After a week in China – the reality

To say it has been hard would be an understatement. After 5 months traveling on land through SE Asia, without luxuries and on a tight budget, we thought we are prepared for anything. Boy were we wrong.

Less than a week in the country, yesterday I hit the wall and for the first time on this trip wanted to just be home and  be done with it all.


Its not just one thing, really, more of a case of nothing working the way it should. Like we are stuck in Guilin, unable to leave because there are no train tickets, a situation that is not helped by the fact that unscrupulous resellers buy all the tickets and try to unload them at a premium to hotels and tour operators. Yet if we want to buy tickets in advance for the next destination we cant, because there is no central reservation system, so each train station can only sell you tickets starting from there.

China is big! We thought of going to the next main city and hope to have an easier time getting on the train from there, but its 12 hours on a bus. Horrible, only doable if there is no other option.

Its one big touting community. If you have been in Vietnam, which is probably one of the worst places for touts in SE Asia, I can tell you its a song compared to what one experiences here. They chase you on buses, interrupt your conversation and are profoundly deaf to the word “no”.  You might as well assume that everyone that strikes a conversation with you is trying to get you separated from your money, and that is a sad state to be in when you actually enjoy contact with the locals, which we usually do.

Too many rude and lying people. When people behind information desks shoo you like an annoying fly or blatantly lie, like the women at the bus station who told us there is no bus to Yangdi and instead we should take the taxi of the sly guy leaning on the desk, your travel experience will be a lot more difficult and unpleasant. Even taking the steps of having your destination written in Chinese characters doesnt mean that the person in front of you will make an effort to even look at it.

If you put aside the natural surroundings, China so far is ugly. Villages that usually fill our travel buckets through bus windows are nothing more than unfinished brick buildings with a lot of scaffolding around. Gone are the colorful, beautifully decorated buildings of Vietnam or even the simple shacks of Cambodia – bricks, gray and more gray has replaced them . Slabs galore, but who can watch those for longer than 5 minutes.

Everything is hard. We have spent more time trying to go from A to B, then actually enjoying A or B. Even finding food is complicated, no buzzing street culture or street food offerings everywhere. Getting to an ATM that actually works – hard. The coldness of the modern big cities has really hit us hard, while walking through the massive streets of Guilin, lined up with equally massive buildings and yet we feel lonely and lost, something we havent felt in a long time. Trying to improve our experience so far, I found a person we could stay with in Sichuan hopefully to get a less touristy experience, only we cant really get there, as there are no train tickets. Every new idea we have gets shot straight in the heart and bleeds all over our otherwise persistent optimism.

And after having to fight for even the simplest things and the not so quaint experience of Yangshou, which turned out to be one big tourist hole, realizing how stuck we were in Guilin and unwell with something I have caught along the way, I just laid down on the bed yesterday and wished it all away. We have done hard, but usually we get enough in return to keep us balanced. So far, China has mostly taken without replenishing our travel reserves in any way.

I hope things change and this is all just an unfortunate series of events. Depleted of energy, I am still optimistic that we will find the China we came to see.


Update: after another horrific round of to and fro with people and resellers, tears (not ours) and sweaty runs to stations,  we will be on the 25 hour train to Sichuan after all. Top bunks on a hard sleeper cart…I hope the traveling spirits are looking after us, because the rest sucks.