Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Jinghong to Quangzhou via Kunming by Bus and High Speed Train

It has long been an ambition of mine to travel on a high speed train, but to this date I have always missed out, so I was eager to sample the High Speed train between Kunming and Guangzhou.

To start, I had to get to Kunming and, I am happy to say, my departure from Jinghong was about as uneventful as it can get. I purchased my ticket the day before. The only real problem was the lack of English at the southern bus station (where one buys a ticket for the journey north), however, armed with the city name “Kunming" written in Chinese in my notebook by my hotel manager I quickly purchased a ticket from the helpful lady behind the glass divider. 

The next morning, awakening at 06.00, packing, girding my mental loins for the 24+ hour trip, I set of at 07.00 to walk with my two bags to the bus station. An early arrival, sitting, the centre of some attention (not many foreigners in this nest of the woods), then bus boarding. In China boarding a bus or train requires a bag and body scan. Great fun. On the bus and of we went.

I was fortunate to have two seats to myself. A comfy trip. One checkpoint where I had to show my passport to a young soldier, then to Kunming, with several pit stops and one lunch stop. The trip was around 9 hours for the 500+ kilometre trip, on a half full bus, over smooth roads with green scenery.

Then, Kunming. The city of eternal spring. One thing to keep in mind about Kunming, its altitude. At 2,000 metres it is high. On my first visit in 2013 I found myself winded when moving quickly. 

I arrived as expected at the Kunming Southern Bus Station. From here I took the subway, which departs from a station directly outside the entrance to the bus station, to the Kunming Southern Train Station, where the trains to Guangzhou depart. Lots of scans and tickets, but no drama.

At the railway station I was disappointed to learn that there were no high speed trains until the morning. Upon a moments reflection I decided to wait overnight at the station and take the 07.10 train. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, there are no real waiting facilities for passengers. When I tried to enter the departure area, 12 hours early, the day before, I was told “No”. Well, “no” indeed!

There is a small, very small it seems to me, for the size of the station, “High Speed Train Restaurant”, but that sold only meaty foods and did not appeal. I finally found myself in a KFC! Fries, a coffee, a out-of-his-way helpful English speaking manager, a table with lots of power plugs, and I was a happy camper, however the KFC closed at 23.00. Eight hours of waiting! The life on the road. Waiting is inescapable. 

Just in case you are interested, I passed the time of my travel reading two books. One is “Anansi Boys” by Neil Gaiman. This is the second novel in the “American Gods” series of novels. I was prompted to read this after watching the TV series “American Gods”, which is based on the first novel. Gaiman is an excellent writer. He crafts a subtle and complex world of surprises and imagination, while moving the story along. So far he prefers a happy ending to his novels. This, no matter had radical he may be in his writing, his denouement is the most conventional.

The second book is “The Magus” by John Fowles. This novel was published a half century back. It was suggested to me by my friend Tony—thanks Tony. I am half way through this novel, and I am still not sure what it is about, but it is an engrossing read. The story (not the plot), concerns a young dandy English chap, down from Oxford, who takes a job at a Greek island teaching English in a snobby school. He befriends a wealthy French chap who lives on the island, and from here a series of psychological games take place. I will tell you what I think of the story after I finish reading.

The train! First, entering the embarkation area. A serious Chinese government greeting, bags scanned, myself hand scanned and felt up by a (female) security guard, very welcoming. Inside, a huge waiting area. All painfully efficient, and tediously well organised. A complete lack of humanity. The antithesis of a noisy, humanity drenched Thai railway station.

The trip, well it was not as fast as I hoped. The train was not an express, lots of stops. From 07.00 to 16.00, nine hours, 1400 kilometres. An average speed of 150 kph. Not bad, but not the 300 I was promised :(. The trip itself was ok. Second class was a little crowded, seats just a little narrow, but sufficiently comfy, much like a economy class plane seat.

On arrival in Guangzhou I manoeuvred my way out of the station down to the subway and took two lines to reach my stop (during crowded rush hour)—thanks to the lady behind me in the subway due who helped me with the Chinese language only ticket machine. Followed by a short hike to my guest house, of the Chinese Youth Hostel group. haha. I decided to try a different style of accommodation this trip. I think they were surprised to see me.

Oh, I did finish the Fowles novel. I can see its rep. The young English chap is completely bamboozled by the mysterious group of psychological game players, and he never knows why. He is given many reasons, but every time he attempts to confirm he finds a lie or misdirection. The girl he loves, or thinks he does, is she for real? We will never know.

Now, lets see what fun Guangzhou has to offer.

PS apols for no photos: I will add later, but I cannot upload photos from China to my blog.

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