Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lijiang Old Town - Yunnan, China

3rd - 4th Aug 2014: 

Having left it a little late to book our train tickets from Kunming to Lijiang (online, 6 days prior) we were left with the only option to take the eight hour or so trip during the day. We booked soft sleepers as they are the most expensive and comfortable option and set off around eleven am. We arrived at Kunming station an hour before scheduled departure and had a bit of a shock. The roads approaching the station were gridlocked and having gone through the security scanners the queues for the ticket booths were insane. Others had the benefit of using the automated kiosks to print their tickets but for this you need a Chinese ID card so we were forced to queue with people collecting their own prebooked tickets for later trains as well as people trying to buy tickets and inevitably arguing when they were disappointed to hear seats were sold out. Ultimately we had to push to the front and got our tickets. There were another couple of queues for ID checks and another security scan before we got to our platform and boarded with around ten minutes to spare.

The beds were more or less as expected. Each cabin held two bunk beds of two levels with a storage shelf above for the lofty passengers and storage space below the bed for those below for the return there were no cabins and triple bunks!). A little table sits between the two lower bunks and just outside the cabin in the aisle is a chair which folds down and provides a slight change of scenery albeit with people constantly brushing past you. We were on the top bunks, lower is probably better although we arguably had more storage and better security (there were a couple of dodgy people walking up and down on several occasions taking more than a curious interest in people's cabins). It was nice to get to know our cabin buddies and watch the scenery outside the window becoming more rural. We did some reading and had a nap. We arrived in Lijang in the evening and booked our ticket for the return leg and picked them up there and then. There is an area to the right upon leaving the station where there are plenty of taxis and minibuses to various destinations. The taxi driver asked us for 30RMB, the meter read 20 when we arrived at the entrance at Lijiang Old Town (Lijiang Gu Cheng). Our friend from Timeless Hostel came to find us at the town entrance and guided us for the short walk to the hostel. The staff there were excellent. 

The Train corridor
It was dark by the time we entered Lijiang old town for the first time. The cobbled streets and charming architecture moved me somewhat. As we made the walk to the hostel we passed only a few people, some of whom were sitting in bars with a live guitar player strumming and Chinese songs. I thought the negativity I had read and heard about was unjust. However the following day presented a somewhat different story. 

The outskirts of Lijiang Old Town at night

Food food food!

Tourist makes the difficult decision of what to eat

Approaching the main square the people traffic increased immensely as did the artificial, touristic nature of the place. Lijiang is what it is. Very crowded and very touristy but pleasant enough for the unadventurous wanting a holiday vibe. It is great for picking up trinkets or generic souvenirs however, it is not for me and this is why. 

Kate at Black Dragon Lake Park (Hei Long Tan) Nice but required 80RMB ticket for entry

The stalls are repetitive and monotonous selling tourist tat or banging drums with the same "ethnic" instrumental playing on CD in the background. You are taken along the narrow streets in a tide of local tourists all too often negotiating your way around folks who have stopped at an unfathomably inconvenient and unimpressive spot to take a crap photo shared with strangers, apathetic as they share the same cramped space. Not sure if it's a foreigner thing but I felt as though when locals saw us they only saw cash on legs. From the relentless entry fees for various sights (many of which were not especially picturesque by comparison to other places in Yunnan), to the grass routes level of cabbies not willing to run their meters, it felt as though sightseeing was more of a battle than a relaxing outing. 

Avoiding the crowds and an another expensive entrance fee in a restaurant

Seasoned travellers or those with limited time/budget stay away. Combining the relentless "it looks like you are trying to do something/ go somewhere tax" with the exercise in patience required when sharing your visit with droves of Chinese tourists, far too many of whom exemplify the worst of the kind of behaviour associated with the Chinese (whilst by no means applying across the board, anyone who has lived in China long enough will have grown to resent the general acceptance of pushing, spitting, shouting and a disregard of others) Lijiang was not somewhere we could stay for very long. Fortunately we didn't have to, we were soon to leave for the gorgeous mountain vistas of Tiger Leaping Gorge. 

Hanging with some local minorities was a highlight

Timeless Hostel Tel: 0888-5174626/ 13170774626

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