Thursday, September 26, 2013

China recap: Travel within China

While we're in Germany and Italy (and Liechtenstein and Holland!), I'm going to share posts about last year's trip to China, which basically took a year to pull together.

Here's the short version of what we did on our trip in October and November 2012 to China:

Flew from Dallas to Chicago to Beijing
Taxi to hotel in Beijing, on Wangfujing Road, a big shopping street (incidentally, one that many cab drivers could not find however...)
Walking and eventually metro/subway about the city of Beijing, occasionally taxis
Subway and bus to train station
Why, oh why, didn't we take the subway in Beijing from day one?  We were afraid it would be confusing and crowded, and we prefer wandering cities anyway.  But on one of our final days in BJ, we finally got into the subway and repeatedly kicked ourselves for not doing it sooner.  We'd eaten up hours walking from Tian'enmen Square to the Temple of Heaven, for example, when it would have taken up just a little time in the subway.  The fares were flat rate and there were ticket windows at every station -- all you had to do was know how to say your numbers in Chinese (though I guess fingers would have worked too, but we didn't want to be rude).  So easy.  But yes, quite crowded and at times confusing.  It was like a huge sea of people, and rather than roughly separating, as happens pretty much everywhere else on the planet, with most people going one direction on one side, and the other direction on the other side (even with a few fish fighting upstream), in China, if a subway tunnel can accomodate the width of ten people, you are walking shoulder to shoulder with 9 other people going the same direction as you, and coming at you is a group of 10 people shoulder to shoulder going the opposite direction -- and you all just squirm through. 

Overnight train to Xian
Walking to hotel in Xian, right on the main drag (incidentally, an address that many cab drivers could not find, despite being right on the main street, with the north gate at one end, and the south city gate at the other)
Driver, walking, public buses, and pedicabs around Xian and surrounding sites
Walking to train station

Overnight train to Chongqing
Driver to hotel in Chongqing (HUGE mistake)
Walking and subway/lightrail around the city
Walking to port

Ship down the Yangtze river to see the Three Gorges
Disembarcation stops at (Ghost City), __ (island pagoda), (small gorge), and Three Gorges Dam
Final stop on the boat for us:  Yichang

Taxi to hotel in Yichang (second choice hotel because driver insisted first choice hotel did not exist)
Walking around the city
Taxi to airport

Flight to Shanghai
Maglev to subway (a magnetic levitation high-speed train, one of three in the world, maximum speed of 431 km/hr) (oh, this was after tons of seeking out English-speaking staff to determine if someone with a pacemaker can ride it, as pacemaker people have to avoid strong magnetic forces like the Hoover Dam, the Three Gorges Dam (d'oh!), and even a magnetic scanner wand at an airport or concert, but no apparently not the Maglev, and I can personally confirm, I witnessed a pacemaker recipient ride the Maglev to and from the Shanghai airport and not die)
Subway to hotel (best hotel of the trip, we stayed at The Portman Ritz Carlton)
Walking, subway, passengers in friend's car around the city
Subway to train station

Train to Hangzho
Walking around Hangzho (West Lake)
Walking to train station

Train to Shanghai (oh, what an adventure this was, filled with complete terror and panic for at least half an hour of the journey)
Passengers in friends' car to Zhujiajiao for the day
Walking, subway and pedestrian tunnel under the river (to Pudong) around the city
Subway to airport
Shanghai metro was a bit tougher than Beijing's at first because the fare varies based on where you're going, and not all stations have attendants, BUT the machines where you buy tickets have service in English!  One ate our money, but it was less than a dollar, so we didn't argue. 

Flight from Shanghai to Chicago to Dallas.

We bought the flights in advance, everything else we figured out on the ground in China.  We tried desperately to book the train tickets before we left because we heard horror stories about train travel during "Golden Week" and we were going to be in China just a week after Golden Week.  While there is a new system for buying train tickets, it only helps people who live in China.  If you don't have a Chinese bank account, you can't buy tickets online in advance, giving Chinese people a major advantage in getting sought-after tickets.  Train tickets only go on sale a few days in advance, maybe a week in some cases, but of course it varies by city.  But now, with the new system, even if you go to the train station in Beijing on the first day you can buy tickets for the train to Xi'an, they might be all sold out because they sold out online to Chinese citizens first. 

But we survived.  Not without difficulty, but we survived.

And sometimes even what we thought would be an easy train trip, as in we bought round trip tickets at the outset, turned out to be more complicated.  At one point, we were trying to take a train back to Shanghai.  The train from Shanghai had stopped once, then gotten to our destination.  And the Chinese characters for Shanghai are VERY easy to read, so we were very confident we'd gotten on the correct train to go back to Shanghai.  And it stopped.  But then it stopped again.  And the scrolling electronic screen in the train compartment indicated a destination other than Shanghai.  We totally panicked.  Eventually it turned out that there was just an extra stop on the way back to Shanghai, but there was still complete panic before we managed to confirm that...

Anyway, some pictures from our travels: 

Fun sculptures in the Shanghai Airport: 

You have to look at the next two in a row -- bullet train! 

Views from some trains: 

Taking photos of maps in train stations when we were sure we'd never make it back there: 

This is a massive train station -- think it was in Hangzhou: 

A typically crowded train station -- can't even imagine what it would have been like if we'd flown over a week earlier and been there for Golden Week.  Thank goodness to the Beijing Marathon planners!  Haha, even if they blew it in the end...

A train: 

Another train view, such unusual architecture and pretty countryside: 

Think this was the fastest speed we attained on a train: 

The vegetarian meal on the flight home (not in first class).  We flew American Airlines from Shanghai to Chicago: 

On the flight over from Chicago to Beijing, we took the amazingly cool route right over the North Pole! 

The subways were very crowded much of the time: 

Lots and lots of traffic on the streets: 

The cruise ship, not looking so good...

Lol, thank goodness it wasn't necessary: 

Another crowded subway train: 

I think this was the subway in Beijing, but the name of that second station away from the end of the line caught our eye...

A pretty train view: 

Our cruise ship again: 

Orderly lines in Shanghai to get on the subway.  The man in yellow ensured we were all lined up properly to the sides so passengers could exit the train first: 

One of our overnight train compartments -- shared with two other people: 

This was a traffic circle in Xi'an -- that that there is one car near the center going totally the wrong way -- chaos! 

I think this was the metro in Chongqing -- no signs in English, so it was pretty challenging! 

And last but not least, the decidedly (and surprisingly) low tech flight information board in Yichang -- bizarre given that some airports had body temperature sensors to make sure no one sick was coming in.  But not Yichang...


  1. Fun! I love all the pictures... one of my former co-workers when to China while we were still working together and, being an architect, he came back and did a whole presentation just on the train stations and how they are like self-contained little cities!

    Have a safe trip today! Can't wait to hear about this trip when you get back! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing. China is an intriguing country. I really enjoying seeing photos of the landscape from your train travels.