Thursday, December 24, 2015

Yunnan: Finally China!


After nearly two months travelling around this huge country, we can finally say that we’ve arrived in China. Our first stop was Dàlǐ, a small town northwest of province of Yunnan, which brought us back to our
imagination with all of its clichés: traditional houses, arched bridges, city walls and peasants wearing pointy hats.

Many people ask us how do we plan our trip, and I’ve to confess that much of the planning consists basically in asking locals and fellow backpackers for recommendations. Yunnan was one of those places that everyone highly appraised. Still, once we arrived in Dali we’re not quite sure on what to expect, however we’re greeted with a pleasant surprise.

Starting with the hostel where we stayed which was, without a doubt, the best in China. After long 18 hours en route from Chongqing, including two trains and a bus ride, we were totally smashed. Right on check-in we got a complimentary upgrade. Is this for real? And upgrade in China? Our room was now a spacious and bright penthouse, overlooking the lake. After a shower, a short nap, and officially starving, we’re invited to have dinner with the family who runs the place. For free. And no kidding, it was the most delicious food we’d tasted so far. Free self-serve laundry facilities, as well as free bicycles to tour around the town. No wonder we ended up staying here for five days. The name of this finding: "Traveling With Hostel Dali”. I know it sounds weird, but I imagine it must make more sense in Chinese.

The old town, although very touristy, has its charm. We’re absolutely captivated by the local architecture, where all the houses follow the same traditional style, characteristic of the province of Yunnan: elaborate Chinese gates, white walls decorated with hand-painted detailing, stone base and gray tiles.

And if you are not yet tired of temples, city walls and old buildings, here are the famous Three Pagodas, the postcard Dali. Standing almost 200ft high, it’s considered to be one of the tallest pagodas in China's history.

But in our opinion, Dali's main attraction was riding along the Erhai Lake. For the first time in China we rented an electric scooter with autonomy up to 75 miles. It was amazing to ride through little towns, fields and villages observing the day-to-day lives of the local people, their colorful clothing, always seem to be smiling as they watch us pass by. 

The vast majority of people living in the region are from an ethnic minority called "Bai". And it’s easy to notice the huge efforts made to preserve their culture, language and traditions up to this day, despite the immense pressure exerted from the "Han", the largest ethnic group representing 92% of the population in China.

We’re enjoying our trip so much that we decided to take a chance and attempt to go all the way around the lake (approx. 94 miles), even though we run the risk of running out of power. 

To minimize the odds, we stopped for lunch at Shuanglang village, plugged the bike, and explored the town. Unlike other villages we went through, unfortunately Shunglang lost much of its authenticity due to rampant construction and lack of urban planning leveraged by the increase in local tourism.

The day was absolutely beautiful. The scenery and the light were perfect, creating the ideal conditions for any photographer, even for an amateur like me. The day passed by quickly and before we realized it, it was already dusk, and we still had 25 miles to go. Sadly, what we feared most has happened: we ran out of battery. Luckily, it was just in front of a condo where the security guard, a very nice old man, sheltered us inside his sentry-house. The reality is that even though these bikes are silent and economic, practicality is not their strength. It took ONE HOUR to recharge the battery good enough so that we could complete the last 12 miles. Today we learned something new: NEVER cover more distance than an electric bike is capable of.

And if one side of the city is surrounded by the Lake Erhai, on the other, the Cangshan Mountains makes Dali the ultimate package. We could not proceed upon our journey, without leaving our footprints in there. There are 19 peaks in total, with several options for hiking. We decided for the free one, right behind the 3 Pagodas. 

After an hour of hiking under the scorching sun, we finally reached some beautiful woods, and followed a stream until reaching a series of small waterfalls. The surrounding is ideal to disconnect from the tourists, the heat and the hustle and bustle of town.

Dali, as its name suggests, it is indeed a work of art!

Dali, Yunnan Province

1 comment:

  1. Moving across the blogs I found yours and what attracted me was the amazing pictures. Yunnan must be very beautiful. Alot of sites to be explored and enjoy. Amazing blog post