Day 111 – Sunday 13th May
After a maximum of 2 hours sleep last night on the train, we made it in to Kunming this morning. Once we arrived, we bought a ticket for a 9 hour train to Lijiang (North West of here) which leaves in only 2 hours. So, we went on a little walk to find Greg an MP3 player (as it was accidentally thrown away by one of the cleaners at a hostel) and got some food. Once we were done, we came back to the station and got on our train (no seat of course) luckily the carriages weren’t as packed as usual, so I was able to put down my bag and sit on that, while Greg managed to find a seat every now and again before someone kicked him off. I did a bit more reading, and managed to fit in another couple of hours of very uncomfortable sleep. The views from the train on the way were awesome, and as we were travelling in the day, there was something to see the whole way. We’re now deep in the Yunan province, so there’s mountains galore (right next to the Himalayas) and lots of other awesome things to see. We eventually arrived in Lijiang which is a small old town, which has lost all of its character due to tourism but still it’s a lot nicer than the big cities we’ve been in recently. We managed to find a really nice (and cheap) hostel right in the centre, and we dropped off our bags and got some food. Then when we came back here, I sat down to watch the final day of the premier league on my laptop, don’t really want to talk too much about what happened, but let’s just say I never thought I’d see city win the title in my lifetime. So frustrating that we were so close, but yeah won’t talk about it, and then we went to bed!
Day 112 – Monday 14th May
Finally had a lie in this morning, with all the travelling around lately I’ve barely been sleeping 4 hours a night, so it felt amazing to get up at around 1 today. Unfortunately this meant that we missed the 12 o’clock checkout, and after packing our stuff we didn’t leave until around 3. After a massive argument with the hostel owner, we had to pay for a half day (normal custom, just we didn’t want to spend any more money). We then got going, and after a wild goose chase of terrible directions from official tourist points, we eventually found an ATM (no more for a week) and after that we got to the bus station. I can’t express how frustrating it is that even tourist help points can’t even read a fucking map of their own city, when they’re the ones selling the bloody things, unbelievable!!! Anyway, we eventually got on our bus to Qiatou (the starting point for the tiger leaping gorge). The bus took around 2 and a half hours, and we made it to the first stop on the trek, Jane’s Guest House, at around 7:30pm. Any normal person would call it a day then, and start the trek tomorrow in order to not get lost in the dark. Unfortunately we are retarded and impatient, so we hit the road. After about an hour it got dark and we were very much lost, after asking for directions in a couple of villages we passed (guess how that went!) we eventually asked a man to walk us. Turns out we went very much the wrong way and we still had about an hour and a half to walk, luckily the man was only charging us 5 yuan each. At about half 10, we eventually arrived at the first guest house on the trail, and the man asked for 50 yuan, each! Typical Chinese dick! We gave him 60 and told him to piss off, as he sat there and watched us eat, obviously expecting us to buy him a meal, no luck there mate. The tiger leaping gorge is one of the most famous treks in China, the gorge is nestled between mountains of well over 4000m in the Himalayas. The trek normally takes 2 days, and is famed for amazing views and silence (rare in China) Michael Palin once did a piece on it as well which I guess put it on the map for English tourists. Anyway we got to bed as we have an early start tomorrow, we’re going to try and do the whole trek in a day (the reason why we started tonight as we could get going straight away on the right path).
Day 113 – Tuesday 15th May
Wow, what a long fucking day! So we got up at 7, and after a bit of pissing around and some breakfast we hit the trail around 8:30. This time we kept our eyes peeled for any arrows so that we didn’t get lost again, unfortunately after only 5 minutes a farmer told us we went the wrong way and pointed us back on track, from now we will really look out for arrows showing the way. The weather wasn’t great today, which meant that it wasn’t too hot, and also gave an incredible view of the mountains as thick cloud passed over all the peaks and you saw them every now and again for a split second. The walk overall took about 7 hours which includes us stopping at every guest house on the way to get some food or a hot drink. All the guest houses are so nice here, they have incredible views and one of them even has an ‘inspiration balcony’ which was really fucking awesome, I felt super inspired! The trek was not particularly difficult, apart from one steep bit (the 28 bends of death) at the start, the rest was plain sailing, so once we reached the end, we decided to walk a bit further and lucky we did as we found the nicest guest house. It had the most incredible views from all the rooms and the restaurant and was not expensive, especially considering what you got! We decided that the trek wasn’t enough for us, and decided to go down to the tiger leaping stone, which is right down in the valley next to the rapids of the river, and should take 40 minutes to get down. We decided to run down, as it looked like it was about to start raining and we didn’t really feel like getting soaked. The stone at the bottom is where (supposedly) a tiger jumped from one side to the other of the gorge and is where the place gets its name from. It was cool to see everything from down below, but my legs were completely knackered from the trek today, as well as the stupid run down to the bottom. So, the walk back up was nothing short of excruciating, but having made it to the top it’s not so bad. The trek was relatively easy as well (compared to what we were expecting) so it was good to push the old motor. Greg is getting a train back to Kunming tomorrow as his visa is about to expire and he’s moving on to Laos, so after a month of seeing China, as well as a week in North Korea, it was our final night. We decided to have a really nice dinner, and splashed out (a little bit) and sat in the guest house listening to music for a while. Then we went to bed, I’m gonna sleep bloody well tonight I assume.
Day 114 – Wednesday 16th May
So we had a very well deserved lie in today, and woke up to an incredible view out the window of our room. After getting his stuff together and having some food, Greg got the bus back to Lijiang where he has a train to Kunming later tonight. Had some classic times with Greg, and a couple really frustrating ones (mainly involving trains or lack of ability to speak to Chinese) as well as a couple hairy moments. But all in all, we saw a shit ton of China and it was fun all the way, and would not have liked to have done it alone, unfortunately having spent so much time with him my French has really deteriorated (which makes no sense) but I’ve learnt a lot about French politics, as well as where the country is now, as I haven’t been to France in quite a while. It was fun to watch some classic French movies and comedians which I used to watch as a kid with Ber as well. After he left, I booked myself on a bus to Baishuitai tomorrow where there are supposed to be some amazing limestone lakes. And then I proceeded to spend the evening chatting with an English and an Aussie couple (really nice to be speaking English again). Unfortunately, as with everyone on this trek they went to bed bloody early so I was left there all alone. Luckily, you’re never alone too long in China, and this group of 3 guys invited me to have some rice wine with them and pose for the obligatory photos. The spirits here are absolutely horrible but it’s hard to turn down a free drink, as it’s a sign of rudeness here, and obviously I wouldn’t turn it down anyway. Once they went to bed I really was all alone, and as I’m staying in a dorm tonight (due to financial reasons) I have to walk in the pitch black to the communal bathrooms, which is very scary. I’m also in a dorm room of 6 beds and no other people with the wind rattling the windows all the time, so it’s all very creepy. Add to that I’m reading a bloody tense book, I had to sleep with the light on, true man style!
Day 115 – Thursday 17th May
Got up at 11 today after a very bad night’s sleep, and got going 30 minutes down the road to get on my bus. Unfortunately, the bus broke down along the way, so it was a good 3 hours late! I decided to leave my bag in the hostel in order to feel free (my big bag was left at the first hostel on the trek, and I’ve been using my small bag for the last couple of days) this will prove to be a very fatal error, but I’ll get to that. So, I eventually got on my bus, and after about a 2 and a half hour drive I made it to my destination, which was a very small and remote village where the limestone lake terraces are located. So once I got off the bus, I headed straight to see the main attraction, and after about 15 minutes I realised that it was definitely not worth the trip! I’d seen photos and the lakes looked awesome, but I was expecting a whole mountain face of these terraces when there turned out to only be about 10! So after about 10 minutes of walking around and taking a few pics I was done for the day. So I decided to lie down and sunbathe for a bit, then headed to a little family guest house about 5 minutes away which was only 1 pound a night, result! Here it dawned on me that I had absolutely fuck all to do, as I had left my bag behind with my book and I’d spent the whole day listening to music and was bored of it. So, I bought a few beers and sat and watched the sunset and then watched the stars for a bit (due to pollution, it’s very rare to see stars in China, so it’s always worth taking them in when you get the chance). I also didn’t have much money, and the earliest I’m going to get to a cash machine will be tomorrow night, so I had to strategically wait for a Chinese group to finish eating and then clear up their scraps for dinner, Chinese people always leave so much and I didn’t want it to go to waste. Unfortunately they caught me red handed and gave me some dirty looks, but I’d already started so I just acted casual and carried on. Eventually my boredom got the better of me so I sat down and watched China’s got talent, which was as expected, awful! I then went to bed relatively early as I have to get up at 7 tomorrow to catch my bus back to the gorge.
Day 116 – Friday 18th May
So I got up nice and early today, and the guest house woman gave me a free breakfast (I think she realised last night that I was relatively poor at the moment) which was very nice of her. She then stopped my bus and put me on it and said goodbye. The bus was going the opposite direction to the way I had come, but I thought maybe it would do a loop, and she knew where I was going so I got on. After about 2 hours, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going the right way, and after 3 hours when the bus eventually arrived at its destination I definitely knew I hadn’t gone the right way. I then found out that I was in Shangri-La, a good 50km away from where I wanted to be, Shit! And as I had only paid for a return ticket to the gorge, the bus driver asked for money, but as I’ve mentioned I have none. So after showing him I had no bag and no money and telling him where I want to be, he still asked for money, so I ran off and hid around the corner until he drove away. Luckily, I bumped in to a Canadian who had been before, so he showed me to the old town, the main attraction of Shangri-La, which was pretty crap to be honest. The whole place has lost its entire Tibetan feel, and is now just a wash of tourist shops selling tat and overpriced restaurants. The coolest thing about Shangri-La is the fact that its 3300 metres high, so you can feel the air is thinner, and the sun feels a lot harsher. So after a quick look around, we decided that the best plan was to get a few beers and just sit around in the nice weather. After a couple of hours here, I hopped on a bus back to Qiatou (where the trek starts). This is where the whole bag problem began to sink in. With only around £12 and knowing I would need 4 to get a bus to Lijiang as well as 2.50 for my room and whatever else for food, I was stuffed. Luckily I was reunited with my big bag which I had left here at the start of the trek. Unfortunately my small bag was a good 5-7 hour trek away, and with no more transport going there at this time, I was fucked. After phoning the guest house where I had left my bag, and having serious language problems, all I could do was sit down and hope to sort it out tomorrow. If I don’t get to Lijiang tomorrow I am screwed, as I desperately need to take out money and that is the closest place. So with no option of getting it tonight, I sat down and spent the evening chatting to this Australian guy who has spent the last month or so in the areas I want to see, so I was able to sort of plan out my trip a bit as up until now I had no idea where I was off to next. I then went on Skype for a bit, and watched a couple of things on my laptop (one of the benefits of being reunited with my big bag) and then went to bed, where I couldn’t sleep due to my pretty shitty predicament, hopefully all will be sorted in the morning.
Day 117 – Saturday 19th May
Phew, managed to sort everything out today! After getting up at around 11, I spent an age trying to ask the staff what the hell I should do and when buses went past, but as usual they couldn’t understand a fucking thing I wanted. So I eventually worked out that the bus I got the other day to Baishuitai should go past this guest house and on to the one where I left my bag. And as I knew that it normally arrived at 1:30 at the other guest house, I went and stood on the road at 12:30 and waited for it to come past. And thank God, my plan paid off and it came past at around quarter to 1, and the driver agreed to take me for only £2, I was now down to £7 with the next bus to Lijiang costing between 4-5 depending on if I was lucky or not, and the need for a bit of food on the way. So, I arrived at the guest house and was reunited with my bag, and for the first time in a week I had both my bags with me which was a relief! All I then had to do was sit back and relax and wait for my bus to Lijiang. I had 2 options, the first was to book it through this guest house which would cost me £5 or, a guest house further down the road does one for 4 but it only leaves if there are enough people. After eating, and not paying I decided to take the risk and missed the £5 one and wait on the road for the cheaper one to go past. And as with the rest of the day, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and the bus came and I flagged it down and it did only cost me £4, so I was on my way to Lijiang with only £2 left! So all had gone well, in the last week I had seen a completely different side to China, I’d done the tiger leaping gorge trek, seen the Himalayas, seen some limestone lakes and also been to Shangri-La, and hadn’t run out of money. There were obviously a few moments where I didn’t think I could say that, but sitting on the bus I felt fucking good. After the 3 hour drive I made it to Lijiang, and made my way back to the hostel we had stayed at the week earlier, luckily the woman didn’t recognise me (as I mentioned we left on bad terms with a massive row) so she wasn’t a bitch. And after getting to a cash machine and withdrawing a lot more that I usually would (for obvious reasons) I was able to completely relax, pay for my room and book my bus ticket to my next stop, unfortunately it leaves at 7:50 tomorrow morning, but I guess you can’t have it all. I then went back to a restaurant I had eaten at the week before, and it felt good to be here knowing my way around abit (as the place is a bit of a maze of old cobbled streets). I had some food there, did some washing at the hostel, and here I am updating the blog. I’ve put up a load of photos, all of the ones of mountains are taken whilst on the trek, and there are also some of the limestone terraces. Sorry for the lack of updates in the past week, but I’ve been without internet or laptop, so I had no choice. Sorry to pile such a big blog entry on you guys, it should all be back to normal from here on in.