June 3 - June 5: Yunnan, China

Kunming and Lijiang

We bade a fond farewell to Thailand at the Chiang Mai airport and enjoyed a short 1 1/2 hour flight to Kunming, the biggest city in south China's Yunnan province. Although Kunming was not very different from other Chinese cities that we had visited, it did have a slightly distinctive feel in that there was more brickface on buildings and bridges than usual in China and there were lots of hanging vines and ivy on the brick. Kunming is called "spring city" because its climate is spring-like all year long, with cool-ish weather and frequent rain. We lucked out. It had rained nearly every day for the 20 days before our arrival, but the rain subsided when we arrived.

Downtown Kunming on a nice summer day.
Here's a beautiful courtyard we found in a back alley. It was a temple, so we didn't go in - we just poked our heads in the door.
We found an outdoor pet market with birds, fish, and furry creatures of every description on sale as pets. Cool neon fish, pretty love birds, and this really adorable puppy.
One of Kunming's only reported tourist attractions is this pagoda. It was a little tough to find, but here it is.
That evening we had a great dinner at a restaurant theatre. In addition to the good food there was a "minority dance" show with a variety of costumes, dances, and singing performances. We only took these few photos though - our hands were busy with chopsticks for most of the performance.
A local tour guide we had met in the airport on the way into Kunming had arranged our hotel and our flight out to Lijiang. The Lijiang airport is quite a distance from Lijiang itself and this is what you see as you make your descent - miles and miles of stepped rice and vegetable fields at the foothills of the mountains.
They certainly do make the best use of all available land. It was amazing to stare out at all this farmland!

Lijiang is a very nice small city with a nondescript new section and a beautiful, quaint old section. The city experienced an earthquake measuring over 7 on the Richter scale in 1996. This damaged much of Lijiang, but luckily much of the Naxi architecture of the old section of town survived. We, along with almost all other vistors to Lijiang, stayed in the very pretty and quaint old section of town.

One distinctive feature of the old section of Lijiang, which you can't see in all of these photos, is the series of small rivers and canals crosscrossing the city. It seems that almost every single street is accompanied by a little canal, and in traversing the old town you are constantly walking across small bridges and listening to the sounds of water flowing. It is really very peaceful and beautiful. The streets are mostly cobblestone which adds to the beauty of the area.

In the evening we bought front-row tickets for a classic Naxi (pronounced Nah-shee) musical performance. The Naxi people are the native Chinese minority people of the region, and they have a very interesting social structure. It is a matriarchal society in which women are the leaders of the family and the land owners. Men have very little say in a traditional Naxi community, but it's not clear how much of this old system remains in modern Lijiang. Indeed, in every part of China that we have visited there is a very clear parity between the sexes, and Lijiang was no exception.

The performer closest to us looked like he was sleeping most of the time but he never missed his cue when it came to playing his instrument.
There was a solo flute piece by the flutist on the right later on in the performance and it was excellent.
The man on the left was the M.C. of the event and told jokes in Chinese and English while introducing the history behind the orchestra and the songs before each piece.
Here's our solo flutist doing his thing.
The orchestra consisted mostly of Chinese string instruments, Chinese harps, drums, gongs, and flutes. The Chinese harps performed a fantastic duet at one point.
In our opinion this was the best part of the show. This woman was introduced halfway through the performance, came on from off-stage, and sang a traditional herding song. It was hauntingly beautiful and powerful. Her voice was strong and clear and in the front row we were treated to an incredible performance. Unfortunately, this was her only part in the show and when her song was over, she walked off stage accompanied by great applause.

The next day we had breakfast in a small nook in the old town. In addition to being a restaurant and inn, a family also lived there. They even had a computer!


It had rained a bit the day before and this morning, but after our late breakfast, it looked as if the sky was clearing up. So, we rented bicycles and started out in the direction of a famous ancient village in the area.
Nancy's bicycle had a flat tire but luckily there was a bicycle repair man nearby. Fifteen minutes later she was back on the road again. The charge? One Yuan, or about 12 U.S. cents. How these bicycle repair men make any money at all is a mystery to us.
After about 40 minutes of bicycling we were halfway there. This is the outskirts of Kunming with the mountains in the distance and the highway stretching out of sight.
Here is a panoramic view of the mountain range across the valley.

Getting closer ...
The area is a bit barren, being a cool mountainous region.
Finally we made it to the village. Some piglets came out to greet us. We're not sure who shrieked louder ... Nancy out of delight or the piglets out of fright.

The village itself wasn't much to speak of - it was a mostly featureless, adorable small Chinese village. Unfortunately, like any Chinese place that sees any amount of tourist traffic, it was packed with street vendors selling Chinese trinkets. But sometimes it's the journey that counts, and not the destination.

Here's Bryan as we started to head out of town.

The ride back was magnificent because instead of taking the major road we followed a small dirt road out of town which turned into a winding path through the farming fields of the area. It was peaceful, serene, and beautiful. Occasionally we saw farmers at work in the fields, picking weeds or hoeing, and in typical Chinese style, it was all done by hand.

Nancy stopped by the side of the road to get a closer look at this foal.
We happened by another village, this one seeming very deserted. It had long, straight dirt roads and not a soul in sight, except in one corner of town where there was a small congregation of men, women, and babies sitting around socializing.
Nancy found some new friends. Now aren't they just the most adorable animals?!
If you look very closely you can see a small child in the distance walking towards us. This village had a perceptible "ghost town" feel.
On our way out and back on the road.
Close to Lijiang we found a reservoir which made a nice place to sit and rest.
Coming back into Lijiang we found a giant statue of Chairman Mao greeting us. Such statues are pretty common in China - there are several that we've noticed around Beijing - but this one is particularly prominent.

In Lijiang we went the economical route and stayed in a small Naxi hotel. The accomodations were very minimalistic - a small room with an old bed and desk - but the courtyard was nice. The shared bathrooms were OK, although of the eastern squat variety, but the showers had no hot water before 9 am and as we were leaving at 7 am it meant a very cold shower for Bryan (Nancy was smart and showered in the evening when there was hot water).

Reading a book outside our room.


While Bryan was peacefully reading, Nancy went in search of a laundry machine. In addition to finding that laundry machine, she found this adorable little puppy wandering around a hostel.

Here is a view of old Lijiang from a temple atop a small hill on the edge of town. It's quite beautiful.

We went to bed early and got a good night's sleep after a fantastic meal at the Naxi Peasant Family Restaurant, in preparation for the two full days hiking that was in store for us at the Tiger Leaping Gorge.


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On to: Yunnan, China (Part II)

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