North-East Asia branch Frequently Asked Questions thread
Replies: 136 - Last Post: Feb 9, 2013 12:37 AM Last Post By: Glenski
Mar 23, 2007 3:50 PM
75Harbin, Guizhou Province, Yangshou, PEK Trip Report
Places covered in this report: Harbin, Guiyang, Kaili, Xijiang, Leishan, Congjiang, Zhaoxing, Chengyang, Yangshou, and Beijing.
Recently returned from a short, one-month trip to China. For the first three weeks I traveled alone. For the last week, I met up with my mom, dad, uncle and aunt.
You can check out my photos at www.Onceahighway.com.
For some details on the places I visited, read on.
*Harbin*- Since I traveled directly (LAX-PEK-HRB in about 20 hours) from the States and landed on a Saturday in the middle of Ice Lantern Festival, I made a reservation (or so I thought) at a pretty nice place (Tianzhi Hotel). Cost was about 398 rmb per night. The hotel sits on the main walk street (Zhongyang Dajie), one block from Zhaolin Park where the Ice sculptures are, and just two blocks from the river. The location was excellent. The room was nice with western toilet, hot water, comfortable bed, and TV. But the best thing about the hotel was the huge buffet breakfast included with the room tariff. There were about a dozen kinds of dumplings and steamed rolls, a similar number of stir-fried dishes, tons of kimchi-style veggies, several soups, juices and more.
*Ice Festival*- The centerpiece of the festival are the ice sculptures in Zhaolin Park. They are somewhat interesting but not awe inspiring. You will need to see them twice to get the full effect: once during the day and once at night when the sculptures are lit up. Cost is about 40rmb. A little more impressive, but a lot more expensive are the snow sculptures on Sun Island Park. They're giant and even include several building sculped in snow where you can go inside to warm up and have a beer. But to me, the best part of the festival was sliding along among the throngs of ecstatic locals on the iced-over river below the Flood Control Monument.
I had lots of good food in Harbin. The restaurant connected to the Tianzhi Hotel had excellent food at reasonable prices. The French Bakery near the hotel was overpriced and only fair. But the hostess was very friendly so this isn't a bad place to warm up and watch bundled up people stroll by. There is a good new bakery six or so blocks up (south) Zhongyang Dajie on the west side of the street. I had a super seafood dumpling feast at a nice restaurant on the north side of Youli Lu about a block west of the shopping center by the at the Flood Control Monument. Walked out of the Russian Tea Room before my food came because the service sucked and the prices were high.
Zhongyang Dajie is basically a pedestrian mall flanked by western styled buildings. It's nice enough. But really only of interest if you miss European architecture. Same with the St. Sofia Church.
What I remember most about Harbin was walking across the frozen river and hanging out with the people below the Flood Control Monument.
*Guiyang to Yangshou Route Overview*- Before giving a town-by-town review, an overview of the route is in order. Although the distance between the two places is less than 500 km, as-the-crow-flies, there's a good two to three weeks worth of scenery on this route.
Guizhou Provence is one of the poorest areas of China. And as a result, it's escaping, or at least delaying much of the rapid development/homogenization that's gripping rest of the land. What you'll see here are small (for China) and grimy but interesting cities and several tribal villages still clinging to their indigenous cultures, as well as forests, rice terraces and river life. The highlights of the route are the beautiful villages of Xijiang and Zhaoxing as well as the bus rides themselves.
Travel is by chicken bus, but more comfortable than many places I've visited. Major sights are rarely farther than six or eight hours apart. So you'll have time to explore once you arrive at your next stop. Hotels and guesthouses are basic, but fine. Food is cheap, tasty, and plentiful. Outside of Zhaoxing and Changyang, little-to-no English is spoken. To me this only enhances the experience. But a phrase book is invaluable. I only saw one Westerner north of Guilin during my two+ weeks of travel in the area.
The weather was excelent: Clear every day; cold nights but day time highs in the 60s (15-20 C).
I would highly recommend this area for the more adventurous or experienced traveler looking to see a side of China that is rapidly disappearing. This route is definitely off the well traveled track, but still very accessible. Zhaoxing is one of the crown jewels of China and only two short bus-days from Yangshou. Xijiang is four days out and just as interesting. Yet both places are relatively unknown. But not for long!
Now for more details...
*Guiyang*- The CAAC bus dropped me off very close to the main bus station. From there, I took a pleasant two hour ride to Kaili.
Kaili- I stayed at the Petroleum Hotel for the first night. It was a pretty rough joint and not a good deal (approx. #11 on the LP China map). In the drawer next to the bed I found a pamphlet that describes how to pleasure your customer with out giving him AIDS. Classic! The next day I moved to a nice place near the CITS office. Cost was about 96rmb for a single room with heat, hot water, western toilet, and clean and comfortable bed. This hotel is located at #12 on the map. And like the Petro, had a different name than indicated in the guide.
The lady that runs the CITS is very nice and helpful. For some reason I thought Kaili was a small town. It's not. Although I'd read several negative comments about Kaili, I found it pretty interesting and the people, friendly. Had a couple of excellent and super cheap buffet-style meals at a little joint on the SW corner of Wenhua Beilu and Yingpan Donglu (about 12rmb for all you can eat and one beer). From Kaili, I grabbed a bus for the short ride to Lieshan.
Leishan is sort of a mini Kaili, with a river snaking through the center of town. I could find only a couple of hotels and both are on the same street, 10-15 minutes from the bus station. From the front door of the bus station head right, down the street toward Rongjiang. Take the first left and cross the river. After a few blocks, just before the hospital on the right side is a hotel. It looked nice enough. But if you walk a block past the hospital, you'll reach the hotel where I stayed. It's on a roundabout. This place reminded me of a Swiss chalet (sorta). Very nice room for about 120rmb. Like all of the above hotels, no English was spoken or understood.
*Leaving Leishan*- Catching the bus to Xijiang is simple: just go to the bus station and ask around. Attendants were very helpful (no English). Buy your ticket on board. Catching the bus onward from Leishan to Rongiang>Congjiang, etc. is a little less straight forward because the bus doesn't stop at the bus station. The through-bus route stays north of the river, bypassing downtown. I couldn't ascertain the exact route, so I walked to the petrol station at the far south edge of town where all routes converge. The bus passed though at 8:00 AM. I think it actually passes both of the aforementioned hotels, but I didn't want to risk missing it. The four hour trip to Rongjiang is paved but bumpy and very windy. If you're prone to motion sickness, take measures before boarding the bus. Note: Those bags the driver hands out aren't for peanut shells.
Xijiang- The road to Xijiang is mainly dirt but good and scenic. We picked up a guy and his freshly slaughtered pig mid way. He just plopped the carcass down in the isle and forever changed my definition of "Chicken Bus". It was pretty cool.
The main street in Xijian is for walking only. There's a small square with a totem pole in the center. On the square is Miao's Home Guest House where I stayed. It's a traditional Miao house with a general store below and eight or so guest rooms above. Rooms on the top floor open on to a patio with an awesome view. And the view out the back window of the rooms is also pretty spectacular. My room with electric blanket and squat toilet cost about 48rmb. Meals cost 10rmb and included all the homemade rice wine the hostess could persuade me to swill. And after everyone (including the hosts) gets liquored up, the singing begins. Miao's Home Guest House is highly recommended.
Xijiang is definitely worth going out of your way to visit. The Village's intricately constructed wooden houses cling to steep hillsides and overlook lovely rice and vegetable terraces. This traditional aspect of Chinese culture is rapidly being replaced so check it out before it's gone.
*Leishan to Congjiang*- The first four hours are across what seem like a never-ending series of mountain ranges. Somewhat scenic. From Rongjiang to Congjiang takes two more hours. The road runs along a big river, past several small villages and is more interesting.
Congjiang- Just a commercial center along the river. I stayed at a dive hotel across the street from the bus station about a block further east. It was OK. I did a 40 minute walking loop to burn time: from the bus station/hotel go west down the main drag until you can cross the river on the bridge. Continue west on the opposite side of the river forking right to keep near the shore. Check out the indoor market. From the market, scope out where to descend for the ferry crossing. Take the ferry for a couple of rmb and head back.
*Congjiang to Zhaoxing*- The direct bus didn't show up so I took a bus heading to Liping. It took a pleasant couple of hours to get to Pilin junction. I got off at the corner and waited for a bus heading south east. After a short wait a bus stopped and thirty minutes later I was in Zhaoxing. This route seems much simpler than disembarking at the Xin'an junction, walking into town and then finding a ride across the hills (as recommended by others).
Zhaoxing- There are almost twenty guesthouses in this small village! Still, I only saw one other westerner; and she was doing her doctoral thesis on the Zhaoxing's tourist industry. This is a pretty amazing place: Traditional buildings; classic faces; and gorgeous countryside. I stayed at the Dong Village Hotel (or GH?) on the main street. An extremely clean room, comfortable bed, heater, western toilet and sweet, street view cost about 80 rmb. The proprietor is a very nice and helpful guy and even gave me free internet access. There are a lot of sleeping options in Zhaoxing, and while Dong Village Hotel isn't the cheapest, it is the nicest. I spent three nights here and did plenty of walking to the surrounding villages. Zhaoxing is a gem and not to be missed.
*Zhaoxing to Chengyang*- I caught a bus out front of the GH at about 8:00 AM that arrived in Sanjiang five or six hours later. In Sanjiang there are two bus stations. I arrived at the one at the base of a hill on a crowded commercial street. This is the station with busses to Chengyang. But for busses to Guilin you'll have to walk across the river. There are good city maps in the waiting room of both bus stations so finding your way from one station to the other isn't a problem, just a fifteen minute walk. The short bus ride from Sanjiang to Chengyang was nice enough.
Chengyang- After Xijiang and Zhaoxing, Chengyang was a letdown. I stayed at the Dong Village Hotel. And although it shares a name with the hotel in Zhaoxing, they have little else in common. This place is big and drafty but still clean and friendly. Like at most places I stayed in the area, I was the only guest. They have a big patio with a good view of the village's famous wind and rain-proof bridge. I imagine In the summer the patio would be a sweet spot to hang out. My room was big and had nice balcony but no heat (about 50rmb).
The village was OK, and they have free singing and dancing in the main square every afternoon. I saw a couple of other guest houses under construction in the village proper. There's a small fee to get close to the bridge, which I don't mind paying. But you're hit with a barrage of high pressure salesgirls as you cross it.
To get back to Sanjiang, I just sat by the bridge and waited for a ride. A mini van picked me up after a short wait.
*Sanjiang to Guilin*- Six grueling hours of dust and bumps.
[n]Guilin to Yangshou*- You know the drill. Buy a ticket on the next bus; and no matter what the touts say, don't listen. One hour ride on a luxury bus.
Yangshou- My first visit since 1988! Only the karsts remain the same. Stayed at the brand new Li River Retreat. Far from the cheapest place in town but… Wait, the Li River Retreat's not in town. It's is a 25 minute walk up the river and on a whole different planet. The retreat's website describes the place pretty well. What it doesn't say is that 1) the food is superb; and 2) the host and hostess are great people that know what travelers want and will do what ever it takes to make you happy. And the sunrises from your room's private balcony aren’t bad either.
On to the activities… I rented a bike for several days (perfect for getting to and from the Retreat) and did one half-day ride. But was a little disappointed with it. The city has grown so much that it's quite a trek to get out into the quiet countryside.
For this part of the trip, I was joined by my mom, dad, uncle and aunt. So we weren't as budget conscious as I normally am. We did some pretty touristy stuff; including hiring a guide and minivan for the day; and rafting down the Yulong River. We checked out Yulong Bridge and planned to start rafting from there. But it's too far from the nice scenery. So we drove down the river a ways and hopped on rafts a little closer to Moon Hill. Rafting wasn't as lame as it could have been. But not great. And real expensive. The best thing we did was rent a boat from Xingping to Yangdi. The boat costs about $60 for the two hour ride through the nicest stretch of the river. The boat easily holds ten people. You may need to arrange it in advance. But during the summer, I'd think you could just show up and pay for a seat.
*Beijing*- Not much to add to what's been said many times before.
Jade Market across from the Temple of Heaven sells just about everything you could want; Except fake Olympic souvenirs. In fact, the authorities seem to have a pretty tight grip on "Beijing 2008" stuff. But I found very good prices on Olympic tee shirts on West Street in Yangshou.
Be sure to check out the Lama Temple. There's now a subway stop right at the corner.
Great Wall at Mutianyu- There were no crowds since it was mid-winter (although the weather was awesome). This is a very scenic section with easy access. I recommend taking the tram up and riding the toboggan down. It's a pleasant ½ hour walk on top of the wall between the tram and the slide. The toboggan is a blast. Just make sure that you let the person in front of you get a big (30+ second) head start so that you can go as fast possible without rear-ending them.
That's about it.
If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them.
Apr 4, 2007 3:26 PM
77This new to the net, not-for-profit website, is a good resource for N.G.O's, volunteering, sponsorship, charities, wildlife and animal protection in Asia.
You can also add to and post your own experiences on the above topics.
May 16, 2007 8:26 AM
May 19, 2007 12:11 PM
80S/W China visa extension update
Just thought this info might be useful for anyone roaming around S/W china who needs to get their visa extended:
* Lijiang PBS- quoted us 50mins! (unfortunately we were 2 days too early)
* Chengdu PBS- quoted us 5 business days (no thanks)
* Leshan PBS- we handed the paper work (including photocopy of photo page of passport and visa and passport size photo) in at 11am and picked it up at 3.30pm the same day. Definitely worth the 2 hr bus ride from Chengdu (where we were staying) to Leshan.
May 20, 2007 5:43 PM
812 DIY easy walks from Langmusi, southern Gansu
1) Walk 1 km out of town on road past Langmusi Hotel. As the road turns westwards, head towards the right of the hill directly in front of u with prayer flags on top (your destination). Walk up the wooded gully besides stream. When u reach the pass head towards prayer flagged summit. Superb views. To descend continue along ridge down to the road back into town.
2) Destination: prayer flags above the red cliffs overlooking town. Walk 20 metres past entrance to Langmusi Hotel rd towards main Xiahe-Zoige rd. take muddy rd to your right. After 500m veer left towards gap in cliffs. Follow power poles until path to pass becomes clear. Turn left at top of pass to visit minor summit overlooking town. You can also see your onward route to prayer flags from here. After the prayer flagged summit try to detect a path along the contours as close as poss to the tops of the cliffs. When u reach the final cliff, head down the ridge to your left to the visible path. Walk back into town along the broad sheep/yak drovers track.
May 20, 2007 6:02 PM
82Jiuzhaigou Tips and Tricks
Notes from a 2006 trip. Prices may have changed of course.
Research name of a hotel and tell bus driver to drop you nearby. Otherwise he’ll drop you off either at park entrance or at bus station, which makes for a long walk back. Long distance bus station is 1km beyond the park entrance and 1.5km beyond main town.
500m before park entrance try Jiuzhaigou Garden Hotel 70Y sgl priv bath (but was full when I went)
You Yuan Binguan back of shop directly opp Jiuzhaigou Garden Hotel 50Y sgl priv bath but no hot water. Owner friendly, helpful but not a word of English. Will bring bucket hot water for you and was constantly filling tea thermos. I never managed to educate him on foreigners’ preference for ice cold beer though “peejo bingde”. Another TTer recommended new Jiuzhaigou IYH (www.gogojz.com/eng_index.asp). Looks to be reasonably priced but map doesn’t indicate how far from park entrance. 2007 LP guide mentions another new hostel www.youuhotel.com/english.asp
Entrance fee 220Y (170Y for pensioners and students) plus 90Y for unlimited bus usage, but no-one checks, and the buses won’t stop for you anyway unless you’re waiting at the crowded main tourist spots.
Jiuzhaigou National Park was a “beautiful disappointment”. It is incredibly beautiful, but I was disappointed that I was 20 yrs too late and had to share it with 1000s of other tourists per day.
However, here’s the secret to avoid the hordes of tour groups!
Day 1. Be at the park entrance at 6:40 am. Be first in line to buy your ticket and endorse it with free computer ID photo for 2 days usage. Be the first through the turnstiles at 7am and the first off the bus at the most popular tourist spot Panda Lake or Panda Falls. Be the first to start walking northwards to Nuorilang Falls. You’ll start hitting a few groups of tourists, but it’s better than later in the day when you’ll be involved in a rugby scrum just to get a photo of the falls. At Nuorilang take a bus to Long Lake and Multicoloured Lake. Then bus back to Nuorilang and change to bus for Primeval Forest at the end of the park. Walk downhill from there to Panda Lake where you started in the morning, and call it a day. The crowds will be out in force by then.
Day 2 Be the first through the turnstiles again at 7am. Get off at Nuorilang Falls and walk back towards the park entrance - it was as though I had the entire park to myself. Only met 4 people coming the other way, but there must have been 10,000 about 20 minutes behind me. Bus back up to Long Lake and walk back towards Nuorilang along quiet walkways that not many frequent. That’s quite a long day… keep your eye on park closing time and last buses 5:30pm
Shuzheng Village is just one great Tibetan theme park selling tacky souvenirs. Stick to the nature trails.
IMHO I can’t see the point of trying to find accommodation in Shuzheng Village overnight. It’s illegal (although I doubt they’d deport you for it). You’ve got to hide from rangers between 6 pm (park closes) and 7am, when you could be enjoying a nice beer, meal and stroll in Jiuzhaigou town. You’ve got to carry your pack around with you for all or part of the day as I saw a couple of travellers doing. The uncertainty and hassle of finding accom. You will still not be first at some of the more popular spots as outlined above because to view the whole park you have to rely on the busses to cover those large distances anyway to get you there before the hordes arrive while you’re wasting time finding a lodge.
Whereas if you’re canny as outlined above you can virtually have the park to yourself legally for 2 days anyway.
I was there in early July. The park is supposed to be at its best in the less popular spring and autumn. Of course avoid Oct 1-10, May 1-10. Judge for yourself: from following ave temps C and rainfall in mm
jan -1 15
feb 3 24
mar 4 35
apr 9 42
may 11 87
jun 14 96
jul 16 104
aug 17 82
sep 12 76
oct 8 53
nov 2 25
dec 2 19
Bus Jiuzhaigou_Chengdu 6:40 am (10.5hrs) 110Y. Arrives Xinnamen bus station. Taxis cheap 5Y flagfall then 1.4Y/km. Or fly if you can afford it - a relatively expensive short hop to Chengdu from an airport nearer to Songpan than Jiuzhaigou.
I think flights now available from Xian, Beijing, and Chongqing?
May 23, 2007 7:18 PM
83Do I need an onward ticket for China?
As others have said, there’s no problem at Chinese immigration. Other TTers have reported no problem with Chinese embassies and consulates in obtaining a visa in the first place without an onward ticket, if you come from a low risk country i.e. most of the developed world.
It's the jobsworths at the travel agencies and the airline staff at the check-in counters who are your main concern! Research this FAQ where this happened to a fellow TTer. I have frequently been asked for an onward ticket from my next destination at the airline check-in counter when I'm leaving Australia, where they're sticklers for the rules.
Chances are everything will run smooth as silk at check-in and immigration, but ...
My peace of mind tip:
Investigate the cheapest o/w flights with budget airlines such as Air Asia (ex Macau and Xiamen. eg Macau to Bangkok for as little as US$30) and Tiger Airways (ex Macau, Shenzen, Haikou, Guangzhou) to neighbouring countries that don't require a visa or one obtainable on entry (preferably one that you may actually want to visit anyway) "before" you get to the airport.
Arrive in good time with your credit card handy, so that IF you're unlucky enough to meet difficult check-in staff, you can always book an onward ticket yourself on the spot. Get a refund credit later on the onward ticket for a very small penalty fee or, if you actually want to use the ticket but on a different date, change the budget carrier date for a penalty fee of US$25). Check the ticket refund/change of date policy first! It may vary between budget airlines. I've only done this on Air Asia.
As I said, 99% of the time you'll have no trouble at check-in. But for peace of mind, have this ace up your sleeve.
May 27, 2007 3:00 AM
Jun 3, 2007 7:20 AM
85Tea Ceremony and other scams
There will be a lot of tourists hitting Beijing for the 2008 Olympics - more lambs to the slaughter for the scam artists who operate around Tiananmen Square in Beijing and also around the museum and shopping areas in Shanghai.
There are 3 main scams:
1. Very convincing innocent looking "tourism" students fall into conversation with you with a polite “Do you mind if I practise my English?” They win your confidence, then after a while invite you to a Chinese tea ceremony. You sample various teas before being hit with an astronomical bill of anything from $100 to $300, for something that would normally cost $1-5.
2. Similar setup. This time poor struggling art students invite you to view their work, then pester you into buying something. They are usually not even artists themselves, but salespeople working on a commission.
3. This time it’s “Do you mind if I practise my English” while you sit over a meal in a restaurant or bar with no prices marked on the menu. The sting is the same – one enormous bill, which you as the honoured gullible host are expected to pay.
Lesson: Show as much caution when strangers approach you as you would in your own country, and never eat or drink in a place where you have no idea what it’s going to cost you.
Feel free to pass on this article to any local or national newspapers in your home country, and guide book writers. It will be worth it, if we can save just one victim from being conned. I was approached myself but declined, having read about the scam. But I have met several other travellers who unfortunately fell for it. So it must be quite a lucrative business if it’s so common.
As P.T. Barnum is credited with saying," There’s a sucker born every minute”. Don’t be one of them.
Jun 16, 2007 8:40 PM
86Long distance train travel
We are looking to break a 2300km train trip Chengdu-Jinan with a couple of stopovers. Possibly Ankang/Shiyan and then Zhengzhou/Kaifeng. We've been told, though, it may be difficult to reclaim our hard sleepers when we rejoin the train. Is the best option for the conductor to tell us when a sleeper becomes available?
Are there any other tried-and-proven methods for regaining a sleeper?
Jun 17, 2007 12:31 AM
Jun 17, 2007 12:36 AM
Jun 22, 2007 6:14 PM
89Boat between Thailand and China
There is a boat (May 2007) run by Golden Peacock Company between Chiang Saen in Thailand to Jinhong in China every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It costs 4.000 bahts (800 Yuan - 115 USD) plus 100 for Thai immigration. The boat is a fast one and is comfortable like an airplane. Breakfast and lunch included. It leaves Chiang Saen 5.30 AM Arrives in Jinhong at sunset around 7.30 PM. Tickets can be bought in Gin's g.h. in Chiang Saen. If you like to sit on the open deck get earplugs.
To do this boat trip you need only China visa. No Laos or Myanmar visas necessary.
(0 star Hotel)
From US$10.15 per night
(5 star Hotel)
From US$212.02 per night
(4 star Hotel)
From US$174.93 per night