Christmas in Dali

Christmas Eve: We started drinking about 3 pm, in our hostel, with some fellow Brits – one of whom was a 50-something ex-SAS man with some interesting (to say the least) stories to tell, The hostel, the Jade Emu Guest House, laid on a barbecue; a banquet, the owner is an Ozzie so knows a thing or two about barbecues, there was an argosy of food and a free glass of mulled wine. We sat and ate with about 20 Germans who were in China volunteering. Ze Germans celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve so were all merrilly getting tanked up. We also were pretty tanked up by this point.

Dali Christmas

The traditional Christmas Eve barbecue.

What happened next is still pretty surreal but I’ll do my best to explain it. It seems it is a local tradition – bear in mind this is a country which doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas – for everybody in the town to purchase cans of aerosol foam and to congregate in the streets with the express aim of spraying eachother in the face. That is until a Westerner walks by, when the aim becomes to spray said Westerner. The air was filled with the cruel laughter of bullies and the sinister clacking of cans being shaken.

Dali Christmas

She’s smiling, but she’s not happy.

We’d been told that one guy was blinded for 3 days last year as a result of these hijinks, so Amy was terrified. She wrapped her scarf round her face and made me guide her through the crowded streets like a Labrador in a high-vis. This of course just made us more conspicuous and we arrived at the Bad Monkey covered in fake snow.

Dali Christmas

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a belly dancer.

Party time at the Bad Monkey! Everyone was enjoying themselves, Chinese and Western alike, until a Chinese girl approached the bar with her whole face covered in blood, screaming. The poor girl had been bottled by a Chinese man for refusing to dance with him. A riot ensued (ah, it was just like being at home). As you might expect, the culprit snuck out pretty fast. But in the confusion an innocent guy was fingered and the unlucky reveller received a triple head-butt…and then it really kicked off. Merry Christmas!

Dali Christmas

Christmas Day on a rooftop with some of our new pals. A strange Christmas…

Christmas day was tame in comparison. Drinking in the hostel kicked off at midday and dinner at the Bad Monkey wasn’t until 8pm. The dinner was delicious, they had managed to get hold of a turkey and just about every trimming conceivable. But we, like the turkey, were pretty cooked by this point and retired to bed about 11pm.

Dali Christmas

Christmas dinner.

Boxing day we went on a good old hike up in the Cang Shan mountains to clear out the previous days’ sins. Worked a treat, so we headed back down to the Bad Monkey!

Dali Christmas

This needs no caption.

And so it is with a heavy heart that we leave not only Dali, where the expats and semi-expats had made us feel so welcome and we’d spent a great Christmas with our fellow Brits, Americans, Canadians, Australians and of course Chinese – but China itself. Yeah, there’s a lot of ersatz Chinesery and it’s rank with pollution, and they charge you an entrance fee everywhere (worst Commies ever). But the real China – the old geezers playing chess or mah-jong, or the woman practising Tai Chi in the park, the friendliness of the Chinese and the magnificence of the landscape – is something we’ve fallen in love with. Our one complaint is that we didn’t give ourselves longer.

We fly to India next.

Yunnan Province

We landed in Kunming about 3am, got a cab to our hostel, passed out, then woke up to enjoy the Spring City (so called because the weather is perennially clement). It felt good to be warmed by the sun for a change, and we strolled about in shorts and a T-shirt. Not a whole lot to do in Kunming so we skedaddled out of there the next day.


Us in Kunming. Sunshine at last!

Dali was our next stop and was to be our home for the next week or so. A town situated in a basin, hemmed in on all sides by flumpy mountains, surrounded by a criss-cross patchwork of villages and rice paddies irrigated by the enormous Erhai Lake. This was a town well in tune with the backpacker demographic – bars, pizza parlours, coffee shops and plenty of Westerners. Almost immediately we headed for the Bad Monkey, a Brit-run outfit that brew their own ales (ales!) in the nearby hills.

Bad Monkey


Now, hitherto, the only backpackers we had met were either Chinese (nothing wrong with that but makes conversation difficult) or of the white-man-with-dreadlocks, baggy trousered, more-vegetarian-than-thou variety. True, the Bad Monkey had its fair share of dreadlocked white men, but we felt right at home there. Scousers, Welsh, Cockneys, Mancs – we signed up to Christmas dinner that very night.


We took a bike ride into the surrounding villages. It was a bit windy.

But first we were to head up to Lijiang and then on to Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Lijiang had been a town we were looking forward to, billed as an ancient Chinese town but in reality more like a parody of what an ancient Chinese town would look like if ancient China had McDonalds, KFC and a thousand souvenir shops. We began to have doubts as to its true ancient-ness when we noticed they were still building parts of it.



The old town is the heart of Lijiang. The minute you set foot in the old town you can consider yourself lost. All the street signs are in Chinese and you have no points of reference as every building is one of: restaurant, inn, tat shop – all identical. The ‘You are Here’ signs we can only presume are some kind of practical joke and its only when you buy a map that you have any hope of getting out alive.
We also visited another nearby ancient town, Shuhe, where they tried to charge us around £8 for entry. We noticed Chinese people walking in unmolested so told our taxi driver to double back and then snuck past the ticket office. Once in it was more of the same really so glad we didn’t pay the 8 quid!


One of the nicer things about Lijiang is the mountain permanently in view.

There’s a lot to dislike about Lijiang but, like Beijing, it slowly revealed its charms. We found a great hostel, and a bar that overlooked the whole town, plus some good street food stalls so we left on good terms, although we probably won’t be going back.
From there we headed for Qiatou for the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, which we planned to do over 2 days.
The guide book warned that the trek was not to be taken lightly, and they weren’t kidding. We set off at sunrise, the first 3 hours being comparatively easy. It was the low season – despite the cloudless sky and warm sunshine – so we didn’t see another soul for the whole day. We hit the notorious 28 Bends, described by the guide book as agonizing (again they were pretty much spot on here). We climbed for about 2 hours until, panting and sweating, we reached the summit where we were rewarded with a magnificent view of the gorge – the craggy, snow crusted peaks opposite and the Yangtzi river rushing along some 3000m below. Truly glorious. So we had some lunch.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Sunrise in the gorge. Seen worse.

Lunch consumed, we began the descent. Our only guide were these sporadic spray-painted arrows and we eventually came across one which pointed straight down what looked like a sheer cliff face. By this time we were foot-sore and wind-battered and were in no mood for jokes. But of course it was no joke. Gale force winds howled and dragged us this way and that, and scree gave way underfoot as we scrambled down. We suddenly felt very small and very alone.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

The view at the summit. Seen worse.

But we lived to tell the tale and the sun was setting as we hopped into our guest house for the night. A long day. The next day was far easier – a final descent down to the floor of the gorge, a gander at the violently raging river, back up to the guest house and then the bus back to Lijiang. We stayed there one night and then back to our favourite place for Christmas.


Amy in Dali.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Amy at the Gorge.


Larking about in Kunming. What a card.

Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Another one of the view at TLG.