First Impressions of Jinghong

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

JANUARY 25, 2012

Duoyushu (Yuanyang Terraces) to Jinghong (Xiashuangbanna)

480 km / 300 miles. in Jacky's van.  $46 per person. 
8:30A – 4:30P 8 hours

Fog as Thick as Pea Soup!

Pea Soup! Waking at 6AM, we ate breakfast and paid $262 for our 6 night stay; room and meals. That’s $44 per day for the two of us. What a deal! The eight of us, Jacky, Sho, Tomoko, Catherine, Chouchou, Luo, Michelle and I, hiked up to the parking lot. In the fog, we had a difficult time discerning which vehicle was our vehicle. Also, the parking lot was much more crowded than any day during our stay.

The holiday period was now at its peak and hundreds were up early to witness the sunrise from the viewing platform above Duoyishu terrace. They had all paid their $6 to get to the viewing platform and they went, view or no view. Some were walking purposefully to the platform with their tripods and massive camera lenses as if they believed the clouds would miraculously open upon their arrival. Jacky told us this kind of weather was the norm this time of year and we were really lucky to have so many days of clear weather.  We told him good weather and good luck follows us!

Parked cars lined each side of the road for a mile. Traffic was squeezed to one lane. Between visibility of 20 to 30 feet and the heavy traffic, our progress was slow. Jacky was patient.  As the morning continued, the fog lightened a little bit. At Bada, we could see just beyond the edge of the roadside. An hour later, as we got near the town of Xinhe (old Yuanyang), it was still foggy but we could see much further. The windy mountain road kept our progress slow.    It took several hours to get beyond the bumper to bumper traffic and below the fog and cloud line.  The trip was through lush scenic mountain terrain and then banana plantations.

We got to the low  and a wide windy river and a super highway that connects Kunming and Jinghong. More and more palm trees appeared. Then we began seeing tea plantations and drove though the city of Pu’er, a city renamed after pu’er tea grown in this area became internationally famous.

The Worst Hotel in Jinghong

We were making great time and then traffic came to a halt. So many cars buses and trucks were trying to get to Jinghong that the freeway couldn’t handle us all.  At 4:30 we crawled along with the congested traffic into Jinghong.

Someone had given Jacky the business card of a hotel in Jinghong and he phoned as we drove and asked if they had room for us. They did! It was more expensive than we usually pay at 360RMB ($57) but we thought we should grab it. The place turned out to be a dive that jacked its price up for the holiday. No wonder they still had rooms. Normally this dive gets just 50 RMB per night ($8) because of the smelly bathroom with a grungy squat, grey sheets, and mosquitoes. Sho and Tomoco also bit the bullet and stayed in the same dive hotel.  We had ignored the advice telling us NOT to travel during Chinese holiday and now we were suffering for it.  Even the hostel where the girls had made reservations well in advance was charging at least twice the normal rate, and they were fully booked through Sunday. The French girls were happy with their accommodation at the Many Trees Youth Hostel. Jacky phoned a friend in town who invited him stay the night.

The Joke is on Us at the Mekong Café

Our group of eight agreed to meet at the Mekong Café at 7PM. Michelle and I arrived first and chatted with the French owner. He bragged that he was the chef and trained in Paris. His menu was ambitious and impressive. The Mekong Café is a cozy place with couches, a variety of tables, inside and out, and books on shelves lining the art filled walls. The owner turned us over to his manager who pulled a couple of tables together for our expected party of eight.

Then it began to get a little weird. The manager refused to take our drink order right away and asked to move our tables over slightly so staff could get by easier. Okay, no problem. Then he asked us to scoot over a little more and a little more. Soon our chair’s backs were tight to the wall and the aisle had 4 feet of room. Then we gave our drink order to a young waitress assigned to our table. The Manager scurried back over and put his arm around the girl and walked her away." No! No! No!” the Manager exclaimed, "she is new and inexperienced and will not be able to get the order of such a large group correct. She will not do” and they walked away. Surely the Manager is playing a small joke on the stupid Americans, we hoped? Ha, Ha! Then, the Manager didn’t return. And no one else was sent over. I tracked down the Manager who assured me he would send someone over soon. “It is very busy as you can see”, he said. He did agree to take our drink order as we waited.  Sho and Tomoko arrived followed soon by the French girls. We secretly believed the bad service would improve now that our French ringers were with us. How wrong we were!

We got our drink orders in and they began arriving sporadically.  Catherine tracked someone down to come take our food order. With drinks in hand and good company, we were not overly concerned about inattentive staff. Finally, the appetizers appeared followed by one main course.  Then 20 minutes later another main course arrived. We of course told the people with food to go ahead before it got cold. We watched each person get served in turn, finish much of it before the next person’s order arrived. 11PM rolled around before Catharine was served her dinner. Jacky got up and told the waitress to cancel his. It was just too late for him to want it, he said. Then, the waitress miraculously returned immediately with Jacky’s order, as if had just been sitting on a shelf all along. To top it off, everyone thought their food was subpar. The wait staff was unapologetic. The Manager was unapologetic. The Manager served up the excuse that this is the busiest day of the year and it just can’t be helped.  We were grossly disappointed with the service and the food at Mekong Café. What we originally thought was a little joking by the French manager turned out to be genuine French ineptitude!

Our experience reminded me of the very funny novel, A Year in the Merde, by Steven Clarke , about the misadventures of a Englishman who goes to work in France for a year and confronts similar cultural differences.

All is well that ends well!

In spite of all that, we had a great time! The French girls were looking forward to trekking. Sho and Tomoko were looking forward to touring around Xishuangbanna for a day before going on to Lijiang and we began contemplating escaping the madness of Chinese New Year travel crowds by getting out of China quickly!
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