The Never Ending Journey...

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2013

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Flag of China  , Shanxi,
Monday, February 4, 2013

2-6th Feb - The Never Ending Journey...

Our journey to Harbin started by getting a taxi at 9, our train being at 9:50 and the hostel saying that was plenty of time - it wasn't! First we hit the traffic...and lots of it, and arrived at the mahusive train station (Kunming is the capital of the Yannan province and only has 1 train station, compared to Beijing's 11!) and scurried about 10m before being confronted by queues. You have to show your ticket and passport to get into the station - because people used to buy lots of tickets and sell them on with profit, especially in the holiday season, tickets are now linked to your passport, and I think I saw to Chinese ID cards. After realising what they wanted we were through after having our bags scanned, and I then ran to reception to show my ticket and find out where next. The lady simply pointed and said "you're very beautiful" - this further improved my mood :)

Scurrying along quickly with our snow boots, big coats, hats, scarves and massive bags all on, we must have been an amusing sight; and add the fact that we're white!!! everyone was staring! Haha. The station was very organised, with little electronic doors open for the next train and a corridor to the platform, then a person nicely dressed at your carriage door checking tickets. Another reason we'd wished we'd left earlier is there was no space for our bags... I went climbing up to the level of the third bunk to organise everyone else's luggage to try and fit ours in. We managed 2 and mine was split into its 2 parts and put under a bed. We were in "had sleeper" which doesn't mean hard beds; it means 6 beds to a compartment, rather than soft sleeper having 4 and more room. We had a middle bunk and 2 tops which made for interesting climbing for Lara and I with everyone (and I literally mean most of the carriage down the corridor) watching! After re-introducing myself to train, squat toilets I went to sleep... Or tried to - worst sleep ever. The train every now and again jerks as if its hit something, it was 25 degrees (so we obviously stripped as soon as we got on - more reason for them to stare) and every now and again you had a wake up alarm of someone disgustingly clearing their throat very loudly in the sinks next to us.

The next day I dozed until about 10ish when it was time for some food: we'd got some big pizza slices the night before which turned out to have sausage and apricot on them... they were weird, but surprisingly nice and edible! The day went by not slowly but not as quickly as I would've hoped. Initially we were the main attraction of the carriage: people took pictures, stared and after a girl who spoke English came to talk to us for a while, 1 guy even asked me to stay in China forever! The girl was very nice and helpful: we asked her to say some phrases and we wrote them down phonetically in order to help us. She and all the other 6 or so people sitting around found us trying to say the phrases very amusing!

We read for a bit, wondered and found noodles and before bed time we watched a film on the laptop, all of us in our bed and turning down the loud or naughty bits each time (which there was quite a lot of as we were watching bridesmaids!) The next day we were up at 10 in order to sort of our stuff before arriving in Beijing. We arrived at about 11:15 and ran straight to the ticket office to get our tickets to Harbin. The next one was at 4, arriving the next day at midday and with only standing tickets... Oh dear! Lara and I went to the massive bus station next door which had no ticket office and after 2 officials trying to get us on a train that was not to Harbin (we even had the interpretation to say to Harbin) we went back to the train station and a very helpful lady at the English speaking desk helped us book the standing tickets with seated return tickets. Sorted :)

With that weight off our mind we went to Macy Ds then a cafe with the 2 and half hours to spare before our 4:20 train. At 3:40 we made our way to the station just across the world, and I said "imagine if we're at the wrong Beijing station"... We were :O OMFG! The very helpful woman decided not to tell us the important part that WE WERE AT THE WRONG STATION! The train station we needed was 30 minutes away. Running to the taxi rank and a guy grabbing us and ushered us to his car after he saw our tickets and said "hurry, hurry"! We finally got him to half the price her initially asked for (5 each) and off we sped, down the road for less than 5 minutes before he signalled we wouldn't get there in time and pointed us down to the subway. Taking 14 of the 15 he pointed us in the right direction and off we went not caring about the money. In the subway we ran straight to an attendant and pointed at the ticket and the time and she grabbed the money and got our tickets for us.

Once on the subway, obviously packed in like sardines with all our bags as well as our massive coats, scarves, gloves and hats on! Boiling! We arrived at the train station at 4.12 and ran to the entrance, got through, kept going even though 2 officials said it had gone, got into the main station, find the platform entrance, SHUT! :( :( :( After all that we missed the train. Defeated we luckily found a volunteer who spoke English who said you can replace your tickets within 2 hours of missing a train. So the volunteer did it all for us...took us to the desk, got a new tickets and got us back into the station and to the correct waiting room...for our next train at 3:37AM!!!! On the up side at least we were now at the right station :S We found seats and the wait began...After some reading and doing very little Laura found out the food in the station was expensive so it would be best if we went out. Luckily in the same waiting area there was lockers to store your bags for 1.50 so in they went to give our backs a rest. We managed to find a restaurant serving duck pancakes, much to all our joy and tucked in once again happy bunnies. After a spree around a closing supermarket for all the familiar snack food we could find, we were back at the station and set for the long wait, nodding in and out of sleep.

Our train was called at 3:15ish and tickets were quickly checked and we were on the platform. With the knowledge that at the ends of the sleepers there was seats and tables and that people got off along the journey we were optimistic we could find somewhere to put our bags, perch and get some sleep. This was not the case. Even without a seat we had a "place" in a seated carriage. When we got on I estimate there was already about 25 people standing with no bag spaces on the shelves above the chairs. Awkwardly making our way through an attendant soon made it clear we needed to put our bags on the shelves so we rearranged and managed it. Then we were stood in the middle of the isle with people constantly going back and forth to either smoke or go to the toilet. A woman nicely offered her husbands seat that he wasn't using and after the first stop Laura and I managed to get a seat - a completely upright solid wooden block. 18 hours of this...

As always Laura and Lara found it quite easy to sleep but with a very sore back and stomach aches I managed about an hr or 2 up to 10am. In that time we showed the people sitting near us where Laos was, I of course had my photo taken, we showed them currency from the countries we have visited and as always, listened to them speaking to us in Chinese and showing us symbols. One guy had a major fascination with his portable radio with a cross on it and at one point woke me up to point out a church outside - yay :S

After minimal sleep with lots of people staring, I swapped places with Lara who had a window seat and managed a couple of hours of broken sleep. The day went slowly from there: eventually we all ended up stood or sat around the sane area and for the majority of it with this little girl who helped time pass quite easily. She was fascinated by my feather in my hair; she liked counting our bracelets; she liked taking photos and making them look silly on my apps and she liked playing hi-five! On and off of seats, in and out odd dozing the day could have been a lot more boring or long, but went along at steady pace.

We soon got into the real north China and before the sun set there was nothing to see other than white for miles around...and thick white! I was praying that all the layers I have will stop me from becoming an iceball in the up to -30 conditions Burghhhh!!! We got into Harbin late, at 9:30ish and the queue for a taxi was MASSIVE - and it didn't help that Chinese people debt queue; so having joined the queue within a minute 3 couples had pushed in front of us. So like the sisters in Hocus Pocus hunting for kids, armed linked we created a baracade so no one else could pass. One pushing in group had got split up in front and behind us and the guy behind me tapped and printed to his sneaky wife and I just wouldn't let him through.

And I have forgotten to mention the fact that when we got off the train it wasn't cold, it wasn't freezing: it was MIND-BLOWING, FROST-BITING, NUMBINGLY BALTIC!!! Standing in the queue for the taxi it wasn't long before we'd all lost feeling in our fingers and our toes were hurting they were so cold. After about 15mins of pushing and shoving we finally got in a taxi and relished in the warmth. About 5 minutes down the road was our hostel in Harbin which we finally arrived at after travelling from 9pm on 3/2/13 and arrived at 11 on 6/2/13 - we had travelled for 74 HOURS!
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mum on

I do admire you for all for sticking to your plans - the thought of 72 hours would do me in - I was almost tearing my hair out after 11 hours from Sri Lanka!

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