Tiger Leaping Gorge: The not-so-solo, solo hike

The train ride from Dali 大理(Read about my time in Dali here) to Lijiang 丽江 is less than two hours. After arriving at Lijiang Railway Station, I took another crowded bus to the stop my next hostel advised me to find. I then called them and was told that someone would come shortly to pick me up. After waiting about 20 minutes, an old man walking with a bike came toward me and said the name of the hostel. I said yes and he told me to follow him.

We walked through some alleys and a main road and finally made it to Mama Naxi’s Hostel. The lady at the counter was very nice, and very pregnant. She could speak English well, so we alternated between Chinese and English. I told her that I wanted to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge 虎跳峡 tomorrow and stay there for 2 or 3 days. Their hostel arranges for a bus to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge and 6 others were already taking it, so I was added on. It cost 40 yuan ($6.00). She also had a map and explained the route to me and about how many hours each part should take.

Map from Mama Naxi


The next morning, I woke up at 6:30 am, the bus was leaving at 7:20 am. I prepared the things I thought I would need, leaving behind most of my clothes, computer, tent,  and sleeping bag. My bag was still pretty heavy after all that. I had a lot of snacks and water.

All the people who would take the bus met at the front of the hostel. We walked for about 15 minutes to the place where the bus came.

After the bus filled up with us from the hostel and others who came from somewhere else, the driver got on and we were off. The drive was a little anxiety inducing. I’m not sure if he was more crazy than the average Chinese taxi driver, but it seemed worse because we were on curvy mountain roads. He took a couple turns way too fast, and would constantly pass people right before a  bend, so there was no way to see if there was a car coming in the other direction.

The bus ride to Tiger Leaping Gorge

Research online and the lady at the hostel told me that to do the full Tiger Leaping Gorge hike, I had to start in a place called Qiaotou 桥头. Most people apparently go past that and down the lower road, straight to the big tourist area where you can see the water rushing past from the Yangtze river. I assumed at least a couple people on this bus would get off at Qiaotou as well.

After a couple hours, we got to a town by the river. A man and woman came on asking us to purchase tickets to the Gorge. it was 65 yuan each. I asked the driver if we were near Qiaotou yet, making sure he wouldn’t just drive all the way to the tourist area. He said it’s coming up very soon. After only about 3 minutes of driving he turned around, smiled and said this was where I wanted to start the hike. I looked around to see if anyone else was getting off, it seems i’m the only one.

The entrance

There was a sign across the road that said “Tiger Leaping Gorge Hiking High Way Thus Into”. Seems like the place to go. I began walking up, the sun was hot, but I was feeling good. A nice old local woman smiled really big and said hello to me.

The beginning part of the hike

After about half an hour walking up, I came to another old lady, who had a small stand and was selling things. She said I should buy some water and fruit. She was nice so I bought a banana and water.

This seemed like the real beginning of the trail, this is also where I realized this was going to be a tough hike. The path was completely up this steep mountainside hill. I had to take a break every 5 minutes. It was hot, my bag was somewhat heavy, and it was just a lot of uphill climbing.

Another lady selling some drinks

After about 20 minutes of this climbing, I stopped again. There was a Chinese guy  who caught up to me. We exchanged hellos and he stopped. I wasn’t in the socializing mood because I was trying to catch my breath and too tired to try and speak Chinese. Since he stopped though, I tried making small talk and asked where he was from. He told me Dalian. What another damn coincidence. I told him that’s where I had been studying.

He seemed to want to stay with me while walking. I had to take a lot of breaks, and he seemed to never get tired. I told him a couple times he could go on ahead, I felt lame because I was holding him back. He told me he wanted to keep talking, otherwise he would be lonely and bored. The next hour consisted of me trying my best to keep up with him, trying to listen to his Chinese and be able to respond, and insisting he didn’t have to wait for me. He told me to call him Xiao Deng. He was a really enthusiastic guy. He said it’s okay if I needed help and that he liked helping people.

The character that is Xiao Deng

We  arrived at another old lady selling things along the path, this time there were a few foreigners there as well. There was a British guy who offered me a hit of his weed, it sounded nice but I didn’t think it would help me hike better. I declined, and then noticed the lady had a giant basket of marijuana for sale. I asked Xiao Deng if it was legal to sell that. He told me no and the lady said in Chinese “The police can’t climb the mountain so it’s okay.” I translated it into English for the foreigners and we all laughed.

One of the small stands set up on the hike up Tiger Leaping Gorge. They sold Marijuana, called Dama 大麻 in Chinese

I heard the American accent from the guy and girl standing nearby. I asked if they’re from the US and we began talking. They are both English teachers from Shenyang, which is in the same province as Dalian. Another coincidence. We all began walking together, the two Americans, Xiao Deng, and I.

It was a relief to see that my new American friends needed a break just as much as I did. We were all breathing heavy and sweating, except for Xiao Deng, that guy never ran out of energy. He was basically running while we were slowly climbing, taking breaks every few minutes.

People who paid to ride horses up the mountain

It  was nice to have a conversation with fellow Americans. There are some things that other people just don’t understand. I could make all the puns, jokes, and political comments I wanted without worrying they wouldn’t understand. I didn’t realize I was missing this a little. It was also nice to find out these guys had similar stances on a lot of subjects, so we got a long pretty well.

From left to right: Me, Kara, Xiao Deng, Gabe

Our first major stop was at Naxi Family guesthouse. We all shared some lunch there, enjoying the break.

We headed back onto the trail toward the dreaded “28 bends”. It felt like we had already been through 100 bends. It was hard to tell where the bends began or ended, they were tough. After looking at everyone else’s bag, I realized that maybe I still brought too much.  I was just cautious with a lot of snacks and emergency items, because I planned to be alone for this. I also didn’t expect all these old people selling food and water along the way.

The shoes I wore through this hike are not hiking shoes. These are the shoes I’ve had through my whole trip in China. Though, they are pretty damn comfortable and have served me well.

Sometimes there were cows hiking with us too

After a couple hours through the beautiful, yet tiring 28 bends, we made it to Tea Horse Guest House. There, we met with the third English teacher that had separated from the other two. We actually forgot to ask each other’s names for a while. Kara, Gabe, Cassidy, Xiao Deng, and I set off to make it to our final stop for the day, Half Way Hostel.

The Tea horse Guest House. It had just finished raining when we got there.

Even though we had another two hours or so, the hike is gorgeous. There are so many chances to see some breathtaking views of the mountains, the sky and clouds, the river below, and waterfalls here and there.

View down from Tiger Leaping Gorge
Another view of the Yangtze River
The first rainbow siting
The second rainbow siting

We  finally arrived at Half Way Hostel around 6 pm or so. We passed a couple other hostels nearby, they seemed to not have many guests, if any at all. I felt kind of bad.

Half Way Hostel has a deck with a beautiful view. The room has a large window which looks out onto the mountains with all the clouds surrounding. The best part is it’s only 40 yuan($6.00) a night.

Laying in bed at the Half Way Hostel, looking out the window

They have a huge menu and dinner was delicious. We joined the British couple from earlier, smoked some of that special plant that the mountain people sold, and played cards. We were on top of the mountains and it was an awesome night.

Half Way Hostel

Kara, Gabe, and Cassidy had also planned to stay in the mountains for two nights. They actually had a train back to Kunming from Lijiang on the same day as me, and a flight out of Kunming the same day and almost the exact same time I had a flight out of Kunming. For the next day, we all decided we would stay at the hostel again. It was just that perfect and we were all tired from the previous day’s hike.

One of the scenic bathrooms at Half Way hostel

In  the morning, Xiao Deng had left early before the rest of us had really woken up. We did contact each other on Wechat later on. After we got up, we had pancakes for breakfast. They weren’t exactly as good as the pancakes you could get in the US, but they were still pretty damn good.

Banana nut and banana chocolate pancakes

After a bit of relaxing and enjoying the morning view, we decided to take a small hike higher up the mountain using another path. After first going the wrong way and running into a vicious dog, who was thankfully tied up, we found the right direction that the guy at the hostel told us would lead up to the top. We made it to what was pretty much the very top of that part of the mountain and witnessed more gorgeous views.

Looking at the view from the top of the mountain

We  continued on to another trail. I was leading the group, and there was one part that was very muddy to the right, and a thinner part closer to the plants on the left. Thinking nothing of it, I went to over to the left side and brushed up against one of the plants. I instantly felt a horrible pain in my arm where it had touched the plant. At first I thought it was a thorn bush, but it felt different. It was much more painful and was burning. I told them about the pain, and we took pictures of the plant.

We kept walking and arrived at an interesting waterfall. The pain in my arm was still pretty bad. I looked down to the spot where the plant brushed and noticed there were now large bumps all over. It freaked me out and I showed the others. We decided it would be best to go back to the hostel.

The evil plant that got me

I was thinking about all the strange plants I had read about before. Ones that can eat through your skin, poison you, all kinds of crazy things.

After we got back to the hostel, I asked the guy working there about it. He told me that it would be okay and should go away in a few hours. I was extremely relieved to hear this. He told me that I just needed to wash it with shampoo. After washing it, Kara said she had some tiger balm that I could use. I put it on top of the painful lumps.

The rest of the day, we played cards, a dice game called 10,000, drank beers, and relaxed. We also had another good dinner cooked by the awesome staff. There was a black puppy that would go around in the hopes someone would drop some food.  Later that evening a large group of Chinese and Korean tourists with a lot of children came and it became quite noisy. We were lucky to have the night before with only a few others.

Cassidy and Kara, serious faces while playing cards
View from the deck of Half Way house

The next morning, we had some breakfast and set off toward the last stop, which would be Tina’s Guesthouse.  Shortly after starting off, we noticed the small black puppy from the hostel following us, sometimes leading the way.

The black puppy leading the way

He  followed us for almost an hour, through the waterfalls and rocky paths, until we came upon a large group of goats. The puppy began barking at them and the goats looked pissed. I was in front and hoped they wouldn’t charge at us. Instead, the main goat charged at the puppy with it’s horns. The puppy continued to stand it’s ground as the anxious goats watched intensely. We took this moment to walk by them, thankfully they seemed to only be worried about non-human threats. I felt bad for the dog though, hopefully he’d be okay.

The black puppy getting headbutt by a goat
One of the many waterfalls you must pass through on the hike


After some more awesome views, waterfalls, rocky ledges, and steep climbs, we made it to a hillside where you could see buildings and a road down below. We made it to Tina’s in under two hours. After a little while hanging around there, we also saw the black puppy somehow made it as well. I was glad to see he was okay.

The bus ride back to Lijiang, was a little nerve-wracking at times. There was another guy across from me who held the seat in front of him until his knuckles turned white. We drove down the narrow mountain bends, with no guard rails, another reckless driver at the helm.

It took about 3 hours to get back to Lijiang, to the public transport bus station. Afterwards, I said goodbye to my new friends and we parted ways. They headed to their hostel, and I to mine. I usually enjoy my alone time when traveling, but I actually had a really great time with them and was a little sad to say goodbye.

My solo hike up Tiger Leaping Gorge turned out to be no-so-solo. I was okay with that.


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