Still slowly making our way through southern China, to one day reach Vietnam
14.11.2009 - 16.11.2009
In the end, we spent four nights in Kunming and I loved it. Maybe it was the great public transport, the friendly people, the food, maybe it was our hotel. It certainly was our city for taking in Buddhist temples.
Our third day, we caught a minibus out to the Bamboo Temple, northwest of Kunming. It dates back to the Tang Dynasty and is a must-see for, among other things, the many clay figures - luohan (noble ones), sculpted by Li Guangxiu. These caused a lot of controversy in their day, so lifelike were they (and they seemed to be caricaturing important people of the time). After they were completed, Li Guangxiu disappeared, never to be seen again! The figures are almost surreal in their detailed facial expressions, some grotesque, as they come surfing down the side walls of the temple, on all manner of creatures, from dolphins to giant crabs and unicorns. Unfortunately we couldn't get photos, except one surreptitiously taken, as you're not really allowed to take any.
Before visiting the Yunnan Provincial Museum, we stopped off at the nearby Muslim area, where we sampled some of their yummy street food - I just couldn't get enough of their kebabs, made fresh in front of you.
The Yunnan Provincial Museum has a wonderful display on the Bronze Age people 2500 years ago from this area. This is a free exhibition and well worth taking in. It is amazing how artistic and sophisticated their art is for the Bronze Age. This find was discovered around Dian Chi (Dian Lake) which is in the Kunming area. There's a picture of the mound where the discovery was made at the museum: apparently bronze artefacts were being sold at the Bird and Flower Market, Kunming and this came to the notice of archaelogists who investigated and discovered this huge Bronze Age site.
We did actually spend a Sunday out at the lake and once again found tranquillity at a Buddhist temple, Taihua Temple from the Ming Dynasty: it was good to strike up a conversation with a Chinese lady who was picnicking with her husband and baby daughter on a terrace there. She commented how people from Kunming found solace in getting away from the pollution and noise of the city by coming out here in their spare time for the fresh air. It was great to have a chat and compare notes and find how much one has in common, even from far ends of the earth. Walking through the forest down from the temple among a lot of people, we were struck by how much the Chinese, particularly the younger people, take pleasure in getting out into the countryside.
Despite spending a lovely day there I wouldn't necessarily recommend Dian Chi as a worthy outing as it's heavily populated with a lot of factories on its banks and the water itself appears very polluted and it certainly must have long since lost its charm as a natural lake.
Our next stop was Dali to the north, an overnight train trip away. The trains on this route are much more modern which has its pros and cons. Obviously they look nice and new and in a lot of the compartments there are 4 beds instead of 6, but they are also double decker and so everything has been made even smaller - less space in the compartments, narrower beds and no chairs to escape onto in the corridors. Furthermore, the most popular snack of choice on the train seems to be MSG-laden noodles, the smell of which is overpowering! I'm not sure why MSG is so popular here when they have such good cuisine without it.
We met two girls from Chongqing on the trip, who gave us some intelligent insight into life in China, which was great as it's not often we get to chat to people here because of our not knowing the language.
It was hilarious, once again, the morning of our arrival to be jerked out of our train-rocked sleep an hour before arriving at our destination, way too early, by the loud peremptory announcements and music broadcast out of the speakers above one's head. These blare out at you from the start of your journey to the end, only being shut off for a few hours' sleep. One thing you will learn is that one is constantly assailed by sound in China (the guidebook advises earplugs as a necessity at bedtime) be it the tv advertising piped loudly to passengers on all local buses, no matter how small the town; the constant horns when on the roads; or the road cleaning trucks, spraying water to dampen the dusty roads, which play music, ranging from pretty classical Chinese songs to Happy Birthday.
We arrived in Dali at the crack of dawn and found it to be another hippy town, popular with travellers - you'll have no problem getting your cafe latte here! We stayed and relaxed here for a couple of days and it was fun taking in the Erhai Lake and catching the cable car up to the Cangshan Mountain, a lovely bracing walk in the mountain air on a very well-built mountain trail along the ridge of it.
Dali is also popular because its old town is still somewhat intact, with cobbled streets, pretty curving roofs and a much more villagey feel to it. Great for photo ops though, as you'll notice, we missed out a bit on these due to dark wintry days.