08-Nov-2014 -- This visit was not really planned. I was actually on a trip from Thailand to China, up the Maekhong River which forms the border between Laos and Burma and continues into China. I had wanted to do this trip for the last two-three years, but some shooting on the river in late 2011 had stopped that until the last few months allowing the trip up to Jinghong in Sibsongbanna in Yunnan province.
The boat trip was good. I started at Chiang Saen in northern Thailand in the dark in the early morning. I went down to the boat, balanced on a bouncing plank (the gangway) and found nobody around. But the crew drifted onboard and the 80 passenger boat set off in drizzling rain with a Chinese captain who spoke fluent Thai and four more crew Lao/Thai. And one passenger: Me. None spoke English, so some Thai and Chinese came in handy.
To begin with the river was wide and calm, but half way up it became more narrow and rapid. Rocks were in the middle of the river and the crew had a very active time maneuvering and also meeting other boat coming down the river. After 11 hours we arrived at Guan Lei, a bit down the river from Jinghong. There is a grand and new immigration building there, but we saw no people so we could have walked straight into China. The staff was watching a football match in a neighbouring room. We looked in to let them know we were there, but we obviously had chosen the wrong time. A young officer who said she could speak English finally came out to process our check in. It was good the Chinese captain was there to help, though. Last bus had left for the day, I found a hotel where I used my Mandarin phrasebook I had read on the boat and some old expressions remembered from earlier stays in China. In a restaurant nearby I had some food, then the Captain and some of his friends turned up and I was invited to help them empty a couple of Maotai bottles.
From Guan Lei to Jinghong is about 120 km, but the road was so bad that it took almost four hours. On the way the front wheel of the bus exploded and the vehicle cut over to the left. Fortunately there was no meeting traffic at that moment. When we continued I noticed on the navigational program on my mobile phone that we passed 22N 101E at a distance of about 500 meters. That could easily be reached with a taxi out from Jinghjong later in the day or next morning. This did not happen though.
Jinghong turned out to be a very green and very welcoming city. After some trotting around I also realized there was a confluence point (23N 101E) about 170 km northwards. I found two women who had a small travel agency, one Jinuo minority (Wendy) and one from Hong Kong (Echo) who spoke English. They offered to take me to the confluence point.
Not too early next morning we set out on what became a great trip into an area with plantations of tea, rubber trees and bananas and small scattered villages. On the way we stopped at a couple of traditional tea shops (nine years old) built on pre-revolutionary models. They would give me different teas to taste and to enjoy the difference (which I of course was not advanced enough to discern).
We used the Here Maps program on my Nokia phone to follow the roads towards the confluence point. When the official road in the highlands ended we had another 3.5 km to go to the cp. It was passed lunch time, I did not want to pester the two women and said we could leave it at that. But by then they had decided that this was an important goal and that if I did not want to go the last stretch, they did. There was a track in the direction of the confluence point, but it was wet, muddy and slippery. Our little Daihatsu was not really the vehicle for this. We saw some big motorcycles near a health center and asked if we could possibly get somebody to take us the last bit on the tracks. But a health worker told us that all the young men we had seen around were all too drunk to be of any help. The able bodied men were all out working in the fields. So Wendy decided that her little Daihatsu could make it. And it did. The confluence point was just a few meters from a road in some bamboo shrubs.
Mission accomplished, the ladies were hungry and needed lunch. A farmer sitting alone in his home brooding over his wife who had passed away a few months ago offered to make us some lunch. He went out in the field behind the house and came back with some potatoes, cabbage and a squash. He also found some eggs and some smoked pork he had cured last February. He and Wendy cooked (and smoked his water pipe), and we then ate a very good meal which was supplemented with some home made moonshine served in not entirely clean glasses.
Back in Jinghong we had an exquisite dinner in a Muslim restaurant with a group of rather noisy guest before we visited one more tea shop, but ended up in a cafe/bar for some Lao beers.
Not at all a strenuous outing, but a great day and a good experience.
Ps. Time on my Garmin is Central European time (CET)