Journey to Yunnan - China 2002
2002 Mike Dell - English version, click here for the Dutch version
Meer verhalen hier / more stories here...


  From the 7th of june till the 28th I travelled for three weeks in China. The reason for this trip was the wedding of my friends Erwin and Mei. Mei originally comes from China and married Erwin on the 24th of may this year in the Netherlands. Her family could not be present at this wedding, so it was decided to go to China for two additional wedding celebrations They asked their friends and family from the Netherlands to join them and so a group of 14 persons travelled from the Netherlands to China.

I'll try to give a short impression of the trip and I will answer some frequently asked questions. On the Dutch version of the page I start by telling some of the costs asociated with the trip (ticket / visa), Dutch people seem to want to know these kind of details. I'll skip those here. The time difference of the Netherlands with China is +6 hours, and Beijing is 8300 km from the Netherlands.

Yunnan province, south China

  The first travel goal is Kunming, 2000 km from Beijing, the capital of the province Yunnan in the south of China next to Tibet, Burma, Laos and Vietnam. The province has about 40 million inhabitants and is considered a rich province, according to the LP responsible for a third of the GNP. The countryside exists mainly of mountains with some valleys and river canyons. Kunming has about a million citizens and is a modern city. At the airport of Beijing you encounterd many other foreigners, in Kunming we rarely meet some at the airport, in the hotel and the occasional backpackers cafe or the local ‘kentucky fried chicken’ branch.

After a 10 hours flight to Beijing, some hours waiting for the connecting flight to Kunming and another 3 hour flight we arrive in the evening on the 8th. Despite the long trip we decide to go into the town for a nice but late night dinner on the streets of Kunming. This is our first encounter with the food of Yunnan. It's spicy but very delicious although not everyone is evenly enthousiastic about the pigtails, pieces of tendon and stomach.  

Kunming, late night dinner on the streets

  The next day we visit a beautiful park where people enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, drinking thee and music. We then walk over the campus of the Kunming University where Mei used to study. It's very different from the Uithof, the campus of the Utrecht University in the Netherlands which is a collection of modern ugly buildings. At the beginning of the afternoon we go to a restaurant to eat across-the-bridge noodles and to celebrate the birthday of Geja with a big cake.  

Kunming, playing mahjong in the park
Birthday cake

Qujin, view from Stoneforest

  That afternoon we travel by bus to Qujin which is 120 km from Kunming (160 km by road). It's a city with 700.000 people (the city is also known as Qujing). We drive along a broad highway (toll-road). Our bus is a regular service from Kunming to Qujin but the driver drops us off in front of our hotel, not following the normal route. When told, the other passengers apperently don't protest. In Qujin we don't encounter any other westeners at all. Driving goes along with a lot of honking; drivers signal to eachother this way, so they have no need for rearview mirrors. When overtaking or passing eachother on narrow roads or making turns the people just drive at eachother until there is almost no space left. Then at the last moment they start to sort things out how not to hit eachother. The speedometer of the bus show 165 kmph downhill, my GPS shows 120 kmph at max.

  That evening Mei's family warmly welcomes us. The next day is the first wedding party. We were assuming it would be a party starting in the evening but it turns out we are expected to dress up early that morning because there is a special program all day. We start with a tour around Qujin by car, followed by a wonderful lunch and a visit to a park for photos. Before the party starts we have a few hours to visit the old city center which shows a lively market on the streets.  

Erwin and Mei
Qujin, old city center

Qujin, street market
Car for the bride and groom

Erwin, Mei and family welcome the guests outside, in a large dinnerhall of the hotel 300 guests are gathered at the tables. They are all very curious about our group. When seated at the table dinner is served right away. When all the guests have arrived Erwin and Mei join their guests. On a stage their life stories are recited aloud, they are interviewed and as part of a small ceremony they have to make several bows. Everything is translated in english for us. Afterwards they have some time to eat but when the guests which arrived early start to leave (in the Netherlands it's custom to remain seated for a while after dinner is finished, but that's not the case in China) Erwin and Mei have to go outside again to thank their guests for coming. After the party for 300 guests we go to a karaoke bar for a small after-party with a somewhat smaller group of friends and family. Later this evening we go out for a barbeque on the street of Qujin. There we have kind of a songcontest China - Netherlands that China rightly wins on both talent and repertoire.  

Wedding party

  Beer in China is pretty ok. There seems to be a brewery from German origin somehwere in Yunnan. The alcohol percentage is lower than what we are used to, but the bottles are bigger and we are constantly resupplied. Liquor in general is not such a success. I can catagorize it in two sorts: nailpolish-remover and modelkit cement-glue. A home made beverage that we try at a restaurant made of fermented rice tastes extremely well (including the rice).  

Huize, view from temple

  The trip continues the next morning to Huize, a city with 71.200 inhabitants, 120 km from Qujin. We take the 'touristic route' through the mountains, along small villages. The quality of the road is much less than before, the trip takes 7 hours but the countryside is fabulous. Huize is the location of the second wedding party; a city which has grown considerably over the past 20 years. It's located between the mountains with rice fields at one side and a large earth dam to the south (according to some, it is the second largest dam made of earth).

When traveling you can't ignore the inmense construction of roads everywehre you go. Large, broad roads through mountains and cities are consctructed with expected growth in mind. In Huize there is a four lane road that is rarely used by a signle car. In the mountains the construction workers continuously blast pieces of mountain. The rocks from the blasts are cut into smaller pieces for construction. To do this they efficiently use a mix of both ultra-modern and primitive tools together with enormous manpower.  

Road construction

  We stay a couple of days in Huize. We scout the center, make small trips closeby, visit a few old temples and visit the brother and sister of Mei. During one trip through the center we walk along a few places Mei used to live. Twenty years ago rice was rationed; something you cannot imagine nowadays when you see the shops and markets with an abundant choice of food. From all over the region people come to Huize to sell their products on the streets or markets.  

Bottom left, Mei used to live there
Huize streetview

Temple on hillside near Huize
Walking along the hillside near Huize

  It's my first experience here with the chinese way of negotiating a price when buying food or souvenirs. I try not to go for the absolute low but I don't agree on the first price either. Buying something in a warehouse is also an experience: they have a system with 5 receits and a lot of stamps; first you have to pay with the receits at a central cashier, then you can go back to the department where you bought the product and you can pick up your product using the two receits you have left.  

Huize, market

Welcome to the second party

  The program for the second wedding celebration is similar to the first, only this time we make a trip to the dam in south and we are not sitting in front of the stage but on top of it with 400 guests in the dinnerhall. For us it's again a great adventure. just like the previous time, later that night we have a small party in a karaoke bar.

Huize, strange people in the streets
Toilet: left women, right men

  In cities like Qujin, Huize and even more in the small villages we are a real attraction to the local population. Some people ignore us but most of them are very curious. Especially for the children we are a real spectacle. Complete schoolclasses come running through the fields just to see us. I would think most of these people have seen westeners on TV but apparently it is still something different in real life. When I buy something in a shop along the road, I attract a group of spectators immediately.  

Budhist temple in Huize
Streetview Huize

Fields near Huize

Huize, market
Salesman drinking tea

We return to Kunming by bus. In Kunming I discover an outdoor shop closeby that sells everything (clothing, backpacks) for about a quarter of the price in the Netherlands. We rent some bikes for a short trip through the city to the Dian lake to the south. The lake is polluted by algea and is bright green. They are going to clean the lake again; to do this they have to relocate some factories and install a cleaning facility. We enjoy the view from the Xi Shan hills where Taoist monks have made small pathways and temples carved into the rocks. The paths are very narrow now and then and it is a pretty steep climb. We take the cablecar down.  

Kunming city center view from Kunming Hotel

Kunming, Dian Lake
Kunming view fom Xi Shan hills

Airport near Dali

  From Kunming we take the plane to Dali, a 600 year old miniature town bordering a lake beneath a giant ridge of mountains, called the Cangshan, with the highest peak Malong 4122 meters high. When we disembark the airplane the sight I see is spectacular. We visit the city and the nearby Santasi, three pagodas. These are left from the 9th century and are accompanied by a recently rebuild temple.

Santasi; three pagodas
Temple near pagodas

  China burns a lot of coal. You can smell this in the cities and villages and you see giant truckloads of coal being transported by trucks and wagons along the roads. I notice that the Chinese are masters in stacking; you see larges piles of coal on top of trucks on bumpy roads and you never see a piece drop. For use at home they have round coalbricks that fit in special furnaces, hot water boilers and stoves.  

Dali city gate

  By bus we travel 140 km up north, towards Tibet to Lijiang. Lijiang is situated in a valley close to an impressive mountain: the ‘Jade dragon snow mountain’ – Yulong Xueshan of 5596 meter. The temples in Lijiang and in the surroundings are Tibetan by origin. They were all destroyed during the cultural revolution, most of the temples are rebuild for tourism. Lijian is a city of small wooden and brick houses with small streams running in between. The city is on the world herritage list of the United Nations.  

Lijiang, Temple on Lion Hill

Lijiang streets
Lijiang view from Lion Hill

Lijiang, Jade dragon snow mountain
Lijiang backstreets

  The province Yunnan has a lot of different people with their own culture, about 30, amongst them are the Naxi and the Yi who life in the surroundings of Dali and Lijiang. The Naxi have their own (written) language which you see a lot of in Lijiang. There is also a Naxi orchestra that performs regularly. The Yi are bigger in numers than the Naxi but we have not seen many of them (or perhaps we didn't recognize them as Yi), along the road we see only a few Yi in traditional clothing.  

Dali and Lijiang are real touristic places; not that this bothers us or that there are too many other westeners but places like Qujin and Huize are not touristic at all and that takes some getting used to. What is botersome is the way tourism is exploited in Baisha, 10 km from Lijiang, that is if you pay for entering the city. You end up in a tourist maze with different stops where they expect you to leave your money without question. Baisha used to be the capital of the former Naxi kingdom, the streets away from the tourist maze are very nice to visit.  

Baisha, playing children

Baisha, farm
Baisha, croquet playing grounds

Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yangtze river

  In Lijiang the group is split in two. The family group makes a trip by train and the friends group which I belong to is going to hike through the the tiger-leaping gorge. This is a giant canyon 16 km long between the mountains, the largest canyon of the world in fact. From the water to the tops it is about 3900 meter. Against expectation the river flows north, as if it's flowing into the mountains. Eventually the river ends somewhere near Shanghai at the Chinese coast in the east. The name originates from the legend of a tiger leaping across the river at the most narrow point of 30 meters from the Jade dragon snow mountain to the Haba snow mounting using a rock in the middle of the river (the tiger leaping stone).

  It's not an easy hike, but not as dangerous as some stories you read on the Internet would want you to believe. It's not without some exciting moments either. We are accompanied by a guide who knows the trails, you can't get a good map around here. There are some landslides, hillsides with gravel and sometimes you see the earth slide by. You have to pay attention where you put your feet. We are a group of not too experienced mountain hikers (highest top in the Netherlands is 300 meters, most of it is flat at sea level), not used to the altitude and warmth but with enough water and stops we make it.  

Our guide point something out
View of Jade dragon mountain from gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge trail
Path to the second Tiger Leaping Stone

  The surroundings are enchantingly beautiful, breath taking in such a way that it can't be captured by photo or video. Gigantic rockformations, bambooforests, waterfalls, etc.. Now and then I forget (knowingly) to take pictures or shoot some video. We stay at guesthouses on our route. You're not completely away from civilization: along the hillside there are a few villages or farms. During our hike we encounter the occasional goatherd or a few mules. We sometimes hear explosions of dynamite for road construction along the hillside. We avoid walking along the road as much as we can but that's not always possible.  

Jade Dragon mountain view from Halfway Guesthouse

Donkeys on the trail
Narrow pathway along the hills

  During our stay in Huize we went for a walk in the afternoon on the hillside. The path went up steep, it was warm and we were walking for the first time at 2400 meters altitude. We were out of breath and sweating most of the time while Mei's friend and her brother walked up without a problem. They were pretty worried if we could make the trip through the tiger leaping gorge. They did not sweat as we did and it was impossible for them to imagine the effect of traveling from 0 altitude to 2400. While our group struggled along the hill, Mei's brother went back to Huize and returned a while later on the hill with a bag of fresh apples.  

The first guesthouse, a small farm, named the half-way house is a great place to stay. On top of the showers, washroom and toilet they've build a terrace with a tremendous view of the mountainside (also visible fom the toilet). The food in the guesthouses seems to be adapted to hikers: not too spicy, vegetables, egg, tomatoes, chicken, rice and next to this banana pancakes with honey and cornflakes. We meet a couple of other hikers here (Australians, French, Chinese). Along the hike we seldomly encounter other hikers, the first day none at all.  

At the Halfway Guesthouse

Ferry crossing

  During the whole trip is fairly warm, between 24 and 30 degrees celcius I guess, now and then the sun burns relentless. We planned four hiking days but because we have to arrive on time in Zhongdian we don't hike much the last day. During the third day we cross the river twice by ferry. The guide suggests to take a small transporttruck that travels to Daju from the ferry hillside. In spite of the very warm weather we decide to walk but halfway one of us has a aching back and we call the truck (thanks to the great cellphone coverage in China). The walking for me is fairly easy, but that day I drink over 3 liters of water during our hike.

A waterfall along the trail
Path to the ferry

Tiger Leaping Ferry
Yangtze, second Tiger Leaping Stone

  On hiking day four we travel to Zhongdian, also known as Shangri-la, 198 km from Lijiang. On our way there we also visit the Baishuitai limestone terraces that sparkle brightly in the sun. Unfortunately you can't cool your feet in the water bassins. From the construction of villages, the different writing and the free running animals that we are getting closer to Tibet. I fall asleep in the bus and when I wake up I notice that I get some altitude nausea (3700 meter says the GPS). The oxygen stands ready in the hotel room but I don't need that. Still it takes some getting used to. We visit some Tibetan monastaries and take a walk through the old city. In the distance there are mountainridges with peaks above 5000 meter, the highest being the kagebo peak of the Meili snow mountain at 6740 meter.  

Baishuitai limestone terraces
View of Zhongdian

Zhongian, Budhist temple

In Zhongdian we take the plane back to Kunming to fly two days later from there to beijing. We have the idea that our trip has almost ended but we still have five days to go. In Kunming we visit the birds and flower market, we visit the golden temple Jin Dian, the very cheap outdoor shop and we eat mushroom hot pot. The hot pot dinner is very delicious. We say goodbye to Tang, Mei's friend who arranged the whole trip perfectly and who took care of us almost all the time. It's hard to say goodbye after these weeks in which she accompanied us except for the trip to the gorge.  

Kunming, Golden temple

  During the last days in Beijing a lot of shopping is done. China is cheap for us, especially when it considers products made with a lot of patience and manpower. Of course we visit the large tourist attractions like the great wall, the temple of heaven and the forbidden city. We also visit a theather/teahouse and eat Peking duck twice. On the wall and in the forbidden city there is a large flow of tourists from all over the world. In the small Dachilan hutong streets they encourage us to come and watch and above all, buy. An enourmous amount of souvenirs, clothing and CD's are for sale. The weather isn't to good; cloudy and rainy. But maybe this is not so bad at all, in Beijing it was a very humid 30 degrees celcius before we arrived, not too pleasant either.  

Great Wall
Beijing, Temple of Heaven

Beijing, Forbidden city
Inside the forbidden city

Statue in Forbidden City
Spirits on the edge of the roof

  I made a small video from our hike in the tiger-leaping gorge of 3 minutes and 39 seconds (almost 30Mb) which you can find here or here.

I brought my Garmin GPS V on this trip. GPS stands for Global Positioning System; in this case a very handy navigational device that can be used to determine ones position anywhere on earth including altitude, travel direction and speed. You can map the places you visit or track your route down to 5 meters accuracy. You can't get lost as long as you have batteries. It's for instance convenient to set your hotel as a waypoint, enabling you to always see what direction your hotel is in, how far it is, and the average time it will take getting there. In total there were four GPS's in our group. The rumour that GPS's are not allowed in China is as far as I can tell not true. You need a license to sell them, but that applies to almost anything. Reliable mapping material is hard to get. The table below contains some data collected from the GPS:


Waypoint description Altitude in meters Distance to Kunming Hotel in kilometers
Kunming Hotel 1919 0
Kunming Golden Tempel 2000 3,6
Qujin Stoneforest Hotel 1910 117,6
Huize Hotel 2142 163,1
Hillside at Huize 2405 161,7
Old city Dali 2087 267,3
Lijiang Hotel 2412 321,6
Lijiang Tempel on Lion Hill 2522 327,5
Baisha center 2452 328,7
Guesthouse Woody 1961 355,4
Alongside Yangtze river 1737 354,5
Yangtze ferry II 1585 354,8
Qiaotou 1953 357,6
Haba 2800 367,1
Baishuitai terraces 2616 382,7
Road to Zhongdian 3704 405,9
Zhongdian 3316 430,4
Beijing center 47 2086,3

  Click here to dowload my waypoint data of Yunnan and Beijing (69 waypoints: cities, hotels, sights, restaurants).  

  You can see more pictures of my trip to Yunnan and also of trips to other places if you click here. Pictures on these pages are all made with a digital camera. More information on my camera and digital photography in general can be found by following the previous link. Note that the photo's on these pages are resized to smaller pictures to save space and improve loading speed.

2002 Mike Dell - 28/06/2002 -