I arrived in Kunming from Dali, around 7.30pm and was hoping to find a bus to Jinghong that evening. I had been expecting to have to get a bus or taxi to the bus station, but on walking out of the train station I almost immediately spotted a sign saying “Ticket Office – Long Distance Buses”.
“Perfect,” I thought.
So I walked in. The ticket office didn’t seem to exist but the man checking people’s tickets turned out to be very helpful. After I told him Jinghong, and when it became clear I speak next to no Mandarin at all, he motioned for me to go with him. We walked around the corner where he commandeered someone’s motorbike to take me a few blocks down the road to a small shopfront offering bus tickets. He smiled, dropped me off and then waved as he headed back, presumably to work. I was struck by how kind this gesture was.
Sure enough, the small shop front offered me a bus ticket to Jinghong that evening at 9pm. It cost me 270 yuan (about £30) and collected me from the office. It could not have been more perfect. Or so I thought.
I mimed eating and said “Che” and he took me to a small street food stall. He asked if I wanted rice (Mie fan) and I said yes. I tried to ask for Vegetable fried rice with egg. I got plain rice that had been fried in oil. It was disgusting. I tried again. Eventually I managed to get an egg and some onions and chillis in it. It was still by far the the worst meal I have had in China. But never mind, it was already 8.30 and I didn’t have that much time so I ate it and wandered back to the ticket office.
Three hours later and I was still sitting in the ticket office, but by this time I was surrounding by an growing number of Chinese people. What I hadn’t realised, but later found out, is that the bus would leave at 12.30 am (half past midnight) as we had to wait for them to fill it up.
I was tired, emotional and not in the best frame of mind for dealing with this. Worse, I had no idea what was going on and, though I was sure the bus would turn up at some point (the guy kept nodding with a big smile when I showed him my ticket) I really couldn’t face a night under the raw flourescent lights of the office… I was so relieved when the bus finally turned up but then increasingly frustrated when we didn’t move for another hour.
I knew the bus to Laos from Jinghong left at 9.30am, and had the bus to Jinghong left at 9pm as I had thought, I would definitely make the bus the following morning to Laos. Unfortunately, this was no longer the case and even before we had left Kunming I knew I had missed the bus the following day.
I had expected to arrive in Jinghong bus station, and as such thought it would be easy to book an ongoing bus ticket to Laos.
Such assumptions are always terrible when travelling…and I should have known better! I was dropped on a random street in the middle of the city with no idea where I was (I no longer had any kind of map on my phone as I had accidentally deleted them all from my phone a few weeks previous, and, being in China without a VPN meant I was unable to re-download them). Wandering around for an hour I eventually came across a KFC and, though I usually try to avoid big chains, I went in for a coffee and some internet.
The internet did not work for anyone without a Chinese phone number, so I was sitting in KFC absolutely exhausted, with no idea where I was, or how to get to where I wanted to go. The Manager, a slightly overweight lady with a lovely smile must have seen I looked a little upset and came to sit with me. She spoke a little English and I was able to tell her where I wanted to go to Laos. She drew a map to the bus station for me and wrote on it so that I could show a taxi driver. I was so thankful. Once more the kindness of a complete stranger turned my day around.
I walked outside and, as if fate was on my side again, there was a motorbike taxi waiting. I showed him the map, he nodded and I jumped on the back.
It was soon obvious he was an illegal taxi driver because on our way, we hid around the corner from some policemen until they moved on but he dropped me safely at the bus station a little further on. It cost me just 15 yuan (£2).
It was 11am already and I walked into the bus station fully expecting to book a bus for the following day and stay a night in Jinghong (I was feeling much more relaxed about this having driven round the city, which seemed really quite nice), but on arriving at the ticket office and saying “Luang Namtha”, the lady smiled and wrote 11.30am! I was going the same day and I confess, I was very happy!
70 yuan (£8) and 15 minutes later I was on the bus bound for Luang Namtha and sure enough, at 5pm that same day I was dropped right outside a guesthouse. I really love China, but I had spent a lot of time on trains and buses and it felt amazing to be somewhere different, and even better, somewhere I could actually communicate with people!
I booked a bus to Huay Xai, on the border with Thailand for the next morning and went to bed content. Unfortunately the next morning it seemed they had forgotten to book me a bus ticket, and the bus was already full when I arrived, so I had to wait for 4 hours for my bus later that day. I still made the border and crossed into Thailand the next day… seeing my parents suddenly felt just around the corner and I was very excited!