Lijiang is a smaller town dubbed ?the Venice of China? because of it?s many canals, stone bridges and cobblestone alleys. The journey here was interesting–a 12-hour train ride from Emei into the Yunnan Province followed by a breathtaking and often terrifying 8-hour bus ride over the mountains. The usual bidding war over me, the only Westerner to get off the train, occurred at 5:30am between a female taxi driver, chain-smoking mini bus driver and various old ladies selling dumplings. I eventually got to the bus station after a very long taxi ride where I wondered more than once if I was being kidnapped. The woman had shown me a note in English with the distance but I still haven?t bothered to learn just how far a kilometer is. The bus should have been an opportunity to catch the sleep I didn?t get on the train because of my snoring bunkmates but it started with loud Chinese ballads over the speakers and ended with even louder techno accompanied by a video of exotic dancers.
I arrived in the rain but the next two days were beautiful and clear. The old town must have been truly stunning before it was sterilized for tourists. As it stands now every single building in the old town is either a hotel, restaurant or souvenir stand. It?s too bad really, because the cobblestone streets combined with the rushing water in the canals and red lanterns at night combine for a magical atmosphere. I?m not embarrassed to admit that my decision to stay for three nights was a bit influenced by the many restaurants with good Western food. For a town so far out of the way it really has embraced Western tourists, even if we are outnumbered drastically by Chinese tour groups. I?ve managed to eat warm apple pie, an omelet and buy two **good** English-language books.
As you can tell, Lijiang has allowed for splurging. My first hostel was only 20 yuan a night (a little over $2) but I decided to go upmarket and found myself a single room overlooking a canal with a TV for twice that. Aside from wandering around the old town alleyways there?s not much to do in Lijiang. I walked up to a beautiful park north of town with a lake, temples and bridges with a great view of the snow capped mountain outside of town. Today was spent biking out to a smaller town called Bai Sha where I met with the local celebrity, Dr. Ho, who mixed me some herbs for the cold which has stayed with me since Xiahe. The townspeople were out in their fields harvesting corn and carrying the husks back to town in the baskets on their backs. The minority group in the area is called Naxis and is the last surviving matriarchal society–the woman did appear to be doing all the work.
Although I wanted to see Tiger Leaping Gorge I?ve decided to skip it. A lot of people have said it was their favorite part of China but I?ve heard drastically different reports on condition. Some people have told me that it?s difficult and if it rains the path gets washed away by waterfalls. However, some people have told me that it?s very easy and completely safe. My legs are still aching from my one day stint on Emei Shan so I?m going to head on down to Dali and get some information on possible routes to Xishuangbanna and on to the border crossing with Vietnam. I?ve heard the train line from Kunming is not longer running but I?m not quite sure if it?s possible to head East from ?banna or if I will have to backtrack 17 hours on the bus to Kunming.