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Visit to Kunming, Dali, Lijiang in Yunnan Province

Last updated by catherine at 2009/3/31; Destinations:

I had heard of these places from travelers, read them on books and seem them through online photos; however, I had never known the real beauty of them until I made this journey.

Yunnan province, in the most southwestern part of China, has become a prime tourist center, thanks to its beautiful landscapes and unique ethnic culture, attracting travelers from around the world.

I arrived in Kunming early in the morning. Kunming is a much-loved city among Chinese, if not among the foreigners, for its pleasant weather all year round, which is nicknamed as "City of Eternal Spring", However, my first expression told it did not live on the fame. The part around the train station was in a chaos, old, dirty, filled with persistSnt touts trying to sell thing to you, which was quite similar to the mass of most of Chinese railway stations.

We went straight from the train station to the bus station (there are closely located, 10 minutes’ walking), where we were waiting for our bus to Dali ancient town. I had a very unhappy experience of the toilet in the bus station. It is located on the second floor of a small building at the station corner. I had a hard time to locate it. The toilet was extremely dirty, to which degree that you would not want to enter it unless you were in desperate, and the smell would left you unable to enjoy a meal for the next few days. ??

We left Kunming for Dali. What we saw on our way was a stunning contrast to the scene of Kunming: a clear vast expanse of fields under pure, blue sky, which is surrounded by high mountains in the distance.

Our bus pulled in Xiaguan about 4 hours later. Xiguan is the prefecture center of Dali Bai Prefecture and the old town of Dali is still 30 minutes’ ride way. Our guidebook told that there were regular buses departing from the entrance of Xiaguan Bus Station to the old town. But we had a hard time to find one. We asked the passersby but each time returned with a different answer. We suddenly found a large group rushing toward a minibus. We followed the stream having blind faith, but it turned out that this time we were right and the bus was for the old town.

I felt very tired after rounds of twists and turns, and almost fell into asleep. However, my spirit was revived suddenly as sight of a lake came upon my eyes. That was the Erhai Lake. The weariness was now replaced with the excitement brought with by view of the shining lake, which looks like a blue ribbon quietly setting along the foot of bare mountains.

The view of that beautiful lake accompanies us to our hotel. At night, memory and imagination of the lake made me hardly to fall asleep. I hope I could get a close touch with it in no time.

Dali is an idea town. Although the approach of tourists has largely changed the town original feel, its authentic atmosphere still has been kept in the backstreet alleys. Along the main streets lines old buildings, most of which serves as shops selling souvenirs such as silver items, ethnic clothing ect. Occasionally, old women in traditional Bai clothes came into sight at the street corner selling local snacks to travelers.

We were heading to the Erhai Lake but were warned by a local woman that it’s still quite a long way from the town and we need to catch a bus for it. The bus ride to the lake took 30 minutes or so, which seemed 3 hours to me not only because of the chaotic condition inside the bus, but because of my yearn for the Lake.

The bus was not for the dock directly and you had to walk a few minutes. At that time of the year, the dock was quite, a few travelers there waiting for boarding the cruise boat (actually, I preferred to walk along the lake but was told that you travelers were not allowed to do so for the reason of safety. So the best way you could get a close look of the Lake was to take a cruise). The boat wouldn’t depart until there were enough passengers for it (at least 19). We had to wait about 30 minutes for more passengers at the dock, which turned out to be not so bad an experience as you might expect as it gave me a chance to appreciate the lake at the dock prior to the cruise.

It was quite windy on the deck as we were sailing toward an island, however, the scenery that you could obtain from the boat deck of clear water, mountains and villages passing by, approaching islands and many other waiting delights can hardly keep you inside.

Our boat anchored along a short island, which was said to be home of the Bai ethnic people, and is well-known for the traditional Bai buildings. However, I was attracted by the grilled fish sold at the dock and therefore missed those highlights.

The next day’s venture into the Bai villages was however an unpleasant experience. We originally planned to visit the Yan Family’s courtyard in Xizhou but ended being led up by a local guide to a tourist trap. The woman guided us to a very new and brilliant complex, telling us that was the Yan Family’s courtyard., which actually was a tourist trap where they rip travelers off by selling the performance of Three Cups of Tea –that because the ticket to the courtyard was reasonable so they need to find another way to rip you. We were not alone to fall into that pitfall as I saw Chinese tourist groups led streaming in. We were probably not the stupidest travelers as we found out the fact that we were treated the moment we stepped out from the complex, however, those people might do not know the fact during their whole trip or even in their life time.

Even though we were very mindful to not to be treated again as we were tying to locate the Zhoucheng Town. We failed again this time and led by a motorcycle driver to a tourist shop. The scenery in the countryside outside the old town was breath-taking: a flat field between the Erhai Lake and clouds-shrouded Cangshan Mountain. I even saw that the shop owner giving the driver commission for having brought us to her shop. It seemed that they worked in collusion with each other to treat tourists.

We departed for Lijiang early in the morning. We left it in a hesitated manner. There were too many things for us to appreciate and enjoy. The moment as I hoped on the bus, I saw the lush peaks of the Cangshan Mountain were shrouded in white clouds. What a marvelous scenery to behold, and this scenery alone was enough reason for us to leave the city reluctantly. ?

Lijiang is located at a higher altitude than Dali. As we approaching Lijiang prefecture, the landscape of this part of China features deep gorges and rolling high mountains, and many a time, I noticed that we were riding on the gorge ridge. The Dragon Snow Mountain was many travelers’ reasons to make their Lijiang trip. The glittering snowy peak of the mountain came upon sight even you were far away from the Lijiang town, which might intense your eagerness to see it if you came for it.

Lijiang is located around 3000 meters above the sea level, on the border of Yunan Province and Tibet. The old town(Lijiang Old Town) is Lijiang’s most famous attraction. The original town was destroyed in a powerful earthquake last decade and a new town was set up on the original site. The town is filled with old buildings, among which flow streams. The whole town lives by tourism as all of the residents here engaging in tourism related business. No wonder it is very touristy. The town has thousands of shops selling silver ornaments, clothes, herbs, shawls to tourists. But nearly half of these products are fake. I was persuaded by a shop owner to buy a silver necklace there, but it turned out that what I bought was staff made from iron coated with silver. The restaurants located inside the town charged twice those outside the town for the same dish.

At the back of the town there is a hill, called Lion Hill, the top of which guarantees a bird’s-eye view of the town. There is a small stone-paved path leading from the hill top to the Wood Mansion at the foot of it. The complex is said to be the residence of a mighty local official in ancient time. The complex, quite similar to any old building complex in China, has many halls. If you are after local history, it is a good sight for you. A guide is needed for a better understanding of the place, for those building can tell only very limited stories behind them themselves.

There is another old town around 7 kilometers away from the buys Lijiang Old Town, which is called Shuhe Old Town. It is much quite and authentic than the well-known Lijiang Old Town, even though the scenery is very similar. You are unlikely to encounter large tourist groups here. What you see during your visit is a town with old buildings, still home to the locals, shiny stone-paved paths, and locals dealing with their daily affairs.

The hiking tour to the Dragon Leaping Gorge was the highlight of our trip to Lijiang, even though I had an unhappy experience with the tour operator. Since the gorge is uneasily accessible from the old town, so we joined a tour group. We was told to wait for the tour bus, which would take us to the gorge, at the entrance of the town at 8 am next morning but there was no bus to come to us even 8: 30 am. We called the travel agency, through which we booked the tour, and was told that the bus was heading to us. Another 30 minutes passed. Until 9;30 am, a woman rushed to us and led us where the bus was waiting. I asked why they failed to keep their promise of picking up us at the town entrance, and her reason or excuse was that there are too many tourists in the group and they did not have enough time to pick up each one at various spots.

The bus was only half filled as we got on. The wily tour operator wasn’t so stupid to leave the bus half empty, and the result was that we had to wait until the bus was filled. How long should we have to wait; only god knew. Our fellow travelers got on the bus during the next 30 minutes by twos and threes. Finally, our bus started to move. I heard the cheerful engine beneath me. A sudden stop awaked me from my imagination of the coming adventure hiking. I saw our guide got off for what, I did not know. After another 30 minute’s waiting, we were this time truly on the trip. Before the hiking tour, we would visit the First Bend of the Yangtze River. We were driven through high mountains and then deep gorges. We were dropped off outside the dock of the First Bend of the Yangtze River, close to the Stone Drum Town. The view of the sight at the ferry was quite dull, less interesting than any photos I saw during my trip planning stage. You could neither see the might scenery of a 90-angle of the blend nor feel the atmosphere. Probably an overview could gain a better view.

The lunch on the roadside was probably the worst one I had eaten ever.

The next stop before the hiking was a tourist shop selling local products of dry beef, herbs but the price was very expensive.

The hiking was a fantastic experience. We were walking on the newly-built plank path carved out from the sheer cliff along the gorge. The gorge is one of the deepest gorge in the world. The entire gorge measures 16 km, and it’s a giddy 3900m from the waters to the snowcapped mountaintops along it. Sights came upon eyes were the high and rugged mountains, and waters flowing cheerfully in the gorge. The hike took about 2 hours, and it was a hard trip for some of our fellow travelers. However, the superlative natural scenery on the whole kept me excited and energetic to take in the essence of nature. ?

In our last day in Lijiang, we strolled from our hotel to the Black Dragon Pool, which is closely located to the old town, around 15 minutes’ walk. The park is centered on the Black Dragon Pool, whose water is as clear as gemstones. The park was quite at the time of our visiting with only a few travelers wandering around. It was a good place for a rest walk.

We took a night bus from Lijiang to Kunming, where we would stay one day to see the highlights in and around the city.

Our bus arrived at Kunming very early in the morning when the city was still enveloped in darkness. As a rule of thumb, it was not a good idea to get off the bus in that time for reasons of safety. There were regular voices coming from the outside of the bus which were trying to give you a ride. We stayed inside the bus until the first ray of the sunshine touched the nearest earth.

In Kunming, we visited West Hill, which is a cluster of Buddhist caves and grottoes carved out of cliffs and the Dianchi Lake, and the Ethnic Minority Garden.