We had decided to buy tickets for all of our trains up to Xi’an both to ensure we had the beds that we wanted and to take advantage of the cheaper book-in-advance prices. However, the trains we wanted were already booked out. But after some broken English and odd looking sign language we booked a top and bottom sleeper for 2 trains. Unfortunately, one will take 24 hours, and the other will arrive at 5.30am. Fun!
But first we had an 18 hour train to Kunming. When we had booked it there were only upper sleepers left (which had prompted us to book the rest in advance) so we were interested to see who we were with. It turned out to be a middle aged man with what was obviously his mistress. They were pleasant enough, with the exception of their conversation volume being stuck on 1 level below shouting (at 4am this was a tad annoying). We took breaks from our top bunks by sitting on the seats in the corridor and having a couple of beers and some dinner while the stunning countryside rolled by. We actually got a good nights sleep, with the only other point of “interest” was when the lights were turned out and the man decided to move over to his mistresses bunk for some “fun”. Amusingly this lasted about 3 minutes, which gave us plenty of laughs and jokes for the next day!
After checking into our hostel we wandered around the area hoping that rain wouldn’t come. It didn’t, and in fact it turned out the city is experiencing a drought and has water restrictions in place. Just by the hostel was a large park which is essentially 4 large lakes connected by a system of bridges. Traditional Chinese architecture and temples were everywhere and it was a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
After quickly visiting the centre of town and finding a supermarket to buy some provisions for dinner (the sick-of-eating-out part of the trip has started) we went back to the hostel to bathe in the glory of a smart tv and indulge in a Blackadder marathon. Thank you smart TV and external harddrive!
The next day we went to the golden park temple, a 1 hour bus ride away. It is essentially a temple complex with temples, gardens and a bell tower situation on a mountain. We had gotten over our templed-out phase and just as well. The place was beautiful and the style of temple being completely different to SE Asian style and very similar to the Korean style, of which we know well. The gardens, with their small stone bridges, stone statues, small wiry trees and miniature temples were a sight to behold, while the bell tower offered views over the bustling metropolis below. It’s becoming quite apparent how big China really is! After wading through a chorus of “hellos” from a visiting kindergarten group, we had lunch at the complex: a rather average bowl of flat noodles that seemed to have more oil than broth.
Next up we caught a bus to Yuantong temple. Again, another stunning complex right in the heart of the city with several buildings, including one in the middle of a man made lake accessible by 2 bridges. Around the edge of the square lake were ancillary buildings which served to enclose the whole area and act as a barrier to the noise of the city. Around the back of one of the temples was a cliff with a small pond which had thousands of fish, turtles and frogs in it. Behind it locals were having picnics and playing mahjong.
After the temple we had a long walk to the centre of town, stopping off at the bird and flower market. The market basically sold every animal that you could conceive as being a pet with, as the name suggests, an emphasis on birds. They were everywhere!
The rest of the afternoon was spent browsing in shops and exploring the central city squares some more before another trip to the supermarket and back to the hostel exhausted after a long day.
The following day was a much more relaxed affair. More exploring around the city, another trip to the green lake park, and chores. Joy. Washing, planning and budgets. Has to be done, but at least there is a sun drenched courtyard to do it in followed by some beers and cards. Not too bad! The biggest surprise of the day came at dinner. Pot rice curry. Ie, like pot noodles, but rice with meat and sauce. It was, and I am not exaggerating, one of the best things we have had on the trip. We couldn’t believe it! Better than anything we had in Vietnam or Hong Kong. It looks like we have found our staple train food!
This afternoon we board the train to Chengdu, a 24 hour trip which will be quite an experience I’m sure. But before then we have one more sight to see in Kunming.
As mentioned earlier, we are starting to realise how big China is. When you see the weather reports, it lasts about 10 minutes as they flick through the dozens of cities. When we look at things to do in the provinces that we are visiting it is overwhelming. We are leaving places and we haven’t scratched the surface. It would take at least 3 months to see everything properly, with 6 being more likely. At least we know how to get the longer visas now! Because we will definitely be back.