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Posts Tagged ‘train’

Firstly, those of you following me on Twitter may be a bit confused with all the New Zealand images. Well, that’s because I fell behind in my blog posts and as I write this I am travelling around New Zealand. But I do have a few more blogs to write on my China experiences including this crazy story. So keep reading and if you have something to say just leave a comment at the end.

So for our last day we had nothing planned and chose to just relax. It was a late start with a leisurely walk into town for some breakfast before returning to the hostel to play Risk and Scrabble out on the deck. I was soundly beaten several times at Scrabble so proposed Risk which took as long to figure out the rules as it did to play. We also made several mistakes along the way which may have affected the outcome but I would argue that my victory was deserved after all the defeat at Scrabble.

Glee at having won our 2 person Risk game

After that we went in search of the secret swimming spot that the hostel staff had told us about down a windy road where we encountered this water buffalo who looked friendly enough but got quite skittish when you approached him. Anyway I got quite close trying to remove the grass stuck on his horn but he didn’t like that. Sense prevailed and we let him be.

a Water Buffalo on the side of the road

We searched for the secret swimming spot but didn’t find anything that looked right so we gave up and I went form a swim where all the other locals were swimming which was on the way into town. The water was beautifully warm and very refreshing.

The swimming spot where all the locals go

Having some fun and giving the locals something to talk about

Having worked up an appetite it was into town for dinner and then back via Rory at Nature’s Cup for another delicious Malibu Dom Pedro. The next morning we had a relaxed breakfast at the hostel overlooking the valley before getting a taxi to the bus station having bought our tickets on the Yangshuo-Guilin express bus for a mere 18 Yuan. On time and like clockwork the bus departed and an hour later we were back in Guilin where first order of business was to find lunch and then report to the travel agent where we had paid for our sleeper bus tickets 5 days previously.

To my relief the guy we bought the tickets from was in the office, just a prefab room in the train station parking lot, but my relief was short-lived as he looked at us as if he’d never seen us before. I handed over the hand written receipt he’d given us the previous week and he looked more confused which is when I started to worry. He then leaned back in his chair and said “Now there is no bus.” What do you mean no bus? The bus apparently had problems with its air conditioner and because it was summer it was too hot to run it without air-conditioning so it was canceled. Of course, the only other bus later that evening was sold out and if the train was sold out the week before we were stuck but he said he could give us train tickets for the train, same price as the bus, in 4 hours time. They were hard sleeper tickets though which we were determined to avoid. Not thrilled with being messed around, having to wait 4 hours and the prospect of 18 hours on a hard sleeper bunk, Margaurita went in search of another agent who said they had space on a bus leaving in 20 minutes so we got our money back from the first guy and went next door only for them to change their story and now also say they could only get us on the bus the following day. Tired of being messed around and with planes to catch back in Shanghai  we really wanted to get home that day so reluctantly we went back to the first guy and said we would take the train tickets but I knew hard sleepers didn’t cost 400 Yuan so I we started bargaining and I said I wanted to see the tickets so he said “wait a moment” and disappeared into the car park. Five minutes later he returned with 2 train tickets with the price of 270 Yuan printed on them. He then proceeded to explain that they were black market tickets so we had to pay 60 Yuan commission for each ticket. This is when we got angry saying he sold us bus tickets and now he wanted us to pay extra for train tickets but he said that was just the way it worked. I was irate, and began to wonder if there ever was a bus or if his plan all along was to cheat us. Selling us bus tickets for a bus that never existed and then palming train tickets off to us when we were stuck and without options for the same price. We haggled with him and got the commission down to 35 Yuan each and when I asked for a receipt he gave me a hand written receipt for 70 Yuan (the commission on both tickets) and not the ticket prices because they were black market and illegal. Feeling like our hands were tied and we didn’t have many options I then asked what would happen if I took this receipt and the tickets to the police station across the road at which point he got very defensive and reached to grab the tickets out of my hand. Evidently I had hit a nerve and he did look worried. I wasn’t going to go to the police because we wanted to go home but I did get some satisfaction out of seeing him squirm a little. He then proceeded to tell us that this was just how it worked and that they didn’t like the system either. So we left with train tickets in hand and had a few hours to kill so we went back into town to try to shop for some snacks for the train but finding a supermarket proved easier said then done. Eventually we found one and then had to rush back to the station and we only just made it onto the platform as the whistle was sounding for the train to leave and we were on board nervously searching for our hard sleeper compartment, anxious as to what we might find, who our bunk mates would be and how dirty it would be? And there it was, our 6 sleeper compartment and we were on the top bunks on either side having to climb over two others to get to them. This was the view from the top looking down into our compartment.

each compartment has 3 bunks on each side and no door

There was some space thankfully for our luggage but not much room to stretch my legs.

leg room and luggage storage

 More than at the other end of the bed though…

not much head room on the top bunk

Luckily for us the people in our compartment weren’t too bad, no-one snored loudly or ate stinky tofu and the one young child was kept occupied by his father’s iPhone. What I didn’t tell you earlier was that the tickets this agent had arranged for us on the black market weren’t in fact back to Hangzhou South where we wanted to go but only to Jinhua, two stops before our station. When we challenged the agent he said that it was no problem we could speak to one of the waitresses on the train and just upgrade the ticket by paying for the extra sections. We were not convinced that this would be as easy as he suggested with us not being able to speak Chinese but he was adamant and even wrote us a note in Chinese. He was also adamant that it would only cost 20/30 yuan. So the next morning when we got to Jinhua we simply stayed in our bunks and waited. Sure enough an official made his way through the car asking people where they were going and printing new tickets with the correct destination and taking payment via either cash or card. When he came to us we said Hangzhou South and he understood and then said our new tickets would be 80 Yuan each which was a surprise and far too expensive we thought. So we mimed that a seat, as opposed to the sleeper bunk, would be alright for the rest of the journey as we knew that would be cheaper. He then reprocessed the tickets and they were only 3o odd Yuan but he then basically frog marched us out of the sleeper car making sure we weren’t going to just stay where we were, through the dining car and into the seated car section. Well, not quite into the seated section as it was so full there were already people standing and squatting in the aisle.

no standing room even

We looked at this and looked back at the official who was still motioning for us to go into the car so she could shut the door and keep us separate from the sleeper cars but we just stood our ground blocking the door with my suitcase and refused to move. Eventually she gave up and left so we moved back into the corridor along the kitchen of the dining car and stood for the rest of the journey which was only another 40 minutes. We arrived at Hangzhou South Railway Station and had to exit through the car (see above) which was just disgusting. Despite no smoking signs I told 3 guys to stop smoking as I walked through and the floor was just covered in plastic bags, rubbish, chicken bones and nut shells. Perhaps the hard sleeper wasn’t so bad after all. I couldn’t imagine spending 18 hours on a hard seat in an overcrowded car like that. Back in our apartments, and showered, we were so relieved to be home in Xiaoshan after this crazy journey that had started 26 hours earlier, back in Yangshuo.

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After a decent breakfast in the hostel our tour guide arrived and spoke no English which didn’t bode well for the rest of the day, oh well. After stopping to collect a few other groups from different hotels we headed out first to an old village with some temple or other (they really don’t interest me), a street of curio sellers where I bought a painting of Guilin mostly because it was so cheap and some that was about it when we were herded back onto the bus.

Old lady selling salty hard-boiled eggs

Me not excited about another temple with souvenir shops in the background

An old street through a traditional village

Traditional Chinese buildings

As we were walking to the bus the tour guide came up and was asking us for money and we tried to explain we had already paid at the hostel. However it appeared she wanted 65 yuan more for the next part of the tour and she made out like it wasn’t optional and the others had already paid this. A little annoyed at we just shrugged our shoulders and said no to whatever the extra was for. She seemed frustrated but we just couldn’t communicate. We then stopped and everyone got off the bus the lady again came to us to try an explain, with no English, why we should pay the money. It would appear that the whole group couldn’t continue unless we paid and could all stay together. Then a Chinese girl nearby who spoke English helped translate for us and we established that the money was for an extra part of the tour and it would take 2.5 hours so it wouldn’t really work if we just wanted to wait for the group. Frustrated we paid the extra and hoped it was worthwhile and it was as you will see.

The entrance area to the Crown Cave, Guilin

Stands of curios as we enter the Crown Cave

This train ride was quite cool but went too fast to appreciate the cave

More tawdry lighting and curios deep in the Crown Cave

a nice boat ride on a river at the bottom of the Crown cave

Low ceilings and beautifully clear water in the depths of the cave

An underground waterfall (It cost an extra 5 Yuan to see this)

Mold growing on the limestone at the bottom of the cave - probably not helped by all the curio sellers and all day tawdry lighting

Exiting the Crown Cave by boat onto the Li River (this is what we had to pay the extra 65 Yuan for)

Worth it I think for this panorama from the dock

Despite the mold, tawdry lighting and endless curio sellers throughout the Crown Cave it was a worthwhile visit with lots interesting things between two boat rides, a train ride and a barge trip back to our bus. Next was lunch (not included in the tour price) at a farmers restaurant (really just meaning fresh produce) on the edge of a rice paddy and thankfully for us our Chinese was good enough to order some well-known dishes together with just pointing at some other tables dishes saying we wanted what they had. After lunch it was back onto the bus to travel to the Gudong Scenic Area, a National Park of China. Here there were a few more surprises like 5 Yuan for some bamboo sandals and a helmet to climb through a waterfall and optional zip-line and rollercoaster activities which was actually pretty fun.

The waterfall we climbed up in bamboo sandals

A cool suspension bridge after climbing up through the waterfalls

The optional (25 Yuan p/p) rickety but fun roller coaster we took down from the top of the mountain

Our bamboo raft guide back to the entrance of the Gudong Scenic Area

Although there were some extra costs that it would have been nice to know about before hand it was a fun afternoon and we were quite tired by the time we got back to the hostel, just in time to catch sunset on the roof before going down for the buffet dinner special the hostel was putting on.

sunset from the roof top of the Ming Palace Youth Hostel

We met an Australian couple at the buffet function who gave us some great advice on what was worthwhile to see and what to skip. So the next day we decided we would do our own thing and avoid Chinese lead tours. Itinerary was Fubo Hill in the morning, Reed Flute Cave in the heat of the day and Tunnel Hill Park in the afternoon.

 

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We don’t seem to have much luck with trains and despite leaving the apartment early we waited for more than 20 minutes for a bus to the station and so were cutting it fine. When we arrived at the station we went to the normal entrance only to discover the we had to go to waiting room 2 which was one building down and predictably had a massive queue outside. With 15 minutes to our scheduled departure we became Chinese and ignored the line pushing, and I mean pushing, to the front of the line and into the building. We found our boarding gate with a mass of people all standing and waiting but as the time ticked by they didn’t open they gate. Not being able to read Chinese characters we could only guess our train was delayed and while we stood waiting for some 30 minutes we had a chance to breath and take in just how many people were in the station whose air conditioning wasn’t coping at all in the 35°C heat. All you could see was people’s heads from wall to wall.

Wall to wall people in Waiting Room 2 at Hangzhou South Train Station

The train itself wasn’t so bad, not quite as spacious as I remembered the Soft Sleeper to Beijing being but it was decent and we seemed to get quite lucky as the father and son we shared our compartment were nice and most importantly didn’t snore or eat stinky food.

Corridor of the Soft Sleeper car of the T77 train from Shanghai to Guilin

Our side of the slightly cramped Soft Sleeper compartment

Eighteen hours later [including an hour of accumulated delays] we pulled into Guilin after the scenery had noticeably changed with limestone peaks in the distance and clean rivers, which you just don’t see in the big cities of China anymore.

Crossing a clean river on the way into Guilin

We followed the directions and caught a bus easily enough to our Ming Palace Youth Hostel. It was a fairly new hostel having only been open for 5 months but it was adequate and in a fairly nice situation, away from the city centre but close to some major attractions. As the name would suggest, turning left they are 100m from the Ming Palace (which we didn’t visit) and turning right 100m from the Li River. After checking in and dumping our bags we set off to see the river and explore the city while we tried to plan our next few days.

Panorama of the Li River in Guilin

(more…)

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After 3 days in Suzhou we made our way back to the train station as we were booked on the CRH bullet train to meet up with some friends who used to teach at EF and moved to an international school in Wuxi.

What the CRH bullet train looks like on the tracks (image from Wikipedia)

The trip time was a mere 16 mins (it almost took longer to get in and out of the train station). Upon arriving we looked up at the departures board to find out which waiting room we should be in only to discover our tain number was nowhere to be seen. (more…)

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