Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fluidity of travel

Today we are finally out of Beijing.  We are finding it a little difficult moving around the country because it's the local tourist season and all of China is on the move right now.  All the trains are booked out a week or so in advance.  We had expected to leave for Xi'an a few days earlier but the only tickets available were for last night and with a more expensive "soft sleeper" bed on the train.  Not a bad way to travel except it did put a dent in our travel budget. 
The trains have up to four classes of travel depending on how far they go and if the route runs overnight.  They are as follows:  Hard seat - basically just a non padded bench that 3 people squeeze onto and sit upright at alarmingly straight angles for the duration of the passage. (I could maybe have managed that when I was younger but now I wont even entertain the idea). Soft Seat - basically the same seat but with a little padding on them and they only have 2 people to a seat (We took this on a four hour run to Chende and it was quite nice).  Hard bed – 6 bunks in an open compartment, three on each side with minimal padding on the bunk.  Soft sleeper – 4 bunks in a closed compartment two on each side.  They are firm but nicely padded and come with linen.

Our bunks were the top and our bunkmates below were the cutest elderly Chinese couple and their grandchild.  With an 11 hour trip to Xi'an, it was a very enjoyable way to travel.  There were flat screen tv's on the wall at the end of the bunk, ample storage for our packs, hot water for tea, both Western and Asian toilets, and very clean.  Quite nice actually. 
Conversely, now that we are savvy to the fact that the trains are so booked up, we spent the day today planning the rest of our route in china instead of just winging it like we had originally thought to do.  The old plan was to head south to Kunming in about 4 days and then continue on to Laos because Cindy's Chinese visa is only good for 30 days at a time.  We were going to pop into that country and tramp for a few weeks and then come back to China and head to Chengdu and then Tibet. Unfortunately we found out that the trains heading south were full for the next 9 days.  Crazy.
So new plans.  We were able to get a train from here to Chengdu (hard sleeper) 5 days from now.  We are cutting out our southern China plans and heading east after exploreing Xi'an. All in all, we will probably only spend 4 weeks in China instead of the 6 we had planned. Such is the folly of long term travel.  You have to flow with the river instead of fighting it.   We are not giving up the idea of going to Laos but that may have to happen after Nepal and India.  Stay tuned......