My China Travel Guide, or rather my alternative guide to travelling in China using a hi-jacked bus…
I never intended to write a China Travel Guide and I haven’t, but I thought I’d share a little gem of knowledge that is, in hindsight, very funny, but useful to know..
We arrive in Shenzhen from Hong Kong. We didn’t see much but from what we did see it wasn’t about to win any awards for a cultural epi-center of China. In fact quite an unhelpful bunch, attempts to converse were met with a disapproving shake of the head and an about-turn. Showing the phrasebook with its written version was met with scorn, thus trying to book a bus for our first road-trip in China proved hard and we chose wrong.
We went private.
This is how it works, approx 10 local Chinese and us two bewildered westerners follow a man out of the bus station to a motorway junction. To be clear, actually on the main road (no pavement, just road, this was no place for a dozen pedestrians to be loitering around) and we wait. We wait while playing `dodge the large truck` with all our worldly belongings.
This was the first moment of suspicion as we walked past all the big shiny buses straight out of the terminal and onto the motorway, Anna starts to get anxious, I pretend to be relaxed.
Eventually a minivan arrives, yes a minivan not the large coach we thought we booked and everyone gets in. Anna & I can only say our destination which we start to proclaim in a slightly manic sort of way `Guilin! Guilin!` their response is a `yesy yesy` and shake of the head, an audio-visual oxymoron if you like.
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Against our better judgement (“No way in hell Theo are we going there on THAT!!”) we board what may possibly be the start of a 12 hour journey. This is where it gets interesting, the drivers are constantly on the phone, screaming (as the Chinese do in every matter of conversation, their version of whispering sweet nothings is a screaming war-cry), they make random u-turns, stop, turn around, drive a bit then turn around, this goes on for about 2 hours, we have no idea where we are, what to ask, we can only sit and hope. We believe the driver is well and truly lost.
But then it becomes apparent – they are actually chasing the State run buses.
His telephonic homing device leads us to a lay by on a motorway where a large comfy looking coach is waiting, everyone gets out the minivan and boards. Except us.
This is the point the mind wanders irrationally; we have two drivers that don’t speak English (and why should they). We are the only two people left in the minibus.
We are deaf and mute in a foreign land.
We feel helpless, useless, vulnerable. We continue driving through anonymous towns and cities cloaked in grey concrete; communist relics. We are given the signal to wait (open palm held up and ferocious shaking of the head). Our driver leaves and another two new drivers appear before we embark on another 2 hour drive, chasing something, we hope. Eventually we arrive at a coach waiting for us in a lay by on another anonymous motorway.
We are then given the signal to get the hell off the minibus and get on that coach before it leaves (palm now facing inwards and ferocious nodding of the head). We drag our bags and run over to the coach with a look of bewilderment and hope. The coach driver throws our bags in the carriage and we finally board the `sleeper` bus.
Bringing our bus hi-jacking experience to completion we proclaim for the second time to a new bus driver `Guilin!? Guilin!?` he responds with a `yesy yesy` and shake of the head. Result.
The sleeper bus is basically 3 rows of bunk beds on a bus and very comfortable it is. We resume our 12 hour journey arriving at around 6 in the morning in Guilin.
Greeted by a frenzy of old ladies in the dawning light waving hotel brochures we are still in a state of shock to have made it to our destination to listen and wander off in a zombie like state to a youth hostel.
After a couple of days we catch a bus south to Yangshuo and arrive at a recommended hostel come family home and realise very quickly we have discovered paradise…