On the Yunnan trail

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Sunday, September 26, 2010

After our Tibetan adventure, we flew south out of Tibet over the Himalayas to the perhaps not-so-authentically-named Shangri-La in northern Yunnan province (apparently lots of the towns in Yunnan lay claims to being Shangri-La!). We arrived in on a sunny day and laughed at the electric blankets on our hostel bed, only to later have them on the highest setting as it was absolutely freezing! We were thankful too for our newly purchased 'North Fake' jackets from Tibet as we wandered around town admiring China's largest (and surely most tacky) prayer wheel.  At 60ft high it rather dominates the old town which is a little twee but otherwise quite pleasant; with lots of old-style houses and agencies selling 'Tibetan’ tours to the nearby villages for those don’t want the hassle of going to Tibet-proper it felt a little like a Disneyland Tibet.  Our plans to take bikes round a nearby lake to see the scenery a little were slightly scuppered when (a) the lake was much much bigger than we’d realised, and (b) it started tipping with rain when we were about 1/3 of the way round.  This led to some slightly wetter biking including through some suprisingly deep puddles, in one of which Gordon overbalanced on hitting some mud and instinctively put his foot down, ending up ankle deep in mud and needing some serious digging out.

One of the main reasons we went to Yunnan was to walk the ‘Tiger Leaping Gorge’ which we decided can only be described as stupendous (even the seemingly endless and practically vertical ’28 Bends’).  The path along the gorge overlooks a 4,000m sheer cliff face and winds along between rice and corn fields and into bamboo forests above the river below.  What we hadn’t realised is that everyone else stops halfway along the path for the night and does the path in two days, whereas only mad dogs and Englishmen attempt the whole path in one day like we decided to do.  Having also decided to do a last add on to the path over a gorgeous ravine and up an almost vertical slope through a bamboo forest we prematurely congratulated ourselves on having taken the detour as the light at the top of the hill was gorgeous on the mountains as the sun went down.  Except of course that that meant the sun was going down and we were still several kms from the end of the trail!  This ended up with us wandering down the final hill in the gathering gloom having completely lost the signs we had been following, wondering how much light our 50p dynamo torches from Decathlon would generate (a surprising amount), and hoping there weren’t any particularly vicious nocturnal creatures in the gorge, when we stumbled onto the road and a Chinese family took pity on us and drove us round the corner to the hotel we booked which (oh bliss) had actual bath tubs.

In Yunnan we also suddenly found ourselves, for the first time this trip, on the backpacker trail where everyone seems to be going to the same places and you bump into the same people in each town.  Except that in Yunnan it was more like the Israeli trail as about 95% of the Western tourists seemed to be from Israel!  We worked our way slowly south through Lijiang, Dali and Kunming bumping into some of the people from our train to Tibet and most of Tel Aviv en route, seeing some great scenery, watching rice being harvested by hand, and paying a lot of "Who Am I?" on the long train and bus trips.  The area is stunning but the flip side is that it was also packed to the gills with Chinese tourist buses which made even trying to walk through the crowds interesting at times.  After dinner one night in Lijiang we made the mistake of trying to go for a nightcap in a cute bar we’d seen by a gently burbling canal, only to discover that by night the place was transformed into a tardis-like neon palace, rammed full of very drunk karaoke-enthusiasts; we would have joined in but if you’ve heard us sing karaoke you’ll realise that wouldn’t be a good idea - plus it was all in Chinese.

In Kunming we also went out to the ‘stone forest’, a huge area of funky limestone formations with predictably silly names.  Having followed the hordes through to the main viewing pavilion we were wondering why we’d bothered, until we took one turn off the main road and found ourselves on deserted pathways up, under and between the stones with no one around.  Gordon of course wanted to climb every rock we passed which we tried to do whenever we weren’t directly under a CCTV camera.  After a couple of hours of happy scrambling we decided it was time to head back and quickly realised that the stone forest is more of a stone maze and we were completely lost.  Our map was less than helpful ("it says we should be by elephant on a lotus flower at the moment, could that be that rock?" “Hmm, looks more like a monkey to me”) until we found ourselves in hearing distance of the tour groups again and were able to follow them back to the bus.

And so we finally found ourselves on an overnight sleeper bus out of Kunming to the border town of Hekou for the final leg of our last 7 weeks in China.  The bus had three parallel rows of bunk beds and reminded us of the Night Bus on Harry Potter.  Unsurprisingly perhaps they really weren’t made for people of our proportions though and so our final night in China was spent attempting to fit ourselves into the beds and trying not to stretch our legs out and hit the person in the next bed.  The bus then rather unceremoniously dumped us on the Chinese side of the border at 4am in the pouring rain.  The border didn’t open until 8am so the next four hours saw us sitting on the pavement sheltering under the awning of a closed shop, with Sarah even managing her spectacular sleep-anywhere-trick leaning across the bags as we waited for the border to open until she was rudely awakened by a cockroach trying to run up her leg.  Ah the glamours of travelling!

We’ll confess there are a couple of things we won’t miss about China (spitting and loos spring to mind) but other than a couple of glitches we’ve had a really fantastic 7 weeks here.  The thing that continues to surprise us though is the scale of this place; it’s so huge and there are so many people, but the tiny pieces that we’ve seen have been brilliant.  For now though it’s onwards and downwards to (we’re promised) even cheaper beer, 2 pedicures and SE Asia!
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Charlie on

Hope it is still going well - still very jealous (of most things - not the loos / spitting!)

See you soon (ish!)


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