Phil and Julia on the speed boat on the way to Binglingxi
We met at where Phil and Julia were staying across the Lanzhou
airport early in the morning and took a taxi to the west side bus station which was rather far away. Taxi around town was pretty inexpensive. 5 RMB for most places, and maybe 10-15 across town. At the bus station, we were approached by a man who turned out to be the bus driver, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him, no badges, no name tags, and of course no uniforms. Apparently seeing foreigners means $$ to him, he asked where we wanted to go and said the bus fare would be 50 RMB each. Since Phil and Julia were just on the bus the other day, going further and paid about twenty something, I said that's way more than it should be.
at the dock in Binglingxi
He lowered the price, then lowered again to 30, and said it included "insurance", and I said OK, which was a mistake. He hurried into the station to buy our tickets, and told us to get on the bus. We got on the bus, and when he showed up with the tickets which said 13 RMB each, I refused to pay 30. Some arguing didn't get anywhere, but we stayed on the bus, and some time later the bus left. I sat next to an old man who lived at the town we were going, and he said the ticket should be 13. The bus driver kept saying there is some insurance but there was no proof of any insurance being purchased or required. There was a woman who was the conductor, who at various stops (which didn't look marked at all, but looked just like random stops on the street) called out to the people on the street where the bus was going and got more passengers on board.
toward the entrance of Binglingxi
After a while, we were starting to leave town, and she demanded money from me. I still refused to pay 30 per person, and the driver stopped the bus and told us to get off, saying we should take the next bus. By this time almost all the passengers knew what was going on, and a few of them sitting near the driver talked to him and then told me he agreed to 70 total. So in the interest of getting to our destination without further trouble, we paid. This was a total scam, and I did not do very well on my first excursion on public transportation with Phil and Julia, since they did better by themselves a couple of days before!
I think lesson learned was that one should just go into the bus station to buy the ticket at the counter, and don't argue with the driver about prices.
at the entrance to Bilingxi, after we got off the speedboat
We were on our way to 柄靈寺 Binglingsi thousand buddha caves, which required taking the bus from Lanzhou to 劉家峽 Liujiaxia Reservoir, then take a boat. When we got to Liujiaxia, we walked toward the reservoir and inquired about boat rides. They have slow barges and speed boats, since the slow barge is really slow, and the speed boat would take almost 1 hour already, we grouped with some other people, a group of 4 Lanzhou people, and a couple from Beijing. Each paying 95 RMB for the boat ride. That appears to be the standard boat fare.
So we got on the boat, and sped over the reservoir toward the Binglingxi. It was a very large reservoir on the Yellow River. As we got closer, the water turned muddy from runoffs and the landscapes around became more interesting, with tall and nice looking peaks, not exactly like Guilin, but definitely a little reminder of it.
the rock formation resembling 5 monks
Then we could see a large buddha carved out of the hills in the distance. We disembarked and the boat lady told us to be back in 1 hour. That was hardly enough time, we were not all too pleased. The scenery here was certainly quite beautiful, with the reservoir, and mountain peaks around. One closest formation was a group of 5 monks (the vendor made it sound like there were 5 monkeys, until we saw a sign which said what it was). We needed to buy an entrance ticket to get in, and it was 50 RMB per person. Which got us into the canyon where the caves were. We were taking photos outside the caves, when a guard came over and said no photos! What? no photos outside? that's ridiculous. I asked why, and he said to protect the artwork. Some people just have no common sense or brains.
overview of Binglingxi, the big buddha can be seen in the distance left of center
How would taking a photo outside the cave harm the carvings in any way? How about the big buddha? It's OK to take photos of that one! So Phil mostly ignored him and we walked by the caves but were not too impressed. The big buddha was certainly large, and was certainly the best thing to see there. There were very little signs or descriptions of the other caves, and most were not very visible. Those up higher than ground level were blocked by disconnected stairs. Across the river, a couple of jeeps were waiting, and some guy said he would take us to the "upper Tibetan temple" for a small amount of money, and it would take 5-10 minutes drive. We really didn't have much time so even if it was a good thing to see we didn't go. He claimed that photography was allowed there and the lama would explain things to us.
a cave high up in Binglingxi
But we had to pass.
Back on the boat in about 1.5 hours and we crossed the reservoir. Then we were not able to get on the bus because no seats were available. Luckily a taxi was looking for passengers and he only wanted 130 RMB (total) to take us back to Lanzhou, so we took his offer.
Back in Lanzhou in about another hour and half and we went to some food street recommended by the people on the boat who were local. We tried a restaurant where some special black beans were advertised but I don't think any of us liked it very much. We walked onto a pedestrian mall and found a stall which sold beer, we sat there in the shade and had some beer with bbq'ed lamb for more than 1 hour. Then we went back to find another restaurant for dinner. This time we ordered another special of Lanzhou called "lamb by hand" and it was very good!
We went back to the hotel to pick up our checked luggage and headed to the train station for our night sleeper train.
more caves at Binglingxi
Well, the trains and train stations in Japan are definitely a LOT better than the ones in China. The station here looked old and there was a very drunken guy being helped onto the train. The march to the trains was also not that pleasant. They did a silly thing here at trains and bus stations of x-raying the luggage, completely pointless as far as I can tell, but just a mindless step to go through. The train cars were not marked on the station platforms, and you had to look at the trains to find the proper car. We had a upper, middle and lower bunk of hard sleepers (soft sleepers were all sold out). At least the trains pretty much left on time. When you get on the trains here you exchange your ticket for a token. Before you were supposed to get off, the conductor comes by to exchange the ticket back, and also to wake you if you are sleeping.
one of the caves in Binglingxi
I suppose that's a way to ensure people are notified of when they should get off. A train official came by later to ask who were staying in the middle and upper bunks, when I told him they were foreigners, he asked for their names in Chinese!? I wrote some translation down for him, but what's the point? He was happy with that info and left.
This was my first experience on a train in China. I settled down to sleep as best as I could, and actually was not too uncomfortable either with the surrounding which was open with no privacy and the bedding, which was not great but passable, and slept my way to our next stop Jiayuguan.