Yunnan Province China:

Many people are familiar with the description, ‘Hill tribes’ when applied to Thailand. You may recall seeing vibrant ethnic costumes and hats that delineate each ethnic group. Now, with map in mind, fan out in a northerly direction through Laos and Myanmar to China and you find many more ethnic groups. Yunnan is a south western province of China and is home one of the largest concentrations of ethnic groups, all with their distinctive traditional dress and hats.

Brent and Elaine have recently returned from an exploration of a potion of this region and then traversed Northern Laos to North Thailand before returning home. Arriving into Kunming (Capital of province) our route took us to Dali, Lijiang and Shangrila, before flying to the southern city of Jinghong where we traveled by road along part of the Mekong river to the Laotian border and on through to the Mekong River border crossing to Thailand.  From here we then flew to Singapore for a two day conference before returning to Melbourne.

Would we go back – YES! Highlights were many with the theatre music performance in Kunming (Dynamic Yunnan) rating as one of the best we have attended.  This musical toured to Sydney in 2011. If you visit Kunming this show should be on your 'to do list. For more details.

Then there was the UNESCO listed ‘Stone Forest’. Dali and its 3 pagodas are a sight to witness as is the old town of Lijiang (Unesco listed again). Oh and have I mentioned Tiger Leaping Gorge? This is the famous deep gorge of the upper reaches of the Yangtzee River, rivaled to be as deep as the Grand Canyon. The chap with us from Arizona was silent at this challenge, but did a noticeable squirm in his seat. I would also want to see the scientific facts on this point! Whereas with the Grand Canyon 99% of people view the canyon from the top, here at Tiger Leaping Gorge you view it from the bottom, simply spectacular!

With any journey there is always something ‘around the next bend, over the next rise’ and this proved true on this journey. Shangrila, in the Tibetan ethnic area and technically on the Tibetan plateau at 3,400 meters, is one of these places! The towns original name was Zhongdian. In 2001 after a regional request for ‘expressions of interest’ China changed the towns name to Shangrila. Yaks, Tibetan fire water, sky burial sites, restored old city centre and lively local music. Add in the huge Tibetan Buddhist monastery, which is a smaller version of the famed Patola Palce of Lhasa, with its 780 resident Monks and you are truly in ‘another place’. Whilst I have not been to Lhasa I was told by others that you get to see more of the inside of this monastery than you do at the Patola Palace Monastery in Lhasa. Our time here was too short.

Another interesting day! We left our snug breakfast room with open fire and Yak Butter tea into the crisp minus 5c morning air and made a return journey back down to Lijiang airport for a one hour flight to the southern region of Yunnan to Jongqing (Dai ethnic region). We were then in subtropical night temperatures with palm trees! Polar fleece to cotton shirt! Our journey continued along the banks of the Mekong River, through fertile farming areas awash with pineapples, bananas and pomegranates! Dai architecture is similar to Laotian and Thai so beautiful temples were features of many villages. Eventually we reached the town of Mengla, which is just before the Laos border. This evenings meal featured one dish of stir fried bullfrog – farmed I might add, waste of time I might also add, but I am willing to try most things without prior translation!

The next morning saw us across the border to Laos and our days drive across to Thailand. Due to the new Chinese built road we could accomplish this in one day whereas in the past it took 3 days! A surprise to some in our small party was the reality of the words ‘ferry’ across the Mekong River. Awaiting us were wonderful Asian style longboats, one for us and the other for the luggage!

Whilst we had been to part of Northern Thailand before we explored some new places such as Chiang Saen and Chiang Rai before flying to Singapore for the conference. Singers was a very quick visit and we really only experienced the hotel, adjacent conference centre, shopping complex and science museum where we finally got to view the Titanic exhibition! Our hotel was the new Marina Bay Sands and yes it is spectacular, BUT if you suffer from vertigo do not stay there! The open air pool on the roof at 57 floors – yes the one with infinity pool – is all it is made out to be. The rooms are sensational, but I had to hold Elaine’s hand to take her to the window and it took her 24 hrs to ‘become comfortable’ with standing at the window. The building itself curves up and out so the wall to ceiling window is angled up and away from the floor. Therefore, when standing and looking down towards your feet you feel like you are ‘out in space’ so to speak!

The daytime flight home with Singapore Airlines was fine with good food and a chance to catch up on some movies I wouldn’t have wanted to have paid to see!

Food, I didn’t mention this! What an experience!! The diversity of styles of was remarkable. As foodies we were in heaven. Stir fried tea and beans, tree moss fried with diced pork and the afore mentioned bullfrog were amongst the more unusual. Mushrooms and fungi, we meet varieties we had never seen before and believe me a mushroom hotpot in Kunming is a dish to crave!


An opportunity to play with some Chinese buskers
The 'been there done that' shot. Tiger Leaping Gorge. Doesn't the left peak bear an uncanny resemblance to Mt Everest and the next one similar to Mt Cook in NZ?
The inevitable 'chinglish' signage
And did we mention the Tibetan Hotel in Shangrila?