Yunnan Province - Jinghong, Dali and Lijiang20/06/2011
Crossing into China was a lot more straightforward then we anticipated (and our lonely planet wasn't taken off us as we feared it might be, and is something to watch out for if anyone reading this is planning to travelling to China with a copy of the book - apparently it is to do with a map that shows Taiwan as a different country!). The Laos side of the crossing point was basic but functional, much like Laos. The Chinese side was organised, clean, modern and stuffed full of security cameras - much like China?! On our bus were 4 other Westerners, one of which was born in China but now lives in Sydney and was here on holiday with his partner. This turned out to be a great help as they were able to help us order our first Chinese meal in China (fried rice, one with mushrooms and one with beef) and give us a bit of a start when we arrived into Jinghong. They were a nice and friendly couple who gave us loads of information about how to handle China and it made arriving into this new country a lot easier. Also on the bus was Tyler, a guy from New Zealand who we are still travelling with 3 weeks later.
Our first stop was Jinghong - a relatively small city by Chinese standards we are told, of "only" 1.1 million people. The only thing we found to do in the city was the botanic gardens or go shopping, so Tyler and I left Seth to look at computers while we went to check out the medical plants - most of which seemed to say they could cure anything from kidney disease to cold diarrhoea (what ever that is!). It was mildly interesting but not really enough to keep us in the city, nor were the computer options extensive enough so after a couple of nights in Jinghong we moved on to Dali. We had anticipated that arranging travel and generally communicating anything in China was going to be our biggest problem but it turned out to be very easy to find the bus station and get the tickets for the next morning even though the lady serving us said she spoke no English.
We arrived into Dali after a fairly comfortable, if long bus journey, the worse part of which was the forced introduction to Chinese public toilets which (in my opinion) are the worst I have yet to have the misfortune to use - don't worry, I will spare you the details. We arrived into Dali early in the morning, 1:30am but as always in this part of the world, there were taxi's waiting to take our fare so we headed to a hostel we read about and after failing to wake anyone, find another one around the corner that could accommodate the 4 of us (as well as Tyler, we had also been joined by Paula, a slightly older lady from Poland, now living in the US). The next day we explored the city and tucked into beer (50p a pint here - the cheapest so far) and dumplings (20p for 6). The city is pretty and relaxed - there wasn't a massive amount to do but it was great to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. There is also a huge lake near by which should be worth a trip but we ran out of time by the time we had had our camera cleaned and I had been struck down by a nasty cold. So after 3 nights spent in Dali we were on the move again, this time to Lijiang.
The bus to Lijiang wasn't quite as comfortable as the previous bus, with the average height of Chinese people proving a problem for Seth and Tyler as it meant nothing like enough leg room. The bus also had a lot more people spitting and smoking on the bus which is something we are not used to seeing. We arrived safely into the city though and after a long and complicated walk (and more dumplings and beer) we arrived into the old town of Lijiang where we found a lady who took us to our guest house - Mama Naxi's. The old town of Lijiang is very touristy but crowded with Chinese visitors but is also quite pretty. On our first night here we had what is called a Family Dinner in the guest house where we met Tine and Mads, a Danish couple who had been teaching in China for 5 months and who we continued to travel with for the next part of trip. The day after the family dinner Seth, Tine, Mads and I all set off on bicycles to find an small village outside of the main city called Baisha. By now we were starting to get a taste of the way tourism works in China, and here again we found that we were being charged enormous amounts of money to see fairly unexciting tourist sites, in this case from old Frescoes. I'm sorry to say that the enormous fee in this case was outside all our budgets so we had some lunch and headed back to the main city. It was a beautiful bicycle ride though, through stunning mountain views, and the village itself was quite pretty so it was a day well spent.
After Dali it was time to start trekking so our growing band of merry travellers (now 5) booked our tickets to the start of Tiger Leaping Gorge and headed off for some serious walking.