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Today is our last real day in China as from this evening we start our travels down to Laos. We spent most of the morning repacking our stuff and trying to weed out yet more surplus weight which we sent home. We divided and conquered and I went to the China Post Office while Stef went for breakfast. At China Post it was the usual process of them choosing which box to fit your stuff into and parcelling it up for you. The people in front of me had a big box already full to bursting and they then decided they needed more stuff in it. The Post Office person simply crammed it in squashing what ever was below it, hopefully nothing breakable!

20060104_P_0168 croplight
Line dancing, Naxi style (click to enlarge)

We spent the next couple of hours in Black Dragon Pool Park just north of the old town. To get there you just follow the river out of town, past a whole new area of buildings that look like they are more shops and restaurants waiting to be opened up. At the park we were surprised that we had to pay to get in and doubly surprised that it was Y60 each as that is a steep entrance price compared to other parks we have been to. We later saw that if you walked further up the park there seemed to be a gate where you could get in without having to pay. By the number of locals, who mainly looked like students, in the park I think the entrance fee is probably a gringo tax only.

The park was yet another haven of peace and quiet and again I said to Stef about how well the Chinese do their parks. A wide path led around the pool and through gardens on either side. A main feature of the pool is a bridge with five arches, relatively new from the 1960’s, behind which there is a great view of the snow capped mountains. In the water there were huge fish swimming around trying to keep in the shade and at one point lots of bubbles coming up from the bottom where there is a natural spring.

About halfway up on the right had side there is a small building with a stage. We got there at about one o’clock just as a small orchestra were starting to play and about six young people were performing traditional dances to the music. Later a big group of older Naxi women got up to do their “line dancing” this time weaving patterns in and out like a snake rather than just going round in a circle. As with the ladies yesterday, one or two had very western “wedding” style hats crammed onto their heads over their traditional blue caps.

Lijiang skyscape

After the park we ambled back into town, had a late lunch/early dinner, got our bags and headed out to the airport for our flight to Jinhong. It was about a thirty minute drive back down in the direction of Dali. It was a small airport and it looks quite new. We checked in for our flight with Sechuan Airlines trying not to laugh too much at the uniform the staff were wearing. It was a really horrible shade of pink. Not too bad for the ladies but I did not think it really did anything for the men.

The staff on the plane were very friendly and spoke English. Even the announcements were given in English which I had not expected. The plane was full and it looked like most people were from tour groups. A high proportion had brought small suitcases on board as hand luggage rather than checking them in and they, and the hostesses, were having real problems getting them all stowed away. The pilot’s did not seem to care though and started taxiing off down the runway to prepare for take off. It was a short and uneventful flight, a bit bumpy over the mountains but we landed again about fifty minutes later.

Jinhong airport was smaller again than Lijiang and the change in climate hit us as soon as we left the plane. On board they had said it was eighteen degrees outside. I do not think it was that warm but it was humid and you could feel the moisture just hanging in the air. We got our bags and went outside to get a taxi to our hotel. IT was confusing to know who to go with. We naively assumed it was whichever taxi was at the front of the queue but it seemed to be the one who shouted the loudest and who could be bothered to get the fare.

It was a short hop to the hotel. We had decided to go for luxury (as we are expecting Laos to be a bit basic) and stayed at the Tai Palace, a four star place but still very cheap by UK standards. The lady behind reception spoke English but she had got herself so flustered that she was having to do so that she spoke very quickly and it was hard to understand what she was saying. It took a while to realise that “changed room” meant the discounted room rate that they could offer us. Our room was very spacious and with a comfortable bed, worth every Yuan.

We decided that beer was the order of the day and went to find the hotel’s piano bar. The main lobby was like a large atrium and the bar was simply space on the second floor that looked down to the lobby. It was a real give away that it is the off season. There was a grand piano but it was covered up with a large green dustsheet. The bar had no bottles or glasses of any description on display. Next to it there was a large Coca Cola style fridge and when you ordered a beer the waitress came from behind the bar, walked to the fridge, unlocked it and got your beer. As this was described in the hotel blurb as the place for romance, it made me wonder if there was any atmosphere here that would make anyone vaguely romantic.