Our journey from Kunming started off with a train ride to Shanghai. Travelling from Nanjing to Kunming would have taken about 52 hours, whereas we’d spend only 38 hours in the train from Shanghai to Kunming. So we decided to spend a few hours walking around Shanghai before heading on to Kunming.
The adventure started with getting the train tickets. Firstly, you can’t buy train tickets online in China – you have to get them at the train station, at various ticket offices in town or through a travel agent. Secondly, you can’t pay for them using credit cards – it’s all cash or nothing. Felt like we were in Iran all over again! Thirdly, ticket agents in Nanjing cannot sell tickets for trains originating elsewhere – hence we could not purchase the Shanghai-Kunming train ticket until we got to Shanghai!
Anyways, after quite some running around, we managed to find an agent who could get us all the tickets we needed with relatively little pain. So we said goodbye to Nanjing and left for Shanghai on a bullet-train from Kunming.
Bullet train to Shanghai
Sorting ourselves out in Shanghai was easier said than done too. A relatively uneventful Metro ride from the main train station to the supposedly ultra-modern and spectacular South Train Station ended in chaos as we roamed the entire station searching for a place to deposit our bags for the rest of the day. Poor Daniel walked more than 1km to the cargo terminal following the symbol for baggage, only to discover that it was not what we were looking for. In the end we found the left luggage office at the bottom of the building, very clearly marked “CONSIGNATION”! So modern that they’re using a language which hasn’t even been created yet! We were so annoyed we forgot to take pictures, though!
Finally, we were able to jalan-jalan around Shanghai. Started off trying to find food, eating some disgusting fried tofu along the way. Fortunately, the delicious Shanghai dumplings we found soon after got rid of the horrid taste of fermented tofu in our mouths. By the time we had lunch, the rain had gotten worse, and it was getting cold. Nevertheless we persisted in our walk to the Bund, ending up buying an RM 5 umbrella once we were already soaking wet. The view from the Bund was nice, but not spectacular given the lousy weather. But we were satisfied just to have gotten there.
The Bund in stormy weather
Made our way back to the South Train Station and picked up our luggage from the Consignation counter before getting onto the train to Kunming. We were fortunate to have the 4-sleeper cabin to ourselves, the first time we had our own cabin since the Van Golu Express to Kayseri in Turkey. That seems like so long ago given the intensity of our travels, but it was in fact less than two months earlier.
The journey to Kunming was infinitely prettier than the second half of our train ride from Tibet. We travelled through lush green valleys, passing by beautiful lakes and rivers. Almost every square inch of arable land was planted with something, leaving the landscape covered in various shades of green.
We thought the scenery on Day 1 was pretty…
…until we saw what Day 2 had to offer
All along the way, we could see signs of growing prosperity. Big cities seemed to be sprawling outwards with new buildings getting taller and taller. In rural areas, wooden farmhouses were being replaced or “upgraded” with concrete and brick structures. A sign that all that money is going somewhere, maybe, quite unlike what we saw in India.
A couple of instant-noodle lunches later, we slipped into traveller-zen mode, just waiting for the journey to be over. The scenery kept getting prettier as we got further south, getting us all excited for the journey to Laos in the next couple of days.
“How long is this going to take?” – Daniel in traveller-zen mode