We visited Yunnan, the mountainous province in far south-west of China, between Sichuan, Tibet and Burma. We enjoyed the Tibetan towns but kept hiking to a minimum with our toddlers.
Travel; We made one mistake though, we flew from Chengdu to Deqen (shangri-la airport) and after a few days took the bus downhill to Lijiang and again a bus back up the mountain to Deqen on the way out. That last bus-ride was unnecessary, a next time I would fly to Lijiang, acclimate to the elevation and then drive to Deqen and fly back to Chengdu from there. It’s also more impressive to drive up the mountain range instead of going down. We overlooked as we didn’t expect Lijiang to have it’s own airport. However, Shangrila airport is interesting as it does not have any taxiways requiring planes landing there to turn 180° and backtaxi over the lane to the terminal building.
Deqen; high and rural. Out of the plane, we took a taxi to Deqen, a nearby town in the Tibetan mountain range. Its a valley surrounded by green mountain tops. It felt a bit like time stood still here. Besides that, the sun sends this really bright-white light, making all colors vibrant (those Tibetan flags really stand out). You can see farmers work the land and cows, digs and horses roam free. There are no fences. The weather in September was mild, clouds, rain and sunshine rapidly exchanged. (Rainbows!) No wonder they nicknamed this place Shangri-la. Its a large but not overly touristic town with at it’s heart a touristic ‘old town’.
At 3300m deqen is certainly not the most elevated settlement in the world but I definitely felt light headed the first day -after walking up a few stairs you feel a bit light headed so I decided to take it easy and just have a coffee in the old town. I met friendly locals and travelers from all corners of China. The Deqen temple offers a nice view over the town. Its prime dish is yak based. Yak hotpot, yak yoghurt, yak fried rice.
We also visited the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery which is home for 700 Tibetan monks. Walking the hundreds of steps up you smell the incense. The monastery is positioned on a hill surrounded by mountains The main Hall features a high ceiling, We were allowed to attend a praying ceremony with about a hundred monks. With the hypnotizing deep throat singing, and rhythmic drums with a deep resonating horn blowing it was quite a spectacle. The monks were friendly but preferred not to be photographed – must get old fast with all the tourists visiting.
As a day-trip we visited the Balagazong mountain range. We took a tourbus down and again 40 min up. The view on top, standing at a Tibetan temple is magnificent. Looking down you see the birds below you fly around, afterwards we walked upstream the river. We were just wondering how they build the km’s long bridge next to the steep rock.
Lijiang; After Shangri La we drove to Lijiang, at 2300m. We explored the old town which is huge, but way more commercial then Shangri La. It must have been a nice place few decades ago but now it’s mostly shops and clubs. It was a very nice place to be though! Our hotel was in an area full of traditional Chinese architecture (they rebuilt the city after earthquake but you can spot some traditional buildings) with coffee shops inside. We spend the first day at the dragon lake and walked down into the old down center. We took a cab to the lake and We took a stroller for the baby but it was unusable on the rocky tiles, so I carried them around. When the sun sets, the town becomes beautifully alighted with red lanterns. We had a guided walk by one of the local Naxi people.
We rode eight km bike ride to Baisha Village 白沙 over a four lane car road so is was slightly disturbing but the the tranquil town was worth it. We visited the palace which featured the ancient scrolls and even older case paintings from the paleo times, roots of the original Naxi writing.
After the palace we walked around town. It was sunny and grannies were selling fruits and joking with us. At one point we passed and met Dr. Ho’s in his clinic, a 96 year old, who has a mysterious herb tea would cure many ailments and he shared stories and happiness with us. We then had a meal at ‘baisha times’ restaurant in the town which had the best yak-butter tea I ever tasted.
I’m writing this on the way back home. We really enjoyed Yunnan and would like to come back some time. Perhaps visit Kunming and Dali. But I also wouldn’t mind to go to the same places. China is a diverse and large country, would love to see more of the other provinces too.