Travelling to Western China

K in Motion Travel Blog. Journey to Kazakhstan via China. Travel Map.

It was time to head to Central Asia for the summer holiday! After looking at prices for trains (¥1500) and flights (HK$1700) for travelling to Western China from Hong Kong, I had to make a choice. Given exchange rates, the prices were essentially the same. The train would take 3 days as there are no high speed trains to Xinjiang. I decided to go for the faster option.

It was my first time flying with Shandong Airlines, a domestic Chinese carrier. The flight came with a one day stopover in the Shandong Province city of Yantai. I had never been there before and was looking forward to seeing a new city. On the 3 hour flight to Yantai no meals were served, only snacks. That seemed a bit weird, but they do things differently in China!

Travelling to Western China – Yantai Transit

Yantai is a northeastern port city on the Yellow Sea about 750km southeast of Beijing. Even though it’s close to Beijing, it’s like a whole different world. For starters, the airport was shaped like a uterus and had potted plants everywhere in the arrival area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai Airport Map K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai Airport Pot Plants

The thing that really struck me about this place, is that besides the grunty security guard, everyone was really friendly. Like approach-you-and-start-chatting-to-you kind of friendly. In all my years of travelling to other cities in China, I’d never really encountered that before.

Making Friends in Yantai

After purchasing my ¥20 (US$3) bus ticket to the city centre, I realised that a young boy was intensely staring at my hair. When I asked what he was looking at, he excitedly commented that my hair was very red and that he liked red. I asked if he liked purple too, then showed him the purple section underneath. He was totally enamoured. We ended up talking for 10 minutes about my bright hair and his favourite toys. I guess that’s how conversations with 6 year olds go in any language.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai Airport Bus Ticket

The bus ride was quite smooth, due to what looked like a shiny new highway into the city. It was a fairly empty highway, which is also not something I’d seen too often in other Chinese cities. Another thing I’d noticed at the airport and in the town, was a lot of directional signs in Korean. It must be a popular destination with Korean tourists.

When I arrived, the streets were fairly empty and eerily quiet. I put this down to the late hour. The next morning things were quite similar. It seems that this town does things a little more quietly and slowly than other places in China. That was quite refreshing. It was a nice, clean city to walk around.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai, Empty Street
Empty street
Exploring Yantai

While walking around, I noticed they were going for an early 20th century feel with some of the street lights. There were also quite a few dockless bikes around, but I didn’t see many people riding them.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai, Street Lamps K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai, Dockless Bike

Possibly the best part of this city was the mountains surrounding it. One of them, Yantai Hill can be easily reached on a self-guided hike from the Zhifu District, near the city centre.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai, City With Mountains

Travelling to Western China – There’s Something Different About Yantai

Like many Chinese cities, there were huge shopping centres everywhere. One thing that was different was that some of them didn’t have bathrooms. I only found this out when I drank too much tea at a cafe and had to walk a block to find somewhere to relieve myself. While at that cafe, I’d also had problems accessing the WiFi. One of the lovely staff took time off her duties to help me figure it out.

Something that seemed to be unique to this city was moving repair shops. Some entrepreneurial souls had decided to put all their fix-it tools and know-how into vans and drive around town finding people that needed things fixed. If they found a place where they were doing particularly well, they would set up there for a while.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai, Travelling Fix-it Van

Sales on the Street

As I walked to the bus station to make my way back to the airport, some young guys approached me. They wanted to sell me some miracle cleaning liquid. I was quite surprised by this, as normally locals wouldn’t approach foreigners in this way because they’d be afraid of the language barrier. I suspect they knew that I wasn’t going to buy, but it was an excuse for them to talk to me. It was kind of cute.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Yantai, Corner Market
Corner Market

So I hadn’t really done much in Yantai besides walk around and chat to some locals, but it was lovely all the same. I’d definitely look into taking a longer break there at some point in the future.

Travelling to Western China – Moving On

Back at the airport, I noticed many people carrying foam boxes full of cherries. It turns out Yantai is famous around China for its cherries and when people visit, they take as many boxes as they can back to their families.

The next leg of the flight was only 1 hour, but in that time a meal was served, even though only crackers were offered on the first and longer flight leg. One of the hostesses felt bad that I couldn’t eat the meal they served and came back with some dried fruit and crackers for me. The Shandong Airlines staff were quite lovely, but their English was either terrible or non-existent. I could understand them better when they spoke Mandarin! Just to clarify, I wasn’t expecting their English to be great, but I’ve flown China Southern and Air China before and found their English to be quite good.

Shijiazhuang Transit

The short flight was due to a technical stop in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei. I can’t say that I know what a technical stop is, but we all had to leave the plane and re-board an hour later. We were even given a special card by the Shijiazhuang Airport to present to get back on the plane.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Shijiazhuang Boarding Cards

I can tell you that the Shijiazhuang airport is very nice. It’s also very spread out and there isn’t much there besides gimmicky souvenir shops and designer stores. During the 1 hour stop there I walked around to see if I could find some food. I did, but the cook was out and they said it would be a half an hour wait. With the plane re-boarding in 40 minutes and a 10 minute walk to the gate, that would be cutting it a bit fine. Maybe a ‘fresh’ coconut from a dispensing machine would suffice?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling to Western China. Shijiazhuang Coconut vending Machine

Check out my next post for the trials and tribulations of crossing into Kazakhstan via Western China

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Jakarta

As it was New Year’s Eve, this leg of the trip started with a lovely serenade of Auld Lang Sine by airport staff, just before the gate was open for boarding.

In order to get back home in time for the first work day of the year, I had to opt for a one night stop over in Jakarta. Knowing this, I had gotten in contact with some locals beforehand and one of them had generously volunteered to pick me up from the airport and show me around.

Jakarta was certainly a lot different to the cruisy little Indonesian island I’d just left. For a start, the roads were much bigger and had a lot more traffic on them! I guess that makes sense when you realise that Indonesia’s capital city has a population that is more than 5 times bigger than the population of the whole of West Timor. The traffic seemed to get more intense the closer we got to the city. When I commented about this, my friend advised that it wasn’t normally that bad at that time of night. Apparently, everyone comes out of hiding on New Year’s Eve!

That, of course, meant that the place was bustling. Every time we stopped at a set of traffic lights, someone would walk in between the lines of stopped cars trying to sell all kinds of things, from fireworks, to hats and scarves, to glow in the dark stuff and newspapers. Again my friend assured me that this was just a sign of the season and not an indication of how things normally are in Jakarta.

The festive mood also meant that copious amounts of food stalls, that would normally close earlier, were still super crowded, even at 1am! These roadside food stalls were quite simple. Many had only been constructed with tarpaulins, ropes and metal poles. I guess that means they can move to an area with more people if business is slow. They also only offered a small variety of foods, but still proved to be a blessing for all the hungry people roaming around before, and after, celebrating the start of the new year.

Party Like It’ll Be 2019!
Eventually, after an epic mission to find parking, we found our way to a rooftop party at a hotel in central Jakarta.

Rooftop party

I spent the last few hours of the year talking to many interesting strangers from around the world while watching drunk people dance hilariously. Seeing as it was the middle of the wet season, there was also a bit of rain lurking. At the beginning of the night, every shower sent people scattering inside, or to the limited amount of shelter outside. As the night went on, however, people seemed to have given up on trying to dodge the rain and just kept doing what they were doing.

Things went on like this until just before midnight, when everyone realised that it was almost time for the countdown to the new year. Things went silent for a short while, until everyone started shouting excitedly. Despite the shouting and general mayhem, the sound of fireworks exploding all over the city could be heard. It seems that many people, including some of the attendees of our party, had bought fireworks from a set of traffic lights. So as you can imagine, it got loud!

Happy New Year!

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