Today we are Legging It to China, but we have learnt never believe anyone when they tell you a bus will turn up at a certain time, because it won’t. The 0700 Ford transit van was almost an hour late and when it arrived it was pretty full. We were directed to the back seat and had to nurse our bags (thank god they’re not big). The van continued around the town picking up people and boxes of stuff to go to . Eventually the van was full, 16 passengers seated, the driver and the female Chinese conductor standing up counting the money. She was spewing there were four euro’s on the bus, she could’ve fit another 8 locals onboard.
The road over the mountains and down to Lao Cai was pretty foggy. There were heaps of Hmong people walking along the side of the road with hoes, or brush knives. Others were setting up stalls to sell fresh produce on the side of the roads. There were others moving buffaloes along the road and we were glad the driver was alert. It was a nice drive, with Vietnamese rap music playing(interesting), the countryside is so beautiful, but the locals on the bus throwing rubbish out the window just does my head in.
We arrived at Lao Cai and everyone else departed for the train, and after a short while we headed for the border only stopping once to pick up two Chinese blokes who were walking with all their luggage. The Chinese conductor tried to hit them up for 50,000 each but they were awake to it and only paid 50,000 for two. (We paid 50,000 each from Sapa) and the bus was only taking them about two kilometres.
The bus dropped us off outside the Vietnamese border control building, which was quite large and we headed inside. Almost immediately a bloke directed us to a desk which turned out to be Money Exchange, probably his brother in law. We headed over to immigration and joined the line and in a short while we’re walking over the friendship bridge which joins Vietnam to China.
On the Chinese border we met a lovely immigration bloke who took our passports and scanned them and all the paperwork was filled in by a computer much better than hand writing it all. However the immigration official for whatever reason decided to double check my paperwork . It was pretty obvious he was just a little man on a power trip. It was funny on the front of the desk was four buttons to rate the service from excellent to too long, I was so tempted to press the button but like everyone else passing through the border I just kept my head down and didn’t draw too much attention (at 6’3 with a swarthy complexion and a chopper moustache in a country not famed for its facial hair this may prove a challenge). finally we had made it to China.
We’d drawn a mud map off a site we’d got of the net of Hekou (the Chinese side of the border) and made our way to find an ATM. We checked one but as the bank wasn’t linked to Plus our debit card wouldn’t work. We were pointed to the Bank of China by a local but, this ATM wasn’t linked to Plus either (what a drag). We exchanged US $200 and what a runaround. A bank on the border should in theory be used to changing money, well this bank obviously wasn’t. It made us regret not changing money through the blokes brother in law on the Vietnamese side of he border.
Twenty minutes later we were cashed up with Yuan and heading for the green local bus stop. Michele spotted a phone shop so stopped to get a new sim card. The place was like an Asian gangster movie with the girls at the desk doing the work and a few guys doing bugger all just going upstairs and coming back down, and not dressed at all like comms specialists.
Another twenty minute wait later we were headed towards the green bus stop again. Almost immediately a bus pulled up and we got on, I asked the bloke Laocaihow much to the station with the thumb forefinger gesture and he held up two fingers, immediately hitting the gas and pulling out into the traffic. I looked at my newly acquired Yuan and I only had a fiver and a ten so thought I’d try to get change. The bus filled up with locals who were quite amused to have an odd looking pair in their midst.
On arrival at he bus stop the driver made the thumb forefinger gesture and I handed him a five hoping he had change. He was going on in Chinese which was absolutely wasted on me. He then got a wad of Yuan out and was pointing at the fiver in the pile and pointing at my fiver. Michele was the first to notice that my fiver and his didn’t look the same. I thought we must have had old money then eventually it dawned on me I was trying to pay him with a five Wu Jiao note. (Wu Jiao notes are issued by the bank so that you have correct change but used by people for origami) No wonder he was going off his head I was trying to pay in origami money.lol
We were let off the bus and headed to the bus ticket office, where luckily we ran into one of the Chinese guys from our van to the border. We’d missed the bus to Jianshui so our only option was head to Mengzi and try to get another bus. Of course nothing was written in English and the girl couldn’t understand me when I asked for a ticket to Mengzi,(the Aussie twang is great for getting girls to smile at you, when you drop a “Gidday” but not so good when asking for tickets in a foreign country) So I just wrote Mengzi on a bit of paper and next thing she was passing two tickets and pointing to the luggage scanner. We thought we’d struggle finding the bus because the ticket was in chinese but I noticed 1140 on the screen of a bus which was the time it was leaving and on the ticket was the buses number plate, how easy is that. We put our bags in the luggage compartment, found our seats and soon enough were on our way.
The bus hadn’t traveled far when we stopped on the side of the road, to pick up a passenger, just like Vietnam. After a long wait on the side of the road for no apparent reason we continued on and as we approached the expressway we were stopped at a police checkpoint, with police armed with assault rifles and a policeman entered the bus and started checking everyone’s identity card, before stopping at us. He checked our passports and started chatting to us about Australia and where we were going to in China. He couldn’t understand me when I said Jianshui so we showed him the email and he said “oh Jianshui”….. Yer, That’s what I was saying! He took all the ID’s and they were all checked on the computers, foreign passports on the right side of the road, locals on the left side of the road. Our ID’s were returned after a while and we continued on our way.
The roads were very good, with three lane freeways each way, big concrete bridges and minimal traffic. Along the expressway every now and then we’d stop in the middle of nowhere to pick up and drop off passengers it was pretty strange. The countryside coming up was quite mountainous and close to the border it was obvious where they’d chopped down all the native timber, burnt the remaining scrub and then planted bananas. The bananas had failed in a lot of areas and were either left with the scrub reclaiming the area or being replaced by rubber trees, other areas were covered with pineapples. Further from the the border the hills were really rocky and the soil quite thin and in these areas they’d set up covered greenhouses, the shade cloth covered with leaves to control the heat. The covered areas extended into the valleys and we could only imagine that these areas must be mushroom and growing areas for plants that thrive in the dark or cool.
As we drew close to Mengzi we saw our first pagoda a little out of the town and it looked quite new. Mengzi was a strange place surrounded by barren hills and mountains in the distance it was set on the plane, it had a surreal feel about it because all the buildings were modern. As we drove though the town we noticed dozens of brand new apartment buildings standing vacant, and others being built. The town had big wide boulevards and not that many people, although it seemed there were a lot of people quite willing to show off their wealth. It was a bit of a yuppieville.
The bus stopped outside the bus station and we grabbed our bags and headed inside. Everything was written in Chinese so I grabbed a piece of paper, wrote Jianshui and passed it to the lady at the ticket counter she looked at the piece of paper and gave us two tickets. Simple as that.
We had a 30 minute wait so I thought I’d use the toilet. There were two ladies selling tissues at the entrance so I thought this should be ok. Well as I walked into the toilet the first thing I noticed it was as dark as a dungeon, the second thing I noticed the uric acid from all the urine was burning my eyes.(they could bottle and use that to break up demonstrations). The urinals were all full of Chinese blokes choofing away on cigarettes like they were representing China in the lung cancer Olympics so I headed for the toilet. Bad mistake…… The last bloke must’ve eaten a yak or something and there was no water to flush, no water to rinse your self only a big stick which I guessed was to help things down the drain which he hadn’t used. I went for the Olympic record in holding my breath, and using the toilet and I reckon I would’ve got a medal in both. The ladies smiled at me as I walked past them releasing my breath, they knew what I’d been through.
We showed the ticket inspector our tickets and they pointed towards some buses so we checked the number plates and were soon stowing our luggage. This bus didn’t have seat numbers and luckily we’d boarded early enough to get seats together. The trip to JianShui was pretty good, the roads were excellent and mostly three lane expressway however, when we were leaving it seemed every 500 metres was a red traffic light so it was stop start it reminded us of the Kwinana Freeway back in the old days before they put the flyover bridges in.
Between Mengzi and JianShui we were amazed at the fields of onions, we’ve never seen so many onions before. They were being harvested by hand, so there were big bags stacked high in the fields. Men were carrying two bags on sticks over their shoulders to little three wheel utes which went on to load bigger trucks on the side of the road. Elsewhere there were long clear plastic covered greenhouses everywhere there really is maximum space utilisation. The tops of the surrounding mountains however were barren. There were signs of industry with big power stations pumping out smoke from their chimneys and new power stations in the process of being built. There were more police checkpoints with police armed with assault rifles, but they just looked at our passports and scanned all the identity cards.
Arrival in JianShui was much like Mengzi with the bus pulling up in the road at the side of the bus station. We checked google maps and it told us the guesthouse was two km’s away. A local bloke had a three wheel electric motorbike with a steel tray ute back on it and for twenty yuan offered to take us where we wanted to go. Michele was keen to not walk to the guesthouse because it was quite warm, but she wasn’t too sure about riding in the back of the ute. As it was a different mode of transport I was up for it. Just sit your bum on the tray and swing your legs over into the tray then find something to hang onto. The only thing to hang onto was the bar at the front of the tray which moved every time we hit a bump. It was great fun, especially with all the locals looking at these weird looking white people going past. The cobblestone area of the old town however, was a bit challenging on the butt.
There’s a massive red coloured gate which guards the entrance to the old town and it was beautiful driving up the avenue of trees overhanging the streets. Most of the street was old buildings or made up to look like old buildings. We were dropped off close to the guesthouse and we interrupted the local family playing Mahjong. There was a challenging moment when the owner hit us up for 100 Yuan on top of our bill, and we tried to ask if it was a key deposit, he was just laughing and speaking ten to the dozen in Chinese, just go with it……..
The room was really nice however every channel on the tv was Chinese TV, just like home nothing worth watching on tv. We went for a walk around to get our bearings, finding another huge gate to the town. Google maps said there was a train station near the gate so we checked it out. The station was pretty dilapidated and closed so we thought we’d check it out on google again. There were a heap of blokes just sitting on the train track listening to about a dozen birds in bamboo cages hanging from trees along the track, very strange. One thing we noticed around the area was the amount of old, mainly one level buildings being demolished. There was a nice man made lake with a heap of two storey condos and shops, vacant of course, the changing face of China.
Things we noticed walking around was the amount of electric motorbikes, and other electric vehicles (they’re a menace because they are almost silent, also at night the owners usually conserve power by not using the lights). They must be serious about changing the air pollution problem. We really enjoyed the blue skies over JianShui. Another thing we noticed was how fashion conscious the locals are, it’s a huge consumer society. There are a lot of people running around thinking they’re a fashion statement, however on many occasions I was tempted to call 911 for the Fashion Police. Leopard skin only looks good on leopards and Walmart should have a high razor wire fence around it.
Our stomachs were rumbling after only eating snacks all day, so we saw a lovely old two storey wooden Chinese restaurant with English signs on the outside, so we thought this place looks pretty flash. It was all rustic inside with wooden tables and apart from the iPad menus it could’ve been back a couple of hundred years. The iPad menus were a novelty and we chose what we thought was safe. The meal turned up and it wasn’t what we thought it was. The chicken was covered in a thick layer of salt and chillies, with feet sticking up in the air and a head looking at us accusingly. The pork had some unknown accompaniment, but was edible, for me. We started eating, however the chicken was too much for Michele and she was feeling pretty despondent. The rice we had ordered didn’t turn up and it was hard eating without the variation of rice, as the food was pretty fatty. We asked about the whereabouts of the rice and it eventually turned up, but was pretty crap. We only ate a cupful before calling it quits on the meal.( I suppose that’s what we get for eating at flash restaurants). To top off a crap evening the waitress was one of the rudest we’ve ever met.
Feeling pretty tired, unsatisfied after the disappointing meal, insulted by the poor service we felt like telling them to stick their country and heading back south of the border where the people are really nice. Looking around the local supermarket didn’t improve our sense of humor as there were no baguettes, or breakfast foods. So it was home to bed for us after a nine hour trip to cover 260kms we were pretty shattered.