China (July 10th to July 11th 2005)

I suppose it should be noted that this wasn’t a backpacking trip. i was simply a tourist not that in 2005, there is much diference between the two. Anyway, I did very little but relax for the month.

Day Eleven-July 10th
I woke up wondering should I stay or should I go. It was 8.00am and as well as relaxing I wondered what I was going to do. I required at the hostels yesterday about trekking, trekking maps or camping equipment, all to no avail but I packed up and took the bus to the bus station where I purchased a 45 Yuan ticket to Dali (new Dali as opposed to historical old Dali). It was 8.30am and the mini-bus was going. I got a seat near the door so i was able to spread my legs out onto the space between the driver and the front row passenger. It was a six hour journey in pleasant circumstances on a bloody good road, so we arrived there at 4.30pm.





Zhongian

Taken on the 10th of July 2005

Like alot of towns in China (and indeed Europe) there is an old town and a new town. The old town here is of Tibetan people and all the houses are Tibetean wooden structures. The town, seeing tourist potential for Han tourists, is renovating all these houses and laying cobbled stone streets. In the centre of old town, is this cobblestone sqaure (and manatory drunk in the centre), where every night, locals dance away in large circes to music from loudspeakers. The new town is full of normal shops with Han Chinese Merchants.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Zhongian

Taken on the 10th of July 2005

Is it authentic? Seemed to be. I have seen the same practice in other towns, as work ends, the fun begins. All the dancers knew what they were doing, alot of intricate hand and leg movements, many in traditional dress. Yes, some tourists as well. Still it was enjoyable. I should mention that this square did not exist the last time I visited a few years ago. This town is going places.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Not to be confused with Old Dali City (a major tourist attracting city to which I had been before), Dali is a modern city surrounded by mountains. As soon as I got there (at one bus station), I took a 5 Yuan taxi to the long distance long station about 8-10 minutes away. The taxi driver had no English and no idea what I wanted. I tried every expression and pointed out buses, showed my (Vietanmese photocopied version) China Lonely Planet guidebook. Thank god, the city signs were bilingual and just pointed out city centre until I stopped the station. Lots of buses coming and hoing. Ah well.

There was no point staying around Dali, so I went (in hope only) to get a ticket to Jinghong near the Laos border. The only bus was at 7.30pm that evening for 140 Yuan. I took it. I deposited my bag in storage.

I had a few hours around this quite clean and efficient town with a background of mountains. I ate some nice street food of fried potatoes and these gorgeous pancakes. It was wasn’t the pancake itself but what was in it – gorgeous vegetables and spices. Hmm.

There wasn’t alot to do and it started raining around 5.00pm. I went back to the station was sited opposite 3 Chinese waiting for a bus (the same one as mine as it turned out). The two girls and a boy were dressed as pop stars. One of the girls wasn dressed totally in pink from head to toe. She had a teddy bear (even though she was in her 20’s) and wore sunglasses (it was pouring rain outside now) the whole time.

At around 7.00pm, I headed to the sleeper bus. There was no room below the bottom bunks for any bags (which is the norm) so I was forced to put the bag in the back booth with no lock. No backpacker feels safe about luggage, especially when they wont see it for another 19 hours (theft, rain damage etc). Anyway, I met two German travelers going on the same bus. Now, I get on with 99% of people but these guys …

Ha, everything was wrong. Imagine two german guys speaking english and everything was “fuckin wrong, man”. “This fuckin bus… ridiculous. fuckin Chinese mercantile class, stupid people” They wanted two sleepers together so they told a Chinese guy to move, even though it was his seat. They shouted at him to move. They wanted his seat. When some wanted to pass them, they put their feet (as they were on the top bunks) over the heads of the Chinese so the Chinese passengers horror. Nothing likes walking underneath someones boots.

I was happy enough to head to my seat in the middle top bunk at the back of the bus. I mentioned before, I think that you have your good sleepers (clean sheets, pillows etc) and you get what we got today. It was a converted normal bus so it wasn’t wide enough or high enough. You could barely walk the aisle and you could not still up on your bunk. The length of each bus was only about 5 feet so foreigners (I am about 6 foot) cant lie back down. You can only lie down with your feet up or sleep in a fetus position. But I dont think any of us slept. The rags they gave us to sleep with sank of fags and dirt, full of holes and I believe never washed. The pillow was as bad. The thing is, I need something to throw over me at night. Cant rest otherwise, but I had to.

The pop stars I saw earlier at the station brought pink blankets and pillow cases. She gave out stink about the socks of the guy behind her. She had a magazine which she pretended to read but within its pages, was a mirror so that she kept looking at herself every 20 minutes. You could also hear the Germans continuing to give out.

Day Twelve-July 11th
We stooped around three or four times for breaks and had one 20 minute stop to get something to eat. They (the chinese governemnt/people) are building a new road to Jinghong, which we could see the whole trip. Spanking new, to be finished in a few months and here we were on a terrible road, where the bus could not afford to pick up any speed before hitting a pothole, corner, oncoming traffic before slowing down.

I did not get any sleep last night. A few reasons. Because of the length of the bunks, it was uncomfortable. Secondly, the Germans had some crazy idea that the bus was full of thieves and miscreants that were going to kill us in our sleep and take our belongings. Therefore, I wanted to keep an eye on my day bag. Thirdly, my position in the back meant I felt the bumps and potholes more than those guys in the front. Lastly, the exhaust was broken so i so engulfed with smoke and petrol fumes all night.

Anyway we arrived at 1.00pm. damn, it was hot here compared to Kunming/Dali etc. It was humid and damn hot. We walked to a nearby restaurant for food and refreshment. I think China is great. You pass a restaurant and the whole staff and owners try and get you in.. not out to rip you off but I believe they think its pretty cool to have foreigners frequent your premises. I dont who why, but the Germans let it to me to order even though my Chinese is crap and the restaurant owner/staff had no english. I visited their kitchen we had within 20 minutes plates of fish, chicken, vegetables and pork. When the Germans wanted Coke, the manager sent a girl out to get fresh cold bottles. The same with beer, he could do enough for us. It was a great deal all for the pricey sum of 50 Yuan (5 Euro in total). Food and drink is so cheap here.

We were stuffed and grabbed a 5 Yuan taxi to get us to another bus station, so that we could get to Mengla before dark.

We got there at about 2.15pm (a 5 minute taxi drive) and purchased a 32 Yuan ticket each to Mengla. It was going at 2.40pm. Indeed mini-buses go every 20 minutes there so its cool. So the three of us purchased some fresh fruit and headed off in a packed mini bus. We took the back seat.

Yeah another 4.5 hours. I am to add up how many hours I have been on a bus over the past few days. It was cramped, hot and sticky and kept on trying to move my legs and get some movement. The two Germans were making plans for Laos and wanted me to go exploring in Northern laos. They heard from an American (warning enough) that there were tree houses close to the border where people lived. I have seen TV programmes about these type of tree dwellings in papua New Guinea but not Laos and didn’t think there would be due to lack of wild animals or flooding. Still they were convinced of this plan. Anyway, it wasn’t a bad trip and we arrived at 7.00pm on the dot.

I had not stayed here before and I wasn’t going yo take any more buses. I could have taken a bus to Mohan on the border. Anyway, we checked out a hotel (after a tout brought us up there) and we got rooms for 40 Yuan each with ensuite. Yeah, it was damp and dirty but hell, a shower. Strange though, they gave us two condoms each at check it.

Anyway, we met at 8.15pm in the lobby and headed down down to get something to eat. We found a a few street restaurants and the owners were were dragging into each. we settled on one and sat down on some street chairs and a table. A few beers and again fab food. We had a nice evening and had a walk around. A real border down at night. Of the main street. there were about 30% of the premises – Karoke Bars. Usually dark rooms with up TV and about 20 tables and chairs facing the TV. Lots of paid company. Another 30% were massage parlous and finally a few shops and restaurants. The whole town was shrouded in pink neon.

The guys were pressing me on my plans and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend another few days with them. Finally we settled on the idea that I could go early if i wanted to but they would wait for me in the lobby at 11.00am if i wanted to go with them. We had a pretty early night as it was a tiresome few days. I watched some Chinese TV and cut my hair. Bed.

I dont know my plans for tomorrow either. I will decide whatever time I wake up. If its late, I will go with the guys. if its early, i might try and head straight to Luang Prabang.