China – Introducing Dali, New Town

Dali, China, May 2016: The first day in a new destination, morning has broken in Dali. There’s a big difference in climate here – sweet, fresh air with clear blue sky and an abundance of sunshine. Later I shall move to the North end of the city where I have an Air BnB booked for about 8 night close to the old town. Priority now is to find some breakfast as I stomp the streets on a crisp chilly morning.

Not long before one stumbles upon a noodle cafe, seems to be the breakfast of choice across china with an abundance of noodle shops in all directions. Noodle soup with bit’s and pieces across the top, sometime of questionable origins, but its always tasty.

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Dali can be characterised in two parts – new and old. New Dali is situated on the southern flank of Erhai Lake while Old Dali is some distance north. Old town Dali is the reason visitors make the place another tourist hotspot. Preserved architecture and culture are the lure along with the agreeable climate of course. I’m here for the next few hours following an overnight stay, having made a very long journey previously. For most visitors, new town is simply a transition en-route to the ancient town. So, for now lets stroll along the lake and breath that fresh sweet air.

Here’s a few snaps…

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Across Lake Erhai, New Town Dali

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The tourist boat, expensive and long winded are the reviews!

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Local Temple, Erhai Park.

 

China – Fenghuang to Dali

Fenghuang, China, May 2019: Today I’m leaving Fenghuang as I arrived – in light drizzle! First, a bus south to Huaihua, the closest city to a high-speed railway. Then its the High-speed train west to Kunming and finally another bus to final destination Dali – a very long day covering 1, 343 KM in about 10 hours. As foreigners are unable to reserve bus China bus seats its a case of racking up to the stations and hoping for the best – so far its worked out fine, but coming up tomorrow is a public holiday and that probably  means crowded public transport!

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As is common with Chinese big cities and towns, there are various bus stations scattered across the place so one has to get it right first time or face a very expensive taxi ride and the prospect of re-scheduling the train ride with a non-English speaking official. Thankfully, Huaihua High-Speed rail bus was marked as such and in English, a great initiative from the Chinese Tourist Council!

 

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Arriving to Huaihua South with plenty of spare time – about 90 minutes before G1525 leaves for Kunming. Time for some lunch and an opportunity to stock up with food for later.

Ordinarily passengers would connect to another High-speed train between Kunming South and Dali, but because I missed out due to the upcoming public holiday I’m now faced with a trip across the city to the Kunming West Coach Station where there hopefully will be a bus seat. I’m half expecting to be staying the night in Kunming though, a thought that doesn’t appeal after looking around the place. Its a mega city, a metropolis that takes 1 hour 20 to travel South to north then west on the Kunming Metro.

I have to count myself lucky to get what was probably the last seat on the last bus to leave Kunming West for Dali at 5.30 PM. Not surprisingly the vehicle was jam packed, all Chinese natives with me being the only tourist, not for the first time on this trip! A pretty good journey as it happens. The roads to Dali are pretty empty and a stop at the best motorway service station I have ever seen – no rip-off prices like we see in the west, no, just ordinary prices and good food, I wouldn’t mind staying a bit longer!

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Dali has bus stations scattered across the city, so its unfortunate this bus is terminating some distance from tonight’s hotel. 11 PM as the bus draws into an obscure location on the southern fringes of Dali, with the local taxi mafias waiting to pounce. With local public transport closed down for the night, one is forced to run the gauntlet of a potential taxi scam. Luckily this driver can read a digital map but has no idea where exactly the hotel is. So, after dropping me off somewhere in the vicinity, I’m forced to seek help. After about 45 minutes and some frantic phone calls from some friendly hotel staff, the receptionist from my original hotel comes to fetch me – turns out I wasn’t far away after all!

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China – Enchanting by Night, Fenghuang

Fenghuang, China, April 2019: Enchanting by day, equally enchanting after dark – a sight to behold as the towns historic core turns into an array of gold, silver and white lights. Seems that everyone in Fenghuang has stomped up to the towns highest bridge to view this rather magic spectacle and this is one time a bunch of photos can really tell the tale spectacularly! So, for the final time of sightseeing in Fenghuang, lets finish on a high note! Here’s

The rain has stopped, the night is clear and the air is still helping produce these nice crisp images of Fenghuang at night.

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Back to base then leaving behind those thumping sounds emanating from the plethora of bars and discos from down below as the natives begin their boozy night out. For me, I’m on the move tomorrow heading for Dali, a long way West so I need an early start and some sleep!

China – The Modern Town, Fenghuang.

Fenghuang, China, April 2019: To the South of the historic tourist core, Fenghuang has a thriving local scene – A high street like any other high street one would see in England. Full of modernity and with all the  functionality of  modern life in China. The markets here are quite interesting, not that bustling with stall holders getting in some napping time. Its also considerably cheaper to eat in the real town to – dumpling soup around £1.17, a cheap and tasty lunch from one of the many little 2 table cafes around the place.

Walking back to base then through a hive of activity as the town wakes from the lunchtime siesta. locals busy going about their daily business, not a single tourist insight – a strange feeling being the only westerner in a local area, but not as bad as being the only westerner in Ganxia, shenzhen!

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Several varieties of Chilli’s at the local town market.

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Fenghuang High Street

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The Fenghuang Indoor Market

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Local Siesta!

 

 

 

China – Exploring The Ancient Town, Fenghuang 2

Fenghuang, China, April 2019: Although the tourist focus is along the river banks, Fenghuang also has a network of quaint and attractive stone paved back streets.  narrow, well preserved and free of traffic apart from the odd scooter rider chancing their luck with the authorities! There exists about half a dozen museums located within noteworthy ancient buildings located around the place. Visitors with an interest in ancient Chinese history will need to pay a fee for each visit or buy a one time visitors card covering all the museums – its a bout £12. Personally, museums don’t interest me that much so ill skip it all for now and just stroll the quaint little lanes around the town taking in the atmosphere and mixing with locals.

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Narrow streets back from the river.

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Ancient town wall and lookout tower.

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The towns only coffee shop, empty but and ideal escape from the rain.

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The Town wall deterring would be invaders during ancient times.

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Directions to noteworthy sites and prominent landmarks

While exploring the lanes and alleyways one should be prepared for a few aspects of the Chinese way of life – eating snakes and frogs. Yes, don’t be surprised to see a cage full of snakes awaiting the chop of a butchers knife! While western visitors will balk at such a notion, the natives I’m sure will be delighted that their snakes are quite fresh! A part from caged snakes and furry creatures, one can observe noodle production, chilli grinding and plenty of processed foods fast foods being deep fried. Oh, and a tone of candy production, yes, the Chinese developed a sweet tooth.

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|for those in a hurry, good news for you. The place is small enough to cover on foot in about an hour, maybe two, including a quick look around one of the museums, before grabbing a few deep fried snacks. Despite the commercial aspect of mass tourism, Fenghuang is still a place where real people live and where visitors can enjoy a slice China past and later on, present!

Next, China present…Fenghuang.

China – Exploring The Ancient Town, Fenghuang 1

Fenghuang, China, April 2019: According to what one reads, the consensus reached on the age of the town settles at around 400 years old, so yes, its an ancient town without doubt. How much of the place is original, well that’s hard for a non-Chinese tourist to figure out but I’d guess there’s been plenty of restoration and sprucing up for tourist effect. Anyway, lets take a gentle meander around the Phoenix Ancient town and try to immerse ourselves into a little piece of old China.

Perhaps a less conventional way to cross the river here, is to negotiate a series of stepping stones! Quite a famous selfie spot for those brave enough to take the risk. One false move and its all over I should imagine.  Yes, it has to be a brave soul to risk life and limb like this, especially in the rain. I wonder how many phones are laying on the river bed?

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No room for error – no pushing and shoving here! And how do they get those boats upstream?

For those without the nerve to cross on the stepping stones, well, here’s a slightly less precarious method. Thankfully not crowded today, Better not let the kids run around though, those planks could be slippery!

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A tourist town with a river inevitably means boat rides. Here in the ancient town tourists can ride up and down the gently flowing river and observe other tourists going in and out of pubs, bars and shops and restaurants. Boats are lined up on the Southern end of Tuojiang River although the price and duration are not easy to discover – maybe time to sharpen up those haggling skills.

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Another precarious method of crossing the river.

Being a popular tourist spot, its of course no surprise that the place is packed with enough shops to satisfy the most ardent of shopaholics.  Yet despite the inevitable consequences of mass tourism, the ancient town admirably retains charm and character, at least along the along the river banks, added rain for good measure.

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Densely populated with shops but still with charm and character.

An intriguing feature of the place are a collection of wooden structures with a room or perhaps more accurately, an extension, jutting out over the river, supported on stilts, while the main portion of these are constructed on solid foundations. These are all tourist venues – cafes, bars with live music in the afternoons and the odd hostel for backpackers, accessed from the front street of course. All along the Tuojiang river there are features and relics (not just local old-timers) to observe including the towns old pagoda.

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On stilts making quite a unique scene of ancient quaintness.

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A few secret passages and chambers no-doubt. All looks pretty ancient to me!

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An Ancient Pagoda in an Ancient Town

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Climb a hill to get that enchanting scene.

To get an elevated view that so often makes a good photo, one can climb the hills around Fenghuang, accessed by stomping through the back streets. Somehow the place looks quite enchanting from altitude where views along the river reveal just why the place is on the tourist trail.

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HongQiao Bridge, the towns original although one suspects a few rebuilds and restorations at various points during the last 600 years.  Nowadays, pedestrianised with a hall so visitors may shelter from the rain while looking at some local art. 

Next time, a look into the back streets of Phoenix Ancient Town.

China – Phoenix Ancient Town, Fenghuang

Fenghuang, China, April 2019:  Fenghuang is actually quite a big town with it’s ancient core sitting in a valley with modern residential units spreading up into the nearby hills. it doesn’t take long to establish that here is another tourist destination with all the associated establishments that contribute to such. Nonetheless, one can also quickly establish that Fenghuang has a uniqueness that doesn’t come along that often on ones travels. The river with picturesque bridges of historic proportions along with an interesting blend of historic (and not so historic) architecture is going to make this visit to Phoenix Ancient Town well worth the effort, I can just feel it!

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Lone boatman on the Tuojiang River

There’s no rush to get around here – 2 full days to explore the small historic core of the this ancient town along with a few ancient traditions along the way such as Venetian style boating. With daylight fading and the drizzle annoyingly persistent once again (it must be all across China) time to grab some photos from an initial stomp around before  bad light stops play. So, here are a few snaps before a more comprehensive look around tomorrow.

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less historic bars, pubs and night clubs!

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Chinese Alcoholism is well catered for as bars, pubs and clubs line the waterfront. Here though is one less boozy joint to choose from!

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Plenty of street hawkers in Fenghuang. Here, domestic tourists haggle over the price of black olives.

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Olives and apricots for sale.

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Plenty of options to cross the river.

China – Introducing Phoenix Ancient Town, Fenghuang

Fenghuang, China, April 2019:  I’ve arrived at Fenghuang town after a 3 3/4 hours bus ride from Zhangjiajie. Despite a lifting of the cloud base earlier enabling a few en-route photo’s, its back to mist and drizzle as I hike downhill towards the old town and my Air BnB accommodation. I shall be here for the next 3 1/2 days, aiming to immerse myself with some real old Chinese culture. By all accounts this is the place for that, a well preserved historic town that is also a tourist hot-spot.

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Phoenix Ancient Town

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First glimpse of Phoenix Ancient Town.

As one descends the hill and rounds the corner, emerging from the mist and drizzle is this rather enchanting glimpse of the ancient town. The river gently flows as rising mists give the place a mysterious aura as though one is about to enter a magical kingdom.

But first  I must find that Air BnB, grab some tea and food before hiking around the town.

Next..China Enchantment

China – Zhangjiajie to Fenghuang on the Bus

Zhangjiajie, China, April 2019: In a few hours I shall be heading to my next destination, the ancient town of Fenghuang. Not for any scenic agenda, but primarily for the town itself, said to be a well preserved living, working example of very old China and worth a look. I shall aim for the 12:30 bus scheduled according to the China Bus Guide, which has been pretty accurate thus far.  So, before that, lets tank up on MacDonald’s Coffee since the place is conveniently next to the bus station.

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Its a VIP type tour bus for this 3 1/2 scheduled ride to Fenghuang – packed to the rafters with natives and a handful of Westerners. Comfortable enough as the bus meanders away from Zhangjiajie. A pretty hostess checks my ticket, ticks her papers and smiles as if to say “yes your on the right bus, have a nice day”.  A service station stop about half way, welcome for those that need to choke, spit and smoke, also a chance to snap some en-route scenery under the all to familiar overcast.

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A ghostly appearance, looking down on an abandoned settlement. Could have been some kind of mining operation or a secretive research base. Either way, its a rather intriguing scene here at the service station.

Fenghuang, on schedule as the bus rolls into the northern bus station. I had planned to take a local bus to my accommodation in the Phoenix town but since I can’t find bus number 1 and no one here speaks English, that idea is soon abandoned – a good old fashioned hike in the drizzle it is then!

 

 

China – Avatar, A Jurassic Non-fantasy, Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie, China, April 2019:  I’m on my way to the Zhangjiajie Inter-City bus station, just about a 10 minute walk from the hotel district. Plan is to get a bus to the Wu Ling Yuan scenic area, famed for its Jurassic landscapes providing inspiration for the scenery one sees in the 2009 fantasy movie ‘Avatar’. So, if all go’s to plan, this should be another unique experience following on from Tianmen Mountain. The weather is typically overcast, but the clouds are high and there is a little brightness in the warm spring air so lets try to stay optimistic!

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Lets go to Wu Ling Yuan.

The only way to find the bus to Wu Ling Yuan is ask someone – or rather just show the ticket otherwise one will end up aimlessly lost in the vast Zhangjiajie bus station trying hard to decipher the system in place here. The staff are friendly enough directing me to the correct bus for this 40 minute ride North at £1.76 single fare (15 Y).

Wu Ling Yuan town is little more than a collection of big name hotels and streets lined with the inevitable tacky tourist souvenir shops. Yes, all the paraphernalia associated with a tourist hot-spot is here as one steps off the bus and strolls the long wide boulevard to Wu Ling Yuan entrance – let battle commence, a statement based on my experience of getting up and down Tianmen mountain!

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Follow the crowds…

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Pagoda marking the entrance to Tianzi Mountain.

Unfortunately the weather is deteriorating – low clouds and drizzle. Do I continue, spend the £35 entrance fee and hope for the best or turn back and save some money? Lets carry on and hope for the best! The ticket queue is short, only 20 minutes long, and bus queues even shorter. Here I am, prepared to do battle with thousands of tourists whom have failed to materialise, or is it that I’m the last to get on the bus! A short ride to the cable way station where visitors can pay about £10 to ride up the mountain or alternatively take a 2 hour hike to reach the Tianzi scenic area. For me, it’s the cable car since I really don’t relish a long hike in drizzle.

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An eerie, surreal ride between the Jurassic sandstone structures as the cable car ascends into the low clouds. A brief but interesting glimpse into the Wu Ling Yuan Avatar mountains which soon is enveloped with fog – a real thick blanket that I think is here to stay. So, for the now there’s little point wasting valuable stomping energy, so lets bunk down in the large and empty MacDonald’s here on the top of Tianzi Mountain for a while and hope for a lucky break!

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as one leaves the relative comfort of MacDonald’s, no sign of any imminent improvement in the weather – socked in good! Looks like the only scenery I’m going to see is tour guides screeching through megaphones and amplified PA speakers while their clients cackle, spit and yell into the fog expecting to hear an echo – no exaggeration! A host of food stands and the very familiar tacky tourist trinket stalls are abundant here. There really isn’t much else to say except at 1.15 PM one has to abandon all hopes of any mountain top sightseeing and start the journey down – might as well walk since gravity is on my side at least!

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Defeated by the weather

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For about £40 one ca be carried up or down in a chair!

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Another glimpse of Jurassic Park 

Its a 2 hour hike down and quite peaceful as the tour groups exit the same way they arrived – by bus and cable car. The only thing to meet are the dodgy characters waiting for a sedan chair customer and a few monkeys, that is until at the bottom where one joins up with the tour groups once again. A succession of buses back to the entrance and back to base in Zhangjiajie, where its not raining, yet!

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If one is to draw a conclusion then this is it – ‘Spring isn’t a good time to be conducting a scenic tour of China’.