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Left on a Dark Chinese Road at 3am

[ 4 ] September 9, 2010 |

There’s nothing like the fear of getting on a bus in a foreign country, the fear of getting on the wrong bus, the fear of getting off at the wrong stop, or worse still missing your stop all together!  It was this anxiety that plagued me as I boarded yet another Chinese overnight bus on yet another journey to new destination…

Many times in China I’ve hopped on the wrong bus, or got off at the wrong stop, often spending hours working my way back towards the place I was originally intending to go to.  I have even missed my stop, not realising until they told me to get off, we were right at the end of the line!  Luckily on all occasions this has only ever happened on inner city buses where finding my way back was always just another short bus ride away (if I took the right one this time).

So what happens when you find yourself stuck on an overnight bus solo, full of people who don’t speak your language? Well if you’re me, you will pass by the hours working yourself up into a paranoid state.  Not allowing yourself to drift off to sleep out of fear of missing your stop!!!


…My overnight bus journey began at 7pm as we all pilled into the bus, taking off our shoes and settling in to what was meant to be 10 hours of ‘comfortable’ travel.  We all squeezed into our tiny bunks (yes, that’s right these buses have bunks!) and pulled on our blankets to warm us from the freezing cold air-conditioning.

Chinese Overnight Bus

This was not the first time I had been on an overnight bus, but this was the first time that my destination was not the final stop, though I didn’t know that at the time, having specifically asked just that when booking the ticket. It turns out I had chosen a potentially confusing destination.  I was going to Huangshan City, known on the train route and Tunxi, this bus was heading to Huangshan Scenic Area, I had to get off more than an hour earlier than the bus was expected to arrive at Huangshan Scenic Area.  The responsibility was mine and mine alone to get off at the right stop, my ticket like everyone elses just said Huangshan, the driver didn’t know where I was going and I certainly didn’t know exactly where I would end up!

As the night drew on despite my efforts not to doze off I found myself drifting off to sleep, to then be awoken by the bus halting to a stop. Time after time, I awoke each time, peeping out the window to see if I could see any sign indicating where we were.

The hours ticked by, with me constantly checking the time calculating how many hours were left until the time I was told I would arrive in Huangshan City.  At 2am we again stopped letting people off on the side of a dark road, the only light coming from the busses headlights and a blinking street lamp.  Was this my stop?  Surely not, surely I was going to the bus station as I was told!  This time I forced myself to stay awake, even if it meant slapping my own face just to stay alert!

I gazed out the window waiting for the bus lights to illuminate the passing street signs.  According to the signs and the high density housing we were getting close to Tunxi,  2 hours early!

We stopped again for what felt like the 20th time in the past 8 hours, three people got off the bus, the driver unloading their luggage onto the road.  Where were we?  We certainly were not at a bus station, the signs around didn’t tell me anything but considering there was a Bank of China and China Mobile we certainly were in a city of some sort, but which one!?

Something didn’t feel right, this being the tail end of my months travelling around China I had gotten to the point that my gut feeling was usually pretty spot on.  I mustered up all my Chinese speaking skills, a bunch of words not sentences and asked the bus driver if we were in Tunxi?  WE WERE!

So there I was standing by the side of the road with all my bags at 3am in the pitch black except for the bus lights. Anxious and panicked doesn’t even describe how I felt.  How would I get to the hostel? And how would I get into the hostel? I was two hours earlier then I said I would be there, would there even be any staff to let me in!!?  I didn’t have a map, I didn’t have a clue where I was in the city and I had no one to ask.  My worst nightmare had been realised!

Creative Commons License photo credit: sun dazed

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: sun dazed

Luckily as the fates would have it or as I suspect the call the bus driver made 5 mins before arriving, three taxis drove up as the bus pulled away and drove off into the distance.  I jumped in, gave them the directions, I soon realised that the hostel was literally just 1 min drive away.

When I arrived at the hostel the reception was locked, the lights all turned off, after all I did tell them I wouldn’t be in until 5am.  What should I do?  The taxi driver waited there as I decided what to do, I mimed to him that I would call them, he mimed to me to bang on the window, so that’s what I did.  Up from the couch jumped a startled man still in a sleepy slumber.  He opened the door, I told him I was booked in but had arrived early but he didn’t speak any English.  We some how figured it out once I told him my name which is very similar to a Chinese name, so it was easy for him to understand.  He grabbed a key, took me upstairs to my room, showed me the toilets and was off on his way. FINALY I could allow myself to drift off to sleep, no waking up to the bumpy halt of a bus, no stop to miss, not a worry in the world.

Have you ever found your self in a completely unfamiliar destination, with no clue where you were or where to go? Leave your comments bellow.

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About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include,, and now View author profile.

Comments (4)

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  1. Rudi

    The confusion of Huangshan strikes again. There’s a city, town and village called Huangshan. In 1999, I climbed the mountain in the night, watched the sunrise and came back down to realise I didn’t know which town I was staying in (my hotel was a 5yuan a night type that didn’t have a name). I just knew “Huangshan”. I spent 8 hours visiting towns in the area looking for it and late the next night discovered I had come down a different side of the mountain than I went up. It was more eerie than anything else.

    Glad to see, this area is still providing foreign travellers with some adventure.

  2. Sasha says:

    That does sound like quite the adventure! Clearly nothing has changed then lol. Huangshan is certainly not a dull area for travellers who like a challenge!!! And I’m not even talking about the mountain, that’s a whole other story lol.

  3. Adam Axon

    Sounds like a nerve racking experience there! I always got a little anxious when I knew I wasn’t getting off at the final stop!

    Isn’t it funny though how these nightmare situations whilst travelling tend to work out alright in the end!

    Reminds me of when I lost the key to the Firenze hotel I was staying in. Stuck out the front, no one answering the door. I had to call the hotel manager’s mobile a dozen times before she answered.

    She spoke only in Italian, so I had no idea what she said, but she sounded annoyed… Her husband arrived 45 minutes later to let us in. Funny though, she spoke perfect English the next day when explaining the extra charge I had to pay for losing the key!

    The stories we get from travelling hey!
    .-= Adam Axon´s last blog ..Adelaide’s North Terrace =-.

  4. Sasha says:

    Sounds like you had quite an experience yourself! YIKES! It’s amazing how all these adventures never happen around English speakers, it’s some kind of weird travel karma! lol But the good thing is you get a darn good story to tell afterwards, after you get over the panic and fear! lol

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