I really cornered myself in the Yunnan Province. The province?s main city, Kunming, is quite large but outside of the main highway between Dali and Kunming the roads are rough and slow. The area I was in was much closer to Laos and Myanmar than the Vietnamese border I wanted to cross.
My options were to take the 12 hour bus back to Kunming and then another 12+ hour bus to Hekou (the border town) or to take a direct bus from Jinghong to Hekou which would be on rougher roads but take about the same time. I decided that I would not rather not backtrack to Kunming and bought my ticket to Hekou. It was the most difficult ticket to buy so far in China because it?s not a popular destination and none of the agents seemed to understand what I was saying or the Romanized letters (when I wrote them down) instead of the Chinese characters. Finally I found someone who explained the Hekou is not pronounced ?He-coo? but ?Huh-cow?. I have found that the Chinese are fairly insulated and not used to hearing foreigners speak Chinese. The difference in pronunciation is very small but they couldn?t make the leap. The next hurdle was to find out how long the bus trip was. I asked a few different people because you can?t necessarily trust the first person to be correct. I was told 21, 24, 26 and 30 hours. Because it was such a large range I could only hope for the best and assume the worst.
After stocking up on chips, drinks and dumplings I boarded the 7am bus. It was a sleeper bus so you sit on your bed the entire trip. My busmates were all Chinese, none were tourists. Some had no luggage, some brought 27 inch televisions. Apparently this was the only bus going in the direction of Hekou so many people got off on stops along the way–I was the only one traveling the entire distance. I surprised myself by not being bored at all. The first few hours of the trip were spent sleeping–I had stayed up late the night before downloading a new episode of one of my favorite TV shows and instant messaging my mom and friend. The rest of the day was spent reading a book during bathroom breaks. My driver and fellow passengers spoke no English but I was able to speak enough Mandarin to determine how long the breaks were and to ask where the bathroom was. Around 6:30pm the sun set and I switched from my book to my iPod. We stopped for dinner around 10pm but the restaurant was just too much. Dead, skinned chickens sat on some of the tables and I couldn?t even stay in the building. The other passengers and driver were very confused by my behavior but I just smiled and told them I didn?t want any.
I slept fairly well throughout the night considering our stops in cities along the way (one at 1am to change buses when ours broke down) and the less than smooth ride. Around 6am we stopped for a very long break. Because I didn?t know how long the journey should take I wasn?t sure if we had arrived or if it was another city where we were waiting for passengers. On previous overnight trips the bus had arrived very early in the morning and were told to sleep on the bus for a while (I assume until the sun came up and hotels were open). I went back to sleep and was awakened later by the driver. He motioned for me to get off the bus, I assumed for another bathroom break, but when I looked around I was the only person left on the bus. Dawn was just breaking and the driver motioned what I thought was a coat and I told him I wasn?t cold. I soon realized he wanted me to get my bag. Finally I got my bag off the bus and was starting to get nervous. I wasn?t sure where I was or where the other passengers I had gone to. The driver pointed toward the building and I told him I didn?t understand. The pointing and confusion continued for quite a while, I had made sure a number of times that the bus I had just been on was going to Hekou. Finally I managed to get the man to accompany me to the street in front of the train station where he loaded me on to a minibus which he assured me was going to Hekou.
A few hours later we stopped for lunch. I was walking down the street looking for dumplings when the driver motioned me across the road to a small restaurant. I am not a fan of noodle soup, especially for breakfast, but he seemed fairly intent on feeding me. At the end of the meal he commented on my full bowl (I had only eaten the noodles) and took me to a small shop to buy more food. I could tell he thought I hadn?t had enough but I just smiled and bought a water. Another few hours in the minibus followed along the winding roads of the mountains bordering Vietnam. We parted ways in Hekou, only a few blocks from the border crossing. After loading up on peanut butter and chocolate Oreos I made walked across the river and into Vietnam. I was immediately approached by a driver and bargained my way into a minibus to Sa Pa. After an hour circling the city in search of more passengers we headed over the mountains dropping off local tribes people along the way.
All in all it was an interesting trip through small towns and different environments, thankfully my previous travel in China had prepared me for the long ride. By the end I had finished a 525-page book and learned that I can exist on chips and coke for a very long time.