The Hekou Heist

Trip Start Jan 11, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  , Lào Cai,
Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday morning we crossed into China.   This involved walking across the bridge that separates the two countries.  There were some minor holdups over the Vietnam extensions, probably because they don't have too much experience with them -- but we were let through.

We then got to the bus station where Hong's friend informed us that the bus for Yuanyang had already left.  The next bus would be tomorrow.    He wanted us to get a hotel (no doubt this would mean a big commission for him) and was somewhat disconcerted that we wanted to hire a taxi to take us to Yuanyang.

Why not?   Worked for us from Siem Reap to Angkor -- should be about the same distance.

So he asked the women at the bus terminal to recommend a driver and the cost.    We were informed the cost was 700 yuan -- just over $100.   

That is double the price we paid in Cambodia, but this is China and so we reluctantly agree.

I'm having second thoughts as soon as I see the car which is a beat-up piece of junk.   But we get in and there is a spate of arguing between all the Chinese.   When we finally figure out what is going on, it's that the driver wants *another* 200 yuan ($30).    We refuse.  Sonia got out which quieted everyone down.

Just as it looked as if we were going to get going, there is yet another argument.   Again the driver wants more money -- this time 100 yuan.   We flat refuse, both get out of the car and despite everyone's assurance that it's OK refuse to get back in.  We demanded (and got) our money back.

We learned after this the bus station woman had pocketed 200 yuan for herself as "broker" -- she must have been livid to lose that.   I was prepared to find a tourist office and have them find someone to talk to about getting to Yuanyang, but Hong's friend called me back saying that he would call a travel agent friend and have her get someone absolutely reliable.  This time the cost would only be 500 yuan.

Another cab shows up and this one looks more reliable.   We tried to make certain everyone knew where we were going.   Yuanyang Rice Terraces, city of Xinjie - and everyone nods.

So we're off.    About 90 minutes later we are stopped at a roadblock to a small town by a polite English-speaking Chinese police officer who wants to see our passports.   We're cleared -- but then the driver pulls over to the side and states we've reached the destination!

I find this impossible.   Too fast, we aren't in the mountains, no *way* this is a tourist town.   But I walk back to the officer, ask if this is Xinjie to which she responds "yes'.   The rice terraces are near?  "13 kilometers".

I reluctantly concluded we must be in the right town -- maybe wrong part, but we can get there.

So the taxi driver booked out of there with his loot and we soon understand why.    The rice terraces aren't 13 kilometers away -- they are 130 kilometers away and while this may be Xinjie, its not the right Xinjie (and he knew that). 

At this point, we are stuck in a backwater, two streets to the name, middle of nowhere Chinese town.

After beating my head against the wall for a few minutes over being so obviously stupid, we go back to the English-speaking Chinese officer.  She took pity on us and explained it wasn't too bad.  After all, there *is* a bus the next morning to the rice terraces.  She showed us the only "hotel' where we could stay for the night.    So other than having been well and truly scammed, we were in a place with a bus station and a hotel room.  Honestly things could have turned out much worse than this so your prayers are certainly working! 

We just wandered around the town for the reminder of the evening.  As the only foreigners in quite a while (if ever) to visit this town, we're a bit of a tourist attraction ourselves.  We found a little restaurant and had dinner with the locals.   One young man came up to our table during the meal, clinked glasses with us, and said "Welcome to China."

Well, buddy, wherever you are, wish it could have been under better circumstances.  But its the thought that counts. 


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