We are long overdue for a post on Yunnan--and other trips, but might as well cover this one while it's fresh. It was an incredible place, unlike anywhere else we've been in China. To say "people are nice there" might give the wrong impression about our feelings about Beijing. Hey, we're New Yorkers, we get it--sometimes you just gotta get where you're going, and you wanna slow me down? Fuhgeddaboudit. Hence why Yunnan, with its laid-back attitude, seems to draw large numbers of drop-outs from the pressures of mainstream China.
We started in Lijiang, which we heard would be crazy packed with Chinese tourists--and it was. But they definitely had a way of hanging out in like three streets and the main square, so the back alleys were all ours, and they were amazing. Here is a view from some alleys in the hilly part of town looking down through the ancient city into the mountains:
We still had an amazing time in Lijiang, despite the crowds--our first night, on a quest for dinner, I randomly asked James if we could go into an antique shop. Inside, we found a hidden courtyard bar with a circle of people eating grilled meats around a fire-pit. They wave us over to join them--when does this happen? Never in Beijing. And we drink homemade plum wine and chat in a mix of English and Chinese; they giggle when we ask them what's on the skewer and insist we have to try it first (turned out to be chicken hearts, which are actually quite tasty); it's two days before Christmas and someone pulls out a light-up Santa hat and beard. The group was so kind and friendly and sent us off on our way filled with wine and meat and that was the best dinner we could have found.
The next day we visit villages around Lijiang--we chat with the group of contemplative older Naxi men outside a general store in the mountain village of Yuhu before proceeding to Baisha, which is both lovely and untouched and at the same time where all the foreigner-friendly gentrification (as opposed to Lijiang and its focus on domestic tourists) has turned up along one street, in the form of a tiny handful of restaurants, cafes, and shops. So we eat delicious pizza from a wood-fired pizza oven, along with a salad of tomatoes and local yak cheese, before heading across the street to a wine bar, Chine Chine, where the Shanghai-bred owner tells us of his time in Belgium and his other business running motorcycle side-car tours while we watched his golden lab frolic. And we stopped at a hillside monastery, and the younger monks said to go ahead and take their picture, but the older monk looked a bit stern about it:
But then there is still Dali, and not Dali but specifically Xizhou, an amazing picturesque village 20-30 minutes away, filled with Bai architecture and right next to the sparkling Erhai Lake. Really, sparkling--one of the most peaceful places I've seen in China:
We took long walks through the villages by the lake, walking until we weren't quite sure where we were anymore, though at that moment, of course, a horsecart pulls up, and for ten kuai we pile on and clip-clop back to our hotel. We stayed at the Linden Centre, an amazing hotel/restored national heritage landmark/center for sustainable tourism. I recommend you do the same. The owners were lovely, and we ended up in Dali with them Christmas Eve, getting foot massages before running through the streets as young people gleefully sprayed each other with silly string, fake snow, and shaving cream in an unconventional twist on the holiday.
Since we can't have our traditions intact when we're abroad anyway, what's wrong with checking out new ones? It was a lovely trip, and we can't get over how completely and utterly beautiful the setting was. I can understand why people drop out and turn up there, no problem: