China

July 1993


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The highlights of this trip were the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Buddhist caves of Luoyang/Longmen and Datong/Yungang, and the imperial tomb of Xian.
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Itinerary

  1. Shangai
  2. Hangzou (189 kms, 40Y)
  3. Suzhou (86 kms, 56Y)
  4. Yangzhou - Qufu (overnight train, 13 hrs, 57Y)
  5. Qufu: Confucius city
  6. Taian : +Tai Shan (holy mountain, 7000 steps)
  7. Luoyang (overnight train, 12 hrs, bus 81 to caves, 14 kms): +Longmen Caves (500-750 AD): ++Central Pingyang Cave (Wei style), ++Fengxian Temple Cave (Tang style) ,
  8. To Xian (10 hours, 60Y)
  9. Xian: +Banpo, +Terracotta soldiers of Qin's tomb
  10. Xian: +Jingi
  11. (Maoling, 45 kms from Xian, mausoleum of emperor Wudi, 206 AD)
  12. (+Qian-ling, 80 kms northwest of Xian, mausoleum of Tang emperor Gao Zong, his consort and his children)
  13. (+Zhaoling, 83 kms from Xian, mausoleum of Tang emperor Taizong/Li Shimin, 741 AD)
  14. Taiyuan
  15. Datong/Yungang: +++Caves
  16. Hunyan, Yingxian (bus, 55Y): ++Hanging monastery, +Pagoda
  17. Beijing: +++Forbidden City
  18. Beijing: +Temple of Heaven
  19. See more on Beijing
  20. ++Great Wall

Notes (2006)

Trip difficulty: easy
Length: 24 days
Season: Year-round
  • Pictures of China
  • Attractions of China
  • Vegetarian food in China
  • The tourist visa for China is impossibly expensive for USA citizens (as of 2008)
  • China is rapidly developing, with skyscrapers sprouting up in every city, but prices remain cheap by western standards
  • China is rapidly descending into chaos: crime is rampant, police is not on your side, pollution is terrible, traffic is chaotic (and brace yourself for the dirtiest public restrooms in the world). Besides pickpockets (especially in tourist places), and all sorts of scams (especially in tourist places), be aware that there are a lot of counterfeit banknotes.
  • Beijing and Xian have pickpockets
  • The Chinese passion for eating all sort of meat probably accounts for the numerous diseases that originate here, from SARS to avian flue
  • Good manners are still a rarity, in sharp contrast with neighboring countries (probably a side effect of 40 years of communism). You will see people rushing to get a seat on a bus, regardless of their age, and teenagers sitting comfortably while elderly people or pregnant women are standing up in front of them. Arguments abounds. Luckily, violence is still very rare.
  • Keep buying toilet paper. It is by far the most difficult item to get in hotels and public restrooms (even at the international airport)
  • Assume that noone will speak English. And noone will understand your Chinese.
  • Avoid pinyin. Basically, it is a terrible system of translitteration that Mao's China devised to confuse foreigners. The most notorious mistake is that it spells "d" as "t". So nobody in China will understand you when you ask for "tofu" (it is actually pronounced "dofu") or when you talk about "Taoism" (it is actually pronounced "Dao").
  • The official tourist information center, CITS, provides no information whatsoever. In fact, it is likely to hide information from you, or give you misleading information. Ditto for foreign windows at train stations. Bus stations have no English-speaking information office at all. Basically, there is no tourist information as such, except in looser places such as Kashgar (where hotels run their own information center).
  • The Chinese are going through three stages of behavior towards foreigners. In the most remote parts of the country, they are still shocked to see a foreigner and will merely stare at you. In most of the country, they are amused that you reply with "hello" when they say "hello", and laugh loudly among themselves (it is a bad idea to overreact to this, no matter how annoying it can get when literally hundreds of children say "hello" to you and then laugh at your "hello"). In big cities where they are now accustomed to foreigners, they also smile at you. And a modern, polite, cultured, English-speaking middle class is emerging, particularly among the younger generations.
  • There are countless cheap guesthouses ("binguan") just south of Qian Men (luckily, the obnoxious Lonely Planet crowd tends to use some very distant hotels in the south of Beijing). As you come out of the subway underpass, you are likely to be met by people offering rooms (but watch your luggage while you bargain: that is always the area favored by pickpockets). You may get better prices if you walk directly to the binguam as opposed to negotiating a price with their representatives in the street, who are likely to start the bargaining at twice the official price. Just walk down the Qian Men street and turn right into the Dazhalan pedestrian area. Most binguams have the name only in Chinese, but which buildings are binguams should be obvious from the reception. Expect to pay $12 for a room with bathroom and tv (much more during peak season, of course).
  • Taxis in Beijing cost 10y minimum, and then the rate goes up very slowly. It is difficult to get to 30y. So any taxi driver who does not want to use the taximeter and asks you for more than 20y is probably cheating you big time. (All city buses are 1y).
  • There is a huge and expensive vegetarian buffet restaurant across from the Confucian temple.
  • Exchanging yuan back to dollars is still (2005) a problem. Save all receipts from the Bank of China. You can exchange money at hotels and other banks (usually at better rates), but only money exchanged at a branch of the Bank of China can be exchanged back to dollars. Banks at the airport are usually closed when you depart, so try to get to the airport with as few yuans as possible. During your stay in China, change as little as you need to survive.
  • The art stolen at the Buddhist caves is mainly at the Louvre in Paris and at the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
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