time we left and doubted the later visitors would see the number of birds that we did.
The drive to Tiger Leaping Gorge is worth the trip in itself. Terraced
fields growing garlic and beans were verdant green, and the Naxi courtyard villages appeared to offer a near idyllic pace of life.
Finally we arrived at the park. Its about a 2 km walk to the gorge itself on a very flat and very paved walkway. Signs constantly remind you of the possibility of landslides, and they have even built a few tunnels through the mountain to avoid the more risky parts of the path. Of course when you arrive at the end, there is a little corner store offering anything and everything you could ever need. I mention it because here we bumped into the family we had travelled about Dali with and the Australian couple! We had a great little visit with the family (verbal communication being minimal) but we exchanged business cards and took pictures. We made plans to have dinner with the Australian couple upon our return.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is 3900 metres deep, from the top of the Mountains to the bottom of the gorge. Water rushes through the gorge at 7800 metres cubed per second. Its loud and impressive, and I was too wimpy to lean against the railing. We enjoyed the
Feeding the Fish
One of the canals that winds its way through Lijiang.
walk, the views and managed to get pretty sunburned due to the high elevations.
That evening we enjoyed hotpot with Ivan and Marie, who kindly brought along two bottles of homemade plum wine they had purchased in Dali. It was a fun night, and the meal was nearly over when we realized it was Valentine's Day (not celebrated here) so we raised yet another toast and polished off the bottles.
When we returned to the hotel we asked them to book us a bus back to Dali the next day only to discover all the buses were full! We were stuck in Lijiang until Saturday! "Please Sir!" I asked of the reception attendant "Can we stay one more night?"
Friday we decided to visit some of the smaller sites around Lijiang including the Baisha Frescoes and Yufeng Temple. Ideally you would rent bicycles as nothing is too far, and the valley floor is wonderfully flat. It is however difficult to bicycle with a fractured wrist so we hired the same taxi as the day before.
The Basiha Frescoes are about 500 years old. They are impressive, though were damaged during
the Cultural Revolution. The faces of most of the figures were scratched out, or sometimes just the eyes.
Yufeng temple was also wonderful, it boasts a 500 year old Camellia Tree which apparently produces some 20 000 blossoms annually. It's early in the season but there were already some blooms on the tree.
Exhausted from the previous day's activities, we returned by mid-afternoon to hike up to a pavillion in the centre of the old town for some last pictures.
The Sexy Tractor
That evening we couldn't resist checking out The Sexy Tractor Pub
near our hotel. We had the place to ourselves for 10-15 minutes when two foreigners of our age entered and we struck up a conversation. It turns out they were from Ottawa and Concordia grads to boot! So 4 people in a small pub in a remote Chinese town and 3 of the 4 are Concordia grads. We asked what drew them to this pub and they said the name, so there is something to the Canadian identity that relates to the sexiness of tractors...
Saturday morning we actually checked out of
the hotel at which we had only intended to spend a single night. We were not looking forward to our 8 hour bus ride to Kunming; but that is another story.
I hope everyone is well back home. We miss our family, friends, colleagues and students a great deal. All news from home is welcome.
Lots of Hugs
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