China Travel

October 15th mostly involved travel to Ping Yao. October 16th was all Ping Yao. Ping Yao is in Shanxi province, west of Beijing, and part of the Chinese rust belt which produces the huge dust and pollution clouds that float all the way over the Pacific to our neck of the woods. Ping Yao is a UNESCO heritage site, meaning that (like Lijiang) it's required to maintain a certain degree of authenticity. A newer city has been built around it, but the area within the ancient city walls remains mostly the same in appearance as a hundred years ago, except that the functionality of structures has changed (e.g., what once was a Ming era family home might now be a hostel). Ping Yao is the site of the first bank in China, and was the financial capitol of China in the 19th and 20th centuries until Shanghai replaced it.

Today Wei offered to take us to the next destination, the Simatai section of the Great Wall. It took a two hour bus and another hour in a cramped taxi (normal) to arrive there (taxi ride roughly 65km, cost of taxi 100 yuan or about $14). The Simatai section of the Wall is much less visited than the more famous Badaling and Mutianyu sections, which are swarmed by tourists and vendors. One reason may be because it's more exercise than the average tourist is interested in. There's a steep climb if you want to start at the top and walk down, otherwise plan on climbing a few thousand irregular steps that are almost as steep as the mountainside. Looks like they picked the hardest place for an army to cross, and to build a wall, and slapped one down anyway.

On the other hand, the views are much better at Simatai and it's in a more original condition. Some sections you have to skirt around as they're not safe enough to use.

Finally off the airplane, and just in time to hang out on Beijing's airport "expressway"... and hang out on it we did, as in jumping out of the taxi and standing around watching all the cabbies catch a smoke. Of course, this'll all be straightened out by the Olympics. ;) Regarding the taxis, in anticipation of the chaos of the Olympics, Beijing has standardized the taxi rates going into the city. No longer do you have to engage in Chinese bargaining, or be ripped off, to travel into the city. Finding our Hostel, the Sleepy Inn, was an adventure as our cab driver bopped all over the Hutongs trying to find it and asking random Chinese residents where it was. By the way, the Chinese will always give you an answer if you ask directions. Never will they say, "I have no idea".

This trip started out as my third solo trip to China (fourth trip total). By six weeks out, I still hadn't decided where I was going, but chances were good it would be either Tibet (far west) or Xinjiang (far northwest). However, right before 'pull the trigger' time, Gopsdragon decided he wanted to tag along. Later, my brother Cody also decided to go. Gopsdragon needed the 'budget trip' to China though, trying to pin me down to $2000, which pretty much eliminated either of my 'far end of China' scenarios. Further, if you're a China virgin you have to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, otherwise why bother. But that was the extent of my compromising to cover old ground, anything else had to be new to all of us.

On the 15th, I was off to spend five days in Chengdu, via "Lucky Airlines" (story and tips within). Lots to do in and around Chengdu: Wenshu Monastery, an Irish Pub, the Giant Panda Research Base, Wuhou Temple, Qingyanggong Tao Temple, Du Fu's Thatched Cottage, Songxiau Antique District, the Sichuan Opera, Chunxi road, and Leshan (the big Buddha).