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Archive for the ‘Loas’ Category

There are no rail lines extending south of Kunming towards Jinghong in lower Yunnan province. So we make for the southern Bus terminal located on the outskirts of the city. Out Hotel receptionist has recommended we allow two hours to get there which seems almost impossible to believe; is it located in another city? I reluctantly agree and we are picked up at 7am.

Despite ample time our taxi driver is rushing through traffic at a terrifying speed. He changes lanes abruptly as we approach a traffic island but has not seen there is a truck approaching from behind. The two vehicles nearly collide and I rate the experience as frightening as any we have encountered so far on our travels. I turn to him with my hand out and wave downwards. I think he apologises in Mandarin but I can’t be sure as there is no adjustment to his driving. As such we arrive at the south bus terminal about forty minutes after leaving central Kunming, but I think allowing an hour for more normal speeds would be prudent.

Chinese Bus stations are as well organised as the trains but the busses do come and go quickly and obviously there are no announcements made in English nor signage for that matter. Fortunately it’s very quiet this morning and the staff are able to put us on an earlier bus departing at 8.30am. I would say from our experience that advance reservations would not be required here as there are busses leaving every thirty minutes. The tickets are relatively expensive though 225 Yuan each which I double check with another bus company.

Kunming South bus station

The journey down to Jinghong is supposed to take 10 hours. Judging by the distance (around 500km) this seems a very long time but I can only assume this is due to winding roads and small mountain passes. By the time we stop for lunch the roads have dried and the heat and humidity is back. We have come down over a thousand meters in elevation and passed through the tropic of cancer for the final time in our travels. The vegetation has changed and I see for the first time since leaving India palm trees. By the time we reach Jinghong signs of South East Asia are evident everywhere. Mostly due to the temples that dot the land. They are distinctly Thai in their style although I am sure the Laos’s and Yunnanese would not appreciate my crude comparison.

Mekong River

The Mekong River in Jinghong China

We cross a bridge and I get my first sighting of one of Asia’s great rivers the Mekong. Our progress south has been good, three days ago we were looking at the Yangtze. It just gone after 5pm when we set down at what I assume to be the central bus depot, and for once we seem to be truly in the centre of town. It also happens to be where tomorrow’s bus to Laung Namtha in Laos departs. I purchase two tickets for only 60 Yuan each which seems very little considering it’s a six to seven hour journey.

Although a struggle I do enjoy that feeling of being lost and without a clue. The streets of Jinghong are filled with Palm trees and devoid of taxis. I sense an overpriced fare if we eventually ever find one. I think one finds us as a foreign tourist on the street is a temping morsel for a circling shark. Normally we pick a hotel that is at least close to some others so we can inspect a few before making a decision. We agree to pay 30 Yuan which is at least double the correct price but heavy bags and tiredness after a long bus ride weaken our resolve. It only takes a couple of minutes to get to the Many Trees hostel, I feel thoroughly ripped off but that’s capitalism for you. Survival of the fiscal fittest.

Jinghong China

Jinghong

The next morning and we set off from the hotel at 10.00am. Determined not to be done in again we end up walking to the bus station which only takes 15 sweaty minutes. It’s our last day in China but it feels as though we have already left. The streets are crowded with stalls selling bizarre tropical fruits and vendors barbequing Chicken wings and sausages. Mangy dogs have returned. A lady at the bus terminal checks our ticket and walks us to an old bus at the end of the station. It looks like an ugly duckling among the more modern and larger Chinese swans. But despite its appearance it is at least punctual and departs at 10.40am.

Bus to Laos

Bus to Laos

Two hours later we stop in Mengla for lunch. The driver holds up two fingers which I take to mean 20 minutes. After returning from the bathroom I am a little concerned to see our bus is no longer where it parked. I go in search of it among the other buses but it’s nowhere to be found. Surely he did not mean two minutes and even if he did would they really leave. I think about Matt in India who had been left behind in Tamil Nadu under such circumstances. Panic has not set in yet but there is an uncomfortable feeling growing in the pit of my stomach. I start looking for some of the other passengers that were on the bus, the only other westerner is missing but then I see a Japanese lady and man who was sitting in front of us. I think they sense our concern and motion for us to sit and wait. I can only assume that they have left the compound for either mechanical repairs or to pick up some cargo. I certainly don’t like the idea of our bags being unattended for so long especially when we are about to cross a border. I know it’s being a bit paranoid but you can’t be too careful in these situations. It’s well over an hour now since we were dropped off and I am beginning to hope the two fingers did not mean hours. Thirty minutes later and I am beginning to believe they did.

Heading south to Laos

Heading south to Laos

Finally our bus arrives back in the compound and oddly the missing western passenger is on it. I find this very strange as our bags have also been removed from underneath the bus and are now sitting on the back seats. Innocent restacking or foul play the mind boggles so I soothe it by unpacking them and checking nothing is missing or more importantly nothing has been added. It’s difficult to search on a bus that is negotiating bends especially when the conductor is telling you to sit down… or is it that he is worried what my search might find. Intrigue and mystery, now I am being paranoid as I find nothing but at least I feel relieved. I don’t fancy ending up on the news and spending time in a Chinese prison.

We arrive at the Laos border just after three. We take our bags off confidant they are not filled with drugs but inside customs the signs seem more concerned about the trafficking of baby formula. It is the most relaxed immigration I have ever encountered at a Chinese border. Our bags are not searched and we are stamped out within five minutes and allowed to reboard the bus. We drive two hundred meters before crossing a small stream which I take to be the geographical border. Ahead is a large golden stupa gleaming in the afternoon sun. I don’t think I have ever encountered such an opulent and ornate immigration building before. I wonder if it doubles as a temple.

The Laos China border

The Laos China border

Australians are entitled to a visa on arrival which costs us $32.00 USD each. For those who can’t get a visa on arrival there is a Laos embassy in Jinghong. The bus waits with our bags on board. Apparently Laos’s immigration is not concerned with the smuggling of baby formula. The officer sticks a rather colourful and attractive visa into our passports and stamps them. The whole process has taken around ten minutes. I note when we get back on the bus that the westerner has disappeared and we proceed without him, very odd again.

I can’t see any significant differences around me as we depart the border. The villages and vegetation mostly changed yesterday but I do notice that the road becomes smaller. Its surface less smooth and rather than going through mountains and across rivers, it bends and follows the contours of the land. I don’t think the Laos government has quite the same budget allocated for public works as their northern neighbour.

Luang Namtha

Just before we arrived into Luang Namtha

Around an hour and half later we set down on a very quiet street in Luang Namtha. It is dramatically empty and calm compared to China. The clocks have gone back an hour and I try to recall if we ever did this on our trip which has had us moving north and east for most of the time. I think maybe when we crossed from Ethiopia to Sudan but then again we also changed month and year so I am not sure that counts. The entire trip has taken around 7 hours. Another country now behind us and a new one ahead…

 

Luang Namtha in Laos

Luang Namtha in Laos

 

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