Rural China


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March 12th 2008
Published: March 28th 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

Searching for the 643 bus in Kunming's long distance bus station was proving difficult but after showing several people our ticket we were pointed in the direction of an old tin can on wheels on the sad side of the station.

The windowless bus, air heavy with cigarette smoke and packed with locals gave the indication this was going to be a torturious seven hours. Feeling brave we perservered, together we rode the bumps, put up with the constant stares and dehydration the whole way to Yuanyang.

Having been told at the ticket office the bus terminates in the new town we were under the impression we had to get two buses, however when the bus got to the new town and no-one got off we decided to stay on and see where it took us. It seemed a lot easier to stay onboard than get off and look for another bus!

An hour up the mountain we second guessed our arrival partly because there wasn't anywhere else to drive to. We got off the bus and headed straight for the new Yunti Shi Hotel perched on the edge of the hillside and checked in.

Having not eaten or drank anything all day we made a beeline for the onsite restaurant on the ground floor. Taking our seats we were given an all Chinese menu, even though neither of us can read Chinese No still took the menu and pretended to understand it all before standing up and motioning to behead himself. It was all smiles and we walked out straight upstairs to grab our handy Mandarin-English translation book.

The second attempt was a lot more successful although we still had to go into the kitchen and point at which vegetables we wanted with our rice. We declined the meat as all of it looked like it should have been consumed about a month ago. The floor in the restaurant and kitchen was incredibly slippery. No nearly went arse over tit in the kitchen, at one point this leg was at 90 degrees to his body while he tried to stabilise himself. Again it was all smiles until we got back to our seats and I slipped into an uncontrollable laughing fit. Why was the floor so slippery? It was the condensation from the clouds, we were so high up the moisture lingered in the air and obviously on the highly polished floor tiles as well.

After not having any running water in our room for most of the previous evening we decided to move to another hotel the next day, again called Yunti Hotel. In reception we met a lad called Vic who gave us the low down of the bus times for moving on. He gave us his mobile number and to be honest we thought nothing of it. Later we went out in search of some food, we thought we would try the hotel restaurant and guess who we bumped into?

Vic fed us Yunnan coffee and we chatted for awhile then he asked if we had purchased our bus tickets. Firstly we hadn't realised that the tickets couldn't be bought from the station where we were dropped off and it wasn't til we got it out of him that we thought they could only be purchased from the bus station at the bottom of the mountain, an hour away. As he was willing to help we gave him some money, he went out and bought the tickets for us and true to his word delivered them to our room at 4pm.

The whole reason for us being in the middle of nowhere was to enjoy the famous Yuanyang rice terraces so when dropping off the tickets Vic said he would come outside with us and help us arrange a motorbike cab from the street. At this point we were a little suspicious that there was some sort of deal going on however for us we didn't mind as all the hard work of arranging had been taken away from us, it was nice change.

The motorbike taxi was a little strange, I would call the whole affair a three wheeler. The ride was loud and bumpy but well worth it as the views of the rice terraces were fantastic. We knew we had reached the Lauhuzui sunset lookout point when the usual crowd of touts and sellers were there to greet us. No was badgered so much he eventually bought a catalogue of postcards.

Sharing the experience with several Korean and Chinese tourists we all photographed and viewed the sunset for two and a half hours watching the terraces change shades of colour, from steely silver, to shimmering gold and finally to muted green.

Wondering whether our bus tickets would actually work or whether Vic had 'done' us we checked out of our room and asked the receptionist to give the map we had borrowed back to Vic. She called him and he popped out of the woodwork and said we were very early and asked if we were walking to the bus stop. What did he mean walk it? The bus station was 30km down the mountain. It was then that the alarm bells started ringing as to where the bus station really was. He stuck us in another motorbike taxi and we drove off. Three minutes later we were at the bus station looking down the barrel of an hour and a half wait. Of course we should have known, been in China a month and still we manage to forget that every town and village has several bus stations just to confuse the situation.

We weren't sure why Vic helped us or whether he wanted a "tip", he didn't mention it nor did we. We're sure somewhere along the lines he prospered one way or another.

When the bus finally did turn up we knew it was going be another (No's words) "ball buster" of a bus.
(No's turn to write:-) Crappy local affair that certainly didn't dissappoint if your looking for crap it was the most horrendous bus journey we will, and I don't say this lightly, ever go on. Words just cannot explain what happened next. For the purposes of the blog we will call this the crappest bus to Hekou EVER. Whatever you do fly from Kunmimg.

We boared the bus after an excutiating wait in the skeleton bus station and set off down the mountain. Of course we were by miles the first at the station though because we don't do the lingo we ended up last on the bus and on the back seat. Obviously with everyone elses luggage on our laps. For whatever reason the luggage storage was not in use, probably stuffed full of hemp and chickens.

As you will be aware when sitting on the back seats one does tend to feel the bumps a little more due to the overhang from the rear wheels. The whole way down the mountain I think we spent at least 30% of the time in the air which was frankly ridiculous. After an hour of constantly adjusting myself we reached the Yuanyang new town for to be fair a very early uncalled for stop where the usual went on; people selling corn, people spitting and people urinating in bushes. Half hour later unbeknown to us we were about to start the most gruelling journey so far.

Apparently the Lonely Planet reckons the time for the trip is 4 hours, well I don't know what year they last revised the book or indeed what road they went down but at best I would describe the road as impassable. The road follows the Red River all the way to Hekou and I think perhaps it might have taken less time had we driven in the river and it most certainly would have been more relaxing. I could go on all day about this but it seems the construction of a new super highway had been responsible for the demolition of the existing road. It was like this for the entire 7hrs....7HRS hanging on for dear life, bumping up and down, up and down, and up and down. At some points I thought the bus was going to fall over but miraculously it stayed on the road.

Fearful of what Hekou was (because handly the book hadn't mentioned it at all we could only assume it was going to be some grotty township with a bridge to the sanity of Vietnam) I was nervous we were going to end up knocking on people's doors asking for a bed for the night because not on gods earth were we going make the 5pm border closure. Annoyingly the bus never seemed to be in a hurry, it found time to pick up a bloke with a pillar drill and 3 tonnes of metal boxing, some girl with a chicken and endless hill billies who for some reason had a knack for getting off at a bush or stream.

We got our passports taken by some check point official, no doubt the only one who could say passport. I was full of adrenaline for most the way and was so relieved when we finally got to Hekou, although the bus still managed to stop for petrol, so close but so far.

With what felt like minutes to spare it became a cannonball run finale towards the border crossing. We got within visual range of the border when a random Westerner, the first one we had seen in days, motioned to us from range with a hello and a question. He quickly launched off asking us if we had a China guide book as his had been taken at the Chinese border. At first we felt initially resistant to hand over our trusty guide book however having just travelled through China we knew a guide was essential. We would like to think if we ended up in the shit someone would do us the same favour so we happily handed it over for a few dong.

Lots of cheers and good lucks later we made a smooth transition across. We didn't get done on the Vietnamese side for a "fee" which according to some does happen and we even made the Chinese official smile at our Mandarin translation book even though he was looking for the Lonely Planet guide. Giving away our book was the right thing to do as it would have been taken off us anyway.

China has been a cost effective country to travel around, its certainly been challenging in parts although very rewarding when things suddenly make sense. Travelling China requires a head strong attitude because a lack of understanding and communication causes untold difficulties.

Overall we liked the Chinese people, they stared a lot but were never threatening. With such a large population people live so close together that privacy is somewhat forgotten but they all seem to go about their daily lives relatively harmoniously. We're not sure whether thats because they don't care about each other enough to bother or in fact do they really get on. As a tourist this is something we'll never know.


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31st March 2008

Benevolent benefactors
Hey there. I met Caz and No in Hekou very briefly in rather stressy circumstances. They truly saved my day. When I crossed to Hekou from Vietnam, I was happily unaware of the fact that the Lonely Planet was banned in China. Thus, when the officials asked to see my books, I just put the LP on the table with my other literature. Needless to say, they confiscated it, and there was no way I could get it back via a "payment" or a "fee" or whatever if you get my drift. So, there I was in the Sino-Vietnamese border without a travel guide. It wasn't too fun to try to figure out what to do next. The plan was obvious, of course - just get to Kunming and find a new travel book. Fortunately for me, however, I bumped into these two pleasant travellers who were on their way to the opposite direction across the border. I told them about my predicament and they, without a doubt, just gave me their whole book although I was only asking to borrow it for some photocopying. Thanks, Caz and No. As I already said, you truly saved my day. Such goodwill is invaluable on the road. I did later discover that the LP can easily be found on shelves in China, but at the time you guys truly straightened my predicament out. Wherever you are going, have fun! -Ville
From Blog: Rural China
8th April 2008

Nice rice!
Love the silver rice fields - a sore bum is probably a small price to pay for those views! Love MaPaXX
From Blog: Rural China
9th April 2008

Hi Ville. Nice to hear from you and glad you made it into China ok we were wondering how you were getting on! We were only too happy to help out a fellow traveller in a bit of bother and its good to hear the book is of use. Enjoy the rest of your trip x
From Blog: Rural China

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