From Yangshuo we took the bus back to Guilin to catch a flight to Kunming. Sitting next to us on our flight was an older American guy from Seattle. Other than that, the flight was nearly empty. Once in Kunming, a huge chaotic city in southwestern China, we settled into our hostel (not very good) and then went to a nearby restaurant (very good). We ended up running into the same guy who was sitting next to us on the plane, and he said he was planning to hike Tiger Leaping Gorge.
At this point we were not sure how far into China we wanted to go. The Chinese national holiday was quickly approaching, and we were told that things would become very expensive and busy. While we had thought we might just go to Dali and skip Lijiang, the man told us that we just had to go to Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge because of its beauty. So, we made our decision to go. The next morning we hopped on a bus to Dali. The old town is surrounded by an old wall, and each gate is a large pagoda. Shops and restaurants line the streets, which are made of cobblestones and run along small canals that cut through the city. We had a fun day just wandering the area and eating some of the good local food. The next day we boarded a bus to Lijiang. The countryside was very mountainous and there were small villages along the way. Lijiang itself felt pretty touristy, but the vast majority of the tourists were Chinese people, visiting their own country, so it was fun to see how they traveled. Lijiang was slightly larger than Dali, and had many people from the surrounding minority Naxi villages wearing traditional clothing. The Naxi food was not very enjoyable, but once we gave up on trying to eat the traditional food, we found some really great Tibetan food.
The Chinese Holiday kicked off into full gear on October 1st, so we tried to flee the city and begin our trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge. The morning buses were sold out, so we caught a bus around noon and headed into the countryside. We arrived in the town at the head of the trail around 3:00 and started towards the main route. Right at the trail head we saw a man walking towards us (the only other white guy in the area). He turned out to be the same older man who had persuaded us to do the hike back in Kunming. With over a billion people in China, we keep running into this guy! He said that the hike was too difficult for his back and he seemed very disappointed to have come such a far way and not be able to do it. After chatting with him for a few minutes, we headed off on the trail up the hill and we never saw him again.
The higher we climbed, the better the views became, but the sorer our legs grew, too. We passed through local farms full of corn and villages with horses. The trail was clearly marked and there were arrows guiding us to various guesthouses. Along this trail, camping is not necessary because there are so many villages with places to eat and sleep. Eventually we had climbed high up in the mountains and we could see all the way down to the river below and all the way up to the tops of snow covered mountains. The other side of the gorge was a very steep set of mountains which reached about 12,000 ft high. After a few hours of hiking we made it to the Naxi Family guest house, where we met our soon to be best friends, the Brits. We had an excellent dinner of chicken (no doubt freshly slaughtered out back) and more peanuts than necessary. Our $3 room had all of the Chinese essentials, a bed, a view of the stunning mountains, and construction right outside beginning abruptly at 6:00 am the next morning. The next day would turn out to be a very long hike, but the mountains and the views were spectacular. We had a great time trekking through what became various climate zones where the local vegetation changed from pine trees, to rain forest, to low shrubs.
At one point, a herd of goats crossed our path. They were tame, the locals herd them, but it was still a strange sight. In an unlikely event, one of the surefooted goats came sliding down the very steep mountain, right on top of Laurie, only to stop a few inches away from pushing her off the very steep cliff. It was a sight to behold, but she lived to tell the tale. Throughout the day, we passed by goats, horses, cows, and a variety of other livestock. We climbed the 43 bends of the "28 bends" hill, and then had lunch at the Tea Horse guesthouse, again with the Brits. After a nice afternoon hiking down the mountains towards the river in the gorge, we made it to the final downhill stretch. It was very steep and did a number on our now tired legs. We could see our goal in sight at the bottom of the valley: Tina's guesthouse. We finally made it in time for dinner. The next morning we caught a minivan back to the starting town, where we would catch another ride back to Lijiang. We met some interesting people along the way, including a Dutch/German couple who we hung out with the rest of the day back in Lijiang.
From Lijiang we took a long bus ride back to Kunming. After an exhausting trip on the bus, we found a nice hotel in Kunming to spend the night before our long bus ride to Vietnam. That night we stumbled into a very hoakie, touristy dinner-theater restaurant in Kunming with "traditional" food and dancing. It was hysterical and exactly what we needed that night. At the front of the room there was a large stage with dancers and performers. At one point a man climbed a ladder made of knives and another guy slid down a pole upside down with one leg. They pulled people out of the audience and made them become part of the performance, but everything was in Mandarin, so we were able to avoid that. For dinner we had "cross the bridge noodles", the traditional dish from the area where you put all of your raw ingredients quickly into a bowl of hot broth and it cooks in the dish. Everything was delicious, and it made for an amazing final evening in China.
This story was from our first trip to China in 2006.