Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yunnan Province in China

We spent about 9 days in Yunnan province in South Central China which is the province directly north of Vietnam and Burma. Many tourists come here for the attractions of the old towns in Lijiang and Dali. We started in the main population center, Kunming, a city of just over 1,000,000. I loved this city! It is quite liveable, with wonderful pedestrian-oriented districts. The elevation is around 1.5 km (1 mile) so that the climate is pleasant year around. And the pollution is not excessive like you find in many other large Chinese cities.

And the food, oh the food! There is a small Muslim population in Kunming and I promptly searched out the Muslim district upon arrival to sample some of the food! Pictured below are a couple of wonderful meals we got there. Yum! One meal was $7 total between the two of us, the other was about $4 total, and we could not even finish all the food.

I almost can't believe that my biggest fear of visiting China was the food. It all seems so foolish now . . .

After three days in Kunming we left to visit the old towns of Lijiang and Dali. The bus ride to Lijiang was eight hours and passed through Dali. We would stop on the way back toward Kunming in Dali. These old towns are large clusters of old-style architecture buildings with lots of stores oriented toward tourists. The old town in Lijiang, in particular, was huge and took days to explore:

A picture from inside Dali's old town:

In both Lijiang and Dali we rented bikes to ride to nearby minority villages. During our ride in Lijiang, we passed through some wonderful scenery pictured below. Unfortunately, we caught a terrible rainstorm while far away from the city. However, we ran into some local ladies enjoying some ad hoc dancing on the way back as everyone waited out the afternoon rainstorm together:

Dali is an ancient city situated near a large lake that is long and narrow, Lake Erhat. But when we did the scenic bike ride along the west coast of the lake, we could not really see the lake very well because the elevation gain around the lake was so gradual. But we did manage to see kilometers of pastoral agricultural scenes. Also, we hit upon a real legitimate minority village and had lunch there, I think for less than $1 apiece. It was a lot of fun:

We also visited Stone Forest which is several square square kilometers of interesting stone formations that have remained as the earth around them has eroded away. You can see the former horizontal water line across the rocks in the picture below, which was formed during a long period when the water table did not change. The vertical fissures you see on the rocks were formed by water under extreme pressures. I love geology, so I really enjoyed this.
However, we also encountered what became a recurring theme for Chinese tourist attractions: ridiculous prices. It was about US $20 to get into the Stone Forest park, which is not that big. Basically, this makes the place off limits to ordinary Chinese people. In Dali, the ferries across Lake Erhat (just a few kilometers in distance), which used to cost less than one dollar, had all been recently cancelled (permanently) in favor of tourist "cruises" which cost a minimum of US $20. A definite rip off and we passed on that.

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