All we have are nice grottoes.
Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009
February 9, 2008
I’ll take a hotel if that’s all there is.
The town I spent the next night in was Luoyang (洛阳). It’s known for its grottoes. I stayed in a semi-fancy hotel. The room even had its own sauna. In China fancy hotels are very cheap at about 30~40 USD per night. Although I only stayed in hotels on this trip I recommend staying in hostels in China whenever possible. This was my first real solo trip, and I was still a novice.
“Why stay in a hostel rather than a hotel?” you might ask.
Because, hotels cater more to Chinese travelers who usually travel for business. They tend not the have any information about touristy things. Some don’t even have English-speaking employees. English is the international language of international traveling.
Hostels, on the other hand, all cater to sightseeing travelers. They usually have at least one half decent English, French, or German speaker employed. There are tons of pamphlets, in English and other languages, about all the great stuff there is to do in town and nearby. Most have information on sister hostels in other towns across China, making it easy to find your next hostel.
You can book tours at a hostel and meet other travelers. But most importantly, you can buy train tickets at any hostel in China. Whereas at a hotel, they will look at you as if you are spirit-catching mad when you ask to buy train tickets at their front desk.
You might be thinking, “But I’m not interested in sharing a room with hippy-smelling backpackers or snoring German tourists!” That’s okay. Most hostels have single rooms with an en suite bathroom. You don’t have to share a room.
That evening when I checked in, I wanted to have food brought up to my room, but there was some problem. I don’t remember what it was now, but one of the staff ladies walked me through the hotel to see the custodian. He was the only one at the hotel who could speak English.
The matter was quickly cleared up and I spent a long time talking to Mr. Handyman. He used to live in the states and he wanted to go back, but he also didn’t want to leave China. “When I’m here I miss America. When I’m there, I miss China,” he told me.
He helped me buy my first ticket on a Chinese train. It was for the 12:37 am train to Xi’an (西安) in a hard sleeper the following night. I was so excited. He also told me how to get to the Longmen Grottoes. “But,” he warned, “there is not much else to do in this town.”
From downtown Louyang I took public bus number 81 to the Longmen Grottoes. It took about one hour to get there. This was where I saw my first unashamed peeing on a city bus.
It was freezing that day. I remembered passing a steaming pond of fat koi fish. I wanted more than anything else in the world to jump in and warm up. I had never been so jealous of fish in all my life.
China in the winter is cold. No, not just cold… It’s a level of freezing that I have never felt before or since. No one has the heater turned on. It is cold outdoors, indoors, in fancy hotel lobbies, in internet cafes, in restaurants, in train stations, on buses, everywhere!
I was ready to get on my 12:37 am train by 9:30 pm. I shivered in that train station for hours. I was so tired by the time the train came I didn’t even take any pictures of my epic first Chinese train ride.
I boarded the train and asked a lady in uniform to help me find my bed. She took my ticket to looked at it and showed me to my berth. There was a man fast asleep in it already and she slapped him to wake him up and told him to leave. I wondered for a few seconds how clean the sheets were since they were obviously used, but I was too tired to keep that thought for long. I put my backpack at the head of my bed and then I collapsed next to it. I was completely unconscious for the whole ride. I didn’t even get up to pee during the night.
The next morning someone woke me up in time for me to get off at Xi’an and handed me my ticket. That was when I realized that I had not even bothered to find out how to know when I’d reached my stop. I put on my shoes utterly amazed at my carelessness, and got off the train.
Later I learned that in China, in the sleeper cars at least, a train official comes by and takes the tickets of passengers who have just boarded. Passengers get their tickets back about ten to twenty minutes before the train gets to their stop. That’s when the person in charge of the car goes around and wakes up all those who are to get off at the next stop. This gives the riders plenty of time to get dressed and be ready to disembark.
I guess the lady who showed me to my bunk, kept my ticket so that she could wake me up later on. I didn’t even notice that she didn’t give the ticket back after showing me to my berth.
How to get there:
- You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
- Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
- Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
- Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.
There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.
My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.
- A Bite of China (Playlist)
- Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations – Harbin, China
- China: A Century of Revolution (Playlist)
- China Uncensored (Playlist)
- Crash Course:
- Engineering an Empire: China
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
- Dreams of Joy (Part 2 of Shanghai Girls)
- Empress Dowager Cixi
- The Joy Luck Club
- The Kitchen God’s Wife
- Lost on Planet China
- Mao’s Last Dancer
- Mao: The Unknown Story*
- The Private Life of Chairman Mao
- Sex Lives of the Great Dictators
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- The Red Chamber
- Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China*
*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.
- If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.
The Longmen Grottoes
Use the map below to ask for bus stops.
- Take either the #81, #60, or #53 bus.
- 34°33’33.9″N 112°28’04.6″E
- Clip from a travel show
The website for the grotto is a bit hard to understand. The English there may have been the result of using an electronic translator.
- The website seems to be down. Maybe it will be working again in the future.