Spring Festival Trip to Dali and Lijiang

Well, with 66 photos in this gallery I won't take up too much of your time with blather. I'll tell most of the story as the photos go along.

The basics are that Ruirui and I went on a weeklong excursion to the tourist destinations of Dali and Lijiang. Dali is just a mediocre destination so we only planned to spend two days there. The main attraction is the Old Town within the old city walls. however, much of the Old Town looks new and it appears to be mainly geared to westerners -- and backpacking hippies at that. Eugh.

Lijiang is another story. The Old Town is also the attraction, but it really is a wonderful place. The central area is devoted to tourism and over the past few years everything has been converted to shops catering to visitors. This doesn't keep it from being a beautiful place, and after you wander outside the tourist center there's a whole lot more of Old Town to be seen sans tourists. This is a real town, and real folks live here! The coolest part of Old Town Lijiang is that the river, which originates as snowmelt from nearby Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain), pops out of the ground at a place called Heilongtan (Black Dragon Pool) farther north in Lijiang, and has been channeled through Lijiang to run alongside many of the streets. You'll see the photos. Heilongtan itself is a beautiful place, as you'll also discover.

We spent five days in Lijiang before returning to Kunming, and although Rui was sick the last couple of days we managed to have a great time. Rui was especially excited because this was her first trip out of Kunming on her own, and one of the few trips she's ever taken, even with the family. The Chinese historically haven't been able to travel a whole lot due to political and economic reasons, but in the past few years domestic tourism has been booming -- and Lijiang seemed proof of that!

Anyway, enjoy the photos!

We're off! Here's Ruirui at 12:30 a.m. on the train to Dali. The trains are sleepers, and the bunks are stacked three high and six to a compartment. I had the lofty top bunk, and was surprised to find it plenty long enough for me! The trains here also have beer vendors, and every compartment is supplied with the ever-present thermos of hot water for making tea (or COFFEE!).
The train arrived at 6:30 a.m. and the first thing we did was sign up for a day-long boat tour of Erhu Lake. Look, we had entertainment on the boat! Here you see some local women engaging in the commodification of the local Bai culture.
The first stop was these little pagodas perched on the hill of an island or promontory or something. Lots of vendors here selling food, trinkets, and a lot of these nut-looking things that apparently are supposed to be some kind of aphrodisiac. I was curious but didn't buy.
At the top of the hill was a teeny little temple (a templette?) Rui performed her duty to the Buddha. There was an old guy there to bang the gong. We got it on.
Here's the view of Erhu Lake from one of the pagodas.
See, I told you! Look at all these guys! Although a lot of the foodies looked really tasty, it was still early and we were full from breakfast. A common snack is critters-on-a-stick, and there are lots and lots of different kinds of critters to skewer. I should have gotten a critter photo. Oh, and, uh, no, that's not our boat in the background. Nope. You think I'd be caught dead on that thing???
Oh, oops. Ok, so it's our boat, big deal. Actually, I thought it was pretty cool that we had the tackiest boat on the lake that day. Look out, here comes the Ragin' Dragon!!!
Ruirui and her big scary buddy cruise the lake.
This next island we visited still hasn't recovered from Paul Newman's visit.
But it was a nice island anyway. The bad thing about these tour groups is that they stop the boat and say "OK, meet back here in twenty minutes!" How the heck are you supposed to see anything in twenty minutes?? We didn't see anything and STILL almost missed the boat.
Dang, this island has a lot of rules. I didn't really feel like running, but I'm the obedient type, and it was for my own safety, after all.
I know, you're saying to yourself, "Alex is wandering around the Middle Kingdom, the oldest civilization on earth, and all we get are pictures of signs? Yeah, but... just look...! This is the Chinese version of "Keep off the grass." Oh, um, this was at a place called Butterfly Spring, which was nice, but, um, I didn't get any photos. Sorry.
Ok, back to pretty things. These are the famous Three Pagodas in Dali. You may remember the copies in Kunming's Nationalities Village that I took a picture of... well, here's the real thing. I always catch myself making that cathedral choir sound when I see this photo, y'know, like when something holy appears.
I loaded up on pictures here, as you can see. I couldn't decide which to leave out, so you get a bunch.
So here we are around on the other side of the pagodas. Amazing how the scene changes! See the Bai girl walking along? She's around for photos ops with the tourists. People love having their pictures taken with the quaint little minority people. Ok, just one more pagoda photo:
An instant classic. Hm, is there anything else around here? Wonder what's behind me?
Aw, is that all? I wanted to go see this building but our twenty minutes were up. We were late and had to apologize to the rest of the people on the bus. Oh yeah, we transferred from the boat to a bus,I forgot to tell you. Anyway, this was our last tour stop before we got back to Dali and found our hotel, the Number 5 Guesthouse...
...which was awesome! I love this place! Other than the fact that you have to let the water run for 25 minutes (really) before it gets hot, and the toilet seat was sharp (don't ask), this place was totally cool.
Rui liked it too. Here we are enjoying the breakfast of champions before going horseback riding.
So, yeah, we rented these two little horses (Chinese horses are more like ponies) and rode up the mountain. It was a good long hike, about an hour and a half, to get up to this temple up on the hillside. We rode through graveyards too. Cool.
Ta-da! We made it, and my ass didn't even hurt. We brought some food and had a little picnic in the sky.
Me too! Me too! Take my picture!
Ok, once you get us narcissistic boneheads out of the way, here's what Dali looks like from umpty-hundred feet. Erhu lake is in the background. We didn't do much more in Dali because it was stupid. I didn't even bother to take any pictures of the city. I did eat some strange French toast, though. I was on this French toast kick for a while, see.
Here's the welcome we got to Lijiang! Hey, I'll tell you, there's nothing like riding an old minibus through the mountains in China in the snow to make you have to change your shorts.
The first thing we did was get out of the tourist zone. Here's your basic street in Old Town Lijiang. "No river!" I hear you cry. Oops, hold on a minute (geez, it's not on every street!)
OK, here's a street with the river. pretty cool, huh???.
Here's a nice old stone bridge. There were a number of these, but mostly people just put planks across the river to their doors if they need to. For the most part it's not necessary, but where the river is bigger it's kind of a fur piece to jump.
This is the tourist section. Really, it wasn't too bad as far as tourist places go.
So, our first day was pretty cold, but after that it got really sunny and nice. I was pleased to be able to trundle around Lijiang in my Hardware Sales knit cap for a day.
Here's a nice sunny day in Lijiang. The predominant minority group in this area is the Naxi, and that's an old Naxi woman down the street. The old folks still wear the traditional clothing, but I didn't see any young folks wearing it, unless they were entertaining the tourists.
Here's some old thing in Lijiang. And a soldier.
Another river street. See the planks I was telling you about.
Here's the street out hotel was on. Now this is common, see, that ditch thing on the right is actually some of the river that's been channeled down the street. Many streets have a small river channel like this.
People use the river for all their everyday needs. Here's a woman washing her vegetables, and you can see people rinsing their mops, brushing their teeth, whatever. The water here is coming from inside the main building of our hotel, which is really just the house of a Naxi family. We stayed in a room across the street, which was nice because we had the whole place to ourselves.
This is Li Shi, the owner of the house where we stayed. He's a falconer, and has even written a book on falconing!
Here's the main drag in Lijiang. See that mountain? That's Yulong Xueshan, where we're going next!
8 kuai got us on a minibus to Yulong Xueshan. 80 more actually got us into the park, and another 40 on the chairlift up the mountain. Yes, it was an expensive day. Anyway, I took this pitcher from the bus winder. Boy, I'm getting tired of writing, can you tell? Trying to find ways to amuse myself.
All right, we made it to the parking lot!!!! Wheee-hah!
You must ride a horse whenever possible. This is the rule of Ma Ruirui. Is it a coincidence that her last name means horse in Chinese? We rode up the lift and got a couple of horses to ride.
OK, so we rode the horses out to this field, parked the horses and wandered around in the snow. It had snowed the day before, remember, so we saw the place at its wonderlandy best.
This is a really bad time to be wearing slippery shoes, which someone happens to be doing. I won't say who, but it's not me. Oh, and this was right about when someone started to feel really sick, too. But what the hell, we were there and it was beautiful. Can't take that away from us.
Just one of my 10 gajillion scenery shots of the mountain. Thank me for cutting it down to just this.
the next day was New Year's Eve. We went out to the house of a friend of Ruirui's mother for New Year's dinner. You know, I gotta say, Naxi food sucks. I couldn't wait to get back to Kunming this whole trip just so I could get a decent meal.
Hey, you know what Spring Festival means, kids? It means it's FIRECRACKER TIME! Woo hoo!
Hm. Somehow this seemed a lot more exciting when I was a kid.
Hey, woah, now that's what I'm talkin' about!
Wow. These things are big. That's a garage door behind those things... I wish there was a person here for scale, but some of those are a couple of feet tall. And forget M80's, people were lighting off these, like, M1000's. The shockwave would actually move your clothing around. I'm surprised I didn't blow out an eardrum walking through town.
Keep out.
Now this is the way to build a house. I was happy to find a couple of places under construction so I could see how these things are put together.
Here's one that has the first part of the roof put in. I really want to ship a few crates of these tiles home so I can eventually make my roof out of them, if I ever make a roof. Usually a house has to go under it, and that starts getting expensive. Maybe a dog house.
Ruirui got sick and had to stay in bed, so I went to Heilongtan on my own. Wowee. I wonder how many millions of photos have been taken from this spot?
Another scenic spot at Heilongtan.
Just some old building at Heilongtan. It's strange, but you really get used to seeing this stuff in China. Still, this was photo-worthy.
I tried to get some of the fantastic details, especially the supporting members up under the eaves, which are always lavishly decorated.
I came across this Dongba totem pole out in the woods somewhere. The Dongba are kind of a subset of the Naxi, and have become very well known for their pictographic writing (which you can't see well in this photo).
Here are some little Dongba totems by a spring in the woods.
And to round out the Dongba portion of our tour, here's a little Dongba enclave on the river, with north Lijiang in the background.
While climbing this overly long stairway up the mountain at Heilongtan I made friends with this boy and his sister and two brothers. He gave me an orange, we spoke fragmented Chinese (at least I did), and we drew pictures of each other. Then the family showed up and they invited me to join them for their picnic...
...which, as with all good picnics, you must have on your ancestor's grave. Here we are having a good ol' riot on top of Great Granny or someone. Note the marker in back. And the guy on the right is a big George Bush fan. Sigh.
Time to take out the trash.
...and where exactly would that be?
Nighttime in Lijiang. I really need a tripod, flowerpots don't cut it.
Children are the future of China.
I put this one in for you to copy and paste in interesting places.
You know what, it's time to go home. Hop on the Cruise-O-Liner and let's vamoose! This was a mighty comfy bus. They even showed Home Alone for the in-flight movie! In English! Then I had a whole day to recover before leaving for two weeks in Myanmar. See you over in that gallery! Bye!