Jinghong marked the first time I arrived in a strange city in China after midnight with no reservations. My phone had stopped functioning the moment I entered Yunnan Province, so it was also my first time without gps as well. I was glad to have in my company a young woman who had spent the previous weeks navigating China with nothing but Lonely Planet maps.
Our first choice for a hostel appeared to be just a few blocks from the bus station, so we walked. We soon discovered astronomers have a new standard of measurement available should ‘light year’ fall short. The Jinghong city block. It wasn’t until later that I realized there must be entire cities hidden within each of these colossal blocks that laowai aren’t privy to.
We tried hailing a couple of taxis, but after looking at the hostel address the taxi drivers merely shook their heads.
Arriving at the correct address we found no hostel in sight. Evidently we were not the first Lonely Planet readers to cross this way because a friendly security guard scurried into his hut and returned with a hand-written sign that read: “No Hotel”.
It was after 1am by the time we found our second choice, Many Trees Hostel, hidden away in a tiny alley. I wouldn’t have noticed it were it not for the Hostelling International logo, with which I am intimately familiar from “doing time on Second Street” as my former hostel co-worker Dylan would say.
Carrying my pack all this way, after two days of straight travel, I was on death’s door. I was amazed with my Oakland companion, who seemed to take everything in stride. Traveling across China on her own without a word of Chinese, without reservations wherever she went, nonplussed to arrived in a strange city at midnight. When I mentioned I still didn’t have the whole “haggling” thing down—negotiating a price with Chinese vendors—she had never heard about that. She just paid what they told her and seemed perfectly content to do so.
At Many Trees we bid our separate ways. She was continuing down to Laos and southeast Asia. I had made my mind to keep this trip China-specific, but after spending time in this sun-soaked, friendly town on the southern tip of China, if Jinghong was a taste of what lay beyond the border, I couldn’t help but envy her just a little bit.