Thursday, February 3, 2011

On the Tea-Horse Caravan Trail in Shaxi, China

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Destination:  Shaxi, China

Number of Days Spent: 1 day

Where we stayed:  We stopped in transit between Lijiang and Dali (stopping at the hot springs enroute for the night, if you’re interested ask the family at Mu’s Garden Inn in Lijiang for the hotel information).

Best restaurant:  It’s the only one in Lonely Planet and it’s connected to a Bed & Breakfast. I think it was called the Laomadian Lodge and the restaurant called the Karma CafĂ©.  We thought about staying the night but the rooms were rather pricey.  However, the food was worth the splurge, the beer was icy cold and the food, well it was DELICIOUS, including the yak meat! 

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Best of:   We were invited into an old couple’s home for a tour (no English spoken of course) of their house complete with wood carvings and a room dedicated to ancestor worship. 

Worst of:    Transport connections to Shaxi were quite slow.  We had to wait for quite a while for the shared van to depart (60-90 minutes on the way back). We nearly missed our connecting bus, but as with nearly all things in China it just works. 

Most Memorable:   We ate yak meat and it was actually good!

Crumbling facades, wall to wall souvenir stalls, and the sudden absence of hawkers make the little village of Shaxi seem lost in time. Once an important stop on trade routes, the village is now a shell of its former glory receiving little more than a trickle of visitors, but that’s for all the better. The government has went to great lengths to promote this part of Yunnan and the ability for Shaxi to hold on to the past is a feat in itself. 

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The place was nearly deserted on the day that we visited, just a handful of old men and kids. After seeing the hoards of tour groups and buses in Lijiang, it was nice to see this place left alone . . . at least for now.

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After leaving Shaxi, we stopped one more time on our way to Dali at what was billed as a ‘hot spring’. While the place had more of a ‘Bates Motel’ feel than ‘Treasure Island’, it wasn’t all that bad and the pool was welcoming enough. It was a nice way to break up an otherwise rough journey.

Next stop, Dali!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge: A Photo Story

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Destination:  Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan Province of China

Number of Days Spent: 2 days

Where we stayed:  Tea-Horse Guesthouse – 40 RMB for a double room (twin beds) and shared bathroom

Best restaurant:  The Naxi Family Guesthouse was cute and had tasty food that prepared us for the 28 Bends, the most difficult part of the hike.  We also enjoyed a dinner at Tea-Horse with the ‘world’s longest menu’ after the first day’s hike.

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Best of:   Playing a hand of cards and drinking a cold, well earned, beer at the end of our first day of tough hiking while the sun set behind the majestic mountains with the gorge below.

Worst of:    Rock hard beds, a hose for a ‘solar heated’ shower and toilets that left much to be desired.  But this is the great outdoors people so it was all expected. 

Most Memorable:   Don’t forget to stop at the Halfway House to use their famous “Bathroom with a View”

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Useful Tips:  Come armed with directions.  Please see below (compliments of Wiki-Travel):

From Qiaotou: From the ticket office, walk along the road till you reach the school gate. Stay on the road, following the schools grey-white wall till its end where painted arrows point up an embankment at the beginning of the trek. From here keep to the well worn path and follow the plentiful painted red/yellow arrows. A misleading fake path before the school forks off at a brick wall painted with fading arrows. People may tell you it is the right way, but stay on the road to the school. (If the road to the school is under construction you may have to take this one.

About 10km later, at Tina's there is a trail down to the river. You can come back up to Tina's two ways (Tianti (the heavenly ladder), or Teacher Zhang's trail) or take a trail that goes a little ways down the river before coming back up a little farther down the road.

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After jumping on a bus from LIjiang to Qiaotou we set off to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge!  At first I was worried that it would be too difficult for me to handle, after all we’ve been traveling for 2 years now and I was in rather dubious shape.  The first few hours were pretty easy, a steady uphill hike but nothing to get too bothered about.  The views were outstanding!

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After a quick rest and lunch at the Naxi Family Guesthouse we decided it was time to move on, getting ready for the notorious 28 Bends, the hardest part of the hike. After shaking the men on horseback, “No thanks, we actually want to walk….”, we set off.  They were right, the 28 Bends were difficult, a series of switchbacks and steps leading through the dirt.  We made it though!  Proud of our progress we had to stop for a celebratory photo (the views just kept getting better and better)!

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The rest of the day’s walk was pretty easy  but we were tired from the uphill hike and decided to stop a little early knowing we could easily finish the next day.  The setting sun was savored over a cold beer!

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The next morning we woke before sunrise and watched the rays of the sun raising over the majestic mountains.  After a stop at Halfway House for some noodles, banana pancakes & a quick stop at their famed ‘bathroom with a view’ we headed on down the mountain to the end of the trail. 

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We met up with other travelers at TIna’s at the bottom of the mountain to organize transport back to town.  Our ride back to town was delayed due to blasting in the area as they are ‘fixing’ the road.  Be wary!!!  Our car drove us to the edge of this, we covered our faces with scarves so we could breathe and picked our way gingerly over the rocks….not exactly how we wanted to finish our hike.  The dust was EVERYWHERE and we kept furtively glancing up to make sure we weren’t going to be smacked in the head by a rock.  We safely made it across where another driver was waiting to take us the rest of the way into town.  I couldn’t resist taking a shot of our ‘near death experience’!  It was not an experience I’m keen to repeat! 

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Rock Slides and steep climbs behind us, we made our way back to Lijiang for a well earned rest before heading off to our next destination – Dali!