(original post courtesy of Gareth’s blog)
Our last day in Rason started pretty early as it was to encompass our slow stroll back to China, via 3 points pass, the place where China, Russia, and the DPRK traverse.
On this particular morning morning we were blessed with stunning weather, with people snaking last photos’s from the bus as much as possible on the way to 3 points. The pass is one of my favourite parts of Rason (more so now that you can get phone signal there), as well as being a border, which I love, it has a really eerie cold war feel to it. Obviously much calmer than the DMZ, but in many ways no less weird.
Getting back into China was actually alarmingly pain free, with only one of our group having his computer, or camera searched. Also for some reason DPRK customs now randomly sells Guinness. Everyone knows that Guinness is basically bread, and drinking it in the morning in no way implies alcoholism. Actually the only problem we had was at Chinese customs, with our Kenyan guy. Apparently in Kenya when your passport runs out they just extend it rather than give you a new one. Africa style is not understood in China.
Our bus was waiting for us for the 2 hour journey back to Yanji, where unsurprisingly no one said a single word to each other, each and all addicted to the 3g on their phones, and that wonderful feeling you get when back in the good old real world. After getting back to Yanji, we rolled up in our regular coffee house to kill time before our trip to Shenyang. 10 pm departure, 5 am arrival. A necessary evil if we were to be able to get back for our main flight on time. Theres an analogy I like in these situations about the astronauts, that on a flight to the moon shit goes wrong, but they are so far away from earth the only way back is to go around the moon and back. We used this analogy switched perfectly as our excuse to drink for most of the night…..
So at 5 am we departed for a 2 hour layover in Shenyang. A freezing hell hole in North-East China. I remember when I first got to China I had an almost religious hatred to McDonalds, feeling it was in the travelers code to never set foot in there. I’m over that now, McDonalds breakfast rocks.
Our transfer was due to the fact that Shenyang has a “fast” service to Beijing. China for those not in the know has a kind of dual track/service system with the fast trains working parallel to the slower trains. Generally they are modeled very much like planes, seating wise, trolleys going round, no smoking, and completely without character. Fucking boring to cut a long story short. Time was killed in the trains version of a bar, and running out at every stop to try and smoke in 30 seconds (I was good at that). On arrival we hit some lunch in Beijing, surfed the net before leaving for our “8.30” flight.
Beijing has 2 airports, Capital, and Nanyuan, with the later being an ex military airport located very centrally. We were delayed at the airport 5 hours. There is nothing to do in the airport, although we did manage to find a secret hidden restaurant with cheap beer that allowed smoking, alas 30 minutes before we actually flew.
I’m used to planning not just my own trips, but trips for hundreds of people, so it was quite pleasing that this time not only had I done cock all, but I had actually read fairly little on the place as well.
We arrived at 1.30 am to what can only be described as a colossal airport that looked like it was from the future, except it was empty, and we were the only flight. Not knowing where we were going, or what to do, we did the only thing available to us which was jump on the airport bus, which sticking with the theme was very modern, expensive, and largely empty.
Our drive to Ordos gave us a taste of what was to come, as we drove through what later turned out to be KangBaShi, the ghost town of our dreams, a massive, but largely unlit metropolis before being dropped in what looked like the arse pit of nowhere, with two closed hotels, a motorway and pseudo-nightclub. We found a taxi and asked him to take us to the nearest cheap hotel in Ordos. Ordos is supposed to be the live brother of these two sister towns, but again it was largely empty, without even much of a hint of life. We checked into the hotel (as the only guests), and despite it being 3 am decided to go on an explore, which resulted in us finding nothing open, but a convenience store, buying a beer, and then going home at 4.
Already without having seen anything this place was looking damn weird, and despite the prospect of only 4 hours sleep we were excited for the next part of the adventure….