A path less traveled…
03.23.2012 - 03.24.2012 69 °F
We were determined to visit the ‘world famous’ terraced rice fields of Yuanyang (Xinjiezhen) from the south even though the most traveled routes we could find were based out of Kunming, which is north of Yuanyang. Being in Sapa, we were only about an hour away from the Lao Cai border crossing into the Chinese city of Hekou, but after some asking around we figured that due to the time change when crossing into China, our chance of making the bus from Hekou to Yuangyang on the same day we crossed the border was slim to none. Despite online blog posts speaking horrors of Hekou (i.e. no hotels, and having to sleep on the street b/c they missed the bus out of town), we took our chances and headed for the border, hoping to catch a bus…
The first challenge was leaving Sapa since the mini buses drive in circles looking for more people to pick up, while assuring you that they are “leave now”... then once getting to Lao Cai we would have to figure out how to get 2 km outside of the city to where the border actually is. Luckily, with a bit of charade-style negotiating, we convinced our mini bus driver to take us closer to the border (this would be a lot less stressful if we actually trusted drivers to do what they say with our agreed upon price). The Vietnamese border officer must have known we were in a hurry because he flipped through every single page of both of our passports at least three times. After what seemed like ages, we were finally allowed to walk across the ‘friendship bridge’ into China.
On Chinese soil, were greeted by a security guard who helped us with our entrance forms. After Kevin impressed him with his mad Chinese language skills (hello & thank you), he became very friendly and explained in broken English where to find an ATM and where to find a local bus that would take us to the long distance bus depot -- this was a huge score for us! Although we did not end up making our bus to Yuanyang, we learned a great deal about this not so traveled border crossing. We hope the rest of this entry helps set the conflicting online posts about Hekou straight and helps future travelers make the journey….
1. Hekou is a pretty little city with great atmosphere, and is actually worth staying to explore for the day. Make sure to pick up some sugar cane from the market, its amazing!!
2. It is very true that the main bus depot in Hekou has moved out of town by ~5 kilometers, but the good news is that there is a sweet little green bus that costs only 1 RMB and takes less than 15min to get to there. There are a few of these buses waiting to start the route only a few blocks from immigration (marked on the left of the below map with an ‘x’) but it seems like you just have to wave the bus down when you want to get on… we first thought we were on the school bus because apparently all the kids in town were getting shipped off to Saturday school:
3. There is a Bank (noted on the map below as ‘ATM’) with an English speaking ATM (no joke, it talks to you!)
4. Right next to the bank there are several clean and cheap hotels. The cheapest one was right next to the ATM, and was a great deal for a border town (60RMB ~ $10). Our room had a view of the little green bus stop.
5. The little green bus stopping in front of the hotel is super convenient (marked on the right side of the map with an ‘x’). There are only two busses that go to Yuanyang and both are early morning departures (6am & 9am).
6. It is true that there is more than one Yuanyang! Within the county of Yuanyang, there are two cities that are both referred to as ‘Yuanyang’:
a. the New City = Nansha (which is on the foot hills of the mountains)
b. The Old Town: Xinjiezhen (which is about an hour up the mountain from Nansha) Make sure to specifically get a bus to Xinjiezhen or you’ll have to catch a mini bus taxi up into the mountains.
We had fun in Hekou and were glad we had the chance to stay there. People don’t speak a lick of English, but were super friendly. There are lots of little shopping streets to walk through, and two markets (one for ‘stuff’ and the other for meat and veg). We met a cool guy named Ernie who walked us through the food market and we watched as he picked out his fish and then went to get his veggies while they killed and de-scaled the fish for him. We weren’t able to find WiFi but there is a huge computer café up a set of stairs down the street from the market, and the giggling girls behind the counter insisted that we didn’t have to pay (perhaps because we were the highlight of their entertainment for the day).
Also near the market are streets lined with chefs ready to cook anything up for you… all you have to do is point out the veggie or the meat that you want and poof; they turn it into a dish with their propane stove. (Warning: each vegetable you pick out will go into its own dish, so don’t over order like we did!) Since the Chinese language is tonal, most people had no idea what we were trying to say. Our trick to ordering was to download a few pictures of Chinese food dishes (and a picture of a beer) to our smart phone. Then all we had to do was show them what we wanted!