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Yunnan Diary

Steve first traveled with us in 2010 and has returned several times. Thanks for Steve to share with us his travelogue.

Yunnan Diary February
Last year, my friend Rick Kattelmann and I decided to go to China. We wanted to see parts of China that we knew were changing rapidly, and both the culture and architecture would be gone soon. So we decided to go to the Tibetan Autonomous Region in Sichuan and to Kashgar in Xingjian Province in western China. We took David with us.  Last fall, knowing that we had a multiple entry visa, we decided we wanted to go back again, and picked Yunnan Province because we would be going in February, and Yunnan has some outstanding physical features, such as the karsts of the Stone Forest and the rice terraces of the Hani people. Additionally, since my bypass surgery, it became more important to not put off things that I wanted to do.  So, this is a brief description of our trip, starting on February 12 when we left Los Angeles for Shanghai. Beneath each day, I have included, when appropriate, the itinerary that Phillip prepared for us last year, as it describes the places and gives the correct names. 
Tuesday,  Feb. 15:  Shanghai
We are staying a block of the Bund, across the river from the third and fourth tallest buildings, the Jinmao at 88 stories, 420 m, and the Shanghai World Financial Center which is almost 500 meters.  We had no trouble going to sleep last night at 9:30, after a long 14 hour flight and an hour and a half through customs and the subway to the hotel.  We were up early, and waited to dawn to go out into the cold.  And was it cold, probably about 25 degrees.  As might be expected, the city was quite at this time of morning, and aside from a few people up early to run or fly kites, we had little company.  We walked up the Bund and tried to continue on the river walk as we headed west, but past the Russian consulate, it was closed off. So we came back for breakfast.  And real coffee.  
Out we went again, to be real tourists.  Crossing the river is not easy unless one takes a subway, for there are few bridges and they are far apart. But there is the Shanghai tourist tunnel, with its light show.  So we bought a combination ticket for the tunnel and the Jinmao observation deck and off we went.  From each side of the river, the tall buildings sprout like bamboo, with all sorts of interesting, and certainly not boring architecture.  Of course there is the Pearl River TV tower, which is unique and recognized worldwide, and colorfully lit by night. But there are other interesting buildings as well.  As we walked on the river walk looking at these, we noted that some of the fountains were still frozen, and the sun really had not warmed things up yet. So we went to the Jinmao observation deck to see the view and warm up. The elevator ascended very rapidly, and less than a minute we were to the top. The views are spectacular even with the haze that was building up. No matter which way I looked, there was tall building,   many commercial, but many residential.  This city is defined by its tall buildings.  While Beijing has the emperor’s palace, Tiananmen Square and other historic places,  it is much less vibrant than Shanghai.  I can understand why David enjoyed his semester here, even if the courses were not that great. 
 After walking some more on the other  side of the river, we came back to take a break before going out later in the afternoon, prior to dinner. After a good dinner at a local restaurant (shrimp in garlic and soy sauce,  beef and green beans in a garlic soy sauce and an eggplant in sauce-very good.), we did some nighttime photography, then to bed, as we have our flight to Kunming at 11 AM tomorrow.
Wednesday Feb 16:Shanghai-Kunming-Stone Forest  
After a full night sleep and we get up at 5:30 and dressed and out to the river to do some photography. However, the light show is gone, and it is just silhouettes of tall buildings. But at least it is not raining yet.  We eat, and then I try Skype to Susan, and again the quality is great.  We pack and take off for the train to the airport and hit rush hour. While I expect that the number of people will drop off as we get closer to the domestic airport, that is not so, and we wind up standing most of the way.  But at least we don’t have to go out in the rain, which has started.   Based on previous experience for Chinese airlines, we depart on time, in a cold rain.  I wind up talking with an attendant during the flight, and she asks me to help her with her pronunciation of phrases from her flight instruction manual, which turns out to be fun.  We arrive in Kunming in the sun, a windy 60 degrees, and finally meet Phillip face to face.  He is young, well at least to me, a young 41, tall and handsome.  We pack the car, a Honda Odyssey station wagon which we have not seen in the US and drive to the town next to the Stone Forest. Phillip tells us about Yunnan, the fact that it has more indigenous groups (25) than any other province, the reasons why-it borders on Los, Burma, Thailand, Tibet and Sichuan Province-and tells us about the biodiversity of the area. It turns out that Phillip is a birder, and likes to photograph animals. So we are all going to have fun taking pictures.  We get to our hotel, and find that we are probably the only guests since it is past the Spring Festival which happens at Chinese New Year, and not yet real tourist season.  The hotel is fairly nice, though the water is not hot, just luke warm, so we don’t take a shower. Instead we take a quick walk and find that we are on the fringe of the Stone Forest. This is our first look at the karsts, limestone spires up to 20 m high. Most have somewhat pointed shapes due to erosion by wind and rain. They are different, and unique.  
Phillip wants to take us to local, non tourist restaurant, so we drive to another town and have dinner, which is a whole chicken is a spicy soup, roast duck with hoison sauce on the side, lotus root that has been fermented and served with onions and red peppers, and a whole fried eggplant.  Everything is very good, and we are stuffed.  So off to bed we go, and up early tomorrow to get started.  
Thursday, Feb 17: 
Today is the Stone Forest.  We start off with a hot shower. Not sure why water is hot today, but not yesterday, but it feels so good. The hotel has a buffet the size of which I had not seen since the Qinybac hotel in Kashgar.  There are many choices, lots of vegetables, which my digestive system needs, and even some water melon. Once done, we drive a short way to the Stone Forest entrance. We are some of the first people there.  The “forest” is actually limestone karsts, resulting from an ancient sea which was raised by the tectonic collision of the Indian sub continent into the Asian block, then fractured, and eroded into sharp pinnacles, and covered by volcanic flow, followed by erosion of the basalt, resulting in red earth and these Karsts. The formations in the early morning light are wild and wonderful.  We hire a local guide, take an electric cart and do the larger outer ring, seeing no one. Then we walk the inner ring, just as the majority of the tourists, all Chinese, start to come in.  Next, we drive a few miles and go to a newer park, the Naigu Stone Forest, the black stone forest. Here the karsts are dolomite and darker, not the lighter grey of limestone, and have their own character. In both forests, there are signs of ancient reefs as well.  Phillip is birding, and points out a number of birds to us, though when he hands me his binoculars, I miss the birds half the time.  The next stop, after a short drive, is a limestone cave.  This turns out to be a large cave, maybe 3 kilometers in length, with a river running through it. The rooms remind me of Lehman Caves, not quite as spectacular, but still quite impressive. It ends with a chair lift ride up and over a hill to the parking lot.  We now have a two hour drive to Luoping.  We stop at a restaurant along the way and Phillip checks it out first. We find out this means that he asks a number of questions about how the food is cooked, and probably price. Nevertheless, the food is good, starting with sun dried beef in hot peppers and spices, sort of a hot spicy beef jerky, followed with some sliced squash,  a pork dish with vinegary red peppers, and some spice tofu. Finally some kung pao chicken. Everything has little red peppers in it, and the meal is good.  So far it has been sunny and warm, but as we drive, and lose some elevation, we start to hit fog, and it stays this way into Luoping. We get to the hotel, and into our room. The room is nice, but it is cold-cold enough to wear our jackets. We figure out the heating system, but it never really warms up the room and it is probably 58 degrees at the warmest.  Dinner is a hot pot with vegetables, and some small amount of pork dipped into a fairly hot combination of spices and onions and cilantro. It is good, and fills us up. Back to the cold room, though we discover that there are heaters for the bed which is quite nice.  With the final night of Chinese New Year, there are fireworks for a while, and then we get to sleep.  At least we are getting lots of sleep.
The indented paragraphs here and for the rest of the dairy are from Phillip’s itinerary for each day:
Jiuxiang Karst Caves, Jiuxiang Karst Cave is 90 kilometer from Kunming city or 22 kilometers north from the Stone Forest. Here are nearly 100 large and small karst caves, one of the largest cave groups in China. It is dubbed as a cave museum for its complete range and styles. Now open to tourists is the Diehongqiao Scenic Area, which was the first of five major scenic areas to open and is the most characteristic and most fantastic spot. It takes about 3 hours to complete the tour.
Stone Forest is located between Kunming and Luoping. It covers an area of 400 square kilometers (96,000 acres) and includes both large and small stone forests, as well as many other scenic spots. It is a wonder of the nature and one of the most important attractions near Kunming
Friday, Feb  18: 
A cold morning and water is only warm, not hot-no shower today, but it is good enough to rinse underwear and shirt. We are staying here again tonight.   Since it is foggy, we are not going to look for the sunrise, but meet downstairs for breakfast. Phillip has brought muesli and bread, milk, coffee and OJ, but we also have a Chinese breakfast as well-way too much food!  We start towards the first stop, a series of scenic waterfalls, but stop a number of times to take pictures of the rape seed plants, which paint the fields and terraces yellow.  We stop at one spot, take some pictures, then walk into the village. We watch one of the farmers drying ginger, which will be powdered, then see how they clean the ginger before drying it. People have probably not seen a lot of westerners walking in their village, so we are a novelty. We do get to the waterfalls, and walk and climb a path through a series of them, some quite impressive.  Phillip points out the different birds as we walk. On the way back, we buy some roasted potatoes and a pancake of sorts to taste. Phillip really wants to make sure we are eating locally, and not tourist food.  On our way to the next scenic stop, we have lunch in a small town, and have local dishes, including a local sausage which is first steamed, then cooked with peppers. In fact, as we are learning, Yunnan food is quite spicy, as like Sichuan.  I think Phillip and our driver are surprised that we have no problem with this.  We have started a running joke. If Phillip asks a question, we ask if he wants the polite (Chinese yes) or real (American yes)  One of the dishes is lotus root, and it is quite tasty.  We continue on to our next stop, a boat trip up a gorge of a dammed lake, which turns out to be quite scenic, especially the very high limestone walls on each side, some with limestone caves.  On the way back, we are sitting downstairs indoors since it is windy and cool out.  Across from us is a family with a two year old boy and a 4 year old girl. They are intrigued with us I take a few pictures and show them.  They like that.  So do their parents.   We drive back to our hotel, and then go out for dinner at a local restaurant which serves goose in a hotpot that is loaded with red peppers. We add lotus, potatoes, mushrooms, tofu and some sort of greens to this, and have a good dinner.  Then back to our cool room.  At least the beds are heated.  
Luoping Rape Flowers Festival is hold between February and March; the Luoping Rape Flower festival presents golden fields of rape flowers, magnificent waterfalls, and the exotic customs of Buyi people. The rape flowers covering an area of 250,000 mu are in full bloom has become the natural wonder, which attract thousands of travelers come to the Luoping. You can enjoy the festival presents sightseeing, performing arts and folk custom experiences there. We can see the rape flower field on our way to and from the scenic spots.
Jiulong Waterfalls (RMB75) is about 22km from the east of Luoping County Town. It consists of 10-tier waterfalls in a valley with a length of 4 km and a depth of 200 m. The biggest waterfall is 110 m wide and 56 m high. Each of them represent a dragon, so we call it “nine dragon waterfalls”. 
Lubuge Gorge - located 40km southern of the county seat. "Lubuge" is from Buyi language, meaning "a beautiful village". The major scenic spot is the Power Dam and its artificial lake. The dam is 103m high and the reservoir has a storage capacity of 110million cbm. The project was designed by engineers from 4 countries (British, Italian, German & Chinese). The human power made the valley into a fascinating view with the 18 floors dam like a labyrinth
Saturday, Feb. 19:
Much to our surprise, we find out that the shower actually works and is hot.  Great!  Phillip wants to find a local breakfast place, so we find one that serves rice noodles and slurp our breakfast. Though it is not raining, the fog is thick and everything is wet as we leave Luoping on our way to the Duoyi River.  The drive takes us over ridges and into valleys, in and out of thick fog. While the road is good, it is shared with cars, buses, little motorcycle carts, motorcycles, bikes, people and animals (goats and water buffaloes) and makes driving a challenge-which we will see time and again as we drive. But the drivers seem better than those in Sichuan last year. We get to the river and walk along it. There are numerous small waterfalls and rapids, scenic hills, and water wheels, along with many visitors. As usual we are the true minority.  On the way back, we stop at the small bazaar at the entrance.   This presents a good photo op as the old women selling colored rice; cooked fish and other things are dressed in the local costume, and have very expressive faces.  After this, and lunch, it is a long drive in similar conditions, to Qiubei.  However about 10 km out of town, the fog lifts and the sun comes out over the river and stark hills-another very nice photo op. We stand along the side of the road, slightly cold, and watch a red sun set between the hills.  Get to our hotel, and this time, it is warm, and the rooms are fine. We even have internet.  
Duoyi River - lies 33km southern of the county seat. Formed by the water from 5 underground springs, the 12km Duoyi River runs 40km to the southeast of Luoping Town. The clear river has more than 50 shoals formed by waterfalls. The bamboo raft on the river, the bamboo groves, trees, houses and waterwheels on the both banks of the river present an idyllic setting. The customs of the Buyi ethnic minority is even more charming. On the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the lunar calendar, young men and women of the Buyi in splendid attires gather on the river bank for celebrating the festival, activities including bamboo raft racing, splashing water for sport singing in antiphonal style for courtship, offering an array of their local foods such as colored rice, fish with sort bamboo shoots, and palm pie...
Sunday, Feb. 20
Unfortunately, the fog has set in, so we do not go back to the river for some morning photos, but start for Bamei.  The road is much better so we make good time, and have time to visit a Zhuang village off the side of the road. We watch as some of the villagers dig up lotus root.  They have drained the pond, cut down the dead leaves, and then dig out the roots. We continue and see a new house being built, and are invited into one of the nearby houses to see what it looks like-primitive to our standards, but we are in rural Yunnan. By good fortune, we see a large group of women dressed in traditional garments, coming down a stairs singing.  They had come to this village to deliver a dowry, and were leaving.  Lots of photo ops, which they did not mind at all.  This more than made up for the weather earlier. A quick stop for lunch-a hot pot with mostly vegetables and some pork, and then on to Bamei.  We parked the car in a village, and then proceeded to walk about a km to the entrance of a cave, carved by the river that runs through it.  At this point, we got into a long flat bottom boat, about 20 feet by 4 feet at the most, and had the boatman pole the boat through a high dark limestone cave, probably about a km long. Until last year, this was the only way into Bamei, though now the villagers have a few trucks that take a long circuitous route. No other vehicles are allowed.  At the end of the ride, we are met by the guesthouse owner and escorted to her house by one of the larger banyan trees I have seen.  Though the clouds cover most of the tops of the limestone peaks, it is still quite pretty, especially with some rapeseed fields.  We walk, talk with locals and other visitors, and take pictures. As usual on this trip, we are the only westerners.  After a dinner of various vegetables with a little bit of pork, we head back to our room. This will be a cool night, but we have all sorts of comforters to keep us warm. 
The Bamei Village is located on the common boundary of Ake Village and Bada Village in the north of the Guangnan County. It belongs to the Karst topography. The Village is surrounded by green mountains, and through the Village runs all the year round a clear river which is called Tuoniang River. The most interesting thing about the village is that people have to go through a deep and sombrous water cave by boat whenever they want go in and out.
Reputed as one of the most isolated communities of Zhuang minority in Guangnan, Bamei is a village without roads. Even up to now, the Bamei River has been the only access in and out of the village, according to Su Liming, director of Guangnan Tourism Department. Due to inconvenient location and hard transit, the village escaped attacks by outsiders and the influences of the modern world, staying as unadorned and as pure as they always were.


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