It is what China is all about... for many
Trip Start Jan 01, 2010
57Trip End Jun 30, 2012
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We could this mass of tourists as soon as we step out the train in Xi'an. The square in front of the train station was full of Chinese carrying luggage, map & mineral water sellers... We are in July now, and summer holidays already started. I was warned that it would be like this, so i was not very surprised. Anyway, we were now very close to Beijing, so even with the crowd, we should not have too much problems to reach the capital.
For the first time since we started traveling together, Charlotte and I split
I did not like much Xi'an : too hot, too busy Many people come here not only for the remaining wall circling the city (in the past, almost every Chinese city had a wall around, but Uncle Mao thought that feudalism and communism did not get along, so almost all were destroyed, except in a few cities : Xi'an, Pingyao, Dali...) but for the Army of Terracotta Warriors, 34kms outside town. We were there, of course... and we had to buy a ticket. Not too expensive with my false student card (made in Bangkok, on Khaosan road), and anyway, it was already in my budget, like the Taj Mahal in India, or Angkor War in Cambodia. However, I was not that impressed, maybe because they built a building the size of an aircraft hangar around. I spent the rest of the time wandering around, mainly in the Muslim neighborhood (since Gansu, we met so many Muslim neighborhoods and mosques. I thought Muslims were only in Western China, but not only, after all !)
There is a place I have wanted to see for a while, since I found it by chance on the Internet
It was quite a detour from Xi'an. Instead of taking a train toward Beijing and jump-off at the middle in Pingyao (the best preserved ancient walled city in China), we boarded a train running East. The next morning, and a 2-hour bus ride later, we were at the entrance of Guoliangcun scenic area, in Henan, a province overlooked by most of foreign tourists. During the 3 days we stayed in Guoliang, we met only 2 foreigners, and there were leaving in China. The whole area was a great resting places, with many Chinese coming here to capture the scenery on paper and canvas
However, the tunnel itself was quite disappointing. It might have been very impressive after it was built, in the 1970s, but since then, it has probably been upgraded in order for the tourists to drive safely into it. But cars are so few that I could walked twice into it without meeting a single vehicle. One of the most dangerous world had indeed become one of the safest !
Even though, I was not disappointed by the detour. I really liked the place and had a very nice surprise. As we were walking toward Guoliang, we took a wrong turn and I spotted some windows into the cliff on the other side of the valley. I thought it was Guoliang tunnel, but a local pointed the other direction. So, the next day, i wanted to find out what was it. I backtracked my steps and walked for 2 hours before I came to the door of another tunnel, much longer and much impressive of the Guoliang tunnel. It took me half an hour to walk it, passing amazing scenery's other the valley, and at the end I bumped into a fence. I had crossed the mountain and was now in Shanxi, the adjacent province. I reluctantly walked back when I spot a cable car at the top of the mountain. There was definitely a very Chinese scenic area (read an entertainment park) on the other side of the valley, but for some reasons this tunnel, probably the highlight of the visit, was closed
I wanted to show Charlotte what I had discovered, so we agreed to stay a day more, and the next day we walked back together to the tunnel. I don't like to do things twice, but this time I did not regret it. The sun was shining, making great photo opportunities !
In the afternoon, we left for Luoyang. We got a ride with a Chinese couple to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, and then we took a bus to Luoyang. We arrived late a night, very tired after the 4-hour trek we made in the morning, and the air-con dormitory of the hostel, its hot shower and Wi-fi offered a deserved rest. Luoyang is famous for the Longmen caves, an Unesco World Heritage Site, one of China's few surviving masterpieces of Buddhist rock carving. Last year, I wanted to visit a similar site, nearby Dunhuang, in Western China, but the high entrance fee and lack of opportunities to sneak inside discouraged me. This time, I was luckier. After an almost 2-hour search, i managed to get in without having to pay the heavy 20$ entrance fee
Before reaching Beijing, we made a last stop, in Pingyao, another chance to have a close look to China overpopulation, when it comes to transportation, especially during the holidays. We did not do much in Pingyao, walking in the city and get some sleep before the 12-hour ride to Beijing with (of course) unreserved seats.
Beijing... For many travelers, it is their first encounter with the "Empire of the Middle". In my case, it took me 3 trips and nearly 3 months altogether before finally seeing the capital. Last year, I met a guy from Belgium in Kashgar (Xinxiang), and now he leaves in Beijing. he kindly agreed to host me and Charlotte during our whole stay in Beijing. But after 4 days, we moved to 2 couchsurfers, Dawn & Phillipp. Olivier had just lost its job, and since his apartment was part of his package, he was in a difficult situation until he starts his new assignment, near Shanghai, in September.
Think a week is enough in Beijing ? Think again ! The city is so big, and transportation, even with the efficient metro system (built for the Olympics in 2008) takes time
The rest of the time, we spent it between the train station (to try to get tickets to Mongolia), the French Embassy (to take our invitations for the French National Day celebration, a big mistake, we went there for the free food and champagn, but nothing was free, even the glass of coke... Scrooges !!!! What's the point in going to a French party if not for the food ? If I want to see other French people, I go to France... And I even don't need an invitation to do this !), the train station (to try again to get tickets to Mongolia), several outdoor shops (because Charlotte needed gears for Mongolia) and the train station (to eventually try to get tickets to Mongolia)...
We managed to escape the overcrowded attractions of the city and the omnipresent communist propaganda for the 90th birthday of the Party to go camping one night at the Great Wall. There are various sections of the Wall that can be visited. Most of the tourists go to the same one, as part of a day tour from Beijing. They live at around 7am, drive 2 hours, take a cable-car, climb the wall together with 10.000 other people, take a few pictures and visit on the way back some boring overpriced other attractions. Me and Charlotte wanted to experience something different. We left in the afternoon to a more remote and less touristy section of the Wall. We arrived at 6pm, when the site was already closed, so we did not need to buy a ticket
The week in Beijing finally passed quicker than expected and it was now time to end our 2 months journey in China, toward a new country, Mongolia, toward new adventures !