Part 4: Dunhuang, Chongqing, Yangze river and Three Gorges, Yichang,
Hotel Dunhuang Yangguan, 3 stars. 300
yuan for a decent room with A/C, everything except a fridge and a fast
Internet connection. The furniture in the room is actually a bit
oldish. The room is overpriced if compared to where I've stayed before,
but I'm arriving without a reservation, so I dont have much of a choice
Weather: fresh in the morning in
Urumqi; fresh in Dunhuang too. Spotless blue sky, clean air and
sunshine for the whole day in Dunhuang.
The wake up call at 6am and the alarm of the alarm clock happen almost
at the same time, within a few seconds of each other. After that I
check my emails. The customer support of all-inkl.com has replied to my
error report and is requesting more information. After that everything
goes quite fast. I finish taking the shower at 6:30am, then pack my
things. Despite all the stuff I carry with me (and I have to check
everything twice to make sure that I don't forget anything), the
packing time is down to about 15 minutes. Seems that a week after I
left Germany there is now some routine in my packing procedure.
I leave the room at 6:48am. I the lobby the lady days "zhengzai cha
fang" which initially I don't understand, but after checking the
dictionary I do (zhengzai cha fang = while check room). Actually these
are simple words which we have learned some time ago in the Chinese
class in Munich, but when used in a "real time" situation, it may be
difficult to pick up the meaning.
The fact is that our Chinese book contains stories about Hans and Anna,
two Germans studying Chinese at the university and who later go to
China for studying. So it's full of terms relative to student life in
China, but very little about tourist life in China. The situations I'm
typically confronted with while travelling in China are booking a hotel
room, ordering something in the restaurant, getting a taxi, buying a
plane or train ticket etc. I haven't still figured out for instance
what "domestic terminal" means in Chinese. It's a question any taxi
driver always puts me when I ask to go to the airport (feijichang).
I might add that study method we use in the Munich evening school is
bad, because we just go through a text book at high speed, adding new
words and characters all the time, but don't do any conversation - and
this is actually the most important thing. My Chinese language skills
have progressed since my first trip to China two years ago, but they
are still not what they should be after four years of studying the
Anyway, it's 6:55am when I take the taxi and it's still dark outside.
We reach the airport at 7:20am and I check in. This time the weight of
the luggage apparently is 22.5 Kg, and the lady at the China Southern
check-in counter does not complain about excess weight. Then I proceed
to the gate.
The plane takes off a bit early at 8:15am, shortly after the sunrise at
8am and is half empty. It even arrives in Dunhuang 10 minutes early, at
9:30am. So far I'm impressed with the punctuality of the Chinese
planes. I also get very quickly the luggage, walk out and take a taxi.
The taxi is not metered and the driver insists on 50 yuan, which very
likely is too much. But I'm not in the mood to start a discussion about
the price, so I accept it. Since the airport in Dunhuang has no hotel
booking counter I ask the driver to bring me to a hotel.
In the lobby of the hotel I have a discussion because the room has no
fast Internet connection. The receptionist says I should use the phone
line. But I have no ISP in China, so what to do? The receptionist tells
me to dial the Internet by call number 16300 using the ID and
password "16300". As I later find out, this works and gives you a
Internet connection with a speed of approx. 32Kbit/s sustained.
Slowish, but ok. The cost is 5.40 yuan/hour.
At 10:40am I'm settled in the room and at 11:20am I get out of the
hotel and start exploring Dunhuang. Dunhuang is incredibly clean for a
Chinese city, in fact it's one of the cleanest Chinese cities I've seen
so far. All buildings I see are also in a good state and the whole city
makes a fresh and comfortable impression. I decide to relax here one
more day, before plunging into the second phase of my trip across China
(the big cities).
I walk around for about 40 minutes, then fetch a taxi to the sand dunes
near the Crescent lake. I then spend the next five hours trekking
across the dunes, climbing on the top of the highest one from which
there is a nice view, making a big round and finally getting back
across the farms bordering the desert. Quite tiring indeed, as the
sand in several spots is very soft and fine. Also, I should have done
the trek later in the afternoon, because the sun is quite strong.
Anyway, the trek is very interesting. The sand contains actually a lot
of humidity, if you dig a few cm in the ground. This is probably one of
the northernmost deserts in the world. The main dune is very, very big,
towering a few hundred meters above the base.
After that I take a bus back into town, getting off somewhere downtown.
I walk a bit around, discovering a road with many hotels and tourist
shops. In this road there is a John's cafe, where I meet John himself,
the Chinese guy who founded the John's cafes 20 years ago. Short chat
about what trips can be done and I continue my walk. At 6:20pm I have
some dinner in a "Charlie's cafe", sort of a copy of a John's cafe.
Then I get back to the hotel and stay there until I sleep.
Hotel Dunhuang Yangguan. The shower is
not good, because only little water comes out of it.
Weather: fresh, but sunny with
a spotless blue sky.
I wake up at 8am, then continue sleeping until 9am when somebody very
persistently knocks at the door and keeps knocking at the door for the
next half an hour. Unlikely that it's the room service,
so it must be a taxi driver who wants to get some business.
Anyway, I spend the first part of the morning surfing the net and
updating my travel plan. I'm now three days behind the original
schedule, which means that I need to adjust the plan. I check what
flights are available (due to the limited time I'm flying from place to
place), how much time I need in each place and which places are more
interesting than others.
At 11:50am I finally get out of the room and head to John's cafe where
I purchase a flight to Chongqing (actually two flights, one
Dunhuang-Lanzhou and one Lanzhou-Chongqing). As I realise later in the
evening when checking the tickets, John cheats a bit, because the total
cost of the flights is 1480 yuan, while John is charging me 1550 yuan.
I also ask John how much a camel trip to the desert for this evening
is. John quotes 200 yuan (20 for the car and 60 yuan/hour for the
camels, three hours with the camel). This seems expensive, because at
the Karakul lake we paid 20 yuan for a camel ride lasting for over an
hour. But John insists that here in Dunhuang camels cost 60 yuan/hour.
By the way, as I learn from John, the ticket price for the Crescent
Moon lake area has now been increased from 50 yuan to 80 yuan, while
the ticket for the Mogao caves has been increased from 80 to 120 yuan.
Good that I skipped both places (am skipping the Mogao caves because
photography there is not allowed). 120 yuan is a significant amount
even for a developed country like Germany (= 12 Euro), so it must be
even more significant for a developing country like China. Looks like
Dunhuang is pricing itself out of the market.
After some lunch at John's cafe I do some shopping in Dunhuang, mainly
some suntan lotion and some hydratating cream for the skin, as I got
quite sunburnt yesterday and my skin is quite dry. I also look for a
place where they sell recharges for the China Mobile prepaid card, but
can't find such a shop.
Around 2pm I take a taxi to Mingshashan (the sand mountain), which is
supposed to be something else from the area around the Crescent Moon
lake (entrance should be free), but the taxi driver brings me again to
the same place as yesterday. So I ask the driver to drop me off at a
Chinese temple which I saw along the way. This temple is under
construction or reconstruction, but is already very nice. I notice some
Chinese monks working on the construction. Opposite the temple there is
a four star hotel, in the design of something like an ancient Chinese
desert fortress. After that, at 2:25pm, I take a bus back to town
(buses between the dunes and the city cost only 1 yuan and run quite
frequently) where I relax until about 5pm.
At 5pm I walk to John's cafe and fetch the plane tickets. Again these
are e-tickets, meaning that I show up with these slips and the passport
at the airport and check in. Looks like the Chinese here are more
advanced than we are in Europe, because e-tickets in Europe are still
not that widely used. I ask John if I can take the camel ride but
to two hours, thereby reducing the price to 140 yuan (20 for the car +
2 x 60 yuan/hour for the camel). John initially suggests that I should
pay 170 yuan, which is not consistent with what he told me at noon.
John then says that actually the price is not 200 yuan, it's more than
that etc. In the end we settle on 150 yuan for a two hours camel trip.
At 5:30pm the car arrives (it's a metered taxi, the first I see in
Dunhuang - in Dunhuang the taxis are not metered, trips usually cost 10
yuan). We drive to the dunes, where a guy with two camels is waiting.
Around 5:40pm the camel trip starts. The place where I got on the
camels is a few hundred metres to the east of the main gate to the
dunes, so that we can enter the dune area without purchasing a ticket.
We then continue walking eastwards for about half an hour in parallel
to the dunes.
I keep telling the guy a couple of times that I need to get on the dunes in order to be
in a suitable position to take photos, but this guy keeps heading
eastwards, always parallel to the dunes, never actually going on them.
Around 6:15pm I lose my patience and tell the guy to stop and that I
will walk myself on top of the dunes. I don't need a camel to walk in
the plane area in front of the dunes (can walk myself) and I would have
needed one to bring on top of the dunes, because that is very tiring,
as the sand is very soft and you sink deeply into it. I walk to a high
which I shoot some photos of the dunes at sunset.
At 7pm the sun sets and I head back to the camel. We walk back, then I
go to the taxi and around 8pm am back in town. I have some dinner in
Charlie's cafe (food is good and relatively cheap), then I get back to
the hotel around 9pm. Tomorrow I'll have to wake up early, as my flight
is leaving at 7:35am.
Hotel Tianyou, Chongqing, Nr. 121,
Zhongshan 3 road. 198 yuan for a very nice room, four stars but high
class, excellent value, slow Internet connection in the room.
Weather: cold in the morning in
Dunhuang (but we leave before sunrise). Warm (24°C) in Chongqing,
very heavy smog which limits the visibility.
The wake up call and the alarm clock go off at the same time at 5:20am.
After that I rush to get ready and at 6:05am I'm down in the lobby and
check out. Outside the street is empty, so I wonder how to get a taxi.
But all of a sudden a taxi pops up and I waive it. At 6:15am I'm in the
taxi on the way to the airport, where we arrive at 6:35am.
The check-in procedure is fast and there are no complaints despite the
3Kg excess weight. Is China Eastern less strict than China Southern? At
7:05am we board the plane and by 7:15am everybody is seated. Quite fast
I would say. The plane is full, only the last few rows are empty. At
7:20am the plane starts rolling and at 7:22am the plane takes off - 13
minutes ahead of schedule. That's very efficient, especially if
compared to the situation in Europe or other countries, where flights
very often are delayed. The plane is an Airbus A320, much more modern,
spacious and comfortable than the Boeing 757s of China Southern.
The sun finally rises at 7:35am. The plane lands in Lanzhou ahead of
time at 8:45am. The Lanzhou airport is modern and clean; luggage
retrieval is fast. Since it's too early to check in the luggage for the
CA4224 flight to Chongqing, I have something in a cafe. By the way, the
air in Lanzhou is still quite clean (and the sky is blue), although not
as clean as in Dunhuang. The area surrounding Lanzhou is desertic.
At 9:45am I check in at the counter and proceed to the gate. Again we
have the ultrafast boarding and take-off procedure. At 10:15am boarding
opens, by 10:25am everybody is seated in the aircraft (a smallish
Shandong airlines jet), at 10:27am the plane starts rolling and takes
off at 10:30am, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
The plane lands in Chongqing at 12pm. By 12:08pm I have retrieved my
luggage and am looking for a hotel reservation counter. There is no
such thing at the Chongqing airport, but some girls at a counter hand
me over a card with a telephone number where you can reserve hotel
rooms. After that, this lady shows up. Long discussion, I end up buying
days/one night boat trip to Yichang for 1280 yuan (1st class), leaving
tomorrow afternoon at 3:45pm, arriving in Yichang the day after at
9:30pm. Maybe I pay too much and should have shopped around a bit, but
my time is limited anyway and I hopefully am not overpaying too much.
The trip includes three stops along the way.
About Chongqing: it's the most heavily polluted city I have ever seen
- not even Cairo is that polluted. There is a very heavy layer of smog
over the city which limits visibility considerably. But the centre of
the city is very nice and the area around the Liberation monument is a
pedestrian area full of modern buildings and cool shops.
At 2pm I get out of the hotel and explore Chongqing until about 8:40pm.
In the evening a guy calls twice my room telephone offering a
prostitute (how did he get my room number?).
- Wanzhou (Wanxian)
Hotel: I sleep on the boat. Although
they sold me a 1st class ticket, the room looks and feels like 3rd
class. There are two small hard beds, very old furniture, a tiny,
smelly and dirty toilet. And I'm sharing the room with a stranger. All
this for 1280 yuan... The ship itself is very old and rusty. But at
least the cabin has electricity.
Weather: confortable temperature in
Chongqing, even a bit fresh, windy. Heavy smog in the city which limits
the visibility to about 300m, less than yesterday. As we leave
Chongqing and drive towards Wanzhou the situation improves and at one
point the sky becomes even blueish, with only a light layer of clouds
covering the sky.
I wake up initially at 8am, then stay in bed until after 9am. After
that I check my mails, browse a bit the Internet and get ready. At
10:50am I check out, leaving the bags in the hotel. I walk out of the
hotel and have some late breakfast. At 11:20am I take a taxi to the
international convention and conference centre of Chongqing. While
queueing up for the taxi, two Chinese guys simply walk in front of me
and get into the taxi, thereby skipping the queue. I complain, but
nothing happens, the guy does not even apologise. Some people have no
The international convention and conference centre is a newly built
building across the Yangtze river. Nearby is a shopping zone with
malls. Would be a nice setting if the sky were blue and the air clean.
But today the air is smelly and there is heavy smog over the city.
Chongqing could be a nice city, if only they managed to control the
At 12:40pm I get into a taxi to the Liberation Monument area. There I
look for a while for a non-Western restaurant, but can't find anything
- only western fast food chains (for instance three KFC restaurants and
a Macdonalds in a small area). So I give up and have some food in a
I withdraw some cash from the bank of China ATM. It's 2500 yuan and the
transaction is accepted, which makes me wonder if I could have
withdrawn more. Previously an ATM from another bank refused to hand out
2000 yuan, stating it was too much, so I guess that the Bank of China
ATMs are special and allow you to withdraw more.
After some shopping I take a taxi and by 2:55pm I'm back in the hotel.
Some traffic jam on the streets but not too much. In the hotel the guy
from the travel agency organising the boat trip picks me up by car and
brings me to the place where the bus is waiting. Along the way, they
sell me a hotel room in Yichang - three stars for 210 yuan. When I tell
them that here in Chongqing I paid 198 yuan for a four stars hotel,
say that the hotels in Yichang are more expensive.
The bus leaves at 3:30pm for Wanzhou. It's a smelly bus and the old guy
next to me sleeps all the time and keeps on falling on me. Around
6:30pm we reach Wanzhou and after a drive through the town we finally
reach the pier. There we get out of the bus and walk to the boat.
By 7:30pm I'm settled and explore a bit the boat and the
surroundings. At 7:55pm the boat leaves for Yichang.
At 8:30pm I'm back in the cabin and shortly after the passenger
with whom I share the cabin arrives. It's a Chinese guy, who at some
point starts crying while he lies on the bed.
At 9:55pm the tour leader (a lady) shows up. It's time for the first
stop of the tour - the Yunyang Zhang Fei Chinese temple. While she is
here she asks if I would like to have a single room for a surcharge of
100 yuan. Ok with me and now, for a total of 1380 yuan I have a single
cabin on this smelly ship.
The Yunyang Zhang Fei temple is kind of cute, but without knowing
anything about it, it's difficult to judge its significance. The stop
at the temple lasts one hour until 11pm. According to the tour leader
the next stop is at 5am (!).
Wanzhou -> Yichang
Hotel Li Yuan, Yichang. 210 yuan for a
comfortable, but not so "shiny" room (three stars only) with everything
except a cable Internet connection.
Weather: fresh in the early morning
in Wanzhou. It gets warmer over the day. Blue sky with a very thin
clouds layer. Poor visibility from noon onwards.
The tour leader wakes me up initially at 5:30am, I continue sleeping
and skip the first gorge, then the tour leader wakes me up again at
6:45am,and this time I get up. At 7am we move to another boat for the
tour of the Lesser Three Gorges. Very spectacular views, with vertical
cliffs falling straight into the river. We are back by 11:30am in the
main boat and the cruise continues.
At 6:10pm we finally reach the Three Gorges dam and move into a bus
with our luggage. The bus drives us to the Three Gorges dam. The first
stop takes place at 6:55pm, then there is another stop and finally at
8:10pm we reach a stage where there is a colourful dance performance
about the dam. Very impressive colours, music and setting.
At 9:15pm we are back in the bus and head towards Yichang. By 10:30pm
I'm in the hotel, having been picked up by the tour operator at the bus
stand. Then I process the ton of photos I shot during the day, process
the ton of emails in my inbox and write the travelogue. I end up
sleeping after 2am.
Yichang -> Shanghai
En ("Kind), Xianggang road, Shanghai. Two stars, 278 yuan for a big
with a separate entry room with a sofa. TV, phone, internet connection
in the room etc. This is the same place where I stayed two years ago.
These 278 yuan become in reality 378 yuan, as the reception cheats and
pays back 100 yuan less of the deposit (see the 15.10 section below).
Weather: warm in Yichang, it even
gets hot in the car with all that sunshine hitting it. No rain the
whole day, greyish-blue sky with limited visibility and thin clouds
The day does not start well, as I initially wake up at 8am, then am
woken up at 8:30am by the sound of hammers hitting some wall. At 9am I
get up, briefly check my mails, then get ready. At 10:25am I leave the
room and check out.
Some discussion in the lobby when I ask for a bill for the room. Have
they never seen a hotel bill in their life or perhaps is my Chinese not
clear enough? To explain what I need I take out the hotel bill of the
hotel in Chongqing. Expression of astonishment and disbelief when they
see the bill - what is this? I lose over 20 minutes in the
discussion. They say that because I booked through a travel agent, they
cannot issue a bill for me. Fine, but yesterday I gave them the receipt
of the travel agent, would it be possible to have that back? Nobody
knows anything about that receipt. In the end I ask them to fill out a
paper with handwriting in which they state what I paid for the room.
They do this and I finally have a hotel bill.
The next thing to do is to organise a plane ticket to Shanghai, as I
will be skipping Wuhan due to lack of time and go to Shanghai and from
there take the bus to Hangzhou. An option would be the flight of
3:20pm, which would allow me to take the last bus from Shanghai airport
to Hangzhou. The hotel receptionist accompanies me to the travel agency
(there is one next to the hotel). Some discussion at the travel agency
and I end up choosing the 4:40pm CA1836 flight (910 yuan), which will
give me enough time to go to the Three Gorges dam to take some photos
and get back.
After that, at 11:15am I head to the restaurant of the hotel for some
food. I explain that I would like to have some rice with chicken and
vegetables, not hot, and that I have about half an hour of time. But
obviously they don't understand what I say, as they bring me a big pot
of steamed rice and then after five minutes they ask if I would like to
have a dish with Chinese cabbage, which I take. At 11:35am the main
course is still not there, so I ask about the chicken. They know
nothing about it. I then call my wife in Malaysia over the mobile phone
and ask her to order the chicken for me.
At 11:50am the chicken is still not there, so I cancel the order, pay
and walk out. After buying a drink in a shop I take a taxi to the dam,
leaving at 12pm. The cost will be 300 yuan, coming back at 3pm +
another 50 yuan to go to the airport.
Then everything goes wrong and I end up wasting half a day and some
money. The driver needs longer than expected to reach the dam (1 hr vs.
40 minutes), because he keeps driving on tiny roads instead of taking
the motorway. Then he does not actually drive to the dam, he stops
instead outside of the compound and suggests that I walk inside. Fine,
distances are huge and if I walk I simply don't have the time to reach
the positions from which to shoot photos of the dam. And in any case I
need a ticket to enter the compound.
The driver then brings to a place which is sort of a ticket office (but
not really), where there is a lady. A discussion starts which lasts for
almost half an hour. Chinese generally are very efficient, but
sometimes they can also be very inefficient and lose a lot of time
talking. It turns out that taxis are not allowed into the dam compound
and only buses from tour companies are. So I should have booked a tour.
But in any case why didn't the driver tell me in advance?
At 1:40pm, I've had enough of it and tell the taxi driver to bring me
to the hotel. Let's stop this negative sequence and move on to the next
destination. And the taxi driver drives back over those tiny little
roads in the mountains, instead of taking the motorway...
At 2:40pm we're back in the hotel. I pay the driver, get my bags and
take another taxi to the airport. This time the trip to the airport
costs 80 yuan (why so pricey)?
At 3:35pm we reach the airport. I check in, then proceed to the gate.
No complaint of excess luggage weight. The comfortable Air China plan,
an Airbus A320, is about 70% full and takes off on time at 4:40pm. Nice
to be on a plane again after so much overland travelling.
I'll take the bus tomorrow to Hangzhou, although I'm tempted to stay
longer in Shanghai, because I like the city. I wonder if I should skip
Nanjing, because there is probably not that much to see there. An
option would be to make a stop in Dalian, but you probably need more
than one day there, because the attractions are out of town.
The plane lands punctually at 6:40pm in Shanghai's Pudong airport. By
7pm I have a hotel booking and am waiting for the maglev high speed
train. Around 8am we arrive in Shanghai, and take a taxi. In the
evening not much happens. I take a walk along the Bund in the evening.
Full of people, because it's Saturday evening. It also seems that they
enhanced the Pudong skyline with more lights, at least it looks more
impressive now than when I first visited Shanghai two years ago. I'm
back in the hotel by 10:30pm.