Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Between Beijing and Xi'an

Our journey since Beijing has been both enjoyable and trying. There are amazing things to see and do in China but there are always hassles that test our patience. We spent three nights in Tianjin, our plan had been two, but we learned that we needed to plan our daily activities down to every detail. So our first day in Tianjin was spent sitting in Starbucks on their free wireless planning out everything for the following week. We planned each train we would take, when we would buy tickets for the trains, where we would stay, what we would do, and everything else. Starbucks was home away from home and it was just what we needed to escape for a day to re-analyse our plans.

Tianjin is currently a growing port city. This in China means, buildings are vacant for demolition and a highway is displacing probably hundreds of people. There are dozens of new buildings on the rise, all empty waiting to be finished and tenants to move in, however they're much too expensive for most citizens. At night, the large city is dark due to a power shortage and no work occurs in the day. We have no idea how the buildings will get built and the highway will appear.

Our main reason to be in Tianjin was to visit the 6th tallest tower in the world, so on our second day, we took the city bus to the tower. We enjoyed tea in the revolving lounge area overlooking the city's clouds and smog, not much to see. The tower is only 15 years old yet it's so dirty and uncared for that it appears to be hundreds. Next we ventured to Jiefang Beilu Street which is lined with historical buildings from the early 1900s. This area used to be filled with foreigners, mostly Europeans, and the architecture left behind is a treasure to Tianjin. Most of the buildings are now banks but 20% are left vacant and in disrepair, a sad sight. We left Tianjin with our plans perfect, said good-bye to the very helpful hostel owners and boarded our first REAL hardseat train.

The train wasn't as bad as we had assumed, it was however overcrowded. First they sell tickets to fill the seats and then they sell standing room only tickets so the aisles are full of people too. There is barely any room for luggage. The food carts often have troubles getting down the aisles. At least the seats aren't actually "hard" as such, just not quite as padded. On a long voyage, they become hard... At least there was a nice young guy next to us who spoke some English. He was able to help us know when to get off. We arrived at Taishan Station in Tai'an shortly after 7pm. There were no hostels in Tai'an, and our intended hotel was supposedly vacant enough not to take a reservation. We hopped in a taxi to take us there, giving him the chinese characters of the name of the hotel, but obviously we weren't quite prepared enough. He managed to take us to another hotel without us realizing it... It turned out to be fine, but we were still deceived...

We realized that we were in the wrong hotel the following morning when we set out to find an ATM and realized the street names were incorrect on the map we had. We found our way though and eventually made it to the central trailhead to ascend Mount Tai (Tai Shan). A stone path with stone stairs lined the ENTIRE way up. There were a few temples along the way and many little shops and stands selling drinks and souvenirs. It took 2 hours for the first 5.5km to the Midway Gate and then another hour and a half to ascend the last steeper 3.5km to the Southern Gate. We ate lunch then carried on the extra half hour up to the Jade Emperor Temple at the summit (1545m/5068ft). Nice views of the surrounding peaks and into the abyss of clouds and fog below. Pretty impressive. Being quite tired of the 1600 step ascent, we took the tram back down to the midway point and the bus the rest of the way down a crazy winding road. Our deceitful hotel was closer to the bus drop-off than our intended hotel, so that was good at least. It was also closer to the train station, so the walk back to the station the next morning was easier. Worked out for the best, we guess.

Our next train was a little more trying, being that it was NINE hours on a congested train, again on hardseats. You can only read and listen to your Ipod so long... And sleeping was not exactly a comfortable option. A couple of people spoke broken English around us, which they attempted to practice on us. Nice enough people, again, helping us to know when our stop would be. We arrived in Luoyang shortly after 8:30pm and our hostel was an easy, straightforward walk from the train station. Our first Hostelling International hostel that we've stayed at in Asia. Pretty nice place despite lacking wireless internet.

Luoyang is known for the Longmen Caves that are just south of town, with easy access by local bus. The "caves" were carved into the cliffsides on each side of the Li River for a stretch of about one kilometre. Into the sides of the caves are carvings of buddhas. Many had the heads sawed off a century or two ago by relic hunters, but the area is still quite impressive. There is one area with a large buddha among others that has been well restored and maintained, which was the most impressive and made the visit all the more worth while. There is also a temple and gardens on the grounds which we didn't bother with. The stairs up and down the cliffs to see the caves were a little too tiring on us being only 2 days since our Tai Shan climb. :) We returned to the hostel by mid afternoon and relaxed into the evening.

Today, we arrived in Xi'an. We were finally able to buy softseats for this 5-hour ride, which was quite enjoyable. First off, it was a double-decker car. The seats were more padded, there was much more room, and there were many less people. Arriving in Xi'an mid afternoon also allowed us to spend a bit of time on the internet to continue planning our trip and sending some emails. Looking forward to seeing the famed Terra Cotta Warriors and to clammer up Hua Shan over the next couple of days.

Tianjin Pics | Tai'an & Taishan Pics | Luoyang & Longmen Caves Pics


At November 27, 2007 at 11:10 AM , Blogger Daniel Wigdor said...

Sounds like you're having a real adventure! I love that it's so foreign that you didn't know which hotel you were at until the next morning - classic :-)

I'm pretty damn jealous :-)

At November 27, 2007 at 12:13 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

phew! We are jealous! Sounds like you guys are having fun even if there are crazy hotel owners and cab drivers.


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