After the first couple of days in Zhang Jia Jie and Feng Huang Cheng, we were already filled with excitement and we were expecting more and more on the forthcoming destinations. Zhang Jia Jie was very pretty and those amazing rock formations would just make your jaws dropped. Then Feng Huang Cheng was like getting into a time machine and went back a thousand years! So what’s next?? Well, despite many suggestions, I convinced myself and others to take a sleeper train to Luoyang, one of the ancient capital cities of China. Yes Beijing isn’t the only capital in China. Over time and different dynasties, China’s capital changed.
So back to the sleeper train. I wanted to experience something that I remembered fondly with my family when I was still a small kid. China wasn’t as advanced as today and it was still ‘closed’. So there were no high speed rail, domestic flights were not direct and expensive. So we took a 3-day train journey to Beijing! Yes!!! That was in the 1980’s. But as air travel becomes more affordable, many have forgotten about these domestic sleeper trains. Don’t get me wrong, millions still use them in China but they were strictly for locals. Tourists will prefer the much quicker and convenient high speed rail or domestic flights. Why people still use them? They are cheap. The train tickets cost a fraction of a plane ticket or high speed rail but the journey time is a multiple. A couple of hour journey on a plane will turn into an eight hour journey on sleeper train. That’s why they all have beds in them because each journey is long and many will have to travel overnight.
However, my friends always ask me about China and what’s the best way to experience it. Well, I tell them that to best experience China is to do what the locals do. Eat local, travel local and sleep local. So for this trip, also for cost reasons, we decided to so all types of travel, local taxi, bus, vans, trains and flights, oh, we did some boat rides too!! We also chose to stay with local hostels instead of hotels. I must say, these hostels were brilliant! First, they speak English (well I can speak mandarin) but it’s always easier if they understand another language. They also have maps and other information in various languages, which helps foreign tourists.
So what’s our experience on the train? Well, perhaps my childhood memory deceived me a little and now I am a fully grown adult and I found the train extremely crammed. Their bunk beds were designed for people who are four-feet tall. To summarise it, it’s awful. But it was an experience. The train would stop at every station and hence the long journey time. At each stop, however, there was a 10 minutes break to allow people to get their belongs (a lot!!) and to get off the train and vice-versa. But this was also the time we can stretch our foot a little and you could also step outside for some fresh air (literally). You would find fresh homemade snacks on trolleys at the station platform too if you fancy something nice and hot. We tried a couple of pancakes and they were, yummy!
So, it was a painful yet memorable part of our journey but will I try it again? May be and that’s a BIG MAY BE. Now that I have a family so it may not be as fun to cram ourselves in this and the kids will certainly get bored quite quickly. If you ever want to try, don’t bet on any modern luxury though. Toilets are stinky, wet and smelly and no toilet paper so be prepared!! There are limited seats so most will sit on their own 4-foot bed with virtually no head room. Most people don’t talk to each other unless you know them or try to get to know them but most will ignore you, especially if you speak English to them (because they won’t understand a single word!) Also, there is no electrical sockets so don’t play with your iPhone or iPad too much because there’s nothing to charge! Bring a book or a eReader.
So after eight back aching hours, we finally arrived at Luoyang, in the middle of the night. The train station was very small and when we got out of the station, it was pitch black! We were in the middle of no where! We saw a line of taxis before us and we started to debate what transportation we should take to our hostel in the city, wherever it was. But as soon as I noticed the local were grabbing taxis left, right and centre and the line becoming shorter and shorter, I raced towards one of them and shouted back to ask all of them to get in before others take them. It was a wise move because we took the last two taxis and there were still people left at the station. Lucky because on the way to the city, I couldn’t see any other taxis going back to the station.
So we finally arrived after 20 minutes drive. It was already 1 am. We quickly got our rooms and dropped our luggages and two of our friends were hungry so we asked the reception if there’s anything open at this time of the night. “Yes of course, here’s China!” Relieve were we. There’s very nice noodle restaurant right next to our hostel and we quickly had some noodles there. Even though we were tired but we would remember just how tasty the noodles were. Luoyang was close to Sichuan so they had a lot of chili stuff, if you like spicy food.
After a yummy meal, we head to bed.
Again, Luoyang was another place that we could have stayed a bit longer because it’s an ancient city and I was sure that there were much to see. However, our tight schedule only allowed us a one full day before setting off to Xi’an. So we travelled to Luoyang to see the famous Longmen Grottoes. It was an amazing place! Listed in UNESCO heritage sites in 2000, there were over 100000 stone carved buddhas along the rocky hill. It’s a must see if you are in Luoyang! Here’s a link if you are interested in reading more about it (Wiki Travel).
It was a long day and we were a little disappointed that the biggest statues were covered by scaffolds for maintenance. We didn’t have time, nor energy, to walk through all 100000 statues! It’s an eye-opening view from across the river!
At night, we stopped by a night market where we experienced some of the nicest food too! A short but definitely worthwhile visit. But hopefully next time, I will stay here longer and travel to the neighbouring places like the Shaolin Monastery! Another time another day. Now I have two galleries to share with you, one is my artistic gallery and one snap shorts including some behind the scene stuff captured by my wife.
Gallery One – Street Photography
Gallery Two – Snapshots
Have a good day!