China is a strange world. Far more developed than the surrounding countries, but with the occasional throwback to another, older time. Still, we liked the country a lot more than we expected to. Since it seems likely that China will complete its economic purchase of the US within our lives, this cheered us up about our possible future as Chinese citizens. We started our tour in Yunnan, which is in the mountainous southwest, just next to Tibet. It is a beautiful, fairytale land where the rivers flow with water rather than acid and the sky is blue rather than a nearly perpetual gray. Let's see some photos.
We took a 24-hour sleeper bus from Laos to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. It turned out to be a very decent trip. The people were nice to us and for most of the trip we were next to a Chinese engineer helping to build an airport in Laos who spoke passable English. And unlike the Vietnam buses, I almost fit into these beds.Arriving in Kunming from Laos was similar to crossing from Tijuana to San Diego, I suspect. China has huge buildings and glass everywhere. And more designer stores than we could have begun to count.
In the big cities, most signs are in English as well as Chinese. In Beijing and Shanghai, most are in proper English, but smaller cities have a shortage of English speakers. This one has some important tips on what to check if the ATM doesn't dispense your cash.
Our first overnight stop in Yunnan was in Lijiang, a city of 60,000 that has about 12 million Chinese tourists on any day and maybe 6 Western tourists. The people at our small hotel were really, really nice and they gave us a room with this snazzy cow blanket. Plus an electric blanket.
Almost all of Lijiang looked like this street. Very cute, but so much has been built up that it is difficult to tell the old, historic buildings from the new. The city still has lots of the ethnic Naxi people, though. Pronounced Nashi, and Tara gets angry if you call them Nazis.
We liked this sign. We aren't sure whether this means to buy less or not to yell at the vendors or what.
We aren't sure, but we think the Chinese government "strongly encourages" the Naxi to dance in the square a couple of times each day. Maybe they pay them, maybe they don't burn their houses down. Not sure which.
Lijiang is famous for its views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The morning we arrived, the views were beautiful. By the afternoon, everything was cloudy. The mountain in the background is Jade Dragon, and it is beautiful when you can see it.
Tara loves cherries, but now she can say that she loves cherry blossoms, too. It was spring across Yunnan despite sometimes also snowing.
Tara made a friend with this other tourist. China has far more internal tourism than anywhere we've been on our trip except for Europe and the US.
Too bad because sometimes I like to nap on the grass. Then it could have been Andy napping on napping grass.
Overlooking Lijiang, it would be tough to pick out your own house if you lived in the city.
Next stop: Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the most famous hikes in China. Tara decided to sit out the two days of mountainous terrain. The Yangtze River flows through the deep gorge.
This is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain from the side (and through a bit of haze). You can see better where it gets its name. Does look a bit like the scales of a dragon.
While hiking, I found this beetle who was nice enough to pose for a photo. He was less enthusiastic when I tried to pick him up.
This lizard wasn't even crazy about a photo, let alone picking him up.
I had excellent weather for my hike, which is apparently often not the case. Glad that the skies cooperated.
A rooster, a man, a canyon wall. What more could you want in a photo?
Maybe some baby goats staring at you quizzically.
The myth of Tiger Leaping Gorge is apparently that a tiger leaped across the river to eat a deer. This seemed much more plausible than that it leaped from the top of one side of the gorge to the top of the other, which is what I originally thought. So, I tried the leap to see if it was possible. I made it, but I doubt that a tiger could have.
People often wonder if anyone talks to us while we are traveling. Given how we probably smell sometimes, it is a fair question. Here, however, is proof that we make friends. We were having dinner in Shangri-la with friends we had made in Tiger Leaping Gorge (on the right), and we met a group of Americans, so we all had a nice evening together. Then we went back to our quiet hotel to discover that it was right next to a thumping disco. Awesome...
The views from Shangri-la are really nice.
And Shangri-la has what might be the world's largest prayer wheel. Tibetan Buddhists believe that each time you spin the wheel, it is like saying the prayer on the wheel. It follows that if you fill the wheel with a couple of million prayers, each time you turn it is like saying a couple of million prayers. So, Tara and I said our several million prayers and all seemed to go well for at least a few hours.
Our hotel in Deqin had a giant picture window into the bathroom. I drew Tara this pig on the fogged glass while showering. The window was not as funny when certain other bathroom activities were necessary.
Deqin is right on the border with Tibet. We didn't have the time or money to go to Tibet on this trip, so we had to made do. However, the area was beautiful. And full of Tibetans, so we got some of the Tibetan experience.
Mingyong National Park just outside of Deqin has a hike up the mountain to see Mingyong Glacier. It is lined with prayer flags hung by Buddhist pilgrims. The mountain from which the glacier descends is one of the sacred mountains for Tibetan Buddhists.
The sunny day brought out a lizard friend. He ignored the nearby snow.
Here is the glacier coming down from the mountain. This is one of the faster moving glaciers on Earth, moving about five feet on a good day, so we stayed off of it.
But here we are with the glacier and a whole lot of prayer flags.
Our Tibetan driver took us by his house to meet his family and then plied Tara with a tea cup full of barley whiskey that made her rather tipsy.
When we were walking around the little village we stayed in outside Deqin, some old women thought we were lost and looking for the nice local Buddhist temple, so they started pointing the way to go. Not having a clue what they wanted, we followed their directions and ended up at a Buddhist temple surrounded by prayer wheels. Spin them all and you will have done 1/100,000th the work that we did by spinning one giant wheel.
The Tibetan representation of Buddha takes many forms, but none of them are anything like the representations in other parts of Asia.
Yaks are everywhere in Yunnan. Most of them look like this, which we are fairly sure is actually a yak-cow cross. If you want to know how they taste, Tara will tell you in the food post.
Ever seen a hairier donkey? I didn't think so.
This is sunrise over the mountains. On cloudless days, the pictures are amazing, but only a few days each year are cloudless.
Going back through Shangri-la, we stayed somewhere without a disco next door, but the courtyard did have this guy. I'm no taxidermist, but I'll guess that the person who preserved this "thing" wasn't one, either.
Shangri-la is home to a massive monastery. They have, unfortunately, turned it into a huge tourist attraction. We are happy to report that you can simply walk clockwise around the ticket office and keep on walking without paying the ridiculous tourist fees.
Inside the monastery, we found some young monks (monkeys is the correct term, I think) playing basketball. Not what we expected. Didn't seem like all that meditation had made them any better, but an NBA team getting a monk to play for them would be a good PR move.
A giant white yak outside the tourist entrance had a sign declaring him the "only wizarding yak in Asia." We didn't see him do any magic, but he does look like the steed of a wizard.
At a monastery in Kunming, the turtle pond had this cute couple. The small one seemed to have cataracts, so the big one apparently took pity on him.
Chinese sleeping trains are a bit expensive, but very nice. We spent 36 hours on this one, which took us away from Yunnan and to Shanghai.
Yunnan was one of the most beautiful places in Southeast Asia. Plus, the people were some of the most friendly. Plus, it is about half the price of Eastern China. Plus, they have yaks. What more reason could you need to go? And I should add that Tara really, really, really loves Yunnan. She wants everyone to know that. So go there.