We wandered up the road in the direction the conductor had pointed. At first there were no real signs of a border but as we turned the corner the impressive border edifice came into view, its funny how countries try to impress their neighbors with the size of their borders, it must be a boy thing! We entered the Vietnamese building through the door marked ‘entrance’...only to be told you have to enter through the exit, this was a border crossing not just a building. We exited Vietnam onto no-mans bridge, which was bustling with modified push bikes trolleying goods back and forth.
Contrary to our concerns regarding immigration’s knowledge of APEC cards, we were escorted to the front of the queue and, apart from a brief question about why I went to Egypt, breezed into China, Hekou, Yunnan to be specific.
Unfortunately as it paned out immigration are the only people in China who have seen an APEC card, which is a pain as you have to present your passport and visa for almost everything except going to the loo!
Comfortable in our more ‘age appropriate’ accommodation, we headed to the train station to book a ticket toward civilisation. Unfortunately despite Hekou’s small size it appeared that rest of the population was also trying to get out, we couldn’t get seats for two days and those were ‘hard seats’, we booked them anyway.
Discovering we had an extra day in Hekou we bing’d ‘sites and attractions near by’ - fortunately there were many very close. Unfortunately they were all the other side of the border. Ok lets look at food options, fortunately there were many..... the other side of the border.
Not to be put off we went exploring, found a really nice local market and a dumpling shop where the portions were twice the size of the promotional photos.
After dinner we joined most of Hekou’s remaining population for a stroll along the riverside promenade, the rest were dancing in the town square. It was a beautiful evening and the promenade was alive with families and groups just enjoying the evening, it’s scenes like these, repeated on promenades around the world, that proves that our similarities far out way our differences. Hekou was growing on us...but
A day later we headed to the station and caught the train to Kunming.
We both took an instant liking to Kunming as we strolled into the old town the next morning. The air was clean, the skies were blue, and lack of humidity reminded us of Perth on a beautiful spring day.
Our first mission was to cash travellers cheques (yes, old school and left over from travels several years ago) yes no problem sir if you have something to put the money into....yes I have a wallet....no something electronic. (We soon found out everything in China is done electronically).??? But I don’t have a Chinese bank account, I’m only visiting,... no problem sir, would you like us to open one for you?... What the!..how!..Ok then.
30 mins later I had a Chinese bank account and a shinny new debit card that I could use for WeChat pay, awesome. Unfortunately they were not able to cash the cheques as they were in Euros not USD. Kunming, being a small provincial city (7million plus people), hadn’t seen Euros for many years and their systems had been cancelled!
Shilin or ‘the stone forest’ is one of the must see attractions in Kunming and one that I was keen to see since learning of it on Discovery Channel. The next morning headed out on a tour arranged through the hostel (not our usual method, but it seemed the best option in this case).
On our last day on Kunming we took ourselves (no flag wielding guide required) to Xi Shan Forest Park, a vast 40 km long, hilly, natural park that runs along the side of Dian Lake. The northern end overlooks the city and famous for its spring flowers and dragon gate. The walk down from the top ticket booth is quite beautiful, with very few people, we had the path to ourselves up to the Lingxu pavilion viewing point, from where you are treated to panoramic views of Kunming and the lake (300sqkm) both vastly larger than they feel at ground level.
The owner was so excited he comp’d us another dish so he could be photographed with us enjoying his food.
Next stop Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge.