Tuesday, August 23, 2011

RED EARTH, Yunnan, China Trip Report by Mr. Mah

Below is a "Trip Report" filed in by Mr. Mah, a client of mine for whom I arranged a 2D1N tour to Red Earth (aka. Red Land) in Yunnan, China. It turned out to be an amazing excursion for him & his wife. Let Mr. Mah enthrall you with his fluently written report and captivating photos: _________________________________________________________
TRIP REPORT: Red Land, Yunnan, China - A journey into spectacular landscape
TRIP DATE: Nov 19-20, 2010
AUTHOR: Mr. Mah Teck Oon
Photos are copyright of the author.

We first caught sight of this place through email exchanges between our regular “kakis”. The scenery was simply amazing, and the landscape looked like patterns of various colours. Great photographic skills also made the images stand out to catch your attention.

Then David Lim of El Sol Travel & Tours floated an advert calling for interested travelers to join in a tour from 13 to 16 November 2010. This sparked off a real interest, as the chance of seeing the place become possible.

I checked the airfares to Kunming on MAS and found that the price was from RM1500 return. While the ground arrangement by El Sol Travel was just RM650, the airfare portion was not right for a 4 day tour. So, I hit upon going on a regular tour package to Yunnan. This would take us to the main tourist areas of Kunming, Dali and Lijiang. From there, we could do an extension of 2 extra days to see Red Land. This would then make the whole trip more time efficient and cost effective. So, this was on.

We checked whether our regular co-travelers were able to join us, but most of them had already been to Yunnan in the past years. Eddy faced his usual problem of interested but cannot get away. So, it was just 2 of us on this tour.

We visited MATTA Fair in August to do some shopping, and purchased a regular Kunming, Dali and Lijiang tour. The price was RM2950 each pax, with an extra RM100 for the air ticket deviation. The Red Land portion through El Sol Travel was another RM650 each to cover a guide, driver, car transport and food and lodging for the 2 days. This looked like a good way to manage the tour.

We covered the regular tour from 12th to 19th November. We discussed over the extension night hotel and considered a change if the rooms were not getting any better at the Kunming King World International Hotel. We decided to stay on the same hotel for convenience with the ever heavier luggage bags, which we could leave behind when we went to Red Land.

On the morning of 19th November, we left our larger luggage in the hotel’s custody. Local guide Mr. Chen picked us up at 9.15am, a bit late as he waited in the next-door hotel lobby instead of ours. We then loaded our small bags into the Volkswagen Passat car driven by Mr. Li, and off we went.

No more than 40 minutes into the drive, we reached the winding roads leading North out of Kunming. Then, we hit a massive traffic in both directions. We sat in the car and waited for more than 1 hour in the hope that the blockage would be cleared. I was reading the old English newspapers that Chen had brought. After inching forward a bit more, the driver got out and went to see what the problem was. When he returned, he said that there was no chance of it to be cleared soon.

So, he decided to retreat back to Kunming and go by another way. This took another 45 minutes just to get going again, this time via a Tolled Highway. By about 1.30pm, we had not reached, and Mr. Chen decided to stop by a small village and grab some lunch. It was a simple meal. The public toilet was scary.

By about 3.30pm, we started to get into the Red Land Territory. We made our first stop at 3.45pm. There was a stone sign showing the scenic stops of Red Land for the tourists. Initial viewing was not good due to mist. But after a while, it started to get better. By 4.30 pm, we finally arrived into the Red Land heartland. We started our sightseeing in earnest and took photos of the amazing scenery. The landscape was rolling hills, with terraces cut and formed by many generations of farmers. Then as each terrace was planted by different crops and with different levels of maturity, each terrace patch was a different colour to the next patch. The harvested patches showed the maroon coloured soils clearly to contrast with the various shades of green and yellows. The result was a stunning mix of geometric designs and colours!

After a while, Mr. Chen realised that we should be seeing the view elsewhere. We back-tracked to Lou Xia Gou, which was a valley noted for its sunset views. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day, and it was impossible to see any sun, let alone the sunset. Nonetheless, the views of the valley, the surrounding hills and the colours were breathtaking. Mr. Chen mentioned that the viewing in the previous week by another Group from Malaysia was far worse. We enjoyed the views and took as many photographs as the prevailing light allowed.

Then, as the light faded, we had to move on to get to the local Guest House. In fact, a short while later, the Innkeeper telephoned Mr. Chen to ask when we would be arriving. The weather had turned much colder. The elevation of the area was about 4,500 feet above sea-level.

After 15 minutes, we arrived at the Guest House, and a slim woman who was the Innkeeper showed us to our rooms. The room was very basic with 2 single beds, electrical heating of the sheets, and a small TV sitting on a simple cabinet. The TV just showed local Chinese channels. The bathroom had a hot shower, and its heating was provided by the use of intense lights. It was fitted with a simple squat bowl. Anita decided not to bathe that evening, while I did a quick shower. It was certainly cold, but I felt refreshed by the shower.

Suddenly, the lady came over to our block and called us out for dinner. It was just 6.45 pm. So, together with Mr. Chen and Mr. Li, we went over to the main block and sat down to dinner. The Innkeeper offered us a glass each of local rice wine, added with bee pollen. The yellow coloured wine was most welcome, as it helped us warm up. The dinner comprised of stir-fried pork with vegetables, egg in a tomato sauce, and a soup. It was nice and we enjoyed it. The Innkeeper and her helpers were eating their dinner at an adjoining table. They were enjoying a steaming wok of local vegetables boiling in a spicy Szechuan soup. She invited us to join in and we did. The hot spicy soup was indeed most welcome in the cold weather. Anita enjoyed the local rice wine so much that she decided to ‘take-away” some for our next 2 nights. So, we packed 7 more glasses into our glass bottle at RMB10 per glass. I had more of that wine that night.

By 8.00 pm, we were done and headed back to our block. Our friends decided to play poker with the Innkeeper. I surfed the Internet for a while. Anita decided to snuggle into bed by 9.00pm, and aided by the wine, fell asleep quickly. The temperature in the room fell to 9.7 degrees that night, as recorded by my Pro-Trek watch. After a few wines, I too went to sleep. The Innkeeper was to call us, if the weather was good the next morning, so that we could watch the sunrise views.

We woke up by ourselves at 7.00am to a really misty morning, without the Innkeeper’s call. We had porridge for breakfast and then started our sightseeing. Mr. Chen suggested that we go uphill first. At the first stop, we could see nothing in the heavy mist. I told him that it would be better that we go downhill as it was more likely to be clear. This was from my Fraser’s Hill experience. And I was right! Soon after we passed our Guesthouse, we came to the spot called “Music Score Concave”. It was very beautiful. Then, we went further down to Kilometre 109, where we viewed the country road winding down between the colourful fields. Mr. Chen then decided to take us trekking through the village houses and into the fields for some nice views. We came to a clump of pine trees. Tree cutting was forbidden these days, in order to address environmental concerns.

At about 9.50 am, we decided that it had cleared up sufficiently for us to try the uphill sights. So, we packed into the Passat again, and headed up. We reached the “Beautiful Garden” spot quickly, and found that 8 photographers had taken up positions with their professional cameras and tripods. The sun was also starting to peek out between the clouds, as the strong wind pushed the heavy clouds away from Red Land. It was hopefully going to get better as we went on.

Then, we went further uphill to 3 other spots to enjoy the special features and views they offered. The furthest place was “Da Ma Kan”, where we were perched on a vantage point peering down onto the village and the terraces. The sun started shining through the clouds in broader patches and more frequently, by now. It was brighter and better pictures were obtained. Having had our fill, we returned to the guest house at 12 noon to pack up and check-out. It was easy as we only brought our one day’s change of clothes and pyjamas. The friendly Innkeeper gave a chicken to Mr. Chen.

We said our goodbyes to her and left. As we drove down the winding roads, we stopped at a few more spots to take more photographs. After a while, the landscape became less hilly, and the farms and crops took a different appearance. We were leaving behind the Red Lands. The valleys opened up and became more populated. At 12.45 pm we reached a small town, called “Cow’s Town”. We stopped for lunch, and certainly the menu was led by mostly beef dishes. It was another lovely meal. Then we went drove on, and found that much of this road was being repaved and straightened. It would be easier travel in future. We finally reached our hotel in Kunming at 6.00pm 20th November 2010. The Red Land was an amazing experience for us both, and the scenery would remain potent in my minds for a long while!! It is a highly recommended destination!!!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

'X' marks the province - 13 more Thai provinces to cover...

Did a count of the provinces of Thailand visited so far ... and realised I have only 13 left to visit, out of the total 76 provinces. Will try to finish-up by end 2011... Have marked an 'X' on each of the 13 provinces in the map below ... (click on map to enlarge)