Kunming was my first stop North of the Chinese border. I ended up taking a night train from Ha Noi to Lao Cai–getting in around 7:30AM–and then trying to walk to China. I finally elected to take a hard sleeper. It was great! Five other women and I shared a cozy li’l cabin, I had the top bunk, closest to the air conditioner, which was perfect. I had leftover <em>banh trung</em> to eat, so I was sittin’ pretty. When I got off the train, I didn’t know what direction to go, so I just walked the same way the train had been traveling. Eventually I gave up and took a motorcycle taxi. It would have been quite a walk.
Crossing the border was painless on both sides, but when I reached China I realized I didn’t know how to say A thing besides <em>ni hao</em> and maybe “thank you”. Luckily, the taxi driver on the other side somehow understood bus station and took me there, for about $1.50. The exchange here is 6.2 RMB to $1.
I asked for the bus to Kunming, and the women gave me a ticket for the next one. When it was time to get on, I tried to stow my backpack underneath, but the conductor was waving his hands and saying something. I really didn’t want to try to shove it into an overhead bin, so I was trying to get him to come open the trunk when a nice man told me the conductor was telling me there weren’t many passengers, so I could just keep my backpack in a seat nearby. Whoops!
The ride took about 6 hours, but was incredibly comfortable, seeing as I had the entire back of the bus to myself, with my bag of cookie crackers and my meat floss. We made several stops for gas or bathroom breaks. The bathrooms in China are even weirder than anywhere else in Asia. Instead of a designated “deposit” location, it’s just a ditch that runs along the floor, with several meter-tall walls allowing you an idea of privacy. They smell just awful, and it’s kind of hard for me to go when I know everyone who walks in gets to see me squatting uncomfortably in a fecal-smelling closet.
I arrived at the Kunming bus station around 7, and then didn’t know what to do. I’d booked a hostel, but forgot to get the address ahead of time, or in Chinese characters. I walked down from the bus station, and decided to just get on the first public bus that came around, assuming it would take me somewhere with WIFI. Well, it took me to the city center, but I couldn’t find WIFI anywhere! Or anything else. I’ve been in countries where I can’t read a word, but after being in Vietnam, where I could at least recognize the characters, I felt completely lost.
I finally saw a WIFI sign in front of a barber shop, after traipsing the area for about an hour, and signaled to the girl that I wanted to use my laptop. After I tried for about twenty minutes to get Google Maps to load, I remembered that China hates Google. The girl came to help me, and we sort of communicated using her phone translator. We got the address figured out somehow, and she and her friend put me in a taxi and told me it would cost two fingers. I hoped that meant 20, and not 200.
It did end up being twenty, but the driver booted me out on the side of the road at a busy intersection to pick up a new fare. I didn’t know where I was, and I wasn’t sure he’d taken me to the right spot, but eventually I oriented (after he’d shaken me off and driven away) and found the hostel. I stayed at The Hump Kunming, in a dorm room. It’s a nice place to stay–the beds are comfortable–but the internet is horrible, the receptionists are understaffed, you’re not allowed to bring in outside food (as they run a quasi-restaurant), and my shower was inconceivably cold.
I went to bed almost immediately, after chatting with a girl who was on her way into Viet Nam. We exchanged tips and tricks for our respective countries of departure, and I felt a little better about what to do and expect.
I woke early to figure out the train situation. I went to see about my free cup of coffee (perk!) and noticed a strange Chinese man staring at me. Eventually, he came to sit next to me and smoke a cigarette. I politely asked him to stop, and he laughed in my face and said no, so I walked to another area. For the entire remainder of my time at the hostel, he watched me, tried to talk to me in Chinese, and was consistently invading my personal space. He also gave me a small relic bag, which I really don’t understand. You rub it between your hands and it puts out an herbal smell. Why did he give me this? I didn’t even speak to him after I asked about his cigarette. I just felt confused and lurked on.
I wanted to go to Lugu Lake, after the recommendation of some people at the hostel. The girl at the front told me I had to travel to Lijiang, then take a bus. That seemed doable! So I headed to the train station, with the directions of the girl at the front desk in hand. My new Taiwanese friend walked me over, asking to make sure I was getting on the right bus, and deputized a young girl to tell me when to get off. Well the train station is easy to recognize, and things were going swimmingly until I realized I’d left my passport at the front desk of the hostel. And you need it to book a ticket anywhere. So I had to find the return bus station (not an easy task I tell you!) Actually, it was figuratively across the street from where I’d been let out, and I’d just gotten confused.
To even get into the train complex you must go through security and be patted down. When I finally purchased my ticket, it cost about 150 RMB for the hard sleeper that evening. It was an easy process when I arrived, and I ended up bunking with three other men–two about my dad’s age, and a grandpa. I was top bunk, and there was no spare room for my huge backpack, so I had to sleep with it 🙁 Luckily, the blankets were thick and snowy white, and the air conditioner was on full blast, so I still passed a comfortable night.
In the morning, there was a massive line for the sink space and toilet, which was a pain.
And that’s my time in Kunming! Buses, buses, and more buses. And lurking! Also, I got a new pair of leggings out of the lost and found. They had holes in them, but I patched them, good as new! In other news, Chinese laundry soap figuratively is a bar of soap. Totally whacky cool.