Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the world’s deepest gorges. So named because due to legend a tiger leaped across the gorge to flee a pursuing hunter. The Yangzte River (or Jinsha river as it is known locally) flows–and in some places rushes down rapids– in between the two towering mountain ranges of 5,596 meter Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and 5,396 meter Haba Snow Mountain. Both sets of mountains are aptly named with majestic snow capped peaks. I didn’t see any Jade Dragons but hey it’s China they gotta be lurking somewhere in those vast ranges. There are two paths you can choose to take through the gorge. The first is the trekking high path ,23 km long, which winds through the diverse terrain. The trail snakes through verdant forests , goes along precipes–which loom thousands of meters above the ground–, climbs steep hills,passes by guesthouses, meanders through calm farmland , and at one point runs underneath a thundering waterfall. In short this is one of the best hikes through some of the most diverse terrain that China has to offer. The low path is just a road alongside the river. True it does offer many great views of the river , gives more of a sense of being in a gorge, and is a bit less strenuous (but the high path isn’t kick your ass then kick you while you’re down tough) but really c’mon people just climb the high path! At one point the high and low paths converge near a guesthouse and then you can take a short path down to the riverside.

The area is populated by the Naxi minority group. They make their living off of grain , tourism , and selling ganja to foreign hikers. The gorge is a very famous spot and an absolute must do in Yunnan province. It came very close to being lost forever as the government was pushing to dam it up and irreversibly damage the gorge but thankfully wiser heads prevailed and it’s safe.

The first stop in Tiger Leaping Gorge is a disembarkment from the bus to purchase tickets and then we were off to a guesthouse to deposit our bags. Something like 5 or 10 rmb to store our bags (no way were we hiking with all that stuff) grab a bite to eat, and play with the little newborn puppies. The next goal was to find the start of the high trail. I love the directions on the internet , ” From the ticket office, walk along the road till you reach the school gate. Stay on the road, following the schools grey-white wall till its end where painted arrows point up an embankment at the beginning of the trek.” Don’t worry it’s pretty easy to find and once actually on the path there are constant blue and yellow arrow signs pointing out which direction to go. Along the path there are occasionally entrenprenuers who have set up shop catering to hiker’s needs. Cries of Apple!, Water!, ring out through the day. And if that fails to elicit any response the next cry is “Ganja!” to try and attract the hiker’s interest. At around two hours into the hike we found the Naxi family guesthouse. We stopped for some incredible mint tea and said farewell to our Canadian hiking buddies we had met with earlier that day. The next stop was at a Jia you zhen (literally Add Oil Station) to buy some peaches. Looking at the table laid out with goods I noticed bags of herb on the table , haha right out in the open like that, with a hilarious English advertisement. Try the best Naxi smoke , it was give you an exhilirating and uplifting feeling that will leave you feeling floaty alll day. Some elaborate description seemingly best fit to be in California and Amsterdam , not on this dark green seedy little bag. Some hiker was obviously asked to provide an English advertisement. I tried to snap a photo but the lady wouldn’t let me. So I settled for a picture of the robot made from Red Bull cans instead haha.

Continuing on at about the 5 hour mark we passed the Tea House Guesthouse and at 6:30 we finally made it to the Halfway House Guesthouse. We were running out of daylight and getting very tired of walking and made it just in time! I recommend staying at one of these guesthouses if you don’t have enough time to make it to the next guesthouse about 2.5 hours away. The path after this goes underneath a waterfall and then descends down a rocky and rough path. It can be quite dangerous to undertake this in the dark so carefull!

The Halfway house is huge and can be noisy at times but it’s a good place. Extremely cheap food and beer did well to recharge us. This guesthouse also has an awesome toilet! The sign (in Chinese) proudly proclaims “The Best Toilet Under the Sky!” This may not be true as it’s a not too clean (but not too dirty) squatter trough but the view from the toilet is perhaps the best view from a toilet ever. As you do your business you can peer out at the clouds swirling over the majestic snow capped mountain peaks while the river thunders along beneath. Pretty incredible. Later at night on the balcony overlooking the gorge (underlooking the mountain haha)I was chatting with some American hikers we had met earlier in the day. One my newfound friends said that he had one perfect word to describe the scene. It was “Mordor” Thinking of Mt.Doom and looking at the scene I couldn’t help but wish I had a sword , some magic potions, and was brutally slaying orcs while trying to save Middle Earth. The grandeur of the view, the exhiliration of the climb, and maybe a little bit of Gandalf’s special mix all swirled together and had me thinking maybe I really was in Lord of The Rings. Nothing this cool could possibly be on Earth , right? Oh , wait a second, LOTR took place in New Zealand that’s right haha.

The next day we set out and eventually came to an amazing waterfall. The waterfall roars down from the mountains above and rushes right across the path. You must pick your way through the ice cold mountain water to get to other dry path again. This made for some great pictures and a nice spot to cool off and relax for a while. After about 2.5 hours total the high path descended down and met the low path. A guesthouse is located here as well as a path to reach the river. You can go further on through the Gorge to eventually reach the end village of Daju but our hike ended here. There are plenty of maps with the trails leading onwards and I’m sure it would be cool to go the rest of the way but the part we just did was the most recommended part. We were pretty tired , my leg was aching, and our stomachs were still a bit off from the explosive good times of three nights ago. So we called it quits and organized a trip back to the starting point in Qiaotou to grab our bags and hopped the evening bus to Shangrila!


After a short couple of hours on the train we arrived at the Lijiang train station. Again just like Dali, what you are searching for is the Old Town. We didn’t come all this way for the outside town and once again it’s a mad fight for the bus heading from the rail station to Old Town. We arrived in the evening and spent a little bit of time scrambling around for a room. Many place were fully booked already but Lijiang also has a dearth of accommodations. Be a smart shopper here and look around a lot , some places are nice but also very expensive. We couldn’t stay at our first choice , The Panba Hostel , this time because it was already fully booked. So we walked around until we found a place called Mama Naxi’s. Mama is a very nice old lady who goes out of her way to help the backpackers. The place isn’t all that nice but what the rooms lack Mama makes up for , the price also helps too!

Once we had settled in we set out to cruise the streets of the Old Town. It’s an amazing place with cobblestone streets , red lanterns hanging throughout the town , streams running alongside the cobblestones, and hordes of (mainly) domestic tourists. On our quick walk through the town that night we discovered tons of good street food , I tried my first yak meat ( delicious!) , and we realized how easy it is to get lost in the all too similar looking cobblestone streets. Also an awesome point is that no cars are allowed in Old Town! Strictly pedestrians which can be a relief from the typical maelstrom of activity in Asia. Walking around we discovered a few wild herb plants growing in some backyards , funny how in some places that will get you arrested and locked up in a heartbeat. We also discovered the main bar strip which feels so weird in this setting. You walk up and see some more of the typical old style asian architecture , which is beautiful , and hear pulsating bass emanating from neon lit up old buildings. I guess late at night people try to out sing each other across the canals on the main bar strip. Touts also wait outside the bars for drunken tourists to emerge so they can pay a little bit of cash to make a wish and light a candle on a styrofoam boat and sit it adrift down one of the main canals. Down the river a net lies across the canal so the styrofoam doesn’t go pollute the environment and the boats are reused. Not a bad way to make some cash. Its only 15 yuan or so , a bit less than 2.5USD so yea its okay make a wish if you want , I didn’t haha. This main bar strip is mainly aimed at the domestic tourists which means they have very little dancing and very annoying techno pop music. I wouldn’t visit these bars at all ,however Lijiang does have an assortment of cool bars , jazz bars , book bars , and others which can feature live music and shows. Worthwhile to look for these different spots. The next day we walked around and visited the town market. The market is cool but one notable thing it that I saw my first straight-up in your face dog meat for sale. I hate when I talk to people from North America or Europe and one of the (only) things they seem to know is that you can eat dog in China. The dog you can eat here isn’t your pet fluffy dog. Non-domesticated dogs are what’s being served. I find it super hypocritical when people express extreme disgust at eating dog but then procede to eat pig , cow , duck , chicken , fish , shrimp , etc. If you eat meat it’s just another meat. We don’t go around abducting people’s pets are serving them up in China. Note , at this time I hadn’t eaten dog myself but that will come later on in the trip.

Lijiang has a few tourist spots outside of the city such as : cable car to some pristine alpine fields , a trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a hike to see some Yaks , a trip to a small lake , etc. Another very cool thing I noticed was the usage of minority Dongba script. Almost all signs in Lijaing have Dongba hieroglyphic script in addition to the Chinese. Before I came to China I didn’t realize the amounts of minorities and hence minority languages in use in China. You can find anything from Arabic , Tibetan and Mongolian , to hieroglyphical languages. I really appreciated reading the Chinese characters and then seeing the hieroglyphics underneath. As much as an accomplishment as being able to read Chinese is , I still want to be able to understand the other scripts that I see. This happens everywhere I go. I just can’t help it!

We didn’t go off and visit the spots outside of Lijiang , we just kind of walked around Old Town and relaxed. Sometimes after a long time of whirlwind traveling you don’t really want to go see all the sights anymore. You just want to get a feel for everyday life in the various places you visit. I’m not saying don’t visit the tourist spots but sometimes it’s nice just to kick back and take it all in. Especially seeing as how everyday in Yunnan it seems like I’m visiting some mountain , a field , or seeing some exotic. After a while you start to wonder ” Just how many mountains do I need to take in during this month?” , you start to want something a little bit different.

Sorry nothing too exciting here but we just needed a bit of R&R. Our next stop was Lugu lake resting right on the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. See?!?! More lakes and more mountains woooo!


Cycling Around Erhai Lake

Ah glorious Erhai Lake! The lake is a clear deep shade of blue , the sun shines down warming me and glistens on the surface of the slow-moving lake. The skies are blue with huge puffy cumulus clouds hovering in the air unlike the typical blue to gray gradient so commonly found in Shanghai’s skies. I am utterly content and without the stresses of work and city life. This is why I’m alive , to enjoy moments such as this!

Erhai Lake is the 7th largest freshwater lake in China and the second largest highland lake besides the previously mentioned Dian Lake in Kunming. It’s definitely a very large lake stretching about 42 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide making a large oval shape. Can’t quite match up to what I’m used too living by the Great Lakes in Ohio but hey it’s big enough. It was any bigger I’m not sure I’d be down for the challenge of riding around the lake in 2 days (or even attempting the challenge).

I highly recommend biking by the lake , you don’t have to be as extreme as us but just hop on a bike and make a short journey to one of the adjourning villages along the lakeside. Xizhou and Zhoucheng villages are both not too far away from Old Town and can easily be managed (there and back) in a leisurely day trip.

On the western side of the lake one can ride on the paved road that runs along the lake. This side is easy to ride upon and is also pretty flat, traffic isn’t too heavy either. Up near the northernmost point of the lake the route turns to bumpy harsh dirt roads. Get a bike with a good seat because this can inflict some damage on the butt. The eastern side of the path as well as being bumpy dirt also has some hill climbing (up and down) to do. There seems to be a lot of construction and preparation to pave the road though so perhaps it will be a little more easy-going my next time around.

There are supposed to be 17 different villages scattered around the lake , a few temples, and some small islands to visit. Some of the villages were just mere outposts with nothing more than a few buildings and a store but others were worth stopping by for a little visit. Some villages of note we encountered were Xizhou , Zhoucheng, Wase. The islands looked pretty cool and would probably be worth visiting but we were a little occupied with the whole bike riding thing.

Starting out felt so good just riding the bicycles and cruising along the highway but after about an hour and a half or so I noticed a warm feeling spreading over my body. Uh-oh the temperature may not be all that hot but the sun is still blazing down. Remember to pack some sunblock because many of the little villages don’t sell any. It took a long time and checking at many stores along the way to find some and by that time the damage had been done. I was absolutely roasted. Ouch!

The first stop at a village was at Xizhou. Xizhou is a pleasant little town that reminded me of an old Western town with dirt streets and a little bit of tumbleweed tossed in for good measure. We also found our first hemp plant growing in the wilds , the wilds being alongside the only busy road into town. This village sold many of the tie dye tapestries to be found in Old Town but at cheaper prices. The village fruit, vegetable , and household goods market was nice to check out as well. Olivia bargained for one of the traditional cone-shaped farmers hats. We also stopped in for a fried bread with meat concoction that was amazing.

Pulling out onto the road our next stop was in Zhoucheng. Zhoucheng is especially known as the region’s main tie-dye producing town. We followed old ladies in traditional red Bai clothes to their warehouse like store with tons of clothes. I never go clothes shopping but I ended up picking up 3 very cool shirts. Be warned though bargain very very hard. At first the shirt and vest I liked were 260rmb total but we (read Olivia) managed to barter it down to 160RMB including a dress and a scarf. I hate bargaining and traveling with her made me extremely happy haha. When Chinese bargain together it may seem like each party gets extremely angry and that they are fighting but fear not it’s all business. The boss goes away happily making some money and the buyer goes away thinking they got a good deal (if your bargaining skills are good or just have no idea of how much things are actually worth).

After leaving Zhoucheng, with bags considerably heavier than when we arrived, the next major stop was in Wase. We passed through a few other little villages but didn’t really stay , there wasn’t much to see or do. I’m sure there were some other attractions to check out along the way but by this point we had covered more than 40 km (25miles) and the road had petered out into dirt. We were starting to get sore , cranky , were severely burnt, and exhausted ( I believe Wase to be approaching 70km from Old Town). The “fun” bike ride was starting to turn into something a little more arduous. Wase in itself doesn’t have too much but we stopped because it was getting dark and our bodies could go no further. We found a hotel (I think it was THE hotel of Wase) and got a room with two beds for 40 rmb , nice! After ditching the bags we lugged our broken bodies over to the pier and hung with the local villagers as they swam in the water. We watched a surreal sunset over the lake and saw as the sun slowly disappeared behind the mountains leaving a purple hue to the sky. As the sun set the stars and moon emerged from their hiding places. Wow! I could finally see stars again, something that doesn’t happen too often in Shanghai. Pretty neon lights and skyscrapers are the replacement for the stars. After a bit we went back into town to grab some BBQ and retired to our rooms.

The next day just happened to be the local market day. On the weekends a big market assembles in the town square and people from the mountains come into town to sell their vegetables and fruits and pick up on provisions. The sleepy little town gets transformed a bit and the market is huge and bustling. Worth it to go check it out. Leaving the town we were a little bit less than overjoyed to think we still had about half the lake or so ahead of us. Looking back on it we may have had more than half the lake to go due to the winding path and the ins and outs of weaving around the various coves , bays , and rock outcropping that just back out . Many more turns compared to the straight western side.

Basically we just cruised and cruised and cruised and cruised ( you get the point) , taking pictures of some huge wild hemp plants ,sometimes thinking to ourselves “I will never ride a bike again as long as I live” this is definitely not true as I love biking but yea we were battered. Made a quick stop in XiaGuan (New Dali) for some of my favorite street food I’ve had in China. Due to the proximity of ErHai lake these vendors were set up with a smorgasboard of tasty fresh seafood treats. We watched fisherman come up to the vendors with nets full of squirmy sea critters. 3rmb (less than fifty US cents) for a stick of small crabs! In addition they also had full fish on sticks , an awesome grilled shrimp cake , tiny lobsters , shrimp, fried potatoes , and all of it washed down with a (or a few) tall Dali beers. Ah yes life was good again as the aches slowly receded into the background. One of the vendors mentioned that how tomorrow one of the county big wigs was rolling through so the police informed the vendors (unlicensed vendors) that tomorrow they shouldn’t be around. I like how that kind of thing works. The police are fine with the vendors , as was I on that day!, and just want the locals to make some money. I don’t care if the vendors have paid their dues , their tax, to the (rich) man in charge.

After XiaGuan we had one final small stretch on the highway to go and we would finally be back in Old Town. As the kilometers ticked away we got happier and happier. Back in town we didn’t do much of anything , ate some food and just relaxed. That was all I was hoping for! The next day we would be taking a train to Lijiang! More to come soon!

Dali – China’s Hippie Hangout

If you arrive in Dali via train know that you aren’t arriving in the Dali you expect. Where are the ancient buildings and the cobblestone roads? Where are the countless restaurants, bars, and bike rental shops? Visitors to Dali are looking for the Old Town but the train pulls up into New Town aka Xiaguan. Don’t fall prey to the hordes of touts laying in wait for the train to pull up and fares to pour out. You can hop on bus #8 to go to Old Town for a mere 2rmb. If money is no object for you and you grimace at the mere thought of brushing your tooth over less than a gold and marble sink than hop in a car with one of the touts. Ok , ok it isn’t really that bad but make sure you barter a bit first , don’t ruin it for the rest of us! The battle for the bus can be kind of intense though. There is no place to line up and everyone just kind of assembles into a mass and the buses will pull up into different places in the parking lot and then the whole aggregation of people will push, shove, and generally be insanely irritating. Not even the police officer yelling (in Chinese) “don’t push don’t push!!!!” seems to have an effect. I don’t condone pushing people to advance your position in line but if others are pushing (especially trying to butt in when you are clearly in front trying to get onto the bus) then f*** it , push them and don’t let them cut!!

After about 20 or 30 minutes we finally saw the ancient protective stone walls of the Old Town and disembarked from the bus. I could already see the attraction of the Old Town. Tree lined cobblestone streets, old 2 story house architecture , a wide arrange of restaurants , bars, and coffee shops. The setting of the Old Town is also perfect. Large mountains (Canshan, Cang mountains) look up to the west of the town with quite dramatic clouds looming over the top never moving just lurking ominously. To the east of town a few kilometers away separated by some farmland is the big Erhai Lake. Some temples and monasteries also lay nestled in the mountains. 7 years ago my current roommate studied Kung Fu in one of these monasteries. I believe it cost something like $50 USD a week for accommodation , all meals, and training. Expect things to have changed since then but perhaps a great deal may still be found for all you martial arts enthusiasts out there.

There are plenty of guesthouses all over Dali so don’t worry about finding accommodations just pop in to check them out and find one that suits you. Dali has some of the cheapest accommodations in China so again don’t worry. Some highly recommended ones include the Jade Roo and the Jade Emu, I heard people talking about 5 Elements , but I stayed at (and loved) Dali’s Hump Hostel. This is run and owned by artists and features amazing murals painted on nearly all available wall space. I think Simonster would be in heaven here. They also have a music room / bar on the second floor that people can just go into and play with the instruments set up there. Some nights they feature bands and other nights its open mic time. Amazing place with huge rooms!

For now though, we hopped on some horses led by a guide (guesthouse arrangements) for a journey to Zhonghe temple and from there we planned to walk up into the Cang mountains. This was Olivia’s first ever horseback ride and she was thrilled , I’ve been horses a few times so perhaps the novelty has worn off a bit and also probably due in part to my stubborn horse never listening and always bending down to eat and trying to go down the wrong path, but I had a lukewarm enthusiasm for the trip. At the Zhonghe temple we got off and left the guide to play Mahjong for the day. We hiked up into the mountains and found a cool guesthouse. Can’t remember the name (writing this post about 2 months after the fact) but if you are really looking to get away from it all try to find this place and stay there. Located up in the mountains with a beautiful view of Old Town and the lake, there are absolutely no people around , a true getaway spot.

We hiked on the Emerald Belt or Cloud Traveller’s Path , a well-built stone pathway that cuts along the mountain side . This is a nice easy path to walk with little change in elevation and stunning scenery. While walking we found numerous species of flowers growing and I found plenty of occasions to munch on some wild raspberries. Depending on the way you go you can find an ice cold rushing mountain spring to relax by and dip your feet in or you can encounter a series of mountain pools , 7 Dragon Maidens pools, along the path you can also find the Phoenix Eye cave. After being cooped up in Shanghai for the last 6 months this was amazing for me. Wild berries , pine forests, mountains , clean cold streams, wow! Just like my trip to the Philippines , I was happy when I finally got out of the madness of Metro Manila and relaxed in the pristine forests around the village of Sagada.

Coming back into town that night on the street corner next to our hostel was a bongo circle , a frickin’ bongo circle!! This really cemented Dali as the hippie spot in China. And guess what! There wasn’t a single foreigner in this circle of dreadheaded kids wearing colorful clothes clutching guitar beating the night away on bongos. An interesting appropriation of culture to be sure. I’m sure Nixon and Mao are both turning in their graves. Oh yea before I forget , walking around the markets yields a treasure trove of hand crafted tie dye tapestries and shirts. While walking around you will even hear whispered out calls of Ganja Ganja from old red clad Bai women. Wow indeed! A quick note though according to wikitravel Dali used to be a hot spot for the green but it seems like these days one should exercise caution. I didn’t partake but be cautious if you plan on it.

Dali is also a very artsy place. During the daytime you can find local art students painting the relaxing streets and can also find some cool spray paint up on the walls. Be sure to check out waterfall street as well!

The next day we arose fairly early and rented bikes in the insane notion of trying to ride around ErHai Lake. Stay tuned , the next episode will be the ErHai Lake villages! Those pictures from last post are acting kind funky when I view the site from China. So I’ll go back to the gallery style of posting. How do they work for everyone else?

Wikitravel’s guide to Dali is extremely thourough give it a look see to learn more about Dali or to help plan a trip there!