The colorful caves of Jiuxiang Scenic Area

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I boarded the bus to Yiliang County, about 90 km away from Kunming, to visit the famous Jiuxiang Scenic Region and its caves.

Once there, one highlight just followed another! It started with a boat trip in Yincui Gorge. Then the path would lead along the edges of massive rock formations to rivers, waterfalls, natural rock bridges, huge halls, terraces, and impressive stalactites. The passages exposed to daylight are naturally colorful. Once deep inside, artfully composed bright colored lights guide your imagination. Even the exit is very classy: a one kilometer cable car ride glides over the lush green surroundings. I hope my pictures express the magnificence of the place better than my words.

As quite often, I was on my own on this day trip. In general, China is a very safe country for all travellers. But I think, it’s even safer for me than for everybody else. I’ll explain in a moment.

I love company. It’s one of the big appeals of attending school in China. There I meet like-minded people, keen on venturing out and soaking in everything our new environment has to offer. Everyone, young and old, local and foreigner makes our experience unique. Now that my circle of friends in China has grown so much and spans many provinces, one of the most enjoyable things is to reconnect, be it just for a dinner or to spend a day or two. Twice good friends from Canada accompanied me for part of my trip. Once I had the great joy and honour to be part of two of my best friends’ wedding in a tiny village in Shanxi. Although I enjoy being with people, I usually don’t fancy tour groups. So, for the rest of the time, I’m just a happy solo traveller!

Being by yourself has a few disadvantages. It’s no fun hauling all your luggage to the washroom at a train station. Naturally, splitting accommodation and taxi or driver costs can stretch a tight budget much further. Eating out in a dining culture that’s all about sharing many dishes limits culinary experiences. And bouncing off a "wow, did you see this?" resonates much better than "wow, did I see this!"

Travelling unaccompanied usually draws attention. There’s the difference between the Chinese we-culture versus our I-culture. Being on your own, people are often inclined to find out more about you and approach you. You’ll quickly understand if somebody just wants to sell you something or is genuinely interested in you. A few of these random encounters turned into friendships, we stayed in touch on social media and -if we happen to be in the same town- we meet in person. Finally, solo also means the absence of incompatible personalities and expectations.

As soon as you are anywhere not listed under the top 10 must-sees in China, foreigners are rare. Everybody notices us; often people literally just stop and stare. For a long time, this made me feel quite uncomfortable. Until I questioned my own behavior: Why am I here? What am I doing? Because I want to see who they are, what they do, how they do things, how they dress, interact, and react, to see the differences and commonalities… Is pretending not to look really the opposite of staring? Once I realized that the result of our actions really is the same, I’m hardly bothered by the stares anymore. I just say to myself: "O, you are interested in me – so am I in you!"

Being noticed wherever I go and whatever I do also provides an additional layer of security. Why would a petty thief pick me as a victim when everybody is watching (over me)? If there was a dispute involving a foreigner, police can’t turn a blind eye. Being caught in a dishonest act also means "losing face", which has far reaching implications in Chinese culture. After spending so much time in China, I don’t give the false impression of a clueless foreign first-time tourist anymore. That's why I feel so safe by just using common sense and trusting my instincts.