|Boy, welcome to China! We were prepared for the noise, ie the shouting, and bus honking (there are a lot less scooters at least - thank heavens) but we had forgotten about the smoking on public transport, and the toilets!!!
We came from Sapa to the border town of Lao Cai, changed some money with some dodgy black market person, changed clocks one hour ahead, and then entered China, in the pouring rain. Ponchos over the packs, looking a right sight! Already had visas, so no problems getting in, and the very little english being spoken was expected. (phrasebook is the first thing on shopping list here - one which has the Chinese signs to point at). Long wait at Hekou bus stop for overnight 'sleeper' bus to Kunming, in middle of Yunnan Province. The only guy who spoke english was the station attendant who was intent on ripping us off by asking us (repeatedly) to pay a largish tax (20 Yuan)on the amount of luggage we had. This seemed rather odd, as we did not see him ask anyone else and we thought this should be paid to the bus company, if anyone (and we have never been asked this in any other country, unless we were on a small bus where our bags took up a seat) So I got pretty terse with him, and asked to see his manager. He came back first with his manager was at dinner. He came back again later, and same thing. This time he said manager could not speak english. So we asked him about other passengers paying tax, and he said they paid through bus company. At this stage, we just ignored him, got on bus no problem and left. Moral of the story, never trust the ones who speak good english in this part of the world!
This was our first sleeper bus, and literally, they are three rows of two bunks up and down the bus. Being skinny is a bit of a pre-requisite, but we settled in thinking this was alright, quite comfortable with plenty of leg room, watching the last of the daylight go, and then it happened. Someone lit up a cigarette, and then another, and another, and so on. We, of course, knew that this would happen, but had forgotten because, I have to say, much to China's disgrace, that this is the first country on our trip which allows this, and hence it came as a bit of a shock. Even Vietnam with its chain smoking male population had more consideration than this. And we were sleeping in the worst place, both on upper bunks, with three chain smokers below and directly behind us! They smoked until they slept (four hours later) and then lit up whenever the bus stopped and woke them up, which was quite frequently! Each cigarette was usually followed by some heavy duty smokers cough and hoiking - even better! And because it was raining hard for most of the journey, it was difficult to keep the window open (although we still tried) and they of course would not get off the bus at the stops to smoke in the rain. I swore and cursed them often and quite loudly, which was pretty funny looking back on it. Might have been interesting if they knew what I was saying, but it was all pretty pointless! Anyway, am sure our poor lungs will get used to it eventually, but overnight buses might be a bad option. We only took this one, because the train lines to Kunming were swept away by a landslide last year.
And then there were the toilets. Nancy had been to China ten years ago, and has always said that the toilets she met there were the worst she had seen. I had sometimes thought this was because it was her first travel into the non-western world, but already I have to agree. The two toilet stops on the trip to Kunming were unreal for how bad they were. In all my travel, I have never seen a toilet with hundreds, no thousands, of maggots crawling out of the pit that you are peering down into. Disgusting! Bad for me, but obviously a logistical nightmare for poor Nancy. And she said they were just as bad back in the bus station as well. And often no place to wash hands. (always carry wet wipes here). They actually have the cheek to make you pay for using these so called toilets as well!
We arrived bleary eyed in Kunming at 6.30am and then made a change in our travel plans. No not leaving China already! We had not been sure if we wanted to stay in Kunming. It is a very big city. Typical of China, Kunming is a place I had bearly heard of before, but actually has a population of over 4 million (bigger than Hanoi). Our only reason for staying here was to visit the stone forest, about 120kms east of here, which we had heard mixed reports about. So on entering too big a city, and being very tired, we did what any good travellers would do, we went on!
Kunming is also the capital and gateway to the mountain regions in the west of Yunnan Province, which actually lead into the lower regions of Tibet and the Himalayas, which is why we came this way. So by going on, we planned to, and reached, a much more peaceful part of the world in Dali. The third of our bus trips on this overall journey was a very fast 400kms, on a new six lane highway! Driver also drove like a maniac (where are those Chinese trains?). We arrived at 1pm, exactly 24 hours after leaving Sapa. Covered over 900kms. One day in China, and already have broken our record for travel in a single day (previous was the Arusha - Nairobi - Kampala trip) Got to rest our weary heads in the nice cool climate of Dali (at 1900m) and dreamt of home!
PS - now passed 10,000kms in Asia. (22,000kms in total) and also crossed the Tropic of Cancer on this journey. That means we have crossed the Tropic of Capricorn in February in Namibia, the Equator in April in Kenya/Uganda and the Tropic of Cancer in July in Yunnan, China.