Hohhot to Xían - the long way round

Xi'an Travel Blog

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Arrived in Hohhot and was more than a little shell shocked at the place. I'd been expecting something a bit like Ulanbatur (a dusty developing city) and instead got something more like Vegas without the gambling! Couldn't believe how cheap it was - had dinner and beer for about a quid - awesome. Had first Mongolian hot pot - basically get a table with a gas burner in the middle and a bowl of stock on top, chuck in food as you want it, noodles/meat/veg - never had to work so hard for dinner and it was a bit like doing it in a sauna! Decided it was good for the experience but wouldn't be having one again. The following day I went with Laura and Claire for dinner and we just wanted normal plates of food. Tried for ages to order something very unsuccessfully and finally relented and had the hotpot that the waitress kept pointing at. Eventually realised we were in somewhere that only served hot pot and that trying to tell them we didn't want one was like going into a chippie in England and saying you didn't want anything fryed - doh!! Much nicer place though and really enjoyed it second time round - think the fact that I couldn't feel my legs burning on the flames probably helped!!

Train from Hohhot to Beijing was the nicest one I'd been on, both the carriage and the company. I was in with three Chinese guys, 2 middle aged and one old guy. They fed me beer and peanuts, so it was going to be a winner from the start. Through very broken English and lots of pointing at the phrase book had a good laugh. They seemed a little over fascinated by my height and the length of my legs!!

Arriving in Beijing that was it, on my own, no more nice hotels and fancy travel (or so I thought)

I stayed in the Hutong, which is old style Beijing, little winding alleys, no buildings more than 2 stories high, old men sat in the streets playing majong(however you spell it) and the only thing likely to run you over being a bike. Came as a bit of a shock when I went to the east side to the theater, the size and amount of high rise buildings there made canary wharf look like an imitation theme park!

Have come to the conclusion that the problem with seeing lots of places in a short time is that you then compare them and find things that are, according to the books at least, meant to be quite overwhelming really quite the opposite. Compared to Red Square, Tian'anmen square was quite a let down. Not sure if it was the roads that run all the way around it or the amount of things in it that take away from its size and make it actually feel quite small.

Did aday trip to the great wall that was a 10K hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. Was pretty amazing, but my god was it hard work! Wasn't expecting a walk in the park but some parts of it took proper scrambling - its the most exercise I'd since leaving home, was knackered by the end of it!

Following day I got the train to Qinhuangdao, on the coast near to where the wall goes into the sea. Sat "chatting" (pointing to the book!) to the guy opposite me, turned out he lived in the town. Tried asking if he knew where the hotel I was staying at was. I couldn't decide in the end if he thought I was a Russian prostitute (apparently its a common assumption of white women traveling on their own in that part of china), as he seemed to be saying he would come with me to the hotel. Decided that I wasn't going to risk the misunderstanding and practically ran off the train when it stopped!! He did however catch up with me, and it turns out he was just being nice and walked me down the road to where I need to be.

Thought I'd struck lucky when I got to the hotel, it was proper grand when you walked in. Not so when I got to the room....I was greeted by a cockroach running across the floor and then one popped out from under the bed to say hi! Figured for the sake of the two night I would be there I could live with it. Just a bit annoying when it was more than double what I'd been paying in youth hostels and turned out to be an absolute hole!

Spent the following day at the beach, wandering around the great wall, was nice to be out of the city.

My plan for the following day was to get the train to Tai'an. A slight misunderstanding meant the ticket the hotel bought for me only went to Tianjin (about 1/3 of the way there). No problem I though, I'll just get a ticket for the remainder of the way when I get there. Little did I realise that its holiday time and so the trains are very busy. The first train left 12 hours later at 1.30am and I could only get an unreserved ticket - little did I know at the time just how bad that would be! I've never seen a train so full, when it came to closing the doors the train guards shoved with all their might to get the people in, ladies with babies, old people that looked like they could hardly stand up - the lot. 5 hours travel, arriving at 6.30am, standing up the whole time, shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe with the people around you. The first three hours were possibly the longest of my life!! The air was thick with smoke, I was next to a slightly crazy drunk man, who preceded to puke - how it didn't hit me or any of my stuff I'll never know! I think 6months ago I might have taken it in my stride alittle bit more - after all it was just like a busy night at Pavs!! (although to be fair around that time of night I would have found something very important that needed my attention in the office!!) but kinda got used to being away from all that, so promised myself that experience or not, I am not slumming it again - give me tourist rate travel and hang the expense!! Fortunately crazy man got off 3 hours into the journey, I wasn't sure if it was just me that had been feeling really uncomfortable but you could feel the whole atmosphere change when he left and everyone seemed to relax. Finally arrived in Tai'an and collapsed into bed!

Following day I climbed Tai'shan, 8km and 1545m up a stair case, sure it was from sea level - it seemed a very long way up! Met some lovely girls, all in their early 20s, students, wanting to practice their English I think - not that I was too good at the conversation - breathing was hard enough!! Sure china is the closest I'll ever get to feeling famous, pretty much every 5mins someone stoped me wanting to take my picture, very happy to oblige as it gave me time for a breather!! (If at any point I disappear on my travels just put a picture out of me and I'm sure you could track my progress around the country from all the pictures there are of me floating around!!)

Decided to go from one extreme to the other to travel to Xi'an. Think I'd been that traumatized by my last slumming it train I decided to fly, twice the distance and ten times the cost but worth every penny!!

Now in Xi'an, think I'll stay here for at least a week, not done more than 4 night anywhere since leaving home and didn't realize how much it can take out of you.

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photo by: Deats