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Advice on Datong through to Xian, please

Advice on Datong through to Xian, please

Dec 11th, 2004, 02:36 AM
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 38
Advice on Datong through to Xian, please

Any advice please: China 23dys:
After 8dys Beijing (org.tour), planning the route- Datong, Wutaishan, Taiyuan, Pingyao. We can fly to Xian from Taiyuan (don't think can do from Pingyao - maybe train?).
(1) How are the roads if we hire a driver or get a bus? (some say train tickets not easy to get when required-train OK by us).
(2) Anything we would miss from Pingyao to Xian (540Ks)?
(3) Reckon we could do by ourselves with pre-booking, not being seasoned travellers?

After Xian plan go to Shanghai/Suzhou/Wuzhou.

We are giving ourselves 4 free days in case of sickness or wanting to linger somewhere.
(4) If we are fit little vegemites and still have a couple of days left, any advice on deciding between: A. Mt Huang or B. Yangshou? Daughter seems mad keen on the mountain but it is a bit fumbly to get to (rail or air then bus). Some say it is a wonder to see (as they also say about Guilin/ Yangshou area). Whaddif it rains the mountain out on 'our' days!.

What would you select if you can only have one...and why, please.

(5) If there were to be a 'C' option, I guess it would be the Y.River Gorges but the cruises/boat trips are so expensive that I just didn't consider it an option and in any case, inclined to favour A and B more.
What do you reckon?? Have to decide in two days.
Many tks - g
mandg is offline  
Dec 11th, 2004, 05:47 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
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I don't know much about Pingyao or the Shanxi Province, but I think the train should be the best way to get to Xi'an. There are 4 "slow" trains a day, and takes about 10 hours, with both day or night service. I think that'd be more comfortable than going by road. Don't know about the ticket situation - and that probably depends on when you're going. There's also a faster train on this route, but you have to catch it at Taiyuen or Jiexiu, which looks like about 40km from Pingyao.

As for your other cities - Yangshuo should be on most people's Guilin's itinerary already. It's just down the Li River from Guilin, and you can tour it in half-a-day.

Huang Shan is great, but yes, it's not easy to get to, and takes quite a bit of time to visit/explore. I think it'll be kind of a rush for you to put that in. As for a Yangtze River cruise, there are regular passenger ships that are much cheaper than the luxury cruises, but of course the experience is also very different. Not sure if you'll enjoy it.

In my opinion, just add a day here and there, instead of adding another destination.
rkkwan is offline  
Dec 11th, 2004, 10:02 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 17,106
Hi, mandg!

It might be good to give us an idea of why you chose the various locations that you have instead of others.

For example, Wutaishan is mostly to visit Buddhist temples and monasteries. Are you interested in these? There are easier to reach locations where you can get the same feel, e.g., right in Beijing is the Yonghe Gong (Lama Temple).

I'm not trying to discourage you from visiting Wutaishan. It is lovely and you do get away from the tourist crowds, but even Chinese themselves find it a slightly difficult destination. There are no airports and no train stations nearby. To arrive from Beijing you get off the train at about 2am in the middle of nowhere and have to transfer to a bus. Unless you speak Chinese or have a Chinese speaker with you, it'll be difficult to negotiate a fair bus price at 2am in the dark! (And I'm not kidding!)

You DO want to arrive at the train station in the wee hours of the morning, because by the time the bus winds its way to Wutaishan, it'll be around 5am in the morning. You definitely do NOT want to arrive in Wutaishan itself any time after dark!

Then you have to get to your hotel from where the bus dumps you - in the middle of Taihuai. What kind of budget will you be on? If at all possible, catch a taxi and get to the Yinhai Shanzhuang, possibly the best hotel there is - and not great, by any stretch of the imagination.

Datong is certainly worthwhile stopping, both for the Yungang Caves and for the Hanging Temple. They are truly awesome. Datong is very easy to get to.

There are areas of China which are easy and very reachable, then there are many places where even the locals run into difficulty.

Hope this gives you some idea as you continue your planning. Please help us give you better suggestions.
easytraveler is offline  
Dec 12th, 2004, 12:11 AM
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Posts: 38
Dear rk and easy: Am just going from guide books. OK..Datong 7hrs from Beij by train.
1. Choice - either backtrack or go on.
2. If it was to be 'go on' then Pingyao was for its City wall and Taiyuan for its airport to fly to Xian. If too awkward to go on to Pingyao, then may give it a miss.
Option then: (a) Retn by train to Beij and to Xian from there by comfy train or air, or
(b) Get travel agent to book a train from Datong to Xian (??wot kind of train to expect#!)

Yes, Datong for Hanging Monastery and Yungang Buddhist Caves with o/night at Datong.
My interests: original buildings, history,religious icons, museums, silk factory (for spin/weave), dance, paper, cloth, design.
Daughter: Scenery and mountains, food, theatre (not opera),shopping for items unique to a region, some nightlife.

Because of immensity of China thought only to consider top half and if time/ cash visit Yangshou. I would LOVE to visit the Naxi people, but air cost might be prohibitive. Will find out.

Appreciation for time given to reply.
Any advice on above. Sincerely - G

mandg is offline  
Dec 12th, 2004, 07:12 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 23,074
There is one daily "slow" direct train from Datong to Xi'an, and takes about 18 hours. No need to change train enroute. However, as this is a "slow" train, I don't know what kind of accomodations you can get, especially since the train doesn't start from Taiyuan, but from Baotao, further north.

On the other hand, there are over a dozen "express" from Datong to Beijing, and takes 6 hours. Some of them are day train, and originate from Datong, so you should have no problem securing 1st class "soft seat" on one of those. And then, from Beijing to Xi'an, there are at least 10 "express" a night, all originating from Beijing, and at least one of them a non-stop "Z" train with only soft seats and soft sleepers.

So, while the total journey time is longer backtracking through Beijing, I believe it's the better way to travel.

A couple other points:

- On my very new Chinese atlas, there seem to be "expressway" through ShanXi province, all the way down to Xi'an. However, keep in mind that these "expressways" often aren't exactly like the autobahn. Constructions are common, and many drivers still pull to the side of road for whatever reason (and often blocking traffic, as there's often no shoulder room), and there are also a lot of slow traffic. So, even if an "expressway" is supposed to exist, don't expect you can average 100km/h on it.

- Second thing is that while it sounds pretty crazy, but I wouldn't recommend you to pre-book a lot of your stuff (especially if it requires a deposit). If you're not going at a holiday period (Chinese New Year, May Day week, October 1st week), you should be able to get transportation and accomodation locally, or just a few days ahead. That will give you much more flexibility, and an ability to catch up, if something happens (maybe a good thing, as you may find you need more time in Datong, for example).
rkkwan is offline  
Dec 12th, 2004, 10:23 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 17,106
Hi, mandg!

Thanks for giving us some input!

I agree with rkkwan completely: don't prebook. It's not necessary and will be a lot more expensive. And the other suggestion of going back to Beijing from Datong and then taking a train to Xian is excellent. Skip Taiyuan. Skip Pingyao, too, at least for this trip.

Might I suggest some time in Chengde - the summer residence of the Manchu emperors? It's also several hours by train out of Beijing and it has plenty to offer. The former imperial compound has an extensive area enclosed within its walls, including the residential palaces and the imperial hunting grounds.

Another excellent trip out of Beijing and much shorter (you can engage a Beijing taxi for the entire day) is to the West to Tanzhe Si and to Jietai Si. Don't try to save money by taking the bus, the bus makes a lot of local stops and you won't have enough time for exploration. Very few people visit these temples to the West and they will give you a very good flavor of what Wutaishan would be like.

Taking the overnight soft sleeper to Datong is an excellent suggestion. Ask for the two upper berths. They give you a bit more privacy and you have a lot of storage in an open compartment above the door.

Once in Datong, in the RR station itself is the CITS office. Ask for Mr. Kao there; he speaks English and can arrange for a tour to both the Yungang Caves and the Hanging Monastery (About 100 yuan). The tour lasts all day. You could take the overnight train back to Beijing if you didn't want to remain in Datong. There really isn't very much in Datong itself. Mr. Kao or his associate could get the return train tickets for you. I highly advise getting the services of Mr. Kao, altho 99% of the time I'm not a fan of CITS.

In central China, besides Shanghai and Suzhou (you'll certainly see silk there!), you might also consider Hangzhou and, if time allows, Shaoxing.

These are destinations which are easier to reach and have more than enough to offer.

Hope this helps a bit! Have a great trip!
easytraveler is offline  
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