Northwestern Yunnan--Li Jiang
After those initial three days in the capital, I took the night train to the northwest corner of the province, to Li Jiang. Li Jiang is popular on the tourist trail. Most people heading to this region enjoy the historic "old town," hikes up the mountains to Tiger leaping Gorge, visits to Lugu Lake, or a faux glimpse of Tibet in Zhong Dian, or what has been described as the new Shangri-la. One would be disappointed to expect an untouched culture as found in the 1930s novel Lost Horizons.
My itinerary was flexible and so I decided to just figure everything out once I arrived to Li Jiang. To my surprise, the weather in mid-August was quite cold. I have since learned my lesson that no matter where I go, I should always pack a light sweater. Even on a trip to the tropics, I have often found a sweater to be useful...if only on the air conditioned airplane.
Rather than finding a guesthouse in Li Jiang, I stayed in a neighboring town called Su He. I expected it to be more authentic than the tourist-dense Li Jiang Ancient City. What I found were sleepy walking streets and boring tourist shops selling handcrafted silver bangles. Every cafe was selling overpriced Yunnan coffee which was a waste. It was smarter to drink the black tea since there was nothing to do during the day but to sit idly as sleepy music played on the loudspeakers. Chinese tourists played cards and smoked. This was their idea of a vacation. I had totally expected hot weather and found myself cold, bored, and huddled over a clay mug of Pu'er Tea.
I would take a minibus to the Li Jiang Old Town a couple of times and found it to be just like the Su He ancient city but larger but with the same style of cafes and tourist shops. There were some beautiful guesthouses. This trip would have made for a nice romantic getaway. I took note of some of the nicer guesthouses with the thought that maybe one day I would come back to stay at one of them on some future trip.
I never got a chance to go out an excursion to some of the nearby sites. I tried to book a trip to Lugu Lake. The road was inaccessible from a mudslide and I would have to stay in Suhe for a couple more days if I wanted a chance to go there. At this point, I was getting colder and I realized that the temperature must surely be colder by the lake at that higher elevation.
I considered buying a coat. One could have been found at the shop in Li Jiang City for about 600 RMB ($100). I really didn't want to do that. I sat in the cafe weighing my options drinking tea and listening to numbingly dull music.
As I drank the tea, I realized that there was nothing much else in the way of culture and entertainment to justify staying in Su He any longer. I really did like the tea, though. I saw signs in travel agents' windows for flights to Yunnan's far southern region--Xishuangbanna. This is a jungle-d area from where this marvelous tea is produced. I was tired of drinking this tea. I thought I could get a closer look and visit some tea farms in the far south. For the same price as a winter coat, I could escape the cold and see something totally new.