One of the best ways to get from A to B in China is to TRAIN IT.
Inner city train stations are huge, literally like airports – without the planes; housing everything from check in desks, security and shopping malls, to a grand selection of fast food chains and cake shops. Not to mention the zillions of platforms with an array of weird and wonderful sleeper carriages, slow trains and bullet trains ready to whizz off to the far reaches of the Chinese borders.
A few weeks in to my virgin voyage travelling solo, I decided to get adventurous ambitious.
Knowing I needed to be in Chengdu, in the West, for my outbound flight to Japan in 2 weeks time; I thought it might be a nice idea to train trip across the country from Shanghai, in the East, and stop off at a few places along the way that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. AND a great excuse to test my metal in speaking Mandarin.
FYI, “Wo bu dong le” (I don’t understand) was my favourite phrase.
Here’s how I got on. All of it. The smiles, the sights and the hysterical sobs (yeah, that happened)…
Beijing >> Shanghai >> Wuhan >> Chongqing >> Chengdu
Step out of your comfort zone and you’ll learn more about yourself every day.
So this picture wasn’t actually taken in China (more like the Japanese Alps in Nozawa, where I taught myself to ski). But the principal is the same.
In Shanghai, I took a brave pill (not literally) and decided to experience some of the REAL China by train. Go to cities slightly off the well-trodden tourist track, which meant I would probably be the only Westerner in the area but I hoped that I would see some incredible things along the way.
It definitely worked out.
My first stop, Wuhan in Hubei province.
Didn’t know much about the area until my feet slapped onto the pavement outside Wuhan railway station. I was staying in a hostel downtown in HanYang Zao art district for £6 a night. It was concrete, quirky and totally beautiful.
I met a girl called Sara in my dorm and we tried our best to communicate in broken English and Mandarin. We decided to (silently) explore Wuhan together the following day.
We walked the width of the Yangtze River, ate sesame noodles for breakfast,
we she navigated the super complicated bus system and ended up sauntering through the luscious gardens inside Wuhan University Campus before treading boards across the eerie East Lake.
That night I saw the biggest, brightest orange sun I’ve ever seen in my life. It was magical.
Life is beautiful, you just have to open your eyes and see it
Chongqing, WHAT A CITY. It’s probably one of my favourite places I’ve discovered to date.
A province perched on the lush green mountain side, known for its spicy Sichuan-esque cuisine. This one was bound to be a winner.
By the time I arrived at the closest subway stop to where I was staying, it was pitch black. I was full of a cold and the further West I travelled, the muggier the air seemed to become. I’d booked something quickly online just hours before, using and abusing a free wifi spot in the station.
It was 10pm and I was navigating my way down a dodgy back alley, avoided a rabid-looking dog and trudged through rubble (literally), arriving at what I can only describe as an absolute hidden gem.
‘Chongqing Sunrise Ming Qing’ hostel is a traditional courtyard house, with an incredible water garden trickling harmoniously by the entrance. It’s a big square building with dark wood dorm rooms all around the outside and a gaping hole in the roof (on purpose) where the rain can pour in to the a second water garden. Goldfish swim happily around stone statues, lilies and waterfalls, whilst the heavens open and warm rain fills it up.
My description really doesn’t do it justice. I paid £4 per night for this absolute beauty and felt like I had been transported 100 years back in time. If you ever find yourself in Chongqing, I highly recommend this place.
Running on adrenaline, I ran out to find some food and stumbled upon a teeny little ramshackle of a restaurant run by one man and his pride for homemade spicy noodles. I paid the equivalent of 50p for a mouth numbing bowl of the stuff.
Head bowed low, I sweated out my cold into my chilli soup.
It worked! It was like medicine!
I arrived back to my hostel (this is still just the first night!) and the clouds burst with heavy raindrops, water thundering through the hole in the courtyard roof.
The power of nature at that moment was awe inspiring, and that experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.
First the highs, then come the lows
I’d come a long way, 2,940km down and across China to be precise.
I was at Chongqing train station ready to board my final leg of the rail-induced marathon to Chengdu. I had the Mandarin nailed… or so I thought.
Arrived at the ticket office with a little slip of paper, on which I’d pre-written my chosen train number down (plus a backup, just incase). I hadn’t booked a ticket in advance. I thought I was invincible by this point and I’d chanced it before. PLUS I was 3 hours early for pete’s sake. What could possibly go wrong?
The trains were selling out in front of my eyes… that’s what. Oh crap.
When I got to the front of the horrendous snake of a queue, the lady at the front desk stared blankly when I tried to explain (in Chinese) what I wanted. She giggled as she pointed to the next available train – which was in 5 hours.
Exhausted, I reluctantly nodded and the impatient queue pulsated behind me.
Withering from the weight of my backpack, I glanced down at what I’d just been sold. She’d given me a standing ticket (i.e. chill out in the aisle for an hour and a half whilst everyone pushes past you to get to the toilet)… NOOOOOOOO!
I slumped down on the floor and cried like a baby.
5 minutes later, I got over it, ate a pot noodle and a mountain of yummy Chinese snacks, and got excited for the adventure ahead.
Muttering to myself: “It could be always be worse!”
Despite everything, I wouldn’t want to change a second of the journey I had. There will be brilliant highs, and crushing blows, but you deal with them, slap on a smile and keep on moving.
Then something incredible happens and you wonder why you were ever sad at all.