The border crossing from Lao Cai to Hekou went smoothly, as we were the first to arrive in the morning and there were lots of friendly officials helping us through passport
control, to fill out the forms, and letting us cut in line to take our H1N1 temperature readings, which were ok this time! We had heard stories of Lonely Planet China books being confiscated at this border because they have
a map showing Taiwan as a separate country, which is controversial in China. We bought a second copy of the book in case we got one confiscated and hid them deep in our backpacks. We shouldn’t have worried though
as they didn’t check any of our bags and just waved us straight through.
We stepped into China to a mass of Chinese signs and no English at all and realised without our ‘buried’ books we had no idea where to head. We asked an official looking
person if they knew where the bus station was, he spoke a little English and give us directions and you could tell he was happy to have an opportunity to practice his English as he wished us a safe journey and said good luck
to us, how kind! We’re not in Vietnam anymore!!!
We found the bus station easily and as we walked in wondering how our first experience of asking for bus tickets in China would go, we were very happy to find that the
only other passenger at the station was our friend Echo, a Chinese girl who had shared our horrendous Laos/Cambodia border crossing and was one of the 5 squeezed into the taxi. What a surprise and what luck for
us to bump into the only Chinese person we have met on the trip only 2 minutes after entering China! Echo was heading to a different town to us and her bus was leaving in 30mins. We had just missed a bus to Kunming and would
have to wait 3 hours for the next one, so after some easy persuasion we changed our plans to follow Echo to Yuanyang area and it’s famous Hani rice terraces.
We found out Echo had her LP China confiscated at the border, she didn’t know there were any issues and had it in her day pack, which was searched. The guards said they didn’t
want to take it but it was their job to and they had to follow orders. She was upset to find her government resorted to this kind of censorship just to keep one map out of the country.
The journey was fun, very winding and bumpy and apparently along the worst road in China. The locals were really intrigued by us and one man sitting next to Ryan was happy
to point out how hairy Ryan’s arms and legs were compared to his. He was also interested in our watches wanting to know if they were made in China. An older gentleman got on and smiled as soon as he saw us and started chatting
away to us, in Chinese of course, and offering us some berries to eat, the kind that you are warned to avoid. Luckily Echo could translate for us and we could have a proper conversation for once rather than just guessing what
the locals are saying to us. When he left he said he was very happy to meet us and wished he could have more time to talk. How kind. We are definitely liking China already.
Arriving in Zinjie, the old town area of Yuanyang, the bus lady said her family owned a hotel and wanted us to take a look. Wow, the rooms were great and with a fantastic
view of the mountains we had just driven up and all for 40 Yuan, we were expecting to pay at least double that for a room in China, what a bargain.
While wandering the town we were asked if we wanted to hire a car to take us to see sunset at the rice terraces. Echo set about getting us the best price, if it wasn’t for
her we a) wouldn’t have been able to talk to anyone, no one spoke English, and b) would have paid twice as much as she bargained it for, what a stroke of luck. The drive to the terraces was amazing, passing through remote
hillside villages where there are around 25 different tribes in the area, all wearing traditional costumes. We stopped to give a lift to one lady who was wearing an outfit that took 6 months for her to make, they take a lot
of time and care to get the costume right and it’s all done by hand.
We climbed down a hillside for a vantage point of the famous terraces and we did’t have to pay to watch it from a viewing platform as we found a local who showed us where
to get the best view for a fraction of the cost.
The next day we had to cancel our sunrise trip to another terrace as it was pouring with rain but we weren’t too upset to head back to bed at 4.30am. We spent the rest of the
day wandering the town, surfing the internet in a very smoky cafe full of people playing games.
The Great firewall blocks facebook, youtube and a few other sites but we can access most of the ones we use. For lunch we had a regional dish that uses blackened chicken instead
of regular chicken, it doesn’t look very appealing as the skin and meat is all grey and black, but guess what, it tastes just like chicken.
The next day we said farewell to Echo, armed with a notepad full of Chinese characters to help us in sticky situations, and caught a bus 7 hours to Kunming, the capital of
Yunnan province. The bus station timetable and bus route map were a little confusing but we easily managed to get tickets, i.e say Kunming while holding up 2 fingers in a polite fashion.
Kunming is a large city of over 1 million people and such a contrast from the countryside, with many shopping centres and restaurants, highlighting the extremes of China. Everyone
drives electric motorbikes, which is such a change from Vietnam as they don’t make any sound, although it does mean you don’t hear them coming either. Kunming was just how we imagined Chinese cities to be like, and not disappointing
We got up early the next morning to walk around the city and saw hundreds of old people doing Tai Chi in the parks and squares. It was fantastic, again, one of those iconic sights you expect to see in China.
There were also a few strange sights on the streets, including multi coloured chicks. I’m sure they’re not meant to be that colour.
We thought it was about time we took a sleeper bus to save on a nights accommodation. Now these are buses with actual beds in them, three rows of bunk beds along the bus.
We were told we had to pay a gas fee for our extra luggage as it was over 10kg each, although ‘Mike’ said he knew how much they weighed without using scales, hmm not sure we believe him, so we gave him a sob story on how
we didn’t have much money and had to go to a bank and in the end we gave him some Vietnam Dong and a few Yuan and that kept him happy but i’m sure it was all a big con. We were both too big for the beds on the bus but
after our ‘bribe’ Mike moved us to better beds, although they didn’t make any difference to us. Other than that it was lights out all the way. Ryan slept for most of the journey but I was too excited about travelling
on a bus in a bed and laying down watching the scenery go by, not that I could see much, but it felt like proper travel again and I was also staying awake to see if I could spot any pickpockets lurking around that we were
warned about, I was in Detective Jo mode.
Arriving at 6am, a little sleepy, we quickly got fed up when none of the taxis would take us to a guesthouse, but we later discovered it was because they were all in the old town
and no cars are allowed along the cobbled streets. So we set off walking and it took us 90 mins to find the place we were looking for after getting lost in the lane ways, although we wandered all the old streets as the sun rose with hardly anyone around
and everything shut up, which was a good introduction to the town. Lots of locals were trying to help us find our hostel but none spoke English although that didn’t stop them chatting away to us in Chinese even though we
couldn’t speak back to them.
Lijiang is a very pretty little town and a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s very toursity but so different to South East Asia as 90% of the tourists are Chinese, so it is
scarce to see a foreigner. All the souvenirs in the shops are really good quality and you can walk pass shops and browse them without any hassle at all, not that I was buying anything. It’s easy to find quiet areas as the
Chinese tend to stick to the popular tourist route of the town and the more expensive areas so once you step down a side street it really is quiet and you are the only ones around and you can find bargain food stalls and cafes
that are really friendly.
The local Naxi food was delicious, especially the snack food that was all over the town.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
After two days of exploring Lijiang, we took a 2 hour minibus ride to Qiaotou the town at the start of the 22km Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking track. After paying our entrance fees
and picking up the trail map and info, we headed off to find the track and start the uphill journey
The first 2 hours were steep but manageable and after a lunch stop at a Naxi family house we started the infamous 28 bends, where you make a 900m ascent on a steep switch
back trail that is more or less vertical.
Now I decided to be sensible and take this as slowly as possible to avoid over exertion and because the level of oxygen starts to thin here so many people, no matter how fit, get out
of breath. Slow is an understatement, as well as making Ryan nearly cry at the lack of speed I was taking, I also managed to really upset the Naxi horse guy who had followed me the whole way from the bottom hoping I would
wilt and need a lift on his horse, although the more persistent he got the more determined I was to make it up. We both made it, me completely exhausted, Ryan with no problems at all, but it was worth it. It took us 2 hours
to walk less than 1km, it was probably the hardest walk I have ever done and raises me from novice to amateur trekker status! The view on the way up was not very rewarding until we got to the top and rounded the corner and
we could take in the view of the Jade Snow Dragon Mountain in it’s full glory.
The rest of the walk was downhill and flat until we reached the Tea Horse Trade Guesthouse, where we stopped for the night in a gorgeous pine cabin with great food, a fantastic
view and a really comfy bed that was so appreciated.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast of Naxi potato cake with yaks cheese, we headed off to finish the trek.
The going was mostly flat but along very thin paths that
skimmed round the edge of the mountains. We encountered a lot of locals from the nearby hamlets as well as a cattle and goat jam on the path that held us up for a while as we waited for the slow animals to head up into the
hills as the path was too thin to overtake them.
The most treacherous bit, for me anyway, was when three waterfalls crossed over the path so we had to walk across fast running water and slippery stones on a narrow path with
a very deadly fall if we made one wrong move. I like to talk things up a bit, but it was frightening.
The final part of the trek is descending all the way down into one of the deepest and narrowest gorges in the world, or so they say, to see the rock that the Tiger leapt
across the gorge from to escape a hunter, now you see where the name comes from! The descent was very steep, rocky and DANGEROUS with ladders at some sections where there was a sheer drop.
Of course what goes down, must come up again, so after a quick look around I decided to give myself a head start on Ryan and climb up on my own to see how far I could get
before he caught me up and I actually beat him! When he did catch up to me he was very out of breath as he decided to go at his Pace rather than mine for a change, and it definitely took it’s toll on him, he he!
After another good nights sleep at Tina’s Guesthouse, we headed back the next day to Lijiang to rest aching limbs and to make our way over to Chengdu in Sichaun province.
Are we catching a bus, a train, or a plane? A plane would be cheating, wouldn’t it?
In China things observed we have: (China Observations)
Weather - the temperature in China is a mild 20 odd degrees and quite cool at night, which means all the guesthouses have lovely soft duvets to snuggle up under, oh how I missed thee
Sleeping late - The Chinese don't like to wake up early. When we arrived in Lijiang, no one was up and we had to bang on hotel doors at 8am to be let in with the owners all still in their dressing gowns. In Xinjie town, we had to wake up the owner to let us out of the hotel, which was all shuttered up, when we were trying to leave at 7.30am to catch a bus. It's such a change from SE Asia as no matter how early you got up, even 5am, there were still people up before you working or exercising to beat the heat of the day.
Lost in Translation - there are many signs around China that show the meaning in English as well as in Chinese characters, unfortunately the wording doesn’t always make
sense! This is known as Chinglish language, we'll try to capture as many of these as possible!
Oh, I forgot to say...We are LOVING China!!!
Jo & Ryan