Welcoming the Year of the Tiger in Yunnan

Planning for our Chinese New Year holiday was complicated by recent cases of COVID-19 in Shenzhen. The place we originally had planned to visit has in place strict policies related to visitors from outside the province. As such we would only be allowed to enter the province if we were quarantined for two weeks, which would have been the entire holiday!

Jun and I decided to go somewhere else. After discussing things, we chose to visit northwestern Yunnan. Both of us had visited the area a long time ago separately. Now we could do it together.

Day 1

The start of the trip had us fly into Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. Everything went smoothly and we soon checked into our hotel. Since we arrived early in the afternoon, we had time to visit some places in the city.

Jun wanted to visit Dianchi Lake. We went to Dianchi Haigeng Park along the northern shore of the lake. When we got there, the first sight we saw was seagulls flying all over the lake. I was surprised, but Jun knew that we were likely to see them. We walked around the park and saw the birds flying overhead and heard the waves crashing along the shore. At the western end of the park, we visited Longwang Temple. The temple was quaint with a lot of plants situated around the complex. Afterward, we walked back along the route we came from to the entrance.

From there we decided to visit Guandu Ancient Town. One of the more important historic locations within Kunming, Jun and I enjoyed walking around the town to see the different structures. One thing we noticed was that there were a lot of restaurants and food kiosks there. One of the things we decided to try was spicy potato chips. They were really good and inexpensive.

Soon it was getting dark. Jun and I decided to go get dinner. We decided that we had to try Yunnan food, so we had southwestern Yunnan Dai Food at Yunse Daixiang. The food was great; it was a nice way to start our journey in Yunnan cuisine.

After dinner, Jun and I walked around the city center and enjoyed seeing the city lit up at night. We walked around the area until we turned to go back to the hotel. It was a nice walk before turning in for the day. 

Day 2

The second day of our trip would have us later that day take the high-speed train from Kunming to Dali. Before then, though, Jun and I had most of the day free. One of the things I had learned about Kunming after I visited there the first time was that there were three World Heritage sites near the city. One of them was a stone forest in Shilin. Given that we were here, we decided we would visit the park.

We hired a driver to take us from Kunming to Shilin. The ride went quickly, and we soon found ourselves in the town of Shilin. The driver, however, took us to the wrong part of the park. We ended up having to get another driver to take us to the entrance. When we got to the right place, we found ourselves the only guests buying tickets and taking the tram to the main entrance of the park. As we were on the tram, we passed by the place our first driver had dropped us off.

When we entered the park Jun and I marveled at the beauty of the stone forests. We also liked that there were only two other people there. Jun had been here once before and all he remembered from that time was how busy it was and that he didn’t enjoy it. I had to convince him to visit the place again.

From the entrance, we walked towards the Lesser Stone Forest. These limestone pillars are fairly spread out and the park has kept this place full of flowers and green grass. As we walked around the forest, we slowly made our way to the Greater Stone Forest. The stones here are more densely packed together and without a map and signs, it would be easy to get lost in the Greater Stone Forest.

As we entered the forest Jun had to take a call from work, I ventured around the forest until I started to feel that I might get lost and not be able to retrace my steps. So, I went back to find Jun and waited for his call to end.

We continued our trek to the forest and found ourselves on top of Wangfeng Pavilion, which gives a nice view overlooking this part of the park. While there we took a break and ate some of the fruit we brought.

Then we continued our walk around the Greater Stone Forest and ended up at Jianfeng Pool. I liked this part of the park since there was a boardwalk that meandered across the water and around the rocks. I found it quite peaceful.

From the pools, we walked along the edge of the Greater Stone Forest towards Liziyuanqing. The view along this walk was wonderful! We were lucky as well as the weather started to change with rain clothes rolling into the area.

One of the more surprising things we saw in Liziyuanqing was some rock art. It was interesting to see the images that the ancient people who had lived in this area drew.

From Liziyuanqing we continued our walk toward Wannianlingzhi. The stones in this part of the park generally have a narrow bottom and a wide top. By the time we got to the main section of this area, it was starting to drizzle. Jun and I decided that it was an ideal time to leave. We did still have a train to catch.

We, thus, walked towards a trolley station to get back to the entrance. From there we took a car back to central Kunming.

When we got to the hotel, we collected our things and went to a restaurant for dinner near the hotel. After we had finished dinner, we walked to the north entrance of the Kunming train station. When we got there, I was stopped by the security guard who said I had a fever. I didn’t. She checked my temperature again and it still said I had an elevated temperature. She called her supervisor over and had me go through a different temperature check, which indicated I didn’t have a temperature. I was allowed to go. Kind of freaked me out a bit.

After a short wait for our train, we soon found ourselves on our way to Dali. When we arrived, we took a taxi to our hotel and checked in. Our hotel room was nice, and we soon found ourselves asleep.

Day 3

On our first day in Dali and the view from our room was breathtaking. We enjoyed seeing Erhai Lake and felt ready to start the day.

Jun and I decided we would visit and explore the Old Town of Dali. A few of my colleagues who had visited Dali said it was a wonderful place and they had fond memories of visiting it. I was looking forward to seeing what we would find.

Once we got to the South Gate of the city, we started our explorations. We went down Fuxing Road and stopped at a few different places. We first visited The Warriors and Horses Marshal Mansion. There were some nice figurines made by locals in the past in one of the exhibits. The outside was equally nice with amazing views of the mountains. From there we continued our walk and found ourselves in the Temple of Literature. And then from there, we went around the area surrounding the mosque in the Ancient Town.

As we were walking around this area, we found this wonderful bakery that had cakes in flavors more reminiscent of North American than China appropriately named The Sweet Tooth. They had a mint chocolate cake that was incredibly delicious.

After having our wonderful break, we walked by the city wall and then on top of it. We then circled back into the city and visited the Dali Art Factory. This area is a repurposed factory with a lot of different stores and art organizations housed in it. It also offered some more nice views of the mountains.

Jun and I then walked eastward to the Erhai Gate. While there we got some drinks and walked towards Santa Daoying Park where we could see the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple. The views from the park were beautiful in the early evening light. When we had walked around the park, Jun and I went back into the Old Town to have dinner at Dali Duan Gongzi, which served local cuisine. The food was great, and we enjoyed ending our day here.

After we were done, we went back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Day 4

The next day Jun and I visited Chongsheng Temple in the morning. Chongsheng Temple is a Buddhist temple that was built in the ninth century as the royal temple of the Kingdom of Dali.  The temple complex is extensive and is built on the side of the foothills of the Cang Mountains. Walking up through the parks afforded some amazing views of the mountain and the different structures inside the park. Another perk of visiting when we did during the holiday period was the lack of people at the park. It was nice to leisurely walk through the temple and explore the different areas. One thing we found nice was that there were signs indicating ideal spots for pictures.

When we had walked up and down the temple, Jun and I then decided to visit the village of Xizhou. This village is more rustic in places than the Dali Ancient Town. Xizhou is known for its production of indigo dye and fabrics in that color. Walking around the village was interesting as it was much more compact and meandering in places.

After we had explored the town, Jun and I ate dinner at Hanlin Restaurant, which is located within what used to be a mansion. The food was quite lovely and offered another culinary experience of Dali cuisine.

Dinner was essentially the end of the day of things we did. Afterward, we went back to the hotel and called it a day.

Day 5

During the night the weather in the region became cloudy. Jun and I had planned to visit the Cang Mountains in the morning and we were unsure if we wanted to go given that it might rain or snow in the mountains. After discussing things, we decided to just go and see what it was like up there. If the weather got too bad, we would come down the mountain and do something else.

Well, the weather wasn’t that great up in the mountains, but it was still nice. It reminded me a bit of the Pacific Northwest in the United States. The evergreen and overcast feel gave it a nice atmosphere for a hike through the forest. As we walked along the Jade Belt Road it started to snow. That was a nice treat for the walk. We, however, decided that it would be best if we only walked between two of the 19 peaks. Once we got to Seven Dragon Daughters’ Pond, Jun and I walked back to the Qingbi area to take the cable car back down the mountain.

When we arrived there, we decided to visit another village on the other side of Erhai: Shuanglang. Shuanglang is one of the prettiest villages I’ve visited anywhere. Located next to the lake, there has been a lot of work done to restore historic buildings and to build newer buildings that blend into the ancient villages. When we got there Jun and I went and had some snacks and drinks at Forten. It was nice to sit by the lake and rest.

While the weather up in the mountains had been overcast, down by the lake it did create some wonderful views. The sunlight shining through the gaps in the clouds was amazing! I hadn’t seen such a view on this scale. Jun and I enjoyed just walking by the lake to see this view.

As we continued to walk around the village, we kept finding neat little places to explore, such as Fort Relic Site on Yuji Island. As the sun was setting, Jun and I decided to have dinner at Zhuanjiao Shiguang. Again, the food was great.

When we left, people had already started to celebrate Chinese New Year with fireworks, firecrackers, and sparklers. As we drove back to the hotel, we could see fireworks from different places across Erhai. From our hotel, we could see fireworks from different places, including close to the hotel. It was a festive way to end the day and to start the Year of the Tiger.

Day 6

Jun and I ventured northward towards Lijiang for the next part of our trip. We originally hesitated about whether we wanted to visit Lijiang since we had both been here before. But because we had the time we decided to go and visit the place. There were places in Lijiang that we hadn’t visited before. We thought since we were there, we should take the opportunity to explore those places.

When we arrived in Lijiang we first went to our hotel. Jun decided to stay at the Pullman since he made a membership with that hotel group. That was fortuitous since they upgraded us to a private bungalow for our stay. The place was spacious, comfortable, and private, which would prove beneficial the next day.

After we settled in our room, Jun and I next went to the hospital to get a COVID-19 test. Overnight the Shenzhen authority reported a new case in the city, which now required us to prove we were COVID-free with a negative test within 48 hours. For the remainder of the trip, we had to take a test every other day. Taking the test was easy in Lijiang. The hospital staff was quite efficient, and we were done within 20 minutes.

From the hospital, Jun and I walked northward towards Heilong Pool. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in 1737. The park offers amazing views of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. And the water from the pools travels down into Dayan, the central area of Old Lijiang.

When we got there, we were told we would not be able to enter without proof of a negative result. We were disappointed and frustrated that the one case in Shenzhen and us having to wait for our test results prevented us from visiting the park.

Regrouping, Jun and I visited the public Qingxi Park, which was close to Heilong Pool. From there we did get to see the mountains and walk a bit. Then since we couldn’t visit anywhere, we decided to go back to the hotel and have our complimentary afternoon tea and explore the hotel grounds. After the last few days of going around the Dali area, it was nice to just slow down and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.

Late in the afternoon we still hadn’t received our test results. I pushed Jun to see if we could visit the nearby Shuhe Ancient Town since it was a village and not a park. When we got there, the attendant at the town entrance asked to see that we had taken a test and our health code. Once he inspected it, he said that we could go inside since it was late in the day.

Walking around Shuhe at this time of day was surreal as a lot of things were closed and there was hardly anyone on the streets. Once we got closer to the central area of the village, though, we started to see more people and restaurants and stores that were opened. As we walked Jun found a nice restaurant for dinner and we ordered some delicious local cuisine with locally sourced food.

After dinner, we walked back through the village and then back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 7

I woke up feeling ill and uncomfortable. I ate something at dinner that did not agree with me, and I contracted a stomach bug for the next 24 hours. The day was mainly a blur for me as I slept for most of it.

What I do remember is going to the hospital again to get a COVID test since we would be leaving the next day and needed to have paper versions of the test results. Then we briefly went to Baisha Ancient Town where it started to snow. It would snow for the rest of the day. Returning to the hotel had me go back to bed until lunch. At lunch, Jun ate noodles and I nibbled on toast and drank a Sprite.

For the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening I slept while Jun kept himself entertained. For dinner Jun again ordered noodles and I had ice cream. That proved to be great and settled my stomach. We then watched some TV and then went to bed.

While I felt horrible and ill for most of the day, it did happen on the one day when we had the worst weather possible. And I did get a lot of rest. It strangely worked out into a positive.

Day 8

I woke up feeling a lot better. I was able to eat a light breakfast and go out and explore the city before we had to leave for Shangri-la.

Jun and I first went back to Baisha to see the ancient town properly and to view the frescoes that are housed there. These frescoes were painted during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  We were only able to see some of the frescoes due to a restoration project for some of the frescoes. What we did see, however, was quite impressive.

After visiting Baisha, we went to finally visit Heilong Pool. With all the paperwork and codes, we were able to go inside. It probably worked in our favor to have waited and visited on this day since the weather had cleared from the previous day’s snowstorms. The view of the mountains was amazingly clear. Jun and I were stunned at how gorgeous everything was.

We enjoyed walking around the pools and visiting the temples and pavilions there. We then walked southward along the stream that led us to Dayan Ancient Town. The largest of the ancient towns in Lijiang, Jun and I were impressed with how verdant the place was with flowers and trees in the middle of winter. Of all the places we visited, Dayan had the most visitors. It, though, wasn’t that bad and it was easy and comfortable to walk around the village.

Soon, however, we had to go back to the hotel and get ready for our car ride to Shangri-la. Once we checked out and got into our car, we were soon off to our last destination of the trip.

As we drove, we started to see a change in the environment as the surrounding landscape was covered in snow. When we got to Shangri-la, we noticed how much colder it was here and how deserted everything looked. Most of the inhabitants of the city originated elsewhere and went back to their hometowns for Chinese New Year.

Jun and I checked in at the Hilton Garden and then went straight to the hospital to get another COVID test. We were lucky we went when we did since they were about to close. Jun had no problem getting his test since he could register online and then get it. I, however, had to stand in line to register before I could get the test. The line moved slowly and when we got there the receptionist said it was closed. Jun explained they told me to come and register and that they would remain open. Another foreigner behind me was in the same situation. His partner went back to the testing area to make sure they stayed open. Once we got that cleared, I was able to take the test.

From the hospital, we decided to visit Dukezong Ancient Town. We mainly walked around the area and visited the temples and prayer wheel at Guishan Park. Afterward, we went and had dinner at Tibetan hot pot for dinner. After eating way too much food we walked for a bit and went to the drug store to buy cold medicine since it has become too troublesome to buy cold medicine in Shenzhen. Then we went back to the hotel and called it a night. It had been a long and adventurous day!

Day 9

The next day Jun and I visited Pudacuo National Park. We went to two different areas within the park and enjoyed the scenery there. The first place we visited was Shuduhu Lake. The first thing we noticed was that we couldn’t see the lake. It was frozen over, and snow covered the entire lake. The only way we knew where the lake was because the boats were sitting on top of the ice.

It was fun to walk in the snow and to enjoy the sunny day. Halfway through our walk, we found ourselves surrounded by squirrels and birds. That was a pleasant surprise.

From there we took a bus to the Bitahai area. This part had less snow, and you could see the lake that is nestled in this part of the park. There were also more animals here, such as horses and pigs. We realized that because of winter the park had restricted access to some parts of the park, and we turned back to return to the entrance.

From Pudacuo we went to Ganden Sumtseling Monastery. A Tibetan Buddhist monastery, it was built in 1679. It is the largest Buddhist monastery in Yunnan. We decided to forgo taking the bus and just walk up to the monastery. That was a great decision because we ended up with some nice views of the complex from the hills to the south of it. We also had easy access to walk around Lamu Yangcuohu, the lake in front of the monastery.

As we walked around the lake, we encountered few people but a lot of animals. As we got closer to the monastery entrance we saw where all the people were.

The monastery is quite large and similar to Potala Palace in Lhasa. The architecture and prayer halls were intricately detailed and beautiful. Many people felt the same way. We saw a lot of people dressed in traditional clothing and taking pictures.

After we had explored the park, Jun and I went back to the hotel to rest before we had dinner in the Old Town. Dinner was quite good and a nice way to end the day.

When we got back to the hotel, though, we found out that our flights had been canceled the next day in anticipation of a snowstorm that was going to hit the region. Jun and I were upset and tried to figure out what we could do. We determined that if we left early the next morning, we could take a car back to Lijiang and fly directly to Shenzhen from there. With that settled, we packed and went to bed.

Day 10

On our last day in Yunnan, we woke up early and caught our car to the Lijiang airport. When we left the weather was clear. We, thus, had no problem as we drove southward. When we got to the airport, we quickly checked in and went through security. After we found where our gate was, we had lunch and waited for a flight to board.

Soon we were on the plane and up in the sky heading back to Shenzhen. It ended up that we arrived earlier than when we would have had we followed our original itinerary. So, the last-minute changes worked in our favor.

The trip to Yunnan was great! Jun and I enjoyed our time there overall. It’s definitely a place I wouldn’t mind visiting for a third time!