|I’m currently sitting in ‘my office’, on a roof top terrace of my hostel in Shaxi, Yunnan. This is one of the first times I’ve actually sat down and written my journal anywhere other than a train, but given I only have one train journey left in China, it’s not until tomorrow night, I don’t board until 11.45pm (assuming I manage to get a ticket) and I’m a little behind on my journal already, I thought I’d bring myself up to date.
Last time I wrote we were heading to Kunming which continued without incident – other than the man shaving in the corridor of the train, the screaming baby at 3am in my carriage and the overwhelming smell of meat when I first woke up…. We went really close to the Vietnamese boarder on the train – next time I’m there I’ll be saying hello to mum!
I knew on arriving I had about 5 hours from train arrival until my flight took off and I needed to find the airport transfer and make the journey over to the airport in time for check in. I found my way out of the station and headed in the direction I believed the shuttle to be in (according to maps ME) – after flagging down the wrong bus and feeling completely lost for a while I suddenly spotted the shuttle outside one fot eh hotels… result. I boarded, paid the 25y and was on my way – arriving at the airport just 45mins later and before 10.30am, I had plenty of time before my flight. I arrived and went to the line to just get into the airport and finally was allowed in.
I was extremely aware that my luggage allowance was just 20kg for the flight so arriving at the airport and orientating myself a bit, I headed to a quiet corner to unpack and repack my bag. Taking out some of my heavier items and putting them in my hand luggage along with putting on everything I reasonably could to reduce the weight (jacket / walking boots etc) I proceeded to check in where I was happy to see I had managed to get it down to 17kg…. relief.
I made my way through security, found a starbucks (shame, I know – but sometimes needs / must) and plonked myself down for the 3hour wait.
At about 11.30 I received an email to tell me my flight had been delayed to 3.30pm (instead of 2.05pm), slightly annoying but nothing I could do about it so I continued to read and waited. Interestingly there were absolutely no announcements at all within the airport of the delay, and it wasn’t until after the original departure time that the boards updated to inform us within the airport of the delay. The newly scheduled time came and went….finally we began boarding at about 3.50pm – I was getting a bit tired and cranky by this point as I’d been on the go since 6am yesterday morning! On board the flight I promptly fell asleep and woke as we were landing in Shangri-la, that was a bonus.
Not really sure what to expect when we arrived as I had been told that the area wasn’t particularly well set up for tourists (which is a good thing of course, but does make it a bit more tricky to navigate when I have zero local language), fortunately there was a taxi driver there to whom I showed my hostel address and he seemed ok with taking me. I loaded all my things in and got in the car, only for him to say something to me and walk off….. I had absolutely no idea what was going on but after a while a few other people also got in the car so it appeared he was just filling up to make best use of the journey!
The ride was very quick over to the hostel and I finally arrived at about 6pm, at which point I was shattered and hungry. I took a quick shower and headed out to a restaurant close by that had been recommended to me by the girl I had met in Yangshou. Once again I admit shamefully that it was a restaurant that did reasonably priced western food as well as local cuisine – I just needed something familiar and was so happy to see they had fish and chips in the menu – I devoured that.
After food I headed back to the hostel, at this point it was dark and (very) cold – I was told the temperature drops dramatically over night. This wouldn’t be a problem if I was heading back to a nicely heated hostel…but heating just isn’t a thing here so I returned and my room was ice cold. Fortunately they plan for it a bit and put electric blankets on the beds so I put my on to warm up the bed while getting ready.
Friday morning I was up at a reasonable time and got myself together to head out for the day….or as the guy in my hostel said ‘are you heading out to play?’ – yep…. That’s exactly what I’m doing… I headed out at about 9am and walking into the old town which was less than 5 mins from my hostel. I had been told to book somewhere outside of the city walls as the small guest houses hike their prices for the privilege of being inside and they were totally right – my place was absolutely lovely, new in August and an absolute steal of a price compared to those I saw in town.
As I was slightly early there wasn’t a huge amount going on in the town but I wandered and came acorss the town square which was a bit more bustling – women in traditional Tibetan inspired dress, a few other tourists (all domestic tourists, I didn’t see another westerner again throughout the trip) and men wandering around smoking their cigarettes. The main city (town) temple sat high on a hill, next to a (revolving) prayer tower…. A stunning picture. I walked up the steps to the temple and had a good walk around admiring the buildings.
After the main city temple I spent a good hour walking around the town – in 2014 there had been an awful fire in the old town which had bought down about 50% of the building as they as all wooden, absolute deverstation for the town and the businesses. I saw some of the aftermath – there is a fair amount of work being done on the west side of the city, while the east is still pretty in tact. After a while I decided it was time to think about heading to the monastery I had been told about which was about 5km out of town. I knew there was a bus I could get but I had also spotted some bikes to hire in one of the town inns so I went there to find out how much they were. Successfully acquiring a bike I was on my way…. I have to say this is the only time so far on the trip that I have actually kind of regretted getting a bike… the route to the monastery really wasn’t pretty (mainly along busy roads) and there was quite a lot of construction going on which meant some of the routes I wanted to take were shut off or not possible to go along on bike.
Anyway – I finally arrived, locked up my bike, bought my ticket in and headed in, a quick bus ride up the hill and I arrive – it was spectacular. I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to expect but the (multiple) buildings stood proud on the side of the hill and looked incredible from below. I took my time to look around a lot of the buildings, respecting the culture and values by removing sunglasses before entering each building and walking around in a clockwise direction …. The colours and the decoration were incredible. Along with that it was so interesting seeing the monks go about their daily lives, young males heading to prayer school, older monks working and then taking time to chant throughout the day.
I was also able to head right to the top of one of the buildings and look out to the views of the mountains in the distance – really beautiful. It was also really quiet from a tourist perspective, I think only myself and (perhaps) 3 other people were there that weren’t working or monks, it made it feel quite personal and real rather than a ‘normal’ tourist attraction.
Once I had finished here (I think about 2hours later!) I took the longer route back round to pick up the bus again – this would, in the wetter months, be a lake but it was quite dried up when I was there. I was able to get a beautiful picture of the monastery from a distance though…. And found some pigs, goats, horses and cows on the walk back round to the start.
On the route back I tried to find Napa lake which is meant to be quite close to the town – unfortunately with all the construction it just wasn’t possible to find it so after a good hour of trying I lost my personality and decided to head back with the bike…. The journey back was equally as unattractive but I did manage to stumble across a local street food market and the main shopping streets the locals use which is always interesting!
I dropped my bike back and headed back to the hostel for a quick sit down and to work out my plans for the next day. I had hoped to head into Tiger Leaping Gorge but it was proving difficult to work out how to actually get to the ‘Tibeten Inn’ that I had seen as it was so off the beaten track. The hostel had recommended I take a local but this would still have dropped me about 5km from the inn and without any local language I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of no-where without being able to converse with anyone (if there was anyone there!). So I changed my plans and decided I would head straight up to Shaxi, a small ancient town south of Shangri-la and in the right direction for Kunming (where I have to get to by Thursday for my flight to Myanmar).
I popped out for a quick feed of Yak momos and Yunnan soup, the local cuisine I had been told was really nice. I had a good restaurant recommendation from the hostel and it was so tasty and very filling! The soup was a bit like pasta and meat in soup, it doesn’t sound like it should work but it really does and the yak meat in the ‘momos’ (dumplings) was so good. After a good feed I headed back to the hostel and sat with the hostel owner, another girl staying and a friend of the hostel owner for an evening of tea and chats (as much as I could chat with the hostel owner…. The other girl staying had to do a lot of translation for us!).
I didn’t sleep very well at all…. For no good reason… so I woke feeling a bit jaded on Saturday. Not letting this deter me though I got myself up and headed on the half hr walk up to the bus station to try and get a ticket to Jianchuan – the town in which I would pick up a connecting bus up to Shaxi. A good half an hour walk and I picked up my ticket and started wandering back. Bus travel is a LOT cheaper than train travel in China with the four hour bus journey costing me 46y (about £5.30), but I guess the distances are a lot shorter and the comfort somewhat compromised….I’ll come back to that.
I headed back to the hostel and made the decision to try and find a supermarket on route to get some fruit and water for the journey – I found a decent place again that locals use for the water and picked up some fruit from a market stall nearby… before I knew it it was 12noon and I realised I hadn’t checked out of the hostel! I rushed back but the hostel owner wasn’t bothered at all… he said I could stay in my room until I needed to leave for the bus so I leisurely packed up but did move my bag etc out so I could head and grab a quick bite to eat before the journey.
At about 2pm (my bus was at 2.50pm) the hostel owner helped me flag down a taxi and I headed up to the station – a very dear 5y (60p) for the 10min journey and I arrived at the bus station in plenty of time for the departure. Unsure of protocol I headed through the security channel, where I’m sure the lady was more interested in the excitement on her phone that what was going through the luggage xray machine, and I waited. Getting to about 2.30pm I tried my luck by waving my ticket in front of a lady who looked vaguely official and she sent me in the direction of a small bus in the main bus park – it was full of men smoking who looked at me like I had come from out of space. The driver then got on, shouted something at me and pointed at my bag – he wanted to move it into the luggage compartment and then seemed to only check my ticket – which was interesting… anyway, 2.55pm and we were on our way. I had put myself on the back seat of the mini bus by a window and was tightly squashed in as the bus was (unsurprisingly) over full. The men proceeded to smoke throughout the entire journey and then glared at me in disgust as I had the window wide open throughout – I acted like an ignorant foreigner and continued to keep it open as I refused to sit in a confined space with multiple people smoking!
The scenery on route was out of this world – we went right through the mountains and down into the gorge which was wonderful. It was a shame I couldn’t stay there but at least I got to see some of it through the bus window. About 2 hours in we had a ‘comfort’ stop – in which meat on sticks and what I think was some sort of fish was purchased by other passengers and bought onto the bus to add to the smell of the smoke – I definitely needed to do laundry when I got to Shaxi! We arrived pretty much on time though which was great and I went on a bit of a mission to try and find the local shuttle to take me up the mountain to Shaxi – fortunately this bit was smooth as I spoke to a man who sent me in the right direction and within about 10mins of arriving in Jianchuan we were on out way. This journey was ‘interesting’ for different reasons as the shuttle bus driver seemed to have no patience whatsoever so any vehicle taking the mountain road (what I would say) sensibly was beeped at and overtaken on narrow mountain roads with sheer drops to the side…. I was very happy to arrive in one piece!
I arrived, coughed up the 13y and headed to find my way to the hostel. Unfortunately this is the only time that Maps ME had let me down as the hostel was actually really close to where I was dropped by the app showed it as being further into town so I ended up doing a 15 mins walk for what could have been about 3! Anyway…. I arrived and settled in quickly – a beautiful little hostel, lovely communal area, cute room and the building itself very sympathetic to Tibetan style. I sorted myself out, had a quick shower to get rid of the bus journey, put some washing in and gave Rach and Sarah a call on facetime. I couldn’t get Rach at this point unfortunately but managed to have a chat with Sarah for a while and then caught up with Rach a little later as I was heading to bed. I got some sleep and was looking forward to seeing what Shaxi had to offer after the good storied I’d heard.
Sunday I woke at about 8am and looking out I saw blue sky – I excitedly got up and ready for the day ahead. I wasn’t really sure what the temperatures were going to be so put some jeans and layers on to be safe…. I really needn’t have bothered – it turned out to be a beautiful day, so warm.
I headed straight in the direction of the green space on the outskirts of the little town and walked and walked and walked…. Before I knew it I was about 6km from the town in the middle of the mountains with absolutely no one around… the only reason I turned back was because the track I had been following had got increasingly thinner and less obvious until the point I couldn’t see it anymore – I thought this was a good time to turn back rather than getting lost up there! So my leisurely morning walk ended up being an bit of an 11km hike…
I walked back into the beautiful ancient town – it is absolutely stunning… through the east gate accompanied by some goats I headed into the main square which was made up of gorgeous wooden buildings and a spectacular little temple. I enjoyed the area for a while and had a bit of lunch before realising that my cash supply was a bit short and I was in the middle of the mountains…. It was fine for the food I had bought, accommodation and would have got me back to Jianchuan etc but it didn’t really give me much of a buffer so I went on a mission to see if there was any form of ATM in the tiny town. I found one but much like most of the ‘non mainstream’ ATMs in China it promptly rejected my card (fortunately didn’t swallow it!) but after a while longer of exploring the ‘main’ street I found one that would give me cash which was a relief – just takes the pressure off a bit.
I pottered back to the hostel and decided to give myself an ‘admin’ afternoon as I had quite a busy morning. This is one of the things Sarah had mentioned to me about travelling – I have to give myself the odd afternoon to just get stuff sorted as it’s not something you want to do every day but ultimately – life doesn’t stop! So after a bit of banking I began to sort out my plans for the next couple of months. Initially (and I can write this down now as I told mum yesterday) I had planned on going back to the UK for Xmas – it was one of the things I had booked early on and I think it was something I needed to do to psychologically make myself start booking the rest of the trip. I have been thinking about it a lot over the past couple of weeks though and I actually came to the decision that perhaps xmas away – while it will be hard – perhaps wouldn’t be the worst thing if I’m exploring the world and seeing things I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to see. I had been doing a lot of research into where I could be for Xmas and have found a lovely looking yoga retreat on Koh Yao Noi island in the south of Thailand. So on Sunday I finally made the decision that I was going to be a “brave” 32 year old and attempt my first xmas away from my family. I cancelled the flight I had booked and contacted the yoga retreat to try and get a bed for the time – I’m yet to hear back from them to confirm the booking but hopefully it will be ok.
Mum actually called while I was doing all of this so I told her what had happened – I think if she wasn’t heading out so soon after xmas I might have thought differently but knowing I’m going to see an extremely familiar face so soon afterwards it feels palatable now…. Who’d have thought it!
After sorting all the admin I got myself together and headed into town for a bit of food before making my way back to the hostel for a chilled evening and a film… although the film didn’t end up happening as Sarah was free and we decided to book our Borneo trip! Sarah had always planned to head out and do some of my trip with me and as it happens we have now booked what looks like an amazing tour in Borneo for 12 days which will be the end of my travels – a really nice symmertary that Sarah will be starting and finishing my trip with me. We also booked our return flights to the UK so I now know I will be back on UK soil on 27th March – looking for a good cup of tea and some dairy milk chocolate!
After all that excitement I headed to bed with a couple of episodes of Sex and the City… and here I am – the next morning, sitting on the roof top terrace in my hostel enjoying the sun!