Friday, May 6, 2011
Day 1: Kunming and the Night Bus from Hell
FRIDAY, APRIL 22
We hadn’t even landed in Kunming, Yunnan's capital, but I knew I wouldn’t like the city. From the air, a thick layer of smog lay over the city. Once in a taxi, Kunming looked just like Beijing – big buildings, too many people, and pollution. Since I wanted a break from the big city life, getting out of Kunming was priority No. 1.
The first destination of my 10-day trip to Yunnan with travel companion Layla was Jinghong in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, the province’s southern most region located next to Laos and Myanmar. Getting to Jinghong could be done in two ways: by plane or by bus.
A plane ticket would cost 1,500 RMB (a little over $200) but an overnight bus ticket was only 260 RMB ($35). I opted for the latter. Taking a train was out -- Jinghong is located in an undeveloped region that the rails have yet to reach.
The bus itself wasn't bad. Each ticket got you a little bed (bed may be an overstatement, mini coffin is more accurate) while the bus made it way south to Jinghong. My bed was located next to a small room, which I assumed to be the bathroom. I checked the door, but it was locked. I guessed we'd be stopping for bathroom breaks along the way.
We left around 9 p.m. and I fell asleep almost instantly. But around midnight i was awoken by a pounding at the door of the bus bathroom. Someone had to go and was trying to get in. With no luck, the banging stopped -- and then I heard another sound; a trickling sound. The person, a guy, was taking a leak on the bathroom door, a few feet from where I was sleeping.
Needless to say, I found it difficult to sleep after that. Worse still, I too had to use the bathroom and ended up waiting another hour and a half before we stopped at a rest station.
I eventually regained interest in falling asleep and before long the sun was rising over the rice fields and jungle of Xishuangbanna.
OLD CITY, NEW STUFF: The Old City of Kunming was more like a souped up tourist shopping area. The only thing old about it were the people within. Most of the souvenirs were knock-offs of popular Western brands
RANDOM TEMPLE: An old Southeast Asian looking temple was found in the middle of the Old City
THE LOCALS: I wasn't too impressed with Kunming, but I did enjoy watching city elders walking around the Old City area. Note the blue hat and clothes, the same that people wore during Chairman Mao's years in China
OVERNIGHT BEDS: Each bed was just big enough for one person -- one Chinese person that is. I found myself cramped and unable to sleep properly, especially after one of the other passengers found it necessary to relieve himself on the bus door before we reached a rest station
GOOD TO GO: I may be giving a thumbs up before we left the station, but by the end of the journey I definitely had to give the experience a thumbs down. The only thing that would have made the situation worse was if there had been more smokers on the bus