A Slice of Heaven

Written by Mar 12, 2007 02:03
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A rough start- the weirdest case of motion sickness ever

We, R, T and I, got to Kunming bus station with stacks of time and found our bus. A nice, modern Daewoo, mercifully not a sleeper (R and I are too tall to do that comfortably). It looked promising. We stowed our luggage and boarded, only to discover this particular bus had the weirdest seat numbering system ever devised. The three of us naturally had consecutively-numbered tickets, but I found myself in the centre seat of the back row, while R and T were in the row ahead, to the left. And it took a lot of fuss and bother to figure that out.

The bus was finally loaded, doors closed, and we eased out of the station. The usual stop-start struggle through the city traffic eventually gave way to a nice, beautiful, modern highway. This highway matched those I'd travelled in Sweden, and was a million times better than even the best highway I've seen in my homeland, New Zealand. This was looking to be a nice, easy ride.

Now, Yunnan is fairly mountainous, and the highways, even the best, contain a fair few curves. It's to be expected that some people will find this uncomfortable. But the couple sitting to my left and directly behind R, the wife immediately next to me, the husband on her left, provided quite some, uh, "entertainment". For starters, after the bus had already left, they asked how long it would take to get to Simao. They were astounded and very disappointed, almost angry, when they were told it'd be seven or eight hours. That meant arriving at some awful hour of the morning most of us only see in our younger, wilder days while heavily under the influence, not a time that any respectable person would want to be familiar with. I don't know why they didn't check more carefully before buying their tickets. And then the real fun started. For some reason, the many windy stretches of road didn't give her motion sickness. It was when we hit the straight stretches that she blew. And boy, did she let rip. R, sitting immediately in front and slightly to her left, got very good at dodging left very quickly when he heard the first retch and the husband grabbing (yet another) sick bag. I was not in any immediate danger, but the spectacle made for a very uncomfortable ride.

Fortunately the bus made many pit stops along the way- both for the passengers relief and because many passengers (such as the lovely motion sick couple) were going to places between Kunming and Jinghong. This provided precious, much-treasured relief for R, T and I. Unfortunately, Miss Motion Sickness could not be persuaded to get off the bus and get some fresh air, preferring for whatever insane reason to sit their breathing the stale, sick-infused foulness the back of the bus had become. Anyway, it wasn't just relief that we got- this was an overnight ride through countryside devoid of the light pollution of China's eastern seaboard. We'd step off the bus, look up and..... even R, with his contacts out and barely able to see three feet in front of his face, was in awe. The stars were simply amazing.

Anyway, after seven or eight most unpleasant hours, the bus pulled in to Simao, our unhappy couple got off, the box all her used sick bags had been thrown (yes! thrown!) into was removed, and we were all looking forward to maybe actually getting a little sleep for the rest of the way, even if it was only a couple of hours.

Disappointment of the bone-shattering variety

But no.

The bus station in Kunming had assured us the trip was only 9 hours or so, but they were working on the assumption the highway had actually been completed. See, the ride down to Simao would have been very pleasant and restful had it not been for Miss Motion Sickness. On the way out of Simao, though, we found ourselves on a much narrower road. It wasn't too bad, but before long we found ourselves on what must've been one of the world's longest series of road works. The last section of highway, from Simao to Jinghong, was still under construction, meaning our nice, easy 9 hour ride turned to somewhere in the region of 14 hours, the last six or seven of those being very, very bouncy.

Of course, I had been expecting the bus to be stopped at a checkpoint along the way. Xishuangbanna is a border region, and rather more sensitive than some border region considering it borders one of the world's major drug-producing areas, the Golden Triangle. I wasn't expecting two checkpoints, though, and I wasn't expecting the checkpoints to be manned by the People's Armed Police. But never mind, it's just a matter of showing your ID and ordinary travellers have nothing to fear. But the second checkpoint provided a little more entertainment (but don't worry, nothing exciting). Somehow a young English lad had managed to fall asleep, I have no idea how. The young PAP guard woke him up asked him in a fairly strong Yunnan accent for his passport (it sounded something like 'fuzao' instead of the standard 'huzhao'). The young English lad stared at him blankly, and the guard asked again, a little more insistently. Seeing the guard's patience was limited, this English lad's Chinese was even more limited, and wanting to avoid any international incidents, I just yelled out "Passport!' loud enough to startle the wild elephants, The young English lad got the message and complied, incident over, we continued the bone-shattering journey over the mountains.

Well, we eventually found ourselves back on a smoother road gliding down the other side of the mountain range into Jinghong. Not enough time to catch up on the lost sleep, but it was still a huge relief.

Relief, but not till after breakfast

We got off the bus. Well, I was off first, being a rather grumpy traveller. I told the one or two hustlers (only one or two? this must be a laid-back town) in no uncertain terms where they could go. Don't worry, I wasn't too rude, I just made it very, very clear I did not want to be bothered. Last night's young English lad, who we'll call Passport, got off the bus, and, because he was a fellow traveller and not a hustler, I was a little gentler on him. We got talking while I waited for R and T. He was looking for bearings. He'd found a hotel in the Lonely Planet and wanted to head that way. I couldn't help, but I said stick around, we'll be looking for a hotel soon, and we might as well get some breakfast first. So Passport, R, T and I trundled off looking for sustenance. We found a small roadside stall selling doujiang (soy bean milk?) and youtiao (literally 'oil stick'- a long thin stick of dough deep fried), sat down, refueled, and discussed our hotel-hunting plans. R, T and I were trusting T's Chinese guidebook over R's Lonely Planet, but Passport decided to stick with his Lonely Planet hotel, so after we'd refueled, gotten ourselves oriented, and settled on our respective plans of action, Passport went his way and we went ours.

We found a hotel, just a few hundred metres down the road. It was a strange place, built over the top of a market, accessed by a ramp, right next door to what my memory insists was the People's Armed Police Border Patrol base. They had a three-person room, but, unfortunately, unlike the guesthouse in Kunming, that was one large room with three beds. Sharing a room with a couple is never entirely comfortable. And like almost every hotel in Jinghong the hot water was solar-heated only, meaning a nice, soothing shower to wash off the travel dirt would have to wait until the late afternoon. So we paid for one night, and went up to the room to crash.

Interesting little note: Even though legally all foreigners must register with the police within 24 hours of arrival, and registering at the hotel counts as registering with the police, often if there is a Chinese person in the group, the hotel will only register the Chinese person, saving the hassle of having to deal with weird foreign names and passports. This is what happened at both hotels we stayed at in Jinghong. It's technically illegal, but most of the time nobody cares, and if the police are cracking down the hotel will make sure they get the foreign guests' details.

Well, T discovered she's left something on the bus, so she and R went back to the bus station to look for it. I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and sneak a couple of travel-shaken-nerve-soothing cigarettes. The same as when I arrived in Kunming- buy a pack and a lighter, smoke two, throw the rest away.

They got back, and T and I went off in search of more suitable accomodation while R crashed. We found a couple of likely-looking places, including one which offered a variety of stand-alone cabins. We also got a better feel for the layout of the town, and explored the market and local eateries. It looked promising. We also came across two young monks of maybe nine or ten years old. The Dai people, like their Thai cousins, have a tradition of sending their sons to the monastery for a year or two. This is technically illegal in China- one must be 18 before entering the monastery- but the tradition survives. Overall, we got the impression this was a very easy-going, laid-back kind of town, one in which it could be very easy to get lost for ever..... But we didn't.

To be honest I really can't remember what we did for lunch or what we did that afternoon. We were really just shaking off the journey, getting ourselves sorted out again. Maybe we went to that guoqiao mixian (crossing-the-bridge noodles) place for lunch.... or maybe it was to one of those outdoor restaurants just down the road..... I have no idea. Actually, I can't really remember what we did the next day, either, or the day after..... That's the kind of place we were in. That's the kind of mood I was in. I wasn't there for anything touristy, I was there for entirely different reasons.

Barbeque on the river bank

T had found a large Dai-style barbeque area- almost a barbeque park, really- in her guidebook, so we decided to check it out. The taxi driver was a little disappointed that we knew and insisted on the local price instead of the tourist surcharge, especially considering there were two tall, white laowai in the group. But we got there fine.

We walked into the park and saw barbeque stall after barbeque stall stretching all the way to the river bank and for a couple of hundred metres (or so it seemed) in either direction. But we were obviously early- there were very few other customers around, and the stall holders were quite relaxed about attracting us to their stalls. We walked through the park and saw a boat on the river bank offering barbeque, and decided that'd be a cool place to eat, so we went there. We discovered that the boat really was on the river bank. It being winter and the dry season, the river level had dropped, leaving our boat high and dry. So there we were, having Dai-style barbeque on a boat on the bank of the Mekong River (or the Lancang River, as it's known in China). We had a little chuckle at this situation, and R and I got a good eyeful of this river whose lower reaches are etched so deeply into our home countries' psyche, and then tried to explain to T why it is such an iconic river in our eyes.

We ordered our food and a couple of beers and sat back to wait, soaking up the atmosphere. A young woman walked up to our table and said something incomprehensible. We all said, "Huh?". She repeated it. We said, "Huh?!" and looked even more confused, She realised she should switch to Mandarin, and said "Anmo?", at which point we were still more confused- why would we want a massage with dinner? But at least we understood and could tell her, no thanks. She was followed by a young man with an acoustic guitar, a microphone strapped to his head, and a Star Wars-looking backpack that contained an amplifier who decided to serenade the two or three tables occupied at that early hour. He wandered off after a few minutes, but came back not long after accompanied by a guy with a similar rig, but a rock star-style electric guitar to accompany his mate's acoustic guitar. They sang a few more songs and wandered off again. Eventually all our food arrived and we ate. I have to say, though, that I was underwhelmed by the food. It wasn't bad, but it didn't impress me too much, especially the fish, which was typical river fish (what was I expecting)- all bones, very little meat. Anyway, the meal was certainly good enough and the experience provided a good story.

We decided to walk back to the hotel, it being a pleasant night and the town being much, much smaller than we were used to. We passed a couple of bookshops selling good, bilingual tourist maps of Xishuangbanna, so we got ourselves a map. We arrived at a kind of traffic circle, or perhaps it was just an accidental collision of several roads, and on one side saw a small cafe. The Jungle Bar, I think it was. It was mentioned in R's Lonely Planet, and so I suggested we stop in for a beer.

Note to self: When you come across any bar or cafe mentioned positively in the Lonely Planet, scope the joint thoroughly before you decide whether it's worth your time and money. Why? We wondered inside, found a staff member, sat down at one of the tables outside on the pavement, ordered drinks, and looked around. Every single other person in the cafe, including the waitress when she wasn't busy, had their nose stuck in the Lonely Planet. Either the China or Laos editions, depending on whether they were heading up or down river. Except the waitress, of course, who must've been reading the first copy she saw and only out of sheer boredom. Altogether it was a rather depressing experience and we finished our drinks, paid, and headed back to the hotel.

Just tagging along....

Well, like I said, I wasn't there to be a tourist, I was just escaping, so the days alternated between us wandering around doing our own things and taking off to see some of the sights. And that also meant that T was making most of the travel decisions. So one day I was wandering around on my own, found a little market, got a couple of souvenirs, while they wandered off doing their thing.

Oh, yes, we found better accomodation, just across the road from the local stadium, an easy twenty-minute walk straight down the road from the Meimei Cafe, which is across that collision of intersections from the Jungle Bar and definitely the better cafe. Anyway, more suitable digs, a room for me, a room for them, an appropriate amount of space. Still the usual solar heated water only, though, so we'd return to the hotel about four or five in the afternoon to clean ourselves up before we headed out for the evening. It seems that for a hotel to get a star-rating in Jinghong it needs 24 hour hot water, and we did see a few fancy hotels with big signs saying exactly that. We were jealous of the people who could afford such luxury. But we didn't mind, one look out the window revealed that almost every rooftop in the town was a forest of solar water heaters, and there was no shortage of shops along the streets selling such equipment.

And I was interested to see a Dai Medicine Hospital directly behind our hotel. Good to see somebody's keeping the local medical tradition alive.

A typical day would start with a trip downstairs to the little hole-in-the-wall baozi place next door for an early-morning fuel-up. The food was good, the people friendly.

One day we decided to go down to Ganlanba. T's guidebook said there was a good Dai Ethnic Minority Theme Park there. R and I were a little dubious about the merits of such a place, but T was the decision maker, and we had no real objections. We went to the bus station and found the van that would take us down to Ganlanba. It was the usual rural China sort of road. Two lanes, the traffic not always respecting the rules, winding along the opposite bank of the Mekong. There wasn't much to the scenery- mostly jungle-clad mountain on one side, mostly jungle-clad river bank on the other, the occasional homestead or village breaking it up. We arrived.

It's hard to describe the situation we found ourselves in. Clambering out of this van, looking around and seeing the intersection of two dusty, non-descript roads, a run-down looking school on one side, a grotty, run-down town that looked half-abandoned on the other, and a small knot of motor-tricycles whose drivers were trying desperately to get tourists inside for a ride to the famous park. Not the sort of place I'd expect to find a tourist attraction in, and yet obviously a place that attracted a fair number of tourists. We tried and tried and tried to shake off the motor-tricylce drivers and set off to explore for ourselves, but the entire time, despite polite refusals, pleas to leave us alone, and menacing abuse, we had at least one, if not two or three of these drivers shadowing us the entire time trying desperately to get a fare to the park. Even when we were at the gates of the park (an easy 10-minute walk from the bus stop) they were still shadowing us, thinking that their constant brow-beating would convince us to climb inside and hand over our money. And it really did get to us hurling abuse at these idiots. Anyways, we found our way easily to the main gate of the park.

The gate had two large.... pillars? Pill boxes? The main road ran between these two pillars, but there were side roads around the outside, and no fence, so we went around the outside, only to be stopped by a guard on the other side and sent back to buy tickets from a booth in one of the pillars. Seeing the rather ridiculous price, we thought, bugger this for a joke, and T walked over and got the attention of one of the tour guides sitting with the guard. After a bit of gentle persuasion, she took us round to a back gate and into the park. For a small fee and a promise to eat lunch at her place, of course. And her place was acting as a restaurant, and therefore cost money as well, of course. But the fee and lunch were cheap and our little dodge save us a huge amount of cash.

After a very delicious lunch in a comfortable bamboo pavillion outside our guide's home, we wandered around the park seeing the sites. The park encloses several Dai villages as well as the usual tacky theme park stuff. The tacky theme park stuff wasn't very interesting, but the villages made for pleasant strolls. I especially liked the small village temples- simple, unassuming, serene and beautiful. We caught the song and dance show. R and I didn't enjoy it so much, but it kept T happy. It was obviously geared more to Chinese tour group tastes, and it was the kind of thing you'd see on a China Central Television (CCTV) variety show. But like all CCTV variety shows, it rang a little hollow- what kind of Dai folk song is sung in Mandarin? Really? They have their own language and culture down there. The sond and dance routine ended with the now compulsory, tour group-pleasing, daily reenactment of the Dai water-splashing festival. We escaped before that could begin. The last thing we wanted was to be soaked by over-enthusiastic tour group members. We went wandering off through the villages and found a path down to the river bank, where we hung out for a while, soaking in the scenery, watching the river flow by.

We soon attracted a couple of young girls who, like the motor-tricycle drivers, just couldn't take no far an answer. We were more polite to them, of course, but equally firm. Fact is, they weren't anywhere near half as obnoxious as the drivers. But still, they were convinced we were going to stay at their place for the night, and that we could be convinced to abandon our plans and part with more cash than we'd planned to spend on this day trip to stay at their place for the night if only they kept insisting on it.

It came time for us to leave and get back to the bus stop before we found ourselves having to take up the girls' offer for want of transport back to Jinghong, and these two girls trailed us all the way to the back gate before finally accepting that we really were going back to Jinghong and not staying in Ganlanba for the night. We took a slightly different route back to the bus, this time managing to avoid the irritating drivers and got on the van back to Jinghong unmolested.

Getting back meant, of course, taking advantage of the fact the water had been heated by the sun during the day, and taking a nice, hot, soothing shower before heading out for dinner and a few beers.

A nice little hang-out

I remember now... on one of the non-travel days, when I was free to wander off on my own, I discovered the Meimei Cafe. It was at that collision of intersections, opposite the Jungle Bar and it's silent, Lonely Planet-worshipping clientele, but that's about the only connection between the two places.

Sure, Meimei Cafe had it's fair share of Lonely Planets, but their readers were capable of lifting their noses out of their books, looking around, and interacting with their fellow travellers.

I stopped in one afternoon, got a coffee, bought a couple of books from their book exchange/travellers' library, looked around, decided I liked the place. Well, staff members who couldn't speak English and yet were incapable of dealing with foreign clients in Chinese were a bit of a drawback, but that's something one has to deal with anywhere that attracts a reasonable number of foreigners. Anyway, I decided I liked the place, and brought T and R there for dinner that evening. Then we discovered that the food was quite reasonable, as well.

That evening I also finally found out about a mysterious and intriguing bottled drink I'd spotted in several places during our meanderings. It was called Xiao Xuanfeng- Little Tornado- and looked like it might be beer, and yet it wasn't so clear from the label..... Well, a young Englishman (not Passport, although I did also bump into him at Meimei one afternoon) I'd seen there that afternoon sat at the table next to us with a bottle of Xiao Xuanfeng, so I asked. And then I discovered that Xiao Xuanfeng was by far the better of all the beers I'd sampled on the trip so far, and so it became my brew of choice for the rest of my time in Xishuangbanna. And Meimei also became my hang-out of choice.

It was a good place. A good mix of travellers, an open, friendly atmosphere, always somebody interesting to sit back and shoot the breeze with. And like all of Jinghong, so laid-back it might as well have been horizontal. I could easily while away an afternoon there watching the world go by.... and I did, on occasion.

More tagging along, and a parting of ways

Well, I finally managed to convince R and T that I really was only looking for a week or so's break from life in the frozen wastes of the capital in winter and found a place to get a decently-priced plane ticket home. Then we organised our last trip together. T wanted to check out 野象沟/Ye Xiang Gou, the Wild Elephant Ravine, and I was keen to see a little of the rainforest. T and R were planning on spending the night there then maybe going on a short trek or something, at least, before continuing off on their meanderings South of the Clouds (oops, should explain, Yunnan could be translated as 'South of the Clouds'). I was going out to Ye Xiang Gou with them, but would return to Jinghong that evening and head back to Beijing the next day.

The plans may seem a little complicated, but it made sense to us. The morning of our trip to Ye Xiang Gou, they left a pack of not-immediately-necessary stuff in my room and checked out, carrying only what they would need for the next day or two. I took a day pack. If they returned to Jinghong by midday the next day (when I'd check out), they'd collect their extra stuff from me before heading off on their travels. If not, I'd leave their pack at the front desk for them to claim. Makes a kind of sense.

So we jumped on the bus to Ye Xiang Gou. Or we discovered that a bus heading past would drop us at the gate, and to get back we'd have to hitch, as there'd be plenty of vehicles of all descriptions plying the tourist trade heading along the highway. Or so we were assured. And so we set off with the usual traveller's confidence, no worries, she'll be right.

We arrived at Ye Xiang Gou to discover two things: We were at the wrong gate to see anything worth seeing, but we could catch a ride around to the right gate; and the accomodation was way, way beyond what R and T could afford. So we caught our ride round to the other gate and R and T decided they'd just head off into the wilderness that afternoon and see what they could see.

We arrived at the other gate, got our tickets, and wandered in to what looked like the usual tourist-trap park, but not so tacky. Certainly better done than that Dai park down in Ganlanba. Actually, it was quite a pleasant place to stroll around. All the necessary facilities were there- toilets, souvenirs, restaurant, a place where trained elephants put on a show, of course, and most importantly from my point of view, a trail leading out into the bush. We wandered around the main part of the park, getting our bearings, and just then the elephant trainers brought the elephants down to the river for their daily bath. So we stopped and watched. You'd be surprised how entertaining elephants taking a bath can be, and we stood and watched until the elephants were brought back up onto the bank and taken back to their enclosure. As they came up the bank, they passed within a metre or two of us- even though these were the smaller Asian elephant, they were pretty impressive at such close quarters. Well, a group of 20-something girls standing several metres behind us didn't think so- despite the extra distance, the found the sight terrifying and screamed like 13 year olds.

Then we wandered down the trail into the bush. I was so happy to be in a forest again I was like a child, running around, exploring everything, just lapping it up. The trail ended where the cable car running between the two gates crossed over a ravine that had several chalets on stilts linked by raised walkways- I guess this was the accomodation from which one could watch wild elephants, if one was lucky enough. I suspect, considering most wild animals prefer to give humans a nice, wide berth, that not too many people have seen real wild elephants there, but maybe I'm just being too cynical. Anyway, we looked around then wandered back to the main park area. T wanted to see the elephants perform.

Not being a great fan of animals being made to perform for our entertainment, I opted out and went to the restaurant for lunch. R and T showed up after the performance, which T loved, and they got their lunch while we decided what to do.

It was decided we'd hitch a ride into a village and wander around, seeing what we could see. This was, after all, their Plan B, and I still had plenty of daylight in which to hitch another ride back into Jinghong. So we did, bargaining with a husband and wife team passing in a miandi (really tiny van, but very practical despite its size) for a trip into a village along the way back to Jinghong they thought fit the bill.

So we found ourselves on a dusty, non-descript main street that did not look promising. The view of paddies and fields had looked so enticing from the road, and yet were nowhere to be seen all of a sudden! What kind of village is this? Well, the kind where a father points to us and tells his toddler, "Look! Those are foreigners." I know, I know, I should be used to this, but like I said, I'm a grumpy traveller, and I have a sharp tongue which sometimes moves before my better judgment can step in. "How strange!" I said, dripping sarcasm, "Foreigners! Wow!". Still, he got the point and walked away looking sheepish. So we looked around and decided to walk in the direction of the main highway. We reached that and saw what looked like some kind of small resort, or the beginnings thereof, immediately to our right, fields down the hill behind that, the main highway in front of us, and just the kind of village we were looking for on the other side of the highway. So we crossed over, found a lane, wandered up between the fields to the village, wandered through seeing a real, rural village from eye-level instead of from the windows of a long distance bus, and came to a crossroads.

This is where we parted company. I wanted to get back to Jinghong in time for the hot water, they wanted to keep walking. We rechecked the plans for the extra luggage they'd stored in my room, said goodbye, and I headed back to the highway. A hitched a ride on a minibus (for a small fee, of course) and was dropped back in town opposite the hospital just round the corner from Meimei Cafe. For some reason the driver was convinced I must be staying in that area. Anyway, it was only about 20 minutes walk to my hotel on the other side of town.


That evening I wandered down to the Meimei Cafe to cap off the my time in this small slice of paradise. My stomach was starting to object to a constant, steady diet of chilli, so I decided to take it easy, starting off drinking green tea, eating very bland food, trying to settle things down. See, I normally have a fairly high chilli tolerance, but after so many years in the salty, un-spicy north, I'm no longer used to such a constantly spicy diet. Anyway, gradually a group of young men formed, and I felt comfortable switching to beer. Besides, a couple of cold ones were necessary on my last night here.

You know, there's something strange, surreal about the backpacker world. And here in China, the backpacker world contains more than a few young foreign teachers escaping their schools during the holidays. This group of four or five young men all living in China that formed that night, well, we found ourselves complaining about the older, siftier men we'd met here. You know, the fifty- or sixty-something guys who, on meeting one of us in our twenties (as I was at the time- sadly those days have since passed) feels a bizarre need to boast about how they had a wife their own age at home and a beautiful, young Chinese girlfriend here, or about how they'd been playing around with the, ahem, "hairdressers" or the, ahem (sorry, frog in my throat) "hostesses" at the KTV joints or the seedier bars. We all agreed we found such men, their conduct, and their bizarre need to boast to us younger guys about their conduct quiet disgusting. Then one young Englishman, the one who had introduced me to the joys of Xiao Xuanfeng beer, told us he had a girlfriend up in Kunming, but that he'd met two girls down here in Jinghong, one of whom was showing quite an interest in him, and well, he was thinking maybe...... The rest of us agreed that it wouldn't be a good idea. He knew that.

Well, not long after these two girls showed up. Neither of them spoke a word of English, but they looked like the kind on the look out for a foreign boyfriend. Well, let's just say the sight of them set alarm bells ringing. The one interested in the Englishman sat with him and they got rather friendly..... too friendly, perhaps. The other was told that all of us here could speak Chinese so she could take her pick. She took an unwelcome interest in me, so I finished my beer, pleaded a bad stomach, and left them to it.

The next morning, of course, was about packing up and getting ready for the flight home. R and T hadn't made it back from the bush on time, so I left their pack at the front desk and wandered down to Meimei Cafe for lunch and to pass the last couple of hours before I had to head out to the airport. I managed to get a taxi out there for a reasonable price, and found myself at what looked more like a long distance bus station than any airport I'd seen for a long time.... I shouldn't have been surprised, having flown into and out of rougher- and readier-looking places in provincial New Zealand, but even so. But still, Jinghong is technically an international airport, having flights down to Bangkok. Anyway, it was clean and shiny and comfortable, and everything worked just fine, so there was nothing to worry about. Just it was rather smaller than I'd gotten used to.

The flight up to Kunming was fine, although, as on the way into Kunming a week earlier, I was rather distressed to see how brown most of the mountainsides looked. Kunming airport was the same mess I'd experienced on the way down, but this time I was a little further past nicotine withdrawal and didn't need a quick fix to soothe the nerves. The flight to Beijing was supposed to be on Air China, which has always treated me... passably, at least, but for some reason, maybe a side-effect of the recent airline mergers, we wound up on a China Northwestern Boeing 757. A plane set up to squash the largest number of Chinese, most of whom have much shorter legs than I do, into the smallest possible space. Which, of course, made for a very, very uncomfortable four hours for me. But we arrived in Beijing safe and sound and to further confirmation that I really was getting past nicotine withdrawal.

I arrived in Beijing safe and sound only to discover I'd travelled from a sub-tropical slice of paradise to minus five degrees and snow. And not for the first time I found myself wondering, just why was it, exactly, that I got on that plane?

A short summary

Yeah, that trip gave me plenty of things to complain about, but I do feel justified in ripping off the title of that Dave Dobbyn and the Herbs' song made famous by the Footrot Flats movie. Sorry, you probably need to be a Kiwi to get that reference. Yes, things went wrong, and yes, some of the events of that trip were irritating, but when you look out your window and see a street lined with palm trees, when you're walking down the street in a t-shirt in the middle of winter, when the near-misses in the traffic happen at a little faster than walking pace, when you're surrounded by jungle-clad mountains, when the countryside is only a short bike ride away, and the bush not much further, when there's a million little trials leading in a million enticing directions.... and most of all, when you've got a cool little place to hang out on your rest breaks and plenty to do when you're feeling active, you're onto a good thing. I hope the new highway hasn't swamped it with the overload from Lijiang and Dali, because the Xishuangbanna I saw was well worth the time.

 More Xishuangbanna Travel Reviews
1. <a>Jinghong: A Border Town to Dai For ICTHUS17 from US Jan 31, 2007 13:01
2. <a>Dining with the Dai ICTHUS17 from US Oct 31, 2006 22:10
3. <A> Mesmerizing Xishuangbanna WKSEAH from MY Apr 30, 2005 14:04
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