Home / China / Information / Travel notes

Travel notes on South-West China

General comments

Before the trip, I was apprehensive of the language barrier, since I knew that English was not widely spoken in China. I was also told by other travellers that logistics were difficult, just getting tickets or finding hotel rooms required patience, and that the locals were not always that friendly. The only thing that I found out to be true was the fact that English is surprisingly little spoken, even in tourist areas. I suppose this is because now domestic tourism has taken off in a big way and accounts for an overwhelming fraction of the tourism in China. However, I was always able to get by fine just by having people look over the phrasebook section of my guidebook (I didn't attempt to learn how to pronunce Chinese) and doing a bit of gesticulating. This is to say that almost all the individuals with whom I dealt were friendly and willing to help.

I'll give two exemples. Once I got in trouble in a train because my ticket turned out to be invalid because of an obscure rule that I wasn't aware of (see below). When the ticket controlers came, one passenger who was in the car and spoke some english asked me some information about how I got my ticket, and then went ahead to try to explain to the controlers. She was soon joined by a crowd of passengers who apparently were all arguing to the controlers that I had been treated unfairly. At the end, the controler's supervisor agreed and arranged to give me another bunk.

When I went from Emei to Leshan, I showed a policeman who was walking on the street a picture of the Grand Buddha. He showed me a bus stop. I got in it, and showed the picture to the driver, and she nodded. I took some money out of my pocket and showed it to her so that she could pick the required amount, and was surprised at how low the fare was. It turned out that this was just a local town bus, stopping at another bus station. There, I saw a woman who looked like an official worker, and showed her the picture again. She pointed me to another bus, in which I stepped in. At one point, after fifteen minutes or so, the bus driver stopped and motionned me to exit in the middle of nowehere. I wasn't sure why, or even whether he was addressing me, so he kept insisting in a more impatient tone (of course I didn't understand a single word). Eventually he showed me that there was another bus just behind which had appeared from nowhere. I changed quickly, and arrived afterwards in Leshan.

Compared to the other Asia countries I had been to, the infrastructure was remarkably good. In particular the large inter-city bus stations were very big and modern. When the bus leaves, there is a call, then someone checks your ticket at the gate, and then again when you board the bus, so you don't have to worry about getting on the wrong bus.

Another thing that I was apprehensive of was the big, grey cities that apparently some fellows travelers have been experiencing. While it is true that nowadays the large avenues of cities ressemble those of the West in worse because of a fairly unimaginative architecture, the small towns and villages that I have seen appeared to be colorful and traditional enough.


I used the Lonely Planet South-West China guidebook. I was satisfied with the listings and advice. If you are traveling mostly in that area, I'd recomment that guidebook rather than "China". I talked to other travellers who were using it, and the lack of details caused them to miss a few things. What is vital in this book is that the names of places are repeated in Chinese script. This makes it possible to "ask" people how to get there without having to speak a single world. However, I found a number of places where the information was outdated, mostly train schedules, and two hotels which have moved or closed. In the following, when I mention train times, this will mean that the LP information was incorrect.

One general note of warning about transportation: I tried to buy a Jinjiang-Emei train ticket in Kunming to be sure to get a sleeper, but this was a mistake. The clerk sold me a Kunming-Emei ticket. That ticket was voided and resold because I was not in the train one hour after it left Kunming. Fortunately the train staff agreed to give me another sleeper, but not without long negociations (conducted by helpful other passengers, as I don't speak Chinese). The moral is that in China, to buy a ticket from A to B, you have to be in A, and you cannot do it from C.



I stayed at the Camelia hostel. They have bike rentals which is a great way to go around the city. The hostel section is a separate building at the back of a complex which houses the regular hotel, and is refered to as "dorms" while in fact I got a double room to share with only one roommate. I found a few old streets with wooden houses W of the intersection of Zhengyi Lu and Dongfeng Lu. The largest row was on the NW, in a street parallel to Zhengyi Lu. The train to Shilin leaves at 8.10am, and not 8.32 as mentionned in the Lonely Planet (LP), arriving at 9.46. It leaves Shilin at 16.32, arriving in Kunming at 18.05. The night train for Dali leaves at 23.30.


I stayed at the Yuan Garden. The single room was a bit shaby, but still adequate. To get to the toilets, you have to cross to courtyard, though. from Xiguan train station, local bus wait left of exit. take #12 for Dali. The cormorant fishing trips is staged for tourists (you won't see real working cormorants), but still worth a try. The Shaping market is interesting. If you go with a local bus, you'll be charged Y10 each way, actually more than the Y15 RT charged by the guesthouses, but you'll be able to stay longer when all other tourists are gone. The lake close to the Three Pagodas is enclosed between walls South of the Three Pagodas (an entrance fee is charged). Buses leave for Lijiang at least every hour until 7pm and the trip takes only 2.30h on a good road.


I liked the Square Inn for its location close to the action on square street, and the friendly staff. The building and the room were very nice and atmospheric. To enjoy the old town, get up early before the hordes of Chinese tourists. Most of the people you will see on the streets at that time will be locals. There is a great view of the town from the top of Wangu tower, however there is an admission fee. Sqaure street is a nice place to hang out by the evening, with people floating candles in the canal. The concert of the Naxi Orchestra is also an experience not to be missed. The temples with frescoes in Baisha are now extremely developed, with admission fee, lots of Chinese tours and vendors. In particular, upon entering and exiting the buiding where the frescoes are, you are channeled between rows of booths. The frescoes themselves are interesting, but photography is stricly forbidden. The bus that you used to get there #6 does no longer stop in front of the post office. Once you are in Baisha, it is quite easy to get back to Lijiang at anytime by sharing a ride or hiring one of the small trucks stationned on the village's main plaza. Morning buses for Jinjiang leave from the South station at 7.30 and 8.30 (the hotel staff said no buses leave from the North station, unlike the LP says). If you can manage it (the seats are numbered so you cannot seat where you please), try to get a window seat, as the scenery is spectacular in the first half of the trip. The trip takes nine hours, including the lunch break. Once you get there, you have to ride a local bus for 45mm before getting to the Jinjiang train station.

Emei Shan

the Teddy Bear hotel has moved from the Post and Telecomunications hotel and is now far from the Teddy Bear cafe, but the friendly Cafe staff can direct you to there. You are sure to meet other backpackers there. If you are going to go up the mountain, you can leave excess luggage with them for a modest fee. I have found an unbrella extremely useful against rain and monkeys. You can buy one in town, or at the base of the mountain, but not once you get on the trail. Most temples charge Y30/night excluding food. I would recommend against staying at Yuxian temple where the room and blankets were damp and cold and too close to the active area of the temple for good rest. The whole trail is paved and not slippery even when wet because workers create textures on the stones with a hammer, so sneakers or sandals are adequate. The summit temple charges Y60/night for a better room. Even in May it gets quite chilly on the summit in the evenings or mornings, and if you don't have a sweater and windbreaker, you should rent a parka at the office next to the cable-car station. Buses leave every half hour from the summit and it is easy to get a ticket on the spot even if you don't have a reservation. The easiest way to go from Emei to Leshan would be to hang around the station next to Teddy Bear cafe from where the bus for the sacred mountain depart. You will be accosted by people proposing direct transportation to Leshan through minivan. It is also possible (and relatively fast) to use public buses (see the introduction).


the Taoyuan Binguan doesn't operate anymore. The cyclo that I hired said "meihou" and kept insisting in dropping me somewhere else, but I didn't trust him and eventually realized he was right. He dropped me to another hotel apparently not frequented by foreigners, were the rates were actually lower and the room was decent. Speaking of cyclo, I'd recommend getting in town with a taxi instead, since it is not much more expensive, and significantly faster, as the town is fairly far from the bus station. The walk along the riverfront is very nice in the evening, with a lot of animation. The Great Buddha faces West, so if you'd like to take a boat trip to see it from the river, late afternoon would be the best time. Buses leave for Chengu frequently and the ride is less then 2 hours.


I stayed at Sam's guesthouse, which was fine, although the dorms were somewhat crowded. Sam charged only a small fee to buy a plane ticket for the next day. They also offered an opera tour with a guide/intepret, which included a backstage visit, as well as a tour to the Panda research center. The morning tour is the best, since it is the time when you can see them being fed.

More information

Home / China / Information / Travel notes