This blog ended a little longer than we would have liked – sorry.
Our planning process has gotten a little late on the draw. We were a bit nervous of how things would be once we arrived in China. We definitely didn’t want to be completely lost and risk being taken advantage of. We worked with a couple of different travel agents while in Thailand trying to get a tour booked. But as we were working with them we found ourselves having to do all the research and checking on what they suggested because we didn’t necessarily want to see all of what a typical tour includes or in the same amount of time. We found it hard to explain that since we have ample time we like to have a rest day or two and we need activities that will keep the kids interested as well. Well, it ended up that we were too short of notice for the tours and the one we had been working with didn’t take credit card at such a short notice. We ended up doing the planning ourselves and it all worked out in the end. After Yangshuo we headed to Kunming where the weather was 70’s and beautiful. Getting there was another story. We found our trains online but couldn’t figure out how to book so we decided it would be more efficient to go face to face and buy the tickets to make sure we would get the right train. Long story short; it wasn’t the language barrier that hurt us it was the fact that they ran out of soft bed compartments . . . as we walked away from the ticket counter we realized we would be in an open-berth for 18 hours on the first leg, immediately followed by an open berth on the 12 hour second leg. Let me just say that after the first leg we never boarded a train in China again.
It’s funny the longer you are married the more you get to know the more discreet intricacies of your spouse’s mood and behavior. For example, you’re quicker to notice in the eyes of your wife when she’s simply had enough or she’s about to explode!
We just got off an eye-popping 18 hour night train ride from Yangshuo to Kunming and Amy and Kendal did just about everything in their powers not to have to go to the bathroom over that 18 hour period (Kendal didn’t make it). The bathrooms were all squatters, I don’t want to give much detail other than when you walk in all you see is a hole in the floor and, well, imagine them not being cleaned over that period of time. The four-bed private berths were full when we purchased our tickets so we ended up in an open berth for six. The sights, the smells and the sounds of that open berth for 18 hours was an experience we will never forget. We have had 98% success rate on nice train rides; this unfortunately wasn’t one of them. We were all exhausted when we staggered off that train, funny thing is we had planned to take another 12 hour train that same day to Lijang but because of the first leg experience we decided to forgo that trek. When I saw the look in Amy’s eyes as we walked through the train station I knew we needed to hit our emergency splurge-fund for a nice hotel for a few nights in Kunming. Luckily we found Kunming to be a great place to visit for a few days . . . partly due to the nice hotel and a bigger part due to the great weather and Green Lake Park.
Domestic air travel is very reasonable here in China and you don’t have to book in advance to get the best deal so we agreed that we’d be doing the rest of our long travel via the air going forward. But we also all agreed that we needed that experience (or maybe that was just me agreeing with myself); long 18 hour train in China . . . accomplished, check!
Special Note: It would be wrong not to mention that there was a silver lining that came with this interesting experience, we luckily ended up with 2 mid-twenty girls as our bunkmates. They were so nice (as we are seeing much of the people in China are) and loved practicing their English on us. They even went so far as to give up their lower beds so the kids wouldn’t have to climb up to the second or third level (third level was quite high). I found out later that you pay more the closer to the ground you are so they were so generous to give those beds to our kids. They talked to us about Kunming and tried to help us with hotel names. I can only imagine what that trip would have been like if we would have ended up with a couple of guys that hocked, spit and smoked all night (and yes there were a number of those guys on the train) and not those cute girls as our bunk-mates . . . the stars sure were aligned for us at that point.