For anyone coming this way, here are some short thoughts on the transport available. Strangely, I took no trains the whole time – this mountainous, ‘backward’ corner of China being better served by buses.
Buses in Kunming
Fantastic, modern, clearn, bi-lingual with LCD televisions and LED signs displaying the name of the stops.
Bus to Lijiang
Clean, free bottle of water, rest stop at an expensive and not-so-good roadside place. The bus was only about 10% full., but it was mid-day, mid-week in the off-season. It did show a Jackie Chan flick and some other worthy movies, which distracted me from practicing Mandarin. The bus went past ‘Dinosaur Valley’ where ancient remains had been found while building a road. The whitewashed traditional houses all had caricatures of dinosaurs painted on them. All the dinosaurs, on all the houses actually looked the same, so I can’t help but wonder if they were all done by the same person(s) as part of some tacky, organised government initiative.
In that few kms arond Dinosaur Valley, there were some really sharp contrasts: the massive angular concrete structure housing the Dinosaur exhibit, with protubances suggestive of a brontosaurus head VS. the terraced fields growing rice, canola and vegetables with dramatic peaks in the background VS. the race-track-perfect, smooth three lane highway carved (recently) through the whole show…
Clean, mostly leaving when full. E.g. Lijjiang to Tiger-Leaping Gorge. The Bus stations are consistently modern, and enough English is understood to compensate for my poor Mandarin.
Again, cheap, leave when they are full e.g. Jinchuan to Shaxi. Although, I got a shared ride for a total of 100Y from the start of Tiger Leaping Gorge for two hours back to Lijiang. This is the same price as a shared 20 minute ride from the middle of the gorge back to the start. Same deal as any transport really – you pay $10 to go 400kms, then another $10 to go the last 4kms…
Didn’t get to ride in one, but did see one slide down the road on its side, depositing several tonnnes of limestone rocks across the road.They are basically a truck, but the engine sits way out in front, in the open. Often the front wheels are narrower than the rear.
Apart from obvious design flaws re: safe steering down steep hills, I think they are super-cool. Single-piston, easy to repair, and can be made to look as mean as hell. There are also smaller versions, where it looks like a small engine used for tilling soil is attached to a trailer behind with huge handlebars trailing back from the engine to the driver seated on the trailer.
What excitement! A favourite mode of transport for me, andone that should be more widely used (IMHO). Sleeping about 40 people, on two levels, in a mixture of three or four across the bus. There was always a DVDplayer and screens on board, warm bedcovers, comfy cushions, and the beds were just long and wide enough for me to sleep ok. There are belts for you to wear, so I guess it is as safe as sitting. A pretty cool way to travel I think, and perhaps something that will be more common? One downside is theft though, apparently a few things have been stolen on the Kunming to Dali sleeper bus.
I got these buses from Jinchuan to Kunming, Kunming down to Yuangyang, and then from Jingcheng to Luang Prabang (Laos). In the (half-empty) Laos one, I got a double bed! Sweet!