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Your man in Yunnan

Everything you need to know or Everything I know or Everything I felt like typing

Mediocre things come to those who have no choice but to wait. I am talking about my most recent batch of photos from Xishuangbanna. Not that the month-and-a-half-old photos (all 117 of them) are bad — actually, I think some of them turned out pretty well — but the image quality of the versions I added to the photo gallery is a little subpar, in my opinion. The reason? I started to use this iPhoto plugin called iPhotoToGallery. It really does make the uploading process a lot easier, but the tradeoff is that your photos look like crap. Until they clean up the crap, I won’t be using it again. But I won’t be re-uploading anything, either — just don’t have time. Still, the photos should give you a good feel for ‘Banna, which, after two visits, is one of my favorite spots in China — because the place, not far from Burma and Laos, is like a vacation from China. A slice of Southeast Asia without having to go through an airport security check.

I don’t have time to the write the long, vivid travelog that a trip to Xishuangbanna warrants (my time is currently occupied by a longer, hopefully vivider[1] travelog), but I would like to leave you with a few brief Yunnan travel tips:

Tip one: Go to Yunnan. You will love it.

Tip two: When in Kunming, I stay at the Yunnan University Guesthouse (云南大学招待所) or Yúnnán Dàxué Zhāodàisuǒ or Yún Dà Zhāodàisuǒ. What the place lacks in English-speaking help and friendliness it makes up for in location. It’s right near Wen Hua Xiang, a cool little alley just off Wen Lin Jie packed with cafes and eateries and shops that sell trendy clothing and outdoors gear. Check out Salvador’s, a coffee house owned by three American guys, if you are in the mood for a laid back atmosphere and some great — and cheap — Western grub. A fun bar called Speakeasy is right around the corner. And always lively Green Lake Park (photos here and here) , or Cuìhú Yuán ( 湖园), is withing walking distance. A longer walk away — but definitely still walkable — is the flower and bird market, or huāniǎo shìchǎng (花鸟市场), which has some good souvenirs and street food and is usually packed … unless it happens to be snowing in the “City of Eternal Spring.”

Tip three: Don’t be afraid to fly. And don’t be afraid to buy your tickets in the Kunming airport. We were short on time, so even though I would normally recommend at least one long and bumpy ride on a bus or train to most China visitors, we opted for the quick fix and flew everywhere (and, as a guy who has been on his share of Chinese buses and trains, I wasn’t complaining). I normally buy my plane tickets through a Shanghai-based, English-speaking ticket agent named Lisa (lisaxuni @ yahoo.com or 13817892972), but we didn’t plan our Yunnan-based travel far enough in advance for her to help us. Not to worry, however. Lisa told us to just buy the tickets at the airport and she told us what the prices should be … and they seemed pretty cheap. Now, if you went to an American airport asking to buy tickets for a flight that leaves tomorrow, you would likely get laughed at — and if you expected to get a bargain, you would really deserve to be laughed at. So I was skeptical when we approached the China Eastern desk at the Kunming Airport looking to buy three roundtrip tickets to Lijiang and three more to Jinghong in Xishuangbanna. Then they told me the prices … and they were even cheaper than what Lisa told me they would be. Roundtrip to Lijiang: RMB 630 (less than $80). Roundtrip to Jinghong: RMB 680 (around $85). Not bad. Not sure how normal this is, mind you. Prices fluctuate greatly, I have been told. Last time I flew from Kunming to Jinghong and back, last November, my flight was about double that price. But, silly me, I bought that ticket through an agent. Should have gone right to the airport, I guess.

Tip four: When I visit Lijiang, I stay at the Bai Sui Fang Guesthouse (百岁访客 , phone, 0888-5120633 … call when you arrive and they can pick you up from the bus station … place is kind of confusing to find on your own … but if you want to try, it is near Bai Sui Bridge, or Bai Sui Qiao, or 百岁桥), which is in historic Old Town, but in a residential area just outside of the real touristy part. It’s amazing how tourists just stick to the well-worn paths. Well, no it’s not. But it is nice to stay in a traditional house with a courtyard and singing birds and a mercurial dog on a quiet little lane … that happens to be just about 100 yards to all the conveniences of the other part of Old Town. The nice young couple that runs the guest house doesn’t speak English, but don’t let that scare you away. They’ll know what you are there for. Expect to pay around RMB 20-30 per person per night. They’ll cook for you if you want and loads of laundry are RMB 10. They can also hook you up with a driver for daytrips around Lijiang. Three of us paid a van driver RMB 70 — total — for six hours. Amazing, considering you can’t get anyone, even the van driver, to take you to the airport — a 30 minute ride — for less than 80. Go figure. I enjoyed our daytrip to nearby Baisha Village. And even though it has kind of turned into a China travel cliche, dropping in on the famous Dr. Ho is a rather enjoyable experience.

Tip five: In Xishuangbanna’s Jinghong, I suggest you head to the corner of Jingde Lu and Ganlan Lu and have someone at either the Mei Mei Cafe or the Forest Cafe suggest a place to stay. We stayed at a place right near the Bǎnnà Jiǔdiàn on Ganlan Lu, but it wasn’t the Bǎnnà Jiǔdiàn — I forget the name — and it was around RMB 70 for a double, but I think you could find cheaper. We hired Sarah, owner of the Forest Cafe, to take us on a two day hike through minority villages, rubber tree forests and pineapple plantations, all around an hour or so outside of Jinghong. I highly recommend you do something of this nature, get out and see the Xishuangbanna countryside. Sarah charges RMB 200 ($24) per person per day, which may seem a little pricey to most backpackers. But the price includes all transport and meals, Sarah is a cool girl who speaks excellent English and it is highly unlikely that you could get this type of village access — we ate and slept in homes — without someone with the local guanxi that Sarah has. You can contact Sarah through her website, but she usually likes to size people up in person. It’s hard to tell who would make suitable hiking companions over the internet. In Jinghong, Forest Cafe and Mei Mei have good backpacker type food and for more local flavor, head to the big night market near the new bridge that goes over the Mekong River. Great barbecue there, as well as an outdoor video game arcade, some rides, a not-so-scary haunted house and roller skating. As far as I know, this carnival goes on seven days a week, 365 days a year. Something I found out after I returned from ‘Banna: Running Dog owns a bar in Jinghong. It’s called Deep Temple and Running Dog is a cool guy so I have no reason to believe it is not a cool bar. But who cares? Beers are 5 kuai! (Not quite sure where Deep Temple is, but there is an advertisement for the bar at the Forest Cafe.)

I think that’s about it for now. We don’t tip too often here in China.

[1] Yes, vivider is a word.

For those of you who are still reading … I thought I’d share my latest bit of fan mail. Here it is verbatim:

mr dan washburn
you are just another god damned american

fuck off

dont ever step into china
dickhead

That’s all it said, so I’m assuming “dickhead” is this person’s name. If for some reason you’d like to send this person some fan mail, his or her email address is kandytool@runbox.com.

04.12.2005, 9:50 PM · Observations, Photos, Site News, Travel

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Shanghai Diaries is a website about Shanghai, China ... and lots of other stuff. Voted Best Mainland China Blog in the 2004 Asia Blog Awards.

Editor: Dan Washburn

Related: Shanghaiist and Mudan Boutique

Dan is a freelance writer living in Shanghai. More about Dan.

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