Chapter 3: Couldn’t Get Much Higher (at 6300 ft)

I might not have mentioned this before, but Yunnan is pretty high up. The province is right next to Tibet, and so obviously the land it’s situated upon is pretty up high.

It goes without saying that the air is thin up here. It’s not too bad, but the company has gotten reports from some of our older (and I mean age 60+) customers feeling dizzy or unable to sleep for the first  couple days, since their bodies can’t acclimate. It seems to happen with the very old or the very young: the youngest kid in our group, a 13 year old boy who I’ve nicknamed Buzzkill Boy, basically felt ill for a while, which meant lots of angsty glares and a generally angry adolescent  attitude. It might have been his age, since I remember my angsty 13 year old self who hated the world, but I don’t think the change in altitude on top of jetlag was doing him any favors.

For those who are concerned, I was fine with the altitude.

After leaving Dali the tour stopped in Lijiang, located at 6300 ft above sea level. It’s a good home base to many sights that have more than epic names, such as the Black Dragon Pool, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and Tiger Leaping Gorge. The city itself has a massive Ancient Town, where you can walk along miles of winding lanes and visit little shops that mostly cater to tourists. The architecture is more interesting than anything else really.

The Roofs of Ancient Town

If you happen to find yourself in Ancient Town on a Friday or Saturday night, you could check out Bar Street. Just follow the music (it’s pretty loud), and find yourself swept into a mob of young Lijiang-ers making their way down the street to their favorite watering hole. There’s something for everyone, whether you want a laid-back lounge type bar, a club with house and techno blaring and Chinese girls on the dance floor, or a club with traditional Naxi (the local ethnic minority) dancing. All the bars are semi-open air, so you can see into them from the street and, if you like what you see, or are convinced to go in by one of the bar promoters circling around outside, can go in and have a pint or two. I went just to check out the street, and was greeted with one too many people and very persistent promoters. I also hear that alcohol prices are quite high in these bars, but I’m not entirely sure about that and I feel as if it depends on the bar. It’s an interesting place to check out if you want to know what the local young folk do on the weekends. Or if you’re a cynic like I am, go so you can make snide remarks on how “bumpin” the place is to no one in particular.

There’s also a large food court in Ancient Town, where you can pick up some local delicacies such as yak yoghurt (or “yakurt”), yak skewers, and yak jerky. It’s safe to say that Lijiang loves it’s yak meat, which tastes about the same as beef but has a softer texture and is sweeter.

Lijiang is also home to a large Naxi population. Yes, China has minorities too. Officially, there are 56 minorities, but in actually there’re many more with smaller populations that mainly get lumped into one of the 56 minorities. Unfortunate, I know. But it would be crazy to count the actual number. Even America has an “Other” category in their census.

But you go to Lijiang to see Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, known for it’s sweeping landscape and grand views of mountain scenery. It’s actually a small mountain range, made up of over 10 different peaks with presumably different views (I only went and saw two kinds of landscape). There’s a slight chance that going up the mountain might result in altitude sickness, and so I recommend anyone who feels even the slightest bit dizzy to sit down and rest before travelling completely up the mountain.

Tip: Chewing gum or sucking on candy helps to keep altitude sickness at bay.

From the city of Lijiang, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is about a 45 minute ride. And since we were trying to catch the 11 AM showing of Zhang Yimou’s Impression Lijiang, that meant getting up at 5 AM yet again so we could get as much sightseeing in as humanly possible.

Suffice to say that this, combined with the relatively thin air, made me more than groggy and out of it. It certainly did make my trip to the mountains more fun, as my friend and I serenaded our group with bad 90s hip hop hits and theme songs.


Once you arrive in the parking lot, you get to climb a structure that takes you to the cable cars. Ride the cars up to another landing, where you then get to start climbing up the mountain. Since we went early, there weren’t many people on the path, which was nice. The weather was nice too, at around 55°F, so wearing a jacket is recommended but I didn’t see the need to bundle up. The pathway isn’t too steep, but it’s quite bumpy and there are shallow steps, which means that for wheelchair bound guests it would be a potentially unpleasant ride. So if you do happen to have a physical handicap that makes moving around harder, I would suggest that you seriously think about if you really want to go any further up the mountain. Getting to and riding the cable car is relatively hassle free, and there are some pretty nice views at the drop off spot, so there isn’t much lost if you decide to stay there and take a couple pictures.

I, of course, decided to climb up further. It’s not too strenuous a walk, although the brisk and thin air, combined with lack of sleep, made it a little bit harder. Think of it as somewhere between a leisurely stroll and power walking.

Coming from Los Angeles, I have to say that the air was refreshing. It was so clear and unpolluted; I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. It felt as if my lungs were giving me a big warm hug, for letting them take a break from filtering out all the nasty pollutants I’ve bombarded them with for my entire life (I did them no favors moving to New York City either). The scenery was also lovely and woodsy, although you might have to “be careful of leech.”

Must Be Careful

I think we climbed for about 30 minutes before reaching a landing, where you’re greeted with a scene straight out of The Sound of Music and thousands of wooden plaques hanging from the trees.

The Hills Are Alive...and Eating Children

For 10 RMB, you can also write a prayer plaque

The wooden plaques are, as mentioned in the caption, prayer plaques. They’re found all over Asia, mainly in temples, which is why I found their presence here to be particularly striking. Written on them were mostly wishes for family members to have long life and health, dreams of doing well in school, prayers for a successful life. It’s 10 RMB per plaque, and you can choose what color string you want. My friend and I both wrote prayers, wishing our family and friends a laundry list of good intentions. Finding a place to tie our good wishes was a little bit harder, but we suceeded in the end.

The Date Is Wrong

Afterwards was a mad rush down the mountain and back into the cable car, where we were bused to another location called the “Little Jiuzaigou.” It’s a series of waterfalls emptying into a small lake. The water there was crystal clear blue, but on certain times of the day the color changes to pink or green. Sometimes, farmers bring their yaks to these areas for tourists to ride, the price of which is an affordable 35 RMB.

You don’t know how excited I was to ride a yak. Let’s just say that even before I left for Yunnan I kept asking about yak riding. I was so so excited.

But unfortunately, there were no yaks to be found at our stop. It was only later, when we boarded the bus and drove to the Impression Lijiang performance theater, that I saw yaks chilling out at another lake area.

This is the only thing I regret about going to Yunnan.

But, I did get some lovely pictures.

Little Jiuzaigou

Stupid Tree

This post is long. I will continue it in another entry. Happy reading.

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