Not incorporated into China proper until the period of the Qing dynasty (清朝), it was a powerful independent Kingdom in the southwest of modern China. Comprising mainly of indigenous tribes (the so-called minorities of China), the peoples of Yunnan are said to be culturally and linguistically related to that the peoples further south in what is today Myanmar and Thailand.
Again, some history first.
As far back as the Qin dynasty (秦朝) of China, there were expeditions that struck deep into the domains of the “lesser barbarians” of the south as one would read from Chinese historic references. While they stayed and established administrative control in northern Vietnam, the dynastic forces were often more of just engaging vassal status with the various tribal states in this part of China in ancient times. From the cost viewpoint, maintaining large standing armies this remote from the central plains was not affordable. Hence tributary relations prevailed for much of the last 2000 years until the region’s full incorporation into China from the time of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (元朝).
Having arrived early in the morning in Kunming (昆明), we had lunch and a quick walked about in the city with our guide. We were taken to a local noodle house for famed noodles of Kunming – consists of a bowl full covered with a layer of oil.
The oil supposedly keeps the noodles and other ingredients added warm. In the evening, we had dinner at one of the nice restaurants in the city center before getting to bed for the onward journey to Shangrila.
Yep this was the start of our journey. The original intent was not to stay long in Kunming at all!
Our Shangrila (read here for that adventure) journey had been cut short due to our succumbing to altitude sickness. It was rather fortuitous that the good folks at the Banyan Tree helped us to change the flights a day earlier so that we can get back to a lower altitude to recover. The bloke in the next lodge to us was not so lucky…
We had been at the airport rather early and were in fact the first. It was not even officially opened! What seemed like hours later (it was just one and a bit), we took off. Finally touching down back on a lower altitude we recovered rather quickly. So much for not enough oxygen to the head!
Limestone cave adventure
And because we had returned to Kunming earlier we were actually at a loss on what to do. Fortunately the travel agent arranged an alternative activity for us. Thus we started off the day with a 4-hour drive approximately 90km to the world wonder of Jiuxiang (九乡).
Jiuxiang is a series of gorges and waterways carved out of limestone rock. Brochures and all might tell you there are more than 100 karst caves here over an area roughly 200km². We started off with a boat ride in the deep valley of the canyon.
Called Yincui gorge (蔭翠峽), this canyon is about 45m deep and can be filled with water when the rains come or when the snow melts in spring. Being roughly 600m, it is said that the locals call it “lovers’ valley”…
Next, we “trekked” through a series of walkways within the mountain. The entrance is really like a big mouth. Can’t think of a better description. But as one walks in, the two (or more) sides of the cave start to close inwards, and it gets dark – really dark. In fact, on hind sight we now know why they seem to have illuminated so much of the cave.
It now clicks that they show us these blind fishes in the streams!
Over a many millennia, the carved waterways led to formations of great halls within the mountain, in some cases – large halls. This one’s so large that it was impossible to take a photo of its entirety with our little point and shoot cameras… Formation of stalactites and stalagmites is a characteristic of limestone caves and these are in abundance in Jiuxiang.
Aside from blind fishes, we also learnt about rocks bearing patterns with likeness to numbers and words. There was a collection of these strange curios on display at one of the halls. The “trek” ends up on the mountain about 70m high.
From there, we took a cable car back to the entrance. Good to go when you are still fit, as there are hundreds of steps, some of which are rather steep. We finished the day by visiting a series of shopping stops (the usual practice), where Suan bought crystals, herbs and pewter! Beware, if you are not sure what to buy and the prices for such products, we recommend that you do not be pressured to buy anything.
Resting and going home
If there is one form of nice mushroom lunch at one of the local restaurants. Many kinds of fungi and mushrooms can be found in this lush region.
We ended our tour with a visit to the local flower market. This is more like an outlet mall selling more than flowers – mushrooms were in abundance too!
One other thing, Yunnan is also renowned for Pu’er tea (普洱).
Unlike other tea variants, it is not a shrub but a tree. The collected leaves are dried and roasted before being set aside for “ripening”. This ageing can be many years – the ones we bought was aged for 18 years. At the Yunnan tea research institute, the seniors (yes they are students) will perform a tea appreciation where we go to taste courses of tea from younger blends to as ones as old as 24 years!
The trip has been really fruitful and we had to pack in a lot of things not originally intended. Had not expected to buy so many things from Yunnan! Aside from mushrooms, we were told the province produces a range of fruits and flowers such as Lavender! Now that’s not all. Yunnan is also endowed with natural resources too…such as minerals like Amethyst. And how can there not be?
Like what we wrote in our Shangrila adventure (here), it pays to take precautions before heading to high altitude destinations. And nowhere was it demonstrated more that altitude sickness can quickly dissipate when you get to a lower altitude than this incident.
Definitely worth another visit sometime in the future…There are simply so many more places to see here from Lijiang (丽江古城) to the Stone Forest (石林), Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山) to Xishuangbanna (西双版纳), these are just some of the places in Yunnan for us to return for. We certainly you are now inspired to make the journey to Yunnan. We sure would like to return too!
This journey took place in May 2006