I was beginning to wonder if there were stars here. After being in China for 2 months I can't once recall seeing the stars. Through the haze of pollution and the lights of a large city they just aren't visible.
Last week we went to Lijiang in the Yunnan province and the very first thing we noticed when we got there were the stars.
It was a fabulous trip!
We spent two short days in Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors (see Amy and Andrew with the warriors in the background) and some other sights around the city. The warriors were cool but I actually enjoyed another burial site better. At the Tomb of emperor Han Jing there were also warriors, but they were only about 2 feet tall. He also had a whole bunch of animals and other daily objects in the burial grounds and the museum is brand new. You could get much closer to the dig site than at Terracotta Warriors and it was much less touristy. We took a taxi and arranged for a fixed price for the day; it was just under $40 for about 9 hours of driving us around.
After Xian we flew to Lijiang where we saw the stars. Lijiang has a great old town full of ancient houses and brick paved streets. At night paper lanterns light up the streets and the air turns crisp. It's maze of alleyways is blocked off from cars and canals run through the city making it very pleasant to walk around, especially if you get up early enough to beat the hordes of hat wearing Chinese tour groups. Since there are so many tour groups the old town is full of nothing but souvenir shops and restaurants, so a day walking around old town is plenty.
The highlight of our trip was a trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge. By some accounts this is the deepest gorge in the world. The gorge rises from the river at around 5700 feet to the mountains above at over 17000 feet. One fellow traveler asked us if gorge was derived from gorgeous or the other way around. In any case it was spectacular. Unfortunately, plans are underway to dam the valley and change the scene for forever. At this time of year I would guess that around 25 people a day (all but a couple of them being Westerners) start the 15k trek through the gorge so we were finally able to get away from the mobs of people that are everywhere in China. Every couple of hours there is a village of a couple hundred people with a guesthouse where you can grab a meal or spend the night. We hiked for 6 hours the first day and spent the night at Halfway House. Even the view from the common bathroom was amazing as evidenced by the picture through the door of the ladies room. We spent the whole next day lounging around Halfway House and exploring the farms in the village. On the next day we got a couple of horses and went up to 12000 feet or so for some incredible views of the surrounding mountains (picture above). We had climbed part way up Haba Snow Mountain and were looking across the valley at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yu Long Xue Shan). Except for the horses and their owners not another soul was in sight. Incredible!
After the horse ride we walked an hour and a half to the next guesthouse which was on the road through the canyon. In the morning we descended to the middle rapids of the Jinsha river (an early stretch of the Yangzi) to be astounded by the torrent of frothing, bubbling, thunderous water. Andrew asked why it did that and I explained that a lot of water was trying to get through a small space. His very astute response was, "It's kinda like traffic."
After this we returned to Lijiang and Mama Naxi's Guesthouse. I can't say enough about Mama's hospitality. I promise if you stay here you will not go hungry. Breakfast cost 25 cents and dinner (which is all you can eat, and then all Mama can coax you into eating so as not to offend) is only $1. There is no menu, Mama and her daughters and nieces just cook up a dozen amazing dishes and you eat what ever you like. In general we found the food in this region to be more salty and oily than elsewhere, and Mama's cooking was no exception, but for variety it couldn't be beat. Staying at guesthouses is a great option for us. There are several small rooms that face a courtyard where there is room to relax and socialize. This means that we can put Andrew to bed early and still enjoy the company and tales of our fellow travelers over a beer in the courtyard while keeping our room in sight and in earshot. It's more like staying with a family. Andrew had a great time playing with the dogs and cats and nieces while we were there. Before we left Mama gave Andrew a piggy bank made out of a coconut and many of Mama's guests gave him their coins to put in it. We had to promise to come back or at least send Andrew back when he is bigger.
Alas, we are back in Hangzhou and back to work.