Dali, and the end of China
Trip Start May 02, 2007
71Trip End Ongoing
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The next morning we rented bicycles and headed east out of town to the nearby lake, Erhai Lu. We rode north, roughly following the shoreline, through small old fishing villages with alleys so narrow you can stretch out your arms and touch both walls. In between villages we pedaled through farm fields on tiny dirt tracks no wider than a meter. Locals toiled in the fields, hunched over or carrying loads in two baskets suspended from a piece of timber slung across their shoulders
The following night we caught an overnight train to Kunming. The train was different from any we'd taken before. There were two levels and instead of sets of three bunks, each open compartment had only two bunks. Yvonne and I were split up in adjacent compartments. We were put into the middle of a Chinese tour group and we caused quite a commotion as the Chinese huddled around each other and noisily debated how to swap people around to get them together. All of a sudden a lady came roaring down the steps and started screaming at us, like it was our fault and snatched Yvonne's ticket from her hand to try to swap it with someone else's. Up to this point we were willing to play along and help accommodate them and at the same time put the two of us together, but as soon as the dragon lady showed up, we said forget it and just left it as it was
In Kunming we got our visas for Vietnam and booked an overnight bus for that evening to Hekou, a border town in China from where we would cross into Vietnam. There used to be a train but unfortunately for us the rail is being rebuilt and not operational, so bus was the only option. At the bus station, when it was time to board, we were pointed in the general vicinity where there were numerous coaches around. We asked person after person, showing them our tickets, which bus was ours. When we got to ours, a man approached us and said he was "the boss" and that we had to pay a surcharge for our backpacks. Yvonne got a little irritated at this and explained to him that we'd been traveling China for six weeks and have never paid extra for any luggage. As we stood there arguing with him, the driver of the bus told us to follow some dodgy-looking man to store our bags under the bus. We started following him in the narrow space between the buses, but got a little nervous when he continued past the bus. We weren't sure where he was taking us, and it was dark and the bus depot was quite sketchy, so we turned around. People started yelling at us but we just kept walking back into the bus station to try to find someone who worked there. It took a while to find someone who could speak at least a little English, and she led us back to the bus, exclaiming along the way "money, money" while pointing to our bags. When we got back to the little huddle in front of our bus, the conversation again got heated amongst the Chinese, while we could only stand there helpless and stunned
We hesitantly got on the coach and found our coffin-sized beds. We were extremely relieved when more travelers, a French couple, boarded the bus. Shortly after them another foreign couple got on who turned out to be the first fellow Vancouverites we've met on our travels. We felt much better about the situation and also found out from them that none of them paid anything extra for their backpacks, which further proved it was all a scam. As for the bus ride itself, it was terrible! It was supposed to be a twelve hour ride, but in the end turned out to be fifteen. After about halfway in, the paved road ended and the rest of the way was on a bumpy dirt track through jungle-like foliage. We did manage to get some sleep though, off and on. Once in Hekou we went through customs and walked over the bridge to Lao Cai in Vietnam, where we negotiated a mini-bus for the six of us to take us to Sapa, an hour and a half away. Tomorrow, along with the French couple Frederick and Natalie, we are going on a two-day tour of the region, visiting a few hill tribe villages, walking through rice-field paddies and seeing some nice nature.