(Back from a few weeks without Internet so time to catch up on some blogging)
Dali, Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge
After our Gobi desert adventure in Dunhuang we used trains planes and automobiles to head to the Yunnan region in south west China. The sub tropical climate and green valleys that came with it, was a big change from the arid lands of the North.
We stayed the night in Kunming for a brief transfer stop between the plane from Lanzhou and the train to Dali. The hotel in Kunming was pretty shabby but the host made up for it with his incredible effort to be helpful. He called his friend several times to help with English translations. It was not until after a while I realised his friend was actually in Germany! In the morning he surprised us with a lovely steamed bun breakfast; great guy (The scene made me think of John Cleese in faulty towers.)
Our visits to Dali and Lijiang provided us with another opportunity to suck in some of the charm of the old Chinese towns with old houses and small alley ways full of markets and tourist shops. In Dali the market street noise was deafening; mostly due to the personal amplifiers used by most traders to produce a cacophony of sales pitches that leave your ears ringing for days. It was great to explore the old town and surroundings by bike including a taste for rural China of terraced rice fields between the mountains and the lake.
Although equally touristy, Lijiang is definitely the most charming old town we visited and we liked it even better than Pingyao and Dali. It's alleyways are windy and lined with trees and small waterways to give the town a fairytale like appearance that gets you lost in minutes. (You see many people, and we were certainly no exception, staring at their smart phones to find their way out of the maze of shops and cafes) - very cool and well worth the visit.
From Lijiang we caught the bus to Qiaotou for our two day hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Shangri-la. It's about 6 to 8 hours to complete the main track and we started of around midday to complete the first half of it that afternoon. I must admit the lonely planet does mention this but the first two stages of this track really are a killer. The steep steady climb combined with the heat of the afternoon did make this a real challenge. We had to coach Maaike up the hill for most of the way which wasn't helped by the fact that the guy trying to rent his horse kept following us while laughing and pointing out his horse would make life much easier for us all.
We were determined to achieve this on our own account though and it was great that Maaike did stick to it and made it to the top - Deborah and I were very impressed. Even the horse man had to admit defeat and he give maaike the thumbs up when she got to the top. (He managed to rent his horse to some other challenged hiker so he was happy too)
We enjoyed our stay in the Tea-Horse guest house including a well deserved beer and some yummy food that was prepared by candlelight because the incoming thunderstorm took out the power for the night.
By morning the skies were clear and the snowy peaks of the Snow-Dragon mountain showed themselves in all their splendour. It was a big payoff for the steep climb the previous day to walk along the ridge for the morning and enjoy the impressive mountain and gorge scenery. We thoroughly enjoyed the hike which was evident from the amount of pictures we took.
Only down side of this part of the track is that there are quite a few pipes and power lines along the track that at times get in the way of the views. As is the case in other areas in South East Asia, it is a shame that in some places there is a lot of garbage around and I hope the tourism industry here catches on soon to keep this in check. It did make us appreciate the quality and unspoiled nature of many of the NZ hiking tracks. I guess it is a good message to take home to ensure our 100% pure NZ brand holds true.
From lijiang we Made our way back by train and plane to Beijing to start the Mongolian leg of our trip. I really enjoyed China. Yes it's busy and the people smoke and spit a lot, but there are many very cool places to visit with a lot of variety. We found the Chinese people very friendly and helpful and despite the fact the cities are busy and hectic, the Chinese seem pretty laid back about it all. The food was absolutely fantastic and makes the take-away stuff at home seem like rubbish. Certainly keen to look up some of the more authentic Chinese kitchens when we get back.