Journey to the West
Late December last year, I was in my big solo trip in China for just south of three weeks. Arriving at Hangzhou in the far east, and departing from Chengdu in the far west. This is my journey to the west… 西遊記.
There was only one question back then: how do I get to Chengdu from Hangzhou?
By plane is the easiest, but it’s no fun. By car? Whose car? Scratch that. By bus? No thanks. The only options left were by foot, by bicycle, and by train. I chose the last.
OK, I admit, that was not the only question, there was the other one: I got almost 3 weeks there, should I just be in Hangzhou and Chengdu? The thinking of staying that long in a place made me shudder. Oh, the horror!
I’m not a big planner. The way my mind works is that it forms a vague, general idea, then based on that, it will command my body to just do it. The rest is improvisation. For me, improvisation just feels natural. To choose what I want to do next, I just need to look at where I am, and what I want at that time, and improvise. Rinse and repeat.
So, the vague plan in my mind back then was that:
- I’m starting from Hangzhou
- I’ll end the trip in Chengdu
- I need to move from far east China to far west China
- I don’t want to stay too long in one place
And so, after one night in Hangzhou, I started to improvise, and my choice back then was Shanghai, so I went to Shanghai. Then I just repeat that process when I was bored in the current city. At the end, here’s the route I traveled: Hangzhou - Shanghai - Nanjing - Luoyang - Xi’an - Chengdu.
Specific reader might notice the pattern of my choice. I’m a sucker for history. My favorites are WWII and Chinese History.
- Hangzhou is the capital of Northern Song, it’s where Yue Fei’s tomb is
- Shanghai plays a major part in Sino-Japanese war in 1937
- Nanjing is the capital of several dynasties, but I went there mostly because it was the capital of Sun Quan’s Dong Wu
- Luoyang is the capital of Eastern Han dynasty
- Xi’an, is the capital of Western Han, and also the capital of Cao Wei in three kingdoms era
- Chengdu is the capital of Han Shu in three kingdoms era, and it’s where Zhuge Liang’s tomb is
My main motivation was I want to go to all of the capital of the three kingdoms: Shu, Wei, Wu.
That was about 2500km journey. To give you a perspective, the span of Java island is about 950km. So I traveled a distance of about 2.5 of Java island. Here’s the more telling perspective.
Notice the scale.
And I traveled that route by train. Although I cheated a bit. For Xi’an to Chengdu, I decided to go by plane, as there was no bullet train for that route. At least I tried all of Chinese transportation modes.
Bus in China
Usually, when I was in a city, I walk or rent a bicycle or use the subway, never by local bus. But in Luoyang, I had no choice, as Luoyang is just a small city in the middle of China. It’s a small city alright, but small city IN China, which means it’s big! But because it’s small (you still with me?), it got no subway. The only way to travel is by bus.
I’ve been in China twice including this trip, but I’ve never use local bus. Got to admit that commuting by bus in China is so overwhelming, to the point it’s scary. No English word, no Pinyin, no English announcement, where’s your god now?
But because I’ve got no choice, I tried that. Here what I did to make it less overwhelming.
Research the place you want to go beforehand in Wikivoyage, and look at the bus number, and which stop Always open Google Maps when aboard, have the place starred before hand so you could measure the distance left Look up the Chinese character and how those character sounds, then when aboard, read every words inside the bus, and keep your ear sharp, because there would be announcement when the bus is going to stop. The trick is to do pattern matching here Don’t go first when boarding the bus, let the locals go first, and observe the etiquette. Like for example, should you board the front or back door? How much should you pay? How do you pay? etc
If you ask me what’s the highlight of this trip, I’d say Huashan without thinking. It was the best place I’ve ever visited, and still is. Just look at this.
Huashan can be reached via Xi’an, super easy, even for Chinese-illeterate-with-handful-words-of-vocabulary person like me. Just go to Xi’an North train station, then buy a ticket to Huayin. From there take a shuttle bus to the administration center of Huashan. Buy the permit, then optionally buy a shuttle and cable car ticket.
I met some wonderful guys, and decided to explore Huashan together. We use the cable car, and certainly it’s the most amazing cable car ever! Around 1500m of altitude gain, with ride time of around 1 hour. Magnificent piece of engineering. I couldn’t even comprehend how people back then went to Huashan’s peak because it was basically just a 90 degree cliff.
Now, the fun piece after I explored Huashan was the way I and one of my new friend hiked down. The other two guys were decided to use the cable car again, but we decided not to, because it was crazy expensive, the cable car. So we went down using the hiking route, which a large proportion of it were just a almost 90 degree path, like this.
See that trails in the background?
It surely was a adrenaline pumping thing. What was more pumping was we were jogging, not walking! It was because we had to make sure we arrived in time for the last shuttle bus back to Huayin. This trail was around 3km or so, with a lot scary 90 degree paths like above.
The next day, I went to Chengdu, and I felt like I couldn’t walk anymore.
After that brutal thing I did to myself, I made that up by going to Chengdu Panda Base. Awwww…
Ask me what’s my favorite country is, and I would answer that with “China” in a heartbeat. China is so vast, so diverse, so culturally rich, and has so much history. Like I said, one of my favorites is Chinese History. So being in China is the most amazing thing ever for me.
People always say “Don’t go to China, it’s dirty!”, “Mainland Chinese are gross”, etc. Don’t believe that before you see China by yourself. Because, most of the time, the one who says that things is someone who just googled China, but never experienced it herself.
Also, I found it hypocrite that some Jakarta citizen said those kind of thing. Jakarta is much much much more dirty and worse than all of the cities I’ve traveled in China. But then again, maybe they’re just some sheltered rich kids, or, people who think they know something by just googling and from the opinion of other people, but never tried or studied or experienced the actual thing.
This was my greatest trip I’ve experienced to date. Surely, it’s not the last. Because basically the limit is my body and the world itself.
This is what people call as wanderlust.