29 May 2017

Longtan Canyon

I would say this is a short one, but for some reason nearly every time I say that it turns out to be wrong.

We had our bus tickets to go out to Longtan Canyon. It is a scenic attraction about 60km from Luoyang. We made it to the station and even onto the bus without any problems. The trip took a very long time at just over two and a half hours as there were a couple of towns we passed through that had traffic jams. This slowed us to a crawl. The trip was not fun. The seats were slightly closer together than a normal bus, and very uncomfortable. At least we were not sitting in the aisle.

These buses leave the station on time (or there abouts) full or not. Ours was full. Within 100m of the station we were already stopping to let more people on. A standard practice in China.

So we made our way north. Slowly. As we got closer to our destination, the traffic got worse. We had no idea why, but when we came across a police car blocking half the road, and directing cars onto the flat ground beside the road we had a small inkling. Further up, passed more parked cars we entered into the official carpark, then past all those cars to the entrance of the park. The canyon is a AAAAA Unesco Site. This meant that for the next 500 metres there were shopping opportunities as you get closer to the entrance. Fish nets and small buckets were the most popular, followed by water pistols and everyone had at least one of the two if not both. The queue for the ticket office stretched a long way, until we realised that it was actually the queue for the gate, and not many people wanted tickets. So these were very easy to acquire at 85 yuan each. Then we rejoined the queue to get in. After a while a friendly person gestured for us to join a much shorter line. This onne was for paying guests. The rest were getting in for free (I agree with this, if I was a local I would be pissed if I had to pay that every time!)

For a short time the crowd thinned out as the walkway was so broad. Then it starts to narrow and people are funnelled closer together. We passed a waterpark, which was basically a series of different bridges and monkey bars over the river. The path got narrower, the people got pushed together. Anna and I put on Cattle Mode.

Cattle Mode is very handy in China, it is where you are fed through the grinder of people. Gates and fences dictate where you have to go, and you follow the people in front of you. Beijing was Cattle Mode all the way, and this was worse. Moooo…

It might sound like an exaggeration, but there were thousands of people here. The path as far as the eye could see was full of people. It is a one way circuit, and we just had to follow the people in front of us. And the people in front of them…. and those people…. There were stairs in the distance. They were full of people…. More people. And even more people.

The canyon itself was very pretty. It starts out wide and gets narrower and narrower. Soon you are walking just above the water with cliffs on either side. Without the people it would have been fantastic. I can see why UNESCO listed it. With the people it was not fun at all, and I haven’t even mentioned selfies. If someone takes a selfie, the 20,000 people behind them come to a halt. This is China. Everyone needs a selfie every 10 steps. Then there is the associated garbage. Water bottle empty? Throw it in the river. That wrapper from the icecream shop on the side of the river? Stick it in the rocks.

We did lose some people at the wider sections where families were having picnics and catching the few small fish and tadpoles left in the river but not enough to make a dent in the crowd. Occasionally people would give up and try to force their way back against the throng making it even more difficult to move.

We came to a small water fall, but the path and accompanying steps were built over it so you couldn’t see anything. Then it was just marching through.

At some point we discussed giving up, but looking back there were even more people than we could see in front of us. Ahead was the only way we could go. Unless we wanted to force our way back through the people, down different staircases, across stepping stones barely big enough for one person, let alone the three or four that were on each one. Etc. No, we had to go on. About three quarters of the way there was an emergency staircase exit. We were not enjoying the walk, so decided to take it. If there was a real emergency you wouldn’t want to take these stairs, as they would give the person carrying you a heart attack! But for us they were a lifeline out of the crowd.

Sweet Freedom. There were only 4 other people doing the stairs, and at the top was an almost empty platform where we could enjoy the view and recover from the ordeal. Then we just followed the road back to the park entrance. Passed by an unending line of golf buses (I would call them battery buses, but these were petrol powered) ferrying people that had done the walk (or given up) back to the entrance. This part of the walk was by far better as we were the only people dumb enough to do it. The view from the road was not as spectacular as the canyon, but a lot more peaceful.

The Canyon is really beautiful, and well worth doing. The lesson learnt was to not do it on a public holiday.

Back at the entrance the bus to Luoyang was there. It was the same one that had brought us here. The ticket woman let us know that it would leave at 3:30, so we placed some items to claim our seats (right at the front to get the extra leg room) and went for a walk along the streets of tourist stalls. We were back very early. After walking the street, we were not that interested in doing anything else so we waited in the shade. On getting a signal from the woman we walked over to the bus. Apparently a lot of other people were waiting for the same signal, and people started streaming to the bus. The woman was sitting in our front seat, and had been preventing other people from taking them!! That was really sweet.

It was also a good thing. If we had thought the bus was full on the way out, we were mistaken. You can fit a lot more people on. Small stools were brought out, and the people in the aisles were sitting between the knees of the person behind them. The entrance steps were full, and when we departed our ticket lady couldn’t even fit on. There was another, and she managed to squeeze around the doors as they closed.

The trip back was a lot more comfortable for us than the way out. Having said earlier that the bus was supposed to leave at 15:30, it actually left 14:30! So the times were not set in stone, and it paid to be early and hang around.

The trip back was also better. No traffic jams, and an easy ride to town only taking just under 2 hours.

Back at the hotel, we said our goodbyes. It may not have been the fanciest, or cleanest or best, but the people were nice. Made our way to the train station and caught the train to Kaifeng.

Again. Seated tickets. Cant go past them. We tossed a few people out of our seats, loaded up our bags and settled in. Just so you know, Standing tickets allow you to take a seat if available, but seating tickets guarantee you one.

Three hours later and we arrived in Kaifeng. There is a hostel here that we planned to stay in. It had been owned by an Australian a few years ago and was pretty good. The reviews after he sold up however painted a different picture, but we hoped to still be able to get some info on town. It was not to be. A tout accosted us at the station, and offered us a 50 yuan room. We took it. The room was pretty dismal. A shed in the back, but the air conditioning worked, and the bed was not the worst, and there was the promise of a better room tomorrow. It was after 22:00 after all. Notice I didn’t mention cleanliness once? I think that was pretty restrained of me.

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