In April 2011, I spent a week and a half backpacking in Yunnan Province, China, checking out the famous cities of Lijiang and Shangri-la. Yunnan was beautiful, and it’s not hard to see why so many tourists, both foreign and Chinese, travel to Yunnan for sightseeing.
One would think, though, that with so many tourists there would be a more centrally coordinated tourism industry in Yunnan. (I guess this applies to China as a whole, but I’ve noticed this infinitely more in Yunnan.) If there was one, I never managed to discover it. My time in Yunnan had been riddled with haggling with van drivers over the cost of getting from Point A to Point B, hidden extra fees at random checkpoints at sightseeing locations, and other not-exactly-above-board procedures.
When I went to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, I experienced all of these and more. After I got dropped off by a bus at the gorge’s entrance, I was immediately approached by two people who offered to take me to the middle section of the gorge, where there were hiking trails and guesthouses to stay overnight in. These private vans provided the only way to get anywhere in the gorge, and of course there was no standard price, so I had to bargain my way to a fair price.
Once I reached the trail, I was charged for using it as it was apparently privately maintained by a family who resided in the gorge. When I had hiked down the trail, I was charged yet again for using the returning portion of the trail–which was allegedly maintained by a different family!
The bus I took to leave Tiger Leaping Gorge was also fairly sketchy, and I was overcharged by 5RMB. But by that point I was so glad to be off that cramped, sweaty, smoky, fly-infested bus that I didn’t care.
The lesson I took away from my time at Tiger Leaping Gorge: traveling in China is generally cheap, but shoestring budgets will be hard to follow. So many make their living using not-exactly-above-board methods.