After Jill finally got the assignment finished we got back on the road and returned to Kunming (the site of our Chinese New Year escapades). We tried a different hostel which was ok without being startling and made plans to hit the stone forest (Shilin) which is a 350 sq/km area of limestone rock formations. This place was spectacular but was also the most expensive day that we have had since arriving in China. The site is 120 kms from Kunming so by the time you pay for the cab to the bus staton, the bus to the site, the entrance fee and the electric shuttle bus fee and then the return journey, the numbers got very big quite quickly (by China standards).
That said, the park was brilliant with stone and rock formations as far as the eye can see and you basically had free reign to explore as you saw fit. There was the electric busses that followed a loop but you could get off at any time and explore away. We got the bus initially but ended up walking the whole way so that we could check out all the sights.
Leaving Kunming we hopped a flight to LiJiang and set up camp in the heart of old town. Having spent a week in the Xiamen old town I had an idea of what to expect…boy was I wrong. The two were poles apart. Xiamen had authentic alleys where people lived and worked as the would have 200 years ago and was dirt cheap. LiJiang was the pretty tourist area with nothing but shops, bars and restaurants charging a premium on any item you even paused to look at.
LiJiang is without a doubt the most expensive town we have been in within China. By way of example, a 650 ml beer normally costs between 10 and 20 RMB…in Xiamen we were getting it for under 3…but in LiJiang they were trying to charge over 50 RMB. This extended to the food and coffees as well as the touristy junk that we did not get. On arrival we stopped for a coffee on the way to the hostel and paid 68 RMB ($11-14) for Jill’s latte and 45 ($7-9) for my long black.
As an extra bit of excitement while we were in old town the building across the alley from where we were staying caught fire and had flames leaping about 20 meters into the air. Old town is essentially all made of wood and a fire is needless to say devastating. All hell broke loose as every man and his dog donned their fire fighting equipment and got to work in putting out the blaze. The chefs from the restaurants were running away from the blaze carrying the gas bottles, the smoke was billowing and we were prepped for a rapid departure should it be needed.
About three hours later all was calm and the fire was out. It was actually a very efficient exercise and in a wooden tinderbox part of town it was beautifully contained to just the one building. The next town that we are to hit (Shangri-La) had a similar incident and 2/3 of the place went up displacing over 3000 people.
LiJiang is the launching point for places such as the Tiger Leaping Gorge, Dali and Shangri-la. Jill had been wanting to go to tiger leaping gorge since the first moment she read about it. My response was along the lines of the nomenclature is false advertising…and that if I did not physically see a tiger leaping across the gorge then it was a waste of our time and money and I would be disappointed.
Anyway as a good husband we went to tiger leaping gorge…you guessed it…no tiger…no leaping…but there was a pretty spectacular gorge. And a shed load of walking down and then back up a 1600 meter vertical drop to the water level. My calves burned on the way down and my thighs on the way up. Until I gave up and paid to ride a horse the last 3-500 meters of the vertical climb section…Jill walked the whole way and found me waiting for her at the top with a cold drink.
The first thing to mention was the drive to the gorge. It was alongside a super steep vertical drop in a bus that barely fit on the road…with sections of the road that had crumbled away under earlier avalanches. At one point Jill claims that she saw a car in the water below that had obviously missed a turn. All of this while our bus driver was chatting away on his mobile phone and belatedly jerking into corners.
The next bit was the trail…1600 meters down…on a track that would trouble most goats. Upon reaching the bottom you see the rock that the alleged tiger leapt to. To get there we paid an extra 10 yuan each to wander across a rope bridge made out of balsa wood. We then stood on the rock amongst the rapids as they raged past us…then braved the bridge back to the trail upwards.
As we huffed and puffed our way up the path there was a ladder that cut out a big chunk of the zigging and zagging as we climbed. This was a vertical ladder with rungs at double the normal height…that was quite frankly terrifying…that we both climbed. Thankfully you were facing the cliff so did not see how bad it could have ended.
All things considered a great (but exhausting) day.