Kunming, Yunnan province
So I’m now in Yunnan, the most eagerly anticipated province of my China trip. This is the province of minority groups, small rural villages and beautiful scenery. It’s where you might catch a glimpse of ‘real’ China, despite the quite large number of backpackers and Chinese tourists! To get here I had to take a 20 hour train journey (overnight from Guilin). This was surprisingly comfortable as the only class they had left was soft sleeper (costed the equivalent of 30 pounds). On the train we ( I travelled with someone I met in Yangshou in the hostel) met some Irish people and in our compartment was the boss of Guilin train station who was very friendly and was always getting tea brought to him!!
The journey went quite quickly as I was absolutely exhausted from the 2 previous days and the sleep deficit I had built up in the last two nights! The day before the train journey 4 of us from Yangshou (all met in Monkey Jane’s .. mroe of that later) ventured to Longshen, and then to Ping’An, an incredible village in which the Longji rice terraces can be viewed. This place was like no where else I ahd ever seen in my life, bar alpine resorts for skiiing. A minority griup live there (Zhuang) who really liven up the place. Zhuang women pride long hair and wash it in the streams, then wrap it all around thier head, secured by colourful pieces of material. The hair often reaches the ankles!!
The bus from Longshen wildly spiralled up the mountain to get to the village, clearly overloaded with people (my bag nearly had to be ‘secured’ to the roof) , there were passengers on garden stools clogging up the middle aisle and also people standiong and swaying on teh hour long bus journey!
Ping’An is a very rural place. You wouldn’t expect it to have internet, or electricity but of course it has it all!! (one thing that it lacked was McDonalds) The 30 minute uphill trek to the guesthouse was made worth it for the incredible views over the straited rice terraces of Longji. I dumed my bags and made my way to the sunset, not particularly spectacular in comparison to other sunsets I have witnessed on this trip, hazy, foggy but nonetheless mystical.
The guesthouse was lovely , a pine constrcution , very much like a chalet in the Alps. The lady running it was also very interesting, her name was Yoyo (as in the toy) !
We ventured out into teh the tiny viillage that night and came across some rural dancing involving bamboo sticks! We had dinner then headed to bed, as we knew an early start (5am) was on the cards for sunrise the next day.
The train I had to catch from Guilin (about 4 hours away ) was at 3.30 so I ahd to leave Ping’An at 11am ( only 4 buses leave a day to Longshen, the transfer point for guilin..) This all left me exhausted and I had endured about 2 solid days of various modes of transport… mainly coach , local bus and train!!
Everything in China travel wise is never straight forward. Little rules can be enforced to the T and people make promises they don’t keep to. Conditions change at teh last minute leaving you in teh poo quite oftenb…. ahh well all build the character. In all honesty it makes me appreciate National Express and it’s rather efficient online booking service!!
So the rice terraces were pretty cool, not as overwhelming as I thought they would be but then I have seen lots of aerial footage of them, and with incredible sunsets on television which may have spoilt me a bit. Still the sheer man hours that must have gone into creating such a vast change on the landscape is still impressive, even minus the golden sunsets and infinite visibility.
Prior to heading for teh rice terraces, I spent 6 days in Yangshou, my last entry I was just about to go on teh cookig course. That really was a worthwhile experience.
Firstly I was greeted by the instructor of the course at my hostel and taken to meet the others. There were only 2 others, both of them at least 100% older than me. One was an old Polish guy who had been working in China for the last 8 months as a manager of a gold mine. He was all too eager to boast about teh fruits of his labour including boats, plastic surgery, money to burn (literally) and his personal chef etc etc. This got old very quickly but he did have some interesting insights on China including bribing and ‘local payments’.
The other person was an intensely annoying typical american woman. She was so full of her own importance it was unreal!! People aside I had an unforgettable time. We were taken to the market, a place of colour and odours, livestock and sounds of animals being sluaghtered.
Fresh meat is important, people pick the animal and it is killed and palced into a plastic bag, or can even be taken home alive. We saw dogs in cages, and also hanging up aftre being skinned. Pigs being sliced up, fish floating and still flopping around on the concrete floor, pieces of anatomy that we may think shouldn’t be eaten (snout, penis, duck bills, tongues, feet etc etc), 10 live frogs in nets (like the ones you get oranges in). All sorts of weird and wonderful things. Wonderful more referring to the crazy assortment of vegetables… so many that I had never seen before, incredible freshness and colour.
We bought a few eggs then headed out into the countryside to the cooking school through karst peaks, paddy fields and bumpy unmade roads. The cooking school was in such an idyllic situation. Overlooking a rice field and tumble down farm buildings. Despite this, the cooking school had amazing facilties :gas hobs, woks all in an amazing light and airy barn over looking the mountains.
We cooked 5 delicious dishes, all quite easy with the help of the instructor… will certainly be trying these at home!!
Other things I got up to in Yangshou included: hiring a scooter to cruise through the amazing countryside and visit some caves, 1251 sweaty steps up Moon Hill (afforded increduble views over patchwork farnland framed by the half moon of the hole of Moon Hill), tubing again (nearly got swept away by teh strong current but survived!) , cormorant fishing (the traditional way of catching fish with birds, thr cormorants are very well trained at catching fish . Thier necks are tied with string to prevent them swallowing the catch but the fisherman unties the string every 10 fish or so) and lastly a visual spectacular of Yangshou called the light show. The set is the Li River and it’s mystical karst peaks, the performers are 400 local people who perform this show every night. This show actually gave me goosebumps at times… the vastness and sheer number of people invoved on the river , the local fishermen and children singing and the lights relfection on the water were mesmerising. The costumes were colourful, singing was moving and the fire and lights added such magic to the night. It really has to be seen to be believed… It was directed by a famous Chinese director and it shows.
The performers get paid 30 Yuan a night, which for 3 hours of work isn’t too bad, for what would probably be quite fun! It rained sporadically throughout the performance as it had done in Guangxi province since I arrived there.
I stayed at Monkey Janes for the entirity of my time in Yangshou. Monkey Janes was damp, mouldy, mildewy, a tad overpriced and hot. All this didn’t matter as the people there were amazing. The staff were friendly and I met so many nice people there, definitely the best time I have had in China. Monkey Jane herself was a hilarious character who hated girls/women, or more she loved men. Foriegn men. She swore a lot and professed to not ever having a chinese boyfriend! She initially hated me, of coursebeing a girl! In the whole week I didn’t meet a single girl there, in my dorm I saw a high turnover of people but all male. After 4 days were out, she actually said she will be sad to see me leave and presented me witha free Monkey Jane’s T shirt!!
So overall Yangshou was a grat place, with a perfect mixture of jaw dropping scenery, lots of fun activties and a good backpacker scene( although not too overdone).
As I said I am now in Kunming, arrived yesterday and made my way to the Hump hostel.. Today I have been to the Vietnamese consulate to obtain my visa (a very bizzare place and in a very bizarre building) I had to pay extra to get it done same day, and also I had to get some passport pictures done.
I’m now waiting on my visa, and decided to update the blog!! When I went to get my passport pictures done there was a very helpful boy was took the pictures and printed them out, he was a 16 year od student very interested in England, football and travelling, he said it was his dream to go to England and America. His favourite subjects were maths and physics. I love these little interactions with the ‘real life’ people of China, you get an insight into thier lives and culture… you see modern China and the changes it is going though. He loved Shanghai and dreamed of living there one day as a scientist. I find the dreams and aspirations of teenagers in China very interesting and telling. He said school was very hard and there is not much time for anything else!
Change of subject I saw some very bizzare things on the street today, hundreds of tiny chicks dyed green, blue and yellow. Initially I thought they were mechanised wind up toys but noo they were real!! Very odd, the guy was also selling reallly tiny turtles the size of a finernail and also an assortment of coloured crabs…!
The weather today is quite fresh and light, not too stuffy and hot.. they do call Kunming the ‘Spring City’ as it retains a pleasant average temperature year round.
Next stop is Dali and Lijaing to see some more minority groups and hopefully do some trekking. I; have also been told I simply must go to Shangri-la!! It has a very Tibetan infulence and I am hoping to make it up there since I’m here anyway!!
I wrote down a list of things I miss about England teh other day and most of it included food. I have been having ridiculous cravigns for baked beans and marmite!! Food is good here and the strange things on teh menu (lynx, dog, bamboo rat\) keep me entertained!
Next time I might be in Vietnam!! (I’m resisting the temptation to cheat and fly and am going overland via the Hekou border crossing. It involves a 12 hour bus journey, a walk across a bridge to vietnam , then a motorickshaw or local bus to Hanoi…as opposed to a 1.5 hour flight!. I am stopping off in the mountain tribal region of Sapa on the way to Hanoi which I am told is touristy but magical!)
I’ve changed my route slightly yet again, I can’t afford to miss Laos, whci\\ich so many people have told me gree\atly supercedes Thailand, in fact I am ony spending 4 days in Thailand now, have been put off by so many people. Laos is a much more laid back and less touristy place, with an abundance of cool things to do such as live in trees!!!
On that note it’s nealrly time to pick up my visa, hopefully all is well with that!!
Looking forward to vietnam and visiting the tunnels and Ho chi min city!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUUWFMjJbnE LIght show video…
<IMG alt="" hspace=0 src="http://paper.sznews.com/szdaily/images/2008
0512/pic_363264.jpg” align=baseline border=0>Longji rice terracesCormornat fishing on the Li river
07 Jul 2008
17 Oct 2011 – start of travelblog
posted Wednesday July 2008