What was going to be a quick detour out of SE Asia into Yunnan Province to trek Tiger Leaping Gorge has turned into a month long trip. It's the first country since Indonesia that has really got under my skin (well I could have stayed in Penang eating food for a bit longer I suspect!), and I am almost kicking myself for taking 20 years to return to this fascinating country.
But 20 years ago it was a vastly different place, where travel was restricted, you had to stay in hotels designated for foreign visitors, and there was a two tiered monetary system. Travel on buses and trains was also 3-4 times the price that locals paid, and you were continuously being looked at, touched and having your personal space violated. I remember that sense of relief when mum and I returned to Hong Kong after a month of being fish in a fishbowl. In retrospect I realise we were somewhat traumatised by the experience.
Even without speaking or reading the language it's easy to find your way, once armed with a Lonely Planet or equivalent guidebook that is! My few days without one wasn't pleasant! Usually you can find an English speaking person somewhere (top tip: try a five star hotel reception desk) who can help you out. The people have seen enough foreigners, even if only on satellite TV, not to treat you like a zoo exhibit, yet are still very friendly. In fact yesterday I had a small girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, stop me in the street to say hello to me and tell me her name. Super cute!!
I'm now heading south into Laos, unsure what the internet service is like there so it may be a while till the next post. All I can say is it won't be 20 years till my next visit to China, and mum, we're going to Taipei next year OK?