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Movie lover. Growing Capoeirista. Space enthusiast. Dedicated craftsman. And best of all, homegrown Los Angeles native. Wait, how in the hell did I end up in China!?
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Why Touring Yunnan's Lijiang Ancient Town & Tiger Leaping Gorge During China's Golden Week Was the Best Trip Ever
I came. I saw. I conquered. I toured Yunnan Province's Lijiang city during China's October National Holiday week and it turned out to be one of my best trips ever!
First up, you should know that I absolutely love China's natural scenery. From the Hallelujah Mountains of Zhangjiajie to the rolling karsts hills of Guilin, or the Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye's Danxia Geological Park to the ferocious waves of the Yangtze River, China has one of the most stunningly diverse natural landscapes of any country I've ever visited. And that's just the truth!
With that, Yunnan was first on my list of places to visit in China during the insane travel rush of the fall holiday period. Accompanied by a friend, we'd book our flights, arrange a hotel, decide our primary destinations in Yunnan—Lijiang Ancient Town, Tiger Leaping Gorge, and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain—and land at Lijiang Sanyi Airport on October 2nd. And...here...we...go!
We arrived at our hotel in Lijiang Ancient Town in the late night. Listed as one of China's "old towns”, it was surprising to find that many of the hotels, boutiques, and restaurants in the area were beautifully crafted to fit today's modern age.
What's more, we found out during our first night that the local people of Yunnan were incredibly friendly. A young lad, for instance, had went out of his way to help us find our hotel throughout the hoard of buildings in the area.
We also wound up meeting a very generous hotel owner at a tiny restaurant while waiting for some barbeque. He was so thrilled to have met an "American friend" that he wound up paying for our food. "Welcome to Yunnan!", he'd keep repeating in Chinese. What a great way to closeout Day 1 of our adventure in Yunnan!
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Out of all the attractions in Yunnan, Tiger Leaping Gorge was always the name that I heard was the best place to visit, and so that was first on our list of places to see.
We arrived at Lijiang's bus center in the early morning, bought shuttle bus tickets, departed at 9:30am, and landed at Tiger Leaping Gorge just before 1pm.
Now, you should know that Guilin's Yangshuo is my favorite travel destination in China for natural scenery. Karsts hills, Li River, mountain ranges--heck, it's so ridiculously breathtaking that I've had to visit it twice. Nevertheless, I will say that Yunnan's Tiger Leaping Gorge definitely gave Yangshou a run for its money, especially at first glance.
Yep, Tiger Leaping Gorge was just that incredible. As one of the deepest gorges on Earth, the mountainside was the most incredibly massive thing I had ever seen during my 30 years on this planet. In fact, it was so colossal that I felt my brain couldn't process the magnitude of everything in view at times. No kidding!
What's more, tucked far down in-between its crevices lied the roaring waves of the Jinsha River, which is a tributary of the Yangtze River. I had also never seen such a violent looking river ever in my life, so it was one of the most spectacular examples of the powerful forces of nature I had ever laid eyes upon.
By 1pm we arrived at Tina's Guesthouse and were cleared to hike down and back up the trail leading to Jinsha River before the last return buses departed at 3:30pm.
Walking down was easy, even with much of the trail consisting of some of the steepest drops I had ever hiked.
On the way we caught plenty of awe-inspiring views of the gorge, and the scenery became even more impressive the further down we hiked towards the river. Seriously, the pictures you see are thing, but they definitely do not do Tiger Leaping Gorge enough justice.
We also passed a number of horses—used to transport exhausted tourists back to the top—and a number of stalls that sold fresh fruit, water, energy drinks, and handmade jewelry. If I were in the States they'd probably serve hamburgers and pizza only.
And then it happened: after 45-minutes we finally reached the bottom of Tiger Leaping Gorge. H-A-L-L-E-L-U-J-A-H!
Just as I imagined, Jinsha River looked even more deadly up-close. There was absolutely no chance for river rafting, cruises, or any other water sports activity--this bone-crushing river would eat anyone alive that even thought about jumping in.
Fortunately though, the locals had secured a bridge that connected to a boulder out in the middle of the river, so we paid an extra 10RMB each, crossed it, and arrived smack dab in the middle of the chaos. How cool is that!?
We'd spend the next half an hour taking in the phenomenal views, snapping a whole lot of pictures and videos, and praying to God that none of us slipped and fell.
CHECKPOINT: This one goes down as one of the most memorable travel experiences I've ever had.
And then came the hard part: hiking back up. YIKES. Again, it was way too easy to get down, but climbing up the never-ending steep trail would turn out to be one of the hardest physical challenges I'd ever accomplish in my life. And hey, that's in lieu of an 8K marathon I had completed just 2 weeks prior!
Head up. Nearly pass out. Rest. Recover. Take pictures. Repeat. That was the tedious process for a very long, long while. But I wouldn't say that it was all hard work and no play.
One of the coolest--and surprisingly scariest--outdoor activities we both ever had the pleasure of doing along the trail was climbing up a 90-degree ladder perched onto the side of a massive boulder. Not only was it extremely tall, but it was also very high up, meaning that if you made one bad move you could kiss this life goodbye.
Half an hour and one Red Bull energy drink later we finally reach the start of the trail and arrive back at Tina's Guesthouse. We took a final bit of pictures and hopped on the last bus heading to Lijiang. If you hadn't noticed by now, hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge was one hell of an adventure!
Lijiang Ancient Town
There's this saying in China that goes like this: "People mountain, people sea". Can you guess what it means? Bingo! No matter where you go in China there are crowds of people EVERYWHERE, especially during the holidays. Lijiang Ancient Town was of no exception.
It was 6:30pm and there were swarms of people making their way in and out of boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, and hostels at just about every turn. Despite the crowds, I loved that everything in the area was organized and creatively decorated. Props to the design teams of Lijiang Ancient Town!
With that, we grabbed a bite to eat at a Sichuan restaurant, did a little window shopping, took some photos in front of popular shops, and wound up staying awake until about 2am just because we were too sore to go to sleep. What a day!
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Day 3 in Yunnan, and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain here we come! Now this was the mountain my friend preferred to see. I had never heard of it, but after looking up some pictures, you can rest assure that I became just as eager to visit.
So how'd we get to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain from Lijiang? It was simple, actually. We flagged down a taxi at 7am, negotiated a price tag of 180RMB for a round trip pick up, and arrived at Jade Snow Mountain in less than an hour. How dope is that!
Our first mission was to head over to a ticket office and grab seats for the Lijiang Impression Show, a highly praised outdoor cultural show performed by 10 different ethnic groups of the region.
I love China's major cultural shows. Have you seen them? One of the best I've ever caught was during my 30th birthday adventure in Yangshuo--the Yangshuo Impressions Light Show—and having blown my mind away, we made checking out Lijiang's Impression Show was a top priority.
But there was just one problem: We arrived way too early. The box office was closed and we were told to wait half an hour, then after half an hour were told to wait another hour, then after were told to ... well, you get the picture. Forget that. We'd forgo the show and instead head up and down Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and this time via cableway. Thank God!
YAK MEADOW CABLEWAY
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain had 3 cableways. We weren't interested in heading to the very top—it was sold out anyway—so we wound up choosing the 2nd most popular attraction: Yak Meadow.
It was pretty chilly so we rented warm overcoats and purchased two canisters of oxygen for the high elevation.
And just like that our Jade Dragon Snow Mountain adventure began! We set off on a shuttle bus heading towards the cableway. And the scenery? Well, the scenery definitely wasn't as grand as Tiger Leaping Gorge—again, the gorge was just ridiculous—but it was still pretty impressive. China's just got some remarkable natural terrain spread across its landscape!
And then it happened: We were onboard what would be one of the most stunning cableway experiences I had ever been on. Ever!
We'd spend about 20 minutes passing over this incredibly massive mountainside area riddled with lush green forestry for as far as our eyes could see. Plus, winds were mild, the temperature was cool, and the air was the freshest I had ever breathed into my lungs. And that was major considering that I lived in Shanghai!
The best part was journeying through this thick cloud of mist and fog. The only thing we could see where the cable cars in front of us. It felt like we were living out a scene straight out of a science fiction flick.
And then we finally arrived at the top, eager to take a look at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain's icy caps. But there was just one problem.
Fog, fog, and more fog. We couldn't even see 50 meters in front of us! It's funny though, many of the Chinese tourists still seemed keen on snapping selfies in front of the haze. Why not make the best out of it right?
So we waited, and waited, and waited for the fog to clear. We sat around, played with the oxygen tanks, and took a whole gang of pictures. After 45 minutes we decided that the fog just wasn't going to let up and so we made our way back down to the base of the mountain. Now that was one of the most disappointing travel experiences I've had.
So down we went. We made one last stop at Blue Moon Valley, which contained a teal blue colored lake and waterfall.
It was easily one of the most popular attractions at the mountain, so I guess that's why we had to wait nearly an hour just to catch the next sightseeing bus down to the entrance. Aargh!
So did we ever get a full glimpse of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain? Not really. Even at 2pm it was still too cloudy to get a clear shot. We did, however, get a peek at just how incredibly colossal Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was when a gap finally opened up between the clouds. It's just too bad I couldn't whip out my camera in time to take a picture!
And just like that, our awesome adventure in Yunnan had come to an end. We'd get picked up by our taxi driver, head into downtown Lijiang, watch a pretty disappointing movie--The Foreigner-- starring Jackie Chan, and cap the night out with munching on some delicious Chinese cuisine.
What a fantastic way to spend my 5th consecutive Golden Week in China!
Travel Blogger. ESL Teacher. Optimistic Millennial Adventurer! -->
9/29/2018 12:21:19 am
I am thinking about going this year. Was it not crowded? Your pictures of the mountain paths look very abandon
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