SongPan is a reasonably well known town, with a good reputation, so I was surprised to find I disliked nearly every aspect of my time there.
It started when we arrived. Tired from the bumpy journey there, we tried to check into an otherwise unoccupied hotel. The young receptionist became so aggressive about us giving her money before seeing the room that we left. She then stood in the street and started shouting at us as we drove away. Welcome to Songpan.
Most places were closed for the winter so we ended up in the Sun River Hotel. The lobby was warm and friendly, as were the staff. The room was large and had everything, but on closer inspection it was spectacularly filthy. The bathroom was clean, but the main room was covered in hairs of all lengths and colours. The carpet was thick with toe-nail clippings and bits of skin. The bed was warm and comfortable but covered in all manner of stains.
Thankfully, experience has taught us to always carry a clean sheet for the bed and flip flops for the bathroom.
Dinner at a nearby restaurant was equally unpleasant. They somehow managed to make staple spicy Sichuanese dishes bland and gritty. There was hair in the cabbage, but that’s reasonably normal in China. It doesn’t really warrant a complaint, so we picked it out and carried on.
Even the rice was dry and overcooked, so unsatisfied we tried another restaurant. Walking in there were no other customers, just the owner and his friend warming themselves by the stove.
As the owner went off to cook some noodles, the friend just stared at us. Again, this is quite normal for China. As the food arrived though, he picked up his stool and moved closer, just staring, not smiling or talking.
H asked what he was doing. His reply: “Staring at the foreigner”.
The noodles were overcooked and the “beef” somewhat gamey, so we gave up on those and went to a street vendor outside for some simple bread-based spicy snacks
She sold them to a passing couple for “yi kuai”. One Yuan.
Looking at me, she said in English “Ten yuan”.
I replied in Chinese “It was only one kuai for them”.
“They are Chinese. For you six kuai”.
She wouldn’t budge, so we didn’t get any simple bread-based spicy snacks.
Thinking a shop with fixed prices might be less hassle we went into a convenience store and bought a Snickers bar. So much for trying the local specialities. They sold it to us, and then had a conversation in Tibetan about how much they hate serving the Han Chinese. H can understand enough Tibetan to catch their meaning and got annoyed.
Depressed all round, we took the near-frozen Snickers back to our filthy hotel room to have with a nice warming cup of tea.
The kettle was broken.
The next morning we got up and went to a busy local xiaolongbao bun shop. These doughy parcels of meat are a staple breakfast across China. They tasted fine, but the whole restaurant smelt of poo.
The following morning I woke up with a Hepatitis A recurrence, usually brought on by eating food containing poo. That would explain the earlier smell.
The Hepatitis symptoms made the long and winding drive over the beautiful SongPan pass that much more of an adventure…