Yunnan China Tour November 2011
Yunnan, China, bordering on Tibet. Interesting. I had the time and enough miles racked up on American Airlines that I booked a flight on American, one stop to Shanghai, I was off in early November. I flew Phoenix to Los Angeles and then Los Angeles to Shanghai.
I prearranged a private guide for a day in a city that reeks with feng shui. (The rate for a private guide was less than $100 for the day.) Having seen the city before from a stinking tour bus, it was great to have a private guide give me a work out. After walking from my $85 a night 5-star hotel, Yun’s Paradise Hotel to Yuyuan Gardens, the Bund, shopping on Nanjing Road, to Jing’an Temple is was time for lunch.
Most people hire a guide and go place to place by taxi. We elected to walk. If you can’t walk you may take a taxi from point to point. After passing through the People’s park, it was lunch time; the guide did not know the neighborhood. We walked a little further and ate duck, vegetables and fine Chinese beer in an upscale place. Normally I would eat where the locals do, but two places we passed were filled with cigarette smoke.
The next day, we toured some other areas including some alleys, shops, and we succumbed to take the subway to Pudong, where I had an overpriced cocktail atop the Hyatt Hotel. I was higher than the Oriental TV tower of which I had been up before.
In the morning, I did what most tourists do not do. I saved the 100 yuan or so cab fare to the airport and took the subway for all of 5 yuan, about $0.70. Off to Kunming where the Flying Tigers were based. The old airport, where I landed is to become a Flying Tiger Museum. (The new airport is now opened shortly after this adventure). I arrived at the Kai Wah Plaza Hotel with its massive glass atrium for a lobby. Too bad they did not pay their gas bill because it was 50 degrees F in there, much too cold to enjoy a drink at one of few nice bars in this part of China. It was early November and cloudy, thus the sun did not heat up the atrium. The scuttlebutt is that Kunming has too many five-star hotels and there is not enough business to justify so many. Thus the maintenance if lacking.
Lunch the next day was Yiliang duck. The secret is that it is smoked with pine needles. What a treat on the road to the Stone Forest. The funny thing was that the duck was just an appetizer. We had a full lunch after that including soup, Chinese beer, rice and several Yunnan dishes.
We wandered in rock formations in the Stone Forest all afternoon and mused at the signs “do not disturb the grass, it is napping.” It truly was a stone forest and it would have been easy to get lost among the formations.
On to Dali, where our guide said “All the tourists think this is great until you get to Lijiang and Shangri-la. The cobblestone streets, most of them blocked off to traffic were a joy to walk upon as I looked over the shops, a mixture of tourist shops and everyday shops for the locals.
We stayed at the Dali Regent Hotel. It was a massive complex billed at four or five star. More like a good Best Western in my book. We had a supplemental electric heater in our rooms. The common space was not heated and cold in November.
After some purchases of some handicrafts we found the Monkey Bar. On “Foreigner St. we took a seat bar with actual cocktails on the menu. Usually if you can find western liquor in China, the menu will just say, “whiskey, gin, scotch, rum” etc. Or it will just list the brand names. The Monkey Bar has an assortment of cocktails by name, a bartender who knew how to mix drinks and the obligatory Chinese rock and roll band.
Outside of Dali are the Three Pagodas. Prior to the earthquake a few years back, you could climb the Pagoda that overlooks the lake. We made a stop at the local batik factory. They call it a factory. Actually it was a small three family business of dying cloth with indigo and making various items with the fabric. They used a large stencil to put wax on the cloth and then dyed it in blue solution. The design then transferred to the cloth.
Moving higher to Lijiang and its old town, our luggage was taken into town by a mini-mini-van, as regular vehicles are prohibited. The canal with ancient rules for water use was still in operation moving water wheels. The cafes were a delight after huffing up to an overlook to photograph the splendid roofs of the old town. That evening we went to a Chinese classical theater. They played music from different dynasties. My ears were ringing and an hour in an unheated theater was enough. I went to a cafe for coffee and to my warm hotel room.
On the other side of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain lies Shangri-la. We meet our new guide, Maria. She gives us a white scarf, as it is a traditional greeting for guests. On the way our minibus takes on water to cool the brakes. After a walk into Tiger Leaping Gorge, 500 steps down and 500 more steps up, we dine overlooking the valley. The delightful cafe was up three flights of steps. For dessert Maria introduced us to Naxi pears, a pear with the crunchiness of an apple.
That evening we were greeted with hot ginger tea at Songstam Retreat, Shangri-la, which reminded me Sedona with it stone construction. My room had a heavy blanket over the wooden door to keep out the draft. The bathroom was well appointed with a copper sink a hot shower with a wooden bucket, ladle and stool. The room had steam heat and a wood stove in the corner. Open the drapes and you have a wonderful view of the backside of the Monastery and Shangri-la. The views for the spa were heavenly. What a place to get a massage. Only if it had been spring time with the mountains covered with flowers!
That evening we are treated to a traditional Tibetan dinner consisting of yak prepared about 5 different ways including yak butter tea. We mingled with the locals as they performed dances in the town square after dark. Back at the Songstam Resort I had a cocktail at the bar and went off to test my woodstove. It was November, the end of the season and rather chilly outside. I could not find any matches and did not want to intrude on the staff. I had packaging to burn from my tea. In Kunming, Tony’s partner gave us each a box of real Chinese tea. The packaging was cumbersome, so took out the tea and packed the wood stove.
The Songstam had hot water heat and a bathroom that was stupendous. The shower had a wooden bucket, stool and brush. The sink was made of copper.
In the morning we drove back to Lijiang and visited a Tibetan Village on the way. The house has the barn on the lower floor and living quarters in floor above, and loft above that for hay.
Saying goodbye to Maria, our Tibetan guide, we meet Jack upon arrival Lijiang. We stroll through a Baisha Naxi Village and have lunch in a delightful courtyard. I pick up some treats a local bakery.
We enter a park for a leisurely stroll around the Black Dragon Pool enjoying mountain vistas and the reflection of the water. There are a few shops, a small museum, small pagodas that make for a picturesque walk. After about two hours we enter Lijiang, visit the Dongba museum where we meet a 16th generation priest. Finally we get to sit down and have a cup of tea in a hotel lobby.
Off to Jinghong on Lucky Air. Yes that is the name of the airline. In Xishuangbanna we partake of a traditional Dai People’s BBQ. An assortment of grilled meats and fish prepared on sticks were unceremoniously dumped on the table. Several hot dipping sauces were served along with a delightful peanut sauce.
The weather has changed for us. It is now warm and humid. We go to a place called Wild Elephant Valley, that is a nature reserve for elephants and ride through the jungle by cable car. It was more like a zoo with huge aviaries, a butterfly cage and some other animals. On the long cable car ride the locals take pictures of us as we are the attraction because we did not see any elephants.
After lunch drive to Ganlangba, visit Water Dai Village where lunch came from the small lake our table was perched over. Afternoon visits of the Yellow Pagoda and Rubber Garden did not impress anyone. The weighing, sorting and loading of pineapples was much more interesting. We picked up a few pineapples for our evening dessert.
We leave China crossing into Laos. The river was closed to river traffic because of drug violence that occurred two months ago. China is planning to patrol the river between Burma and Laos but as of this writing, the river is still closed. The Laotian countryside is gorgeous. We dine at a delightful cafe along the way and then cross the Mekong into Thailand on a sampan.
We walk about six blocks to the Chiang Khong Teak Garden Hotel. After checking in a few of us head to a bar a few doors down and have a scotch and water at a very low price. They even had ice. That evening we dine overlooking the Mekong and were introduced to Mekong Whiskey. Actually it is dark rum made in Thailand. I ask the waiter to bring me a quarter lime, some soda water and just enjoy savored the moment. Outdoor dining and all that water, we did not see or feel a mosquito.
At this point, we have one more day of touring to get close to an airport. We take a short sail on the Mekong Sun. Hans Engberding, a German entrepreneur, has built two river ships on the upper Mekong. “The pride of Laos” they are called. Built on two long aluminum hulls the wooden ships ply these waters when the river levels permits, taking tourist first class around the Golden Triangle for four to seven night cruises. With well-appointed river view cabins, air-conditioning, a full bar and occasional smuggled prime-rib Hans feeds his European clientele a mixture of German/French cuisine and some local flavors too. He offers us a short course on Asian fruit snacks available at convenience stores.
Lunch at Imperial Hotel Terrace overlooking the Golden Triangle was unique in fact that this was the first time I saw lettuce in two weeks. In the Opium museum, we walked off our lunch and learned of the queen. Opium in Thailand has mostly been replaced with coffee although there had been some recent trouble on the river with drug runners.
On our last night at the Dusit Island Resort in Chiang Rai, the red carpet was rolled out for the princess as she was having a private party at the hotel. We went to the night market, picked up some trinkets and rode a tuk-tuk motorized rickshaw back to the hotel. The red carpet was gone and so was I as I began a series of flights home the next day.
My flight departed Bangkok two hours late. I missed my connection in Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific put me up in the Park Lane Hotel. Very very nice. I found out later that the price is usually in the three or four hundreds per night. The view of Hong Kong was extraordinary. The breakfast buffet was much better that the ones in China proper. They made the bacon crisp for one thing. The lunch buffet had sushi, roast beef and many western items. I took my evening flight to Shanghai, changed planes and flew the Pacific.
Tour arranged through:
China Panorama Travel China Kindness Tour
6F, King World Hotel, No.96, Beijing Road
Kunming, Yunnan, P.R.China
Post code: 650011