|... to here!|
Then we arrived in Hekou where everything is completely different. There is a barrage of Chinese characters of which I understand about 200. This is really interesting because it means the signs here are more intelligible than in Vietnam where I only understand about a dozen words. The down side is, I can only recognise those city and street names that I've memorised - so far Hekou and Kunming. Apart from that, it is much more like a European town here. There is a pedestrianised high street, the first I've been on in over a year. I felt so happy sauntering down it. It is lined with boutiquey shops just like at home, that would be interesting to potter in. The other thing I noticed when we crossed the border is how the whole ambiance changes. This is generally true for borders in Asia, just as it is in Europe, but this was very marked. I just spent six weeks in Vietnam and although the people are very pleasant I haven't heard people laughing and joking loudly in all that time. As soon as I got to Yunnan, people in general are much more laid back, laughing and talking loudly and generally being laid back.
Armed with the map from our fellow travellers' site (immigration didn't give us one), it was easy to find the ATM and the shuttle bus to the out-of-town bus station. Buying a ticket to Kunming was easy. Finding our bus and getting on it was easy. Even communicating wth the driver to find out if there would be a lunch stop was not too hard. We hit on two solutions: the first was that the driver lent Mike his cellphone to talk to an English speaking friend. We have noticed Chinese people do this very readily. While he was doing that, I was drawing a steaming bowl with chopsticks. Both drew the same response - we would be stopping for lunch at 3pm.
We took the day bus through Yunnan because we wanted to enjoy the scenery and generally avoid being exhausted. Sure enough it was wonderful, first the mountains, then as we got lower down, a kind of rolling farm country which reminded me a lot of the south of France. We started off on a smart smooth highway on which I thought the bus drove frighteningly fast (I'm not used to smooth roads anymore), then we got onto what seemed like muddy country lanes lined with plane trees. The lunch stop was a stand at one end of a walled car park. We bought a red ticket from a lady at one end of the stand and three ladies at the other end filled up our plates with a mixture of various things. Fortunately it was all good. This is where we got our first taste of Yunnan toilet facilities. Note for Americans: hole in the floor toilets don't phase us, lack of doors is a new one. At least in this one had the stalls all in a row with partitions. The next one had this cozy circle arrangement so you can see the people you're chatting with as you go. Hmmm... and no toilet paper, that goes without saying.
Anyway, we arrived in Kunming about 9pm, negotiated a taxi ride with a tout who only ripped us off by about 1 USD, so that was fine and staggered into our very nice hostel (The Hump) right in the middle of Kunming's large and beautiful pedestrian district. I love pedestrian districts!!!!