Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Travelling — Luang Prabang, Laos to Jinghong, Xishubanna, China by Bus

My next destination was Jinghong City. Jjinghong is the capital of the southern area of Yunnan Province. Yunnan Province borders Laos (and Myanmar and Vietnam). This southern area is named Xishuangbanna ('she-shung-ban-ar', nicknamed Banna), and is an autonomous region in the province. Banna culture reflects its Thai history and association. This region was once a Thai kingdom that eventually fell under the sway of China. The city is tiny by Chinese standards “only” half a million people! My first view of the city and the word “delightful” comes to mind. At night neon lights illuminate the streets and eating areas of the city. There is a great stretch of cafes and small restaurants in the city centre.

The journey from Luang to Jinghong City (as it is nicknamed) is a 12 hour bus ride (07.00-19.00). Not the worst, but certainly not the most comfortable bus ride you will ever experience. Essentially, a long and winding, and bumpy road., but with beautiful and lush, green scenery. If you are prone to motion sickness you will find the journey up and down, from bump to bump, not fun at all. One woman on my trip had to sit in the front of the bus in the jumpseat, and she asked for frequent stops—some of which she received.

The bus departs from the southern bus station of LP, with a scheduled departure of 07.00, however, my bus left at 07.30, after lots of running around, form filling, and smoking in the designated non-smoking areas. We each had to list our passport details on a form, the form all in Chinese. I filled in what I could deduce and put a “?” in the other columns. More on passports later. There is food sold at the bus terminal at a small, but pleasant cafe, however, “motion sickness”—I always prefer to travel on an empty stomach.

We moved directly off from LP south, circling the town to reach National Highway 13. From then on to the border, with three major stops, including one at the busy town of Oudomxay.

The bus trip cost me 280,000 Kip ($35) from an agent in the city. This did include a tuktuk ride to the station. No doubt cheaper if you put it together yourself.

Mohan/Boten border crossing. The main excitement came at Chinese immigration. Exiting Laos was easy enough, the usual process. Don't forget your exit card, but if you do just write it out again in the office area. A little slow, my immigration guy seemed to be harassing Laos folk desirous of visiting China, but no trouble for me. In fact I did not have to pay the exit fee my fellow passengers were paying, however, this ease was soon to disappear at my next stop.

We returned to the bus and drove 2 kilometres north to the Chinese immigration office, here things changed. I was the only westerner on the bus, the others were either Laos or Chinese citizens. The first step was an inspection of our bags. Exit the bus, lay our bags on an outdoor table where solders waited to examine the contents. Then onto the large, largely empty, immigration hall. Here things became more complex.

An officer with 3 stars on his shoulder asked for my itinerary, discussing my answers with his colleagues, carefully inspecting the binding of my passport for signs of tampering, and generally slowing things down. However, he and they were always polite, and I gather they were as much interested in practicing their English as they were in checking my background. With all this I was the last back to the bus, where my fellow passengers were waiting.

The entire process of immigration took an hour and half, from leaving Laos to entering China, so not too bad, but is any of it really necessary? More an example of paranoia than protection.

Now, I am in the city of Jinghong for two days. Lets see what the city offers in the way of diversion!

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