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Why Touring Yunnan's Lijiang Ancient Town & Tiger Leaping Gorge During China's Golden Week Was the Best Trip Ever
My tour of Yunnan during China's October National Holiday week, better known as Golden Week, was one of my best trips ever.
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.
With that, Yunnan, renown for its incredibly picturesque terrain, 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.
We arrived at our hotel in Lijiang Ancient Town in the late night. Listed as one of China's "old towns”, I was quite surprised to find that many of the hotels, boutiques, and restaurants in the area were beautifully crafted and well decorated to fit the modern age.
What's more, we found out during our first night that the local people of Yunnan were very 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.
Additionally, we wound up meeting a very generous hotel owner at a tiny restaurant while waiting for some barbeque. He was so excited to have made an "American friend" that he wound up paying for our food. "Welcome to Yunnan", he kept humbly repeating in Chinese. What a great way to closeout Day 1 in Yunnan!
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; after all, the abundance of lush green karsts hills lining Li River is so breathtaking that I've had to visit it twice. Nevertheless, I'd 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 ridiculously massive thing I had ever seen during my 30 years on this planet. It fact, it was so colossal that I felt my brain couldn't process the magnitude of everything in view at times.
What's more, tucked far down in-between the 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 laid eyes upon.
By 1pm we arrived at Tina's Guesthouse, bought our return tickets, and were cleared to hike down and back up the trail leading to Jinsha River before the last buses departed at 3:30pm.
Walking down was easy, though much of the trail consisted 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 spectacular the further down we hiked towards the river.
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.
And then it happened: After 45-minutes we finally reached the bottom of Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Just as I imagined, Jinsha River was even more immensely fierce up-close. There was no river rafting, no 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.
Over the next half an hour we'd take in the phenomenal views, snap a whole lot of pictures and videos, and pray that none of us slipped and fell.
And then came the hard part: hiking back up. Again, it was 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. Yep, that was the tedious process for a very long, long while. I wouldn't say that it was all hard work and no play though.
One of the coolest, and scariest, outdoor activities I ever had the pleasure of doing along the trail was climbing up a 90-degree ladder perched onto the side of a boulder. Not only was it extremely long, but it was also very high up, meaning that make one bad move and you could kiss this life goodbye.
Half an hour and one Red Bull energy drink later we finally arrived back at Tina's Guesthouse where we took the final bit of pictures and hopped on the last bus heading to Lijiang. What a remarkable adventure hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge!
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 already 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, again, I loved that everything in the area was organized and creatively decorated.
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!
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