The buttons below link to details of our trip through Yunnan. The gallery link takes you to photos of our trip and 'About' includes travel practicalities as well as a reading list.

Introduction Kunming to Dali Places - Shaxi to Shangri LaPeople AboutGallery

Vicky's blog has a lot more detail and colour. You can read the first episode here



Kunming, Xizhou and Dali

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan and first impressions from a very smart airport are of a busy modern city. We are here for just one night before heading off along the "Tea Horse Road" named after the caravans that travelled between Puer in the South and Tibet. Our attempt to visit a recommended restaurant - Shiping Huiguan- fail when we arrive at 8.45 to be turned away - they eat early here in Yunnan.

There is little of historical interest to see in Kunming as most of the old town has been knocked down to build high rise offices and apartments. We head to the old market on Saturday morning to see what we can find. Stalls are selling trinkets, pipes, combs, flowers and notably loads of pets. We explore the cages full of birds, puppies, piglets and squirrels. Bamboo, our guide, explains that they are pets - not for eating!

Next stop is a very smart shop selling Pu'er tea. We were keen to buy some more of this dark fermented tea which we drink a lot of in Singapore as it comes from Yunnan. A lovely girl explains the different ages of tea as well as the different trees that it comes from. Unlike other tea that is picked as young shoots from bushes, the best Pu'er is made from large leaves from old trees and then matured for several years. Before a fast fermenting process was developed the best tea was stored for 30 years or more. We splash out on some 13 year old tea from a 200 year old tree.

Soon we are heading off towards Dali on a fast new road. Two three-lane carriageways with impressive tunnels take us rapidly through a landscape of steep hillsides and traditional Yi villages. The slopes are stabilised by trees to prevent landslides. As you leave Kunming you get good views of Dian lake and "Sleeping Beauty" mountain before heading off into the hills.

We learn a bit about Yunnan from our guide, Bamboo, on the road. The largest industry is tobacco followed by non-ferous metal mining, TCM herbs and tourism. Given the number of Chinese tourists we spot it won't be long before that jumps to the third or second spot. We also learn that the Yi people have a 10 month, 360 day calendar. Each month has three 'weeks' of 12 days, each one symbolised by an animal. Each new year there is a spectacular fire festival.

As we get close to Chuxiong, where the road turns North, we pass "Dinosaur mountain" where two largely intact pterodactyls were found. Not far to the north is the site where a number of very early human fossils have been found - Youanmou Man and Homo Erectus. We stop in Chuxiong in a very newly constructed part of town for a very good Mushroom and Chicken hotpot.

Linden Centre second courtyard

Courtyard in the Linden Centre hotel

North of Chuxiong we move from the Yi province to the Bai region. The houses look similar although with different decoration on the buildings. After another hour or two we reach Dali and then a few km to the North, our hotel in the pretty and interesting village of Xizhou. The Linden Center (above) is a 1940s merchant's house laid out in three courtyards on the east side of the village. It has been beautifully restored by American owners, Brian and Jeannie Linden. From here it is easy to walk around Xizhou.

Xizhou street. The general's house is on the left

Xizhou is an important village on the Tea Horse road as it was the home of both a merchant who funded many of the caravans, Mr Yang, and General Ying who was sent to Yunnan by the emperor Kang Xi to protect China's western borders. Mr Yang also started the first bank in Shanghai. Many of the "capitalists' houses" were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution and others have fallen into ruin but are now being restored. The village has a colourful local market and in the surrounding fields we watch rice shoots being planted out in the paddies. Later at nearby Erhai Lake we watch wedding couples and smartly dressed tourists posing for photos.

Next day we stop by the lake to watch cormorant fishermen before heading into Dali. The old town (above) was originally full of old wooden houses set out on a criss-cross of lanes within a large wall with two gates. The town was cosmopolitan with 'foreigner streets' for visiting Tibetans and other foreign traders. Most of these houses have been rebuilt and converted to restaurants and shops selling jade, silver, shoes, clothes and shawls, and drums. Outside the restaurants are fruit and veg as well as more exotic ingredients like grasshoppers, eels and worms. We end up in the Yunnan Cafe where we are offered "Yak steak and french fries" but opt for a more traditional Chinese meal. After lunch we escape the huge tour groups and posing wedding couples and head for the Three Pavilions in a big garden where Vicky befriends some Chinese tourists posing by a pond.

Vicky's new friends at the Three Pagodas, Dali

On Monday we manage to escape the crowds by taking a cablecar up the side of Cangshang mountain from where we climb then traverse the slopes for 12km finally descending by a chairlift. On the way we have great views of Erhai Lake and see spectacular gorges, flowers, birds and butterflies as well as some great (and well signposted) geology! The Jade Band Road is a beautfully paved path made from the local rocks as you can see as you move from mica schist to amphibolite and the paving changes from sparkly black to green.

White rhododendron and one of the Cangshang gorges

We see very few other people on the walk - mostly young Chinese including an annoying couple of lads who follow us for a couple of km with their music blaring out Chinese pop. At about three quarters of the way along we stop in a little pavilion for a picnic lunch before checking out the Zhonghe temple which has images of the Buddha, Confucius and Dao in one room - hedging your bets. From here we head back down on a chairlift and return to the Linden Centre for one last fine supper.