Off to Cargo Ship, into Yunnan Province, to Kunming, China

We had finally got off the cargo ship from Thailand to China. Bloody hell it felt good finally landing in China after a week on the boat. We were dropped off in a port-town called Guan Li which certainly wasn’t ideal as we thought we could get a life on the cargo boat all the way to Jinghong. After the border police scared the crew, that wasn’t going to be possible. So here we were. We had to work out how to finally get to Jing Hong, and then Kunming. 


We climbed the stairs at the port and made our way through ‘immigration’ which consisted of a confused Chinese guy and a wooden desk. After summoning his manager, calling their superiors, more confused looks at us being there and eventually a stamp in our passports we were let through, and into Guan Li town centre. Wow.

This place is certainly not in any guide book, that much is for sure. We wandered around the town for about 30 minutes. It was early in the morning and we didn’t actually have a plan, when I left Thailand the ‘plan’ only went as far as trying to get on a cargo boat so now we had achieved that we were sort of lost, in more ways that one.

We found a sort-of guesthouse type place for about 20 RMB ($3!) for the 3 of us. We dropped our bags off and tried desperately to find someone who could speak English. I’m sure you can guess how successful that was! We soon were getting followed everywhere around this little town by intrigued Chinese people who kept their distance but had no problems with following our every move.


First impressions of China

I had realised my dream! Now admittedly this wasn’t quite the great wall of China, but it WAS still China and I was excited. What were my first impressions? Well I thought the culture shock when I first arrived in Thailand was big! One day backpacking in Guan Li showed me more about rural China than 20 documentaries and books, thats why I urge everyone else to get out of their comfort zone and get out there.

So we walked around the town, trying our best to find out how the hell we get out of this place and on towards Jinghong. Mealtimes were an adventure. Each time it much involved us going to a restaurant, 10 minutes of confusion on everyone’s part then an inevitable trip by one of us to their kitchen and a vague point and nod procedure to choose what we wanted! always delicious though. Always with extra chillis and a smile.


Death Bus to Jing Hong

We heard a rumour about buses leaving early in the morning from the town centre so we set our alarms to 4am. A quick shower and we lugged our backpacks to the centre of the village. And waited, and waited and waited.

Also, I’m not sure if you know about the crazy time zones in China. It’s a huge country and you would expect 5 time zone, maybe 6 or 7. But nope, China has one timezone. Beijing time, and everywhere else must follow that. That meant 5am in Guan Li town centre was probably more like 1am considering we had barely left Thailand, Myanmar and Laos behind us. Either way, a bus arrived around midday, we boarded it and it left around 2pm. That was a long morning, but at least we were on our way.


Views from the deathbus
Views from the deathbus

Chinese buses

The thing about Chinese buses is people smoke, people swear, people spit and spit and spit some more. They also seem to love to squeeze far too many people in one bus and them proceed to drive like a bat out of hell. Hence our bus getting named ‘the Death Bus’.

We were driving through mountain passes for about 15 hours. The lane was clearly only wide enough for one vehicle but the driver naturally thought that one vehicle should be his. So we hit corners at 80kph, with sheer drops on one side, not knowing what was around the corner. On the journey I saw 3 crashes at the side of the road AND one bus (similar to ours) that had fallen down the sheer drop. It was terrifying.

Somehow, the next morning. Some 15 hours after departure. We made it to Jinghong in one piece. Finally we had a plan! We arrived here around 6am in the morning. Made a beeline for the station and bought a sleeper bus to Kunming for that evening. We spent a very tired day in Jinghong. Relieved to be alive, and the cargo boat and death-bus finally just a memory. We were on track.


Max and I arriving in Jinghong
Max and I arriving in Jinghong

On the way to Kunming; 9 Days Late

And with that, we were back on track. But oh boy were we ever late.

We left Chiang Mai, Thailand on the morning of December 15th. We boarded the cargo boat to China the next day, believing it would take us to Kunming, China 24 hours or so later. But here we were on a night sleeper bus from Jinghong to Kunming that would be bringing us to our destination on December 23rd. 9 days after leaving Chiang Mai. My first time in China hadn’t exactly gone according to plan. But to this day, it was one of the best adventures of my life. Anyway, off to Kunming we went. Finally! And then on to Xi’An.


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