A Travellerspoint blog

Day 144 - Day One in Kunming & T-Minus 7 Days Until Vietnam

Why hello there!

so today was my first day in Kunming and it began when the train that I had been on for the past eighteen hours pulled into the station. I disembarked and after pushing my way through the mass of people who were all scrambling to exit the station as quickly as possible, I managed to make my way out onto the main street where I could move about with relative ease.

I had rung the hostel that I was to be staying at in Kunming prior to leaving Chengdu as their flyer indicated that they offered a free pickup service from the train station. Upon speaking with them however it turned out to not be the case anymore, apparently the flyer was quite old and they no longer offered the service. Rather than get a taxi to my hostel I decided to try and find it on foot as it didn't look too far on the hostels flyer and I thought that it would be a good way of getting an initial impression of Kunming. What I didn't count on however was the map not being to scale at all but after asking five or so very helpful people for directions and walking for about an hour I finally found it.

I checked in and sat outside for a while to relax, then got into conversation with a guy from Denmark who has been living in China for four years studying Chinese at a university in Kunming. We talked about his travels around SEA and how I hope to buy a motorbike in Vietnam then ride down from North to South and it turned out that he had done a similar thing but on a bicycle rather than a motorbike. He told me about a section of the country in the North West which is apparently very beautiful and which has a circular road going around it that is easy to navigate and travel on by bike, or motorbike for that matter. We had a good chat about our impressions of China and what thought provoking things we had seen, along with the way in which travelling and experiencing new things can have an impact on how you think and how that can change how you are as a person.

When 1pm rolled around I decided that it was time for me to go and apply for my visa for Vietnam so I set off for the consulate, armed with the address in Chinese and a rough idea of where the building should be. The Danish guy had said that the easiest way to get there was by cab but after getting in three taxis and being laughed at by the taxi drivers and motioned at to get out when I had shown them the address I decided to walk there instead. I knew that the consulate was near to the railway station so it wasn't too far of a walk away, especially now that I didn't have my full pack to carry and after a while walking I found where it should have been but I couldn't figure out for the life of me where it actually was. After asking a few people, it turned out that the consulate was located on the fifth floor of a hotel opposite where I had been looking, so I headed across and after five minutes of talking to the helpful lady on the desk and confirming that my application form from Canada was acceptable, I paid for my visa and got a receipt telling me that it would be ready to pick up in three days time. (yeah!)

I headed back to the hostel and after getting some nice steamed dumplings for my tea I settled into the communal area of the hostel, ordered a beer and caught up with my blog for the past couple of days. A while later as I was walking down the corridor I came across two girls searching for something on the floor. After talking with them it turned out that one of them had dropped her nose stud and they couldn't find it so I offered to help them look for it but after about ten minutes of searching we hadn't found it. They had both just got in from Nepal and hadn't had chance to explore yet so I pointed them in the direction of the jewellery district which I had came across on my walk earlier in the day.

I had another beer or two as it was happy hour so it would've been rude not to, and about an hour later they returned with an earring which would just have to suffice as a nose stud until a proper one can be found. We chatted for the rest of the evening and it turned out that they were from Israel and had both been exploring Nepal for the past four months prior to coming to China, with Kunming being their first stop here. They are planning on going into Vietnam and exploring SEA in a couple of weeks time so who knows, we may meet again somewhere along the way.

When 1am rolled around I decided to call it a day so I crept into my room so as to not wake anybody else up and I went to sleep which I am just about to do again now so I shall bid you farewell.

Bye for now!

Posted by UKtoCA 02:51 Comments (0)

Day 143 - Films, Books & Choo Choo Time

Hey peeps!

So today it was time for me to move on again, this time from Chengdu to Kunming and as my train was due to leave at quarter to four I decided to just take it easy until it was time for me to leave. I got up and had a nice breakfast of shredded potato fried rice and egg & tomato soup, then I put on the latest Narnia film which I hadn't seen before and which was pretty good, the same as the first two films in the series.

Once the film had finished I went out to the shops and stocked up on food for the long (18hr) train journey that I had ahead of me. I got a selection of things which ranged from coated peanuts to spicy peas, noodles & chicken sausages, basically anything that I thought may be ok from looking at the packaging. I then packed my bag and checked out and made my way up town to the train station.

I got there in plenty of time and I queued up for forty five minutes, the whole time of which I was stared at by most of the people in the waiting hall. Now I learnt quickly that the staring is completely normal but some people look at me with their mouths wide open as if I'm from another planet and I find it quite amusing, especially watching their expression if I pull a funny face at them. :P

The queue eventually started moving and I boarded the train and settled in to my top bunk hard sleeper bed. The bottom and middle bunks are ok headroom wise for if you need to sit up at all, to get something from your bag or drink some water for instance, but doing so in the top bunk is slightly more difficult an operation. If you even just want to get down from your bed, you have to slide forward for quite a way until your legs are hanging over then end and then twist around to get upright. Due to this and the fact that there isn't actually anything else to do on the train, I tend to spend the whole time on the train in my bed and this time was no exception.

I started to read a book by Rick Riordan called Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and it was so good that by the time that nine o'clock rolled around I had finished all 375 pages of it. As I had nothing else to read I listened to some music for a bit and when lights out came an hour later I went to sleep.

Bye for now!

Posted by UKtoCA 03:44 Comments (0)

Day 142 - Blogging, UN Diplomats & Clubbing Round Two

Ni hao all!

So today it was time to catch up with my blogging as I'd been a bit lazy the past few days and had neglected posting. After a big breakfast I made a start and as you may've noticed I managed what I think is my longest post to date; around 2000 words. I apologise for you having to read so much but a long and busy day, combined with my knack for dragging things out and rambling on a lot meant that I typed what apparently equates (in word count anyway) to one quarter of a creative writing dissertation for a BA degree.

After I'd eaten I spent a good part of the day going through all of my photos and selecting the best ones to upload. I'd been a bit snap happy in Leshan so it took a while but once I'd finished I finally got around to doing my journal and blog. By the time I'd finished it was about 4pm and it was hammering it down outside so I decided to spend the evening relaxing. I met Tom & Veronika and we got some beers and chatted for a while, then it was time for some more baijiu which if you've read my previous posts, you'll know is quite lethal and up until this evening I'd only had pretty nasty tasting stuff.

I decided to splurge a bit on a better bottle and by splurge, I mean spending the equivalent of £1.30 on a 50Cl bottle. The difference in taste between the bottle I got and the cheaper stuff was huge and rather than tasting like paint stripper it had a fruity, pineapple-esque taste to it and little kick considering it had an ABV of 58%. We got a load of glasses from the hostel and we met a couple of new people; a guy from Essex, a guy from Israel & a guy from Germany who it turned out was a UN diplomat.

We spent a good few hours sat around talking, then we moved into the garden and it turned out that the guy from Essex was pretty handy with a guitar and he knew some Jamie T songs (and Jamie T is wicked) so he played and we sang along to them. A lot more "Gambei!"-ing of the baijiu and some more beers later and everyone was slightly merry so we decided to head on to a club.

From speaking with Bella who works at the hostel, I had discovered that the free whiskey that we got a couple of nights previous was actually a common thing in Chengdu for Westerners. As free booze makes more sense than paid for booze, me, Bella, the guy from Essex and the guy from Israel all headed out to a bar which we were told would give us a night of fun completely gratis.

We got to the club and it was similar to the last one that we visited. We got a table with some other Western guys who were in there already and five minutes later, the table was full of whiskey and iced tea and the fun began. I don't know why they give Western people free alcohol and it seems a bit strange to me so I asked Bella and she couldn't really explain it either. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth though, I got stuck in and we spent the rest of the evening dancing away until about 4am when I turned around and everyone had gone.

I hung around for a bit then decided that I was ready to leave anyway so I got a cab back to the hostel and got some food and rehydrated, then I called one of my Grandmas on Skype and had a good chat as I hadn't been able to get through to her on a previous occasion. I then called one of my mates; Ashley as he is due to head out on his own travelling adventure to New Zealand tomorrow and I wanted a chat before he left. After we had caught up I decided to call it a night as I was pretty tired by now. It was 5.30am by this point and I had already seen the guy from Essex stumble in and go up to bed but where the other people had got to is anyone’s guess. I went up to bed and was out like a light minutes after my head hit the pillow.

Ciao for now!

Posted by UKtoCA 03:20 Comments (0)

Day 141 - Sleeping, Walks & Train Tickets


After my very late night/early morning yesterday I wasn't in a rush to wake up today and so I spent the morning in bed, only getting up to go and get some food. By the time early afternoon came I thought that I'd better get up and go to book my onward train ticket to Kunming. I had been planning on getting it for the past couple of days but I seemed to get waylaid each day so I had to make a concerted effort to get out and get it so that I could move on to pastures anew.

When I got outside and started walking, the fresh air did me some good so I took a longer route to the train station than was neccessary and I walked along the river for a while where people were playing cards, drinking tea and chatting. When I got to the train station it took me a while to find the ticket booking office and upon speaking with a lady there it turned out that there were no sleepers left on the train for the next day. I decided that one more day in Chengdu wouldn't hurt and so I booked a ticket on the train which leaves on the 7th (tomorrow!) and then made my way back to the hostel.

I wasn't up for doing a whole lot really so I just sat around watching TV for a while and eating before going up to bed and getting an early night.

I'm excited to be going to Kunming as it is there that I will get my visa for Vietnam and with only nine days left in China it will be time to enter country number three before I know it. I plan on getting the train up to Dali for a couple of days once I have my Vietnam visa before heading back down to Kunming then entering Vietnam, so my Chinese adventure is not yet over but it's been great so far and I'm feeling positive about what's to come next. (sunshine and warmth, woo!)

Right, I'm off to go and relax for a bit now so I'll bid you farewell.

Until tomorrow!

Posted by UKtoCA 02:06 Comments (0)

Day 140 - Big Buddhas, Dumpling Parties & Clubbing Chengdu

Hi there!

So today was the day that me and Allison went to see the giant Buddha in Leshan. We started out by getting the subway downtown and then walking to the bus station and after buying our tickets and waiting around for a while, the time came for us to board the bus. We went outside expecting to find a bus waiting for us but instead we were ushered into a clapped out old minibus. After asking around for a while we figured out that the minibus was indeed our transport to Leshan and not just a taxi that was trying some sort of scam so we piled in and were joined by a Japanese guy who was in China for a few weeks courtesy of the trading company that he works for back home. We chatted for a while then I had a little nap (I can't seem to stay awake on buses, or minibuses for that matter!) and I awoke when we were just getting near to Leshan.

The minibus dropped us off at a remote bus stop and he hailed down another minibus that was to take us to the entrance of the park that houses the giant Buddha. The second min bus was even more clapped out than the first and there was an overwhelming smell of petrol which made me feel quite queasy so I was glad when we finally arrived and could get out and breathe some fresh air. We went up to the ticket window and I asked for a 90Y ticket but the girl at the desk just said "No" and typed in 160Y on a calculator then showed me it. After a minute of trying to figure out why we couldn't just pay the 90Y to see the Buddha rather than 160Y to get into the newer part of the park that doesn't really get good reviews, it turned out that we had been dropped off at the wrong entrance.

Me, Allison & the Japanese guy made our way around to the correct entrance which was about 2Km away and after paying to get in we started the long ascent up to the giant Buddha's head. It was a pretty cool day so although there were lots of steps to walk up I wouldn't have classed it as difficult and I didn't break a sweat but when we reached the top, we were confronted by a sea of Asian people who looked like they'd just walked through a mini rain storm. Now my next sentence is over-generalising a bit but I thought it strange that for people that I think of as being quite active and so quite fit, (as a continent - see what I meant about over-generalising) a few flights of steps could make them perspire quite so much.

Getting back on topic now, when we finally reached the Buddha's head it was big...like huge. (not that you couldn't have guessed by the fact that it's called the giant Buddha but you know..) His face was still in ok condition for its age as it has an ancient water drainage system built into the back of it which has helped to minimize the amount of erosion that has taken place however the rest of it was showing its age. (all 1100-1400 years of it) After fighting my way through crowds of snap-happy tourists I managed to get to a spot whereby I could get a couple of clear photos (being tall helps as the majority of Asian tourists are comparatively quite short so being able to reach over them is very helpful) then we made our way down the very narrow winding steps carved into the rock face next to the Buddha that lead to his feet.

Getting down took a long time as the crowd on the stairs stopped every few steps to take another photo but we eventually reached the bottom, after passing by cave after cave of small carvings which were probably beautiful when they had just been completed but which were now eroded to the point where you could sometimes just see an outline of where there had once been a carving. We spent a while gazing up at the Buddha and marvelling at its size (about 17.4 metres I think) and looking out over the water back to Leshan which was crowded in fog. (or smog) We then walked up the other side and rested for a while under a pagoda at the top before heading for the exit.

To get out it was a case of fending off souvenir sellers, restaurant owners and taxi drivers who all had 'special deals' for us which is nothing new in China but this time the people were particularly insistent that we buy their junk/eat their fish/pay an extortionate rate to get back to Chengdu and they followed us for quite a distance once we'd left the exit but they eventually got the message and left us alone. We got a cab to the bus station as it was quite a way from the site of the giant Buddha and from there we got the bus back to Chengdu. (a real bus this time!)

The bus journey back passed uneventfully, until we stopped at a petrol station so that a guy could use the toilet that is. Now I'm not sure if anybody else on the bus noticed but one guy got off and two got back on, meaning that one of them was stood up at the back of the bus. How the driver didn't notice either is beyond me but when we got to near Chengdu the guy went to the front of the bus and started speaking with the driver, then the speaking changed to arguing and then to all out shouting. A while passed and by now everyone was looking towards the front of the bus, then I saw the guy lean over and grab the wheel and there was a slightly scary moment as the bus weaved a bit and the driver shouted something at the guy and someone else got up and pulled the crazy guy off the driver. Now I don't know what they were saying but none of the Chinese people on the bus could believe what was going on and the guy went to the back of the bus and although he didn't try taking over control of the bus again he kept walking back down to the front of the bus and kept getting turned back by the other passengers.

After sitting through a lot of traffic we were dropped off by a slightly aggravated bus driver in the South of the city, quite a way from the bus station. Whether this was because he just wanted the crazy guy off or not I don't know but we all piled out and I said goodbye to the Japanese guy then me & Allison asked around for directions to the subway station and then made our way back to the hostel.

When we got in I had a beer sat outside and relaxed for a bit and upon checking my emails it turned out that Anja had checked in earlier in the day so that we could discuss our travel plans and see if we could travel together for a week or so. I headed inside and saw that the hostel's dumpling night was in full swing (making then eating your own dumplings - nom nom!) and Anja was sat there in the middle of sealing up a dumpling. I joined the table as there was space for one more and then I spent the early part of the evening making dumplings, eating them and then chatting with everyone and "Gambei!"-ing ("Down in one!"-ing) some Chinese brandy and supping some beers. (no baijiu this time though!)

After chatting with Anja about her plans it turned out that we actually had quite different routes in mind and she had more time to play with than I did so unfortunately travelling together wasn't to happen. It's a shame really as when you're changing your location every few days and moving about you don't really get to know anyone that well so to travel with someone for a week would have been a refreshing change to being by myself, not that I mind it as there's always cool people to hang out with when I get to a new place so I'm never really alone.

As the evening wore on and the beers started to do their work, an Australian guy said that the staff at the hostel had invited him and an Irish guy out to a bar for a few drinks and he was asking if anyone else wanted to go. I was up for it so we went across town in a cab and we all reached the bar in question and it was a bit of a disappointment when we arrived as it was quite cold, practically empty and pretty expensive. I played table football with the hostel staff for all of one beer, then the Aussie & Irish guys said that the guys they were playing pool with were off to a club and we were welcome to join them if we wanted. Another taxi ride later and we arrived at the club which was a huge place but which was still full of people. The DJ was playing some good tunes at a ridiculously high volume and the club itself was actually pretty upmarket, with our own drinks opener/pourer at the table.

One of the guys who had invited us there was teaching English at a school and he must have been mates with someone at the club as after a quick word with one of the staff and a flash of a card, a 1L bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label arrived at our table along with four glasses and about six bottles of iced tea, all for free! Needless to say the night went well and it featured lots more "Gambei!"-ing, dancing, laughing and joking, and I kept on thinking the club would shut but it was still open when we left at 5.30am.

By this point everyone was a little worse for wear and so we thanked the two guys who had introduced us to the Chinese clubbing scene and we all split. We got back to the hostel and wanted food but nowhere was open so I headed up to bed. It turned out that the Aussie guy had a flight at 8.30 to Guangzhou and I don't know whether he would have been allowed on as he was pretty sozzled at this point but Chinese airline policies are probably a bit more lax than those back home and I haven't seen him knocking around the hostel so I imagine he got on his flight with no problems.

Wow, I think I got a bit carried away with this blog post. If you made it all the way through to this point then well done and I shall bid you goodbye for now and don't worry, tomorrow's post will probably be all of one paragraph thanks to this evening's festivities.

Au revoir!

Posted by UKtoCA 01:12 Comments (1)

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