Yunnan folk

 Yunnan folk

Lijiang rooftops at dusk

Our last week or so has been spent in China’s Yunnan province, a place consisting of mountains, villages and numerous Chinese ethnic minority groups. We made Lijiang, with its cobbled streets, fresh water streams, red lanterns and hordes of local tourists our base for exploring the more remote parts of the region and stayed at the wonderful Panba Guesthouse. We had a fascinating time in Yunnan and met some interesting folk and some real characters. Let me introduce you to a few:

Lijiang weaver

 Yunnan folk

Me and the scarf weaver in Lijiang

This fellow, whose name I didn’t catch, spends his days working the loom to make scarves that sit piled and neatly folded against one side of his ramshackle little shop located in a narrow street of Lijiang old town. With a cigarette constantly hanging from his lip, his wife and kid looking on from somewhere out the back and a steady stream of mates dropping by to play cards we figured he had it pretty sorted. His scarves were well funky and we couldn’t avoid weighing down our packs with a few samples to bring home.

Dr Ho

 Yunnan folk
Dr Ho in his surgery

Dr Ho is a Chinese doctor who is world renowned for his healing powers. We met him in the tiny village Baisha, a bike ride outside of Lijiang. Western universities have certified that his therapies have had success in healing cancers like leukaemia and prostate cancer. He requires only the payment you can provide.

He called us in from the street, as he apparently does with all visitors to the town, to give us some tea and show us the press coverage that he has achieved, which is pretty impressive. NY Times articles, mentions in guide books Michael Palin has filmed him, but most impressive he has met Andrew Daddo!

Mosu woman

 Yunnan folk

Female Mosu rower

We met this lady as she skippered and directed our little row boat to the Liwubi Dao island of Lugu Hu (Lugu Lake). The two blokes you can see below were also on the boat, but, given they were all Mosu, there was no doubt given she was in charge.

 Yunnan folk
Mosu men

The Mosu people, an ethnic minority that live around Lugu Lake, are believed to be the last society on the planet to live under matriarchal rule. The rules governing the matriarchal society mean that the local people never marry, but instead remain living in their maternal family homes and take many lovers throughout their life.

From around the age of 13, Mosu girls enter adulthood and are given their own room in the family home. Within this room they invite men back to share the night, but when the morning comes the blokes return to their mother’s home to help run the household and look after the children of their sisters. Likewise their own children are not their responsibility, but rather are looked after by their girlfriend’s brothers.
In addition to calling the shots when it comes to the hanky panky, Mosu homes are passed down the maternal line and all the big family decisions are approved by the family chief matriarch.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Mosu go here


 Yunnan folk

Elizabeth and Tommy trekking in Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tommy pictured here with Elizabeth is an enormous Danish gent we met whilst hiking the spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge. Along with his travel buddy Meriem from France we spent the middle night of our Tiger Leaping Gorge trek at the basic, but blissfully empty Five Fingers guesthouse. An absolute hoot he had us laughing away our sore legs and altitude sickness throughout the night and into the next morning.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge where we met Tommy is one of the world’s deepest gorges and is home to a series of fast flowing rapids. The hike took about a day and a half through some sometimes incredibly steep and rocky terrain. The elevation made the going all the more hot and hard going – if our puffing and panting is anything to go on we need to renew our gym memberships ASAP upon our Sydney return.

Mr Altitude

 Yunnan folk

Local people working the prayer wheel in Shangri-La

Talking of elevation, after Tiger Leaping Gorge we headed north to the town of Shangri-la (also known as Zhongdian). At 3,200 metres above sea level, Elizabeth became well acquainted with our old friend Mr Altitude who loves to turn up with liberal doses of throbbing headaches and blurry vision. A visit to a Chinese medicine pharmacy with accompanying charades soon found a way to send him on his way.

Once acclimatised we were able to take in the sights of the principally Tibetan town including a turn on the extraordinary prayer wheel (the largest in China) and chow down a yak burger or two.

Where next?

I am writing this post sitting in the airport at Kunming after a night travelling from Lijiang by sleeper bus. Once our delayed flight finally boards we will be on our way to the picturesque towns of Guilin and Yangshuo to ride bikes around rice fields, watch boats gliding along the river and plenty else.

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  • kim at allconsuming

    DUDE – those pictures are amazing – that gorge, WOW.

    And YAY for you with the Lonely Planet!

  • joshua samuel brown

    Brilliant photos, and fine writing as well. I'm blessed in that I've not only been able to live in Yunnan province and travel to the places you've written about, but to have written about them myself for Lonely Planet. Visiting your blog has brought back memories. Hope you also enjoyed Yangshuo.

  • matthewgain

    Kim – thank you very much. Look forward to seeing you soon.

    Joshua – very kind thank you very much. I have looked at your blog and enjoyed it very much. Humbled that you write for Lonely Planet and you like my writing and photography.

  • http://LonelyPlanet David Thomson

    Hey Matthew. Magic stuff mate. I am South African (Durban) & backpacked thru Lijiang etc, meeting Dr Ho (amazing he's still looks the same!) in 1989- just after the Tianenman square 'incident'. Brings back great memories. Want to take my son there one day. But man I can't believe the 'progress' tney have made. There were hardly any skyscrapers back then & now look at those cities…..But the plumbing in the rural areas is still the same! Thanks.