After saying our farewells to Yangshuo and all of the wonderful people at Owen College, we rode the bus to Guilin and embarked on our first backpacking travels of our trip. From Guilin to Kunming in Yunnan province is an 18 hour train ride! We booked a "hard sleeper", which is a series of triple bunks squeezed into a carriage. There is a "soft sleeper", which are more comfortable double bunks with lockable doors, and there is also the "hard seat" option, for the seriously economical traveller. We slept on the top bunks and had a very pleasant journey. The lights go off at 10 and we managed to get some good sleep. We have decided that the train is the way to travel around China, and that the hard sleeper is a good balance of comfort and value. The views between Guilin and Kunming was most lush green hills with a remarkable number of sunflowers.

We spent one night in Kunming, a very clean, modern and pretty city, but we didn't find much of interest there.

The next day we took an "express bus" to our next destination, Dali. The express bus was not quite what we expected as it stopped several times for no obvious reason, and the 4.5 hour trip included a 40 minute lunch break! Disappointingly, the bus left us at Xiaguan, the large city 30 minutes away from Dali. Luckily, we made some friends on the trip and we shared the price of a taxi to take us to the real Dali.

Dali is a cute, laid-back town surrounded by city walls built over a thousand years ago. The town sits 2000 metres above sea level on a slope between Er Hai (Ear Lake) and the spectacular Cangshan mountain range, which is basically the tail-end of the Himalayas. The town clearly revolves around tourists, even more so than Yangshuo. Cute cobblestone streets with interesting man-made streams separate market stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs, materials, jewellery and handicrafts. There are dozens of cafes and bars pitching to Westerners, and many travel agents offering "discounts" and package tours to the various attractions. Although illegal in China, there a many women walking around offering "Gunga" and "Hashish" to tourists brazenly on the street. As we walked around (and even whilst sitting in cafes) we were offered Marijuana every half hour.

On the first day we arrived fairly late and only had enough time to climb the South end of the city wall to take in views of Dali, Xiaguan, the mountains and the lake. That night we stayed in a log cabin style hostel which only cost 8 Aussie dollars for the double room. The entire two story building was completely wooden, including the beds. After a sore back in the morning, we decided to upgrade to a different hostel that offered mattresses.

On the second day we decided to go up into the mountains and so we rode the cable car up to Zhonghe temple. The cable car was an impressive and peaceful climb up a steep slope of 600 metre elevation. The temple itself was somewhat of a disappointment. We were pulled into the main prayer room by a couple of monks who handed us incense, guided us through a short Buddhist prayer, and then tried to guilt trip us into donating 100 Yuan each.

We then travelled a little way uphill and found a delightfully peaceful guesthouse where we stopped for a coffe and a quiet chat. Then we took a journey an the "Cloudy tourist walk", an aptly named path that had been cut into the mountains. This walk was incredibly beautiful, passing by gorges with fast running streams as clouds drifted in and out. Sometimes our vision was entirely obscured by the clouds and it felt like we were hanging out over the abyss. At other times we got magnificent views through the gorge back towards the old town.

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