Monday, January 4, 2010

Planes, Buses and Taxis

My friend and I decided to ring in 2010 by escaping the cold dry winter in Beijing for the warm sunny climes of Hainan Island.

We made a reservation at the Sofitel Boao, which is where the Boao Forum for Asia is held every year. It's where leaders in government, business and academia in Asia get together to discuss the pressing issues of the day. It started in 2001 and Boao has become the permanent site, though it's strange it's based basically in the middle of nowhere though the location has a resort feel.

And how do you get there? Be prepared for a long day of travel... if you're not a big shot.

First it takes three hours and 20 minutes to fly from Beijing to Haikou (海口). Then after gathering our luggage, we took an airport bus to the Haikou East Bus Station that cost 15RMB ($2.19) each.

The day we arrived it was raining and there were tons of people riding scooters, including entire families clutching onto each other on this cheap mode of transport. Usually the driver wore a helmet -- even a construction hard hat would do -- but the other passengers were helmetless.

On our bus ride was an obnoxious Brit, a man in his 60s who seemed easily frustrated by everything, spewing profanities at anything that crossed his path. He was accompanied by a middle-aged Chinese woman, but when she disembarked from the bus, he couldn't figure out which luggage was hers and demanded the young woman leading our bus group to "find the woman".

For some strange reason, the bus didn't drop us off directly across from the East Bus Station and we had to walk another block in the rain and cross the street.

It was a dreary-looking bus station that was dim inside, and the floor was completely wet due to the rain. While we were hungry and hadn't had lunch, we were anxious to get to the hotel and thought we'd be near shops and restaurants to try out some seafood so we held out from buying cheap snacks at the food stand. We bought tickets to Qionghai (琼海) at 25RMB each. There was an option of 20RMB, but the woman manning the ticket booth urged us foreigners to get the more expensive tickets. We soon saw why.

At the chaotic gates we could see small buses and then big luxury ones, both going the same direction, thus the two different prices. We stood there waiting half an hour, watching lots of people pushing to get their tickets validated by a woman in uniform before they could get on the bus. The bus drivers, especially the ones driving the luxury buses acted like hot shots, walking with a swagger and smoking a cigarette.

We finally got on the clean bus that had lots of leg room and tried to settle into an hour and a half ride, that came with entertainment courtesy of a TV screen showing a live concert recorded earlier with Chinese singers I didn't recognize at all.

Then we rolled into Qionghai that seemed to have orderly streets, but hardly any taxis. When we arrived at that bus station, we managed to flag down a taxi right away with a driver who immediately agreed to take us when he heard we wanted to go to Boao.

I can see why, as it was another 20km away, costing us 54RMB, not bad considering our starting rate was 5RMB. For the driver, it was his lucky day.

We later found out that the hotel does not provide shuttle service, only its limousine which would cost 650RMB ($95), or a taxi for 300RMB to go straight to the airport. We obviously opted for the latter when we left to go back to Beijing to avoid the many transfers we made to get there.

After passing many rice paddies, water buffalo, geese and palm trees, we finally crossed a long bridge and then a check point that had a security guard. After we drove through it was another 5km before we passed the actual venue where the Boao Forum is held, and then finally we arrived at the Sofitel Boao, a giant luxury complex that was as far away from anything else as possible.

Basically, we were stuck there, and for two days, why not?

But it took a long time to get to almost paradise.


ChopSuey said...

Please tell me that you tried the pool!

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