6 INTERESTING PLACES IN CHINA
PLACES IN CHINA ADDITIONAL INFO
南京 [Nán jīng] NANJING
Pic. View of Nanjing city from the tourist atraction called “Yuejiang Tower Scenic Area”.
The first city we have visited in China was Nanjing. The place of Marta’s memories. She had studied at Nanjing University, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in China. Indeed, worth seeing (see the photos on the right side).
She said that a lot have changed. Not as much in the University alone as in the town. She couldn’t recognize the streets. She told us about huge trees along the streets, giving a shadow for people to rest and play board games. Now, they were all gone.
Walking around the city, we stopped in the nearby bar. We ordered a coffee. Marta told us that 10 years ago, there were only a few places in the whole Nanjing serving coffee and you could see almost no Chinese sitting there. They didn’t like it at all. The smell was too strong and the taste too bitter
Nowadays, it is not a problem to find a place with coffee filled with citizens.
Also, you can see in the streets many Chinese rushing to work with a plastic cup of coffee in their hands.
Pic. Garden in the Japanese Hotel.
Close to the University, Marta recognized a few tall buildings. Her favorite was the Japanese Hotel. As a student, she went there often to study in the garden on the top of the roof. Nobody dared to stop her. She was white. They definitely thought she was their client.
We decided to go there. Nothing had changed. The hotel’s personnel welcomed us like guests. And here we were again, in exactly the same place on the roof of the Hotel, having a photo session.
苏州 [Sū zhōu] SUZHOU
Happy that our trip finally looked like vacations instead of troubles, we sat in the Nanjing Railway Station waiting for a train to Suzhou. It was late afternoon.
The travel with the fast train was supposed to take no longer than 2 hours. We arrived around 10 p.m. It was already dark outside. Without rush, we walked in the direction of the exit Chinese. There were many Chinese offering a ride or a place to sleep. We knew it is always cheaper to take a bus or subway, or even a taxi than drive with these guys.
It was Marta’s turn to ask somebody how far from the hostel we booked was the train station. She showed an address to a guy standing nearby. His eyes widened and he looked at us confused. He spoke to another person. They started to discuss something. Marta’s face went white.
“What is he saying?!” – me and my mum spoke simultaneously.
Marta answered with a shaking voice: “It’s not in this city. We are in the other Suzhou!”
Just to clarify, there are two Suzhou close to Nanjing, one 宿州 [Sù zhōu], where we arrived, and the other 苏州 [Sū zhōu], where we were supposed to arrive.
The first Sù zhōu is 300 km north of Nanjing in the Anhui province. The second Sū zhōu is around 200 km south of Nanjing in the Jiangsu province. Meaning, the travel time with a fast train to both cities was very similar. How would I even think something like that could happen?
Well, this was China!
We didn’t have a lot of time to analyze it. The man took us to the counter, where they were selling tickets. He explained our mistake to the lady from the window. She looked for the trains to Nanjing and from there to the Sū zhōu.
We were lucky. They still had places for us. The lady prepared the tickets and when it come to paying, Marta gave her a credit card.
“You can pay only with cash” – the lady said.
We looked at each other. We were out of cash. We were supposed to withdraw money in Suzhou.
We didn’t have time. The train was departing soon. We told the lady that we could withdraw money in Nanjing and give it back to them. She made a call. After a few minutes of talking with somebody, she told us to go to the second platform and just get on the train.
Without asking, we run to catch the train. On the 2nd platform, a man in the uniform was already looking for us. He told Marta which compartment we should get on. Surprised how organized they worked, we did what the man told us. There were already people waiting for us on the train. They were discussing if they should give us the train tickets now or later. In the end, we didn’t receive any tickets. Our travel back to Nanjing seemed much quicker than the one before.
We got off the train in Nanjing. The young man in the uniform was waiting for us. Marta started to explain to him the situation and that right now we should find a cash machine to withdraw the money. The guy didn’t seem to pay attention to what she was saying.
He looked at his phone and asked.
“ So… now you have to go to Suzhou…” – it was difficult to guess if it was a question or a statement – “the train to Suzhou is from a different railway station” – he continued.
He looked at us.
“You have to take a subway” – he pointed the direction – “Hurry! In a few minutes, they close it.”
“But…” – Marta tried again but gave up quickly seeing the man turning his back and walking away.
I couldn’t believe it. We didn’t pay for train tickets for four people. We were grateful and surprised how kind and helpful was the staff from the railway station and how organized they were.
Pic. Night train from Nanjing to Suzhou, standing places. I was lucky to sit on my bag for a while.
The adventure didn’t finish though. As we arrived at the other train station, it was already very late, meaning after midnight. There were no fast trains or couchettes available. The only tickets we could book were standing places on a night train.
We had no choice but to accept the situation.
And this is how we end up squeezed by all kinds of Chinese people, standing almost four hours on the train, tired and humble, laughing and cursing at the same time the mistakes that led us to that point.
周庄古镇 ZHOUZHUANG ANCIENT TOWN
Pic. Zhouzhuang Ancient Town.
Suzhou is famous for its beautiful parks. Although we had good intentions to see them, it never happened. Instead, we drove through the whole Centrum to find the Bank of China, change dollars into Yuan, and withdraw money.
When it started to get dark, we went to eat dinner. On the way back to our hostel, we pay a visit to a physiotherapist. Marta and I had a massage. It was not the best one but felt super relaxed after it.
The next day early morning we took a bus and went to one of the most beautiful places so far – a small water town Zhouzhuang Ancient Town 周庄古镇.
杭州 [Háng zhōu] HANGZHOU
Hangzhou was our next stop. We spend there only one day. It is a perfect city for a romantic walk along the Xī Hú lake at night as well as during the day. The lake is surrounded by mountains.
Marta shared with us that before it was full of couples sitting in gondolas, putting lampions into the water.
“It looked like in a fairytale” – she said.
Pic. Me and my mum on the boat in Hangzhou.
Now, the locals informed us that this custom was prohibited because of a few incidents with fire. Still, the place is worth seeing. The alleys along the lake light up at night creating a cozy environment. During the day we couldn’t miss a boat cruise.
From Hangzhou, we took a night train with couchettes to Zhangjiajie – a city close to the famous Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. The ride was very comfortable and interesting. In the compartment, where Marta was sleeping with Ignacy, was a group of five Chinese people, four girls and one man, who were making a business trip.
The product they were promoting was a medical material made of… stone! This special stone is rich with important for the human body minerals. In the contact with skin, this material works as a prevention against cancer, inflammation, and so on. The company wanted to produce underwear using this material. In this way helping to cure all kinds of breast or genital diseases.
Sounds interesting? Still not for me, till… I heard them shouting together some Chinese sentences. I asked Marta about it. She explained.
The company to ensure the mental well-being and self-confidence of their employees, created a task for them. Every day each worker had to record himself/herself speaking affirmation sentences, which goes like this:
I was astonished that in China this kind of care towards employees existed. How clever and motivating was that!
The girls didn’t hesitate in speaking aloud the affirmations in the middle of the train full of people. The young man was not so open yet. But as they said, he was new in the company.
张家界 [Zhāng jiā jiè] ZHANGJIAJIE – THE AVATAR MOUNTAIN
When we arrived at Zhangjiajie, we were surrounded by dozens of Chinese trying to sell all kinds of services. I don’t know how we end up sitting in a closeby travel agency, listening to a lady offering us different tours. There are two places worth seeing around Zhangjiajie city. One is Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and the other TianMen Mountain National Park. The first one is around 30 km north of Zhangjiajie city, the second around 6 km south of Zhangjiajie city.
The lady claimed that it is inconvenient to overnight in the city. The best option in her perspective was to book a 3 or 4 days tour, which would include free entrance to the Parks, free buses at the place, overnight and meals in five stars hotels just 5 min away from the Parks. 2 days in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, afterward we would move to the other Park and sleep in the other hotel. The prices were not less than 600$ and some of them reached 1000$ per person.
“We already booked a hostel! Why are we here listening to this lady?” – I asked myself. These kinds of companies, however kind they look, always want money.
The lady told us (a liar) that there are no direct buses going from the city to the National Forest Park, and that taxi is very expensive. I still was wondering why we are listening to her.
Finally, we went out of the place and catch a taxi. The driver confirmed that there were no direct buses to Avatar Mountain.
Why did he say that?… I will never know. But, he made us again confused.
PRICES - ZHANGJIAJIE NATIONAL PARK
The one-way BUS ticket costs 20 yuan (~3$).
The entrance to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was 245 yuan (~40$). Important. The ticket is valid for 4 days from the date of purchase. Inside the area of the Park, the buses are available for free. However, their reach is limited.
The hardest part, the tourist has to walk or use cable cars. The one we took to go only up cost around 70 yuan (~10$).
This is why we agreed that the taxi driver takes us to the government travel agency. The information obtained there didn’t make any difference.
My mum insisted, for our sake, to just go to the hostel and ask there. She booked that place based on the stories of other travelers, who assured her that the place was cheap and close to the railway station, from where the buses were driving directly to Avatar Mountain every hour or less.
We drove to the hostel. We spoke to the owner – a very kind and good informed person. He showed us a map and helped us organize the next 3 days of our stay. The hostel was indeed close to the station and buses WERE DRIVING to Avatar Mountain. For no Chinese speakers it would probably be difficult to guess which one was the right one, but not impossible.
If I would have the ability to go back in time, I would probably change some of our decisions. Firstly, we had only 3 days. The plan was to spend 2 days in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and 1 day in TianMen Mountain.
Later we agreed that it wouldn’t pay to purchase another ticket equal to the sum of the one before, just to spend one day there, when we had more things to see in the first place.
Accordingly, for anyone who would like to visit the south-central of China, I would recommend spending at least one week there. The entrance fees, plus buses, plus cable cars, plus other attractions (like glass bridge) are altogether pretty expensive. To do it in a rush and do not explore fully the places, makes it a bit unworthy of the money. Meaning, if you bought four days ticket, use it for this period of time.
In that way, if you are a sporty type person, you can walk around the mountain and enjoy the most beautiful scenic areas. If you don’t like climbing the stairs, there are still plenty of places to discover.
I was with my mum, Marta, and Ignacy. I had to adjust to them. As we arrived at the bus station close to the Wulingyuan Gate (see the map on the right side), bought tickets and organized ourselves, it was already almost noon. We decided to take the cable car up and go down on foot.
To arrive at the Tianzi Mountain Cable Car we took two buses. Being on the top took our breaths away. Although the weather was not very appealing, the landscape was still incredible. I was amazed at how nature created something so unique.
In the afternoon it started slightly raining. We were going down along the green track as the map shows. We planned to go to 10 Mile Natural Gallery and from there take a mini slow train to the buses. Who would have known what was awaiting us?
It was already late, after 5pm and the stairs seemed to go on forever. We had no idea how much walking was still left. The opening hours were from 7am till 6pm To make matters worse, in the middle of the walk my mom’s knees gave up. She supported herself on my shoulder and slower than before we tried to go down.
The thought that we will have to overnight in the rain in the middle of the forest was making me tremble.
All way down we didn’t see a living soul, till… in the middle of nowhere, in the moment of crisis, I saw an old Chinese man sitting on the stairs. He noticed us and went away to come back with his friend and carrying chair.
He proposed to my mum to take a ride. The price swept us off our feet. 200 yuan. Just to remind you, we were unsure how much distance we still had to walk. My mum was getting worse. Each time we thought we were closer to our destination, there were more and more steps. In the end, we agreed.
It was the right decision. Without these guys, I have no idea how we would make it. In front of the mini train station, the men took the money and left us. I couldn’t suppress a laugh when I saw that the station was closed. The rain kept getting stronger. I left my travel companions and went to look for some help. In retrospect, I have to admit we had a lot of good luck within our bad luck.
It didn’t take long till I found two people in uniforms. They were just taking the mini train to its origin station. I explained using body language and broken Chinese that I am with other people and that they should wait. I run back to my mum, Marta, and Ignacy. The workers agreed to take us with them.
From the last station of the Ten-mile Natural Gallery train, we took the bus (see red line on the map) and happily arrived at the main gate of the Park. However, our concerns didn’t end here. We needed a bus back to Zhangjiajie city. We were again not sure if there were any left. Fortunately, we catch the last one.
In the city, Marta, Ignacy, and my mum went to the hostel and I went to the closest Apotheke. I found and bought a bandage and spray for joint pain. In the hostel, I massaged my mom’s knee and this is how this day full of adventure finished.
The next day we stayed in the hostel. My mum still had difficulty walking. Also, it was raining the whole day. We ate properly and enjoyed our company sharing the stories of our life.
On the third day we went to the west side of Avatar Mountain, taking a cable car (yellow line on the map), this time both ways, up and down.
凤凰 [Fèng huáng] FENGHUANG
If you would like to spend time in colorful, ethnic surroundings, Fenghuang is a place. Its scenery reminds the one from the old Chinese movies or Chinese paintings. In the most touristic and beautiful part of the town, small houses with “hanging legs” can be found along the Tuo Jiang River. What makes it even more unique are the mountains ascending from each side.
We arrived at Fenghuang in the middle of the day. We took a taxi. The driver dropped us in front of the narrow street, which led us to the main attractions and our hostel. The moment we entered the old part of the town, I was amazed at its beauty.
However, there was a surprise as well – loud techno music coming out from the nearby club. That was just a prelude to what was awaiting us later. In the evening and night, the town transformed into a party area with a bunch of young people ready to flirt and have fun. It reminded me of Paceville clubs in Malta (a small island of the Mediterranean Sea close to Italy).
Who would have guessed that such a historically rich and cultural town, turned out to be a place of clubs and parties?
Mainly, we spend the next two days buying cheap souvenirs and exploring the beauty of the city.
北京 [Běi jīng] BEIJING
Our trip was at its end. On 11th May, on Thursday, after more than two weeks of visiting various places in China, we took a slow train with couchettes to arrive the next day in Beijing.
We felt that this trip went way too fast. There were so many things I wanted to talk about with my mum. We had one and a half days left to enjoy our company in the capital of China. We arrived at the hostel without any problems. We checked in. The lady from the reception asked for the passports…
Here comes a bit of retrospection.
A few weeks before traveling with my mum I gave my passport to the translator to extend my visa for the next six months. The process goes as follows:
I go with the translator to the office in Qufu, where I have to sign a document. These documents together with the passport go to Jining, the city 80 km away from Qufu. Of course, it is me, who covers the transportation expenses. Luckily, only one way. To reduce the student’s costs of visa application, the school picks up the documents at the next tour, with new students. Sometimes, the person has to wait for even a month or more to get the passport back.
The waiting time doesn’t matter when the student is at school. In my case, I had two options:
FIRST – I could pick up the visa by myself, which I really didn’t want to do. Or…
The SECOND – receive a paper, which would substitute the passport for a short period.
The translator told me that I can travel with this document. Well, the whole trip I didn’t have any troubles, neither with buying train tickets nor with checking in with hostels, till I came to Beijing.
The woman from the reception looked at us confused and said:
– I am sorry but we cannot accept this paper. A real passport is required.
I explained to her the whole story.
– I can show you a photo of my passport and actual visa – I added and at the same time, I wrote to Daniel to send me photos. My passport was already at school.
– Please – I said. – I traveled all this time without any problems. Everybody accepted this document. If you want, you can call the school and talk to them.
To convince her even more, I added.
– Listen… This is my last day. Tomorrow, I go back to Qufu, to my school. I have already a train ticket. – I took it out from my bag and showed her.
She looked at me even more confused. She talked with her friend and after a few minutes her answer sounded:
– I am really sorry. We cannot accept it. There is an important conference right now in Beijing and these are the regulations. It is just a very inconvenient moment. Maybe try to find a hostel on the borders of the city.
– How can I find right now a hostel?! – I almost screamed, annoyed with the situation.
– I am sorry – was her last word.
I decided to call the embassy of Poland. The woman, although very kind, couldn’t help me at all. We were calling each other a few times, both trying to find a place for me to overnight. Without success.
Even the lady from the reception called her friend asking if I could sleep in his flat. Everybody felt uncomfortable with the idea that the person without a passport would stay at their house.
All this was taking hours. It was getting late. We didn’t eat, not to mention we didn’t see any place in Beijing. A whole day was wasted dealing with this ridiculous issue. We decided not to care anymore.
– We will find some solution later – my Mum said.
– Maybe I will get through to the room without someone seeing – I answered.
– But before that let us go to the room, get a shower and repack the languages – my Mum concluded.
We said to a lady that we found a room for me in the other hostel. As we turned towards a corridor, the woman stopped us and said:
– But she cannot go – she aimed in my direction.
Our good attitude reached its apogee.
My Mum started to shout to the woman in the reception (in polish), which was pointless, however it made the situation very dramatic.
My Mum’s words, that she has only a few hours left to spend with her daughter, that she won’t see me again for a long time and that their stubbornness is just inhuman, made my heart sink. I started to cry, thinking: “They treat me like a criminal and I have done nothing. How unfair is this world.”
The whole drama worked.
We went to the room and spend as much time there as we needed. Afterward, we went to eat dinner. At 7 p.m. we drove to the famous RED THEATER to watch Chun Yi The Legend of Kung Fu.
The show was in English. I enjoyed it very much. I think I could relate more to what they were presenting than my Mum or Marta. I could understand how difficult are the jumps, the kicks, the punches… I admired their skills from experience. I also liked the way they presented the story, giving the audience time for reflection.
I definitely recommend the show.
It was around 11 P.M. when we decided to come back to the hostel. We still didn’t know what we should do. 100 meters before the hostel, I come up with an idea:
– Give me a key – I looked at my mum. – I go to the room. I will leave the door open, so you can enter. Wait 10 minutes before following me.
I wear a hood and walked towards the hostel.
Many young people were hanging out outside the building. I entered quickly without looking at them. My room was on the ground floor. After passing a bar again filled with many guests, I went into a corridor. On its left side was a reception and on the right side my room.
I entered the room without hesitation.
Relieved, I waited. After loooonnnnng half an hour my mum, Marta, and Ignacy come back.
– Why did it take you so long? – I asked both angry and happy.
What had happened… As agreed, after a couple of minutes they went to the hostel. However, EVERYTHING WAS CLOSED! There was a note left on the door. “The entrance. Go behind the building.” It took them a while till they found it. The entrance was through the reception.
“We were so LUCKY !!!” – I thought.
– Did they ask about me in the reception? – I looked at them holding my breath.
We managed the most difficult part. However, it wasn’t over. Around 2 o’clock AT NIGHT!!! we heard knocking.
– Excuse me – the voice from the door froze our bodies.
No sound would come out from the room and it was not because we were sleeping. The knocking repeated. After a few minutes, we heard the steps recede.
“Will they come again and open the door with the other key? Or call the police?” – the questions bothered us the next hour. Each time we heard the steps in the corridor, we hold our breath. Eventually, we fall asleep.
The next day I went out of the room alone and bought breakfast. I come back, pretending I just came from the other hostel.
At the train station, I said goodbye to my travel companions and we parted.
This is how the trip ended. Now was a time to come back to school and start training again.
Was traveling to all these interesting places in China the expected resting time?
Was it an adventure worth experiencing?
Adventure may hurt you but monotony will kill you.