Since my last post, in Yangshou, we had a further two weeks in China. We spent the last few days in Guanxi province doing a lot of cycling - one day going to Fuli to see the old town, a very colourful and lively market and the temples, followed by a second day trying to get to Xing Ping, going the wrong way but through rice paddies and farming country, and ending up getting a local bus with plastic chairs for seats and lots of locals chatting away to each other in high volumes! We got a boat back down the river to Yangshou, which took 2 hours, and was very relaxing. Saw lots of local fishermen with and without cormorants, and water buffalo by the waters' edge. We ate some amazing vegetarian food in Yangshou too, one of the best meals in China.
We flew from Guilin to Kunming to spend our final 11 days in Yunnan province, which probably turned out to be our favourite - the best weather, the most picturesque scenery, beautiful old towns and the most friendly people (oh and of course the best food!).
We went first to Lijiang, where the old town
has been well preserved and is now mostly toursit shops and restaurants, but it still retains a lot of charm. The buildings are wooden and are clustered together in little cobbled streets and alleys, giving it a real atmosphere. It is unfortunately crammed with tourists, and there isn't much space for them all, so we only spent a couple of days there. We did manage to see some traditional dancing in the main square, and taste some traditional Naxi food - a Naxi chicken sandwich with Yak cheese, salad, and traditional Naxi bread (tasted like a garlic and herb deep fried naan bread - but fresher!).
From Lijiang, we left our big rucksacks and took the bus to Qao Tou (Tiger Leaping Gorge). We spent 3 days walking the gorge, the first of which was only about 2 hours walking before lunch, followed by a relaxing afternoon at the Naxi Family Guesthouse with stunning views surrounding us and only a spot of rain. More delicious food and run by a lovely friendly family. The following two days we spent hiking for about 4-5 hours, which is when it threw it down with rain. The scenery was almost invisible for
the first day, but as we descended on the second day it cleared up and we got a few good views of the gorge below. Most of the walking was on high up tracks in the hills above the gorge, whereas I would have preferred to be walking only a few feet above the river. But the last day was fun as we scrambled across three waterfalls at a height of about 1000m above the gorge!!
From the end of the trail, we got the bus to Shang-ri La (or Zhongdian) to stay for a few days. We timed our visit to coincide on the third day with the local horse racing festival, which was a really great experience. The town itself was lovely though. A little like Lijiang with the old buildings and cobbled streets, and craft shops and restaurants, but it felt more authentic. There were a lot more local tribal people and ethnic minorities, and the handicraft shops reflected this. The food was awesome too - we tried the local Tibetan style bread stuffed with yak meat and had to go back the next day to have it again! The horse racing festival was great fun
- a little like our county fairs at home but a lot busier with people and a lot less stalls - mostly food! We got some crinkle cut chips with chill powder and wandered round in the drizzle. The racing itself was amazing - little kids (and some teenagers) riding at a gallop, bareback! Some of them couldn't control the horses at all and had to be grabbed at the end or the horse would keep doing laps! We also managed to get sunburnt in the rain - factor 30 everyday from now on!
From Shang-ri La we got a bus back to Lijiang, arriving late in the evening, and tried some night market food on our way back through town - a much nicer experience at night when all the tourists had left. Sad to leave the next day as short on time, but headed to Shaxi on the way to Dali, and very glad we did. A beautiful little old place, with about 3 streets, again cobbled, but the wooden buildings barely preserved. The old town stage and temple in the market square are protected cultural sites, but the town felt very old and fragile. We had
a lovely relaxing day, wandering the little museum behind the old stage, and drinking hot chocolate in the square (it was cold there!).
We spent a couple of days in Dali before heading back to Kunming for our flight to Laos. Dali is another old town, with 4 gates that I assume used to be part of a wall around the city, but there is no wall now. A lot of streets are pedestrianised so it was a nice town to walk around. It also felt quite liveable - there were lots of local shops amidst the tourist ones, and even a school in the middle of the main streets. More of a stone town than a wooden one, and perhaps with less character than Shaxi and Zhongdian, but a nice place to relax at the end of our time in China.
We had an interesting experience trying to leave China - after a huge amount of stress over the 6 weeks trying to travel internally we were quite looking forward to a new country, but no such luck. First we got a taxi to the airport that we had flown into only days earlier, to find it
had closed today. Then we got the taxi a further 30km to the new airport, in the middle of nowhere, to find that our flight had been cancelled - apparently it was cancelled some time ago, but if you didn't book it in China they won't contact you (they actually said that to us) - interesting for an international flight! So we spent a few hours at the airport, waiting for them to sort out a hotel for us, then in true British complaining style we demanded some food for our 24 hour wait, and came out with about (=)10pounds cash each, pretty much to spend on the taxi coming back the next day! We stayed in a run down hotel (only the best for the stranded) where the staff had to make two phonecalls before they knew why we were there, and didn't speak any English. We had to eat when they told us, in the staff dining room with all the staff, and whatever they gave us (which was some pretty nice meat and rice combinations) - apparently the other guests didn't need food! And this also involved two phonecalls to our room at 5am the next day,
which we assume was to get us to go for breakfast. We unplugged the phone and checked out after a little bit more sleep. I'm happy to say that we did make it to Laos though, and very glad we did! The countries don't even compare! More blog to follow - but judging by the length of this one, it's probably more interesting to keep them separate.
P.S. the photos on this post are just for the parts of China described above. Will add other China photos to the previous blog so check there too.
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