This trip to China was totally unexpected. I received word that a part of my "First World Benefits" portfolio was being exhibited in Pingyao, China. I got so excited, the Great Wall is on my bucket list! Not even the expensive travel VISA I need to get could curb my excitement. Anyways...
It turns out that the city of Datong is close to a UNESCO Heritage site or two. Datong also is in proximity to a section of the Great Wall. Good enough, Datong here I come. I booked my travel days ahead of the group I was exhibiting with (The Photographic Society of Singapore, you can check out their website, PSS). Since this was an unplanned trip, my budget was very tight (plus one of my kids was on school holidays and wanted to come). This means no guide. Oh well, 'winging it' is what I do best...when I can speak the language, but I can't speak Mandarin only Cantonese, so this should be fun, not! Plus, the "bad" publicity (more on these as we go along) makes having to watch over a bunch of gear, a teenager and get to where we're going, stressful.
So our itinerary in Datong was to visit the Yungang Grottoes, the Hanging Monastery, Heng Mountain, the wooden pagoda and walk around the inner city + the great wall of Datong (not the Great Wall of China) then hop on the train to Pingyao. I will be posting my experience at all these places as well and updating this post as I go, so please follow me if you want more! Here's the airport:
Yup that's the only baggage belt. Moving on, we saw a help desk so we went there as we couldn't find the bus that would take us to the hotel. English was not helpful nor was Cantonese, nor was my daughter's command of, elementary school at best, Mandarin (anyways, better than mine) lol. But what was understood was "taxi" and (after a few attempts of) "how much". YAY! I showed the lady the name/picture of our hotel and she told us the price (I made sure to understand numbers in Mandarin, I suggest strongly suggest you do too) if you plan on going to China. Also get familiar with the different notes (I was advised that short changing is a common occurrence). She beckoned us to follow and yelled at bunch of taxi drivers who were standing around outside. All I understood was the name of our hotel and the amount for the ride to the hotel. One guy answered and she motioned us to follow that guy. We thanked her and she smiled, nodded then yelled at the taxi driver the price, twice. I guess it is true, everything is negotiable in China and that price must be negotiated up front. I was thinking about this all the way to the hotel while looking at the surroundings. I found it to be not as polluted as people say. Also, the taxis are normal looking cars, not the 3 wheeled motorized buggy deals, some people were trying to describe to me. Around 20 minutes later we arrive:
So this hotel supposedly has English speaking staff. I am happy to report that this is true albeit one per shift apparently, as we only every encountered one per shift and only 2 different people the duration of our stay. We checked in ok, the usual, credit card for security deposit etc. This hotel is really nice. Clean both inside and out. Contrary to what I've been told, in general, about places in China (not luxury class of course, those I hear are very extravagant!). I chose this hotel because it was relatively close to everything we wanted to try to see and it fit our budget (it was inexpensive). And here we are:
Hotel included free breakfast buffet with a variety of western and asian dishes. Not too bad! No swimming pool, no gift shop (snack food type shop there was). There's a restaurant on the mezzanine floor and the seating areas were around the walls so you can look down into the lobby area. Service isn't all that good as we waited so long for a table that I thought they were closed, none of the wait staff nor manager walked over to us and we could see them walking. I went to the front desk and had to ask if the restaurant was open because they refused to seat us. Thankfully, the English speaker was at the front desk and called up and said they were open. We went back up and boy were they nice now! The food was nice, better than I expected actually, the only adventurous thing we tried was this rabbit dish:
At the front desk, they have signage indicating pricing for different sized vehicles going to certain destinations, for hire. The English speaker at the front desk "helped" us out by being able to find us a local taxi driver, off the street to take us around the 2 1/2 days we were in town for cheaper than what was indicated on the charts. So we agreed with the understanding that the taxi driver would wait for us at each venue to drive us to the next venue. That was really surprising to us, what service! For more details on our trips in the taxi, stay tuned as I'll be recounting that experience in the appropriate post.
Now for the conclusion of our stay, everything was pretty good up to this point. As we got to the lobby to check out, we noticed our cab driver wasn't there he's usually early, no cause for alarm yet. I get the bill and pay by credit card, I sign off and they give me two receipts. What's this? I look at the other one and it's the security deposit, it went through. So I asked them to reverse it, of course, no one spoke English and they were saying things but we couldn't understand. They finally found a person who could converse somewhat in English (not the same guy who checked us in) and he said they would reverse the charge but they can't right this moment because their machine was broken...I looked at the time and we needed to go because we still needed to pick up our tickets (you have to book and pay online then pick up the tickets at the station or have them delivered to you) and go through the security screening at the train station and I didn't know how long that would take. My daughter informs me our driver is not here yet. So I ask the person to get us a cab, and he did (cheaper than what I was expecting to pay). I told him I will contact my credit card about this and he nodded.
I was actually warned about this type of behavior but didn't think too much of it. So if you ever go to China, carry some cash as their credit card machines "break down" often (I experienced this a few times on this trip) and be prepared at hotels when checking out to make sure everything is as it should be. Don't wait until last minute. Lucky I checked out early, having been warned and was looking out for this type of shenanigans. You should too.
An alternative as it seems, if you can get the app WeChat (something like China's version of Whatsapp) on your phone and somehow get funds in, almost every one/business accepted payment via WeChat pay. The difficulty is getting the function unlocked because you need to link an account from a Chinese bank.
The taxi ride to the train terminal was roughly twenty minutes, not much traffic and finding the ticket office wasn't that bad, going through security check (x-ray machine and wand/pat down) wasn't bad either. So we had some time to souvenir shop and grab a snack. Here's the train station:
In the brighter part of the photo above is the entrance to the building where you go to either pick up your tickets (go to the right, down the hall) or you keep going straight but a bit to the left to get to the train platforms and there's other holding areas too. After pickup up your tickets, you exit the building via door way in the shadowed section of the building (right side of the photo).
I have to say, this trip to China was awesome and not nearly as "bad" as what we were led to believe. The hotel fiasco was resolved a couple weeks later, the charge was reversed. It was alarming when it happened but no harm done. I will totally try to explore more places in China or maybe even the same places, as now I know what to expect and will be better prepared.
All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you're interested in buying an image or three, please don't hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!
Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.
Thanks for viewing and best wishes,
PS. If you want to check out my other 'works', you can find them here: