I arrive in Qiaotou late in the afternoon, after a relatively short bus journey from Zhongdian. I make my way to Jane's Guesthouse, spoken of highly by my photocopied pages of the Lonely Planet, and check in to a dorm room, which I have to myself! After what seems like weeks without seeing any western tourists, I'm now surrounded by many. Over dinner, I make plans with a Dutch guy to attack the Tiger Leaping Gorge the following day.
In the morning, we start early... I leave my backpack at Jane's, it's nice to be walking with just one small-ish pack. The route takes us up through picturesque Naxi villages and along a path clinging to the steep slopes of the gorge, the yellow Yangtze river roaring down the valley hundreds of meters below us. The toughest part of the trek is the "28 bends", a tight sequence of switchbacks climbing steeply up the gorge to the top of the route, at 2,650m. We stop for lunch in a guesthouse a little beyond the bends, admiring the spectacular Jade Dragon Snow Mountain towering above us on the opposite side of the gorge.
From there on, it's pretty much all downhill, walking under a couple of beautiful waterfalls, overlooking the violent rapids below. By mid-afternoon, we've arrived back down to the "low road", in time to enjoy a couple of well-deserved beers at Tina's Guesthouse before continuing on to Sean's Place (a.k.a. The Walnut Garden). All in all, a pleasant and enjoyable day's walk, but no comparison to the Annapurna trek, and a little too touristy for my liking.
The following day, I make my way to Lijiang. The old part of town comprises a maze of narrow streets of beautiful ancient chinese buildings, waterways and canals criss-crossing through the town. A little Venice or Amsterdam, Chinese style. Most of the buildings host shops, bars, cafes or guest-houses, catering to the thousands of Chinese and western tourists that visit the town each day.
I procure a dorm bed at Mama Naxi's Guesthouse, a popular and chaotic place, the crazy Mama shouting all the time while trying to fulfill her guests every wish. Here, while enjoying a few rare moments of peace, I meet a couple of French students, Lise and Sou, who are currently studying in Chengdu. We spend an enjoyable evening out on the town at the Sexy Tractor pub with a friendly Kiwi, David, and the next day I decide to join them to trek the Tiger Leaping Gorge once more.
(more photos to follow...)