We are a group of 6 friends who decided to spend 10 days exploring China during National Holidays. To do so, we have made more than 3000 kilometres, taking trains and buses amounting to more than 75 hours of travel time. We visited 5 cities and many great sites and buildings, but also a natural park and the famous pandas breeding base.
Traveling by Train in China
All of our travels by train took place throughout the night in order to waste less time so we could enjoy and visit a maximum during the day, and also so we could save a night in a hostel or hotel. The transportation budget represents the most expensive aspect of trip, even if the means of transport in China are really cheap compared to France. So we tried to save on costs here and there. Train tickets can be purchased online or on site. We made the choice to take our tickets directly at the station. Before you go to the ticket office, you must first look at the schedule and availability of trains online and write the main information (destination, number of the train, number of seats) in Chinese as employees usually don’t speak English. There you have the choice between standing, a hard seat (a sort of second class), a soft seat (more comfortable, equivalent to the first class), a hard sleep (2nd class sleeper) and a soft sleep (1st class sleeper). In order to get the tickets, a passport is required for foreigners.
We started with the city of Datong and the Yungang Grottoes, a set of 252 caves in which you can see more than 51000 statues showing the Chinese rupestrian art. These statues are registered in the UNESCO World Heritage.
Near this site we also visited the Hengshan Hanging Temple, a monastery that seems suspended. This temple was built on a cliff just standing on thin wood pillars. To access the temple, you have to take tiny bridges and stairs that are only protected by a small guardrail. The Routard Guide writes about this place, “We do not know how it is held, but it works”. This makes us feel confident, especially the one of us who is afraid of heights.
The next day, we took the direction of Pingyao. We had a few hours to visit this ancient city, its ramparts, a Buddhist temple and the oldest bank in China. Indeed, this city was once the financial center of the country. We took the train that evening to spend the next day in Xi’An, the place of the well-known terracotta army. However, some of us did not found the site or the army as impressive as the pictures and images broadcasted on European televevision and in books.
But it was a great opportunity to visit this place as the Chinese Government plans to close it in a few months because visits are affecting the site’s materials. The Terracotta Army was carved to protect the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China, against barbaric attacks. Legions of soldiers, chariots and horses are still buried today and the tomb of the Emperor is still not opened. The city of Xi’An itself has been seen as very animated, especially its Muslim quarter and the great Mosque, one of the most ancient of China.
Then, after a quick stop in Guangyuan, we took a bus to Jiuzhaigou. This national park is one of the finest in the country and probably in the world. We walked 23 km through very different landscapes and we really enjoyed this day despite of rain and fog. The park is full of mountains, waterfalls, ponds and a lake of thousand colors. A magnificent show for nature lovers and fans of hiking.
Finally, our last step was Chengdu where we visited the famous Giant Panda Breeding Base. We saw giant pandas and red pandas in their natural environment – much better than viewing in the zoo. From Chengdu, we also went to Leshan to see the giant Buddha, a 71 meter high statue leaning against a rock wall.
Back to Beijing
After a 25 hour train on Thursday night, we arrived in the capital at 21:30. Phew! Unlike all other journeys by train, we all chose a hard sleep for the final expedition. Otherwise, it was the hard seat, and to sleep there is very uncomfortable and noisy. So for our last journey, this option seemed the most reasonable, and we were right!
Financially, we planned a €400 budget and that was just about the amount we had to pay for this trip. Transportation cost us nearly €150, but when we put into perspective, we have travelled more than 3000km! The cost of the accommodation was about 65€. The visits also cost us a lot, although we benefited from a 50%cstudent discount in almost all places we visited.
In a nutshell, these holidays were a very enrichintg travel experience as we visited cities, temples, World Heritage sites, and discovered many typical neighbourhoods. This gave us the opportunity to visit China and discover absolutely unexpected places. An unforgettable trip!
(By Louise Louboutin, Chloé Dumoulin and Frédéric Hussler)