A Travellerspoint blog

Dali – Where Have All the Hippies Gone ?

semi-overcast 15 °C

Nestled at the foot of the mountains that rise to the Tibetan Plateau, and just a stone's throw from the historic Kingdom of Burma, (now Myanmar), lies the ancient Chinese city of Dali Gucheng – the ancestral home of the Bai ethnic people. While many of the world's cities have preserved and reconstructed their historic cores, few have been so revitalized as Dali. Every street, alley and doorway within the city walls appears as it might have done in the 18th century when it was a major trading post between Tibet and Thailand...
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The ancient city is just 16 kilometres from the modern city of Dali, Xiaguan, but they are world's apart. The new Dali is a bustling metropolis of highrises and lofty shopping malls, whereas nothing rises above the elaborate city gates in the old city....
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After the ancient city was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1925 it was decided that it should be rebuilt in its original style. So, although many of these buildings appear to be centuries old they may have been built less than 70 years ago...
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Millions of Chinese tourists flock to Dali throughout the year to see what their country looked like before wars, revolutions and the ravages of time took hold. Here are just a few of them we encountered on a sunny Sunday morning in spring...
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There are very many wealthy, fashion conscious Chinese today and they like nothing better than to dress up and take their photos in iconic locations...
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Dali was a major destination for western hippies in the 1970s and 1980s and, apparently, some of them have stuck around. However, we have only seen 5 westerners in two days. We are told that there is a Canadian bar in town but we have spent our time in search of the finest China tea – Pu'er. Despite its altitude and mountainous terrain, this part of China has a very moderate climate and on our 330 kilometres journey from Kunming we saw terraced valleys filled with flowering rapeseed and even bananas. The market in old Dali was bursting with the kind of local produce that we will only see in August at home...
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Next time on Blissful Adventures we will introduce you to some of the traditional Yunnan foods and the wonderfully friendly folk we've met here.

Posted by Hawkson 23:58 Archived in China Comments (5)

Kunming's Eternal Spring

sunny 18 °C

Kunming, a small city (in Chinese terms) in the mountains of Southwest China, is much like any modern city with skyscrapers, lofty hotels, wide roads and a ton of upscale shopping malls. There is nothing cheap about China these days even in this rural backwater and every other building seems to be a mall or a bank...
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Old Kunming, with its ancient tea shops and silk manufacturing, has virtually disappeared, but attempts are being made to preserve and revive some of the last remaining historic streets...
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The tea shops and noodle houses of old have been replaced by sushi bars, pizza joints and Thai restaurants, but it is the thought that counts.
Modernity has also taken over the streets where the iconic sit-up-and-beg bicycles have been replaced by hundreds of thousands of electric scooters which glide silently, (and cleanly), through the streets. Unfortunately, the riders ignore most traffic signals and treat pedestrians with contempt – especially when it comes to parking on the sidewalks...
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There are far fewer cyclists, but the government is promoting ride-sharing in a big way with bike rental schemes....
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Kunming's major claim to fame is its year round temperate climate and it is called 'The City of Eternal Spring' with good reason. But it's not a pretty city and its major tourist attraction lies about 75 kilometres away in Lunan Yi. These are some of the karst limestone formations in the Stone Forest - the Shilin - at Lunan Yi...
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We visited the Stone Forest on an ordinary Friday in February and expected it to be quiet. But it seems that thousands of Chinese tourists had the same idea and we enjoyed watching them dress in local ethnic costumes for a photo with an unusual backdrop...
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Fortunately, most of the Chinese were ushered around the vast site in tightly controlled groups so we were able to get some good clear shots of this pre-cambrian oddity by dodging around between them...
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The Stone Forest in Lunan Yi Autonomous County covers some 400 square kilometres and was described as The First Wonder of the World in the Ming Dynasty (1368 -1644 AD)...
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An old local saying says that 'If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time.' We didn't waste our time and got many great pictures of the rocks and the spring flowers...
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Posted by Hawkson 04:17 Archived in China Comments (6)

Bangkok Gold

sunny 36 °C

It never takes much persuasion to get us back to Bangkok for a few days and it was a convenient stopping off place between Sri Lanka and Southwest China for a little R&R at our favourite riverside hotel.
Things have changed a lot since our last visit just a few years ago. The old city is fast disappearing under soaring skyscrapers, multi-lane highways and elevated light railways. However, some things haven't changed – especially on the wide Chao Phraya river that meanders sluggishly through the city. There are still a few of the ramshackle stilt houses squeezed in between pricey riverside mansions and fancy hotels...
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The heavily laden river buses still race from pier to pier and will take you as far as you want to go for just 50 cents....
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And the gaily painted longtail boats, with their engines culled from 50 ton trucks, still spew clouds of smoke as they leave everyone in their wake.
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However, the legions of stinking two-stroke tuk-tuks have all but vanished from the city's streets. Gone too are the miles of carefully painted bike lanes that we saw on our last visit – no great loss as few cyclists brave the roads in Bangkok and they were mainly used as car parks and taxi stands. But the kerbside vendors are still here offering all manner of street food...
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Perhaps the biggest change is that the last King of Siam has died. King Bhumidol the Great ascended the throne in 1946, two years before some of the exoticism was taken out of Siam by changing its name to Thailand. The old King of Siam died in October and will lie in state for a year to give all of his loyal subjects a chance to pay their respects. Huge signs proclaiming the King's passing can be seen everywhere and mourners, wearing black, arrive from all over the world and travel to the palace on the river buses...
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Religion plays a very large part in the lives of most Thais and no one goes to the temple without an offering of flowers – usually golden flowers...
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Marigolds are sold by the sackful in the Pak Khlong Talat market and hundreds of stallholders spend their days weaving fresh flowers into elaborate temple gifts...
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Fruits and vegetables pour into the market by the boatload from far and wide and we spend hours marvelling at all the exotic produce and the industriousness of the workers. This young woman spends her days slicing ginger roots with a razor sharp blade...
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The market used to be a waterside jungle of broken down stalls and rotting vegetation that was frequently overwhelmed by floods, but now it is housed in a bright modern building with all mod cons behind a flood barrier. It is clean, fresh and good for the workers, and just another sign that Bangkok is rapidly moving into the 21st century...
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Posted by Hawkson 16:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (6)

The Lotus Eaters of Sri Lanka

sunny 32 °C

In Greek mythology the Lotus-eaters were an island race who led a sweet and gentle life by eating only lotus plants. As we ate a delicious lunch off lotus leaves in an al fresco jungle dining room in Sri Lanka we could understand...
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We came to Sri Lanka as visitors but we left as friends, just as Danushka, our driver and guide from Brothers Tours in Negombo, said we would. We certainly made friends with Danushka, and we also made friends with the guide who took us on a leopard safari in Yala National Park. Danushka is on the left in this photo....
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Apart from when we were in the tea plantations in the Central Highlands, Sri Lanka gave us nothing but sun-filled days and balmy nights punctuated briefly by tropical downpours. And when it rains in Sri Lanka, it absolutely tips down. Imagine riding in a tuk-tuk in this weather...
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Sri Lanka is a land of a million cheeky tuk-tuk operators and thousands of reckless bus drivers The tuk-tuk guys simply zip in and out of the slightest chinks in the traffic and pump out noxious fumes from their under powered three-wheelers, while the buses bear down on you without any hope or intention of giving way. Some suicidally inclined foreigners hire self-drive tuk-tuks for ten dollars a day to tour the island – we did not.
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National Geographic moments are a dime a dozen in Sri Lanka with spectacularly exotic scenery, an abundance of wildlife and thousands of elaborate religious buildings and enormous Buddhas...
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However, like so many of the South Asian countries, Sri Lanka has legions of poor people whose lives are barely touched by western modernity. Millions of homes are little more than shacks lacking even the basic amenities. Imagine doing your laundry in the river!...
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But Government sponsored women's cooperatives operate excellent street kitchens where for less than a dollar you can get a filling lunch...
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The government is in a massive financial hole thanks to lavish expenditures on toll-highways, a new airport and a major new seaport. However, the new roads are sparsely used, the airport has few flights and the port has never opened because of insufficient water depth. Yet, the beautiful people of Sri Lanka continue smiling. And they have much to smile about...
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Now back to our safari in Yala National Park in Southern Sri Lanka. This park is touted as being the best place to see the elusive Sri Lankan leopards. However, we were warned that the big cats are rarely sighted by tourists in the dense undergrowth so we had no expectations as we set off by Jeep in the dark at 5am. By 8.30am we were ready to quit and get back to our hotel for breakfast when...
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Amazingly, a family of four leopards stole silently out of the bush and crossed the path just ahead of us.
The mother and three cubs disappeared into the undergrowth in seconds and by the time the other Jeeps came racing up, they were gone. To see a single wild leopard is a rare privilege but we saw four!
As Danushka would often say, “No problem Sri Lanka.” And the truth is that Sri Lanka was no problem. In our view it is “India light”. It is easier, cleaner, friendlier and more welcoming than its big northerly neighbour and we highly recommend a visit.

Posted by Hawkson 02:28 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (5)

Magical Moments

Our Five Hundredth Blog Post

sunny 32 °C

Our world is an engrossing and colourful book filled with fascinating images and wonderful tales that can be read by all. The Book of the World is endless, and we don't know when we will turn our last page but, until that day, we will continue to be delighted, educated and amazed by the sights, sounds and experiences of this fascinating planet. And we will continue to take you along for the ride if you allow us.

Five hundred times in the past eight years we have sat down to reveal to you the most interesting and informative paragraphs from our world book from more than fifty countries on six of the earth's continents. To celebrate this milestone we decided to revisit some of the most magical moments from the journeys that have taken us a half a million kilometres around the globe. We begin in South America with the breathtaking sight of the Inca city of Machu Picchu as the morning clouds rolled back to give us a perfect view of this city in sky...
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We cannot leave Peru without recalling the heart-stopping moment when the giant condors rose majestically from the Colca Canyon to soar effortlessly in the clear blue sky above us...
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Mountains are often obscured by clouds for days, or weeks, on end, but on many occasions we have been incredibly fortunate in our timing. We rarely spend more than a couple of nights anywhere, but luck was on our side when we visited Cotopaxi in Ecuador, Mt Fuji in Japan and Mt. Robson in British Columbia. However, we were most lucky in getting this perfectly clear view of the Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand...
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We have often been lucky with the weather, but we've also been fortunate in other ways. On some occasions our visits have serendipitously coincided with some important event such as the Eurochocolate Fair in Perugia, Italy, and the Perahera in Colombo, Sri Lanka. However, two events stand above all others. The first was in Rome when we unexpectedly found ourselves in the midst of a crowd to witness the re-opening of the Trevi Fountain after a lengthy refurbishment. And, perhaps the most memorable was the Mankai; the moment of absolute perfection,when the cherry blossoms are at their zenith in Kanazawa, Japan...
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We have travelled very extensively in Europe and have thousands of happy memories, however one of the most poignant moments was in London in 2014 when more than 888,000 ceramic poppies were planted at the Tower of London to remember the dead of the 1st World War...
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Wild creatures are always intriguing and we have seen vast numbers on our travels. From the tiny fairy penguins on Phillip Island in the Southern Ocean to the herds of giant elephants in Sri Lanka and a solitary bactrian camel in Mongolia. But one of our most indelible encounters was with this wild koala bear on Kangaroo Island, Australia...
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Asia is a large, diverse and fascinating continent and we have seen amazing sights from the snows of Siberia to the tropical islands of the Indian Ocean. However there are two simply breathtaking sights that cannot be overstated and both are in China. The first are the two-thousand year old terracotta warriors of Xian...
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But surely nothing in the world is more memorable than the Great Wall of China...
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Africa has been a challenge due to corruption and political instability. However, the pyramids, tombs and temples of Ancient Egypt were an absolute 'Wow', but so were the dye pits in the heart of the Moroccan city of Fez...
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Perhaps our most unforgettable moments are when we have connected with people. Wherever we go we meet wonderful, kind and generous people and we are sickened by the current wave of xenophobia being peddled in the West by ignorant buffoons. Through our travels we have gained many friends and acquaintances and our blog entries have been viewed nearly a million times by people all over the globe.

As we begin the next chapter in 'our' Book of the World we look forward to your company and ask that you share our blog with anyone you think may be interested in coming along for the ride.
Finally, as we prepare to leave Sri Lanka for Thailand and China, we take a look back to the magical moment we shared when we visited the Taj Mahal at dawn on the 16th February 2011...
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Now begins the next chapter

Posted by Hawkson 23:27 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (6)

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