Leaving Xingping behind with it’s stunning karst landscape has left me with mixed emotions. Excited for my next adventure yes, but not feeling entirely ready to leave Yangshuo. It’s not long before I leave China, most likely for quite some time. I don’t feel ready to leave this beautiful and diverse country but being true to my nomadic self the wind is calling and I feel it’s push. For now though it’s a flight to Kunming followed by another to Lijiang, Yunnan province. Through my second use of Workaway it’s a week at October Inn, one of the most unique hostels I have ever seen in China.
Arriving around 7pm a car pulls up to collect me. It’s Tom, the owner of October Inn and a friend. I’m being given a guided tour of our route from the airport bus drop off to the top of a hill in the old part of Lijiang where October Inn resides. Grateful for not having to walk I immediately shower ready for dinner. To start the shower is the hottest I’ve experienced in China and consistent with the temperature. I could stand there for hours but Tom is cooking dinner for the guests in my honor. The food rivals any restaurant and the setting is the most welcoming environment. We are all on long sofas that stand either side of a long table. At the end there is an iron table that holds a fire in the center.
With travelers exchanging stories and drinking beer the night soon becomes the early hours of the morning. Those of us insistent on remaining awake move to the rooftop of October Inn, taking in the view of the city. It’s been a long time since I’ve been surrounded by such a diverse group of foreigners. Tonight we are a group made up of Americans, Singaporeans, Dutch and British. Tom tells me October Inn rarely has Chinese guests and that he loves meeting foreigners from all over the world. As the noise of the town slowly dies away, we too retire to our dorms. The beds are solid wood and extra wide, all with heat blankets. It’s the most comfortable nights sleep I’ve had for a while.
The stir of guests wakes me from my slumber. I move slowly from my bunk with the early signs of a headache and head to the shower. I meet Tom on my way back and within minutes I’m in the sun eating oats with cinnamon and apples. There is also a small cup of Yunnan’s coffee in front of me. Coffee isn’t something that I would say is done particularly well in China but this is a strong cup with a smokey flavor. The aroma alone lifts my headache and I enjoy the heat of Lijiang, without the humidity of Fuzhou.
Following breakfast, Tom suggests we take a ride around town so I can become familiar with my surroundings to better advise guests on places of interest. It’s been a while since I’ve been a passenger on an ebike and I’m wearing an awkward dress for the occasion. With the resident puppy in tow we are off down the hill, winding through the old alleys. The tour begins. The well preserved architecture of this old area is quite beautiful. The more the alleys open up I’m given glimpses of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. A breathtaking mountain that is covered in snow all year round and made up of 13 peaks. Entering the main road we pass the tourist hot spot of Lijiang Old Town.
On route I’m supposed to remember things like the bank, places to eat, bicycle rental shops…instead I’m excitedly taking in this city with its echos of Naxi culture everywhere. From the passersby in blue hats to the embroidered cloth that holds against the wind in open shop windows. As we move out of town through farmlands the Naxi presence is even stronger. We finally stop at the ancient town of Shuhe which lies at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It’s like discovering an old village hidden among a forest. One of the earliest settlements of the ancestors of Naxi people, the town of Shuhe is full of charm and character.
Wandering along the alleys and crossing small bridges I notice countless fish in the clear waters that run through the town. Shuhe has a tranquil and poetic rural setting that allows you to escape the bustling tourist hotspot of Lijiang Old Town. It’s almost possible to forget modern life whilst here. There are even horses being guided through the streets. Just as time seems to flow backwards the everyday comes to light. We are now surrounded by coffee shops and restaurants. We enter a restaurant belonging to a friend of Toms and immediately we are greeted with tea and the resident cat who becomes slightly unsettled when our company canine totters in.
Shortly after tea we are back on the bike heading for a village called Baisha. Arriving, it is clear that this village is far less commercialized than that of the old towns and is a more honest portrayal of Naxi culture and every day life. It’s history is painted on the walls and woven into its textiles that blow in the gentle breeze. We are not here long but it is certainly a place I shall revisit. For now it is back on the bike to return to October Inn. Passing through farm land, the new city and the old town, it’s back up the hill to where the old architecture stands, well preserved, in the fading sunlight. The rooftops always capture my attention in China. Curved, decorated and ancient. All of Lijiang is beautiful and I can’t wait to explore more.