Earthquake in Shangri-la — we’re fine

In case you’ve seen it in the news, there was a fairly strong earthquake this morning not far from Shangri-la. We had just finished packing our bags and were preparing to head to the bus station when there was a loud rumble followed by about five seconds of fairly strong shaking of the floor, walls, and ceiling.

We had planned to leave Shangri-la this morning anyway to head south to Dali and we spent the day on the bus. Traveling south we saw about 10-15 emergency vehicles heading north, but other than that, life seemed pretty normal in northern Yunnan.

More updates to come.

-Bill (guest writing on Sam’s blog 🙂


Day 37: To Shangri-la

After a nice long sleep, we woke up to the amazing views. We had a really relaxing breakfast up on the terrace, we finally set off on the hike. It was just a two hour mostly downhill walk to Tina’s guest house. The trail was almost entirely cut into the mountains…with a steep drop into the river on one side and high mountains on the other. Once again, just beautiful!
After climbing over rocks and waterfalls we finally made it to Tina’s Guesthouse which officially marked the end of the trail. Yay!
We had around three hours to kill before the bus to Shangrila…which it so happened, nine out of the ten of us were going to. Only one of the group was going back to Lijiang but she was going to meet up with us in Shangrila anyway the next day.
We had a bit of trouble finding a hostel for nine people…none of us had booked ahead either! Which was probably not the best idea! 🙂
Finally, we found a great hostel in the old town…and a short while later we all ended up at a cafe next door which came highly recommended by some Israeli backpackers! Apparently, their yak burgers and their pizzas were superb…which they certainly were. That first bite of my thin crust, veggie delight pizza was just heavenly!
Shangrila is at an altitude of 3200 mts and altitude sickness is very common. Most of us had mild headaches and were mostly just tired from two days of hiking.
Tomorrow, we explore the town.

The gang before we took off from Halfway GH. L-R: Oli, Bill, me, Alex, Emily, Mitae, Pao, Asaf and Soriya. Missing Will as he was unfortunately unwell.


The girls

Yet another waterfall

Bill and Oli

Day 36: Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan

Day 36: August 27th

Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world. Bill and I had this on our radars a number of years ago and we were excited that we were finally doing it. The hike itself is a 23 km long hike through the Gorge and is known for its stunning scenery. The best way to do the hike is to do it over two days…and stay overnight in one of the few guesthouses along the way.
We left Mama Naxi’s at 8 am… Apart from Oli, Will and Soriya, we also had Emily(American), Asaf(Israeli), and Pao and Maite (Spanish couple). All of us were on the same schedule and so we decided to do it together.

Turned out to be the best idea ever! The group gelled like magic… Everyone got along brilliantly..and most importantly, we managed to stay together the entire time.

Two hours into the hike, we stopped for lunch at Naxi’s guest house. It was a mildly strenuous uphill climb up to this point. We were told the toughest bit was the next two hours after lunch…and boy, were they right! The maps showed that there were 28 steep bends…I lost count of the number of bends at two…but they were certainly steep! For the next two hours, all nine of us huffed and puffed our way up the hill! We knew it was mostly downhill from the top…so all we had to was to just keep going!

Meanwhile, the views have been consistently mind blowing! The Yangtze River was flowing way below us through the gorge….surrounded by really high rugged mountains with no vegetation… They provided a stark contrast to the blue skies! Just stunning!

We were exhausted by the time we rolled into the halfway guest house at 7:30pm. Quick showers later, we had a lovely meal followed by relaxing on a balcony right on top of the guest house. I know I’m repeating myself but the views from there were amazing. I don’t think pictures can do justice to the gorge!

Next up, waking up early to watch the sun rise from behind the mountains. Since the mountains are so high, the sun only comes up from behind them at 7:30am. Time for a well deserved rest!

Just starting out

Us on the trail

Winding around the mountain

The Yangtze below us


Afternoon shadows

Waterfall crossing

Modernization coming to the Gorge

We keep walking

Steep drops

As the sun sets

View from the courtyard of the Halfway Guesthouse

Day 35: Lijiang, Yunnan

Day 35: August 26th

We said bye to Amma and Appa at the airport in Chengdu. Our flights were just an hour and a half apart.

Once we Lijiang, we checked into our hostel, Mama Naxi’s, which was in Lijiang’s old town. I’d never seen anything like the old town. The entire town was like a night market…no cars allowed, just bicycles and some small motorized vehicles. Mama Naxi herself is a lovely old woman who treats all the backpackers like her children and feeds us constantly…but also keeps yelling at us randomly..which was just so funny!

We met some other backpackers who wanted to walk around the old town… So off we went with Oli, the 21 year old British student; Will, the 25 year old British teacher and Soriya, a lovely Belgian girl who was backpacking on her own.

Once we got to the food market, Oli somehow managed to take us to the stall that was selling fried scorpions, grubs among other creatures. Of course, after much deliberation and discussion, we all decided to try a scorpion each and a grub. I have to say that the scorpions tasted like really crispy bacon…the grubs, not very yummy at all! 🙂

After our mini food adventure, Bill and I really needed a nap.

Later that evening, we had a lovely communal Chinese dinner at the hostel cooked by Mama Naxi herself! We met some other really cool backpackers as well! One in particular, a 24 year old American girl living in Shanghai who spent all of 2012 in Afghanistan. Awesome!

We had a really long day coming up so we went to bed fairly early but it was such a great day. We were happy to have met so many amazing people all doing such amazing things!

Insects for lunch?

About to eat the scorpions

Deep fried grubs anyone?

The grubs not going down too well

Mama Naxi’s

Lijiang Old Town

Day 34: Bus to Chengdu

Day 34: August 25th

We had a long nine hour bus journey to Chengdu. It was a far cheaper option than flying to Chengdu. I was a bit worried as this road was closed for a few months just recently due to some extensive flooding. We were told the road was recently reopened….and while that was certainly true…Some sections of the highway were pretty scary. You could see all the recent landslides that had ravaged the countryside. Most of the nine hour drive was still in the mountains..which were still remarkably stunning by the way!

Once in Chengdu we had a real quiet dinner.

It was Amma and Appa’s last night in China and we toasted to our wonderful trip.
Tomorrow, Bill and I are off on our next leg of our China adventure. We fly to Lijiang in Yunnan province, one of the southern-most provinces in China.

My parents are flying home via Hong Kong. We are sure going to miss them!

Beautiful Drive

Washed out bridge

Day 33: Are we really in China?

Day 33: August 24th

We decided to head back to the park for a second day..and this time to avoid the crowds at the upper sections of the valley, we decided to walk the lower trail..equally stunning but we didn’t have the time to do it yesterday. The park is huge..almost 50 km long.

Walking from the entrance of the park on the lower trail to the middle of the park was mostly uphill but the path was well laid out and the incline mostly just gradual. The path was almost entirely just boardwalk lining the sides of the forest(with the gushing river beneath) and the lakes.

One of the reasons we wanted to walk earlier in the day were to avoid the crowds but we were in for a complete surprise! We didn’t see a soul for at least 3 hours. The first person we saw on the trail was a park employee cleaning the leaves off the boardwalk! Given that the park would have close to 10,000 visitors today(Saturday), we were just amazed that no one thinks to walk the lower section. I suppose most people head to the upper sections of the valley like we did yesterday…and most people don’t come back for a second day!

It certainly didn’t feel like we were in China. I have nothing but praise for Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park. The Chinese authorities have done an outstanding job in maintaining the park. The trails are superbly marked with trash cans every km and toilets every few km. We all have come away very impressed, not just with the beauty…which was beyond anything we’ve ever seen but also with the park management.

After a lovely last night in the valley( we had Tibetan food for dinner), we were on a nine hour bus ride to Chengdu tomorrow!

Boardwalk..and not a soul in sight

Jiuzhaigou Valley

Reed Lake

One of many waterfalls

Can’t tell which is real and which is the reflection


Day 32: Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park

Day 32: August 23rd

We had been advised to get to the park really early(it opens at 7am).. Of course, a lot of other people had the same idea and when we were walking out the door at 6:45 am we could see a lot of other tourists heading there as well.

I had done a fair bit of reading and found out that the best lakes were in the upper sections of the park. The park also had an excellent hop on-hop off bus service that we used to get to the top and then walk back towards the middle of the park.

Jiuzhaigou is famous for its dozens of blue, green and turquoise-colored lakes. Originating in glacial activity, they were dammed by rockfalls and other natural phenomena, then solidified over time. The water has a high concentration of calcium carbonate, making it so clear that the bottom is often visible even at high depths. It was crazy to see tree branches, rocks and fish well below the surface of the water, just resting on the floor of the lake. We were certainly not disappointed! Words cannot describe how beautiful the entire valley is. We were all just blown away!

Inspite of the crowds of almost 8000 people that visit the park everyday…which I have to say was a huge pain…we were still amazed at all this beauty around us.
It was a wonderful day with lots of walking and lots of picture taking! We ended the day with some super spicy Sichuan hotpot for dinner!
I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Jiuzhaigou Valley

Jiuzhaigou Valley

Jiuzhaiou Valley