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Kunming Travel Blog

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We last wrote from Chengdu (population 10m) which is east of the Tibetan plateau, when were pleased to be back in civilisation. The city is also known for its Panda Breeding Research Institute, which we visited. Cute cuddly giant pandas playing in the enclosures and baby ones in incubators watched by several staff each ... that's because mummy pandas find it hard to look after more than one baby in the litter. The centre is also home to the lesser known red panda which looks somewhat like a racoon, but behaves like cats ... bathes it self constantly and never comes when called.

You may recall our massages in Chengdu. The vacuum cup treatment left my back feeling the best ever for long time, but looking worst ever! I had 20 maroon round patches of various sizes (up to 4 inches diameter) all over my back.

They've now receded to yellow / blue bruises and should heal in time for swimming in Chiang Mai ... only hotel that we'll get to use a swimming pool.

You may also recall us savouring the best pizza ever in the most welcoming environment in Chengdu ... but it made us sick for half-a-day. Amazing that we can eat grey chicken in hole-in-a-wall place in the middle of nowhere in Tibet and not get sick.

Since Chengdu, we've made our way down to Yunnan province which is south of the Tibetan plateau and north of Indochina / Thailand. The province is probably home to the richest mix of tribes in China ... ranging from Tibetans (complete with unwashed braided hair decorated with turquoise as seen in pictures) to the tribespeople of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. It is also home to cultures now seen further afield like Borneo (proto-Malays such as Dayaks have their origins here according to my Form 1 history book) ... and New Zealand Maoris (according to Winston Peters, a NZ politician, in a recent speech). By the way, Mr Peters stood "corrected" by academics who explained that the linkage is closer to the Alishan / Gaoshan people of Taiwan.

Yunnan province is bang on several backpacker trails and English is widely spoken compared to the rest of China (nearly none at all). I can no longer threaten to leave Kim stranded whenever he gets grumpy!

Within Yunnan, we visited Lijiang which is delightful ancient village at the base of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Full of quaint shops, cafes, guesthouses and streams ... illuminated by numerous red lanterns at night. Heaven! The town competes with neighbouring Zhongdian to call itself "Shangri-La". We went up the mountain by cable car (3 km ride) to an elevation of 4506m to see the peaks and glacier. The elevation is higher than Lhasa or nearly 1000m higher than Mt Cook in NZ. By the way, we receive conflicting information on the authenticity of the ancient village at Lijiang ... some sources say it was completely rebuilt after an earthquake but it certainly looks ancient and rundown enough.

Lijiang is home to the matriachal Naxi people ... surnames are passed down on the female side, women control the household. We stayed at a very clean and hospitable homestay for USD2.5pp with squat toilet. Kelly, we ate at your homestay several times ... our place was only a few doors away.

We then moved south to Dali which is an old Chinese-style town by a lake. Quite touristy but didn't have the same ambience as Lijiang. We took a 5 hour bus ride to the provincial capital Kunming after a night.

We're now writing from Kunming (population 5m) where we've spent some time shopping.

We should probably have gone to the main attraction here, which is the Stone Forest pinnacles. But we couldn't face hordes of local tourists, the long bus/train journey or early wakeup. Things in Kunming are amazingly cheap for us, as it is small city by Chinese standards. Tourist prices may exist, but we certainly don't feel the pinch:

  1. hotel buffet breakfast USD1pp
  2. nice meal in westernised restaurant USD1.5pp
  3. latest DVDs USD0.75
  4. nice trousers (incl hemming the legs) cost less than the price to hem them in NZ
  5. haircut at hotel USD1.2, the hairdresser made a special trip from home on his day off!

The province enjoys a spring-like climate suitable for agriculture and horticulture.  It is common for cafe tables to be decorated with a whole bunch of flowers like carnations ... we're more accustomed to seeing a single flower at home.

The scenery around the province is gorgeous, with many terraced hills worked on by hundreds of people ... bunches of corn and chilli drying on farmhouses.

We're off to the airport shortly to catch our flight to Chiang Mai. We look forward to seeing a part of Thailand that we've never visited before ... the Golden Triangle (where the country borders Myanmar and Laos). Will probably see some elephants at work and do more shopping.

This may be the last time we'll write during the trip. China has once again been thoroughly enjoyable ... second visit in 12 months! Actually, it has been our fourth visit in 12 months to places Mr Bush labelled as a threat to world peace ("Axis of Evil" ie Iran, Iraq, N Korea; plus China, Russia, Syria).

Until next time!

Alex Chan


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photo by: eefab