Gateway to the Sacred Mountain of Tai'shan
Tai'an Travel Blog› entry 4 of 5 › view all entries
We got into Tai'an and took a taxi to a hostel recommended by the guidebook, but immediately got the WNF-YJF policy. We decided to check out a travel agent mentioned in the guidebook nearby to see if they could find us lodging, but that too was no longer there. Frustrated, I checked the copyright of my guidebook... 2002. Well no wonder! Looming nearby was a 3-star hotel. Our opinion of China dangerously low, we shrugged and gave it a try. It turned out to be just what we needed. The room was great and really not as expensive as we expected. The only drawback was putting up with a tourbus load of people from America's heartland (the kind of tourist you hope not to meet) who were milling around the hotel, too intimidated to go out and explore after 5pm.
On a tip from the girl at the checkout counter, we found a travel agency down the street that spoke English. Our plan was to hike the mountain the following day and then get right onto an all night sleeper train to Shanghai. But the people wouldn't give us a definite answer on whether or not they could get us train tickets, "but if you would care to leave enough money with us, we will try to get tickets for you tomorrow morning." This place turned out to be the shittiest travel agency I have ever had to deal with.. But like I said, they spoke English so we were kinda stuck trusting them. We left rather depressed, but our mood picked up after we ate some amazing dumplings at a cute little restaurant (about the only thing my guidebook's been good for) and took a stroll about the town.
The next morning we climbed Tai'shan, but the whole way turned out to be completely paved by stairs. By the time we got to Midgate, the idea of walking up an additional 1000 meters of stairs was enough to make even the seasoned hiker quail, so we took a cable car to the top. The whole way up had been foggy, but right as we reached the very top, we broke through the clouds into blue sky. And lo! at the very top there was practically a small city thriving! Mixed in with countless temples were restaurants, curios, hotels and hundreds of Chinese milling around enjoying it. The idea that the whole thing was an offense to nature crossed my mind, but the merry vibe was so contageous that it was easy to swallow my environmental zeal for a while and join the fun. Near the very top was a hostel with about a million satellite dishes on its roof that sold beer, so we sat down and drank a few and made friends with the chinese kids running the joint before finally heading back down.
We took a bus down the mountain. It dropped us off at a different location than where we started. We started walking and eventually were hopelessly lost. After an hour, we got directions and made our way back to the travel agents, a little worried cuz it was already pretty late. When we got there, they still weren't sure if they could get us a ticket out of Tai'an that night or not, but assured us that their manager was at the train station right then, "so if you'd care to wait, we'll know shortly." I was convinced that we were doomed, but we waited. While we were waiting, we noticed they had a 50 gallon fish tank (that's really big) with only about five inches of disgusting green water in it. It was the unfortunate home of two large goldfish that barely had enough space to swim. The phone rang, and sweet relief, the tickets had come through. They even managed to get us a sleeper car. We mentioned that the fish were in dire need of more water, but the girl just laughed and said it was fine. We laughed too, and said - no really, they need more water - and got the hell out of dodge.
Didn't sleep too well on the train. I think I took about a hundred 5-minute naps throughout the night. But I was strangely comforted by the idea that we were coming to the legendary city of Shanghai.