Sunday, August 25, 2013

Kunming Come-&-Go

23 July 2013 (Tuesday): Kunming (昆明)
If you're expecting a travel guide on Kunming in this post, sorry that you're gonna be disappointed coz Kunming was just an arrival and departure pit-stop for us. Apart from Stone Forest (which I wasn't interested in), there were nothing much to see in the city.  

Our train arrived Kunming at 5.40am and our first mission for the day was to find a hotel nearby. Mom and I asked around a few hotels and we finally decided to stay in Yi Fei Cui Hotel (亿翡翠大酒店) which was just about 5min walk from the train station. Since we were only staying for 1 night, we took a no-window-no-aircon room for 128yuan/night. The room itself was actually very clean and nice as you can see from the pics, just a lil' smaller but it was good enough for dad and I. 

View of the city and train station from the hotel.

Had Kunming Guo Qiao Noodles (过桥米线) for lunch before sending mom off to the airport coz her flight was one day earlier than ours. 

24 July 2013 (Wednesday): Kunming - KL - Penang

Did nothing the next morning, checked-out of the hotel at noon, had lunch, and took the airport shuttle for 13yuan/pax to the airport. =P

Surprisingly empty Kunming Changshui Airport.  

Rushed like mad after getting off the plane in LCCT and took a cab to KLIA to catch our flight back to Penang. That's it for our 10 days Yunnan trip!! Till we meet again China!!  

Once again, the expense report for this 11D10N trip. =) Pretty cheap right?? =P

Lijiang Old Town...Venice of the Orient

16 July 2013 (Tuesday): Lijiang Old Town (丽江古城)

Picking up from where I left previously, we took a train from Dali and arrived at the world famous touristy city of Lijiang. We waited for the crowd to clear before taking public bus no. 18 to Lijiang Old Town. The journey took about 30min and cost only 1yuan/pax. 

Lijiang Old Town is a maze of winding cobblestone streets and walking is the only option in the old town. Even though the entire old town is filled with hundreds of Naxi-style guesthouses, I booked Lijiang Oak Garden Inn (橡树园) coz it was very close to the main street making it so much more convenient to travel around. The staff was nice enough to allow the 3 of us to squeeze into a twin room without any surcharges. =P

After dropping our luggage at the hotel, we started exploring the many many small alleys in the old town. I was walking around with my cool knee guard and hiking stick attracting some attention...haha!! Actually I was able to walk perfectly fine, just wanted to avoid straining my knee too much. =P 

In a way, Lijiang is kinda like Venice coz it's extremely easy to get lost as there is no grid. We didn't use any map and just randomly took whichever turning we felt like taking. In fact, getting lost was part of the fun as it brought us to some new interesting spots and we were able to stay away from the crowd. =P

We walked for about 2km in the old town and ended our sightseeing at the Water Wheel coz it started drizzling in the evening. We then walked for another 2km on the main road to get back to our hotel. Pretty impressed with how much I walked during this trip!! =P

20 July 2013 (Saturday): Since our Lugu Lake tour was called-off due to the landslide and we didn't wanna risk getting caught in the floods in Kunming, we decided to extend our stay in Lijiang for 2 more days. The past few days had been pretty hectic traveling here and there, so it was nice to be able to chill and relax for 2 days before we head back to Kunming.   

After staying in Lijiang Oak Garden Inn for 3 nights and familiarizing ourselves with the area, we decided to change to a cheaper and nicer hotel for the next 2 nights. Mom and I went walking around and found this hotel '三江宾馆' that costs only 150yuan/night. The boss was extremely helpful and nice. He even drove us to the hotel and ensured that we were fine with the room before paying. This hotel had all the basic things we needed...clean, wifi, TV, and air-con...enough for me to bum in the room for 2 days. =P

I'm glad we were done with all the sightseeing earlier during this trip coz it was just raining non-stop for the last few days. The only time I stepped out of the hotel was for lunch and dinner. Check out my cool raincoat fashion...hahaha!! Even our umbrella gave up on the!! 

21 July 2013 (Sunday): Revisiting Lijiang Old Town (丽江古城)

For those who have been reading my last few posts, you would have known how much I dislike the crowds while traveling in China. Being in this always-crowded-with-tourists town of Lijiang, the only way to avoid the crowds is to get there early in the morning before all the tour groups flock in. 

I woke up at 7.30am to set-off on my solo exploration of Lijiang Old Town bringing my camera and an umbrella. I found a shortcut from our hotel that goes through a hill to get to the old town using Baidu map. This shortcut (新华街黄山上段) is a deserted hilly path with local residence houses on both sides and the people using this path are mostly locals who stay there. It was so deserted I only saw a Naxi old lady and a dog along my way. =P

At the end of the hilly path was the summit of Lion Hill overlooking Lijiang New Town. I didn't want to pay to go into Wangu Pavilion so I just took some photos from this angle.

Absolutely loved the tranquil side of Lijiang old town. No shops opened, no big groups of tourists, just quiet alleys and quaint Naxi wooden buildings on both sides of the alley. =)

Lijiang Square Street (四方街) 

Lijiang is also known as 'Venice of the Orient' coz it's filled with narrow canals crossed by slender bridges. The flowering trees sheltering the canals along the bar street seem so much lovelier without any crowd. 

There weren't many people strolling around so I took a bunch of selcas. I saw few other people with their DSLR cameras, obviously they were also trying to avoid the crowd. =P

Pork ribs (腊排骨) steamboat for dinner.

22 July 2013 (Monday): Lijiang - Dali - Kunming

Checked-out from the hotel at noon, had lunch, and took bus no. 18 to the train station. Goodbye Lijiang!!

The sleeper train tickets from Lijiang to Kunming was sold out but we managed to get the seat tickets from Lijiang to Dali (34yuan/pax) and the hard sleeper tickets from Dali to Kunming (105yuan/pax). Pretty impressed that we managed to find this!!

Hello again...Erhai!!

3-hour transit in Dali train station.

First time taking a hard sleeper. 3 of us each took the bottom, middle and top bunk. Surprisingly, I slept really well during this 7-hours train ride. =P I'll continue with Kunming in my next post for this Yunnan trip!! Woohoo...I'm almost done!! 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mystical Shangri-Lalalala

18 July 2013 (Thursday): Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡) - Shangri-la (香格里拉)

Prior to this trip, I had quite high expectations for Shangri-la (I'm talking about a place in China, not the hotel chain). After all, it has such a nice mystical name. I found out from Google that its original name was actually Zhongdian, but they renamed it to Shangri-la to attract more tourist. Honestly, I feel that Shangri-la is a lil' overrated, can't really say if it's living up to its name. =P I'm sure there are places that are more 'shangri-la' than this place. =P Oh well, this is solely my personal opinion and I admit that my impression of Shangri-la could have been ruined by following a tour. 

So how did I end up following a tour again for this 2D1N Shangri-la trip?? As I mentioned before, I didn't book most of the hotels in advance for this trip so we were very flexible with our plans. My initial plan was to go to Shangri-la ourselves for 3D2N but we found this tour at the same travel agency that we booked our Mt Yulong trip and the price that they quoted was pretty cheap...only 260yuan/pax (assuming no hidden cost). Since the Mt Yulong tour that we took the day before was quite good, I reckon that the other tours should be of the same standard. So for the convenience again, we decided to take this tour. However, we weren't as lucky this time and got an aggressive tour guide. We were persistent enough not to get forced into paying the 'hidden cost', so this tour was still a pretty good deal for us, but having a lousy tour guide was enough to spoil my mood. Oh well, you get what you pay, can't expect too much right? 

Woke up early again to begin our journey up north to Shangri-la county at 7am. Our tour guide was a Tibetan (Zangzu) girl. It seems like the tour guides for all Shangri-la tour groups are local Tibetan, not sure if it's a local regulation or just a way to make the tours more attractive. People seem to be curious about Tibetans' culture, religion, lifestyle, etc. Throughout the tour, we learnt that our tour guide only studied up to primary school and was 'recruited' and 'trained' by the Chinese government to be tour guide. It's sad coz these people are kinda 'forced' to do a job given to them due to lack of education. I guess that's why there are so many lousy and profit-oriented tour guides, that's how they were trained. 

Winding hilly roads along the way. Our bus was going uphill all the way from Lijiang to Shangri-la coz the average altitude of Shangri-la is more than 3000 meters. 

Toilet break on a typical Chinese tour...the toilet becomes more like an attraction with so many buses stopping there. Seriously don't like traveling during peak season in China. =.=

While everyone was busy 'touring' the toilet, I escaped from the crowd to take some pictures of the scenery. This is supposed to be 长江第一湾 but the tour guide told us that the nice pictures on the internet are all taken with helicopter so this was all we saw. 

Mountainous scenery and some local villages along the way.

After traveling for 3 hours, we are finally entering Deqen (迪庆) prefecture. More than half of our journey was along this Yangtze River.

We had to get off the bus and walk across this bridge coz the bridge was too old to sustain the weight of the many many tour buses going through it everyday.

Our first attraction for the day...Tiger Leaping Gorge (上虎跳峡). We were given about 1.5 hours to tour the gorge. If you're a fast walker, 1.5 hours is just nice to walk along the pathway built on the cliff by the river to the end of this part of the gorge and walk back. 

Stopped for pics every now and then during the long walk.

1.5 hours wasn't enough for us and we were running out of time so I asked mom and dad to start walking back first while I ran further to the rapids to take some pictures. There should be another view point further down with more spectacular view of the rushing waters but I was afraid that I didn't have enough time to get back so I decided to jog back after taking a few photos and videos. Other tourists were probably wondering why is this crazy person running! Had a good workout running for about 1km...haha!! =P

The pathway on the cliff is pretty cool. For those who have time and energy, try hiking the trail of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek over 2 days for some amazing scenery.

Just looking at the scenery...lofty mountains, endless grasslands, bucolic villages, and stupas...we knew that we were in Shangri-la already! Shangri-La in Tibetan language means "心中的日月" ideal home only found in heaven. The best thing to do here is to chill, enjoy the scenery, and do nothing...haha!! Even though it's summer, the weather was very cool coz of its high altitude so it was very comfortable walking around.

Dukezhong Old Town. Honestly, there's nothing much to see in this old town. There's a temple in the town but we were too lazy to climb so we just took some pics from the car park. Besides, I wasn't in the mood to do any more sightseeing coz the tour guide had been trying to force everyone to pay for the 'optional' Tibetan dinner party since noon. Mom and dad had been to the exact same thing the last time they were here so we didn't wanna spend an additional 230yuan/pax for this. The tour guide finally gave up forcing us and we left the group earlier to head back to the hotel and rest first. Yesss...we win!!!! =P

19 July 2013 (Friday): Pudacuo National Park (普达措国家公园)

Based on the research that I've done prior to the trip, I realized that there's really nothing much to see or do in Shangri-la, only 2 main attractions...Songzanlin Monastery and Pudacuo National Park. If we were to come ourselves, I would just go somewhere near Songzanlin to take a pic from far but since the tour doesn't include this, I didn't mind giving it a miss. The only reason why we decided to follow this tour was because the price was so much cheaper than what we would have spent if we came ourselves. The entrance fee (included in the tour) for this national park already costs 258yuan/pax. Very expensive but is it worth it or not? My personal opinion after this trip, it's not worth spending so much money visiting this national park, especially when it's raining. You can see it from the pictures below. So if you don't intend to visit Pudacuo, don't follow a tour.

Yet another early morning wake up call. The bus picked us up from our hotel at 6am and stopped at a 'oxygen' shop along the way to Pudacuo. The tour guide 'advised' each of us to get 2 oxygen tanks and rent the (ugly) red jacket coz we're gonna be very cold and breathless walking outdoor at altitude 3500m. Indeed the weather was quite chilly (around 15 celcius) and it was raining, but do we seriously need a winter jacket for that?? Of course, we weren't that ignorant to listen to her exaggerated nonsense. Yo girl, I ain't gonna let you earn any commission from us with your lousy tour guiding. She probably hated having us on her tour...haha!! We found out later that another group of people in our tour decided not to visit the national park after believing her exaggerated nonsense and they thought they would get a refund for the entrance fee. As expected, they didn't get any refund and they were so pissed with the tour guide. Oh well, this is China. =P

We thought we were early but the parking lot was already filled with buses when we arrived. Oh my, war time with the red-jacket-army again. =.=

The national park is pretty big and it's impossible to walk so we hopped on the park bus from the visitor center to go around the park with 3 stops in between.

1st stop was Shudu Lake (属都湖). It was drizzling so we quickly got of the bus, took some pics and hopped back on the bus. We could have walked 3.3km along the lake but there's nothing much to see and it was impossible to get any nice pics with such rubbish weather.

2nd stop was a meadow...pardon me for my lousy panorama edit again. =P

3rd stop was Bita Lake (碧塔海)...our main stop for this park. Took some pics before starting our 4.4km walk along the lake.

Not happy with the weather at all. All my pics turned out gloomy. =( We just kept walking along the wooden walkways trying not to fall into the water while battling the crowd.  

Scenery of the tranquil lake and vast grassland. 

Photo time!! =) 

Ain't easy taking photos without the red-jacket-army in the background. =P

Selca + jump shots!! Mom finally mastered the basics of taking jump shots...woohoo!! =P 

Finally, we completed our 4.4km 'walkathon'. It took us almost 2.5 hours coz we were taking our own sweet time strolling slowly and stopping for pictures almost every 10 minutes. =P This was the 20yuan oxygen tank that we bought in Lijiang and used it over 3 days. I hardly used it at all and in fact, 1 was more than enough for the 3 of us.

That's it for our short trip to Shangri-la...a crash course on the culture, religion, and lifestyle of the Tibetans. Time to head back to Lijiang. Goodbye nature!!

On our 4-hours journey back from Shangri-la to Lijiang, I was sitting at the very last row of the bus with 2 seats for myself and was able to open my window. While most of the people were already knocked-out on the way back, I was very busy opening & closing the window non-stop and taking my camera out of the window to take pictures and videos.

P.S. If you're traveling from Lijiang to Shangri-la, most of the scenery is on the right side. Vice versa on the way back.  

A typical tourist will focus on getting to their destination, the journey is just a mean of transportation. As for me, I think that the journey matters as much as the destination. That's why I try not to fall asleep during the journeys coz you'll never know what you missed along the could be a breathtaking canyon, a beautiful waterfall, a gorgeous rice terrace, a bus stop by the cliff, etc. Same goes for life...focus on the journey, not just the destination. 

Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey. Keep your eyes open and enjoy the beauty that nature has to offer. =)

We got back to Lijiang around 9pm and bought the train tickets for Kunming on 22nd. Initially, we were gonna book the Lugu Lake tour for the next day but the tour agent told us that all the tours were cancelled coz the heavy rain caused a landslide on the road to Lugu Lake. So our plans changed again and we ended up being 'stuck' in Lijiang for a few more days before going to Kunming. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise coz we saw the news the next morning that Kunming was flooded after 2 days of heavy rain. We stayed 1 more night at Lijiang Oak Inn and was 'upgraded' to a honeymoon!!

2 more posts to go for this Yunnan trip. Imma force myself to finish blogging this weekend!! Too much going on lately and I really need to get these done so that I can move on with other stuffs.