From Sapa, we caught a taxi van to the border of China. We had reserved bus tickets from the border to Kunming (Yunnan Province) with our hotel in Sapa, but they weren’t very convincing, and we were wondering what kind of hassles we’d have on the other side of the border. The van delivered us right to the Vietnam immigration office where we’d get stamped out of Vietnam. It was an enormous building, completely disorganized…luckily a bored young travel agent directed us to the right post and helped us fill out our Chinese immigration forms. Successfully stamped out of Vietnam, we walked across the small bridge to Chinese immigration. Fabien went before me, and the man took an unusually long time examining his passport and visa…I started to get nervous that there was a problem, but then he waived him through and called me forward. Mine was much faster…and I advanced to customs. I could see Fabien with his backpack open, pulling things out of his pack. They didn’t want to make this easy on us. When I arrived, they had found what they were looking for…our Chinese Lonely Planet. They told us that the book was banned in China because it contained “inaccurate” information…at least, information the government didn’t appreciate. We begged and pleaded…it was our bible to the country, our only source of maps, hotel information, phrase book,etc. Finally, they let us rip 3 maps out of the book (4 pages of about 600) and sent us on our way.
Welcome to China…now what do we do? We had about 5 hours to kill before our night bus left for Kunming; first a break to eat the picnic we had packed and then a trip to the bank to exchange money. We found a bench near the river, where we ate our lunch and lamented over our lost book. Then we went to search for a bank or an exchange office, a 20 minute circle of the town which brought us back to immigration, and we hadn’t found anything. I had tried my card in an ATM, rendering it out of order. We found a post office, which also had an ATM, this time Fabien tried his card, once again, out of order. I went inside the post office to ask if there was a bank nearby, and a young woman, gave us directions (in very forced English) to the Bank of China. Then she wrote “Where is the Bank of China?” for us in Chinese in case we got lost. This piece of paper became a life saver. We found the banking area of town, put another ATM out of order, and on the 4th try successfully withdrew cash. Yes! Now… where was the bloody bus station? The travel agent who had helped us with our Chinese Immigration forms told is it was 50m from the Immigration office, but we had seen nothing in the area. After several tries at asking directions (using the “where is?” piece of paper and the bus tickets), a nice man took us to the bus station, which was hidden behind several big buildings. Now only 3 hours to wait; we went for a drink…actually a beer because we didn’t know how to ask for anything else and waited…
We were comforted when we found the bus station because it was full of new, comfortable looking buses. When we arrived to take our bus, after a bit of discussion between the drivers they pointed us to our bus, a virtual wreck, probably the oldest bus in the country. Great, and our driver was charming as well: no shirt, big belly and cigarette hanging out of his mouth the whole 12 hour trip. Fabien was cursing the country, I thought it might be a good idea to see if they would let us back into Vietnam. But earplugs and an eyecover blocked out the sputtering engine and the rattling windows (as well as the spitting of the guy overhead) and we managed to get a few winks of sleep after an exhausting and frustrating day. (Oh yeah, I also had my first experience with Chinese public toilets. Basically 3 stalls with walls that rose about waste high, no doors; no toilet just a trough shared by everyone that you squatted over..and oh god the smell.) This must have been Fabien’s idea!
Tags: BIG TRIP 2005-2006, China, In English 2005-2006