Guilin to Kunming involved an overnight train. After I had gotten over the scrummage through the ticketing gates, the rest of the journey was just lovely. Eighteen hours couldn’t have gone quicker. The Chinese people, as always, were unbelievably welcoming and we talked about all number of subjects without having a clue what the other was saying. Many photos later, we arrived at Kunming station.
Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province. It’s a big Chinese city for the most part and doesn’t have any ‘famous sights’ that I know of, although the Yuantong temple was great, most notably because it had hundreds, possibly thousands of turtles. Temples and turtles is a wonderful combination. The Green Lake park was also very nice, with lots of walkways crossing the lake with different islands containing various temples. There was also a bird and flower market, which like any I’ve seen so far in China contained very few birds or flowers.
From Kunming, I took another train, this time to Dali. Walking out of the station, I faced a crowd of perhaps fifty or so touts all holding images of hotels or beckoning people towards their taxis. In most areas of the world, my stomach would turn at this sight, but not in China. I walked through them without anyone saying anything to me. It almost made me a little sad. They were only after the domestic tourists and whilst I walked freely to the bus, many of my fellow train friends were being hounded within an inch of their lives.
Dali is described as China’s classic backpackers hangout, but either they’ve long moved on, or as I’ve increasingly suspected there are just not that many to begin with. As a city it brings back visions of Yangshou. The old town mostly consists of souvenir shops with plenty of Chinese tourists to sell to. Disabled people wheel themselves around on their bellies singing karaoke. You can’t beg for money in China unless you are signing karaoke. I half expected to see Simon Cowell scouting out his next music themed TV show. It seemed to have just the right amount of exploitation to satisfy him. The town does have a nice city wall though.
I probably picked a bad time to come to Dali as there was some sort of Spring festival on. The streets were packed and movement was painfully slow. On my first day, I joined Eva from Holland, who had heard that there was something going on at the horse racing stadium. She had tried the past two days to get there and either the crowds had been too big or alternatively the stadium was empty.
As it was, this time we struck lucky. Sitting on the concrete terracing, trying to get a clear view from underneath various umbrellas, we watched various people performing tricks on their horses to near silence from the few thousand Chinese tourists who packed out the stands. They seemed far more interested in taking a photo and then eating their picnics.
Out of the four or five horses that ‘raced’ at a time, most were utterly hopeless, leading us to decide that there was obviously something else at play that neither of us could understand. At this point the stadium began to empty, the Chinese tourists clearly had had enough.
The market that surrounded it was suffocating, but fascinating. The Chinese medicine stalls were particularly great, containing all number of animals, dried and then stuffed into jars. There were loads of street food – some tasted great, others tasted weird and some tasted like I should probably have learnt the Mandarin for ‘what meat is this?’ Upon returning back to the hostel, I found myself terribly sunburnt, which was strange, because the sun barely came out. Then I remembered that Dali is around 2000m, and wished that I had spent less time cursing the umbrellas in the stadium and more time buying one.
The next day, I took a very unstable chairlift up a mountain to the sounds of take my breath away from Top Gun. Caroline, you would have loved it. I then walked eleven kilometres around the mountain. It was lovely. The Chinese government has invested a lot of money on building the path and yet the domestic tourists get stuck at either end, taking photos of a few puddles and leaving the other ten kilometres to people like me. By the time I got back to the hostel, I think I must have walked around twenty kilometres. I was tired.
My lasting memory of Dali, will be of my final night there. After dinner, I went into a supermarket to buy some supplies for the bus journey to Lijiang the following day. Upon walking in, the supermarket was playing thumping dance music. Fair enough, I thought and then I noticed that every member of staff, who wasn’t attending to a member of the public, was performing synchronised dance moves. Everywhere I went there was a uniformed person, looking quite embarrassed dancing away. It’s definitely the most awkward shopping experience I’ve had.