Part Four – Lijian

July 12, 2017 at 9:13 pm (China, Travel) (, , )

Day Fifteen

We arrived in Lijian, the final major town of our trip, at six am much relieved to find out that we could check straight into our hotel. Our room has its own lounge area and even includes an electric mahjong table. This would perhaps be useful if one of us knew how to play! Mum had a play around with it and managed to get the pieces out but now can’t work out how to get them in. The lounge room has been useful for setting up our laundry room though even if most of it is taken up by the special table.

The first stop of the day was at Shùhé Old Town, a former stop on the Tea Horse Road. The Tea Horse Road linked southwest China with Tibet and was equally as important as the Silk Road for trade, ideas and religions.

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Shùhé was nicer than expected. Often these towns are very touristy but this one wasn’t too busy and you could see glimpses of people’s real lives among the tourist banter. We saw families eating lunch together in their shop and people washing their hair in the street. The town is a maze of cobbled pathways and we enjoyed venturing down hidden alley ways away from the bustle of the town. We couldn’t get over the amount of people getting their wedding photos taken either. It sure is a big industry here in China.

We then moved on to the Ancient town in Lijian, which is conveniently located walking distance from our electric mahjong table. After an earthquake in 1996, the town had to be rebuilt. Luckily UNESCO decided to support the construction and since 1997 the old town has heritage status. This has been done with an eye for attracting Chinese tourists and actual examples of the old architecture are far and few between; A notion we have noticed everywhere on our travels as a result of the Cultural Revolution.

When not full of tourists, the town is lovely to walk through. It centers around the market square, with streets intersecting around it to form the character for the family name Mu. Interestingly, Lijian was one of the only cities that never had a wall in China. This was because if you put a box (aka wall) around the Mu family name meaning wood the character becomes ‘hard pressed.’ Mu did not want to bring this misfortune onto his family!

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The famous entrance to Lijian old town with a tourist posing in a traditional Islamic Tibetan outfit

The city really is a maze, which we found out first hand when we managed to get lost! Our walk took us to some of the more  hidden and quiet parts of the town, which we also found more enjoyable. In particular we saw local people using the three pool water system. These are three  pools of water connected to each other, the top one is used for drinking water, the second for washing vegetables and the third for washing clothes. It’s amazing seeing things like this still in use today.

Day Sixteen

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been travelling for over two weeks and today was our first temple visit. Our trip to the Jade Peak Monastery was both quiet and chilled. Established in 1776, this red hat monastry seemed rather inactive but very colorful with many prayer wheels we enjoyed spinning. Mum particularly liked the monk on his mobile phone while praying.

Our next Ancient Town visit was to Baisha, where frescoes from the 15th and 16th century can still be seen. These were saved during the Cultural Revolution by putting big pictures of Mao in front of them and more amusingly by using the space for keeping pigs. Unlike frescoes in Europe, these incorporated different religions into the one artwork.

IMG_4924An unscheduled side stop at the government run Naxi embroidery center was very interesting. This center trains local people to become embroidery teachers who then go back into the Naxi community and teach the farmers. Some of the work in the display room was phenomenal. Mum has always had a soft spot for needlework and she added to her collection with two beautiful pieces.

After lunch we headed to the Impressions of Lijian cultural show. We didn’t even realise this show was a part of the itinerary! The show was performed in the pouring rain (apparently they even perform when it snows) and showcased Naxi culture and many of the traditional clothing of the ethnic minority groups of the area.

The show was choreographed by the same man who choreographed the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and the sheer size and amount of performers was mind boggling. They even had horses as part of the show. In Naxi culture it is the woman who is the boss. She basically did everything and made all the decisions. Interestingly, women would choose who to bed with and if this resulted in a child the man was only required to support her while he contiued to live under her roof. The men were responsible for entertaining through sing and dance therefore all the dancing was performed by the men.

On that note, in China it is not unusual to see people dancing in public squares. We came across this in Lijian and Kunming too but what makes it different in these places to what I see in Suzhou, is that they often dance in circles. The other thing I had noted was the involvement of younger Chinese men. This was shown in the performance and it was interesting for us to see it as part of the Cultural show after seeing it randomly in the streets.

To finish the day we took a cable car up to Spring Meadow. If the weather had been better, we would have been able to see the snowy peaks of Snow Jade Mountain… Instead we saw rain and cloud once again. We could see the glacial river below though, which we walked along afterwards.

Spring Meadow was beautiful. It surprises you, as you emerge from the forest with a background of waterfalls complete with mountain goats! Suddenly, somewhere in the middle of China, we both felt a sense of deja vue and a longing for the Swiss Alps.

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Day Seventeen

Rain, rain go away come again another DAY. Preferably when I’m not traveling. I kid you not, it rained ALL morning. Perfect time for emailing, updating the blog and organising our gear which was located all over our tiny two hotel rooms.

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We did venture out for a walk around Black Dragon Pool Park and through the old town again. We tried flower cakes made with rose petals and bought some souvenirs. We also saw the locals dancing again and I even had a go! An easy and relaxed day before we head to Tiger Leaping Gorge tomorrow.

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Part Three – Kunming

July 5, 2017 at 1:50 pm (China, Travel) (, )

Day Thirteen

We were completely on our own in Kunming… No guide, no plans, no suggestions. Thank God for the internet and Apple maps! This is the way both mum and I prefer to travel and I think that was reflected in the fun and varied day we had.

Green Lake Park was our first destination. We caught the bus directly from our hotel and then wandered around the park. It truly was beautiful and it was lovely to see people out and about even though it was raining. (Surprise surprise!) The lotus ponds were of particular interest, as was the original pump room for the city. The locals here had access to running water from the park in 1917.

IMG_2088After an amazing tea break (best black tea I’ve had in China) we caught a baby bus to Chuàng Kù. Lonely Planet claimed that we would find a small collection of art galleries showcasing modern Chinese artists and photographers. We did not. We did find the cafe they spoke about and enjoyed a drink and a croissant while watching some ladies attempt hip hop dancing. Not exactly the most coordinated bunch, but man they were having fun.

We negotiated the buses again and this time caught a double decker to the Yúnnán Nationalities Museum. Not only was this museum free, but it was also highly interesting. Twenty-five different ethnic minorities live in Yúnnán and many aspects of their culture including art, musical instruments and clothing are displayed in the museum. The exhibits had English translations and the colorful costumes in particular were well displayed. Over my time as a traveler, I’ve visited many such museums and this one really struck me as being informative, we’ll set out and worthwhile.

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Fascinating shadow puppetry

On our way back to the hotel we passed a Wal-Mart and I remembered that I still had Wal-Mart vouchers that needed spending. Wal-Mart in Suzhou closed down before I managed to spend the welcome vouchers my school gave me when I arrived a year ago. So mum and I went on a mission to Wal-Mart to eradicate the vouchers once and for all. We soon found out that I had 320RMB to spend. (Much more than I expected)

It was quite an amusing experience going to Wal-Mart and trying to find enough sensible things to use up the vouchers, especially as we’re in the middle of a trip! Mum chose some chopsticks and moisturiser, I found some baby chopsticks for my niece Mya and I finally managed to pick up some new electric toothbrush heads. The left over money was spent on snacks and water for the rest of the trip.

Day Fourteen

After some varied internet research, we decided to go on an unguided adventure to the Stone Forest. This seemed to be the place to visit as a day trip from Kunming and the information we found on the internet suggested it was doable even if all the websites had conflicting information.

We managed the public bus to the Eastern Bus Station easily and only had a little trouble navigating buying a ticket and finding the correct bus. We also sat on the bus for thirty minutes waiting for it to fill up.

Our research had told us that we should be on the bus for about two hours and there was not much else we could do except wait. Of course waiting also then included a traffic jam! By this time we were both getting bit nervous. We had a train to catch at 21:05 and at the rate we were moving we were worried we might have to arrive, buy a ticket and go straight back again. This was particularly because we weren’t sure if our bus was going to take us directly to the Stone Forest or to Shilin, where we would have to get a separate tourist bus to the scenic area.

Luckily we arrived at the Stone Forest and had just enough time to go visit. We were well glad that we did. This karst landscape is not only spectacular but also aptly named. We felt like the only two people exploring as we trampled along narrow pathways, through cramped arch ways and beside mysterious rocky formations.

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The park is a geologists dream and amazingly well signposted with interesting information in English. We enjoyed the loop to Lions Pavilion in the Bushao section as well as the walk to the Ancient Cliffy Painting. (Love the name) There was much to explore and we would have spent much more time and walked not so fast if we could have. Unfortunately the traffic jam and piffpaphing around yesterday morning denied us the chance.

In case you too are thinking of going to the Stone Forest from Kunming, I hope you find the below run down of use:

IMG_4871Public bus to the Eastern Bus Station 2RMB
Bus to Stone Forest 34RMB (Go to ticket booth, ask for Stone Forest, no signs in English for buying ticket)
Bus left Kunming at 10:30
Bus arrived 13:13 (including traffic jam – we think this cost us an hour)
Price for entry 175RMB
Price for electric car (3km from entrance) 25RMB
Public bus back to Kunming 34RMB
Bus left Stone Forest 16:02
Bus arrived Kunming at 17:29
Public bus to the hotel 2RMB

Cost of trip for one person: 270RMB

Experience: Priceless

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