Lijiang

jade-dragon-mountain

Nestled at the foot of the Jade Dragon Mountain, Lijiang is blessed with gorgeous natural surroundings.

dayan-alleyway

Infused with cultural flavors owing to the profound ethnic heritage of the region, which consequently has lured both the domestic and foreign tourist for perhaps a decade now.

dayan-entrance-waterwheel

A UNESCO World Heritage Site with Dayan Old Town being the most popular town among a cluster of villages, its history dating back to the Ming Dynasty. A largely Naxi settlement first built some eight centuries ago.  They still live there, and some still make silk embroideries, a trade they practice since the time of the Silk Road. Like Dali, Lijiang was once a confluence for trade along the Old Tea Horse Trail, and Dayan is famous for its waterways and bridges. It is a town south of the Yangtze River, and traffic across the river is made easy by stone bridges.

Of course, now it’s crowded with tourists and the atmosphere of the bygone era is lost somehow.

dayan-tourists-and-guides

mcdonaldsThere’s even a McDonald’s just outside the gates.

Because a peaceful town it is not anymore. Still quite lovely but it has more of a theme park-like atmosphere.

dayan-naxi-dancing

Many are for show, like the Naxi dancing at the central square, not to mention the saturation of souvenir shops.

dayan-shops

I wasn’t sure at first if staying outside of town was a good idea but was quite relieved that I chose to stay in another town four kilometers away from Dayan.

shuhe-alley

Shuhe is absolutely divine. We didn’t stay in town exactly, but the guesthouse was just a short walk away through this attractive tree-lined street.

tree-lined-street

A quiet(er) town, Shuhe is a small village hidden in the forest and is another well-preserved city along the ancient tea-horse route.

shuhe

Nothing as quaint as Shaxi and less hip than Dali but Shuhe has its own charm.

Known to local people as Longquan Village and renowned as a “village of leather,” it was considered as an important part of Lijiang by UNESCO.

shuhe-store-linedThe streets are lined with independent shops and restaurants all built of rocks from the surrounding mountains.

shuhe-creek

The channel and waterways still give water to the houses from 2 crystal clear springs in the northern part of town. They beautifully form part of Shuhe’s landscape.

shuhe-typical-restaurant

Ambling along Sifang Street is like walking back through time. Archaic wooden facades surround the square, mostly restaurants and shops.  Some still dress in traditional attire.

Built entirely with stones, Qinglong Bridge is one sight I particularly love.

qinglong-bridge

It is also the first among the many old stone bridges found in Shuhe. It spans a small river that starts at the Jiuding Dragon Pool with very clear water.

Every day, we walk to Shuhe for lunch stay till dinner. It is still a struggle to order as many do not speak a word of English.

cafe-in-shuheEverything is in Chinese, even the menu boards outside the cafes.

We, however, managed well, as you can see.

food

We even found a well-appointed hotel that we went back to for lunch the next day.

drawing-room-restaurant

Hui Feng Inn served excellent food, Jack of Drawing Room Restaurant (found inside the hotel) is from Beijing but loved the place so much, he stayed.

jack

Even our beautiful guesthouse, Lijiang Wa Jia served exquisite meals.

lijiang-wa-jiaThe courtyard of Lijiang Wa Jia

food-at-lijian-wa-jia

Here’s sharing more of the beautiful town with you.

preservation-ongoingPreservation on going

shuhe-qinglong-bridge

Qinglong Bridge
tree-lined-2Another tree-lined street going to Banyan Tree Resort, also in Shuhe.
banyan-tree-entranceThe Banyan Tree.  On a clear day, the Jade Dragon Mountain serves a its backdrop.
canine-2One of the most gorgeous Labradoodle I’ve seen.  The people of Lijiang love their dogs.

canine

spring-water-winds-through-townA pool that cuts through town, is surrounded by stores and restaurants.
horses-on-qinglongHorses still abound here.  At the Qinglong Bridge.
shuhe-naxi-selling-foodNaxi selling food.
shuhe-vegetable-gardenSpotted a vegetable garden.
shuhe-boardwalkA boardwalk along the creek.
shuhe-town-map-etched-in-woodA map of Shuhe etched on wood found in Sifangd Square.
shuhe-charmThe Shuhe charm.
shuhe-quaint-shopsQuaint Shops found
shuhe-many-bridgesOne of the many stone bridges near the square.

 

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Shaxi: Quaintest of Quaint

This must be the quaintest of quaint towns I’ve set foot on in quite a while if not in all of my travels. Found halfway between Dali and Lijiang,

sideng-square-from-trail-cafe

Shaxi is home to beautifully preserved adobe courtyard mansions that offer a glimpse into a forgotten era. It was the most intact trading center for centuries linking Yunnan into Bhutan and Tibet on the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail and this lead to its prosperity during the Tang Dynasty. The network channeled tea, horse, and other valuables among the diverse ethnic groups residing in the eastern Himalayan region. What lead to the trail’s demise was the development of the road transportation and Shaxi became just another village in the 1950s. In 2001, the village was included in the protection list of 101 endangered sites and a Swiss-led team worked for years to restore the deteriorating town.

alleyway

The old town of Shaxi is quite compact and easily explored by foot.

sideng-square

It consists mainly of a few quiet lanes and alleys that radiate from Sideng Square—a fascinating marketplace at the heart of Shaxi where we spent most of that Sunday people watching and just chilling.

chilling

The iconic Sideng Theater seats in the middle of the square.

sideng-theater

The unique 4-storey architectural structure and exquisite craftsmanship are the soul of Shaxi because it is (to this day) where the Bai people perform during celebrations.

Across the theater is the Xingjiao Temple. Both are ancient structures that add character to the square. The temple (now a museum) is one of the best-preserved temples in the entire China because it was sequestered and used as a local government headquarters during the Cultural Revolution.

xingjiao-temple-interior

This ironically saved it from destruction. Coupled with painstaking restoration by the Shaxi Rehabilitation Project (SRP), a visit is worth the while. Original murals can still be seen on the walls of the Hall of the Heavenly King.

hei-hui-river

One alleyway leads to the eastern village gate and outside this gate, the Heihui River meanders from north to south through Shaxi.

yujin-bridge-2

The crescent-shaped Yujin Bridge was the only way for the Bai people go to the fields and do business back in the days. With the towering mountains as a backdrop, this bridge is a sight to behold and is one of the highlights of this leg.

simple-joys

Many find pleasure just to simply lie on the grass and chill.

guesthouse-cafes-and-stores

What used to be tack shops, blacksmiths and caravanserais are now guesthouses and

western-dishes

western-dishes-2

foreigner-friendly cafes (offering English menus and western style dishes), which signals an upcoming tourism boom (read: tourist buses) in this old town.

daytrippers-2

Though its visitors still form a fascinating merge of intrepid and curious travellers, many of its visitors (at the time of my visit) came in groups and spent an hour or so running through the ancient streets taking shots of the temple and theatre.  This tells me that the boom might have started already.

daytrippers

The best time to enjoy the quietness of this old trade post is first thing in the morning or very late at night.

square-at-night

As soon as the last bus headed back to Lijiang, the sanctuary of calm kicks off and we sit in the square savoring the solitude.

night-life

At night, we shared the square with the art students. We sit sipping our cup of coffee while they gather around the plaza playing street games under the moonlight and a few lights illuminating the square.

Scenes of Shaxiearly-morning-in-sideng-square

Sideng Square the day after, during breakfast, before journeying on to Lijiang.
ancient-treeAncient tree scatter around the village.
art-students-on-a-field-tripArt students abound; finding inspiration in this breathtaking old town.
 resort-on-the-riseA resort on the rise.
crystal-clear-waterA crystal clear stream flows through the main street of the ancient village.

resident

funny-english-translationsBastardized English Menu
fried-parametersThe fried parameters look like worms but is a root (perhaps from the ginseng family)
park-by-the-riverThe park by the river, just outside the East gate of the ancient town.
guesthouse-courtyardThe courtyard of our guesthouse (Renjia just off the village entrance) — turned into a drying area.
guesthouse-entranceThe entrance to our guesthouse was through the kitchen.
meal-at-renjiaPerhaps why they serve delicious Yunnan cuisine at our guesthouse.  This was lunch when we arrived.
modern-day-give-awayModern day giveaway — local kids with they games.

knitting

locals

little-girl

Xizhou: The Other Old Town of Dali

When asked where she would recommend we go besides the old town, Ling told us to go to Xizhou. “It may not appeal to everyone,” she said, “but many appreciate it for its cultural heritage.” And with that, Ling arranged for a car to bring us there.

A side note on how sweet she is. She lent us her phone so we can communicate with the driver, who does not speak a word of English, through her.

outside-the-village

Where he dropped us off, there was no sign or directions to the village so we walked around until we reached a bridge that seemed to lead to a community.

bridge

I have to say that albeit quite serene, the area was pretty empty.

lake

It felt strange to not meet a single soul for perhaps a good 10 minutes walking around the village.

empty-streets

A ghost town, we thought and wondered if it was why many didn’t like the village. The houses seemed lived in though so we explored further even though half of us felt like it might be a waste time.

bai-architecture

Well, I’m glad we persisted. We realized that the driver, for some reason, dropped us off at the back (perhaps) of the village or that we went the wrong direction (remember we cannot communicate).

squareBecause as we strolled further into the village, passing through courtyard houses, we eventually found ourselves at the heart of the village revealing a vibrant square surrounded by shops selling food, china wares, antiques, and a few souvenirs.

more-shops

shops

Being an enclave for prosperous merchants and scholars, the Bai people put emphasis on education and achievements. During the Ming Dynasty, they commemorate those who did remarkably well in the imperial exams by having their names written on a stone tablet standing on this square. Something like a “Hall of Fame.”

Xizhou was an important as a trading port along the Tea Horse Road and an essential place for military affairs, once housing a landing strip and radio station for the Flying Tigers during WWII.

coffee-shop

Just 20 km away from Dali Gucheng, Xizhou is (still) a sleepy town that lacks the hip vibe of the former. The architecture however fascinates and the square engaging with regular folks going about their business.

people-watch

In fact, the best part of our afternoon here in Xizhou was watching village life take place as we sip our cup of joe. The ordinariness of Xizhou is what makes it extraordinary.

Hip Old Town Dali

From Yuanyang, we went back to Kunming so we can take the overnight train to Dali.  We traveled northwest to Dali on a soft sleeper train that left around midnight.

sleeper

It was still dark when we were picked up at the Dali train station in Xiaguan, the new city.  Driving to the old town, we watched the city wake up. Our guesthouse is across the highway from the West gate of Old Town Dali (also called Dali Gucheng).

dali-mountain-delights

Even before owner/manager Ling could check us in, the sleepy caretaker warmly showed us our rooms and started to prepare breakfast. Beautiful people, which include Ling’s darling puppy she named after her lovely town, Dali.

dali

Lovely because it sits in the shadows of the beautiful Cangshan mountain range.

cangshan-background-2

Here, we spent a few days soaking in the view, the hip vibe, and the laid back atmosphere of the old town. I felt sad to leave and wished I had planned to stay a little longer.

Here’s why.

architecture

This town grows on you. It is touristy, I have to admit, but it is a real town that oozes with a new kind of hipness.  A real town means that local do live there still.

touristy

What used to be a backpacker’s haven is now swarmed with local urban tourist, but if you wander closer to the East Gate (near the end of Renmin and Yue Yu Streets), you will meet the local young hipsters.

young-hipsters

They run the quaint boutiques, cool cafes and interesting (read: eclectic, fusion, non-trad) eating places there.

xiao-yu

This is Xiao Yu (little fish) talking to Anton.  She loves single malts and serves a few good ones in her newly opened café/bar along Renmin Rd.
coffee-and-tiramisu-renmin-luAside from single malts, she serves a mean cup of coffee and glorious desserts.

They speak English too.

hip-boutique

It’s a great place to shop for one of a kind locally made stuff. But if ethnic clothes, local handcrafts and traditional blue and white tie-dye tablecloths are what you are looking for, go to Foreigner Street (Huguo Lu).

foreigners-rd

cangshan-in-background

Here, you’ll find more usual stuff bordering on souvenirs. Bars and restaurants are the same.

typical-dian-restaurant

You’ll find many traditional restaurants with fresh vegetables displayed at the entrance. Do enter one of them to experience the local cuisine.

dining-scene-foreigners-streetoutdoor seating scene at Foreigner’s Road

yunnan-pork-dishes

Aside from the many types of vegetables Yunnan had to offer, we actually enjoyed their pork dishes served in various ways.

One more thing I love about Dali is the abundance of fresh fruits and fresh juices

fruit-ladies

–fruit ladies (I call them) selling fruits in season in baskets and fresh juice (juiced while you wait) are found everywhere.

juicing

Located at the foot of Cangshan Mountain, Dali Gucheng resonates with the sound of streams scattered around town.

streams-2

streams-3

This water source cultivates many plants, which explains the beautiful blooms such as camellias, azaleas, and many others peppered all over town either being sold in pot

flowers-for-sale

or just beautifying the street.flowers

The city has a long history. About 4,000 years of it when the ethnic Bai people first settled.

bai

Today, they coexist with the local Yi and Muslims.

bai-architecture

The architecture that dates back to the Ming Dynasty, though renovated, rebuilt and modernized, adds big time to the charm.

dali-ancient-city-catholic-church

We also chanced upon a Christian church at the intersection of Fuxing and Heping Roads – charming streets to start with.

intricate-roof-catholic-church

The church is primarily built on wood, following a western layout but also maintaining the Bai architecture and hip roof.

A few days spent here to chill and recharge is really not a bad idea.

outdoor-table

You can either sit and catch the vibe at an outdoor table at one of the cafes or bars on Renmin Road around sundown or go for a foot massage after a day of hiking or wandering around town.

chinese-foot-massageOne of the best foot massage I’ve had in years.

Do try to set aside at least an extra day to just relax and do nothing but absorb the vibe. It will be a good break from all the touring and walking.

More snaps of the Old Town:

tree-lined-fuxing-luTree-lined Fuxing Lu

dali-bookstore

Dali Bookstore (along Renmin Lu.), a quaint little bookstore that has books in Mandarin, French and English.
sunrise-at-erhai-lakeTo the east of Dali lies Erhai Lake.
hip-cafeHip Cafe along Renmin Road
streamsCanals with clean running water dispersed around town.
hip-resto-at-renminOne of the many hip restaurants around Renmin Road.
main-road-old-and-newA fusion of old and new along the main road of Old Town Dali.

 

A Piece of Heaven

Magical, massive, magnificent—endless terraces in a sea of clouds is a sight to behold. Not foreign to rice terraces, I found myself awed by the vastness and intricacy of the Yuanyang terraces, now the 45th World Heritage Site in China. Breathtaking after breathtaking scenes came before us as we drew closer to the center.

terraces-by-the-road-2

Regarded as the core of the Hani Terraces, where its ancestors settled 2,500 years ago.

hani-people

In its steep mountains and challenging terrain, the Hani people struggled and succeeded in growing rice. Their creativity turned this mountain into one artistic beauty that has placed Yuanyang on the map for impressive rice paddy terracing.

duoyishu-terracesDuoyishu Rice Terraces

With an area of 28,000 acres, it is similar to the Banaue terraces of my country but on a grander scale.

laohuzui-waiting-for-sunset

Three major scenic spots is a must. Scattered in different places, the terraces exhibit different tones and hues depending on the season and time of day. When we were there (in April), the terraces, still filled with water, glows from the sun’s ray.

laohuzui-sunsetLaohuzui Rice Terraces

So different from the one I am familiar with. It is stunning.

Laohuzui. The biggest Hani rice terraces listed in the World Cultural Heritage Site and ideal for sunset shots.

laohuzui-different-view-deck

It has 2 viewing areas, the higher deck closer to the road and a lower one closer to the terraces. Both views are lovely depending on how you want to capture its grandiosity.

laohizui-sunset-2

Bada. It has one of the biggest collections of terraces, and any angle is snap-worthy.

bada-terraces

From top to bottom, the terraces is said to be 3,900 steps.

Duoyishu. Surrounded by mountains on 3 sides and a valley on the east, it makes for a beautiful sunrise scene.

duoyishu-sunrise

The terraces, still filled with water, unveils the reflection of the soft golden sky just coming to light underneath a sea of clouds.

duoyishu-viewing-deck

From our beautiful guesthouse, Flower Residence, it was just t a 20-minute walk to the viewing deck.

pugao-village

And speaking or our guesthouse, we stayed in a charming boutique hotel in a village called Pugao Laozhai.

flower-residence

flower-residence-2

flower-residenceview-from-our-room

flower-residence-meals

Large glass windows to enjoy the fantastic view, wood everywhere, good food, combined with wonderful hosts CC and his uncle (who cooked fabulous meals)

with-hosts-cc

—is a formula sure to impress me, no doubt. A place where one can be happy to just hang out, I wish I had booked more than just a night.

Yuanyang is 2 more hours south from Jianshiu and definitely worth the road trip. A little piece of heaven with spectacular rice terraces so grand it almost guarantees poster-worthy shots at any angle.

duoyishu-terraces-upclose

terraces-by-the-road

laohuzui-changing-season

photograhers-haven-at-laohuzui

Begnas: A Ritual for Good Harvest

Happy and contented with finally being able to see up close the Panag-apoy, witnessing another festival is, what I would like to think of as, a bonus.

a-few-days-ago-2Walking to town from Ex-Mayor Killip’s house, which we rented for our stay, we saw these men in traditional Igorot clothes.

Former Sagada Mayor Tom Killip invited us to watch their ritual for a good harvest if we have time before heading down. Of course, we have time, we will make time.

dancing-2

Deeply rooted in culture and tradition, the Kankanaey community of Sagada celebrate a Rice Thanksgiving ritual that follows the cultural calendar of the Igorot. The dates of the Begnas are usually decided by the tribal leaders via age-old omen and signs and, therefore, have no fixed dates.elder

It is generally held to mark the different agricultural cycle—pre- planting or land preparation, planting and harvest—and apparently happens three times a year, loosely in March, June and November.

We were advised to be there early so not to disturb their celebration. Being early has its advantages.vantage-point

From our vantage point, we were able to watch the celebration up close without being in the way.gathering-in-the-dapay

Arriving in traditional clothes, men and women from different barangays gather in the hosting dap-ay.to-the-patpatayan

It starts with a group of men in a single file going off to the rice fields to sacrifice a pig on sacred ground the community calls patpatayan.practicing

Meanwhile, the men left in the dap-ay started to perform their traditional dances, not to entertain us (but perhaps themselves) but that we were.   After a half an hour perhaps, they came back, still in single file, to the dap-ay with the pig divided into pieces. The ceremony ends with everyone participating in the dance and the pieces distributed to each community.

dancing-3

pig-distribution

I am honored to have seen this tradition and was well worth setting our trip back for a few hours.

I leave you with more photos of the celebration:

a-few-days-ago

dancing-4

dancing

Panag-apoy: A Sagada Ritual

In Sagada like the rest of the country, All Saint’s Day is the day they gather together and remember the departed. families-gather

But while it is common to light a candle or two, the indigenous community of Sagada, instead burn wood from old pine, locally known as “saeng”.

lighting-the-saeng

The Panag-apoy, as the Kankanays call this ritual, was an event I had wanted to witness since I learned of it many, many years ago.   Not for lack of trying but victorious, I never was until two years ago. The threat of rains, I thought, would once again thwart the gathering as it did in my previous attempts.

sun-showing

But lo and behold, the sun came out on that 1st day of November and finally allowed this curious spectator a glimpse of this unusual ritual.

A ritual that’s been practiced since the 1900s and is not purely indigenous. It is a combination of Anglican rites, influenced by the teachings of American missionaries, and the Igorot culture. St.-Mary's

It starts with a liturgical service at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

priest-blessings

Followed by the blessing of the saeng and the tombs. And as the priest moves around, one by one the saeng gets lighted and laid by the tomb.

bonfire

ablaze

By day’s end, the Sagada cemetery behind St. Mary glows in the dark. And truth be told, it is a surreal sight to behold.  
glowing-in-the-dark

Like me, many go to witness, document or to just experience this amazing tradition unique to the northern Kankanays.

spectators-wait

more-spectators