We had heard that the Chinese may be the noisiest people on earth, and so far we would have to agree. In the hotel foyer Sam and I had to go outside to hear each other speak, because one man on the phone was speaking (yelling) so loud.
During the night we had to ask to move hotel rooms because we could hear the karaoke two floors down as loud as if we were there. We moved up another two levels but we could still hear it. And it was terrible – they really couldn’t sing.
We also quickly realized that not many people spoke English. The info man became our lifeline – translating for us about food, bike shop locations, laundry prices and bus tickets. His information wasn’t always accurate, but at least it was something to work with.
We were in desperate need of clean clothes so in the morning I set off with Francois and Severene to find a place to get our clothes cleaned. We walked the streets, asked people, showed them pictures of a laundry (from a little book Francois had) and didn’t find one. The info man was little help here – he just offered for his wife to take care of it for us for 100Y ($17) which was way too much. The hotel wanted to charge the same amount. We ended up finding a big metal bucket and clothesline on the 6th floor and did the washing ourselves.
The next task was to find a bike wheel. The first shop we found was no more than a cupboard with a pump and some spare tubes, but some local girls who spoke a little English got us to follow them down the street where there were a couple of bigger shops. Bigger, but still no wheels. Sam and I decided we would need to catch the bus to Kunming to get a new wheel. Severene and Francois decided to come with us, and from there we would all do some rides around Kunming, particularly to a place called the Stone Forest.
At the bus station there were buses leaving that night, but the lady (who spoke little English, mainly about bus times and prices) seemed insistent that we couldn’t take bikes. We had to go to Jinghong if we had bikes. It seemed everyone in this town thought we should go to Jinghong!
I went back again to explain that the bike was broken and we had to catch the bus. She seemed to say ok, but only on the late bus. When I confirmed four people with bikes she changed back to saying no again.
It was all very frustrating. We decided to just turn up an hour before the bus left and see what happened- maybe it would be half empty and so bikes would be no problem.
Talking later with the information guy he said that many foreigners take bikes on the bus to Kunming, so Sam, Francois and I went back over one more time. The info guy followed and proved helpful in translating.
We found out there were five tickets left for Kunming that day – we had to make a decision fast! We went to the bus station down the road (where the buses waited) and checked out the storage area under the bus – there was enough room for our bikes (including Francois and Severene’s tandem) so we went for it.
We ran back to the office, bought the tickets (the last four available) and then packed our things. We took our bikes to the bus station an hour before departure to see about loading them early (to make sure we got the room we needed and packed them the way we wanted). The drivers were not compliant. They tried to get us to leave, told us to wait at the departure area down the road. But we insisted. We tried to give one of the men some money but he wouldn’t take it. Luckily the ticket had the bus number plate on it, so we were able to find our bus and load it up. It took us 40 minutes to pack everything compactly and securely. Different people came to watch but no one stopped us.
Severene and I stayed with the bus, while the boys went to get food and wait at the departure area, in case we had packed the wrong bus. But luckily, we hadn’t. When the driver arrived Severene and I jumped on with him and rode to the departure area.
Our beds (because it was an overnight sleeper bus) were all together up the back of the bus, on the upper level. It was nice to all be together, but very squashy! Especially when the fifth guy up there turned up and had to get on with us.
Despite that, we were in good spirits as the bus departed. We had managed to achieve the impossible – get four people with bikes on a bus to Kunming!
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia