We were really looking forward to China, and in particular the countryside in the south-west, where we planned to go. However, we soon realised that this part of China wasn’t going to contain the lovely quiet rural scenery we had imagined.
Our first stop was Yangshuo, a small UNESCO listed ‘backpacker’ town, famed for its picturesque river scenery including hundreds of limestone karsts. But we soon discovered that it was not what we were expecting with music booming out of every bar and terrible karaoke blasting out until 3am, all of which the local tourists seemed to enjoy. From there, we spent several days visiting and cycling (sometimes along motorway-style roads) around what the guidebook described as villages but when we turned up we discovered cities with thousands of people, where most of the old buildings had been torn down and replaced with ugly new ones.
From there we set off for the long journey to the Hani rice terraces near Yuanyang, south of the big city of Kunming. After ten hours of travelling we arrived at the dusty ramshackle town only for the terraces to be covered in fog. We checked into the worst hotel of the trip, where the bed smelt of wet dog and the toilet of urine, and organised a tour for the next morning.
We met our guide at 4am, only to drive out to the viewing area (which was a massive four-storey monstrosity in the middle of the paddies) and wait in the cold for an hour for sunrise. There wasn’t one. However, it was amazing seeing the fog glide back and forth over the rice terraces.
Next we went for a walk through some other terraces but couldn’t see further than two metres ahead for the fog. We met up again at 4pm to see the sunset. The views on the way were amazing but again we waited for hours and there was no sunset, just a lot of cloud.
After another brief stopover in Kunming, we took the bus to Dali. The walled old town was very pretty with streams running alongside nice cobblestone streets but the same streets were absolutely full of tat being sold to thousands of tourists. Moreover, most of the buildings had been ‘renovated’ to such a degree that they no longer actually looked old.
Our final stop was Lijiang which was a pleasant surprise and the best place we visited. Still bursting with tourists and the associated shops, but there were really quaint cobblestone streets meandering around a main square and crossing over little bridges above streams. We wandered around the town snacking on some of the delicious street food.
The food was probably the highlight of China which overall was disappointing for us. In my opinion it has been so overdeveloped that you don’t even know what is really old and what isn’t. You can drive for hours and not ever be away from towns, factories and electrical wires. Obviously this is good for the country’s development but it makes for a disappointing visit. I guess with so many domestic tourists (who don’t seem to mind this sort of development so much), international tourism isn’t a priority.
The other thing we found difficult was the general assault on the senses. We have travelled through many noisy countries but found China to be the hardest to bear. The tone of the language seems aggressive and with everyone shouting what sounds like obscenities at each other, it’s hard on the ears. This along with the constant hoicking up of phlegm was unenjoyable to say the least.
We had planned on travelling through Tibet and into Nepal but instead decided to leave early and fly straight to Kathmandu.