The beauty and the beastliness of Yunnan province, China

China, Hitchhiking, Walking
Rooftops in Nuodeng, Yunnan province

Rooftops in Nuodeng, Yunnan province

I’m ill. I lay in bed with a fever, shivering but sweating. I ache. I groan. Chris showers me with sympathy. In my sick delirium, I search the internet to diagnose myself. I read about all of the possible diseases I could have, and all of them fit my symptoms. Why oh why didn’t I look into getting some vaccinations before coming here? Is my disdain for pharmaceutical companies really worth getting sick for? I decide that I definitely have dengue fever. Then I look up malaria risks in China. Every province has a low-to-zero risk, except for Yunnan province, where I am laying ill. It has a high risk. That’s it. I have malaria. I instruct Chris to go to the chemist, buy me some rehydration salts (my answer to every single illness, no matter what the symptoms, whilst on the road) and to find out if there’s a doctor or hospital nearby. He comes back with the news that there’s only a doctor specialising in Chinese medicine in the town. Aaaaaagggghhh, I’m going to die here, I think.

The next day, I’ve made a miraculous recovery: I’ve successfully dodged malaria and dengue fever! I’m fit enough to explore the beautiful little town of Shaxi, which only has a few tourists (although its popularity is growing fast).

At the main square in Shaxi

At the main square in Shaxi

Hiking in Shibaoshan national park close to Shaxi

Hiking in Shibaoshan national park close to Shaxi

At a Buddhist temple in Shibaoshan national park. Chinese Buddhism is completely alien to me, a different world from the more secular western Buddhism that I have been taught

At a Buddhist temple in Shibaoshan national park. Chinese Buddhism is completely alien to me, a different world from the more secular western Buddhism that I have been taught

Before visiting Shaxi, we stay in a town called Dali. Dali is famous for being the “hippie town” of China, and sure enough, there are hippies. The town should, however, be a warning to Shaxi of a sign of things to come, because it is packed with tourists. Apparently, Dali first became popular with western backpackers and artists, but recently it’s been discovered by Chinese holidaymakers, who are arriving in their droves. For one of the first times in my life, I wonder whether my backpacking lifestyle contributes to making a place more shit.

In both Dali and Shaxi, people from outside of the local community have moved in to cash in on the tourism boom. I wonder what this means for rental prices, whether they will rise to such a degree that locals can’t afford to pay. In the main square in Shaxi, we’re told that roughly 80% of the shops/cafes/hotels are run by Han Chinese people and not by people of the local Bai ethnicity. Big property developers have also moved in to Dali, and we’re told by a local that big companies can bribe government officials and start large developments despite building regulations. Locals are sometimes forced by the government to sell their land for these companies.

Hippies in Dali

Hippies in Dali

Food sellers in Dali

Food sellers in Dali

Indeed.

Indeed.

At the park in Dali

At the park in Dali

Park!

Park!

Architecture in Dali

Architecture in Dali

Friendly kids in Dali

Friendly kids in Dali

Erhai lake, Dali

Erhai lake, Dali

Erhai lake, Dali

Erhai lake, Dali

New versus old in Dali

New versus old in Dali

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Hitchhiking is successful in China, despite locals saying that there will be no cars and that it's not possible (as usual!)...we asked a local to write down in mandarin, "where are you going? can you take us? We can not pay money."

Hitchhiking is successful in China, despite locals saying that there will be no cars and that it’s not possible (as usual!)…we ask a local to write down in mandarin, “where are you going? can you take us? We can not pay money.”

Dali is famous for its traditional architecture, but on many streets, the buildings have been renovated to such a degree that I can’t tell what is a new building and what is original.

Moving on, we visit the tiny village of Nuodeng, recommended to us by word of mouth. It’s stunningly beautiful and untouched by tourism, although after visiting Dali, I wonder whether I should be blogging about this place at all!

Nuodeng: streets with no cars on the mountain

Nuodeng: streets with no cars on the mountain

At our guesthouse in Nuodeng

At our guesthouse in Nuodeng

Doorway in Nuodeng

Doorway in Nuodeng

The mountains of Nuodeng

The mountains of Nuodeng

Horses carry everything on the mountains of Nuodeng

Horses carry everything on the mountains of Nuodeng

After almost two months on the road, Chris needs to go home to Europe, so we say a very sad goodbye. I continue onwards alone – a strange feeling after being with him for twenty-four hours a day every day for two months.

As I travel solo, southwards through the China countryside, I’m so sad to see that every single inch of land has been used for growing corn. If I had wanted to wild camp in China, it would have been impossible. The only trees that are safe from being chopped down for corn are those that live on very steep mountainsides. An old copy of National Geographic magazine from June 2009, which I find laying around in a cafe, explains China’s obsession with corn:

35% of world grain is used to feed livestock instead of people…China now raises half of the world’s pigs and must import grain to feed them.

For as tasty as that sweet and sour pork may be, eating meat is an incredibly inefficient way to feed oneself. It takes up to five times more grain to get the equivalent amount of calories from eating pork as from simply eating the grain itself.

Even China, the second largest corn growing nation on the planet, can’t grow enough grain to feed all its pigs. Most of the shortfall is made up with imported soybeans from the US or Brazil, one of the few countries with the potential to expand its cropland – often by plowing up rainforest.

My very last stop in China is Xishuangbanna, famous for its elephants, huge biodiversity and rainforests. However, I’m gutted to find that there’s barely any rainforest left. Rubber tree plantations stretch as far as the eye can see. These plantations are ‘needed’ to meet the rising demand for cars, and therefore, car tyres.

Although life on the road is amazing, it’s becoming more and more heartbreaking, witnessing the destruction of our beautiful Earth absolutely everywhere I go. I also find it incredibly ironic that there’s a sign on a motorway telling drivers not to honk their horns because it will scare elephants – but a f*cking motorway has been ploughed through their habitat!

However, I exit China with fond memories of very friendly people and kindness wherever I have travelled. And I will always remember the AMAZING vegan food – it’s one of the best countries in the world for vegans! However, I won’t miss the disgusting architecture in every single city: rows of big ugly tower blocks, all identical to each other. It’s with very mixed feelings that I say goodbye to China and enter the beautiful serenity of Laos.

At Caffy and Ken's backpacker hostel, they put on a completely vegan feast  just because I am eating with them. Such kindness :)

At Caffy and Ken’s backpacker hostel in Jinghong, they put on a completely vegan feast just because I am eating with them. Such kindness 🙂

A TOFU STALL! "Chris would love this! " I think. "If only he were here..."

A TOFU STALL! “Chris would love this! ” I think. “If only he were here…”

Concrete shitness in Kunming

Concrete shitness in Kunming

The last of the concrete shitness before Laos....

The last of the concrete shitness before Laos….

8 thoughts on “The beauty and the beastliness of Yunnan province, China

  1. I agree about the touristy bit when i discovered Casavieja in Spain the locals begged not to bring loads of tourist to the village because house prices would rise

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  2. Oh no, I’m heading to China in a week and I’m worrying about the same things you’ve expressed.. 😦 Gonna try to pop over to the far far west and hope for the best. Have you been?

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    1. hi olivia, do you mean to Tibet or the west of China? the most west i went was to Yunnan, unfortunately. i would have loved to explore more. have an amazing time and enjoy the lovely food and friendliness 🙂 x

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      1. hey Lisa,
        by far west I mean Xinjiang province in China, and near the borders of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyztan (hopefully! No concrete plans so far.. or ever, really). I was hoping to get out and away into nature, but from what I’ve been reading about China so far it seems like it’s not easy to do that – but I’m determined to try!
        Love your blog, keep it up xx

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