If you haven’t read Part 1 of this blog post yet, go read it here!
Having started our journey in Kunming, and spent time in Dali and Lijiang, our Yunnan Province trip continued as we arrived Qiaotou, the stop for Tiger Leaping Gorge hike, after a 2-hour bus journey from Lijiang.
Being dropped off at the ticket office for the hiking route, we were able to leave our luggage on the bus which would be taken to Tina’s guesthouse at the end point of the trek.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the most famous hikes in South-West China, and spans 15km in length while the gorge itself has a maximum depth of 3,790 meters from river to the peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain.
According to legend, the hike gets its namesake from the story of a tiger who jumped across the river flowing through the gorge at its narrowest point, to escape the clutches of a hunter.
Taking the Upper Trail, we started the hike around 9.30am and the first stretch was extremely challenging, with the flat road at the start soon giving way to a steep incline up the grassy mountainside. Not used to hiking, we made our way up slowly, stopping many times to catch our breaths.
Luckily a distraction came in the form of some cute mountain goats to take our minds off the pain.
Being used to ‘hikes’ in China consisting of concrete steps, I was surprised by the barely visible dirt path which at times veered off in different directions. Here you had to be careful to follow the sometimes-hidden signs and sporadic red painted arrows marking the correct route. There were several stalls where people sold water and snacks, however these came few and far between.
By 12pm we had reached the Naxi Guesthouse, so named after the indigenous Naxi people who inhabit the gorge, living in several tiny villages. Here we rested our aching legs and demolished a sizeable lunch of fried rice, noodles and veggies, fuelling us for the next part of our hike.
Next came the dreaded ‘28 bends’, consisting of a series of tricky cut-backs in the path. I’m not sure if it was because we’d feared them so much, but the reality of the bends wasn’t so bad, and they were over fairly quickly.
After the bends, the incline evened out and by 3:30pm we had reached the Tea Horse guesthouse. Here we filled our boots with hot chocolate and snacks, whilst admiring some impressive views of the gorge and its incredible mountainous surrounds from the guesthouse’s sun deck.
We headed off for our last stretch of the day’s hike, aiming to reach the ‘Halfway Guesthouse’ where we’d be staying, before dark. Most of the way was downhill, although this put a strain on my calf muscles and despite the route not being too challenging, it was tough on my already aching legs and I was relieved when we reached the Halfway Guesthouse at 6pm.
Here we soaked up the incredible view of the mountain peaks of Yunnan Province, as well as the gorge bellow from the guesthouse’s open courtyard and upper deck, before having a warming dinner of vegetable noodle soup and retiring for the night.
Feeling rejuvenated from a good night’s sleep, we had a breakfast of pancakes and coffee before beginning the final part of the hike towards our destination of Tina’a Guesthouse. A lot of the walk was on flat ground and although passing some waterfalls, we narrowly avoided falling rocks, the 2 hours hike wasn’t overly strenuous.
We arrived at Tina’s guesthouse where our luggage was waiting for us, after a downhill meander to lower ground. Although this was our official end point of the hike, I decided to carry on further past Tina’s and down to the waters of the gorge. I had to pay 15rmb to take this additional route, and an extra 10rmb at the bottom to go onto the bridge.
As I made my way down into the gorge, the incline became steeper by the minute, and clambering downhill on a precarious ‘path’ as well as several rope ladders became difficult.
As I neared the bottom, the crashing of the brown water became more aggressive by the second and soon it was lapping the rocks directly under my feet. Temporarily distracted from my aching legs, I admired the breath-taking view of the gorge in all its glory, the violent water that filled it and the vast mountain peaks looming over. I paid the extra 10rmb to access the rope bridge that marked the spot where the tiger leapt across the gorge to escape a pursuing hunter.
To say that the climb back up from the gorge to Tina’s was difficult is an understatement. I sweated under the berating mid-afternoon sun as my legs turned to jelly climbing almost vertically upwards for a good 45 minutes. For me, this was by far the hardest part of the whole hike here in Yunnan Province, it took nearly 2 hours to go down to the water and back up again!
However, I’d say it was just about worth it to see the views of the gorge from down inside it, and the place where the whole hike got its namesake. Safely back at Tina’s, I just had time to eat some noodles before the bus we were taking to Shangri-La arrived at 3.30pm.
- Tiger Leaping Gorge entry ticket: 65rmb
- Half-Way Guesthouse twin room one night: approx 100rmb pp
- Bus Tiger Leaping Gorge – Shangri-La: 3hrs, 70rmb
We reached Shangri-La ancient city at 6.30pm and found the ‘Shangri-La Baita International Youth Hostel’ where we’d be staying for 2 nights. As seemed common in Yunnan, the hostel had an open courtyard layout and our twin room on the ground floor had colourful mural on the wall.
Having dumped our bags and showered, we explored the winding cobbled streets of the ancient town, which was significantly less crowded than those of Dali and Lijiang and other Yunnan Province locations we had been.
Initially thinking we’d find some local food to eat, we ended up at an Indian restaurant called ‘Tara’s’, owned by a friendly British Indian lady! Despite us being dubious at the lack of customers inside, the food and beer was delicious, though a little pricey.
We then stumbled across a cosy reggae bar with a nice relaxed vibe and mulled wine being served and stayed for a drink before heading home to the hostel.
Waking up in our unheated room in Shangri-La was chilly, with the weather dropping to minus degrees overnight, making it difficult to get out of bed. Yet the sun was shining, and we decided to make a trip to the Songzanlin Monastery, which we had heard was spectacular, and it did not disappoint.
It cost 115rmb for a ticket which included a tourist bus which dropped us off at the site of the temple and grounds. From afar it looked like a tiny city, with rows upon rows of beige, light blue and yellow roofs on a hill up to the monastery.
Once inside the gates you had to walk up some steep steps, a struggle with my still tired legs from Tiger Leaping Gorge, before you reached the temple at the top. But the walk was worth it. While the area was bustling with tourists, inside the chambers of the temple was a silent calm, the walls covered with bright paintings and ornate decorations, and the air thick with incense.
- 2 nights twin room Shangri-La Baita International Youth hostel: 110rmb pp
- Bus Shangri-La – Lijiang 3.5 hrs, 62rmb
- Train Lijiang – Kunming 3hrs, 220rmb
Leaving Yunnan Province
After another evening spent in Shangri La’s old town, we begrudgingly started our long journey back to Kunming the next morning. We caught a bus from Shangri-La bus station to Lijiang, which took around 3 hours, and once in Lijiang we headed to the train station and boarded a train to Kunming.
Back in Kunming, where we’d started our journey, we checked into Kunming Upland International Youth hostel for the night, to get a good night’s rest before our flight the following day. We ended up being disappointed that we couldn’t stay here longer as the hostel was very nice, with a cosy bar and outside terrace seating area, where some foreigners were drinking together.
The following day we got a taxi to Kunming airport, where we took the just under three-hour flight back to Fuzhou Changle airport.
- Kunming Upland International Youth hostel 1 night twin room: 90rmb pp
If you’re looking to travel within China and have a culturally different experience to that found in Fujian province, then I would recommend a trip within Yunnan Province. With its stunning mountainous and lake side vistas as well as bustling cities and quirky old towns, this trip was varied and exciting and I enjoyed every part of it. I just hope that some day I get to return to Yunnan Province!