After Guangxi and Guizhou, the last part of our trip was in Yunnan, a province in southwestern China with a varied landscape encompassing snow-capped mountains, rice terraces, lakes and deep gorges.
The region is known for its large number of ethnic minorities. To the southeast, Shilin Stone Forest contains limestone karst peaks formed 270 million years ago.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Unfortunately you won’t see much of a hike here. We failed at finding a nice trail and no one in the area seemed to have a clue about where the nice paths were. As a general rule in China though, don’t expect to walk too much, they’ll make sure it won’t happen!
Instead, enjoy the sun and meditate:
The next morning, the sunrise over the mountains was pretty spectacular.
Shaxi was one of my favorite smalls town in Yunnan. It was beautiful and everything, from the general architecture of the town to the small stores and coffee shops, showed a clear attention to details and an interest for craftsmanship.
Tourist trap? Monkey trap that is for sure! Not far from Shaxi is the Shibaoshan mountain, where you can see a few temples and a large number of hungry monkeys who’ll take any opportunity to steal your food. A place worth skipping even though we still managed to make it photo-worthy :).
Enough of those all Buddhist traditions. Meet Ricardo Fayet, aka the world’s top expert in neo-buddhism. Get in touch if you’d like to help us spread the word — we think we’re onto something big that could revolutionize tourism in China.
Dali Old Town
Dali was another touristy town that didn’t feel authentic at all. The following photo sums it all up.
The Three Pagodas and the Chongsheng Temple
Outside of the old town of Dali, the Three Pagodas of the Chongsheng Temple (Chinese: 崇圣寺三塔; pinyin: Chóngshèng Sì Sāntǎ) are an ensemble of three independent pagodas arranged on the corners of an equilateral triangle, dating from the time of the Kingdom of Nanzhao and Kingdom of Dali in the 9th and 10th centuries (Wikipedia).
Weishan old town
The Stone Forest or Shilin (Chinese: 石林; pinyin: Shílín) is a notable set of limestone formations of about 500 km2 located in Shilin Yi Autonomous County. The tall rocks seem to arise from the ground in a manner somewhat reminiscent of stalagmites, or with many looking like petrified trees, thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone. (Wikipedia)
While I still managed to get one interesting image out of it, it was again ridiculously touristy. I won’t post videos of it as it’s really off-putting.
Don’t worry, some of the things following in this post are a bit more positive. I just wouldn’t lie to you guys as you’ve gone this far reading my nonsense :).
Double Dragon Bridge, Jianshui Tuanshan
We were lucky to get there for sunset, a worthy stop in this trip.
Jianshui and the Confucius Temple
One of the highlights of the trip — a truly beautiful place on a peaceful morning.
Yuanyang rice terraces
If you look for those on Instagram, you will see a number of colorful rices terraces with beautiful reflections from the sky. While you might get lucky enough to actually see that, you will have to deal with hordes of tourists all fighting for the best photo spot. Traveling there also takes pretty much a full day so while it might make your Instagram look better, I’d recommend skipping this place altogether.
And that’s it! Sorry I couldn’t be more positive about China; a number of times during this trip I thought to myself “this is the Great Chinese Hoax, again.” China has been terrible at developing tourism and preserving any kind of authenticity in Yunnan. Not everything has been denaturalized yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
If you skip places like Dali, the Stone forest or Yuanyang rice terraces, you may have a more enjoyable time there. We were likely overly ambitious and misinformed about travel times and how touristy most places would be, which made the trip quite tiring — don’t make the same mistakes!