A Travellerspoint blog

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Day 17 - Hailuoguo to Kangding and Shimian

sunny 22 °C
View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Saturday, August 11

The temperatures changed a lot as we travelled up and down the mountains. We started off at a comfortable temperature of 18 C ( 65 F), which cooled to 10 C ( 50 F) at the top of the highest mountain and rose to 30 C ( 86 F ) by the time we reached Shimian.

We had found out late the previous evening that the blockade of the road had been cleared, so we decided to leave early from our hotel in order to get a head start for our long drive to the next stop. We found people still camped on the road, however, one lane was open and we were able to get through without any problems.

We headed north to the Kangding Grasslands area, high in the mountains, where several Tibetan villages are located. The scenery was spectacular and as we started to climb the mountains, we came upon a large stream flowing through red rocks. The rocks had a vibrant red colour on them that made them look as if they had been painted. With the background of the green vegetation on the mountains, this made for some beautiful views.

We continued up the mountains taking pictures at almost every turn...and there were many turns. We eventually reached a height of 4300 meters ( 14,200 feet). During our travels I have seen many avid bicyclists riding their bicycles through the countryside and up the mountains and today was no exception. I saw a lot of people riding to the top of the mountain and I was very impressed. I have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro which is 5896 meters (19710 ft) and I don't think that was as difficult as riding a bicycle up these mountains. I was in a car and I found that the air was so ' thin ' at the higher altitudes that when we stopped for short breaks, it was hard to exert myself without feeling short of breath.

At the top of the mountains are the Kangding Grasslands, a plateau that has few trees, but there are a lot of beautiful fields of grass and flowers. Several tourists were taking pictures in the these fields. Many Tibetan families live up there with their Yaks, cows and horses...as well as a few modern conveniences. They still live in a primitive lifestyle on the land but they have also commercialized their existence by selling goods and food to the tourists. Jeremy and Nicole bought some Yak cheese and yogurt (at least that's what I think it was). I can now say that I have found something I don't like to eat, and in fact, none of us liked either one of these. The cheese tasted like a bad blue cheese and the yogurt was very sour.

We continued to a Tibetan village that offered horse back riding, which is something that Nicole really wanted to do. Jeremy and I looked at the horses and for their sakes we decided to stay behind and wait for Nicole to return from her ride. They were small horses and I would probably have broken the horse's back if I had ridden one.

This adventure had taken us until mid-afternoon so we headed south again to continue our journey. We had problems several times figuring out where we were supposed to drive because the roads had been changed and they were not marked very well. They were generally in good condition, however, there were some very bad sections, especially along the mountainside high above the river below, so we had to drive very slow for long periods of time. Some areas had been damaged by rock slides, some were under repair and consisted of gravel and large potholes and some had barely enough room for one car. At one point we were stopped for 30 minutes while a road construction crew blew up a section of the mountain on the other side of the river.

We managed to get to Shimian before dark and we found a hotel for a very reasonable price (100 RMB or $17 /room/night). In China, foreigners need to fill out a form with their passport and visa information at each hotel. The owner of the Shimian hotel didn't have the paperwork, so we had to go to the police station across the street to fill out the forms and have the owner sign us in. Of the 6 police officers that were there, only 2 of them actually did anything. The other 4 were only there out of curiousity or training and they were all relatively young (i.e. compared to me).

After checking in to the hotel, we went to the local street market for supper. As usual, Nicole ordered supper, which consisted of several plates of meat and vegetables that we cooked on a round convex iron skillet heated by a gas tank underneath the table and located in the center of the table. She told us that one of the dishes was beef but Jeremy instantly realized that it wasn't true because it had a more ' rubbery ' texture. She finally admitted that it was thinly sliced pork kidneys, but I ate it anyways.

As I have done during a few of our evening meals, I joined Jeremy in a toast of " MONS " beer as a sort of ' night cap '. His friends will know the story behind this famous Chinese beer and perhaps they will share the story with us!

Tomorrow we head further south.

Posted by hammr 21:05 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 18 - Shimian to Luguhu

overcast 24 °C
View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Sunday, August 12

We had a late breakfast and left Shimian to drive to Luguhu. We only had a short distance to go until we reached a major highway ( G5/G108 ). After a few hours we were back on a rural road ( S307 ) and most of this road was in a state of disrepair, so we had to drive slowly. The 420 km ( 250 mile ) drive took us approximately 8 hrs to complete. The highway was mostly in flat south-bound terrain, whereas, the rural road was west-bound through the mountains.

The temperatures varied a lot during our this drive as our elevations changed several times. When we reached the Luguhu area, the temperature was very comfortable ( 22 C, 72 F ).

The mountains had a different vegetation than what we had seen previously and the ground in the exposed areas was either black or reddish in colour. Some of the mountains were sparser and less tropical and there were small meadows of grass and shrubs among the trees along the mountainsides.

We looked for a hotel and Nicole did her magic again and got us two rooms in a very nice rustic hotel over-looking Luguhu lake. We checked in and went down to the lakeshore in front of the hotel for a BBQ dinner prepared by some locals. We had fresh fish, lamb, potatoes, rice, pork and a local zucchini dish.

Tomorrow we will be touring the area.

Posted by hammr 17:37 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 19 - Lige

sunny 25 °C

Monday , August 13

We woke up to a beautiful view of lake Luguhu in the foreground and mountains in the background.  We drove around the lake to the town of Lige, where we had a late breakfast of spicy noodles and sausage.   

We went for a walk around this quaint little town and stopped at the ' Left Bank' cafe.  This cafe had excellent coffee and Nicole had a long conversation with the owners.  The owners had moved from Northeast China and built the cafe 4 years ago.  They explained that the Luguhu area was originally inhabited by the Yi ( pronounced ' E ' ) Tribe until the Tibetans invaded the area and the Yi retreated into the mountains, where they still live today in seclusion.  Genghis  Khan invaded the area , defeated the Tibetans and many of the people who live in the area have Tibetan and Mongolian heritage.   I had Nicole ask the owner about the beautiful stuffed pheasants and the lynx hide he had in the cafe and he told her that he had purchased them from the Yi people, who occasionally come to town to barter for goods. 

We had a slow lunch and drove to a chair lift that took us to the top of one of the mountains so that we could view the caves that are located there.  The chair lift took us from 2700 meters to 3300 meters.  When we exited the chair lift, we still had to climb 100 meters to get to the entrance for the caves. The caves were not as big as some of the ones that I have seen, but they were still impressive.  When we left the cave entrance,  Jeremy and I had our pictures taken with some young girls.

After descending the mountain, we drove around the lake before heading back to Lige for supper.  On our way back we experienced our first thunderstorm during this trip.    When we arrived  back at Lige there was a traffic jam that took 45 minutes to clear because cars were parked on both sides of the main road and one was even parked in the middle of the street.   During the lightning storm, the power went out,  so we went to a  BBQ for supper.

Tomorrow we will be heading west into Yunnan province.

Posted by hammr 21:12 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 20 - Luguhu/Lige to Lijiang

sunny 24 °C

Tuesday, August 14

The power was still off in the morning so we decided to drive to Lijiang and have breakfast on the way.  The road was through the mountains and most of it was in good condition, however, there were some areas that had been damaged by mud/rock slides or were under repair (see photo in gallery).  

We stopped at a restaurant on the way for a nice  brunch and then continued our journey.    We arrived in Lijiang shortly after lunch and after checking a few hotels, we found one downtown.  The owner bragged to us that the Lijiang is the most popular city  for one night stands...not something I would be proud of.  She asked where we were from and then asked if we could find her a Canadian man...no comment!

We went into a very nice area called the Old Town, which contained many shops and restaurants.  I highly recommend visiting the old town area. Since we were in the Yunnan province, we decided to have the local specialty of rice noodles for supper.  We had a ' make your own ' rice noodle soup.   We each received a bowl of hot broth with side dishes of rice noodles, vegetables, quail eggs, tofu skin, spices and thinly sliced meats, so that we could mix them together to make a soup of our liking.

As we were returning to our hotel, Nicole mentioned to me that a man who passed by me said that I looked like Norman Bethune a popular Canadian, especially in this area, for his medical work in China during the 1930's.  I was curious about him, so I checked the internet about him - 
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Bethune .  I don't see the resemblance, but then us Canadians all look alike!

Tomorrow we will be heading to Shangrila. 

Posted by hammr 07:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 21 - Lijiang to Shangrila

sunny 20 °C

Wednesday, August 15

This is the rainy season in this area and we had been lucky so far, however, our luck changed and it rained all night and was still raining when we got up.   

We found a great restaurant with very high ratings on the Internet.  It is called " N's Kitchen " and they serve traditional American food.  This is the first time I had an American (aka Western) meal in three weeks but it wasn't because I asked for it ( although I didn't mind the change). It was only drizzling when we got to the restaurant and it stopped before I finished my bacon, eggs and toast.

By early afternoon we were on the road again, heading for Shangrila.  Yes, it does exist, but only because the town won a contest for using the name.   The road was similar to the roads that we had travelled during the last few days;  mostly smooth with some very rough sections, up and down through mountains and valleys.   We haven't tired of the many magnificent views of the mountains and valleys that we have encountered. I have tried to take pictures of people and special scenes while we have been driving through towns, however it is difficult to get these shots when you are winding through the streets at speeds up to 80 kph ( 50 mph ), even with the sport setting on the camera. Usually something gets in the way, like a tree or a car. I have gotten some nice candid shots but I have missed more than I have taken. I have, however seen many unique faces, clothing, lifestyles and some beautiful scenes that are only recorded in my memory ( what there is left of it ). For instance, we spotted 2 young men holding up large snakes for us as we drove by, but they were on the wrong side of the car for me to take a picture even if I had seen them in time. I have also seen some women in traditional Tibetan garb but I haven't been enable to get a candid picture of them, even when we are not moving.

Our trip wasn't very long and it started to rain again when we arrived in Shangrila.  One unique feature of this town is that it has a college for Buddhism and I believe that might be why it one the bid to be called Shangrila.

We booked into a hostel that is associated with another N's Kitchen.   The hostel is used by foreigners from many different countries and you can hear several languages spoken in the restaurant at almost any time.

We walked around the town until we found a Hot Pot restaurant.  After another fabulous meal costing only 150 RMB ( $25 ) for the 3 of us, we had a coffee at the N's Kitchen before calling it a night.

Tomorrow we will be checking out some of the sights in the area.

Posted by hammr 06:13 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 22 - Shangrila

sunny 18 °C

Thursday, August 16

You know you are in the mountains when it is 12 C ( 54 F ) first thing in the morning, in middle of August, in southern China. The elevation of Shangrila is 3300 meters ( 10800 ft ).

We embarked on the long ( 110 km, 3 hour) drive which wound through the mountains from Shangrila to the Baishuitai White Water Terraces.  This is a very scenic spot that many people have seen on the Internet or on an email, showing some of the most scenic places in the world.  I have seen the pictures of this place but it is even more beautiful when seen in person.   

It was a short hike up to the terraces from the entrance, however, we were talked into riding horses up to them.  The horses were the size of ponies and I  kept insisting that I was too heavy for them but the owners were adamant that the horses were strong enough to carry me.   My legs were almost touching the ground and I felt sorry for the horse, but he did manage to drag me up the 100 meters ( 300 ft ) to the steps in front of the terraces. 

Here we met a group of children who asked us if we would like to see a traditional dance.  We asked how much it would cost and they said that there was no set price.  I like to support entrepreneurs so we asked them to perform the dance for us.  I recorded on my camera ( although I missed the very beginning ) and when they were finished we gave them some money.  It was quite good and each of the kids participated whole-heartedly. 

After the children's performance, we climbed up the final section and proceeded to be amazed at the beauty of the terraces.    The water flowing down from the mountain creates a film across the rock face at the top of the terraces which flows into large half-bowl shaped terraces.  It is calcium bicarbonate that gives the water in these beige terraces it's turquoise color.  You can walk over the film of water without fear of slipping due to the high mineral content giving your shoes a good grip.

It wasn't a very large area but we took a lot of pictures.  We spent less than 2 hours there but it was worth the 6 hour drive to get there and back.

When we got back to Shangrila, we did a little sight-seeing in the area before returning to the hostel.  Jeremy and Nicole found a market square around the corner from where we were staying and I joined them to watch some traditional Tibetan dancing.  We met 4 girls from a town just outside of Hong Kong who had taken the 26 hour train ride to visit Shangrila.   We took pictures of each other and they told us that I looked like Steve Jobs...LOL.

Tomorrow we will drive to Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province.

Posted by hammr 06:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 23 - Drive from Shangrila to Kunming

sunny 20 °C

Friday, August 17

The temperature increased dramatically as we drove from the mountains of Shangrila to Kunming.  The temperature was 12 C ( 54 F ) at 7:00 am in Shangrila and it was 31 C ( 88 F ) at 6:00 pm as we arrived in Kunming.

We left the typical mountain scenery and by midday we arrived in Dali. We brought the car to the Suzuki dealer to have the oil changed while we went for lunch. After we finished our lunch, we continued our trip to Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province. We settled in to our hotel, and then walked to a local market area where we had a BBQ supper of beef, zuchini, lotus root, chicken wings, pork loin, chicken ligaments, duck tonque, duck intestine and duck liver.

After supper, we visited the market square area, where people were dancing, children were playing in small swimming pools filled with rice or oats ( instead of sand), musicians were playing music and artists were demonstrating different arts and crafts.

This province has a lot of fertile land and it has the highest population of ' non-Han ' Chinese. The people here look more like the people in the surrounding countries to the south and west and most of them have maintained their cultural heritages.

Tomorrow we will be continuing south.

Posted by hammr 07:59 Archived in China Comments (1)

Day 24 - Drive from Kunming to Xishuangbanna

sunny 20 °C

Saturday, August 18

The temperature was a comfortable  19 C ( 66 F ) when we left Kunming and it was a humid, 23 C ( 73 F ) at 6:00 pm when we arrived in Xishuangbanna, which is in a jungle area in southern, China.  It is one of the southern-most cities in China.

The drive was 540 km ( 324 miles) long on good highways and it took us about 6 hours. We had one traffic jam for about 45 minutes due to construction on the highway. Other than that we had a smooth drive all the way to Xishuangbanna.

As we got closer to our destination we saw farms of mango, coffee, bannana and palm trees. The terrain slowly changed to jungle growth. The humidity got higher, the foliage kept getting thicker and the trees got taller.

We stopped, just north of Xishuangbanna and check out a wild elephant reserve. It was almost 5 pm when we arrived and it looked like they were closing for the day but we were able to go in and check it out without buying tickets. We were disappointed to find out that the elephants were not wild and that the one that we saw had an ankle chain. The conditions didn't look very good, so we decided to skip this attraction.

When we reached Xishuangbanna, it started to rain and soon we had a tropical downpour. When the rain let up for a while, we went to dinner. We had rainshowers a couple of times while we were eating, but it slowed to a sprinkle when we headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we will slowly be making our way back to Beijing, while making a few stops on the way. One of the stops we anticipate is the famous glass ' skywalk ' along a mountainside.

Posted by hammr 06:52 Archived in China Comments (1)

Day 25 - Drive Xishuangbanna to Kaiyuan

rain 22 °C

Sunday, August 19,

It rained all night, with the occasional thunderstorm and it was still raining in the morning (after all this is the monsoon season in a tropical area), so we decided to forgo any attractions in Xishuangbanna and start heading back home. We headed East towards Nanning to visit Nicole's father, drove for approximately 9 hours and stopped in Kaiyuan.

We saw a lot of coconut and palm trees as well as the regular tropical fruits in Xishuangbanna. Nicole bought some fruit during one of our rest stops and we ate the best mangoes that I have ever tasted. The grapes and pomegranates were also very tasty.

As we got closer to Kaiyuan, the agriculture changed from tropical plants to fields of immacuately groomed northern vegetables.

When we arrived in Kaiyuan we found a nice hotel, checked in and went out for supper. On our way, we went by a local market area and we started talking ( actually Jeremy and Nicole did all the talking ) to some locals that were selling hookah pipes for smoking tobacco. It wasn't long before there was a crowd of about 20 people around us. One women even tried to get her young child to shake my hand but he was too shy...I don't blame him. At first they were just staring at us but it didn't take them long to start talking to us. They were very happy when Jeremy told them that we were from Canada. In general, the Chinese hold Canada in high esteem and a lot of this is due to the work that Dr. Norman Bethune performed in China, saving thousands of lives. There was also another reference made about me looking like him.

We eventually found a restaurant and heads turned to look at us as we entered. Supper consisted of a pot of very (and I mean very ) spicy duck with vegetables. When we were almost finished a couple of men came over to our table to drink a toast with us, which we did.

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, the people in the very southern part of China are more diverse than in the other parts of China, mainly due to the influence of the various neighbouring countries. You can see it in their appearance, mannerisms, speech...etc. Regardless of where we have gone, the people have been very friendly and have treated us with respect. I only wish that I could speak the language so that I could converse with them directly. They each have their own unique stories and outlook on life, which I find fascinating.

Tomorrow we will continue on to Nanning.

Posted by hammr 07:45 Archived in China Comments (1)

Day 26 - Drive from Kaiyuan to Nanning

semi-overcast 25 °C

Monday, August 20

The temperature was a comfortable 22 C ( 72 F ) when we left Kaiyuan to drive to Nanning, which is the capital of the province of Quangxi. When we arrived in Nanning the temperature was up to 33 C ( 91 F ). The drive was mostly uneventful, with some sceninc views along the way.

After checking into the hotel, we contacted Nicole's father so that we could meet him for supper. He is a very interesting, thin man, sporting a wispy long beard and thinning hair. He is a naturopathic doctor who reads people's health by feeling their wrists and then perscribes natural medications for them. He gave me a bottle of fish oil that has been processed so that it doesn't smell like fish and he told me to drink a little bit before every meal.

The only unusual part of the meal was the plate of frogs that I selected...and yes, it tasted like chicken and it was very good.

Typically they do not remove the bones when they prepare their meals in China. All they do is take the meat and chop it up with a cleaver...bones and all, so that almost every piece that you pick up with your chopsticks has one or more pieces of bone in it. The bones are placed on the table next to your plate, hence, you do not eat anything that falls on the table.

After supper we bought some " milk tea " for dessert and then we walked back to the hotel to visit with Nicole's father a little more.

Tomorrow we will be heading north, back towards Beijing. Their is less than a week left in my 5-week stay in China and we need to start heading back towards the airport.

Posted by hammr 18:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

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