You must be an Idiot abroad to visit the Dwarf Empire and we were….
I’m sure most people have watched Karl Pilkington in action, when he visited the Dwarf Empire near Kunming, on the TV Series An Idiot Abroad. When we arrived at the hostel there was an advertisement for the Dwarf Empire. As we had seen Karl in action there it seemed pretty quirky, so thought let’s do it. If nothing else it’ll give us a break from everyone staring at us.
Well the driver turned up at Gerry and Deb’s hotel and had their name written down as Dert, which of course is nothing like their name. They wrote their name down and after a few phone calls later back and forward to the hostel between the driver and the hostel staff the driver said he couldn’t find them and returned to our hostel.
The driver turned up and we left to pick up Gerry and Deb. He was an arrogant S.O.B, who wouldn’t speak a word of English and obviously didn’t know his way around because he kept on turning the wrong up one way streets and then muttering away. After we picked up Gerry and Deb he even turned into a parking lot.lol
The trip out to the Dwarf Empire was quite nice as we travelled around the west side of Dianchi Pool, a massive lake on the edge of Kunming. The countryside was very much the same with big areas of industry, lots of new construction, and heaps of old houses and buildings being torn down. The road up to the entry is covered with huge new posters for “The World Ecological Garden of Butterfly” so we thought this may be ok.
As we climbed out of the van we noticed winged female statues in various stages of disrobement on Greek style columns. We were trying to work out whether they got them cheap, or they were left over from somewhere else.
They weren’t shy when they demanded ¥100 entry fee and another ¥10 for the electric car up the hill. We passed on the electric car and walked which wasn’t very far. The 1050 show had just commenced when we arrived and all the performers were on the steps which spread out across the hill below the Doctor Zeus style village. They were dressed in all different sorts of costumes in readiness for the show, the big gala opening. The individual performers came next with a 3 dwarfs dressed in gold one as a king and two as knights.They came on smiled and waved then the VoiceOver came across in Chinese for about 5 minutes, they waved again and left. (I thought to myself you’ve got to be kidding me) A diva came on in a red shimmering dress and sang a tune in Chinese but despite her best efforts just couldn’t hit the high notes, she was followed by a guy who sang in tune every now and then. Believe it or not even though they were worse than that woman singing “Mariah Carey’s Can Lieb” on Bulgarian Idol, they were the most convincing performers.
After them came a group of fairies (that weren’t dwarfs but local kids) that looked and danced like the local preschool production, and then a ring in who was actually a chain smoking kid got up singing. A small group of dwarf women then hit the stage doing the lamest act with fairy wands and wings with the minimal dance moves. Basically a bunch of women waving wands and I’ve seen more convincing drag show acts.
We clapped out of politeness while checking our watches and wondering how much longer we had to put up with this. It was absolutely awful, but when they trotted out the bull with a pair of legs sticking out of his back we knew we’d had enough. I don’t know what we were expecting but I know it wasn’t this. It may also explain why there were only 14 people there including us suckers. The words I’d said about the Chinese loving their freak shows had come back to bite me on the butt.
We had a look around and found a globe of death (two motorcyclists in the same cage) no one working today. the only place that didn’t look deserted was the overstocked gift shop.
The back of the place was a construction zone with all sorts of material just left including a small front end loader. Further along was a area where they’d propped up some huge tree trunks about thirty foot long and one guy was stripping bark while the rest were spray painting them green from scaffolding. There were dodgem style cars, which weren’t working and a heap of all different dinosaurs which were animated, (well their tails moved and the T-Rex’s little hands clenched and unclenched). Dinosaur roars floating across from the speakers as some workmen were installing a barbed wire fence (maybe to stop the kids from getting hurt).
Did I say this was the absolute worst theme park or attraction…… Well as we left we were directed to “The World Ecological Garden of Butterfly”. The enclosure had two butterflies flying around inside the enclosure. (I’d be telling a long story if I said there were three)
It was a fair sized garden which had a heap of pot plants buried in rows in the ground. But no shrubs or trees and no cover for the butterfly’s. There were butterfly’s on the screen walls but as I got closer I realised they were stuck on.
I’ll tell you I’d have had a better time filing my toenails with a 7 inch grinder.
After travelling all this way and parting with our hard earned to visit such a woeful place we decided we’d try and salvage the day with a trip to Dragons Gate Temple.
Dragons Gate Temple sits high on the hill overlooking the western side of Dianchi Pool and Kunming. The van dropped us off at the green bus stop at the bottom of the hill, we paid ¥50 each person and were glad to be rid of him.
The green bus to Dragon Gate Scenic area cost ¥25 return. We could’ve paid the all areas pass for ¥ 100 but it sounded like all the other cons they pull, so we decided to pay as we went. We boarded it and it roared off up the hill.
There were heaps of people walking up the winding hill but the driver didn’t care he just hammered around the corners scattering people and driving precariously close to the deep gutter on the edge of the road. The drivers radio was buzzing away with a highly excited voice and about half way up the hill we found out the reason, another green bus had broken down. The other passengers squeezed onto our bus and we just started up the hill when a number of them realised they’d left things on the other bus and another peanut had left his hat on a post, so we had to stop.
When we reached the Dragon Gate Scenic Area stop we had a look around but it was hard to get any pictures of the view from the viewing platform because of all the trees surrounding it and of course all the aerials on the roof of an adjacent building.
They hit us up for another ¥25 for the chairlift to the top and ¥40 for the Dragon Gate Scenic Area (talk about put the squeeze on for money).
The chairlift was the same set up as the caves yesterday with a chair and the pull down safety bar. It was a nice ride up the mountain with views of the lake and the city. When the sun came out the city and lake really shone.
When we reached the top three pathways led off. One to the very top of the mountain 1 km away, one to the scenic lookout also further up the hill and one down to the Dragons Gate Temple. The pathways were deadly slippery. They’d scored them pretty hard with a grinder to increase the tread, but the wear and tear of thousands of feet had worn the tops of the steps smooth as glass. To add to this the steps were steep and uneven so there was a fall waiting at every step. Deb fell at one stage sliding down the steps and was lucky not to seriously hurt herself and I slipped but was holding onto the handrail so only went to the length of my arms before pulling up. I only got a little blood blister out of it so I felt pretty lucky. During our trip down I saw another two people fall. Some people however didn’t dress appropriately for climbing up and down stairs. Lots of Chinese women were wearing stilettos, as if you didn’t know you were climbing a hill. What the ………?
There were heaps of stairs climbing down to Dragon Gate which included a tunnel carved into the rock with a viewing platform halfway down. The Temple was on the side of the cliff with a small walkway carved into the hillside. The Temple paid homage to three deities with statues to each and it was interesting seeing most of the Chinese not paying any respect to them. The only thing which seemed to impress them was touching the top of the gate carved in the rock with Chinese letters with meant Dragons Gate. We continued on along the small ledge to another temple where more deities and some locals happily taking souvenir photos.
Phoenix Rock was the next stop with a phoenix carved into the top of the overhang and a cave carved out inside by hand. Xiamin Spring with sweet water for cattle, but it actually looked really grubby, not even fit for a cow to drink. There were pavilions and temples all over the front of the hill with statues of deities and locals trying to sell you stuff or take your pictures.
Overall it was a nice walk down the hill but the temples seemed more of a tourist attraction than a place of worship. An electric car waited at the bottom to transport us back to the gate ¥8 where we reboarded the green bus for the trip back to the bottom of the hill. The bus stopped halfway down the hill at a bus stop adjacent a temple and heaps of old women boarded the bus making it absolutely chockablock.
When we arrived at the bottom of the hill it was like a scene from the Keystone Cops with all these women in puffy coats getting off the bus there seemed to be hundreds of them. We checked the back of the bus to see if they weren’t circling around and getting back on the back. Overall we’d saved ourselves a bus fare by not purchasing the ¥100 All Activities Pass, and try as hard as we could we just simply could not find the Ferris wheel ¥8 anywhere.
To get back to the city we decided to catch the local number 6 bus, but were unsure of where to catch the bus. There were a few local vans pulled up trying to score a fare and the drivers were badgering us to take them back to town. We started walking when a number 6 passed us and stopped just in front of their vans. Their vans were strategically parked to block the view of the bus stop. It wasn’t long before the next bus came along, we paid our 1 ¥ (all fares here are 1¥no matter the distance you travel) and soon we were heading off into the city (and relaxing a bit). The bus terminated at a bus station and we transferred to the number 54 taking it all the way back into the city near our hostel.(the hostel gave us a really good map with things to see around town, day trips, suggested tours around Yunnan, nightlife, food, transportation with Chinese translations for each place if you get lost all on the back of the map).
We decided to try out Shiping Huiguan restaurant, set in an old traditional two storey mansion with courtyards and separate dining areas which were quite intimate. The staff were all dressed in traditional costume which really went well with the setting. We were handed a menu on an iPad and unfortunately it was all in Chinese. There were some great looking things on the menu and some a little too Chinese for us, sea slug sounds as bad as it looks. There seemed to be a bit of a crisis with the language (not the first time today that happened) so they sent for the English speaking waitress, who promptly arrived and sorted out the order Chicken Soup, Beef with Mushroom (they should have called it Green Chilli with beef and mushroom), and Fried Rice. The waitress hit the “emergency get the English speaking waitress” button when I asked for two cokes. Luckily Michele interpreted for me to the English speaking waitress, who promptly berated the two Chinese only waitresses for laughing when they realised what I’d said and started joking about it. My simple answer was maybe it was lost in translation.lol
The chicken soup came in a big tureen and it was filled with chopped up chunks of chicken in a clear broth and there was heaps to go around. Overall the meal was pretty simple but really good and all up cost ¥350. (A bit pricey but great location)
As we were leaving a lady was dressed in a red local dress playing an instrument with more strings than a bank loan. She plucked away with her right hand and changed the tone by pressing down with her left hand on the string on the other side of the bridge. I think she must have been feeling the pressure with the four of us watching her as she broke a string and the performance suddenly came to a screaming halt while she repaired it.( Ian Moss wouldn’t have stopped, he’d have just thought no worries I’ve still got another 30 strings and played on)
We ended the evening with a walk around the lake where locals had just taken over and set up their own private rollerblade and roller-skate circuits complete with tiny cones and little kids just learning to skate with that stiff legged stance. There were also the show off bigger kids with the trick skating.
All around the park people were out running, walking with friends and walking dogs. It was a nice night, a little cool but nice enough, to walk around in a T-shirt. After a lap of the park we wished Gerry and Deb, Bon Voyage for the rest of their journey, hopefully we’ll catch up again in Beijing before we leave for Mongolia.