My last night in China after about four months here was spent in a weird little border town called Mengla on the way to Laos. Like most border towns it was a bit sleazy and as I could not find any hotels from my guidebook I just stayed in one near the bus station. However, from the pornographic content on the bathroom tiles and the group of women all sitting around in the reception area I suspect it must have been a brothel. After little sleep I then thankfully caught an early morning bus to the border and into Laos.
Since leaving Beijing to come to Yunnan I have really enjoyed travelling around the province and think it is probably one of the prettiest in China in terms of idyllic scenery with fields full of sunflowers, paddy fields and lots of little villages.
I started out in the main city of Kunming, which I did not like at all thanks to almost being the victim of a little Oliver Twist gang of children who were out pickpocketing in the main square. I heard a noise and looked down to see a scruffy little kid with their hand in my bag and screamed at her to get off me. I followed her and her friends who ran off with a woman carrying a baby on her back and did try reporting it to the police, although they were not really interested. Some locals told me I was lucky it was a girl and not a boy as they often just razer off your bag. After that experience and the fact that it just rained constantly and was a boring city I decided to leave after just one day.
I caught a bus up the to very pretty little walled town of Dali and spent a couple of days there. It is full of narrow alleys and nice old buildings which have been preserved well. It also has little waterways running through parts of the city that have been turned into waterfalls and fountains in the main squares. It felt like a relaxing place to spend a few days and has a really nice lake nearby too. I had hoped to do some trekking there in the hills, but the weather was really bad so it was not possible.
Instead I went out with some people I met and we made a tour of the local area. This included visiting some other villages where the locals all still wear traditional dress with bright coloured aprons, headdresses, scarves and carry huge wicker baskets on their backs. We went to a local food market and it was full of interesting people and interesting things to eat. We visited a nearby tea making family business and were treated to a course of various teas which included some with walnuts and goats cheese! We also went to a very kitzch cave area full of pink neon signs describing what the rocks very vaguely resembled.
I then travelled on to Lijiang in the north of Yunnan, which is another really pretty town with wooden buildings and tiles on their roof. It has lots of canals running through it and tree lined cobbled streets and alleyways. Initially you get completely lost as it is a maze, but after a while you can at least find your way back to your guesthouse. I stayed in a great little place called Mama Naxi's (the Naxi's are the local ethnic group) and Mama is quite a character who constantly gives you free food, drink and hugs with abandon.
I met some nice people in the town and enjoyed hanging around with them for a few days waiting to see if the Tiger Leaping Gorge would re-open. It had been closed due to heavy rains causing landslides and some people had died in the Gorge. Unfortunately it rained off and on during the time I was there and so I eventually decided to move on.
However, Lijiang is a great place to go exploring the countryside and I rented a bike and spent a day cycling around the local area with an Ozzie girl from my hostel. We met an extremely eccentric man in one of the villages who gave us an impromptu concert/ stand up act and kept us amused for a while.
Lijiang is also quite a lively place with lots of bars and restaurants and we found an Irish bar complete with Cork barman who gave us free drinks and chat for the evening. The main square area also had some bars playing Chinese techno accompanied by local ethnic group members doing a boyband routine. It was a strange sight but had to be experienced along with the football style friendly banter/chanting that goes on between the various rival bars on the street.
I then caught a sleeper bus all the way down to the Xiguabanna area and stayed in the capital Jinhong. The change in scenerey was already looking very apparent with my first sight of the Mekong river and palm trees, coconut and banana leaf curries and I felt like I was already in south east asia.
From there I travelled to Mengla through the winding roads across hills and valleys. We had to drive over several landslides and the road was missing in parts. However, it was stunning scenery and I was glad I could see it rather than just flying over to Laos. It also involved driving through the many villages with different ethnic groups getting on and off the bus in their traditional costumes taking their various wares to and from markets including some livestock as well as bags of food.
From there it was another days bus ride to get across the border and stamped into Laos. I felt a little sadness leaving China as despite the bad things there like the pollution, chain smoking, constant hawking and spitting, kareoke, prostitution and unecessary bureacracy I had grown extremely fond of the amazing things there too like the grand sights, incredible diversity across the country, stunning countryside, quirky characters, great food and also a really interesting rich history that you inevitably learn about from a journey through the country.
However, I was also excited to be heading into south east Asia and seeing what it had to offer too.