Alert: Off to Colombia in a couple of days so I will only be posting from there and my ongoing journey. Will be back on this journey through China (Forbidden City, Great Wall and Terracotta Army), Vietnam (Hanoi and its great museums and its scooters and bikes, Halong Bay, and Nha Trang for a rest and snorkelling), Kota Kinabalu for R and R and finally Thailand (Retreats by rivers and Ayuttera for amazing temples and history). I thought this was a good stopping point, a cliffhanger if you will. So OVER AND OUT and an intermission from this trip xxxx

I can’t dress this up and make it better. (Take note there are no photos). They took us off the train into some kind of holding centre that we all thought we would never escape. Under glaring fluorescent lighting people dragged all their belongings from the train, to passport and security. For five hours we all either sat in rigid plastic chairs or on the new marble floor heads in hands, despairing and by now kind of scared.

The big shiny new posters with food and refreshment depicted on them mocked us, we just had use of the toilets and one water fountain with hot and cold water for us all. Signs angrily told us not to waste water and we weren’t allowed to touch their shiny metal railings to look out over the foyer below us.

Two girls with translators on their tablets had been posted there to answer and questions or indeed reprimand you if you did something wrong. With the best will in the world they didn’t seem to be the full ticket and simply couldn’t get their translation apps to work or if they did clearly the translations were wrong.

We were not allowed outside on the platform for a cigarette or fresh air and we were not told how long this all would take.

Maybe this was one of the first times their shiny hell had been utilised and they were ill prepared and maybe now it has the promised snacks and more of a feeling of a rather strict station as opposed to a military prison. I think because of the language challenges on both sides they should really have had signs up in English explaining the system and reassuring the now downright frightened passengers.

ALERT: This would prove later to be a universal problem in China and would suck the love out of my Chinese experience. It was a real shame as I planned to travel around this magnificent country for around three weeks in my usual haphazard way. Sadly it was not to be as I’ll explain in a later blog.

This is just supposed to be to change the gauge of the tracks and previously people were allowed to re-enter their carriages and wait in them so we didn’t know what the hell was going on. Joanna Lumley didn’t mention this in her documentary about the Trans Siberian Express, but she was going the opposite direction so maybe it’s different when leaving China?

Maybe their posh holding hall is functioning in a user friendly way now? Maybe I should have seen that the Chinese fellow travellers were aware of the system and not alarmed but resigned to it? Maybe the fact they all came armed with instant noodles should have indicated they were prepared for this hideous event with its super long wait in the middle of the night? Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Top tip: if you travel this route buy some instant noodles and get ready for a minimum five hour wait.

When finally we re-boarded the train it was in silence and we all headed straight to our beds exhausted and relieved. It’s amazing how quiet a large group of people can be in this sort of intimidating environment. We perked up the next day but all agreed how scary and confusing and intimidating it had been. There were more explicitly voiced opinions but like I said, I’m not going to be shouty sweary…..just yet……