A Travellerspoint blog

PHOTOS: Hilltribes.


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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

EMAIL: Hello from Kunming


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We last wrote from Chengdu [Chengdu-travel-guide-210429] (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 [Dali-travel-guide-212463] 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 [Kunming-travel-guide-227094] 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

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

PHOTOS: Another historic town.


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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

PHOTOS: Heavenly delight.


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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

EMAIL: Greetings from Chengdu


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Hi all

Greetings from Chengdu [Chengdu-travel-guide-210429]. We're back from Tibet. In Chengdu for a couple of nights before heading off down south to Yunnan province.

Tibet is truly heavenly ... the mix of its religious history / architecture, and its landscape. We were awestruck by the majesty of the Potala Palace from our hotel room window! That was only one of the many monasteries and buildings that we visited ... the most amazing on the inside was the assembly hall of the Drepung monastery which houses about 800 monks now but about 10,000 before the Chinese Cultural Revolution ... so colourful with its tapestries and gold statues with lots and lots of maroon cushions for the monks to sit on and recite their scriptures.

According to our Tibetan guide, we've been extremely lucky to witness a monk debating examination, see a sand mandala and walk around an assembly of monks during their scripture reading. He has never had any guests do all three in one trip, let alone one day ... and he's been guiding for 8 years.

We may have mentioned that our group consists of us two plus one more. We knew she was widely travelled, but later also learnt of 5-star safaris through some very impoverished African states. She's a little shocked by the standard of many things in Tibet, but we are totally prepared with real life experience from places like India. Why aren't there 5-star facilities in Tibet?

She paid two-and-a-half times what we paid for the trip. Partly because she's travelling by her self (ie. not twin-sharing), and using better accommodation. But there's still a huge difference that she can't work out once she found out how little we paid. We suspect she booked the "private tour" and we booked the group tour ... the the Company separated us out from the mainly Chinese group and put us with her, so that they would save on an English-speaking guide for our original group!

Now, for the sickening part about Tibet. Literally! The altitude causes headaches and heart palpitations from the moment the aircraft landed. Then muscular pains, tingling, more headaches and in some cases (including mine) vomitting. Sleepless nights are also a feature ... we typically wake up every 2-3 hours each night, every night!

The Tibetans are extremely devoted to their form of Buddhism. We've never seen such devotion to a faith anywhere else, and it takes up a disproportionate chunk of their lives. Some people do seven pilgrimages from the wild west to Lhasa [Lhasa-travel-guide-228118] each year, each trip taking one week in each direction! And the guide described it as "not very often".

Most Tibetans (esp women) wear their traditional dress, and the nomadic people do not bathe. Our guide sighed as he saw some Tibetans in "Chinese clothing" (what we call western clothing), and was proud to proclaim that monks at the Tashulinpo Monastery wear Tibetan shoes rather than "Chinese shoes" (ie normal western shoes) unlike their counterparts elsewhere. Seems to be some resistance to modernisation, and vilifying such trends as "Chinese".

To be fair, he doesn't vilify everything Chinese. He was quite quick to admit that many temples were destroyed in China during the Cultural Revolution, and this wasn't targetted at Tibet. In fact, many more temples were probably destroyed in China compared to Tibet.

The scenery is just gorgeous. We drove from Lhasa to Shigatse (the 2nd largest city) over 2 mountain passes, with our highest point during the journey peaking over 5200m. Shortly after that point, we took a comfort stop at the world's 2nd highest loo ...a 'natural' toilet with waist high stack of stones as a wall. And Tibetan children waiting to collect money for the privilege of using it. It is 2nd highest only to Everest Base Camp.

The blue sky, olive-coral-brown-grey patchwork mountains, white snow, turquoise lakes and gold leaves of autumn are an unforgettable combination. The sun is scorching and temperatures are cool when in the shade. The sub-zero nights are irrelevant to us as we're in bed by 7 or 8 pm! We never got a chance to use our cold-weather gear!

Many things in Tibet are very backward and it is nice to be back in Chengdu. For a start food, especially Chinese food in Tibet is very bad. We've just stuffed ourselves with the most beautiful pizza tonight which includes the free internet from which we're writing this email. I think it is sacrilege that we're eating pizza when we're in the home of Hot & Sour Soup, Mapo Tofu and Gong Bao Chicken! But then we ate Chinese in Italy because the pizzas were so bad (or bad value for money).

We've also treated ourselves to a massage / reflexology. I had a massage (mainly stepping) followed by vacuum cups on my back ... the vacuum sucked my back muscles into the cups, in mounds as big as half-peaches! Kim had reflexology but we'll swap roles tomorrow.

Bye for now. Early night before going to feed the pandas tomorrow morning.

Alex Chan

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

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