From Kunming to Xishuanbanna and back

Updated: 4 days ago


China – a vast country with such an ancient history and culture. With a cuisine that is well-known in all parts of the world and with one of the most famous structures ever built – the Great Wall of China, it is undoubtedly one of those countries that is on most people’s checklists. And it’s not without reason.

The Great Wall of China – the very image of China

In the very south of China you find Yunnan, a province roughly the size of Sweden. The region is a biodiversity hotspot, with huge contrasts in both landscape and climate – there is everything from high snowy mountains to lowland tropical rainforests. It is also home to many ethnic minorities, and is therefore also very culturally diverse. Because of this Yunnan is seen as exotic and is heavily visited by tourists from other parts of China. International tourists are however, still rare.

Many people come to Yunnan for the beautiful nature of the region

Through a biology course at Uppsala University, called “Biodiversity and Ecology in Yunnan”, I got the chance to travel around in this incredible part of China. We had a three-week long field trip where we carried out three group projects. The first one was focused on finding and identifying species of a chosen organism group (birds for my group), the second one a small ecological study and the third one about man and nature, in the form of interviews with locals. For this we got help by some lovely Chinese students from Yunnan University in Kunming.

Kunming is known as “the city of eternal spring”. When arriving there in mid February the magnolias were already in full bloom – in Lund you have to wait until late April or May.

On the 13th of February our trip started there, in Kunming, the province capital of Yunnan. We then travelled south through the famous Pu’er tea district to Xishuanbanna – almost as far south as you can get in China. We eventually left the tropical rainforests of Xishuanbanna for the colder but equally beautiful mountains of Gaoligongshan and Dali in the northwest before going back to Kunming.

The beautiful Buddhist temple area of Dali

During the trip one of our teachers had a favourite expression – “This Is China” or “TIC”. This expression was very useful for explaining a great variety of phenomena and happenings you may experience in this diverse and extremely interesting country. Like “Why can’t you poo in the toilet in this restaurant?” – "TIC". “Why are strangers taking pictures of me?” – "TIC". Or “Why do people here love durian??” – "TIC". And the list goes on.

"TIC" – we spotted a lot of funny signs in Yunnan

Most things with the trip were incredible though. Like the food – it was just truly amazing!! From the very first night I realised the international interpretation of Chinese food has very little to do with the real deal. You just can’t compare it to the Chinese food in actual China! And there’s a whole experience to it as well – and this is not because of the chopsticks! I put so many things in my mouth not knowing what it was. And so many things I did not know you could eat. Like lotus – such a beautiful flower yet so delicious fried with garlic and ginger! Bubble milk tea and hot pots are other things that must be experienced, along with basically EVERYTHING ELSE. And there’s a great variety depending of the different Chinese regions. When I came home, already missing the Chinese noodle breakfasts and the amazing stir fries, I did some Googling and luckily found some of the recipes we were served. (If you are curious you can find some here).

Eating at restaurants was an experience. We ordered a lot of delicious dishes and shared them on a spinning table – green tea was always served!

So, although my camera unfortunately broke down halfway into the field trip it was still the most marvellous experience! The whole class became a quite close-knit group and I feel it gave us another perspective on the country having the Chinese students with us throughout the field course. We were travelling around in Yunnan for almost 3 weeks and also had the opportunity to spend a few days in Beijing and to see the Great Wall at the end – yet I feel I have barely seen much of this enormous country. I feel I have to go back – and not because my camera gave up on me. It was just an amazing country!

Conclusively, a summary of the trip in numbers:

Number of larvae eaten: 1

Number of bird species seen: 159

Number of random strangers taking pictures of me: unknown

Brown-breasted bulbul – one of 159 bird species spotted during the field trip

I will hear from you again soon enough, with a recap of my time here in Greece! In the meantime – dream a bit more about China!

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