30 September 2011

Dragons Gate [Kunming, China]

From Nanning I once again subjected myself to 14 hours on a hard train seat. Sleeper carridges are for the weak! But if you are wondering - no, it doesn't get any easier. I think I managed a solid 2 hours shut-eye during the entire journey.

Kunming is the largest city, and 'hub' of Yunnan provence. Ask any backpacker the highlight of their travels in China and they will no doubt mention somewhere in Yunnan. Even though I was heading in the wrong direction, travelling further from home, I had to check it out.

My hosts in Kunming were to awesome guys from the States - Bion and Ryan. Really chilled out and friendly. I didn't stay long in Kunming; there is not a whole lot of see and do. It is pretty much just a big city; a good place to travel further afield. But saying that, it is not a bad place to spend a couple of days. First of all it is much cooler and less humid than the other cities I have been visiting recently (due to the high altitude). There are a lot of nice parks and green space, and the city is fairly easy to navigate once you get your head around it.

Ryan and I checked out the YuanTong Temple; a really beautiful spot near the center of town. The central temple is surrounded by water that is full of fish and turtles. This temple confirmed my suspisions that Buddhists are huge pyromaniacs. There is always fire burning, massive insence sticks, candles etc. At least they are safe - they had about 10 massive extinguishers scattered around the place.
     

Green lake, also in the center of town, was also really beautiful. I was there on a Friday in the middle of the day and it was packed with people. So many people singing and dancing in true Chinese style. Old guys flying kites, people playing the drums and other instruments...
  

I managed to meet up with Winky again (a girl I met on the train from Shanghai to Shenzhen), and we spent a day exploring the outskirts of Kunming. We (or I) had wanted to climb the Western Hills (Xi Shan), which is full of temples and has great views over the lake (Dian Chi). We followed the directions in the Loney Planet up to a point, but couldn't find the last connecting bus. We asked for directions and took another two buses, only to end up on the wrong side of the lake! (Later we found out that the directions in the LP were correct, so if you are heading to Xi Shan, trust the Lonely Planet). The touts standing around would have you believe that the only way to get across the lake is a cable car, at Y40 a piece. We didn't know better, so bought a ticket. It turns out there is a road that runs right along side of the cable car route (well, it doesn't go up the hill like the cable car, but there is still easy access to the other side).

Xi Shan was pretty cool. After another entrance fee to climb the hill (no surprises there), you walk up some steep stairs past a number of beautifully decorated temples. The highlight is the Dragons Gate, which is a Taoist temple on one rocky outcrop. There is a 'dragon bone' that if you rub you will have an amazing life, never get sick and be rich, or something zlong those lines...
  

While the view from the top is quite impressive, Dian Chi (the lake) is pretty... well, ugly. There is just nothing really nice about it. The green shapes you can see is actually weed that they are trying to control.

From Kunming I headed to Dali. I was warned that Yunnan was expensive, but I wasn't quite ready for Y145 for a four hour bus ride. Damn!

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