After several attempts I'm finally able to write up the next lap of my holidays. The system has been throwing a wobbly for some time but seems OK now.
After my stay at Susanne's house in Lijiang I was accompanied by mother, Susanne, Jenny, Goldie, Susanne's brother and Susanne's brother's wife to the bus station to meet Jayne. After our fiasco in Jinghong of arriving at different bus stations and also my arrival at he wrong bus station in Kunming for the night bus to Tengchong, guess what. Yes, we were at the main bus station and she, as it turned out was at the express bus station. How did I know this? After waiting for around thirty minutes I phoned her mobile, with Susanne's mobile as mine doesn't work, to ask if she had reached Lijiang yet. Yes, she had. Where were we? Main bus station. Where are you? She didn't know exactly but knew it was Lijiang so she handed her phone to some random Chinese man, I handed the phone back to Susanne and between the two of them they worked out where Jayne was and off we went across town.
After our goodbyes and assuring my 'mum' Susanne that I'd be fine, look after my purse, be careful crossing roads, not trust people offering hotel rooms, phone her... we found a hotel and decided to go Western for a while and enjoyed pizza, beer, Western cafes and seeing the sights, un-helped, before taking the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek.
I think the trek can be best understood by looking at the photos of its breathtakingly spectacular scenery. We decided to take two or three days and two nights to walk it at our leisure and it was truly amazing. The path was good, but with some sheer drops for the less than sure-footed, with some ups and downs, notably the 'bends' which took you to the highest point. Jayne boosted the local economy here and made the 'horse' (we thought it looked more donkey-like) man, who had been following us all day, 40 kuai richer. It wasn't the safer option, however, as the horse had a penchant for walking unnervingly close to the edge of the steep -sided path.
We stopped overnight at the Tea House on the first night, which was comfortable, cheap and full of other trekkers from Australia, Korea and China so we spent a cheerful evening playing a Chinese card game, Do Di Zhu. The second day's walk was equally fantastic with sweeping views to the Yangtse river a long way below. We finished all too soon and decided to take a steep path down to the river where I could clamber over the rocks to put my finger in the white froth of the Yangtse before clambering back up again.
The second night was spent at Sean's trying out the rice wine, a very cheap and noxious brew. Two of the walkers tried out the 'Happy Cake' on the menu! One disappeared off to bed and didn't re-emerge for 24 hours. The other sat with us with an inane smile from ear to ear for the rest of the evening, telling us he felt terrible. I think there was a lot of happy in that cake.
Now we had to get back to Qiaotou where we started our trek and left most of our luggage. This was the scariest part of the whole trek. It involved travelling in a minibus along a rough road with a driver who appeared to be blind or insane. There was nothing or nowhere he deemed impossible to overtake. We shut our eyes and tried not to throw up as he overtook lorries on blind bends hardly wide enough for two vehicles. We made it, thankfully, got to Jane's guest house to fetch our luggage, refused some 'happy tea' and set off for the bus to Zhongdian with a young Beijinger and a German lady traveller we'd met en route.
Maybe Zhongdian was a mistake. We hadn't, in our elation in TLG, thought about the consequences of climbing to 3200 metres. It was freezing. Hostels turned us away for lack of running water. Eventually, teeth chattering, we found one . Much of our day subsequently was spent in a cafe with heated tables as the cold seeped through to our bones. The Chinese boy felt ill and headed off early the next day for warmer climes and I decided to head back to Kunming and work my way south to Vietnam. It wasn't totally a lost cause in 'Shangri La'. Being near Tibet the costumes and architecture certainly had a distinctly Tibetan feel, we visited the Monastery and had a rather abortive trip to a nature reserve which did, at least, offer us close-quarter views of a lot of yaks.
From there I took the sleeper to Kunming, recuperated for a night in Kunming, then took the sleeper bus to He Kou on the Vietnamese border before crossing on foot to Lao Cai on the Vietnamese side. And my first impressions were of the sea of conical hats worn by nearly all the women and the welcome lack of hawking and spitting. I found a cheap hotel or rather it was 'found' for me by the driver, but, at 6 dollars a night with bathroom and breakfast, I didn't protest.
The trekking around Sapa was amazing too. Though known for its mists, and after a typically inauspicious start, we had warm and mainly dry weather after the first day. Unfortunately I lost my camera, so have no photos, but we trekked up and down hill through woods and by rivers, alongside and almost in paddy fields, through ethnic minority villages where the women's dress was wonderfully colourful, visited tiny local schools.... Not to mention the mud that caused us to slip and slide mercilessly down hills and nearly injure ourselves constantly as we struggled on sloping,narrow paths on which the locals walked in wellies, sandals or even bare foot with the greatest of ease. One minority group, the H'mongs, helped tourists when needed, including holding both the arms of one poor Japanese girl who had fallen full length back and front and didn't look to be enjoying herself. In return the H'mongs would try to sell you their jewellery, clothing and bags. Their chief weapon was persistence rather than aggravation. Some spoke very good English, learned entirely from the tourists and could be quite persuasive. We were housed in 'home stays' and, at the first one, we ate and drank home-distilled rice 'wine' to celebrate Australia day. Did we really need to toast it so many times!? Our young guide looked a little worse for wear the next day but the H'mong girls took it very much in their stride.
I loved each day of trekking, even the mud which was not to the liking of an American couple I encountered. The guide, as we subsequently found in the rest of Vietnam, was keen, cheerful, reasonable at English and earning a pittance, responsible not only for the guiding but also for the shopping and cooking. Out of the 12 dollars I paid per day, for absolutely everything, his share couldn't have been more than 2 dollars.
This has been a very long postcard so I'll stop soon and leave the telling of the rest of the Vietnam adventures to Tim, who I met, on schedule, in Hanoi. Now I'm back, after so long, in Wenshan, waiting for the new term to start tomorrow.