02 September 2010

The End of China (abridged version)

Since I'm so far behind, and I've been writing about China for what feels like months now, I’m going to skim over the last couple of weeks of our time in China, I’m feeling quite lazy.


The overriding memory of our last couple of weeks in China was of bus journeys.  Long ones.  We’d made it to Kunming on a sleeper train.  Nice city, it’s high altitude also meant it was not too humid.  And they had a massive statue of Optimus Prime, and I bought a rubik’s cude, which I’m still trying to solve (we had some around out house when I was very young, and I can only remember peeling and re-sticking the squares to solve it; am determined not to do that this time and avoid using the internet to solve it as well).  I found a can of beer that said around the top of it, "Special edition in support of the US army", and the slogan "Yes We Can" near the bottom.  Which I thought was strange for China.  And I had a can of pineapple beer, nice, but not really like beer.  Even weaker than your average Chinese beer.

We headed off to Dali (above) after Kunming, and arrived just in time for the Torch Festival.  Was quite a long bus journey, as large sections of the main highway (which had been open for less than 5 years) were closed for repairs.  At one point, to facilitate us getting to the slip-road quicker, the bus’s co-pilot was running in front of the bus moving cones and signs off to the side of the road.

Was a nice place, bit too plastic, in the way China likes to "renew" all it's main tourists sites.  We got to hire an electricbike for a day, which made getting around (and jousting) really easy.

After Dali, we seemed to spend the majority of our time on buses until we got into Luang Prabang in Laos.  A bus from Dali took us to Lincang (a place that the proprietor of the Dali hostel said no vistor to his hostel had gone there before).  We could see why when we got there, not much going on, plus most of the roads out of it were phantom roads, they appeared on maps as normal ones, but to traverse them was impossible as they had suffered from landslides etc, or hadn't really been built yet.

From Lincang we headed to a town on the border with Myanmar, but didn’t cross.  The village we visited used to be a head-hunter village, but they stopped dong that in 1957.  We were shown the place where the last head was hung.  It was around this time we realised that the rules had recently changed for HK passport holders, and they couldn't get a visa-on-arrival at the Laos border any more.  Shit.

Queue a mad dash back across the country to Kunming.  It was a horrible sleeper bus, we’d done one before, and I swore never again, but we had little or no option this time, and had to accept it.  We wanted to get to Luang Prabang by the 14th, as we were to meet Scott (former housemate from London) off the plane at the airport there.  The bed above our heads wasn't secured properly (otherwise known as broken), so it bounced up and down about a foot when we hit a serious bump in the road.  The occupants must have thought they were on a trampoline.

Luckily the Laos consulate in Kunming could process visas in just over an hour.  After another full day bus journey, we were in JingHong, only a couple of hundred km from the border (there was a sleeper bus that would have taken us from Kunming all the way to our destination, but I couldn't stomach it).  After splurging on a more-upmarket-than-we’ve-been-used-to hotel (£26, breakfast included) for the night, we got on a bus that would take us to the border.

The Chinese side of the border was the usual big official-looking building with queuing areas, passport checks, places to fill out forms, bag searches etc.  The Laos side was a hut with a tin roof, and a few lads scanning the passport quickly, and stamping them, no bag checks etc.  About 20km inside the border, the bus was turning off to head to Luang Namtha, so we jumped off at that point, as we wanted to go to Luang Prabang.  We could have continued on, and taken a bus from Luang Namtha to Luang Prabang, but that would have simply meant back-tracking, and we’d spent long enough on buses by that point.

After standing on the side of the road for nealy two hours, and watch tens of buses go past (all going to Namtha or the Chinese border for some reason), one finally stopped that was going our way.  The bus was jammed packed, and we got a plastic seat in the aisle.  After a couple of hundred metres, it became quite clear why so few vehicles went this way.  The condition of the roads immediately deteriorated, and we spent the next 10 hours bumping along at an average rate of maybe 20km/h.

Most buses prefer to go to Namtha, as the road there is much better, due to Chinese and Thais funding; they want a good road to connect south-west China with northern Thailand, and that’s the quickest route.  Whereas our route simply goes deeper into Laos, where neither of them find much economic interest.

We finally arrived, knackered, in Luang Prabang at 4am.


Niall said...

Time to read your travel guides man and do a littel internet searching! School boy error! Thats an awful long time on buses

Ada said...

Whats with the pork chop side burns!!?
Think you should get prepared for more bumpy rides in Laos!
Glad you're better now

Sokratees9 said...

Ada, pork chop sideburns 'cause I'm on holiday. In real life, I might need to remove them.

Laos was bumpy, very. But enjoyable. Trains and buses in Thailand and Cambodia haven't been anywhere near as bad.