Blog Archives

The long march #1, Kunming #2

We had a plan: we were to fly from Xishuangbanna to Kunming using Lucky Air*. We’d have a couple of relaxing days in Kunming and then fly home. Anyway…

We got to Xishuangbanna airport in plenty of time. We boarded, took off and headed north for what should have been a forty minute flight. We began the descent to Kunming and then suddenly we were climbing again quite steeply. Hmmm. Ten minutes later they announced that landing was impossible because of the weather and we were heading back to Xishuangbanna.

We landed and sat on the tarmac waiting to take off again. There was not much information and the passengers on the packed plane started to get edgy. After some hours we were told to disembark and wait in the terminal. As we went back inside we were all handed a pot noodle style meal (vegetarian option: don’t eat the meaty bits).

It was hard to get information. We tried to cancel and rebook but the phones were off the hooks. It was all going a bit British Airways on us.

A rumour spread that we should get back on the plane. I don’t know who starts these rumours (the staff deny all knowledge) but it turned out to be true and we reboarded. We sat there for several hours and then they asked us to get off again. Some of the passengers were chanting demands and abuse by now.

As dusk settled it seemed we might have to spend the night in the terminal. There was a near riot when angry passengers spotted members of a flight crew daring to smile. A group of passengers on another flight refused to board – “We know you can’t take off. You’re just trying to keep us quiet.” There were very few Westerners about but those that were had no idea what was going on. One gentleman didn’t even know which airport he was at (his flight had been diverted and he’d then been abandoned).

Our plane at Xishuangbanna. Looks lovely doesn't it.

Our plane at Xishuangbanna. Looks lovely doesn’t it. (photo © 2013 James Errington)

Word started going round (no announcements) that coaches were taking people to a hotel. The five of us dashed outside and managed to get seats on the bus. The hotel had a very impressive marble and brass foyer but the rooms were shabby. At least we’d have a bed to sleep in. No meal though – we had to take a taxi and find a restaurant that was still serving. We had no bags but at least we knew they were safe and secure on the plane.

About 7am the next morning we had a phone call to come down to breakfast (cake and orange juice) and then be bussed back to the airport. Information was sparser than ever. The rumour mill said that 20,000 people had been stuck in Kunming airport overnight and there had been near riots. This was true.

As we queued to renew our boarding passes a fight broke out between two men to keep everyone amused. I think we learned the Mandarin for ‘Let it go, Grant’ and ‘He’s not worth it’.

We boarded at 11am and then spent another 3 hours on the tarmac. The plane hadn’t been restocked so there was no food or water. How we laughed. The most plausible of the many reasons given was that we were now waiting for a landing slot at Kunming.

We eventually landed at 3pm in Kunming, 27 hours late. Of course our baggage had been lost. The reclaim hall was full of people looking for officials to shout at. After a couple of hours they finally admitted that the bags had never flown. It was all going a bit Heathrow on us. We left our details with an official and headed for the City centre. They promised to send our bags to the apartment when they arrived but this, of course, was bollocks. We had to face up to the fact that we might never see our Christmas presents and two weeks of dirty washing again.

Having been intimidated by taxi drivers the last time we’d arrived in Kunming, I suggested that this time we take the subway (actually an elevated railway) to the City. The train was cheap, fast but unfortunately unfinished. It doesn’t yet reach the City Centre. We were dumped in a suburban bus station being hounded by some really intimidating people. One guy ‘offered’ to drive us to the apartment. He had a large facial scar and a tattoo across his chest. I warmed to him. The official taxi drivers refused to take us because he ‘owned’ us.I started to worry for my kidneys.

Luckily we managed to flag down a driver who wasn’t intimidated by our new friend. We were dropped off outside our apartment to meet the landlord, negotiate the security and make ourselves at home. It was now evening. We were due to leave Kunming the next day and our luggage was missing. So much for a nice couple of relaxing days.

At least the apartment was good. 24th floor with amazing views over the city.

There was a shopping mall in the basement of the apartment block so we stocked up on food and socks. We had to select a restaurant but not this one:

The Modern Toilet Cafe

The Modern Toilet Cafe. You sits on loos and eat food that looks like…

I like those wall lights

I like those wall lights. Not so keen on the seats

After a fast meal we hit the hay. Tomorrow – Kunming to London via Beijing – was scheduled to be a long couple of days. And we still didn’t have our luggage.

*With a name like that we should have known.

Jinghong, Xishuangbanna

We got through Dali’s smart new airport and flew with Lucky Air to Xishuangbanna‘s smart new airport. Did I mention the proliferation of smart, new infrastructure?

For once the airport wasn’t miles out of town and the taxi-driver’s universal estimate of “20 minutes” was not a comical underestimate. Which was a good job because it was a small saloon car and once again I was under the luggage.

Jinghong, the city of Xishuangbanna, is a long way South, right on the edge of the tropics. We were at a much lower altitude as well. It was humid, but the rain mostly held off.

There are elephants in the forests around here, but we didn’t go and see the reserve. We didn’t miss out though – there are models of elephants everywhere and it is (with peacocks) the default building decoration (click on an image to enlarge it).

We had a taxi-trip into the hills around Jinghong. We got taken to some pretty expensive places. If you’re looking to tour the area it’s probably best to head for some of the tourist cafés and book some tours or treks from them. You will get more control over itinerary and price and you might get to see some less touristy places.

Our trip took us on a long climb through the rainforest on a smart, new highway. We went into a rainforest park and after that to a tea processing plant. A lot of the rainforest is being lost to tea and rubber plantations. You also see a lot of roadside factories churning out bricks.

The rainforest park was very much a theme park. There are a lot of ethnic minority groups in this area (the Dai and the Jino for instance). Some of these had a compound on the trail where, wearing their ‘native costume’, they would put on a short show for the visitors. They were employees of the park, but there was a slightly patronising / demeaning air to it all.

Jinghong itself is a busy, modern city with a few quieter parks to walk in. There is the Big Buddha statue at the Menghan Chuman Dafosi (or Galanba temple), but we never got there. There’s a good night market and plenty of bars and cafes that cater to Western as well as Chinese tastes.

The city is close to Laos and Burma and you feel the cultural influence in the background. The proximity to the border means the area is also associated with smuggling. The riverside walk along the Lancang (Mekong) river is very pleasant.

We had a couple of days in Jinhong and were then expecting a quick air hop back to Kunming for two relaxing days there to round off a fantastic holiday. If only things were that straightforward…