From the moment I stepped out of the taxi in Leigian, I was lost. It was pouring rain and I was in a remote corner of the old city with cobblestone street, dragging the huge suitcase that was already loaded with treasures. There are no cars and taxis allowed in this town. Apparently, there’s no English spoken either, as I discovered as I asked for directions to an inn, where I had not yet reserved a room. I only knew the name, and that it was on a canal. Eventually a monk took pity on me and shared his oversized umbrella with me as we walked the 25 minutes to the inn with my cobblestone weary suitcase clunking behind us in the rain. I looked and felt like a drowned cat and took the overpriced “last” room, the one that used the sink and toilet area as the shower stall.
I spent the next day wondering around this beautiful, utterly overrun, Chinese tourist mecca and UN Heritage Site, trying to figure out what to do with myself. The Complete China Lonely Planet Guide said if I went to the Well Bistro Café, I would meet cool people and life would turn out. I went there for breakfast the next day and after my second up of coffee there was still no sign from the gods. Now what? My mind counseled patience. After staring out the window at passers by for a while I looked up to find a well dressed, 50-something Chinese man, offering his services as a guide in excellent English.
We talked and decided to meet early the next day and hop a public bus for the Himalayas, a two day bus trip, each way, for views of a range of 25,000′ peaks, if it was clear. I could at least count on some pure Tibetan culture, cooler days, and no busloads of Chinese tourists. Viola!- Lonely Planet scores again.
There are times that I just want to think, look at scenery and take in the local culture without the obligation of social intercourse. Having a guide and logistics master could have presented a problem but he sensed my mood and took care of transportation, lodging, food and answered questions. Beyond that, he told me bits of history, anthropology and ecology as I allowed.
About 7 yrs earlier, I saw a photo write up in a travel magazine of a cool looking town in Yunnan Province, China. I filed it on a stack of clippings of similar cool places all over the world. As the years went by that article was buried deeper and deeper in my file box…
When I realized that it was time for a China buying trip, I set aside a week for unplanned exotic travel. Unplanned is the operative word here. I dug out the article to find the name of the town. Beijing was hot, really hot. Yunnan was on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, therefore cool, which = good place. Chad, my American/China, all around good guy contact, guide, collector and container packer, got my air reservations and I was on my own.