I just completed a road trip from Kunming to Xiamen. I drove 2620km which included the 300km extra side trip to Detian waterfall. With only a few exceptions, the highways were all new and modern. The total cost in road tolls was 1760 RMB. Don’t get me started about road tolls in China!
It took 10 hours from Kunming to arrive at Detian in the central Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region . After leaving the G80 you go on the S316 out of Natongzhen to Shuolongzhen. It is approx 150km from here to the falls. At this point you dive into the karst mountains, much like the Guillin area. The drive is beautiful at every turn winding through all the karst hills. We stayed at the hotel overlooking the falls. The next morning we spent a half a day exploring the area.
Detian falls is the second largest trans continental water fall in the world. 2nd only to Niagara Falls in the USA. In fact the falls are divided between Viet Nam and China. The Detian Waterfall is over 200 meters wide and has a drop of more than 70 meters. Its water rushes down a three-tiered cliff with tremendous force. It is the largest waterfall in Asia, and you can hear it’s roar even before you see it. This is really a must see in China.
Driving 85 km from Kunming, we reached the town of Shilin. (Shilin means ‘stone forest’) This is home to the Sani ethnic minority people. Here, the Stone Forest sits on 350 sq. km area. The GPS location 24 49′ 27.95″ N 103 19’24.41 E will put you at the entrance.
My friend Rose was my guide through this amazing place. It took us about 4 hours to explore about half of this Unesco World Heritage site. It is also considered the first natural wonder of the world, being formed over 270 million years ago.
Walking through these giant stone karsks is a sensation for both your eyes and ears. The rock itself is an extremely hard stone. It feels like steel. Some of the stones make a musical sound when struck, while others make no sound at all. With our trusty map in hand, we worked our way through to the various points of interest along the way. The typical Yunnan weather of clear blue skies and sunshine only added to the unique lighting environment inside the stone forest.
I would consider this a must see stop during your tour of China. The park area has it’s touristy feel to it, but not to the extreme. It is easy to find yourself along exploring this unique forest of stone. After leaving the park and returning to Kunming, we stopped in Yi Yang and ate the best Peking Duck ever. I always stop in there when I am going in this direction from Kunming.
On May 1st I set out to travel from Kunming to a small town in Laos named Luang Prabang. For a little added adventure, I decided to drive my car there. After securing the necessary documents, I headed for Laos. The total distance round trip was 3072 km.
Driving through China is straightforward enough to Puer City, formally known as Se Ma. From there the G213 is still being built, so you detour to the old road all the way to the border. I stopped in Mong Na for the night which was about 60 km from the Laos border. The next morning I drove the last bit to the Chinese border and arrived there by 8am when they opened the border for crossing into Laos.
Entering into Laos is a story in itself. After spending 550Y and 4 hours of processing, I was free to travel on to Luang Prabang, some 600 km through the jungles and mountains. The small 2 lane road was barely fit for driving, averaging only 30 km at top speed. Driving in Laos was a dangerous business. Not long ago they changed the driving from the left side to the right side of the road. I suppose it didn’t really matter since the traffic just used whatever parts of the road that were not broken. Every few km I was going through some small mountain village dodging farm animals, children, carts, and broken down trucks. By 10:30 pm I finally arrived in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is the ancient capitol of Laos. It is also the Buddhist religious center made up of many temples. They are scattered about this tiny town on almost every block. Situated on the Mekong river where the Kahn river flows into the Mekong, Luang Prabang is a picturesque town. Most of the buildings are of French design, the hotels mostly converted from the old French buildings. Restaurants, craft shops, and street markets make up the majority of the businesses here. It is certainly a tourist town. The food is fabulous and not expensive. The same can’t be said for the local souvenirs. You know somethings up when the prices for things are marked in US dollars instead of Lao kip. This region is famous for their amazing textile, handmade papers, and snake whiskey. But to me the best product of Laos is the “Beer Lao”. It has to be the best beer in Asia. And nothing is better than drinking an ice cold beer sitting by the Mekong river while it’s pushing 40C outside. The big bottle goes for 80 cents a bottle. The 5% alcohol content of Beer Lao packs a punch after a few bottles. Since it’s best not to drink on an empty stomach, I ordered up some local Lao food. Very similar to Thai food, spicy, hot, fresh and delicious. Fish, vegetables, noodles, beef and well..best not to ask, but it’s all good. There are restaurants here for every taste. Certainly the best restaurant in town is the L’ Elephant. Classic French cuisine cooked to perfection. Expensive, but well worth the average $6 for a complete dinner. When you consider that other restaurants are running half the price, L’Elephant is expensive. I hosted a dinner for 6 people, including appetizers, French wine and dessert. My bill was $69. And one person even ordered a second dinner plate. The hotels here are also very cheap. Do not use the internet anywhere for booking here! It is 50% less to walk in directly to the hotel for your room. Strange as it seems, this is a fact here. My room cost $20 a night which was advertised on the internet at $59!
The Lao people are warm, friendly people. I will even say that they are nicer than Thai’s overall. How’s that for nice! On more than one occasion, tuk tuk drivers wanted to take me around, and I would say no. His reaction was “Thank you sir, please enjoy your visit here.” Nobody seemed pushy about selling things, and people were just laid back. The only caveat to this is any “official” like, say, police. From my border experience and also in Prabang, they are all on the take; corrupt and rude ass%#@$. Must be the nature of the government. This is too bad, as it really puts a dampener on your first impressions of Laos. My border experience can be read in the Lonely Planet on-line, as well as the Trip Adviser. As for my local police encounter, let me explain here.
My hotel is located on a one way street and I had to park my car beside the hotel in the only spot for one car as most travelers only arrive by taxi. The next morning, I backed out into the street so I could drive down to a coffee shop. A military dressed dude, seeing me back out, decided that my reverse direction of 2 meters onto the street, constituted a “wrong way” drive. He made me stop in the street and produce my papers. Then he wrote on a piece of paper the number 500,000 and gestured me to pay him now. That’s $50 and about a year’s salary for a Lao! What a scumbag! Not only was this in no way legal, the money would only go into his pocket anyway. Luckily the hotel manager who spoke English came outside and started talking to this idiot. My problem is I know they would like nothing better than to throw me into a gulag, so I really had no choice in the end. But the hotel guy took me aside and told me just give him 50,000 ($5) and drive away. So I gave him the money, which he just put in his pocket, and I got in my car and left. Remember in Laos you are in hardcore commie country. That’s a chance you take visiting Laos. I was told that the “police” in Laos can and do come into your hotel room late at night to search you and see if you are up to no good. I’ve heard this from more than one source. Drugs of all kinds are legal and readily available all over Laos. In fact many times opium is used in the restaurants and bars, added to food and drink. Menu items with the word “Special” usually denote such drugged items. If a foreigner is found with drugs, the rules change. You will be in very big trouble. Also it is forbidden to have any relations with a Lao national. If you take a Lao girl to your hotel, it will result in a long jail sentence, or an extended vacation, however you want to look at it.
All in all Laos is a beautiful country to visit. I will probably return for another visit in the distant future, but flying in is the best way to go. I believe traveling by ground is still too risky and dangerous. I passed several tour buses broken down on the middle of nowhere; god knows what they do to get the tourists back to their destinations.
The weather in Kunming is turning warmer by the day. It stays around 65 and clear. I decided to take a few day trips to see Chu Xian and Funming. Why?………… Well why not! They are withing 100 km and it’s a nice day for a drive.
Chu Xian is a small city typical of this region. A river runs through the middle for the public park area. Surrounded by the central shopping area with small street markets trailing off from the bigger department stores. I found a small “western” coffee shop and ordered a Vienna coffee. 20 minutes later (i was the only customer) it arrives at my table. It had a strange taste to it so I added some sugar. When I stirred in the sugar, I felt something at the bottom of the cup. Hmmm, maybe I don’t want to know what that could be. Better I leave it alone. Nope, it feels too much like a small animal’s head to ignore it. I scooped it out of my coffee only to discover it was a tea bag! Could have been worse, right? So Vienna coffee is a mixture of tea and coffee. Can’t say I was too impressed. The most notable thing I found in Chu Xian was this pagoda overlooking the town. See the pics…
What can I say about Funming? Not much, except it made international news recently because of it’s green painted mountain. Only 30km from Kunming, I had to see this for myself. The story goes that this local businessman was having some financial trouble, so he called in a Feng Shui expert to have a look. Apparently he was told that the mountain where he took out rock was to root of his trouble. He upset the nature balance. So this guy slammed down $62,000 USD to get the mountain painted green! At least he could have attempted to match the green a bit better. Or maybe for half the cost, just do some landscaping. Now it looks like, well…….. a fake mountain in some amusement park. The EPA would have a field day with this guy back in the US. The townspeople were told it’s a new business being built there.
Now 230km east of Kunming lies Lou Ping. This region grows the Liu Cai Hua flower. This flower is used to make the vegetable oil used for cooking. They grow this flower for hundreds of km. It is an explosion of color carpeting this region and terra farmed through these strange mountains. This region was under the ocean millions of years ago which accounts for the strange mountain shapes. The 9 dragon water falls cuts through this area and very breathtaking to see. I spent a few days exploring and tasting the local food. I also was shown a 5 legged dog in Lou Ping. Maybe it’s the water! I’m safe as I only consumed the local beer!
I set out this month to travel a bit around China. This trip took me to Baoshan, Tenchong, Dali, and Lijiang. My first “road trip” in my little car which did nicely. The whole trip was 1200 km and I was traveling 1 week.
First stop was Tenchong by way of Baoshan. If you know your history, China fought the Japanese for control of the Burma Highway and Stillween River. This was a key point for the Japanese to move supplies into Burma and Thailand during their invasion on WWII. The US “Flying Tiger” squadron was key to the Chinese success in the battle which led to the Japanese defeat. The Chinese have strong feelings of gratitude to the American forces who helped them here.
The travel from Baoshan to Tenchong (Burmese border) is nothing short of amazing. It took 5 hours to drive 150km through the mountains. A very crude 2 lane road winds it way along the mountains. In most places I am 4000′ from the valley floor. You can see villages dotted all along these mountains for miles. The scenery is quite dramatic and you move along at about 25 mph. In a few places the road opens up where you can go the posted 50 mph. But of course I jammed it up to 80 mph and soon found myself caught in a radar trap. The police were not amused, nor did they care that I could not speak Chinese. I was getting my first ticket for speeding. Three policemen were at hand to “process” my ticket. As they were doing the paperwork, Rong was talking to one policeman. Quickly he tore up my ticket, and we were on our way to Tenchong! Rong later explained to me that she simply made the policemen understand that she not happy with them giving me a ticket and she would have to call her good friend Mr. Li to discuss this with them. Mr. Li happens to be the division commander for the Chinese Army that controls all of eastern China. The police want no problems with the army!
After spending a few days in Tenchong, we headed back over to Baoshan and into Dali. Going back this same route, we had to stop at the military checkpoint for inspection. This is the key transport route from Burma, and a major source for coccaine traffic from Burma into China. As we were being “inspected” with great interest because I am a “non- chinese” guy, Rong explains to the military man she is a good friend to Mr. Li. Instantly we are directed to the command post off the road and invited to wait inside. 10 minutes pass and a man enters who immediately gives us a warm welcome. It is Mr. Li who by luck was in the area and once learning Rong was at this checkpoint, drove to meet us there. So now we all go to lunch together. There was about 7 officers and Rong and me all having a great visit. The army people were waiting on us hand and foot, taking pics of me with Mr. Li. After lunch, Mr. Li took us to the army base where he showed me all the drugs they confiscated at this checkpoint. It was quite an experience to see behind the scenes of the Army business here. I took a pic of me with Mr. Li (in the green uniform) and the other two people are the post commanders.
I spent the next several days in Dali and Lijiang. A lot of beautiful sights and things to do in these cities. Lijiang is home to the Naxi minority people. I visited the “Old Town” which is over 1000 years old. While there I found hand made solid copper cookware. One pan alone takes 1 week to make. I bought several pots and pans the set me back about $90. Just one of these items would be over $150 in the USA! Now I’m ready to do some gourmet cooking………
Ok, so it is my custom to report my expenses. 1 week of travel, 7 nights in 4 star hotels, meals, fuel, tolls, and everything including all the stuff I bought………….. $450.00.
Next month…………. going to Thailand!