Travel notes on South-West China
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
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
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
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.
- Day 1: Crossed the border from Vietnam at Lao Cai on foot -
Afternoon/night train from Hekou to Kunming
- Day 2: Kunming (on bike)
- Day 3: Day trip to Shilin by train + shuttle
- Night train to Dali
- Day 4: Dali
- Day 5: Day trip to Shaping by hostel shuttle - return by local bus
- Day 6: Long-distance bus to Lijiang
- Day 7: Lijiang
- Day 8: Day trip to Baisha by bike - return by taxi
- Day 9: Long-distance bus to Jinjiang- Night train to Emei
- Day 10: Bus to Wannian - Hike to Hongchunping
- Day 11: Hike to Yuxian
- Day 12: Hike to Jieyin - Cable-car to Golden Summit
- Day 13: Hike to Jieyin - Bus to Emei - Local bus to Leshan
- Day 14: Grand Buddha temple in Leshan
- Day 15: Long-distance bus to Chengdu
- Day 16: Half-day trip to Panda Breeding Research base by hostel shuttle - Fly to Guangzhou
- Day 17: Train to Hong-Kong
- Day 18: Ferry to Hong-Kong Island and back
- Day 19: Fly out of Hong-Kong back to California
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
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
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.
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
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.