Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guanxi, Yunnan
Part 4

23-24.11: Munich -> BKK -> Hong Kong
25.11: Hong Kong
26.11: Hong Kong
27.11: Hong Kong -> Shenzen -> Shanghai
28.11: Shanghai
29.11: Shanghai
30.11: Shanghai -> Guilin
01.12: Guilin -> Yangshuo by boat
02.12: Yangshuo

03.12: Yangshuo -> Kunming
04.12: Kunming -> Dali
05.12: Dali
06.12: Dali -> Zhongdian
07.12: Zhongdian -> Lijiang
08.12: Lijiang -> Kunming
09.12: Kunming
10.12: Kunming -> Shenzen - Hong Kong
11.12: Hong Kong -> Delhi via Bangkok

Continued from Part 3

05.12: Dali
Jinhua Hotel (aka Golden Flower Hotel)
Weather: sunny the whole day (apparently the last rain here was four weeks ago); cold in the morning, the temperature climbs during the day and in the afternoon I run around with a T-shirt.

In the morning I wake up at 8am, but only leave the hotel by 9:45am. After some photo shooting on the south wall, I go to a mobile phone shop to recharge the mobile prepaid card. Yesterday evening the phone call with Shirley was abruptly terminated, even if it was an incoming call and I probably had around 70 RMB of calls on the card available. It turns out that with this China Mobile prepaid card I have to pay even for incoming calls (1.90 RMB/minute - not sure if this is only for incoming international calls or also local calls). In any case it's a shame, as normally you don't have to pay for incoming calls in GSM networks unless you are roaming abroad (which I'm not). The lady at the shop suggests to buy a China Unicom GSM card, with which incoming calls are free, but I'm leaving China in less than a week anyway, and the 100 RMB investment in a new card might not be worth it. So I just recharge the card with 150 RMB.

After that, around 11 something am, I have a late breakfast/lunch and check the emails. Then I fetch a taxi to the Three Pagodas (San Ta Si, entry ticket is overpriced at 55 RMB). Around 1pm I'm done with the Three Pagodas and I fetch a taxi to the lake (20 RMB). I'm there at 1:24pm and have a look around. There are boats which do a lake tour for 50 RMB (strange enough on the ticket 100 RMB are marked - I'm surprised that I get 50 RMB back when I pay 100).

The boat leaves when there are enough people, in our case at 2pm when a group of girls from Beijing arrives (they are students travelling for eight days across Yunnan).  We cross the lake and reach an island on the other side, where there is a temple which we visit. The next stop is another temple on the opposite shore. We are back at the pier at 4:30pm. A very nice boat tour and it was fun chatting in Mandarin with the Beijing girls (good pronounciation, easy to understand, much better than the stuff the local people speak here).

I get a taxi back into town, to the south gate, where I have a walk along the western city wall (not too great views, despite the sunset). After 5pm not much happens - I eat some food, check again the emails and prepare the plan for the next couple of days. I will hire a car + driver, to go to Zhongdian on the first day with a number of stops along the way, and on the second day to go from Zhongdian to Lijiang with stops along the way. Price will be 900 RMB, including everything (also the accomodation for the driver). By the way, I gave an advance of 300 RMB to the driver (hopefully he shows up tomorrow). We are leaving tomorrow at 8am.

06.12: Dali -> Zhongdian
Yunnan Aviation Dioing Guanguang Hotel (aka simply as "Guanguang Hotel"), He Ping road, Zhongdian, Tel. 0887-8230698. Modern, confortable hotel, with heating (after so many days of freezing, finally a warm room - my room has 23°C, outside it's below 0°C). I have a nice room with good furniture, TV, phone, water boiler + tea set, bathroom with hair dryer and more for 390 RMB. The most expensive hotel I've stayed so far in China, but the room is definitely worth the money. I'd rate it at 4 stars.
Weather: sunny and cool in Dali in the morning, but no clouds. It gets cloudier during the day, as we drive towards Zhongdian. In Zhongdian the sky is partly covered with clouds and the temperature ranges from +7°C during the day and apparently -10°C at night (according to the forecast in the hotel lobby). It's definitely very cold, and even windy, but dry (no rain). At the monastery there is ice on the ground, an indicator that this year it snowed already.
GSM coverage with China Mobile everywhere we've been today - quite impressive.

I wake up at 6:30am (!), even before the alarm clock rings at 6:50am and then take a shower and pack my things. At 7:55am I'm down in the hotel lobby and surprise, surprise the driver is already there waiting for me. We then wake up the hotel lobby employees, check out and leave at 8:00am sharp. The sun will only rise in the sky at 8:30am by the way.

The first stop is at Xizhou, a village about 10-15 km north of Dali, rated as very interesting in the LP guide due to its well preserved Bai architecture. Well, the town is sort of interesting, but not too impressive and actually along the way to Lijiang there are many more well preserved Bai houses. I might add that at 8:25am the entire town is still half asleep and most shops are closed.

We then continue driving along the lake. Dali lies in a very large valley, which is heavily cultivated (but less now as it's winter). The road is quite good and we soon leave the Dali lake behind us and start climbing. We reach Heqing, a town 45 km south of Lijiang at 10:25am. The driver pulls out a cigarette and asks if he can smoke - well no, no thanks.

At 11am we reach Lijiang, whose new town is quite big and modern (we don't go to the old town - we'll get there tomorrow). I suggest to find a restaurant and have sort of a late breakfast (haven't had breakfast this morning), but we can't find a western style restaurant and I'm not in the mode for sitting at a Chinese food stall. So I suggest to drive to the Tiger Leaping Gorge and have lunch there. We should be there by 1 something pm and I would expect a nice, modern western level restaurant.

The road is in good condition - actually I had expected a much worse road, as for instance in Myanmar. The ride proceeds smoothly and fast and we only stop a couple of times, when the driver has to ask the way (he has never been at the Tiger Leaping Gorge). By the way, the road near the gorge is excellent, allowing fast driving, and it is still being extended.

At 1pm we arrive at the Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao Xia in Chinese - at its narrowest the gorge is narrow enough so that a tiger could jump across it - at least in theory). The gorge is impressive, very narrow and despite the fact that we are at least at 2000m on both sides of the gorge there are very steep mountains - possibly they are 4000 or even 5000 m high. This place is something not to be missed.

The ticket to the gorge costs 30 RMB and from the parking it's a 2.6 km walk to the gorge. After walking to the gorge, getting back and having lunch it's 3pm. The driver tells me that now it will take three hours to get from here to Zhongdian.

Actually at 5pm we are already in Zhongdian. The road between Qiaotou and Xiao Zhongdian is good, except for a small part which is very bad. In the last part the road is very good again, almost like a motorway.

It's very cold and a strong wind is blowing. Zhongdian lies in a very large valley, at a height of 3200m above sea level. The new town has not much to offer in terms of sights - it's just a collection of modern buildings. The old town is, well so-so. I saw much better preserved houses in Xiao Zhongdian (will stop there tomorrow).

We drive to the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa buddhist monastery (Songzanlin Si in Chinese; ticket is 10 RMB). Very impressive monastery, but the sun is now behind the clouds and a freezing wind is blowing, so I don't stay for long there. Will get there again tomorrow. After that we look for a hotel, and I end up in the above mentioned place.

In the evening after dinner I go to an Internet cafe to check my emails. Shirley and her sister Sara have finally a confirmed seat on the Malaysian Airlines flight KL-Delhi-KL on December 10th, so now I have to contact again Sanjay, my local contact in Delhi and ask him to inform the driver about the changed schedule and organise a hotel room in Delhi. By the way, they smoke like crazy in that Internet cafe and keep the windows open to change the air, allowing freezing air to get inside.

07.12: Zhongdian -> Lijiang
Old Town Inn (Gucheng Kezhan), Xinyi Jie, Lijiang, Tel. 0888-5189000. 300 RMB for a nice but small single room with bath, heating, telephone, TV, nice furniture. Breakfast included. In a traditional local housing style, quiet at night. Found the hotel in the LP guide.
Weather: overcast and dark in the morning in Zhongdian until 10am, after the sky slowly opens up and the sun shines through. Very cold in Zhongdian, and cold in Lijiang. In Lijiang in the afternoon, sun with clouds.

After breakfast I discuss with the driver the route options for today (by the way, the breakfast in the Guanguang Hotel sucks). Would like to take the other road through Baishuitai, but the driver says his car can't drive on that road and the receptionist confirms that the road is very bad. Benzilan, which according to the LP guide is 22 km away from Zhongdian, is 80 km and 3 hours away according to the hotel receptionist. Also, the sky is overcast and it could snow (although this doesn't look like a "snow" sky, but you can never know). So we settle on a short trip to the nearby Tiansheng bridge rock formation (Tiansheng Qiao) and the Dabao Si buddhist temple.

After some erring here and there (the driver doesn't know the road and also doesn't have a map) we finally reach the Tiansheng rock formation (10 RMB entry). Kind of nice and below there is a hot spring, with really hot water. There are two big pools, changing rooms, lockers, even a shop where they sell swimming suits. Would be great to take a bath in the hot water, and heat up the frozen body, but there is no time.

Driving to the Dabao temple takes some effort (again the driver doesn't know the way), because you have to drive for a few km along an unpaved side road full of stones. The temple (10 RMB entry fee) is a disappointment. When I visit it, it is used by an old lady who keeps her chicken inside. Goats live inside the stupa bells. ON top of that, when I walk back to the car, the old lady chases me for two minutes begging for some money (everywhere in China people chase you asking for money).

It's already 11:20am when we finally start driving towards Lijiang. At 12pm we reach Xiao Zhongdian, a village in the valley with beautiful farm houses. I spend half an hour there shooting photos. Then we continue driving to Lijiang and at 2pm we reach Qiaotou, where we plan to have a lunch break. The driver brings me into a roadside restaurant and there the disaster begins.

Because I don't want to eat always pork, I make the mistake to ask for chicken. It's a mistake, because in China you should never ask for chicken unless you are in a high class or western restaurant.

To avoid misunderstandings, the driver is with me when I discuss what I want to have with the waitress. We ask what meat they have, even walk into the kitchen to have a look. The available meat, already cut into pieces, doesn't look that appetizing. I ask if they have chicken meat, and the lady says yes. I then explain that I want to have chicken meat with no bones. The driver translates this. To check, I then ask, can we see the chicken meat ? Yes, no problem. Wait one minute and a guy shows up with one live chicken hanging by his feet...

Ah... that's the chicken meat (!?). A live chicken, which they are going to kill for us ? Ok, I say, let's take it. The guy with the chicken disappears. Some more discussion, then the driver says that the restaurant is going to charge 90 RMB for the whole chicken. Very expensive indeed and I say that actually a piece of the chicken is enough. The lady says no, either the full chicken or nothing. Then we say, we don't want it (bu yao). Then the driver says, we have to tell the guy with the chicken to stop the slaughtering procedure. But by the time we reach the guy with the chicken, he has already cut the chicken's throat and is making all blood come out.

So it's too late, and we have to take the chicken. Ok, I'll then have the full chicken, although I doubt that I will be able to finish alone one full chicken. Then the situation gets out of control... The guy and the girls take out the feathers of the chicken, then I see the guy cutting the whole chicken together with skin and bones into small pieces with a big knife. Slowly I start realising what is happening.

I happen to have a chat with a Taiwanese tourist, who is fluent in English and Mandarin. I tell him about the chicken and we then go to the kitchen and explain again that I want the chicken meat without bones. "No it's too late now, you didn't tell us. You should have told us before." @!#*!@... GRRRRR.... Thinking back about it, I should have raised my voice then and complained, but I was still hoping to be able to remove the bones myself with a fork and a knife.

They finally serve two big pots full of liquid and chicken parts. The first one is disgusting - there are among others the chicken head and parts of the legs inside, in a brownish liquid. The second one seems to contain the eatable parts of the chicken. It takes about five minutes to get a fork and a knife, after a lot of asking (the restaurant manager borrows the knife and fork from some other place - the fork is actually a small cake fork). Then I start to sort out the meat and remove the skin, the bones and other uneatable parts.

Actually, had I known how much meat there was inside the pots, I would have probably simply thrown the content of both pots into the toilet, instead of spending several minutes to sort out the meat. I end up with a very small amount of meat. Unlikely that a chicken is so meatless even here in China - they must have kept the meat for themselves, and just served me the skin and bones. Great - they charge me 90 RMB for a chicken, served in an impossible manner and even keep the meat for themselves. They must be thinking that Westerners are stupid and deserve to be cheated.

Just to make an example, in Kunming, in the My Favor Cafe, they have an excellent buffet, where inclusive of salads, meats, rice, noodles, fruits, several choices of cake and desserts, drinks etc. you only pay 38 RMB. From now on I will avoid simple roadside restaurants here in China and focus on western or westernised restaurant.

After leaving Qiaotou we reach Lijiang around 4:20pm. Cars are not allowed into the old town, so I have to walk with my bags to the hotel (hotel is quite nice, see above). Lijiang is a beautiful town, with all houses in local style. It is actually even too beautiful - in an effort to make it beautiful, the locals have overdone themselves and now Lijiang looks like a village in a fairy tale, kind of a perfect Disneyland fantasy town. Very nice, but also very, very heavily tourist oriented. There are souvenir shops everywhere. Entire roads are completely covered on both sides with souvenir shops. I'd like to buy a souvenir for Shirley, but most things they sell here are cheap colourful tourist crap.

There are restaurants along the channels, but are a bit pricey - 20 RMB for instance for a banana pancake. A simple dinner seems to be in the 50-70 RMB range, while until now I have spent in the 30 RMB range for a dinner in all places I've been. Lijiang is overall less backpacker-oriented - less than Dali and much less than Yangshuo, the backpacker centre of southern China.

In the evening I check my emails (BTW, can't find an Internet cafe in China with a computer with a working diskette drive) and have a dinner. Tomorrow I'll be in Lijiang the whole day and will fly to Kunming in the evening.

08.12: Lijiang -> Kunming
Yunnan International Business Hotel, Kunming: very good value at 200 RMB/night, including the transfer from the airport to the hotel and breakfast (see above).
Weather: cloudy and cool in the morning in Lijiang; until the afternoon the clouds go away and the sky gets blue; at 2pm it's warm enough to sit outside in a street cafe; not too cold in the late afternoon when I leave Lijiang for Kunming; cold, but not too cold in Kunming in the evening

I skip the breakfast and am ready at 10:45am (by the way, the Old Town Inn room is cold and the shower sucks). Between 11:10am and 11:45am I check the emails. I sort of skip breakfast and lunch and simply buy some pastries at the local bakery (excellent stuff and dirt cheap), which fill my stomach for a few hours. I use the time I save by not sitting in a restaurant to explore Lijiang and shoot some photos.

At 12:15pm I remember that there should be a lake north of Lijiang's old town, into which the Yulong Shan mountain reflects. Since it's noon, it's easy to find the north, because the sun lies to the south (or approximately). I manage to reach the entry of the park with the lake at 12:40pm, by walking towards the north along a channel. The ticket is 20 RMB - everywhere in Lijiang and more generally in China, they charge entry fees.

The park with the lake is kind of nice, with the temples reflecting in the lake etc. Very nice actually. I spend one hour in the park, then walk back to Lijiang's old town, which I reach at 2pm. In the big square in front of Lijiang's old town there is now a folklore group of local people, who start performing a dance. After watching it, I remember that I'm about to run out of cash and head towards the new town looking for a bank. After two ATMs which don't accept my ATM card, I finally find a Bank of China ATM which accepts my card.

At 2:45pm I have some food in one of the cafes which line a channel in Lijiang's old town (the Bob Marley cafe to be precise). Then, around 3:40pm I start walking again in Lijiang. The sun is now lower in the sky and the good time for taking photos is about to start. At 4:30pm I am at the Wan Gu Lou temple (admission: 15 RMB) on top of a hill overlooking Lijiang, from which you have an excellent view of Lijiang.

In the public toilets in the park adjoining the temple I finally find the famous Chinese toilets, where people shit in a row with no separating walls, no toilet paper and nothing to clean your ass. Until now I've always only found decent toilets, so this bizarre place is kind of interesting.

At 5:10pm I head towards a cafe, where I have some food while checking my emails. At 6pm I'm then back in the hotel and fetch my bags. The taxi driver (a lady) is already waiting for me. We are at the airport at 6:20pm (cost of the taxi ride is 100 RMB) and the plane leaves on time at 7:30pm.

We actually reach Kunming ten minutes early at 8:10pm. I then book the room in the hotel at the airport, and am in the hotel room before 9pm. There is an unpleasant surprise, because the hotel tells me they cannot wash my clothes in a few hours (they can only be available on Friday evening at 8pm - far too late. I even walk with a hotel employee to the laudry reception at the nearby Parkson department store, but even there they cannot wash the clothes so quickly. A bit of a problem, because I'm running out of clean clothes and underwear. Will have to look for a fast laundry service tomorrow.

09.12: Kunming
Yunnan International Business Hotel
Weather: overcast, with some brief sky "openings", otherwise a pretty dull day. A bit warmer than yesterday, but still quite cold/fresh.

In the morning I wake up at 8 something am, then however only get ready around 10am.  I prepare the clothes to wash in two big bags (lots of stuff which needs to get cleaned) and walk down to the reception. Yesterday the manager told me he would find a fast laundry service and inform me today. Based on this I'm planning to take a taxi to this fast laundry service, leave the clothes there and be back around 11am. I'm not to happy about this - a hotel should offer a fast laundry service.

Surprise, surprise, today at the reception they tell me that I can leave the clothes there and I will get them tomorrow by 9am. Ok, that's fine with me. In fact, I will get back the clothes in the evening at 9pm - 12 hours ahead of the planned delivery (cost is a bit high at 110 RMB).

For today I had planned to skip the Stone Forest, which probably is overrated, and instead visit the Yunnan Nationalities Village, which I thought is much more interesting. Well, it turns out that this village is a disappointment. The whole day is actually a disappointment - well, after having been first in Dali, then in Zhongdian and Lijiang a disappointment had to come. You can't be every day in a breathtaking place.

I was expecting something as nice as the Sarawak Cultural Village near Kuching (Malaysia), where the individual tribe houses are nicer than the real thing (longhouses in Sarawak are actually pretty dull). Instead here the situation is the opposite: the reconstruction is not as nice as the original. Basically the Yunnan Nationalities Village is a collection of reconstructed villages of the 25 ethnic groups in Yunnan. But the resonstruction is of poor quality, with corrugated tin roofs, walls with pale colours or where the colour drops off and overall the houses are in a poor state. Compare that with Dali, Lijiang and Zhongdian, where the houses are in a much better state (and of course are original). Also, the entry fee is 70 RMB now, up from 45 RMB three years ago. And the villages are spread over a large area, so that walking from a village to the next takes a lot of time.

The taxi from Kunming to the Yunnan Nationalities Village takes approx. half an hour and costs 21 RMB. I'm there at 1pm and leave at 2:45pm. The taxi ride from the village to my next destination, the Bamboo temple (Qiongzhu Si), takes over an hour and costs 60 RMB. I'm there after 4pm. The temple is on top of a hill and is nice. I spend 40 minutes there, then look on the watch and see that it's already 4:40pm, too late to visit another place. So I just take a minibus back to the hotel (30 RMB).

I spend the rest of the day not doing much. I'm back at the My Favor Cafe for dinner and email check, then walk around the block and realize that there is nothing to see. The roads are lined with western style shops selling clothes and other stuff, and catering to local people. After 16 days in China, I'm getting a bit tired of China. It's good that in two days I'm flying to India. Tomorrow evening I will be in Hong Kong (after reading in the LP guide what Shenzen is about, I kill the idea of spendind the night in Shenzen).

10.12: Kunming -> Shenzen -> Hong Kong
Man Hing Lung Hotel, Hong Kong (Kowloon) - same place where I stayed when I arrived to HK two and a half weels ago.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Kunming; the sun finally pops out around 3pm. Quite cold in the morning in Kunming, even if the weather indicator in the lobby of the hotel shows a tempetature range of +6°C .. +13°C. In Hong Kong it's fresh in the evening, but a lot warmer than in Kunming. No rain the whole day.

I stay in be until 10am - after so many days in cold places I've now caught a slight cold (hopefully not SARS or something similar). I then get up and pack my things. At 12pm I'm down in the lobby and check out, leaving the bags in the hotel. Then I have a lunch at the My Favor Cafe (my favourite place in Kunming - by now they must be thinking that I will show up every day for the next two weeks) and check the emails.

At 12:50pm I catch a taxi to the Yuantong Si buddhist temple in downtown Kunming. The taxi ride takes only 15 minutes. The temple (entry ticket is 4 RMB) is quite nice and would look great actually if the sky were blue instead of overcast and the sun were in the right position. I'm there until 2pm, then fetch a taxi back to the hotel (a 20 minutes ride). I shoot some more photos of people on bicycles, then go to the supermarket in the basement of the Parkson department store opposite the hotel. There I get some food and a drink for this evening (will most likely skip dinner tonight, as I won't be in the hotel before 8 or 9pm).

At 2:55pm I catch a taxi to the airport (the ride takes only 15 minutes and is 19 RMB). The Air China plane leaves with a small delay, because it arrived late at the airport. On board there is a drink and a meal (chicken with skin, rice and celery pieces).

The plane lands with a small delay in Shenzen airport. By the time I get the luggage and reach the information counter it's 6:50pm. There they say that the fastest way to get to HK is by bus, because the next boat only leaves at 8:30pm and the bus leaves at 7:05pm. So I buy a bus ticket for 130 RMB.

What follows is not really an ordeal, but it certainly is no fun having to use three different busses to reach Hong Kong and passing two immigration controls (with thermo-scan camera - luckily I have no fever). I was thinking that the same bus would go all the way to Hong Kong, as is the case with the bus from KL to Singapore. Instead the first bus only brings you to the Chinese border (and I leave the bag in the bus, thinking I'll find the same bus on the other side - pretty complicated getting back to the Chinese side after having left China to get the bag). Then there is a second bus to the Hong Kong border. Again get out, and walk with your bags to the HK immigration. Then finally, there is the third bus which brings me to somewhere in Kowloon. From there I take a taxi to the Man Hing Lung hotel, which I manage to reach at 9:15pm. In the remaining part of the evening I take the peak train to the Victoria Peak, where I shoot some night photos of Hong Kong; underground is 9 HKD one way, the peak train is 30 HKD return). I sleep quite late at 1am.

11.12: Hong Kong -> Delhi via Bangkok
Yatri guesthouse, Delhi: overpriced at 1400 Rs for a double room. The rooms are dirty and run-down, the toilet is in a very poor state. The shower stops working after a few minutes, and you are forced to throw buckets of water on your back to rinse away the shower gel. No mosquitoes however, and the owner is friendly.
Weather: beautiful sunny day in HK in the morning and noon; a pity I'm leaving today, as the visibility is quite good and I could shoot some good photos. Fresh in the evening in Delhi; the air is incredibly dirty, as in a dantesque hell.

I wake up (actually am woken up by the outside noise at 8:20am, 20 minutes ahead of my alarm clock wake up time. Today is a "fly-day" - will spend the entire day in planes and airports, getting from Hong Kong to Delhi.

At 10am I fetch a taxi (30 HKD) to the Kowloon station, where I will fetch the airport express. After checking in the bag at the Kowloon station (until Bangkok on the TG 601 flight), I get on the next train and reach the airport around 11am. The Thai airways flight leaves almost on time at 12:50pm.

The plane lands in Bangkok International Airport 10 minutes late. Then it gets a bit messy to reclaim the bag and change airlines (I arrived with Thai Airlines and am flying to Delhi with Air India). It appears that I can only get my bag if I go through immigration, but I don't have an entry card (didn't take it in the plane, as I am only transiting). So I look for an entry card, but can't find anywhere one (they don't distribute them freely as is the case with the KL airport for instance). Then I go to the immigration officer and explain that I want to get my bag and check it in with Air India. The lady checks my Air India ticket and sends me to the Transfer Desk 1. There the guy explains that if I go through immigration I have to pay the 500 THB airport tax. He also says that Air India will send somebody to pick up my bag and will check it in for me. After passing through one more guy, I am sent to Transfer Desk 2 - Transfer Desk 1 was the wrong address, since Air India have their counter at Transfer Desk 2 (by the way, 800 metres distance between the two transfer desks). Finally at the Air India counter, after checking my ticket, reserving a seat and checking my passport and visa, they tell me to come back at 4:15pm to identify my bag.

At 4:15pm I'm back, but there is some queueing up, some waiting, Indian people who don't want to queue up and try to push their way to the front, some confusion etc. In the end I manage to identify my bag and get the boarding pass at 4:45pm, over two hours after landing in Bangkok. Then I rush to the KFC restaurant and get some take away food. After that I stop at the post office and check my emails (the card they sell costs 100 THB and allows you to surf the web for 90 minutes - pricey, but there seems to be no alternative at BKK airport - I wonder if there is WLAN access somewhere).

I manage to reach the security check at 5:20pm. There they check if you have a boarding pass and do the usual scan. Immediately after that, at the gate 20 metres away, again they do a security check. This time it is done by the airline (Air India), and since they don't have scanners, the employee opens your bag and looks inside. Then a couple of ladies check if you are carrying any weapons on you. Not clear what they are trying to achieve, since the people who made it here have already passed through the security check above and they lack the equipment to do a proper security check. Then, at the entrance on the gate waiting area, they check your passport and boarding pass. When walking to the plane, two employees again check your boarding pass. Either the people here are paranoid or their security checks suck so that they have to perform them twice.

The flight with Air India is ok. It leaves with some delay (20 minutes), but the on-board service is fine. I had been warned in Internet message boards against flying with Air India, citing poor service and delays as the main reasons, but so far (while I write this I'm sitting in the plane on the way to Delhi), eveything is ok. The plane (a Boeing 747-300 combi) is old however - you can clearly see it in the toilets, the seats and the audiovisual equipment. By the way, the Indians are far less disciplined than the Chinese - there is a lot of chaos on this flight, while there was virtually none on the Chinese flights.

The reality check comes when we land in Delhi. There is a small delay, as we land at 8:50pm local time, instead of  8:40pm. Passing through the immigration is quite speedy, but then I have to wait for one hour, until 10pm for the bag. Initially it's an average of one bag per minute which shows up on the conveyor belt.

It's 10pm when I finally get out of the arrivals zone. Shirley and Sara are waiting there for me. We then drive to the Yatri guesthouse (see above).

Copyright 2005 Alfred Molon