From Myanmar we flew to Kunming, a modern city in Yunnan Province, in South West China. When we arrived, we felt cold for the first time in weeks, as we’d flown from a sweaty 45 degrees to the relative cold of 25 degrees in Kunming. We had been used to wearing less clothes than the locals, so it was funny to see people in shorts and short-sleeve tops whilst we had trousers and fleeces on! China is definitely the most challenging country we’ve travelled to so far, as very few people speak any English and almost all signs and menus etc. are in Mandarin. For our first meal out, we were presented with the menu below and waiting staff who certainly didn’t want us to wait before ordering! We knew a few of the characters, but had to guess the rest, which ended up with some interesting choices and way too much food! We have had to learn a lot more of the characters very quickly to know what we are actually ordering!
Whilst in Kunming, we visited the Yuán Tōng Temple and also spent some time exploring the Green Lake Park. At weekends the park is buzzing with amateur dance performances and locals who join in mass group dances. These are either set to live music or a backing track, which is blasted out from numerous speakers at high volume (and very close together so you can usually hear two or three competing tracks at once!) In China it’s very normal to dance in public and people don’t seem to have any inhibitions about joining in, regardless of their skill level!
Our next destination was Dali. After arriving at a bus station with no English speaking staff or signs and managing to successfully order the right tickets using our basic Mandarin, we took 2 buses to reach the Old Town in Dali. Dali is a pretty walled city on the edge of Erhai Lake and overshadowed by the Cangshan Mountain Range. We took a chair lift (which was a novelty in itself without having skis on!) up the mountain for views across the lake and spent some time exploring the old town and the city walls.
The next day we went on a boat trip on the lake to watch the traditional practice of cormorant fishing. The fisherman have trained the cormorants to fish for them. They tie a small piece of rope around their necks which enables them to swallow smaller fish, but not the larger fish, which they bring back to the boat for the fisherman. The trip was a bit touristy as there was a Chinese tour group visiting at the same time as us, (some of whom seemed more interested in having their photos taken with us then seeing the cormorants!), but watching the birds fish was fascinating. Dali Old Town was also frequented by a large number of Chinese tour groups and one night whilst we were having dinner, we were definitely the main attraction. Hordes of tour groups walked past and were all trying to take pictures of us whilst we were eating. There were so many that Kate had to move to the other side of the table to get away from the ‘paparazzi!’
From Dali we took a bus North to Lijiang, a city in the foothills of the colossal Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which stands at 5596 metres. Lijiang has an attractive old town where everyone seems to get lost in the winding streets and tiny alleyways. Whilst in Lijiang we managed to climb a small mountain by mistake! We took an alternative route to a lake over a hill, which our guesthouse told us about and we ended up climbing for a few hours to a viewpoint on a mountain, before descending to the lake we were aiming for. This would’ve been fine, but the next day we were planning to start a two day trek, so the walk was a little bit further than we had intended (and was at an altitude of over 2500m!) The lake we (eventually) walked to, is called the Black Dragon Pool and is apparently the most photographed view in South West China. (Our picture was slightly less spectacular, as the main temple is being renovated, but it’s still a picturesque view!)
From Lijiang we took a bus to Qiaotou, where we were to begin our challenging two day trek through the Tiger Leaping Gorge…