China, here I come

I just booked my tickets. It’s been my dream for more than four years to travel through Yunnan province, and I’ll arrive in Kunming on March 3 for a two-week trip. (If anyone has any suggestions on where I should go, please tell me now — I’m going to start booking my hotels soon.)

I had mapped out the exact same trip in 2003, but unfortunately it was scheduled for that terrible time, April/May 2003, when all travel through rural China was stopped because of SARS. I’ll never forget, being the only tourist in Xi’An going to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. SARS shut China down like a clamshell. I made it as far as Guilin, and finally left the country in despair when I was told the highway to Lijiang had been sealed.

Here’s to hoping I have better luck this go-round. The idea of going back makes me absolutely thrilled, even if it’s only two weeks.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

Sounds great! I loved the week I spent in Yunnan last winter. That week was spent almost entirely in Xishuangbanna, which is made doubly beautiful by the fact that even though it’s been in the Lonely Planet for many years now, it still hasn’t been spoiled the way so many other tourist destinations have. By some miracle it’s managed to build the facilities but otherwise keep it’s totally laid back, relaxed way of life intact. A beautiful, beautiful place. Go there if you can.

November 14, 2004 @ 6:19 pm | Comment

I was looking at pictures of Xishuangbannajus totday over at Dan Washburn’s blog. It’s definitely going on my list, thanks.

November 14, 2004 @ 6:23 pm | Comment

We recommend Dali and Lijiang. You can see pix on our websites. (From LongBow Papers, click on China Cabinet or from, click on China). Wonderfully rural/ethnic with a lot of western comforts, food and ameneties, albeit rustic. Dress warmly.

November 14, 2004 @ 6:36 pm | Comment

If by chance you happen to stop by Nanning(which’s where I’m right now), maybe we’ll be able to meet up and have a drink.

November 14, 2004 @ 7:10 pm | Comment

Go to Yubeng – before they ruin it.,13673,501030512-449523,00.html

November 14, 2004 @ 11:05 pm | Comment

I spent a blissful week in Dali once, and the Stone Forest is actually kind of interesting. Everyone who’s been there raves about Shishuangbanna – so you certainly should check it out.

November 15, 2004 @ 1:50 am | Comment

If you go to Xishuangbanna, fly from Kunming. Otherwise it’s something like a 20 hour bus ride. I haven’t been to Xishuangbanna myself, but I hear it’s sweet. Dali, Lijiang are to the north of Kunming; you could also check out Zhongdian and Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is up in that area. They’re picturesque, but also a bit tacky IMO. And another possibility is Ruili, which is this really sketchy town on the border with Burma: prostitutes, drugs running through (this town is where HIV was thought to enter China), but with all the ethnic Burmese in town, the atmosphere is completely unlike anywhere else in China.

You won’t be able to do all of those in two weeks.

November 15, 2004 @ 6:02 am | Comment

Xishuangbanna is no longer the ridiculous bus ride it once was. Don’t fear it, no way, it’s easy and there’s no longer a need to fly. When I went there we caught the bus from Kunming. The sign said something like 9 hours (at the most, I should add) but it took us longer ‘cos they were still rebuilding the highway- and that was only the Simao to Jinghong section (the last quarter, at the most). The difficulties of transport in Yunnan are highly overrated these days.

Anyways, I can’t vouch for the other towns/places mentioned but Xishuangbanna you should definitely visit if you can- just remember it’s much easier to get to these days than it used to be. And, being on the borders of both Laos and Burma, it also has a unique atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else in China. Just incredibly effing beautiful.

November 15, 2004 @ 8:15 am | Comment

Thanks for the great ideas. I think I’ll set my sites on Kunming, Xishuangbanna, Dali and Lijiang(although Wayne’s comment has made me very curious about Ruili.)

How’s four days in Kunming, and three days in each of the other three?

November 15, 2004 @ 8:49 am | Comment

If you make it up to LiJiang, ZhongDian isn’t that far of a push. It is a Tibetan community just inside the Yunnan border (saving you the “walk” into Tibet). A great opportunity to experience the harsh beauty of the terrain and the unique culture adapted to it.

Dali is incredible. Make sure you get away from “Laowai Lu” or whatever the official name for the foreigners drag is. Definitely worth a visit there, is the Dali Tie-Dye Factory. The quality is amazing, and the prices are very reasonable, especially to know that you are supporting a community owned business (not government, big difference). Beware of the other batiks and tie-dyes being sold on the street that are claiming to be local. Most come from factories (literally) located in GuangXi.

If you make it to ShiLin make sure you take a bit of a hike. Just following the tourists will lead to a most unsatisfying experience. Beyond the tourist legs are some slightly-less abused areas that are much more picturesque for their lack of loogie-hawking local tourists.

In LiJiang, make sure that you take the time to see the NaXi orchestra. However, it is worth noting that, at least a few years ago, there were two orchestras. One was CCP sponsored, and money from it went to the government. The other is further into the old part of town, run by the community for its own preservation. There they are slightly less visible (being off the main drag), but far more authentic with many of the instruments having been dug up after being buried to protect them from the Cultural Revolution. They may say the same about the CCP sponsored one, but from talking to the locals it just ain’t so.
Another spot off the beaten path in LiJiang is their hydro-electric water-wheel. Not sure about the timing, but it was built by a Jesuit (or Fransiscan) missionary that came to the area. He used the power to light a string of light-bulbs, bringing Electricity to LiJiang (if not Yunnan). sorry, but I’ve forgotten the directions to it, and it isn’t labeled. We found the building crumbling, and then had to get what it was from the DongBa (not just the name of the local pictographic writing system, he is the traditional leader of the NaXi community).

If you are into hiking, Tiger Leaping Gorge is another must see. Lonely Planet and others list it as a two day hike, but I can attest that if you catch the morning bus from LiJiang, and get your schedules right, you can do the entire length in one day, stopping for lunch at the guest house in the middle where most people sleep.

In DaLi, the DaMa grows up from between cracks in the side-walk. Don’t buy it from the little old ladies raspily whispering “Ganja” as you walk past, it’s all schwag. Ask around to the foreigners if you are looking, particularly at the guest houses. Unless there has been a massive crack-down, there are quite a few LaoWai who get stuck in DaLi.

Enjoy yourself, and be flexible, Yunnan has so much to offer the open-eyed.

And of course the most important thing to remember there: Tian Gao, Huang Di Yuan!

(Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away!)

November 15, 2004 @ 11:33 am | Comment

I’m jealous! Have a great time!

I can’t wait to go back…

November 15, 2004 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

Matt, Thanks for the great comment. Not sure what DaMa is (big horse?), but it doesn’t sound legal!

November 15, 2004 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

大麻, I assume.

November 15, 2004 @ 7:25 pm | Comment

Chris, translate, please!!

November 15, 2004 @ 7:30 pm | Comment

‘Dai Ma’ is a slang term for Marijuana.

November 15, 2004 @ 8:33 pm | Comment

Thanks Dave. I figured it was something like that.

November 15, 2004 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

Didn’t mean to be so cryptic. Chris, thanks for getting the characters. Honestly, learning Chinese on the streets of these towns and villages does not do wonders for one’s reading and writing ability 😉

Have a great time in Yunnan, Richard. Been enjoying your blog for a while through election season. Please post pictures and accounts of your trip, I really miss it there. Looking forwards to more great China info from “The Peking Duck”

November 15, 2004 @ 8:59 pm | Comment

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