Anthony's Interesting Times 2004 travel blog

Seven Star Park, Guiliin

Monkeys in Seven Star Park

My hotel room (between the palms and the mountains)

One of many hanging out areas at MCA

San Ta Si (Three pagodas), Dali (2 of them, anyway)

All 3, Dali

Red hot chilli peppers

Overgrown pagoda

Dali Old City High Street (Fu Xing Lu)

Chinese eateries by South Gate, wares on offer

Not much happens for about four days here, so please feel free to move on to the more exciting bits!

I left Yangshuo three days ago, keen to get settled in Northern Yunnan Province before the National Holiday started on the 1st, and all transport silts up, or all nice transport anyway. I had a 20 hour hard sleeper booked already from Guilin to Kunming, and unclear on next stage at that point. Before my evening train, I spent quite a nice day in Guilin (popn. 2,000,000, all Chinese tourists I think), mostly going in caves and climbing some of the more developed karst peaks in parks in the City.

My first hard sleeper was OK, except for this old woman in one of the bottom bunks, who kept hawking and gobbing all night, including in the bin between my legs while I was having my tea. On the better class of long-distance train they have a dining-car, and they bring round relatively fresh and relatively nice stir fries, about a pound each, and easily nicer than most plane food. But the gobbing was putting me off a bit this time.

In Kunming the train station said no tickets whatsoever, so I paid a travel agent five quid extra for a rare hard sleeper to Dali City. Not enough time to do anything I wanted to do in Kunming, so I just loitered around the attractive (not) train station for several hours, amusing the Chinese. Busy doesn't begin to describe it though, it was like the whole City was going away. Chinese trains are big, six seats wide with an aisle, and not a lot of leg room, but there were thousands pouring through like rock fans fighting to get in the mosh pit at a stadium gig. In the end the staff wouldn't let any more on the platform. Most of the 'lucky' ones could not have had reserved seats, so it must have been like a Tokyo tube train on board, for several hours for some. You can see why I was so keen not to travel hard seat over the holiday.

My train was a slow old one though, full of snorers, smokers, babies, etc, and I did not get much sleep, on my second night in a row in a train, and now here I am in Dali Old City, having got a taxi from the New City. I couldn't cope with public transport at 5 am with no sleep.

So dead early I arrived at the MCA Guesthouse in Dali, waking everyone up, my base for at least the next couple of days. It even has a swimming pool, though otherwise looks like a classy sort of backpacker joint, in so far as I could tell in the dark, though as the dawn broke it looked really nice. It reminded me a lot of some of the nicer places I stayed in Mexico. Got a bit of a Tibetan feel to it, perhaps not very surprising, as we are near the Tibetan border here. First place I've been in China that I would actually call nice, romantic even. All the more a shame I am on my own.

Later I realised that what this whole town reminds me of is San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico, except even nicer. It also reminds me of Gilgit on the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan, and of photos of Nepalese towns. Dali Old City is also surrounded by mountains (and a lake), and has been partly (sympathetically) rebuilt and partly just done up, and in fact looks really nice, considering one could look at it as one giant shopping mall, albeit an extremely aesthetically pleasing one. It is pedestrianised, there are rivers flowing through the streets, and it has a calm and chilled atmosphere. Only a few shopkeepers hassle you to buy their stuff, as opposed to the usual 100% in most Chinese tourist places. Also, thankfully at last, the temperature is OK, I even have to wear a fleece at nights.

Chinese tourists outnumber westerners at least 1000 to 1 here, but they are different from the noisy tour groups that I have come to dread. These seem to be a more alternative and independent Chinese; couples, pairs and families. We are not talking hippies, mind you, but I have seen some Chinese with rucksacks even, and no, they weren't Japanese. I do like to think I can tell the difference between most Chinese and Japanese (and Tibetans, of whom there are quite a few here). Though there are Japanese here too, mind.

Anyway, nice breakfast, hash browns with some scrambled eggs and unidentifiable animal product, a great start to the day. And then a walk through and out of town to these three pagodas (pictured), which were quite nice. I must have been very tired, as it took me at least 30 minutes walking to realise my hotel wasn't where I thought it was. And then another few hours to realise that was becuse I had marked it on the map wrong, but fortunately the taxi driver had ignored my directions and just focussed on the hotel name.

And then back to town for a lunch in the Tibetan Cafe owned by my hotel (which was nothing special, I had forgotten how dull Tibetan food is compared to Chinese. Now I remember eating Indian food a lot in Ladakh for that reason). A nice thing the Chinese places in town do, is have all their wares out front, the vegetables as well as the live 'things', all looking nice and clean and yummy (the vegetables anyway). And then wandering around the shops, just wandering and looking. There is some great stuff they do with marble, to make arty Chinese 'pictures', but tragically it is incredibly heavy. But I found where the alternative bits are, and I thought I was straight back in Yangshuo, except wider streets and even more chilled. For reference, the relevant streets are Huguo Lu and Bo Ai Lu, who cross each other.

Another snippet: recycling. China is majorly into recycling. Unfortunately I doubt this is for the sake of the environment, you only have to look at the awful pollution to see that is not the case. The whole operation is driven by the fact that people make money out of it - mostly old people. As soon as I get near the bottom of my bottle of water, all these old people start inching towards me, and anything I put in a bin, five seconds later somebody has taken it out again.

Another: firecrackers. These are very loud and fairly dangerous to be near. Always used when a new busines is open, and for various other reasons I do not yet know, including commonly on building sights for some reason.

I went to the bar area for tea, but there didn't seem to be much exciting happening, so I was setting off home when it started to rain, so I went back to the nearest bar. Then it really rained, and thunder and lightning too. This boy and his mother sat with me, so he could practice his English and me my Mandarin, which was good fun, talking about Harry Potter, etc, which he loved. And no sooner had they gone, then this entire family sat with me so the eldest daughter could do the same, which was good fun too and good for my Mandarin, and even more so as they kept buying me drinks, and even paid my own bill one time I was in the toilet. In China there is much polite scuffling normally over who should pay a shared bill, and tactics like waiting till the person has a piss are common. By now though the rain was torrential, and was staying that way, and every time I even ran to the next shop I was getting soaked, though luck was with me for once and I got a taxi.

Very overcast and wet today though still. I spent a bit of time on the net this morning checking out trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge - one of the main reasons I am going to Lijiang next - and frankly it put me off quite a lot. The gorge is reputed to be the deepest and narrrowest in the world, and a stunning walk if you can do it. The vehicle road is currently closed due to landslides though (the easier route I may have chosen), and the pedestrian path sounds completely terrifying. It rained torrentially last night which has probably made it worse as well. My walking boots don't grip well, and at least a couple of people specifically talk about the issue of grip. There is a US student being searched for up there as we speak. Other people say it is fine. I will investigate more when I am there.

I mooched around town this morning, and even bought some of said marble for Birthday present for mother. What a palaver trying to get them to post it though. At first the guy in the Post Office just plain refused, on the basis it might get broken, but I tried the just standing there waiting trick, and he gave in after five minutes of this. And lunch of a yak stir fry in Jim's Tibetan Peace Cafe. Not a hippy in sight, despite the name, just old Chinese man smoking one of these huge bongs that some of the old people smoke their normal cigarettes though for some reason.

After lunch, I went to look at this old pagoda, walked around the Old City Walls, and did probably more shopping than I should have done, but at least that is most of Xmas and birthdays for the next few months sorted. And to be honest, they is some great stuff, just wish I had a big van and shedloads of money. And then a relatively early night.

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