All Aboard the Fail Train
Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
33Trip End Aug 11, 2010
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Chinese train stations are almost impossible to navigate. Everything is so insanely organised so that it's very easy to go wrong. We had to find the right building of the train station where we then had to find the waiting room, where we waited for the gate to be opened before everyone stampeded there way to the train even though all the tickets had seat numbers. Once we were safely sat down on the train it was a pretty smooth three and a half hour journey to our stop.
Guangzhou was an alright place. The best thing that we saw there was this cool archaeological site (that's right, I said cool) but it was lacking in other sights or activities. We met a man from Bradford who was there on business and he was wondering why we'd chosen to stop there, he kind of had a point. So after two days we planned our great escape, checking out of out hostel and making our way across town to the station. We spent a fair amount of time and energy getting lots of food for the journey to Shanghai but, alas, all the trains where fully booked for that day. We went to a near by Dico's (a kind of Chinese McDonald's) to reassess the situation. At one point we even considered staying in the 24 hour KFC which was next to the station, ordering a drink or ice cream every hour, and then getting a morning train out of there. I really don't know why that seemed like a good idea at the time. We ended up changing our plans completely and decided to head West to Kunming instead. This allowed us to to leave the next evening and, in hindsight, probably made for a better route through China. We bought the only tickets that were available as we just wanted to leave the city. So with our tickets booked for the evening of the next day we made our way back to the hostel on the other side of town, a metro journey we had made one too many times already.
With our extra day in Guangzhou we went to the park. We would have been happy to just sit on the grass for a few hour but Chinese parks are a strange thing. They are all filled with funfair rides and peddelos and there is no grass that can be sat on anywhere. They do have some funny and badly translate English signs though. One read 'Do not pick me for your pretty'. I think it meant don't pick the flowers. On leaving the park a man very inconspicuously tried to photograph Cath (exotic white girl) so I decided to take photos of him which made him run away.
Now, finally it was time to leave Guangzhou. These tickets that we'd bought in desperation...yeah... so they were standing tickets for a 27 hour journey. I know I don't need to tell you how long that is but try setting your alarm to go off in 27 hours and think back to this moment. Consider how long that is to be stood/cramped on the floor/stood on in a carriage of smokers and spitters. It's almost as awfully ridiculous as a parasailing donkey. I don't know how we were unable to get a ticket for the train the day before because the policy appeared to be 'there's always room for one more'. Getting settled on the grimy floor could have been possible for the first half of the journey, before the urine footprints of people walking back from the toilet really started to make their mark, had there not been a food trolley which took up the whole corridor going up and down constantly, meaning that everyone who had a standing ticket had to squeeze onto someones lap as it passed. We managed to claim one seat between the three of us, which was a lifesaver. Although, the person who was privalaged enough to have the seat then had the responisbility of making sure the two floor-dwellers were as comfy as possible, which almost made it the least comfortable option. At one point a man offered me his seat for about 10 minutes because he was getting up to stretch his legs. I sat down and immediatly fell asleep for about six hours, whoopsy doodle.
On disembarking the train in Kunming we minded the gap, briefly rejoiced and then cursed as we walked for about 30 minutes through the rain- and police-filled streets (they really like their police presence in China) only to find that the hostel was full. We then got a taxi to another hostel which was also full but the owner let us sleep on the sofas in the common room area. After the revitalising sleep and a hearty breakfast we thanked the hostel owner before leaving (his hostel was still full) and went back to the original hostel which now had a space.
The first day was spent ambling round Kunming, seeing the markets, buying amazing tea flasks, and checking out Snoopy themed cafes. In the evening we went to a proper Chinese restaurant where we had to point randomly at the menu to order. I accidentally ordered two main meals, but they were no match for me. The next day we went to the Kunming park, again filled with funfair rides and peddelos, and the grass here even had barbed wired around it. This time the park was also filled with small music ensembles scattered around the places and what we thought were people doing tai chi, it turned out to be people dancing to pop songs. On our final day in Kunming we took a bus to this place called the Stone Forest, a limestone formation said to have been created by a god to give lovers a secluded place to hide. On arrival we found that the tickets were £17 each and thought that it wasn't really worth it so went back again. Good use of a day.
Even though we did very little other than wander around Kunming I really enjoyed it there, it was a plesant mix of urban-ness and chilled out-ness.
That evening we took the night bus to the fabled Shangri La. Twelve hours in a cramped bed on a bus felt like a doddle after the epic train journey, and it was well worth it anyway. Shangri La is amazing. It's described as 'Tibet if you can't be bothered to get the Tibetan visa'. There are loads of Tibetan resturants here, and persoannally, I much perfere the Tibetan food to Chinese. It will be a shame to leave it behind. The Old Town is like a little maze of crooked streets filled with lots of little food stalls and shops. Everything seems to have something yak related to sell. We've tried yak meat, yak cheese, yak butter tea, yak yoghurt and we've bought some yak leather goods. All we need now is some yak fur and I think we'd almost have a full yak. All the yak products we've tried are very good, except for the cheese.
It was Cheung's birthday the day we arrived in Shangri La so we had a wild day going to a monastery and seeing lots of monks. Cheung's only birthday wish was to have a McDonald's, because we'd agreed that we wouldn't have any while in China, and we had to let her down because there are none in Shangri La. There was a Dico's though, but it's just not the same. In the evening we got stuck with this French woman, she was nice enough but a bit kooky (she'd been traveling with her 3 year old son for eight months. Poor kid) and every restaurant we went in had some problem or other according to her. After food we went to a cafe bar place, sans Frenchy, to get some tea and to give Cheung her birthday presents which were all Doraemon related, a watch, a plush toy and a keyring. We also got a round of Tibetan homemade barley shots, which destroyed Cheung and Cath (one shot?!).
(Cheung: THREE sneaky shots were contained in that one glass- Cath concurs.)
The night ended soon after Cheung chundered everywhuuuuuu at about 11 o' clock. Classic Brits on tour.
The next day we spent our time buying lots of Tibetan goods in and around the Old Town and tonight we are getting the night bus back to Kunming where we're then taking the train that night to Cheungdu, a place where pandas reside. It's a 20 hour train journey but we've got beds this time, and we're train traveling veterans now anyway.