FROM VIETNAM TO CHINA: ETHNIC PEOPLE OF THE BORDER
Tashi Lamasang and China
Before we discuss the individual days in China with Tashi Lamasang, we should briefly mention the accommodations. Below I will list the hotels we used during the 11 full days in Yunnan Province of China. Please check on TripAdvisor for a comprehensive list of comments and observations. Especially in 2012.
1. Huaqing Hotel - Jianshui, China - scheduled but quickly moved.
2. Fairyland Hotel - Jianshui, China - 3 nights - where we moved from above.
3. Grand Park Kunming - Kunming, China - 1 Night
4. Dali Gurong - Dali, China - 1 Night
5. Zen Garden Hotel - Lijiang, China - 2 nights
6. Gyalthang Dzong Hotel - Gyalthang, China - 4 nights - Read carefully, awful!
It appeared to us that Tashi was selecting the location for our meals. Usually it is the Tour Company that contracts with restaurants. In China we were scheduled to have all meals provided with the exception of the last day. From the first day our lunches were all in what is in the West normally referred to as "a hole in the wall."
All the restaurants were either a 1 or 2 star on a scale of 1-5. None of these restaurants were used by tour buses; we usually passed those and went to others. All were smoky, floors were dirty and many had black flies on the tables and floors.
The food was usually pork dishes, with a few just vegetables as we had a vegetarian with us. But in retrospect, most tasted the same no matter the town or time of day.
Breakfast was usually provided by the hotels. All were quite good and very positive. At the Fairyland there was no breakfast and Tashi worked very hard to provide breakfast to the group. Dinners were usually 2 or 3 and after the first night, we had private rooms without cigarette smoke. The best meals were the two in Gyalthang when we went to Tara's Cafe - at least a 4 star.
As to the evaluation of our TG - Tashi Lamasang - the first few days we were with Tashi, from his meeting us outside of customs and immigration on the border with Vietnam and China through our stay in Jianshui, the four of us agreed that he looked to be a special guide. He was decisive, a great problem solver, and seemed more sincere, was more laid back, and less excitable in contrast to Coung's bravado.
On the drive from the border to Jianshui he briefed us in some depth, explaining our upcoming schedule, the route we would take, where we would stay and what we would be doing for the next couple of days. He answered our questions about his background, his role with Uttara Crees and the travel company, his family and his work with Pang Ga, our driver.
In those early days of our China trip we felt that each place we went, Tashi knew many of the people and seemed to have a good working relationship with all of the people in the hotels, restaurants, and the sites we visited.
As we drove north and to Kunming we were pleased that Tashi remembered our initial comment about keeping busy and not having excessive free time, he added two extra sites to our itinerary. We visited the Swallow Nest Cave and the Dinosaur World. Both were rather touristy but we enjoyed them very much as they were places we had not seen at home or in our other travels.
As we traveled from Kunming to Dali and then to Lijiang, we four commented to each other that Tashi seemed to be distracted. We approached him and asked if we had done something wrong? Tashi assured us that all was fine. But the closer we got to Shagri-La, the more distracted he became.
He had told us earlier that he had a new handicraft business in Gyalthang in conjunction with Uttara. The interruptions became more numerous as he dealt with his personal business communications on his very private cell phone or his more public Galaxy Tab (iPad like device).
Our interactive time became shorter and shorter by the time we got to Lijiang. Our activity days often finished by 3:00PM. We never started before 9:00 in the morning, making those six-hour days. We suggested a change in the morning departure to 8 or 8:30 and he said no.
When compared with the generosity of Cuong, we saw none of that from Tashi. There were no extra sodas in the afternoon or new food experiences to try. We bought 9 lbs of tangerines and Duane and we bought nuts and shared them with the whole group. Tashi bought oranges but did not share them, instead took them to Shangri-La as he did the coffee, rice wine, and other purchases made during the trip.
Lastly, one must comment on the itinerary. The trip title states - From Vietnam to China - Ethnic People of the Border. The Tour Guide's responsibility is to take the group to the people and then facilitate the interaction. Without any doubt, we saw, met, shared, and interacted with the ethnic people of Vietnam.
In China this was not the case, we saw them in the cities, meeting only when we asked for pictures. We went to one home, completely contrived as we learned the next day that other groups were also going there on a regular basis. In Vietnam, Cuong made it his mission to introduce us to the people and then to share tea, meals, and question and answer time. This was never the case in China.
From our experiences during our first four days with Tashi, he could have been an outstanding guide, but his lack of interest after those first days, made us wonder if he had more important things on his mind than working with us. That was a disappointment and colored our previous image of China from two earlier trips.