The road to Luoyang... and then the road out of it
18.04.2009 - 19.04.2009 14 °C
All the traveling of the previous three days was starting to catch up with us but it wasn't over yet, we had one more day of sight seeing before we had to make it back to Zhengzhou. The final stop on our itinerary was Luoyang, home of the White Horse Temple, the Longmen Caves and a number of ancient tombs.
We dragged ourselves out of bed early on Saturday morning, packed our bags and checked out of the hotel. We had to leave because Darragh had started breaking things.
With little problem we flagged down a taxi and headed for the bus station. We acquired tickets for Luoyang with the greatest of ease, hopped on a bus and away we went .
Once again the morning was very misty, a worrying factor as we careened down narrow cliff edge roads.
We passed through a number of villages on the two hour journey, the only one of note; a coal mining town where the road and all buildings within twenty feet of it were stained black with coal dust. Beautiful country, China.
Shortly before we arrived in Luoyang we started to pass a LOT of parked buses at the sides of the road. The White Horse Temple was a little further up the road. The first Buddhist temple on Chinese soil was jammed to the rafters today with Chinese tourists. We began to cautiously re-assess the idea of visiting a major tourist site on a weekend.
At first glance Luoyang appears to be a rather boring industrial city with little character. Despite being the Eastern capital for the Tang dynasty and once home to over 1300 Buddhist temples Luoyang was sacked in the 12th century and, according to the Lonely Planet guide, it never really recovered. The only really special thing about Luoyang today is the annual Peony festival which we had arrived in the middle of.
We jumped off the bus, pushed our way through the crowds of helpful taxi drivers waiting for us and made for the ticket office. Using my basic Chinese skills I attempted to communicate to the ticket lady (and the incredibly persistent taxi driver who was following us) that we wished to buy a bus ticket to Zhengzhou at 1700 today.
They pointed to a bus that was about to leave, "that bus goes to Zhengzhou." Ah, hehe, thank you but we wish to travel this evening.
"That bus, Zhengzhou."
Right, right, yes, but TODAY, we look round LUOYANG, TONIGHT we go to ZHENGZHOU.
Ok, perhaps they don`t understand my appalling pronunciation, my bad, let`s fall back on the basics. I copied out a sentence from my phrase book and pushed it through the hole in the glass. No joy. I wrote out our itinerary, times and places, little drawings of buses and times, I drew pictures of tickets and pointed at them, I showed them actual bus tickets and wrote on them details of the actual ticket I wanted to buy... nothing.
Looks like it wasn`t me, these people were just stupid. Forget it then, we'd come back when we wanted to leave. They clearly weren't switched on to the idea of forward planning.
Having wasted our first half hour in Luoyang we left the bus station and, lacking any idea which way to go other than South, turned right and started walking. It didn't take long before we were wondering why we had bothered coming to Luoyang.
After twenty minutes hard walking we finally managed to find a main road, and after another twenty minutes managed to find a restaurant where the food looked like it might not kill us. We went in and attempted to order some food, showed them Hilary's little "I'm a veggie'" sign and hoped for the best.
As it turned out the food here was actually really good. They did a wonderful sweet and sour chicken coated in what I can only describe as chip-shop batter and the egg fried rice was great.
Having once again stuffed ourselves silly we decided walking any further was out of the question so we hailed a cab. Seeing how busy the White Horse Temple had been and assuming that the Longmen caves would be too busy to make the most of the 80 yuan entry fee, we asked the taxi driver to take us to the cheaper Guanlin Temple.
"Eh?" She said.
Brilliant, we got another one. We opened the guide book and showed her the Chinese characters for our intended destination. She looked confused. Great. Ok, give up, let's go to Wancheng park, I've got the town map open in the guide book, it should be five minutes up the road.
Once again we show her the Chinese characters for the destination, point to the park on the map, wave our hands, pull faces... what more can you do? Eventually she pulls down a laminated sheet of destinations tourists usually go, with English to Chinese translations on it. Neither of the places we had chosen were on the list which is obviously where the confusion had arisen. We were the crazy sort of tourists that didn't follow the pattern, thought for ourselves...
We looked down the list, saw Peony Park, thought what the hell, there's only one park on the map, that must be the one, so off we went.
I followed our progress on the map and initially all looked well but as we reached the point I thought she should be dropping us off she instead turned right and started heading for the airport. By this time I was fed up with trying to communicate and thought I'd just sit back and see where we ended up.
Turns out Peony Park is not on the map because it is a bit North of the city, and unlike other parks where you just wander in, this one charges 40 yuan entrance. Well we'd just paid 25 yuan for a taxi to get here might as well go take a look at the famous Peonies.
To say the park was a disappointment would be an understatement. It was basically a large flower plantation. The Chinese tourists were clearly having a good time, wading into the flowers and taking hundreds of photos of each other, in various family group combinations, but we were hoping for something a little more... I don't know, parky?
Any thoughts on Luoyang Mr Squirrel?
There wasn't enough time left to do anything worthwhile so we decided to write off Luoyang and head back to Zhengzhou early. We walked down to the front of the park and hailed a cab. Take us to the bus station we said in Mandarin.
Good God, get me out of this stinking town!!! Bus station, Bus Station! BUS STATION!!!
There we go, he started moving. The taxi driver pulled out of Peony park and started down the road, however, instead of going back the way we'd come he turned West, which raised some eyebrows, then turned down a driveway towards some buildings with a big sign marked; Ancient Tombs.
Stop the bloody cab, get the bloody guide book out for like the 100th time, point to the bloody bus station. OK? Yeah? Are we sure? Let's go then.
We were glad to finally reach the bus station and jumped on the first bus out of town. I was stunned that somewhere with the largest tourist draws in China could be so ill equipped to deal with tourists. We decided that most tours are probably run out of Zhengzhou and do day trips everywhere because they know that Luoyang is just a hole in the earth where the idiots are kept.
The drive to Zhengzhou was peaceful. The scenery was quite attractive and there were some interesting caves carved into the cliffs along the way. We were all filled with a great sense of relief.
We arrived in Zhengzhou with about 3 hours to kill before the bus home. We popped into McDonald's for junk food and to use the facilities. The lunch in Luoyang didn't kill anyone but it was starting to make life a little uncomfortable for some members of our party. A parting gift :P
We spent the rest of the time looking round the large shopping centre near the bus station and playing cards on the steps outside.
Unfortunately it started to rain so we had to make a dash to the bus station earlier than we had intended and hung around there for a while.
Our bus was on time and we managed to get decent seats and spread ourselves out at the back. The seats reclined until they were near horizontal so it looked like it wouldn't be too uncomfortable a trip... until we made an unscheduled stop and the bus filled to capacity. The bus was so full no one could recline their seat, the seals on the windows were defective and rain water was bubbling in, there was a small child at the front that wouldn't stop crying and people would not stop staring. What the hell is wrong with China!?
We got what sleep we could through the night, although for Hilary that wasn't much as she was soaked with cold water pouring in the window. Come morning we found that the bus had emptied significantly during the night as people got off at various towns along the way so we spread out again.
Finally, after 14 hours on the stupid bus we arrived on the outskirts of Yantai.. and as the last passengers we were promptly kicked off the bus. I know Yantai bus station and this wasn't it. Thankfully we found a really nice couple who spoke English and they helped us travel the last ten miles by public transport to the centre of Yantai and the real bus station.
And I guess that's the end of our little Chinese odyssey. Organizing it had not been easy and not all of the trip had been fun but we got to see the Shaolin Temple which is an experience that will stay with me forever plus we got to see a bit more of the country we had all traveled so far to visit. I don't think I'll be doing much more traveling in China before I leave in August but on the whole I think we can declare the trip a success (despite Luoyang).
I hope you've enjoyed reading about our little adventure, I'm probably not going to have much to report for a little while as I'm going to be concentrating on my training. There's an international Martial Arts tournament in Yantai at the beginning of August that I might participate in if my form's good enough. As always, I'll let you know how it goes.
Hope you're all well and having fun
All the best,