Travel in China: beautiful places, beautiful people, but what a pain in the butt…

Recently I spent two weeks traveling through some beautiful areas in the South/Southwest of China, over the Spring Festival holidays. Although I encountered more than a few travel complications, including cold cloudy weather and digestive issues, I observed some beautiful landscapes and met many interesting people during my vacation.

This blog post includes more than 40 photos which I hope will provide you with a “vicarious vacation.” Click on any photo to see a larger version.

I began my vacation in the old town of Lijiang, which is a beautiful place, though it’s best experienced early in the morning, before the multitudes of tourist-crap-trap shops open. Because Lijiang is full of those… imitation, factory-made, you name it, they sell everything, including dentistry products (and services!) like these below:

I counted no less than 5 djembe (drum) shops, I’m certain it was a western introduction at some point in the past, but not once did I see anyone other than the clerk or owner sitting in those shops. I wondered if they really sold any djembes in Lijang…


Much of the architecture in old town Lijiang is ancient and original, and what isn’t has been crafted to look that way.


There are many waterways and ancient bridges and winding narrow cobbled streets to wander around and get lost among.

I met an interesting American businessman from Portland, Oregon here, visiting extended family. He shared the street market dentistry photo with me (first photo of this blog post)—mmm…not sure I would risk that.

As my new Portland friend and I were meandering around town, we passed an old man carrying this Golden Eagle, likely returning from the main tourist area where he had been scalping tourists for 10 yuan a photo. He scalped us too. I felt bad for the thing, in captivity and all. Later that day we saw touts leading horse rides through the town, and in another city I saw a camel. Just another way to make a buck off a tourist… sigh… I’m in China.

I had several interesting conversations with the owner of the hostel where I stayed, a woman from Inner Mongolia, and heard the Mongolian language spoken for the first time between her and her visiting brother-in-law. Fascinating.

Next on my agenda was Dali, which is also a beautiful place, but not for its old town. It rests near an expansive lake and beneath beautiful mountains. I couldn’t help myself… I hiked up into those mountains, going as far as I could before it became too cold and too late. I think I made it to about 8,500 feet elevation.

Dali is known for its excellent milk and yogurt due to there being no factories around, and I agree, the yogurt was delicious. I also tried the fried cheese, which is crispy and served sweetened with sugar.

I stayed in Kunming during the first few nights of the Chinese new year. Because this city has sunshine nearly all year, the rooftops are covered in solar water heaters.

And oh my do the people of Kunming love their fireworks! Nearly all the shops close during this week, and on the night of, from 5pm until 2am, the entire city was a gigantic cacophony of fireworks. I’ve never heard so much racket. Our Fourth of July celebrations do not compare in the least!

Before leaving Kunming I spent an afternoon in nearby Shilin, which literally means Stone Forest, because the rock formations look like petrified trees thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone.

Wikipedia describes Shilin as a “is a notable set of basalt formations” that rise from the ground in the manner of stalagmites.

Since 2007, two parts of the site, the Naigu Stone Forest (乃古石林) and Suogeyi Village (所各邑村), have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

It was a very interesting place, fun to scramble around and “get lost” in its stony depths.

It was also great rock for climbing… although the rocks were really sharp, I left with a few minor cuts and a big smile.

From Kunming I flew to Guilin and encountered cold, wet, cloudy weather and multitudes of Chinese tourists.

It may have been more interesting if the weather were better and there were fewer people, but I did discover an encampment of boat gypsies, for lack of a better term, tucked away in the mouth of a side stream.

Do you think Starbucks would sue over this coffee shop logo?

I stayed in Guilin only one cold night before heading to Xingping (above).

This turned out to be my favorite area of the entire trip.

Despite the cloud cover and cold, I had a really great time. Hopefully I will be able to visit again someday in better weather.

The staff at the hostel was friendly and adventurous, leading treks on both days.

The second trek took us by bike and steep hike to an enormous and magnificent cave.

There is excellent climbing here, even a route inside a cave!

Most meals I shared with fellow trekkers and new friends, one American teacher and the rest Chinese, at a restaurant serving food from Guangzhou. I really enjoyed the Changfen, pictured above. Here’s how it’s made, for those of you who love to cook:

The liquid rice flour noodle mixture is ladled into a pan…

Meat, egg, vegetables, etc. are layered on top…

The layers are placed inside the steamer…

Once fully cooked, the mixture is shaped into rolls…

Placed into the serving pan, cut into bite-sized pieces, topped with sauce, and devoured. Very yummy!

My last destination on this trip was Yangshuo, another tourist-crap-trap place but also surrounded by beautiful mountains, many of which contain climbing routes.

I joined a Chinese college student named Tony for a short, cold float down the Yulong river on a real bamboo raft (the nearby Li river only has plastic ones and huge tourist motorboats).

The cormorant fishing is not real or native to this area, it’s imported from somewhere else to make money off of tourists from photos. The guy on the raft squeezes the fish out of the bird’s throat and tosses it into the river, then that bird or another on his boat goes and “catches” it, brings it back to the boat, where it stays in its gullet or in the bucket until the next photo opportunity. Sad.

After the float, Tony and I rode bicycles in the countryside along the river.

At one point during our ride he was taking photos while riding, passing parked cars and easily navigating mild traffic without his hands. I couldn’t resist doing the same, after all, I’ve done it on a motorcycle going 70+ mph.

We had interesting conversations, he spoke really good English and plans to study in America someday. For lunch we ate in a small village and tried the local beer fish, which was rather boring.

Thanks for reading. Oh and don’t forget to check out my new “Engrish” page for some giggles. 🙂

‘Til my next blog posting…

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