Boten, Laos to Kunming, China
From the Chinese guesthouse that I stayed at in the Laos border town of Boten it was about a 500m walk to the Laos side of the border crossing. I was the only foreigner around as I don’t think that it is the norm to stay in the border town. After a quick and easy process at the Laos border I had to walk for about a 1km through no man’s land to the China. On the way I had some Chinese tourists pointing and talking photos as I walked across, they came up to me and gave me the thumbs but I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, they seemed pretty excited to see me though, I was something of a spectacle to them.
The Chinese border control was a lot different to what I had just left behind; it looked like an International Airport terminal had been built on the border. Inside there was an automatic “check-in” that scanned my passport and printed out my arrival and departure cards, it was then straight to immigration where my visa was checked and they stamped me in.
I then headed out and jumped on a bus to Mohan which was only about 15 mins away. From here there was a bus ready to go to Mengla so I jumped on. The road leaving the border town was impressive. It was a dual carriage highway that snaked the edge of the mountains, at times the road was built 50-100m in the air and then rather than just going around the mountains we went through. The road and tunnel systems were phenomenal. It was a vast change to the half sealed, bumpy, slow ranges I had travelled on in Laos to get to the border.
From Mengla I was able to get a bus straight to Jinghong, and then from there a bus to Kunming. It was a relay of buses that got me to Kunming at 12am that night.
Despite the time the first thing I did in Kunming was head to the train station with Song, a young Chinese guy I had met on the bus. It was 1am but because the Spring Festival was fast approaching he recommended that we buy the ticket now as the station would be crazy the next day.
I managed to get a hard seat ticket to Beijing on a train leaving in a few days, it was the only option. Song unfortunately wasn’t able to secure a ticket for his onward journey home to Sichuan province.
The next day was Australia day so after going with Song to the bus station so he could buy a ticket home I went in search of a pub with some fellow Australians – I didn’t find any. I was however able to stream the J’s and have some beers back at the hostel so it wasn’t all bad.
There are a few sights to see in the Kunming area and the city itself wasn’t too bad. The highlight was getting to see my first group of line dancing Chinese in the park. Some of them were really getting into it, others going with the flow. Chinese checkers and Mah-jong was also a popular past time of the older generation throughout the parks and tea shops in the afternoons.
I stayed a few days in Kunming but I also visited Dali before my train to Beijing.
Dali (Old City) is a beautiful town, bordered by mountains and a massive lake named Erhui Hu, the town is about 4 hours north west of Kunming by bus at an altitude just under 2000m. The town is set within the original old city walls, with impressive gates that offer great views across the town and onto the surround villages. The streets are cobblestone and there are irrigation streams criss-crossing the town. I stayed just outside the city walls at a great hostel called the Lilypad, the manager Erin was really helpful and all the staff spoke great English.
The Chang Shan Mountains lie just to the west of town and I spent a day exploring them. You can hike up easily from town in about an hour, the whole way up is paved but if you not up for that there are two chairlifts that will get you up there in about 20mins. The initial track and the chairlifts only take you about half way where there is a paved walkway that stretches north to south for about 12kms. The views from here are breathtaking. Because it was late January there was snow around and large sections of the walkway were completely covered and as a result extremely slippery and dangerous.
That night I stayed up on the mountain at the one and only guesthouse, I was also the one and only guest and I was invited to dinner with the 2 staff. I intended to hike up to the 4000m peak the next day but the track was snowed in which made it impossible without the right equipment so I spent the day cycling around the lake and exploring the villages of the local Bai people.
The villages were set within farming land and were often lowset or two/three-story dwellings. Narrow cement or dirt laneways ran through all the villages, each village was set along the lake and was separated by about a kilometre of farming land. I had plenty of time so decided to cycle up to the next town that was 18km’s away. This place was much the same but it was the worst choice I could have made as the ride home was gruelling. It was hot (mainly because I had a massive jacket on and couldn’t take it off) and extremely windy. The head wind would come and go and was so strong I could barely ride forward; trucks and cars would then fly past and nearly blow me off the road, a 2m drop to the farming land below which I wasn’t keen on experiencing. I considered hitching a ride or hailing a bus or cab but I persevered and eventually made it back to town, sweaty, smelly and exhausted.
From here it was back to Kunming and then a 38hr train ride to Beijing.