Yunnan Tour – Dali to Lijiang Day 4 (11 Days 10 Nights November 2015)

After a good night sleep, we were ready for more excitement heading up to Lijiang this morning. Our breakfast was the bread and cake we bought from Joy Bakery in Kunming the day before. Coffee and tea weren’t a problem with the kettle provided in our room. Yinfeng Hotel doesn’t operate a restaurant so no meals served in the hotel. Our simple breakfast was satisfying nevertheless.

It was still very early, so we went to the main street of the ancient town for a quick look around. It was quiet but there were street vendors selling hot food to those who were up and about their business in the morning. Most shops were still closed but the shop selling meat was already open for business.

We went over to the church at the corner for a proper visit. The door was open but the church was empty. We didn’t see any caretaker there. This was just a typical church building but should be quite historical in this UNESCO site. We didn’t venture any further after visiting the church and we headed back to Yinfeng Hotel.

Having packed, we went to the lobby to check out to wait for our transfer to the bus station to take a bus to Lijiang, 180 km away. Our pick up time was 8.30 am but the guys who were supposed to be at the hotel seemingly were not sure about the location of Yinfeng Hotel. The hotel staff received a call from one of the staff and direction was given. Not long after, a small little van showed up and we left with them.

We were glad we had stayed at Yinfeng Hotel right inside Dali ancient town. The staff here were extremely helpful and were conversant in English. They also made onward calls to our hotels in Lijiang and Shangrila to get direction and made arrangements for our transfer to their hotel. Anyway, we would be coming back to stay in Yinfeng Hotel during our return leg from Lijiang after visiting Shangrila.

The small van went around picking up a few more passengers and soon we were told to alight along a side road not far from the ancient town. There was a waiting area for passengers waiting for the bus to Lijiang. Passengers could also use their toilet facility as well. This part of Dali looked deserted so early in the morning. Not much activity was around town and it was a little cold as well.

Slightly after 9 am, a big bus pulled up outside the main road. All of us grabbed our bags and walked to the main road to board the bus after leaving our bags in the bus storage compartment. This bus was really big and looked new too. The bus was very clean and so much more comfortable than the medium bus we took to Dali from Kunming the day before.

We settled down happily and soon the bus moved off. This time, the ride was rather peaceful. We didn’t have some inconsiderate passengers talking incessantly to disturb the peace in the bus. In addition, no one smoked on the bus as well. So all was well.

About an hour later, the bus pulled up at a small rest area for a toilet break. Those who needed to smoke took the opportunity to do so in the open which was very considerate of them. This rest stop was located at a farming area. Besides toilet facilities, the shop here sold provisions and some fruits and food. It was a rather nice surrounding and the air was fresh.

The bus moved off after about 10 minutes and we were moving up hill towards Lijiang. Dali is about 2000 m above sea level and LIjiang has an elevation of 2400 m. So we should be acclimatizing well along the way before heading up to Shangrila at 3100 m the following day. The scenery was pretty nice at times and we soon arrived Lijiang bus station near noon.

We got off the bus, took our bags and headed back into the bus station. We took the opportunity to buy bus tickets for the next day heading up to Shangrila. Having purchased our bus tickets, we walked out to the main road.

Tour agents and drivers were approaching passengers coming out of the bus station. Our hotel for Lijiang was Hilton Garden Inn Lijiang not far away along the main road. We could walk there if we wished but a lady taxi driver persuaded us to take her cab and negotiated a price for the taxi ride. Taxis in Lijiang don’t use the meter. But the taxi fare wasn’t very high though.

In about 5 minutes, we arrived at Hilton Garden Inn Lijiang. This lady driver also solicited tour business from us on the way to Hilton Garden Inn. She quoted us a price to bring us sight seeing, horse riding, boating and have nice and cheap lunch at the village. So when we got off the taxi, she told us she would be waiting for us to check in first and then we would head out for our day tour.

During check in, the hotel also provided us tour options which was about the same as what this lady driver quoted us around 400 CNY for the whole trip. So I asked my wife to go back to the carpark to inform her we didn’t need her service. The staff at Hilton Garden Inn were very professional, helpful and friendly. They were all smiles when we approached them at front desk. They could speak English too.

We were given information for the day tour on what we could do in the afternoon which we booked during check in. The day tour included a lunch at the village near the lake, horse riding and boating were included as well and the cost was 200 CNY per person. Having settled our check in procedure, we were escorted to our room by another friendly staff.

The room was quite big and very modern. After all the hotel was built just a year ago in 2014. Everything was new and we loved our room. Bathroom was clean and big, modern design with a shower stall. Full toiletries were provided as well. Not long after settling down, we went back to the lobby to wait for the pick up for our afternoon tour.

The lobby of Hilton Garden Inn was very nice and welcoming. Welcome drinks were provided self service on one of the tables in the lobby. The lobby was very spacious, modern and with plenty of seats for hotel guests. It was very comfortable just to sit around in the lobby.

At the lobby, we met the hotel’s Guest Service Manager whom I corresponded with via emails before our arrival a week before we left Singapore. He was so helpful with information and could speak English very well. He used to work in another international chain hotel in Guangzhou so he was very experience with handling international travellers.

We spoke for quite awhile and he told us the restaurant was having special dinner promotion and suggested we give it a try in the evening. Bookings must be made via their internet account which we didn’t have but their staff would help us by using their account to book the dinner for us. He also helped me sign up as Hilton Hotel’s member to enjoy discounts for future hotel bookings under the Hilton Group.

Soon, our tour agent arrived and we followed him in an MPV. Two middle age couple were already in the car. So we found out this tour consisted just the four of us. We left Lijiang City and headed to the countryside. In under an hour, we arrived at a village. We got off the car and were led into a restaurant that looked like part of a house in the village.

Tables and stool were set up in the courtyard. Some people were having their meals as we entered the premise. We were ushered to a low table near the house. Not long after, our food arrived. It was a steam boat lunch. The vegetables were very fresh and the soup and the chicken were good. So we helped ourselves and had a great lunch in a village setting.

During lunch a young man came over to promote local tidbits. When he found that we were from Singapore, he was excited and thankful because a kind Singaporean family sponsored his education here. We patronized his stall and bought some tidbits from him before we left this village restaurant.

We were then led to another location nearby to wait for our horses to arrive. Soon, a guide led four horses over for our group. We were helped up the horses and then started our horse riding activity. The guide was a local from one of the tribes in Lijiang. He introduced the names of the horses we were riding on as he walked us along the hike.

He walked in front and led this group of horses and shouted instructions to the horses to move forward or stop in his local tongue. He was quite a talker who chatted with us while leading us along up into a forested hill. It was an interesting activity under the bright autumn sun with some winds blowing up the dusty trails as the horses trod along. I was at the back of the group so I was inhaling some dust at times.

As we rode uphill, we could see Lashi Lake below and it was very scenic. Our guide continued to shout at the horses with instruction to move on whenever one of the horses decided to do something else by getting out of the way. The guide spoke to us in Mandarin. He joked that his horses were multi-lingual as they could understand their dialect as well as Mandarin and some English.

After going uphill for awhile, we reached an open area where a few other horses were there. The horses took a break here and some women came over and persuaded us to buy corns to feed these tired horses. Here was an opportunity to get close with the horses to take pictures. While resting, other groups of horses also came by to rest. Some groups moved on. This was a place for these local vendors to sell food for horses to make some side income. The horse food didn’t cost much though.

It was a good break as our butt were beginning to feel the effect of riding the horse for more than 30 minutes. After the break, we continued to ride along the edges of the hill overlooking the scenic lake, farms and villages below. It was a good afternoon activity after lunch to enjoy fresh air and beautiful sight outside of Lijiang City.

We were now going downhill back to the village. Some stretches of the trail was a little treacherous because they were very close to the edge of the hill. Should the horse miss a step, we would be continuing our tour on wheelchair. The guide was really tan and very fit. He had to walk the horses up and downhill while we sat on horses. He would be taking a few groups for horse riding every day. The whole ride took nearly 90 minutes. We were back to the village to wait for our drivers to come for us.

At this rest area, we saw so many groups of horses bringing tourists all over the place near Lashi Lake. They seemed to be riding on flat ground near the lake and villages. We were brought up the forested hill which were much better for sight seeing. Our driver showed up and we got into the car. He drove us nearer to the lake this time and we eventually reached a launch site near the lake.

We were given two options. We could do our own kayaking or take a boat ride out to lake with a boatman. The elder couple and my wife decided it was better to just take a boat ride with a boatman as we didn’t want to get wet and dirty ourselves. We were ushered onto a long boat and sat comfortably down and the boatman was at the back working the boat out to the lake.

The scenery here was even better on the lake level. This lake was surrounded by mountains and villages. The feeling out on this boat ride was fantastic. It was already after 4 pm in the afternoon and with the sun beating down on us, it wasn’t so cold out in the open. The water was no doubt rather cold and we were glad we didn’t do our own boating activity. We saw some younger tourists struggling on the water with their own little boats so we were pleased with our decision.

The boat got near the middle and from the lake, the scenery was simply perfect for photo shoots. The whole area was picture perfect. The reflections on the water with clouds and hills were just gorgeous. The blue sky with the clear water was a match made in heaven.

We saw fishing nets and traps set up in the water. The traps trapped frogs and fish. Our boatman brought us nearer and then lifted up one of the nets to show us the catch. It was very interesting. The lake was also full of weeds and grass, a great place for fish and other water creatures.

Although this is just a lake, the people here call this lake a sea, Lashi Sea in Mandarin because this lake is considerable in size. There is no open sea in this inland province in China and a lake can be called a sea just like the Dead Sea isn’t actually a sea in the literal sense. After enjoying the lake scene for about 30 minutes, we were back on shore.

We got into our car again and were heading back to Lijiang City. Along the way, the driver stopped to pick up some young people who negotiated a fare to go back to the city. They were travelling free and easy going from place to place. They had been staying in Lijiang for a few days already and were talking about the places they had visited. Of course the famous Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was one of their highlights and cost quite a few hundreds CNY for that particular tour.

Near to 5.20 pm, we were back in Lijiang City and we were finally back to Hilton Garden Inn. We rested in the hotel lobby to drink tea provided free to hotel guests. This welcome drink was good. The afternoon day tour was very good and very enjoyable. For 200 CNY per person, we were very happy with the hotel’s arrangement.

We then returned to our room to shower and rest. We got in touch with the children back home and shared with them the beautiful pictures we had taken earlier. We also watched some TV programs waiting for dinner time to come.

Near 6.30 pm, we were getting hungry. So we went to the restaurant and were welcomed by the waitresses who seemed to have been informed of our arrival by the Guest Service Manager we had met this afternoon. The promotional steamboat set dinner for two was very appealing but we didn’t have the Chinese internet account. So one of the waitresses booked the set dinner using her account and we paid her directly to enjoy this promotional set dinner.

The restaurant wasn’t crowded when we were there. It was a big and classy restaurant. Not long after, the steamboat was set up and all the dishes came. The portion was so huge for the two of us and we struggled to consume all the food. It was a very nice dinner indeed. We were so full after dinner so it was a good time to head out to explore Lijiang Old Town at night.

We were given a map and direction to walk to the nearest Old Town not too far from the hotel. It was already dark when we hit the street. We turned left and walked along Xianggeli Avenue. After walking two blocks, we crossed the road to walk into the famous Qixing Street. This is one of the leading shopping areas in Lijiang.

Shops were located on both sides of the street and we found Joy Bakery much to our excitement. Of course we went in to grab some buns and cakes for our continuing journey. We then walked further into the street and having asked around, we found the entrance into the Old Town.

There was a huge crowd at the entrance. As we were advised by the hotel during check in, no one was collecting entrance fee at night. So we entered this fascinating Old Town that obviously was a tourist magnet. The entrance was already a talking point with hordes of crowd milling around taking pictures. Excitement was in the air. The lighting was captivating and so this was the beginning of another delightsome activity in Lijiang.

We proceeded into the Old Town and the place was really romantic and beautiful. One stretch was full of cafes and pubs with live music located along a running river. The lighting was seductive tempting visitors to hop into one of those pretty looking restaurants for a meal and enjoy a drink with live music in Chinese and some English too.

Further into the Old Town was a big Square and shops were everywhere in every direction. We were quite lost actually and crowds were still around taking pictures and selfies in every possible angle as well. The air was a little chilly but with the crowd of people around, it wasn’t so cold and uncomfortable.

We walked into one of the streets and looked around some shops. As we continued strolling, we ended up at a huge food court selling local delicacies. This was another lively place and the stall vendors presumably employees of the food court were having a great time working and serving customers. They seemed to be happy people working here.

Having gone through the food court, we were back on to the pretty streets in the Old Town. We walked on and on not knowing where this would lead us. We also came across tour agency selling tours and bus tickets. The day tour we had earlier in the afternoon was cheaper here but we were not sure of the quality whether the cost for all the activities were included in the tour price. Anyway, we were very pleased with our hotel’s tour booking.

After roaming and exploring Lijiang Old Town and getting tired, we were trying to find our way out. It got confusing at night. The Old Town was really lovely at night so even we weren’t sure of our way out, we weren’t frustrated or stressed out. The weather was good and the town with running streams all over town was very pretty so we took a leisurely pace and eventually ended outside the Old Town at a different entrance.

Obviously we didn’t want to find our way back by walking back to Hilton Garden Inn. Moreover, it was a little dark this part of town. Incidentally, a taxi pulled up with some young passengers alighting. We then checked with the driver and he quoted us a fare to bring us back to Hilton Garden Inn. It wasn’t expensive really even though they don’t go by the meter.

In about 10 minutes, we were back in Hilton Garden Inn. We rested in the lobby and we helped ourselves and drank more tea. The friendly hotel staff asked how was our night at the Old Town and we chatted awhile. After that we returned to our beautiful room to enjoy our evening.

It was supper time and the bread we bought at Joy Bakery was handy. Tea and coffee were made and we settled down to enjoy our refreshment and we watched TV at the same time. After connecting with the children back home again, we were excited to share the nice pictures we had taken in the Old Town. All was well back home and our day was great in Lijiang.

This was the best day of our tour in Yunnan thus far. The horse riding and boating at Lashi Lake were wonderful. The steam boat dinner in Hilton Garden Inn was excellent. The visit to the Old Town in Lijiang was quite thrilling even though this Old Town may not be as authentic as the ancient town in Dali, it was nevertheless a great place to visit while holidaying here. Some tourists might complain this Old Town is just too commercialized and touristy which is true but we don’t mind visiting nice and pretty towns for some shopping experience rather than the usual shopping malls in most cities.

Anyway, Lijiang was badly affected during an earthquake years ago so this rebuilt Old Town was the result and the authorities have done a very decent job in the rebuilding exercise. The Old Town is truly very lovely at night. As tourists, we don’t feel the need to visit a dilapidated ancient venue just to get an authentic experience. Tourists attractions with updated modern amenities would be greatly appreciated. Many years ago, visitors to China would not be thrilled to visit the toilets and certain places with spittle all over like landmines on the ground. The government in China has been cleaning up the country and smoking is already banned in indoor areas and also on buses. Whether this rule is strictly enforced is another matter.

So we had a long and exhilarating day, better than what we had expected. Bed time beckoned and we looked forward to heading up to Shangrila we heard so much of as we dozed off into dreamland of Yunnan in China. Another fantastic day was our dream cushioned by the wonderful bed in a wonderful hotel in Lijiang. Hilton Garden Inn was a great choice indeed.

Continue to Day 5

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