Day 56

Trip Start Sep 14, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Thursday, November 9, 2006

I got some porridge and bananas down me at the hostel and headed out with Steve and the Dutch couple to get some trip-progression done.

I'm going alone on this next part of the trip to Laos, while the others are going to Vietnam. I really want to be in Thailand for Christmas and I didn't think I could do that if I include Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia on my itinerary. After a chat with Derek back at Dali I decided to exclude Vietnam and do China-Laos-Cambodia-Thailand.

That's quite sad because I have enjoyed travelling with this group - particularly Steve. We'd talked about when we would go off in different directions and I guess this is it. I'm also excited about a new phase of my trip, and I want to be out on my own again doing my thing. When moving in groups all kinds of compromises are made and no one truly gets the trip they are after. I suppose I'm saying there are pros and cons of travelling alone or in groups and its good to know what they are so you can make the most of your time whether it's alone or not.

We all arrived at the train station, I needed to get my bus ticket south, while the others needed to visit the nearby Vietnamese consulate to get their visas. It's a bit more straight forward for Laos - you get the visa at the border so no need to visit an Embassy. My bus ticket to Jinghong (the last decent size city before Laos) was cheaper and faster than expected so I was cautious about handing over the cash and ending up somewhere else completely thanks to a communication error! Anyway, ticket in hand I walked back to the hotel that housed the Vietnam Consulate in the hope of finding the others. Their visa applications looked pretty painless though their passports will be held at the consulate for a few days.

I headed back to the hostel so that I could check out - my bus was later on that evening. On the way I stopped to get my hair cut. "A quick cut, then back to the hostel" I thought. I was wrong. The place I had stopped was a fancy looking place for women mainly but I didn't have time to look around for the barbers. I sat down and a girl put a towel around my neck and started washing my hair - for 20 minutes! We were chatting and laughing but she knew little English and my comments like "I'm in a hurry actually" and "yep, I think it's definitely clean now" didn't seem to hit home. Still, the girl was nice and I was enjoying it. After the wash and dry, I got a head massage which turned into an upper body massage. I remember being bent over still in my chair so she could pound my back! That took another 20 minutes and finally I changed chairs and got the cut I had come for. They didn't stop there - I had another wash before being allowed to pay and leave - 10 yuan or 80 pence for the whole lot!

I got back in time, and took Steve, Arjen and Audrey to the French Cafe so they could meet up with Antionio and Nadia again. It was a good afternoon and we had better food than I'd got the day before. Antonio took me and Steve to the fish and flower market (which sells everything not just fish and flowers) and I got down to some hard bargaining with the sellers. I got my compass in the end for about a pound, a new belt for even less, and an imitation Swiss army knife for about two pounds.

I sad my final good byes to the guys got my backpack on and headed to the bus station around 8pm. I had felt nervous about going off on my own, and had to remind myself that I'd done fine up to Moscow when I was alone. Plus, now I was on the bus it felt good to be doing this by myself, and I'm really looking forward to Laos.

I switched buses on to my sleeper bus. A fellow traveller Frank had his bag stolen on a sleeper bus to Kunming so I ensured that my main bag was with me in the main compartment of the bus - not in the bowels of the bus. The bed was about the normal length of a bed, but while the bottom half was horizontal, the top half was on an incline. This exact-half-way fold is no good for the taller traveller (I'm tall at least by Chinese standards!) as the bottom half of the bed is not as big as my bottom half. It reminded me of being in a bath that was too small - and I had to sleep in this! I don't think I got any sleep until about 4am in the end.
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