忍一时之气，免百日之忧 (Rěn yīshí zhī qì, miǎn bǎi rì zhī yōu)
– If you are patient in one moment of anger you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. (My philosophy when I lost my bag… read on!)
With 20 hours of class a week, starting at 8am most days, us Peking University students take the holidays when we can. A long weekend at the start of May was the perfect opportunity to get out of Beijing so Liberty and I consulted skyscanner.com for the cheapest flights to the most exciting places. Hong Kong was a clear winner price-wise, but we decided to push the boat out and pop down to Dali, Yunnan Province instead.
Yunnan Province is very far south – much further than we realised when we consulted a map having bought the flight tickets. With the prospect of warm southern weather looming, I proceeded to pack my entire summer wardrobe to make the most of the sun. This completely backfired when disaster struck at 3am when we arrived at Kunming airport to find that my bag hadn’t arrived. After consulting the lost baggage service (they were really helpful and it was good Chinese practice) we concluded there was nothing we could do except get a bit of sleep before some more travelling the next day.
Dali is another 5 hours away from Kunming by bus, so we were able to catch up on sleep and recover from the stress of our elective exams the week before. We stayed at The Jade Emu Hostel upon a recommendation from a friend, which is situated just outside the picturesque Ancient City of Dali. After dumping Liberty’s bag (*sob*), we made the most of the afternoon by exploring the walled city’s boutique shops, craft stalls and eateries before deciding on “The Good Panda” for dinner. A Dali delicacy is goats’ cheese, and this combined with hot stone beef and onion made for a sublime first meal in our holiday destination. The homemade fruit wine was less delicious, so we sniffed out a cute little café with a veranda, and watched the world go by.
For our first full day, we rented bikes to cycle around the lake and explore the area and various villages a little more. After convincing the hostel staff that we did not want to do a two-day cycle route, we found our bearings and were on our way. Erhai Lake is surrounded by 17 small villages, so it made for beautiful and interesting cycling as we passed through. We also made friends along the way, and stopped for chats ranging from Xi Jinping to life in Xi’an. Some of the lake-side resort hotels looked absolutely beautiful, and has once again given me wanderlust to explore more of China.
After three hours of cycling, we made it to Xizhou. According to wikitravel.org, Xizhou has almost 200 national heritage listed private houses dating from the Qing Dynasty but our first priority was to find somewhere to eat and shelter from the sun. While it couldn’t compare to The Good Panda, it filled a hole before we recommenced sight-seeing and exploring. Liberty’s blonde hair got a lot of attention (Dali and the area surrounding it attracts lots of Chinese tourists) and we ducked the cameras while sussing out the local snacks on offer.
After reapplying suntan lotion, we were back on our way to Dali. The fierce sun led to us both burning so it was a relief to be back in the shade of the Dali Ancient Town, hobbling along after over-doing it on the bikes. Although the temptation to go back to The Good Panda was great, we decided to try something different and found another unassuming but lovely restaurant down one of the many winding alleys. To return to the lost bag saga, it was on this day that my bag finally arrived (two days into the trip) so we celebrated this fact, and Liberty’s college room allocation, with wine and good food.
Although tired from the cycle, on our third day we decided to walk along Cangshan Mountain to see the Erhai Lake and the Ancient City of Dali from a different angle. Upon hearing that there was a minority festival, we rushed from our delicious diner-style breakfast in search of beautifully dressed ethnic women and unique cultural performances. Unfortunately, China-style, we were rewarded with crowds of thousands and not much else so we searched instead for the chairlift to take us up Cangshan.
We were successful in meeting on lovely lady dressed in minority clothes, who hesitantly approached us to ask for a photo (we thought this was hilarious, as we’d been wanting to ask her the same thing) before getting the chairlift up the mountain. We had a brief pit-stop at the top for delicious home-made food before starting our hike along the Cloud Traveller’s Path. The view was stunning, and the path was beautifully laid to snake along the mountain beside temples and waterfalls (yes, it was that idyllic). While the lack of toilets 3 hours in was alarming, a typically awful port-a-loo came to my rescue as we reached the Seven Dragon Pools. These are a series of beautiful mountain stream pools of various colours and Liberty made ‘friends’ while posing for photos in front of the pools.
Our walk continued like this for six hours (we joked that we’d actually been on boot-camp and not a holiday due to the ridiculous amount of exercise we’d done) so the view of the cable car to take us down was a very pleasant one. It was with a heavy heart that we had our last meal in Dali, incredibly sad to leave this beautiful place.
However, our final day brought new adventures as our predicted 10 hour bus journey only took 5 hours, so we had 5 hours to play with in Kunming before our flight. We found a delicious café and then lugged our bags to Green Lake Park in 30+ degree heat before making the miraculous discovery of pedal boats for the lake. Within 30 seconds we were chilling in the lake, finally giving our backs some respite from our entire summer wardrobes. Although lacking in tourist attractions (maybe a good thing?), Kunming seems like a really lovely place to live or work. With tree-lined streets and lots of water and parks, it reminded me slightly of Shanhai’s French Concession, or an improved Guilin.
After our hour of chilling on the boat whizzed by, we made our final tourist stop at Yuantong Temple. Although we had to hike up to it with bags in tow, it was absolutely worth it as we entered the tranquil Buddhist temple, located in a protected natural depression. I can honestly say it’s the most beautiful temple I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, and that’s a large claim considering the amount I’ve visited this year! The Yuan Dynasty architecture is stunning, and the ‘Free Life Pond’ holds golden fish and hundreds of terrapins. Spending an hour in the temple was a wonderful way to end a simply Dali-ghtful weekend away.
Credit goes to Louise Moon for ‘Dali-ghtful’. Thanks also go to Alexander Martinelli, Charlie Rowlands, Francesca Ridout, and Liberty Brown for their suggestions!