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Kangding - Luding


This isn't so much a story about Kangding or Luding but rather is a tale of dealing with transportation in China. First, a large government bus and then later negotiating various forms of private transportation for a long distance ride when no public buses are available.

The story picks up from Chengdu where I had boarded a bus that departed for Kangding around 12:30 p.m.

April 12-15, 2002

April 12
It was a fast ride till we neared the Erlangshan tunnel. At whatever village it is that lies about a dozen or so kilometers east, all traffic was stopped and we sat here for an hour and a half. Around six o'clock traffic began to move again. Except our bus. This nice new shiny clean bus decided to shut down its electrical system. After about an hour of waiting, an impatient group of eight people, self included,  jumped onto another Kangding-bound bus, forking over Y40 for the privilege. Twenty minutes later, just before the tunnel, our old bus (actually it was a new bus and the new bus we were on was quite old) passed us, then came to a screeching halt and flagged down the bus we were on. The bus operators talked awhile and we were sent back to our original bus and refunded Y30 of the Y40 we paid to jump ship in the first place.

It would be reasonable to think that Chinese are used to the twisting, bumpy roads of their country, but that's certainly not the case and motion sickness is an all too common occurrence. If spitting all over the floor and smoking with the windows shut isn't enough of an ordeal for us, we also have to contend with the odd instance of an ill passenger.

About an hour beyond the tunnel the guy next to me grabs a plastic bag and heaves his dinner. Now, anyone who's traveled enough in China is well aware that the Chinese people think nothing of tossing whatever refuse they have out the window - bottles, cups, styrofoam food containers, spit, etc. Hence, seasoned China travelers know not to stand too close to the side of the road when a bus passes as one never knows what may come flying out of the windows. So of course, once finished with his messy business, I expected this guy to toss the bag out onto the dark highway. No. He hangs his bag of partially digested dinner on the back of the seat in front of him. And what does a weighed down plastic bag do when the bus gets moving? It starts swinging around, of course. For a number of minutes I nervously eyed this bag swinging back and forth and when it swung nearly ninety degrees in one direction causing part of its contents to fly out, a little bit of it on my leg, it was time to act. I reached across my rather green-looking fellow passenger, grimaced, slid the window open and tossed his bag of yucch out the window. I then gave him a look that hopefully relayed the fact that I was none too pleased with having had to do this. He said and did nothing and half an hour later he exited the bus.

Shortly after 11pm we reached Kangding. I took a room at the Kangding Hotel. Y30 for a warm bed, but no shower facilities and something that barely qualifies as a toilet was down the stairs and down the hall.

April 13
Out at dawn into the frigid air. Well, it was maybe about five degrees celsius (40 for my fellow metrically-challenged Yanks), but as I maintain residences in Bangkok, Thailand and Siem Reap, Cambodia, this was mighty cold to me and certainly the coldest air I'd felt in about three years. I wandered around town a bit absorbing the Tibetan influence of cafes, signs in Tibetan, and of course, Tibetan people.

After my brief tour of the town it was time to get to the town of Moxi (gateway to Hailuogou Glacier Park). The first step was to get to Luding, 49 km to the east. Share taxis are the way. I follow the Lonely Planet directions and go exactly where LP claims share taxis are. "Luding", I say, holding my book, pointing to the characters. "Bushi, bushi, bushi" the drivers all say. They're telling me no, nobody is going to Luding.

For lack of a better idea, I resume my mini-tour of Kangding, under the guise of looking for transport to Luding, or conversely under the guise of touring Kangding, I look for transport to Luding. I confirm that Kangding hasn't changed much in the last hour, it's still a nice town with lots of Tibetan influence. More importantly though, I still haven't found a ride to Luding. I return to the share taxi area and play the Luding pantomime game again. This time I get a ride. The driver insists I pay Y30 which is about double what I think it should be. There are three others in the car, an old chain-smoking Tibetan guy in the front and two guys in the back with me. Driver goes about halfway to Luding, stopping at some school where the other three get out. Driver than talks to the driver of another vehicle. I'm told to go with the new driver who gets me to Luding okay, but at an added Y10 for the privilege. Okay, I'm in Luding, hmm, two rides and Y40... somehow that didn't seem to be what I had in mind. Five bucks for a 49 km ride in cramped share taxis? Yup, I was ripped off.

The driver stops at the edge of Luding where I get out, walk two steps and bump into another car "Moxi, Moxi, Moxi" the driver says with a mile-wide grin. I get in with three others and were off. We go about a dozen kilometers to a turn-off (the highway continues east to the Erlangshan tunnel and beyond, but we turn south towards Moxi, Shimian, and beyond). Here the other passengers bail out. Driver goes a little further to some town and waits half an hour. No customers. It's me and him. Driver starts again and transforms himself into a Formula One Race Car driver, reaching in half the time it should have been, the junction where the road goes west over an orange bridge to Moxi or south to Shimian. We stop again in hopes of locating another passenger or two, and here we wait for another hour. Still no customers. Mario Andretti heads to Moxi anyway. We arrive and I pay Y30, which is probably too much again but I can't get too upset this time, for on most of this trip I was the only passenger so the guy wasn't exactly making much of a profit this day.

(story continues on the Hailuogou-Moxi page)

April 14
After spending the previous afternoon and this morning at Moxi and the Hailuogou Glacier Park I had to contend with the matter of getting back to Chengdu somehow. This would not be an easy task.

The information I had was that due to road construction very little traffic moved east except for very early in the morning. According to Lonely Planet, there was one bus a day departing from Luding at 7 a.m. for Chengdu. However, buses also departed in the morning from Kangding making it possible to sleep for another hour or two and then sit yourself down on the side of the road and flag one of these buses down. This latter option was for me, the better option.

I am not one of those people who relish the idea of waking up before the roosters for the sole purpose of spending the entire day sitting on a dirty old bus with a bunch of chain-smoking, spitting Chinese men. Actually, this is not limited to China, I am adamantly against the logic of arising at dawn to commence travel anywhere in any country in any form of transportation, except when absolutely necessary. I am sure this dates back to my childhood and is nothing more than a simple act of rebellion that I will never shake off. See, my father was one of those people, that if traveling anywhere by road, believed that the proper departure time was about seven in the morning. Departing any later and the whole day would be ruined. It was irrelevant what the length of the trip was, 100 miles or 600 miles, departure was at seven sharp. It was an obsession. Hence, since reaching adulthood, I've maintained the attitude of leaving whenever I damn well feel like it. No doubt as a further act of rebellion I expect my future children will take after their grandfather.

I also considered whether share taxis or motorcycle taxis would ply the highway in an easterly direction or not. The trek began in the town of Moxi in early afternoon. I first tried to see if any of the motorcycle taxi people would agree to travel east to Ya'an, thinking that if I could make Ya'an, I'd be but a two-hour bus ride from Chengdu. According to my Lonely Planet book - I'm referring to the map on page 498 of the Southwest China book, Ya'an was about 50 km from, well, somewhere, assumedly from the edge of the map. Looking at the km scale on the bottom of the map, Ya'an looks to be, oh maybe 100 km from Moxi and maybe 80 from Luding?  Umm, no. The scale is not very accurate and Ya'an turned out to be about 150+ km from Luding. This misconception caused a few problems in haggling for transportation as I was lead to believe that distances were much closer than they really were.

In any event, I determined that on this afternoon, the only transport I could get would be a motorcycle back to Luding. At least the next morning I'd be two hours closer to Chengdu than from Kangding and would try the option of flagging down a bus passing through town.

So I hop on the back of a motorcycle and for Y50, probably too much again, I got a ride from Moxi to Luding. About halfway there, the driver pulled off the main road opting for a dirt path on the other side of the river that took us through some rather quaint little villages where friendly residents seemed absolutely flabbergasted at the sight of a foreigner coming through on a motorbike. Though it was hardly the most comfortable ride I've ever had, it was scenic.

In Luding I stayed at the Yaguda Binguan, bargaining a Y80 room down to Y50. The room had a private bathroom but only a weak stream of cold water flowed from the tap and the shower. Despite what LP claims, no hot water ever came and the staff, friendly as they were, made it clear that no hot water ever would come.

Luding is a small town and despite its fairly remote location, based on the availability of a wide variety of consumer goods I observed, seems rather prosperous. There are two main roads - one is the main street and the other is the highway and there's no reason why anyone should be able to distinguish which one is which.

Though I was, as far as I could tell, the only foreigner in town, I didn't attract an unusual amount of attention, something I always appreciate. I found some hole-in-the-wall restaurant where I pointed to a few things that soon resulted in a huge bowl full of dumplings that were delicious and cheap.

April 15
As planned, I made no effort to seek out a 7 a.m. bus, choosing instead, to stumble out into the chilly morning around 8:30 a.m. and wait for a bus passing through from Kangding. Still, I walked over to the bus station just to enquire as to whether any buses would be departing anytime. As LP claimed they would say, the only answer I got was that one bus departs every day at 7:00 a.m., period. There were a couple of share taxis but they were all going to Kangding. Nobody was going east.

I walked to the other end of town, deciding it would be better to seek transportation leaving town and not entering. A number of guys were standing around, some were motorcycle taxi guys, others were waiting for transportation somewhere and all found having some westerner standing on the side of the road trying to travel east was the best entertainment they had in ages. As expected they all started talking at me and even after I thought it was clear that I spoke virtually no Chinese, they continued rattling away at me just the same. While they probably only found out a small fraction of what they wanted to know about me I did ascertain that nobody was going to take me east, which I thought rather strange as I was willing to pay handsomely for a ride to Ya'an (or so I thought, as I was lead to believe it was much closer than it really was).

Apparently a westerner standing on the side of the road is a highly suspicious thing and I soon attracted the attention of a couple of PSB officers who studied my passport and made various inquiries as to where I was going and why was I standing on the side of the road, none of which were satisfactorily answered as they spoke no English and I speak no Chinese. After a few minutes of discussion, where I nodded a lot and said "hao" (okay), not knowing what I was haoing about, they managed to communicate that a bus would be through in the afternoon and in the meantime I should go away and wait someplace where nobody can see me.

I ignored their advice and didn't for a moment believe that a bus would be through in the afternoon, because if the bus wasn't coming through until the afternoon than it would never get through the Erlangshan tunnel and we'd be spending most of the night on the side of the road a few hours east of where we were now and it would seem then, rather pointless for a bus to be traveling east so late. While one can't always expect things in China to work logically, there are, I'd like to think, some limits to the extent that things would work illogically.

The PSB disappeared and I stayed where I was. As 11:00 a.m. was approaching I began to have doubts that any bus from Kangding would be coming through at all, and it was therefore, time to start hitching. But no sooner do I prepare to change tactics that a share taxi arrives and takes me as far as where the road splits to go south to Moxi, all of fifteen or twenty kilometers away. But due to a couple of rockslides, it took us nearly an hour and a half to cover that distance. I paid Y10 for the ride.

At the road junction sat several motorcycle taxis. Again, nobody would go as far as Ya'an or even Tianquan (the large town about 35 kilometers west of Ya'an). One guy did finally agree to take me to some village east of where we were. I had no idea what village it was, but determining that it was in fact east of where we were, it would do. I asked him how far it was and he told me about 50 kilometers. So we agreed that I would pay Y50.

He heads east and after about 20, maybe 30 kilometers at the most, we reach the Erlangshan Tunnel. It was indeed closed to most vehicular traffic but motorcycles could pass through. Riding through the tunnel on a motorcycle was one of the coldest experiences in my life. We finally exit the other side and he announces that this was as far as he was going. I looked around - I was at he edge of an apparently closed tunnel, surrounded by forest and mountains on a deserted stretch of highway where no four-wheel vehicles were passing through. I gave him a look that seemed to say rather effectively,  "and just what the #@%& do you expect me to do here?" He walked away to ponder the situation or maybe just to sulk while I remained seated on the back of his bike. Meanwhile I look up at a sign, figure out that the Chinese characters were indicating Ya'an and that it was still 110 kilometers away!!! So much for the LP map...

My driver accepts the ridiculousness of the situation and agrees to continue further east. We travel another 15 kilometers, most of it descending out of the mountains, until we reach a village, name unknown. This is the village where they stop the westbound vehicles until that time the tunnels open and this was of course, the same place I was delayed at several days earlier. However, the driver would not go as far as the village, instead stopping just out of sight of any authority and indicating I could walk the remaining distance (not far) to the village. I understood this to mean that there must be some law, perhaps we're entering a new county, that prevented all the private taxis from continuing any further, which would also explain why I was unable to get anybody to take me further than this point for any amount of money.

Due to the added distance, the driver now wants Y70 which I wasn't going to give him seeing as he had exaggerated the initial distance in the first place. I ended up giving him Y60 and consistent with the day, it was probably too much.

I walk into the village, surprising a few residents who weren't likely very accustomed to seeing a westerner walking into their village from out of nowhere. It was getting to be around 2:00 p.m. and I still hadn't eaten so I plopped myself down at one likely looking place and pointed to some vegetables somebody else was eating and asked for the same.

I then managed to communicate that I was trying to get east, Ya'an being the best bet, and could they offer any help. The woman running the place wanted to know how much I'd pay. Sticking to my one yuan per kilometer formula, I offered Y100. No, she thought Y300 would be a better price. A few minutes later a six-seat microbus with no passengers pulled out from some nearby residence and started east. He was flagged down, and me, the woman from the restaurant, her husband, and a couple of other folks who just happened to be standing around with nothing better to do all encircled the driver and negotiations began. Yes, he'd go to Ya'an and no I wasn't going to pay anything like Y300. I offered Y100, he asked for, I think Y140 or 150, and we eventually agreed on Y120. I had rather elegantly pushed the Y300 woman out of the way though that never stopped her from shouting out "sanbai, sanbai!" (300, 300!) anyway. The driver was a likeable guy who seemed to think the Y300 woman to be as loony as I did.

The driver only went as far as Tianquan where he found a metered-taxi to pass me off to. He took Y50 from me indicating I'd give the taxi driver Y70. I thought this interesting as he drove me about 65 kilometers and only about 35 kms remained for the metered taxi to drive.

The new driver was a very friendly and funny guy who managed to teach me a few words of Chinese, some of which aren't repeatable, and looked for every opportunity to bust out with some kind of joke I could understand and allowed me the same privilege in return. He took me to the Ya'an bus station where after a twenty-minute wait, a nice new bus took me the last two hours along a modern expressway to Chengdu for Y34.


Beijing / Chengdu / Dali-Xiaguan / Deqin / Guangzhou / Guilin / Haba-Baishuitai / Hailuogou-Moxi / Hong Kong / Huashan / Kangding-Luding / Kunming / Lijiang / Shanghai / Simatai / Songpan / Suzhou / Tengchong-Baoshan / Tiger Leaping Gorge / Xi'an / Yangshuo / Zhangjiajie-Wulingyuan / Zhongdian

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All text and photographs 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.