June 30, 2010 at 9:26 am (Uncategorized)
Had a nice easy 4 hour bus journey from Vang Vieng to Vientiane (apart from not being able to see as both of our eyes were now fully infected!) and for once got dropped off right in the middle of town thus avoiding an overpriced tuk-tuk ride into town! Spent the rest of the afternoon traipsing around with Winston and Theo trying to bargain for a cheap hotel (not a common occurence in Vientiane). Finally found one and headed out for a nice curry followed by beers watching the football – it seems not only is the accommodation more expensive but also the street food too! The next morning we headed out for some late breakfast and then to the Lao national museum, housed in a very ramshackle old colonial building and with a bit of a ramshackle display of artefacts inside. The pre-historic section was based pretty much just on old pottery (not so interesting) but the modern history of the French colonial rule and the subsequent Vietnam war and communist revolution was incredibly interesting. There was a huge collection of interesting photos and a few bits of communist memorabilia including some old AK-47s - a very interesting subject to learn about, especially as we are heading to Eastern Laos which was bombed heavily and was the Communist party HQ during the war. The rest of the museum was a bit of a bizarre celebration of the government’s achievements – there was a section each for the major government sectors and a lot of portraits of the ‘comrades’ or leaders of the government – overall quite an interesting insight into Laos history. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the air-con comfort of the Scandinavian Bakery reading newspapers – not very exciting! That evening Winston’s masseuse took us to the night market where we got some cheap local dinner and made friends with some guys who were practising petanque. Stupidly, we accepted their challenge to a game for the price of 2 beers and we were utterly thrashed! Luckily we were allowed to drink the beers that we ‘lost’! Seeing as it was such good fun we decided to play for double or quits and they took Ellie onto their team in an effort to even it out, to no avail, turns out Ellie’s sport is petanque and we got thrashed again! The owner of the cafe then proceeded to offer us whisky and show us his holiday videos from Vietnam as we said we were going there – a little strange but very nice of him to be so hospitable to us, especially as he spoke no English!
The next morning we said goodbye to Theo and Winston again for the final time as they headed South and headed out into the city on a self guided walking tour. First stop was the “Arc de Triomphe” – which looked slightly like the Paris version from a distance but was a bit of a concrete monter close up. Still the view from the top was pretty good and the parks surrounding it were cool. Walked back along the “Champs Elysees” (again nothing like the real thing) to the main market, housed in and outside a huge brick building over 2 floors and selling pretty much everything from livestock to plasma tvs! Next door to this was the mall, which had the advantage of being air-conditioned, but was a bit of a waste of time – not as cool as the actual market. Next stop on the tour was an old stupa (religious monument) which was quite cool then on to the temples and monasteries. We managed to get lucky and time our arrival at Wat Si Saket with a tour group of monks which was awesome for photo opportunities and the monks themselves were really friendly and tried to speak to us a bit. Checked out a couple more temples and the Presidential Palace and then walked back along the riverfront (which is actually a building site and you can’t really see the river but I’m sure will be lovely when it’s finished!) for another curry dinner. Watched England get humped by Germany which was a bit depressing, at least now we can take the Laos attitude of ‘support whoever we want’! The next day we checked out a few more temples and sorted out aour visas for Vietnam, ate some more amazing curry (seriously if you ever got to Vientiane, go to Nazim restaurant, best curry ever) and had a bit of a wander around town. Vientiane is a really nice city, incredibly laid back (same as the rest of Laos) but it actually has proper roads and tower block buildings and even a few fancy cars which is a bit of a shock to the system as we have become quite used to wooden huts and awful roads with beaten up old cars! The french influence is definitely very apparent too, aside from the old colonial buildings there are a lot of expats and some great french food, especially the baguettes! Early bed (after some more football and being accosted by lots of prostitutes!!) as we have an early morning 10 hous bus journey to Phonsavan in the morning, fun times!
June 27, 2010 at 9:25 am (Uncategorized)
So we left behind Unesco heritage listed Luang Prabang for an altogether different experience in Vang Vieng, after a nice long 7 hour bus journey through some impressive mountain ranges! Managed to break down twice on the way and had to sit behind a poor woman who threw up for about 6 hours straight whilst her husband fell asleep opposite listening to loud annoying Chinese music on his mobile! Finally made it to Vang Vieng and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around trying to find a decent hotel, at first across the river which turned out to be too far away (although nice and quiet and pretty) then we settled on one in town (filthy, noisy and not that nice – the town, not the hotel). Vang Vieng town itself is pretty much just a collection of bars, restaurants, guest houses and tour operators and any other service the people can think of to make money out of drunken English people! Met up with Winston and Theo again which was cool, at least it made Vang Vieng much more interesting!
This is not the real Laos at all (you do have to wonder what the locals make, apart from lots of money, of all the drunk westerners going tubing in a river full of shit!), but we still managed to stay for 4 days, mainly sitting in cafes and watching Family Guy and Friends! We did manage to summon up the effort to go tubing one day which was good fun (would have been much more fun had I not drunk a bottle of whisky and several buckets with Theo the night before!). The rope swings and slides at each bar look pretty dangerous/fun, I was feeling too fragile to be swung around at high speeds but watching everyone else do it was almost as entertaining. After a couple more buckets we floated down the river (very, very dirty) back in to town for a much needed shower! That night we got an enormous thunderstorm right over town which was so loud it actually shook the hotel and a huge amount of rain which meant that by morning the river was flooded up to the bars on the party island across from us and one of the bridges across the river had disappeared without trace! Luckily there was no more rain the next day otherwise our hotel might have been under threat from the rising river waters! After another day of doing very little apart from waking up with pinkeye and spending most of the time putting in eye drops we finally managed to prise ourselves from this dump and head down South to Vientiane for a slightly more cultural experience!
June 20, 2010 at 9:28 am (Uncategorized)
Arrived in Luang Prabang very hot and sweaty and headed straight for a nice cool Scandinavian bakery for some lunch then to find a hotel. After a bit of bargaining we found a nice little guest house just off the main street and went for a wander round town where we found a huge street food market, much to all of our delight! Spent most of the rest of the afternoon going between the guest house and the food market to stock up on fruit shakes and baguettes, we quickly made friends with the stall owners and got ourselves a nice discount (only fair the amount we were consuming!). Definitely made the right choice with the guest house, turns out the owners are all football mad guys (not so great for Ellie) which made watching the world cup more exciting – when South Korea scored against Argentina it looked like Laos had just won the world cup! Spent much of the next day going between guest house and food market again and having a bit of a wander round town. We decided it was far too hot for hair so all went to get our heads shaved (not Ellie!) in the afternoon, for 1 pound 20 we got a great hair cut, two hair washes and a head/neck massage (Ellie wouldn’t let me get her name shaved into my head – spoil sport!!). More World Cup followed and lots of Lao Lao (sticky rice whisky) was drunk – only by me and Theo, everyone else fell asleep, just as well given the disgraceful England performance!!!!
Feeling a bit delicate the next morning we headed off to the Kuang Si waterfalls just out of town – a welcome break from the heat! In return for helping to get customers the tuk-tuk driver brought along some kids who live next to our guesthouse – who speak great English for young kids! Bringing them along turned out to be almost as much fun as the waterfall itself – they were completely fearless, chucking themselves off the waterfall and the ropeswing, jumping off our shoulders and playing shoulder wrestling. The waterfalls are actually loads of smaller pools leading down the hillside with little waterfalls in each one and the water looks like a swimming pool and is soooo nice and cool! We spent hours swimming, jumping, swinging etc – so nice and refreshing compared to the usual sweaty hot days! Went to see the big waterfall and also some sun bears rescued from poachers which were pretty cool, all in all a great day out and a real shame that we had to leave! The next day Winston and Theo left to continue their trip and we were back down to two! I was up at 6am to watch the monks collecting alms, turns out that was a bit too late so tomorrow will have to be up at half 5, although there were a few monks still around and watching the sunrise over the Mekong was pretty amazing. Visited a couple of temples, not as impressive as some we’ve seen although these are much older and Unesco listed so that’s quite impressive. Off to see the sunset from the big temple on the hill tonight then off to Vang Vieng tomorrow morning (after watching the monks at half 5!) – and of course some more food from the street market and maybe even some clothes from the night market!
Feel like I’ve sold Luang Prabang a bit short with that post so I’ll add a bit more about the city itself, especially as we spent most of our last day walking round it seeing the sights. When I say “city”, it’s more of an oversized village with barely any traffic, a typical Laos style slow pace of life and a lot of temples. My comment above about the temples not being so impressive may bot be totally accurate, the ones I saw in the afternoon were much nicer, especially the one where I met a really friendly monk who spoke great English and was telling me he wanted to study to be an accountant one day! Also had a look round the top end of town where the Mekong meets the Nam Khan river, a very picturesque confluence with lots of locals fishing and washing in the river and loads of little long tail boats making their way up and down the river. Climbed the 328 steep steps all the way to the top of the hill in the centre of town to the Phu Si temple just in time for sunset (with lots of other tourists and locals!) which was seriously impressive with a view over the Mekong and the town below and stretching across to the mountains that surround the town – and the sunset turned out to be incredible! Spent the rest of the evening admiring the faded old colonial buildings round town and bargaining for souvenirs in the enormous night street market which takes up most of the main street! Didn’t quite make it up at half 5 to see the monks, but met loads the previous evening anyway, so headed off for a new adventure in Vang Vieng on another long bus journey.
June 20, 2010 at 9:05 am (Uncategorized)
After a couple of days reacclimatizing to the heat/recovering from food poisoning/watching lots of World Cup in Jinghong we finally found a bus heading to Oudomxay in Laos and headed off across the border at Boten. Met some new travelling friends on the bus, Theo from Sweden and Winston from Canada, which was really cool. Found the best border crossing yet with a table tennis table for us to play whilst the police checked our bags! No sooner than we had crossed into Laos the road changed from nice paved Chinese highway to bumpy, windy Laos dirt roads – although the scenery more than made up for it, it really is a truly stunning country. We wound our way for several hours along the bumpy road before finally reaching Oudomxay just in time for BBQ dinner and a bit of World Cup before early bed in preparation for another early morning bumpy bus to Nong Khiaw. Had to run for the boat which was then typically late (everything here runs a lot slower – Laos time!) but after another hour of travelling up the stunning Nam Ou river we arrived in Muang Ngoi Neua, a tiny little village on the banks of the Nam Ou and surrounded by huge limestone cliffs – a very picturesque and dramatic setting. Had a look round the village in the afternoon, there wasn’t a huge amount to see, and then had some great cold buffet dinner. No world cup games here – electricity is only on for a few hours in the evening courtesy of generators and no one seemed to be watching the world cup!
The next day the four of us headed out on a day trip with the hotel owner and his friend by boat up river to visit another small village and then on a short trek through some very thick forest to another village where we jumped into our tubes and floated off down the river (not before I’d gone arse over tit trying to get into my tube – very funny for everyone else watching, not so funny for me who got a mouthful of skanky river water!). After a very leisurely tube down the river for a couple of hours (we went so slowly that they had to come back and pick us up in the boat) we stopped off for lunch in the mouth of a cave, delicious freshly BBQ’d fish which had just been caught and sticky rice and some kind of steamed river weed – possibly the most amazing picnic spot in the world! Just as we were about to head into the cave after lunch a snake dropped out of the trees above us and into the water at the entrance of the cave – it was bright green and apparently very poisonous, the local guys weren’t mucking about with it anyway, they killed it almost as soon as it had dropped into the water! Scare over we headed into the cave – a nice cool respite from the scorching heat outside, especially as we had all realised the extent of our sunburn from tubing (in particular my bright red knees!). It was a pretty cool cave with some big stalactites hanging off the roof and a few bats hanging from the ceiling but also very very dark and slippery – I’m sure it was bat poo all over the floor! We declined going for a swim in the pitch black and headed back out to the river to try a bit of fishing – more us watching them do some fishing – highly unsuccessful compared with the morning catch so we jumped back into our tubes and floated the rest of the way back down to Muang Ngoi Neua, a little bit faster this time as there was a bit of white water which was fun. As we floated into the village the water became a bit more polluted from the locals washing in the river (and probably other things too) so we got out pretty quickly and went for a shower!! Had some fish stew for dinner (not the fish we caught unfortunately which was a bit disappointing, but still tasty enough nonetheless). Another early night before heading off early the next morning, after a bit of an overcharging fiasco with the guesthouse owner – a really nice guy so I’m hoping it was just that he can’t add up (50% increase on the bill suggests perhaps not!!). Back to Nong Khiaw by boat and then onwards to Luang Prabang by bus on much, much better roads and a much quicker bus driver – just as well as the minibus was like an oven with a load of sweaty farang in!
June 11, 2010 at 8:25 am (Uncategorized)
Arrived back into Lijiang exhausted and found our hotel again, the highly recommended Naxi Hotel with the “Boss” and his little puppy Tsai-Tsai! Although he doesn’t speak much English he does a good job of sign language and he is probably the friendliest guy we have met yet, with a permanent supply of tea, cigarettes and anything else he can share to all who stay with him! Explored the rest of Lijiang on our first afternoon back with some great views back over town from the big hill that separates the old town from the new one. Too tired to do a great deal so it was great when the next day we had a couple of other really nice Chinese people staying in the hotel too, one girl who spoke great English which meant she was designated translator for us and a really nice guy who took us out for yummy breakfast and let me play PSP! We spent the entire day sitting around chatting to them and learning about all sorts of interesting things about the region and China in general which was nice as we haven’t really had the opportunity of speaking to people with the help of someone who can speak both Chinese and English! That evening the “Boss” took us all out for dinner to one of his favourite restaurants in the new town which was a great experience. We had been eyeing up the delicious hot pot style dinners that the Chinese always had, but had no idea how to go about ordering one or what to do so to experience one with our new Chinese friends and have someone explain what to do and what everything was was really great! We tried almost everything on offer, bar the chicken feet (which supposedly mean you will become rich) and only Ellie was brave enough to try the lumps of congealed blood!! The food was absolutely delicious and we also got to try Chinese barley wine – fiery stuff at 52%, the “Boss” drank the best part of a bottle and was constantly making toasts to everyone (which resulted in him ending up quite drunk), we were both well and truly stuffed by the time it came to waddle back to the hotel for a cup of green tea or four before bed (with a huge bag full of leftover bones for the dog)!
The next morning we were pretty sad to be leaving such nice people, although not before being taken out for breakfast by our new friend (who told me I looked like David Beckham). Not looking forward to an 18 hour bus journey back to Jinghong at all, we boarded at half 2 and wound our way back through the mountains to Dali where we finally got back on to the motorway for a bit before heading off overnight through the back end of nowhere on more winding unsealed roads down towards Jinghong. Having felt a bit dodgy all day I quickly deteriorated on the bus and was very ill out of the window in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere! Luckily “Stop, my boyfriend is being sick all over your nice clean bus!!” was understood and we pulled into some shack toilets for a break. Not a fun experience at all and it made the next 12 hours or so very uncomfortable!! Finally we made it to Jinghong at half 8 the next morning at which point I was feeling like death and went to collapse in a hotel room for a few hours. Feeling much better now – seems it was probably something dodgy I ate in all that stuffing my face in Lijiang so time to take it easy on the Chinese food for a couple of days, luckily we have the Mekong Cafe, run by Greg the Breton, which serves great western food (and there’s the small matter of the world cup which starts in 5 hours, 40 minutes and 47 seconds (so the Chinese TV channel I’m watching says – they are obsessed given that their country didn’t even come close to qualifiying!) Only a couple more days of recuperation in China then we will head down to the Laos border and towards Nong Khiaw/Muang Noi Neua. What a great insight into such a different and interesting country – one that has definitely inspired us to come back and see some more one day. Clearly a country on the change (there is so much construction going on and at least half of the vehicles on the roads are trucks on carts carrying building supplies), no wonder when China decides to do something it gets done quickly with this many people to do it and a hardworking attitude which everyone seems to have!
June 11, 2010 at 7:52 am (Uncategorized)
As we left Shangri-La, bleary eyed at 7am on a Chinese tourist bus, the sun was shining and it looked as though our decision to delay the trek had been fully vindicated! Our bus was so comfy we even managed to get a bit more sleep on the way down, although the tour bus wasn’t half as fun as a local minibus! As we pulled into Qiaotou (a real building site of a town) the sun was well and truly and shining and the 22km trek beckoned! We dropped our bags off at Jane’s guesthouse at the start of the trek at 9am and set off on our way, meeting another group of French, Argentian and Japanese people. Eventually we found the right path with some help from the locals and set off on the four hour up hill ascent (not helped by the fact that we took a wrong turn after the first village which wasted a lot of energy). By the time we had made it to the bottom of the 28 bends, about 2 hours in, we were already knackered and the local muleteers were following us like vultures waiting for us to drop so they could carry us to the top! We refused to give in and stuck to our task, eventually reaching the top at around 2700m altitude after around hours of hard uphill – severley out of breath! The good news was that the rest was downhill and the views from the top were absolutely incredible, from the towering peaks of the Haba mountains on one side at 3990m down to the rushing Yangtze river way below us in the bottom of the gorge. From the top we could see all the way down the gorge in both directions, a truly incredible sight!
Motivated by the thought of downhill we set off at a much quicker pace with our new friends down the valley side, passing through bamboo forests and passing yet more stunning views of the mountains and gorge on our right and now to our left we could see the mountain range that we were walking along towering way above us. We left our fellow trekkers at the Yacha village and continued on, determined to make it all the way to the end, spurred on by the graffiti telling us it was only a few more hours to Seans guesthouse in Walnut Garden at the end of the trek! As we continued over the more level track we passed through more villages (with yet more stunning views), perched high up on the valley sides – it really is amazing where people live and farm, on such high terrain with high sloping rice terraces that must take a lot of effort to look after! Having made it to the halfway point in good time, around 6 and a half hours we pressed on to the steep downhill, passing round some precarious cliff edges and stunning waterfalls before the steep descent down towards Walnut Garden. By the time we had reached Tina’s our legs were just about to drop off and the 2km along the unfinished road seemed like an eternity as huge trucks rumbled past us carrying huge loads of rocks. We had heard dynamite explosions throughout the day (slightly scary as we thought at first they might be rock avalanches) and when we reached the road it was evident that construction of the new road was being undertaken at a fast pace. The aim is to create a paved road through the gorge to accomodate all the Chinese tourists so that they can view the stunning beauty from the comfort of their reclining chairs – such a shame that they are going to end up destroying a large part of something so beautiful. Luckily there isn’t much evidence of all the construction from the high road so hopefully that will remain unspoilt. Finally we stumbled into Sean’s guesthouse in Walnut Garden for a well deserved cold beer and a slap up meal of pizza, chips and burritos to replenish our energy levels! The village is situated at the end of the gorge, 22km (a long 9 hour trek from Qiaotou, although guesthouse owner Sean told us he can do it in 5 and make it there and back in 12 hours!!) surrounded by towering mountains on both sides and close enough to the Yangtze that you can hear it powering through the gorge below.
The next day we set off back to Qiaotou by minibus after a chat with Sean about the gorge, apparently the mountains are still home to tigers, bears, monkeys, snakes etc – although I think tigers and bears are very rare, it is nice to think that they might have been roaming around way above us! The minibus drive turned out to be an adventure all in itself – after about 20 minutes of driving along the bumpy unfinished road, littered with rocks and trucks and construction workers, we came across a huge rockslide that had covered the entire road where we had to change to a bus the other side. Only problem was we first had to climb over the rock slide, desperately clinging on as the raging river loomed several hundred metres below, any wrong step or loose rock and we would have soon ended up a small splash way below. Fortunately everyone made it without incident to witness one of the scariest drives in the world as our minubus rattled along, passing trucks, carts and more rock piles and on several occasions coming very very close to the edge of the road – something like the Jeremy Clarkson manouevre on the Death Road in Bolivia on Top Gear! Finally we made it back alive to Qiaotou to flag ourselves down a bus bound for Lijiang after an absolutely amazing adventure in one of the worlds deepest gorges with some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world – lets hope the Chinese don’t get greedy and manage to maintain it as a beautiful place, sadly I don’t think that’s likely…
June 11, 2010 at 7:11 am (Uncategorized)
Set off early on our bus to Qiaotou, at the start of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, however heavy rain overnight and bad weather for a few days running meant when we turned up to start the trek the hotel staff in Qiaotou looked at us funny and told us it was a very bad idea as the track would be slippery and prone to rockfall! Not wanting to risk it we headed on to Shangri-La with the intention of doing the trek on our way back south instead. As we climbed up through the mountain passes in the battered old minibus we flagged down we noticed the landscape change into wide open plains, different style of architectchure and even different looking people – we were pretty close to Tibet and the people and lifestyle up here were certainly more Tibetan than Chinese in the majority. Shangri-La however looks much like any other Chinese town for the most part, except the old town which is where we stayed and spent most of our time. Similar style to Lijiang and Dali with the old style houses and cobbled streets, but not half as crowded with Chinese tour groups! We took a liking to the place immediately – it felt like life had slowed down a couple of paces so we decided to take advantage and have a chilled out couple of days in the place named after the Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel. It might not be paradise but it certainly is picturesque and very charming! After our bbq’s in Lijiang we were excited when we found that Shangri-La also had bbq stalls in the town square and these ones had yak meat, which became something of an addiction over the 3 days we were there, along with Nepalese tea (much nicer than Yak Butter tea).
Spent our first day exploring the old town’s streets at a slow pace which didn’t take very long, it is a lot smaller than Dali or Lijiang! The next day we were a bit more adventurous and headed for the town temple with its colourful Tibetan style prayer flags and a huge prayer wheel. From here there were great views over town and up to another temple on a hill overlooking town so we decided to head up there through the hills full of yaks – luckily they didn’t seem to bothered by us! It was only then that we really the full extent of the altitude we were at, around 3200m above sea level, and that made walking up hills very very difficult. Eventually we made it to the top, a bit dizzy and out of breath, to be greeted by incredible views across the entire town and the surrounding mountains and valleys, not to mention a very picturesque temple which was absolutley covered in prayer flags everywhere you looked! Met some very friendly monks up there who didn’t seem to mind having their photos taken – they also had a camera and were taking pictures of everything, including inside the temple which i’m sure is supposed to be forbidden!! Inspired by these temples we headed out to the big tibetan style Songzalin temple the next day but unfortunately (as with every other tourist attraction) the price to get in was insanely high, especially as we had been told the main building had been demolished! We tried to sneak in round the ticket office but got chased by a policeman so gave up on seeing the temple – a bit of a shame as it would have been nice to see a big Tibetan style temple, but that will have to wait until we make it to Tibet one day! Instead, we found another smaller temple in the new town which had some kind of interesting food burning ritual going on and lots of monks who went inside to perform their ceremony – lots of chanting and bell ringing. We understood from the people who were making the food bonfire that it was an offering to Buddha, no wonder he is so big, they gave him a lot of biscuits and sweets!!! Sadly our time was up in Shangri-La, but on a positive note the weather had improved dramatically while we were there which filled us with hope for our forthcoming trek!
June 3, 2010 at 9:25 am (Uncategorized)
Left Dali on Tuesday morning amidst a noisy and quite impressive funeral procession which involved lots of firecrackers and a long line or people marching through the streets holding various banners, sheets etc – all very interesting. Quickly out on to the road up through the mountains with some stunning scenery, especially as we left Dali with the lake on one side and the Jade Green Mountains on the other. Soon however the driving became more interesting that the scenery – Chinese drivers are not the best, nor are the roads and most of the vehicles are trucks or buses of varying sizes and more so varying engine powers! Our bus was one of the quicker vehicles on the road so we spent most of the time down the middle of the road beeping our horn to overtake the trucks struggling up the steep, winding roads belching out black smoke as they went. My personal favourites are the old trucks that have no engine casing so you can see the engine running (check out the picture on Snapfish in the China album) – invariably these are laden with bricks or something stupidly heavy and you can walk faster than they drive! Eventually, after quite an uncomfortable 3 and a half hour drive we made it to Lijiang through miles and miles of rice terraces all being harvested. Luckily we had made friends with some Thai travellers on the bus who spoke good English and Chinese so they showed us where to get the bus and even very kindly came and bargained us a good rate in a hotel in Lijiang! Sometimes in China you really do need someone to help you out – even the simplest conversations involve a lot of charades and frantically searching the phrase book for some useful words (my Chinese vocabulary has decreased by about a quarter – one of the pages fell out of my phrase book!). Spent our first afternoon in Lijiang wandering the old streets and taking in the impressive views and fighting through the hordes of Chinese tourists! As night fell the place became more alive, big communal dances started up in the squares and the BBQs all started up, most of them selling whole and half baby pigs! Picked ourselves a BBQ stand and had an awesome dinner for about a pound each! Coming back tomorrow for a bigger helping as it was so good!
The next day we had to slightly rejig our travel plans so we are heading off to Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La a day early as the bus we wanted to catch has mysteriously disappeared from the booking system! With only one day left in Lijiang we set about exploring the old town with a bit more urgency, realising that the previous evening we had seen only a tiny fraction of it! The whole place is a maze of alleys and tiny streets with waterways and little bridges everywhere – very quaint – and packed full of touristy souvenir shops and restaurants. As we headed further off the main streets the tourist crowds thinned out and the place became more local and interesting, the place really is like something out of fairytale China, you can definitely see why all the tourists come here!! Unfortunately the afternoon has been a bit of a washout so we’ve been planning our trekking route for tomorrow – fingers crossed it doesn’t rain too much and it should be a pretty amazing experience!! Off for a renewed attempt of the BBQ stalls tonight, another update to follow once we’ve done our trek!
June 1, 2010 at 10:56 am (Uncategorized)
Boarded our overnight train for a 22:30 departure from Kunming, a nice carriage full of noisy Chinese people smoking and spitting everywhere. Despite that, I managed quite a good night sleep on the hard sleeper bunks (6 bunks in 3 layers per compartment, each with it’s own spittoon, loads of open compartments per carriage!). Got randomly woken in the middle of the night at some station where the train appeared to be having a beeping contest within each carriage, otherwise a fairly uneventful night! Rolled into Xiaguan (Dali City – not the Dali we were after) at about 6am to be greeted by a lot of taxi drivers wanting to take us to the other Dali just down the lake. Ignored them and got onto a local bus for a fraction of the price! Found ourselves a nice Chinese hotel inside the walled city and promptly fell asleep for a couple of hours! Feeling a bit more refreshed we set off for a wander round the town which is incredibly picturesque with cobbled streets and little streams running everywhere and shops and markets of all varieties down every street and alley. Made our way to the North gate which is all that remains of that section of the wall and then out of the “walled” city up the main road towards the Three Pagodas, famous pagodas the tallest of which is about 70m high. Walked around the walls as it was stupidly expensive to get in and the views were better from outside the walls of the compound in any case! Headed back into town for a wander and found an awesome food market where they were flamethrowing pigs heads and selling all kinds of interesting foods. Sampled some tofu and celery kind of dish for lunch (at least that’s what I think it was!) and then on through the more touristy areas, full of Chinese tourists who seem to treat us as a tourist attraction too, several people have stopped to take photos of us!! Spent most of the afternoon in and out of the shops and wandering up the pretty tree lined alleys negotiating vastly inflated tourist prices and people watching.
Started off the next day keen for some adventure but that was soon quashed as we discovered the only way to get onto Lake Erhai (7th biggest lake in China) was a ridiculously expensive cruise liner – the local ferries no longer run. Decided to head up into the Jade Green Mountains that run behind Dali parrallel to the lake, but again discovered that we had to pay just to go for a walk up the mountain. Abandoned that plan too as the views from the bottom of the track were impressive anyway, you can see just how impressive Dali’s location is between mountains and lake. Walked back into town to escape from the midday heat like the rest of the locals who were all hidden behind their bamboo curtains playing mahjong! Ellie broke her flip flop tripping over on the cobbled streets so had to walk around barefoot much to the amusement of everyone in town, especially the loca street sellers who wanted to try and replace her shoes with wooden clog sandals and one nice old man even offered to try and fix it! Eventually new flip flops were found and the adventure continued, up the town’s Southern Wall (the only bit that is actually walled – the rest is just trees!) for some impressive views over the city and down to the lake. Ellie made friends with a dog that insisted on licking my feet (not cool as it was also licking poo), luckily my feet aren’t a lot cleaner!! Back into town as the afternoon cooled off and things started to get a bit more lively in town as the locals all have dinner around 5 or 6 and then things liven up for the evening! Dali is a really nice social place where everyone works hard and long hours but spends most of the day sat outside the shop drinking, smoking, playing cards or mahjong and chatting to their friends! Some parts of town are a massive tourist trap, others are much more local and laid back, but even the touristy areas are good fun because they are aimed mainly at Chinese tourists (the hagglers and street sellers don’t bother with us because the conversations are limited to “Hello” and “Just Looking” and sometimes “Cheapo”!). Off t0 try out a tasty looking local restaurant tonight then off to Lijiang by bus tomorrow morning as we climb higher up in the mountains towards the Tibetan border!