Day 5: Feilaisi 
Located high up on the Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of 3,300 m (11,000 ft), Feilaisi is a barren, frost-bitten town with no central heat. It consists of a single road that straddles a sheer, 1,000 m drop into an icy river. On the other side of that road there are a few shops and one hostel, although the lack of heat and sufficient insulation makes the living conditions somewhat undesirable.
Despite all of this, there is a reason that people come to Feilaisi. The village faces west, onto the Meili mountians, and the reflection of the sunrise on these snow-covered peaks is on of the most spectacular sights in all of China, possibly in the entire world.  On the right is Kawa Karpo, a sacred mountain in Tibetan Buddhism named after the warrior god of the same name. Even obscured by clouds, this 6,700m giant is an awe-inspiring sight.

Day 5: Feilaisi 

Located high up on the Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of 3,300 m (11,000 ft), Feilaisi is a barren, frost-bitten town with no central heat. It consists of a single road that straddles a sheer, 1,000 m drop into an icy river. On the other side of that road there are a few shops and one hostel, although the lack of heat and sufficient insulation makes the living conditions somewhat undesirable.

Despite all of this, there is a reason that people come to Feilaisi. The village faces west, onto the Meili mountians, and the reflection of the sunrise on these snow-covered peaks is on of the most spectacular sights in all of China, possibly in the entire world.  On the right is Kawa Karpo, a sacred mountain in Tibetan Buddhism named after the warrior god of the same name. Even obscured by clouds, this 6,700m giant is an awe-inspiring sight.

Did you know that southwest China has a lot of mountains? Cause it Does.

Did you know that southwest China has a lot of mountains? Cause it Does.

Part of the Meili mountain range, I believe. But don’t take my word for it.
Also, there is no scenic spot in this area of the world that doesn’t have at least a hundred strings of prayer flags hanging off of it.

Part of the Meili mountain range, I believe. But don’t take my word for it.

Also, there is no scenic spot in this area of the world that doesn’t have at least a hundred strings of prayer flags hanging off of it.

Nikon D40
Day 4: Deqin
It’s funny how the landscape in Yunnan kind of creeps up on you. We were driving for hours though hills and forests and yak pastures, and all of the sudden it was all, “Damn, look at that mountain!”, which is why this picture was taken. 
Deqin is what Shangri-la was fifteen years ago. It’s a tiny, remote town, tucked between two mountain ranges and very difficult to reach. The only way to get there is a bumpy, 8-hour van ride with negligible leg room.

Day 4: Deqin

It’s funny how the landscape in Yunnan kind of creeps up on you. We were driving for hours though hills and forests and yak pastures, and all of the sudden it was all, “Damn, look at that mountain!”, which is why this picture was taken. 

Deqin is what Shangri-la was fifteen years ago. It’s a tiny, remote town, tucked between two mountain ranges and very difficult to reach. The only way to get there is a bumpy, 8-hour van ride with negligible leg room.

Day 3: Shangri-la
Fifteen years ago, Zhongdian was a sleepy, one-yak town in northwest Yunnan. But, after “experts” claimed that this was the mystical lamasery from James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon, it changed its name to “Shangri-la” and exploded into a tourist haven. 
There’s really not much to do in Shangri-la except shop and eat Tibetan food, a cuisine that seems to be largely based on barley and yak meat. Fortunately, yak meat also makes a better burger than regular beef, so Shangri-la is home to the best burger in all of China.
On an unrelated note, Shangri-la is where you start seeing a lot of  chorten (above), which according to our guide book is “a Tibetan stupa”, an explanation that in no way helped us understand what a chorten actually is. Turns out, it’s this.

Day 3: Shangri-la

Fifteen years ago, Zhongdian was a sleepy, one-yak town in northwest Yunnan. But, after “experts” claimed that this was the mystical lamasery from James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon, it changed its name to “Shangri-la” and exploded into a tourist haven. 

There’s really not much to do in Shangri-la except shop and eat Tibetan food, a cuisine that seems to be largely based on barley and yak meat. Fortunately, yak meat also makes a better burger than regular beef, so Shangri-la is home to the best burger in all of China.

On an unrelated note, Shangri-la is where you start seeing a lot of  chorten (above), which according to our guide book is “a Tibetan stupa”, an explanation that in no way helped us understand what a chorten actually is. Turns out, it’s this.

More from inside the gorge

More from inside the gorge

Day 2: Tiger Leaping Gorge 
Anyone who has ever backpacked in South China has hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge. This landmark is the result of the Yangtze River cutting between two enormous snow-capped mountains, and name itself comes from a legend that a tiger jumped across the Yangtze in order to escape a  hunter. Unfortunately, like most other scenic spots in China, this gorge is on the verge of being destroyed by commercialism and tourism. It used to be that the only way to see the inside of the gorge was to make the 15k trek on foot, but now there is a road that runs along side the Yangtze, and Chinese tourists can just drive through, snap a few pictures, and be on their way. Gross.
Since the inside of the gorge is dotted with hostels and guest houses, we took two days on the hike. The first day we walked from Qiaotou, the town just outside the gorge, to Five Fingers Guest House, a little more than half way through. 

Day 2: Tiger Leaping Gorge 

Anyone who has ever backpacked in South China has hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge. This landmark is the result of the Yangtze River cutting between two enormous snow-capped mountains, and name itself comes from a legend that a tiger jumped across the Yangtze in order to escape a  hunter. Unfortunately, like most other scenic spots in China, this gorge is on the verge of being destroyed by commercialism and tourism. It used to be that the only way to see the inside of the gorge was to make the 15k trek on foot, but now there is a road that runs along side the Yangtze, and Chinese tourists can just drive through, snap a few pictures, and be on their way. Gross.

Since the inside of the gorge is dotted with hostels and guest houses, we took two days on the hike. The first day we walked from Qiaotou, the town just outside the gorge, to Five Fingers Guest House, a little more than half way through. 

Nikon D40
Journey to the West
Day 1: Lijiang
Is it wrong to name a travel blog after the Chinese national epic of a Buddhist monk’s pilgrimage to India? Probably. But if this didn’t already ruin it for everyone, then I doubt my tumblr will do much harm.
The first leg of our trip was an overnight train from Kunming to Lijiang. Even though this was my fifth or sixth time riding such a train, I still cringed at being woken at six in the morning by Chinese carousel music. Lijiang itself is not a particularly notable city. Sure, there is the the “Lijiang Old Town”, a kitschy re-imagining of a dynastic-era village, but this generally proved to be a commercialized nightmare. Example: in the village square there were not one, but two McDonald franchises, as well as a Pizza Hut and a KFC. The only real reason to come to Lijiang is to see Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (above) and hike Tiger Leaping Gorge. 

Journey to the West

Day 1: Lijiang

Is it wrong to name a travel blog after the Chinese national epic of a Buddhist monk’s pilgrimage to India? Probably. But if this didn’t already ruin it for everyone, then I doubt my tumblr will do much harm.

The first leg of our trip was an overnight train from Kunming to Lijiang. Even though this was my fifth or sixth time riding such a train, I still cringed at being woken at six in the morning by Chinese carousel music. Lijiang itself is not a particularly notable city. Sure, there is the the “Lijiang Old Town”, a kitschy re-imagining of a dynastic-era village, but this generally proved to be a commercialized nightmare. Example: in the village square there were not one, but two McDonald franchises, as well as a Pizza Hut and a KFC. The only real reason to come to Lijiang is to see Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (above) and hike Tiger Leaping Gorge. 

A Bulang woman by the fire.
While backpacking in Xishuangbanna, we were fortunate to have been welcomed into the homes of people living in the mountain villages. The first night we stayed in a Bulang village, and I was struck by the amazing poise of our hostess. She didn’t speak a word of Mandarin, but simply sat in regal silence while her husband chatted with us.
Rather than snapping her picture and posting it on tumblr, I thought it would be more suitable to draw her. So I sketched her in my notebook and colored it in on my computer. This was my first time taking on a project like this on photoshop, but I think it turned out pretty well.

A Bulang woman by the fire.

While backpacking in Xishuangbanna, we were fortunate to have been welcomed into the homes of people living in the mountain villages. The first night we stayed in a Bulang village, and I was struck by the amazing poise of our hostess. She didn’t speak a word of Mandarin, but simply sat in regal silence while her husband chatted with us.

Rather than snapping her picture and posting it on tumblr, I thought it would be more suitable to draw her. So I sketched her in my notebook and colored it in on my computer. This was my first time taking on a project like this on photoshop, but I think it turned out pretty well.

Our first stop, after hiking for about five hours, was a Bulang monastery. The Bulang people, like most ethnic minorities in south China, practice a form of Theravada Buddhism that comes from Thailand. Theravada includes a tradition of rural, or “forest monks”, which explains this monastery’s isolated location.
Interestingly, the Chinese language does not distinguish Theravada from Hinayana, calling both “xiaocheng" or "lesser vehicle," despite the derogatory connotations. But I digress.

Our first stop, after hiking for about five hours, was a Bulang monastery. The Bulang people, like most ethnic minorities in south China, practice a form of Theravada Buddhism that comes from Thailand. Theravada includes a tradition of rural, or “forest monks”, which explains this monastery’s isolated location.

Interestingly, the Chinese language does not distinguish Theravada from Hinayana, calling both “xiaocheng" or "lesser vehicle," despite the derogatory connotations. But I digress.

Xishuangbanna Pt 2: Into the Woods
After a day in Jinghong, we began the next leg of our journey: backpacking in the tea mountains of Xishuangbanna. High above the jungles, these mountains are a cool, misty retreat for people (i.e. me) who are not cut out to live in the tropics. The mountain sides are carved into terraces for growing Xishuangbanna’s famous Pu’er tea, as well as sugar cane, corn, and cotton. They are also home to an isolated number of hamlets, lodges, and temples, and it was these that we had come to see.

Xishuangbanna Pt 2: Into the Woods


After a day in Jinghong, we began the next leg of our journey: backpacking in the tea mountains of Xishuangbanna. High above the jungles, these mountains are a cool, misty retreat for people (i.e. me) who are not cut out to live in the tropics. The mountain sides are carved into terraces for growing Xishuangbanna’s famous Pu’er tea, as well as sugar cane, corn, and cotton. They are also home to an isolated number of hamlets, lodges, and temples, and it was these that we had come to see.

Eating locally grown fruit in Jinhong with my friend, Meiyin. Xishuangbanna has a year-round supply of pineapple, mango, papaya, star fruit, coconut, guava, litchi, mangosteen, and dragon fruit. And that’s just to name a few.

Eating locally grown fruit in Jinhong with my friend, Meiyin. Xishuangbanna has a year-round supply of pineapple, mango, papaya, star fruit, coconut, guava, litchi, mangosteen, and dragon fruit. And that’s just to name a few.

A small boy feeds what I’m assuming are koi fish that have grown fat and aggressive from  being fed by tourists. Seriously, I was scared to lean too far over the railing. 

A small boy feeds what I’m assuming are koi fish that have grown fat and aggressive from  being fed by tourists. Seriously, I was scared to lean too far over the railing. 

Xishuangbanna Pt1
 Every year on October first, the people of China celebrate National Day, a holiday commemorating the founding of the PRC, whose festivities are second only to those of the Spring Festival (aka “Chinese New Year”). This year, it happened that the day before National Day was the Moon Festival, and the combined holiday resulted in an unparalleled bonanza of fireworks, mooncakes, and general debauchery. It also meant that even foreign students were given time off school. And so, armed with a backpack and a couple of pages torn from the Lonely Planet China Edition, I and four of my classmates set out to explore Xishuangbanna.
Xishuangbanna (the “Xi” is pronounced “shee”) is an autonomous prefecture in the southern-most part of Yunnan Province and on the border of Laos and Myanmar. Its low valley regions are filled with steamy jungles that hold year-round supplies of tropical fruits, bamboo plants the size of oak trees, and even a few elephants. The prefecture is also home to Yunnan’s largest population of ethnic minorities, with almost a third of the population identifying as Dai, and another third identifying as either Hanyi, Yi, Bulong, Hui, Jino, Yao, or Bai.
This picture was taken in Jinghong, the capital city of Xishuangbanna, at the Tropical Flowers Garden.

Xishuangbanna Pt1

 Every year on October first, the people of China celebrate National Day, a holiday commemorating the founding of the PRC, whose festivities are second only to those of the Spring Festival (aka “Chinese New Year”). This year, it happened that the day before National Day was the Moon Festival, and the combined holiday resulted in an unparalleled bonanza of fireworks, mooncakes, and general debauchery. It also meant that even foreign students were given time off school. And so, armed with a backpack and a couple of pages torn from the Lonely Planet China Edition, I and four of my classmates set out to explore Xishuangbanna.

Xishuangbanna (the “Xi” is pronounced “shee”) is an autonomous prefecture in the southern-most part of Yunnan Province and on the border of Laos and Myanmar. Its low valley regions are filled with steamy jungles that hold year-round supplies of tropical fruits, bamboo plants the size of oak trees, and even a few elephants. The prefecture is also home to Yunnan’s largest population of ethnic minorities, with almost a third of the population identifying as Dai, and another third identifying as either Hanyi, Yi, Bulong, Hui, Jino, Yao, or Bai.

This picture was taken in Jinghong, the capital city of Xishuangbanna, at the Tropical Flowers Garden.

Xizhou is a beautiful Baizu village in central Yunnan. It is bordered on one side by a lake, on the other side by a spectacular mountain range, and in the middle is an endless sprawl of rice fields. 
Also, I forgot to bring my camera, so I drew this nice little picture instead.

Xizhou is a beautiful Baizu village in central Yunnan. It is bordered on one side by a lake, on the other side by a spectacular mountain range, and in the middle is an endless sprawl of rice fields. 

Also, I forgot to bring my camera, so I drew this nice little picture instead.