8am came and went. It was by this stage I realised that when the nice lady at the Guangzhou bus station has said the bus took 14 hours, she meant to say it arrived at 14 hours. As in 2pm the next day. This did not bode well for my race down to Kuala Lumpur for the Gold Star Line ship leaving on Friday. Now it would be afternoon by the time I arrived in Kunming, at best. Oh why didn’t I leave Guangzhou on Sunday as I had intended?! Buggeration on stilts.
So it was after two in the afternoon before the bus rolled into to Kunming East Bus Station. I went inside and was told that the bus for Laos left from the Southern Bus Station – which makes sense, since Laos is pretty much due south of here.
Having bus stations on the outer rim of a large city makes so much sense it almost makes my brain explode that London has STILL not adopted this model. It’s absolutely nuts that coaches in the UK drop you off RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of the congested city centre of London. I’ve been on buses that have taken longer to get from the start of the M1 to central London (10 miles) than they did from Liverpool to the start of the M1 (200 miles).
A northern bus station at Edgeware? A western one at Heathrow? A southern one at Morden? An eastern one at Woolwich Arsenal – all easily linked to the Underground? WHY THE BLOODY HELL NOT, EH?
I’ll tell you why not: because none of the wankers in charge ever have to take the bus.
Anyway, a short taxi ride over to the Southern Bus Terminal was just what the doctor ordered. It’s a shame that I didn’t get to spend more time in Kunming, it gets a good write-up from all the people I know who’ve been there. But I’ll give them this: EVERY SINGLE BUILDING had a solar-powered water heater on the roof. THIS I LIKE.
There was a direct bus to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and it was leaving at 6pm. This was the good news. The bad news was that it would take 35 hours to get there. This would dump me in the middle of Vientiane at 4am (there is a one-hour time difference), and the border to Thailand doesn’t open until 6am.
But needs must and all that jazz. I bought at ticket for 587 Yuan, which is about 50 quid (I think) and set off to double-check the interwebs for any news about this ship on Friday. I walked over to a massive shopping centre, but it wasn’t a shopping mall as we know in the west, it was more like a covered market, only in a shopping mall. That’s why I called it a centre, not a mall. Malls have no soul. Thousands of shops selling all kinds of clothes, toys, trinkets and collectables. The commercial face of modern China. How Chairman “let’s do away with money” Mao is still on their banknotes is anybody’s guess.
I asked at the information desk if there were any cafés with wi-fi, but the guy didn’t understand me. Then a chap in a suit came over to explain what I wanted to the information guy. No, there wasn’t anywhere for me to get online. Wonderfully enough though, the guy in the suit, Wen, said I could use his office to get online. THIS is the kind of incredible altruism and generosity of spirit that has made my journey to the four corners of the planet so incredibly enjoyable and life-affirming.
I didn’t want to take the Mick, so I was only online long enough to see if there was any update from my friend Gaby Sharef. It seemed that if I could get down to KL in time, the ship was still on. I thanked Wen and was on my merry way.
The ‘VIP’ bus to Vientiane was AMAZING. Usually on a sleeper bus around these parts you get yourself a skinny little bed, which is more than enough for me. But, what’s this? Oh YES – a proper, big-enough-to-fit-two-people bed. I was smacked of the gob and no mistake. I knew that the road down through the mountains of northern Laos would be twisty as hell, but I actually found myself looking forward to this two-night trip.
Every so often we stopped for food, one of my personal SEVEN WONDERS OF TRAVEL (along with The People, The Architecture, The Culture/History, The Landscape, The Fauna and The Price of Beer), especially in places like China where everything you eat is weird and wonderful.
Back onboard and I had taken the driver’s mate’s seat at the front of the bus, good job too, if I hadn’t I would have crossed over The Highest Bridge In The World and I would have been none-the-wiser. As it was, in the inky blackness of the highway at night I couldn’t see anything much anyway, but it was nice to know.