Overview
Costs
Food
Hotels
Money
Mobile phones
Internet
Weather
Health
VISA
Security
Getting around
Photos

Shenzhen, Fujian, Tulou sites, Wuyishan, Wuhan, Zhengzhou, Shaolin, Luoyang, Kaifeng, Beijing
23.3: Munich -> Brussels
24.3: Brussels -> Shenzhen
25.3: Shenzhen
26.3: Shenzhen -> Xiamen
27.3: Xiamen -> Fujian tulou -> Xiamen
28.3: Xiamen -> Quanzhou -> Wuyishan
29.3: Wuyishan
30.3: Wuyishan
31.3: Wuyishan -> Wuhan
1.4: Wuhan -> Zhengzhou
2.4: Zhengzhou -> Shaolin monastery
3.4: Zhengzhou -> Luoyang -> Zhengzhou
4.4: Zhengzhou -> Kaifeng -> Zhengzhou
5.4: Zhengzhou -> Beijjing
6.4: Beijing -> Mutianyu great wall ->  Bejing
7.4: Beijing -> Brussels -> Munich


 

Planning and overall impression

This was a trip with my wife and two daughters, done during a much better season (spring instead of the winter period of the previous trip) and with a very interesting itinerary, from the south to the north of China. The idea mainly was to show China to my kids and wife (the last time they had been in China was in 2015) and to have an enjoyable family trip (when you travel with the family, the pace is more relaxed, i.e. you don't rush from a touristic highlight to the next).
Immediately upon arrival in Shenzhen the kids were impressed by the modern and spotlessly clean airport in Shenzhen, thrilled that you easily could get food and drinks from vending machines paying with the smartphone.
Everything went very smoothly and according to the plan. I had booked all hotels and train trips in advance. The only uncertainty was the trip to the Tulou sites in Fujian, but also that went well.


Costs

The travel cost in China has reached a medium level. Hotels are for instance cheaper than in Western Europe, but more expensive than in Eastern Europe. Same for prices for tickets to tourist attractions, which are approaching the price level in Western Europe.


Food

There is a lot of food offered everywhere, but most dishes are heavily cooked. For instance, it's very difficult to find fresh salads. Lots of noodle dishes and dumplings. It's possible to have very inexpensive meals (e.g. noodles for four people for a total of 50 CNY in Wuyishan).


Accommodation

Hotels, good ones, are readily available and bookable in hotel booking platforms. Booking.com is not so suitable for China - trip.com has a much larger choice of hotels and the app provides names and addresses in Chinese characters - very important if you need to tell a taxi or Didi driver where to go.


Money  / Exchange rate (March-April 2024)

1 Euro = around 7.85 CNY
We used Alipay and Wechat Pay to pay for everything; the credit card to pay the hotels, because above 200 CNY there is a 3% fee if you use Alipay or Wechat Pay. Alipay and Wechat Pay got blocked a few times by the German banks issuing the credit card, but could be easily unblocked by calling the German bank. In addition, the "blocking" problem was far less severe than last November where at some point even Alipay blocked me a few times. Seems that Alipay have fine-tuned their payment service to reduce the number of times a card gets blocked.


Mobile phones and prepaid cards

Compared to last November (SIM card of China Unicom with 50GB of data for 250 RMB), the SIM cards of China Mobile were much cheaper (20GB of data, 200 minutes of calls, for 100 RMB each, valid until the end of March, but could be used until we left on April 7). Somehow I had the impression that China Unicom had a much better network.
My wife used a prepaid SIM card from a HK provider which we bought on Amazon. This immediately worked when we arrived at the airport in Shenzhen and allowed access to apps and website outside the Great Firewall.


Internet access

WLAN was available in all hotels, although I often relied on the mobile phone. This time I managed to set up VPNs and used them occasionally to read news on European websites (but otherwise I used local apps for navigation and communication).



Weather

It was warm, we had even hot summer temperatures above 30°C in Shenzhen. Further north the temperatures were lower; coldest was a day in Henan, on which we had to wear a jacket and a sweater. It was mostly sunny, with some rain every now and then.
 


Health / Vaccinations

We didn't get any vaccinations for this trip (not even a Covid booster). Almost nobody wore face masks on the streets or in public areas.



VISA / Entry requirements

We travelled to China without a VISA, because we all qualified for this 15-days visa free travel option. No questions asked at the passport control, except for a short question to me about the planned itinerary.


Security

No problems, China is a very safe country. We even left our bags unattended for a day in the Quanzhou train station (because there was no left luggage service).


Getting around

For trips from city to city we relied on the excellent high speed train service (up to 300 km/h). Locally we used mostly Didi cars and occasionally taxis.




23.3: Munich -> Brussels
Hotel Crowne Plaza Brussels airport. Nice 4 star hotel, 2.4km from the airport. 125 Euro for a big comfortable room with good furniture.
Weather: cold (+5°C) and rainy in Munich

We take the 6:30pm train to the airport, arriving at 7:15pm. I spot a "left over" airport trolley and when I'm about to take it, some unfriendly service staff tells me he is going to put it back into the machine, where you have to pay 2 Euro to take it. So we proceed without trolley.

The flight is in terminal 2. This time there is no check-in counter. There are just some machines you have to use to check in the luggage by yourself. The problem is that these machines do not work, or perhaps we are doing something wrong. We ask some service staff for support, but they also fail to check us in. Then we try some other machines and after some time and trying (luckily I have printouts of the boarding passes), finally we manage to check in the luggage.

Still, the level of service here at Munich airport has dropped again, and this despite the steep increase in plane ticket prices. The problem is that these machines are hard to use.

So we proceed to the gate, arriving there around 8:20pm. Boarding starts around 8:50pm. Around 9:20pm the plane starts rolling and takes off at 9:33pm. The plane, an Airbus A319-100 is full.

We land in Brussels at 10:33pm. Then we quickly walk to he exit, hoping to catch the last shuttle to the hotel, but it's too late. So we take a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver complains non-stop about the short trip. He insists that we should walk, take a public bus etc. This short 2km trip costs 19.80 Euro. We check into the hotel around 11:10pm.




24.3: Brussels -> Shenzhen
Citylight hotel, Shenzhen.
Weather: fresh, but sunny blue sky in Brussels in the morning.

We get up at 6:50am and take the 7:40am shuttle to the airport. Big bus, which on the way will pick up passengers from another hotel. By 7:50am we are at the airport.

Then we proceed through security (boarding pass with QR code needed) and passport control. At 8:20am we sit down in a waiting area, because the exact gate has not been announced yet (will be announced at 8:30am).

Boarding starts after 9:15am. The plane, a Boeing B787 is about two thirds full. It takes off at 10:23am. On board most passengers are Chinese.

The food is sort of ok, but not as good as the food of Gulf airlines (Emirates, Etihad etc.). Otherwise the service is ok.




25.3: Shenzhen
Citylight hotel, Shenzhen. 287 RMB for a double room with toilet (good shower with plenty of hot water), free WLAN, furniture (but no fridge). The room is a bit old, but functional. Good location in the shopping/ dining area of Shenzhen.
Weather: 23°C in the early morning in Shenzhen, climbs to around 30°C. Hot and steamy, a bit like in the tropics. Sunny, blue sky the whole day, no rain.

We land shortly after 4am in Shenzhen airport. Bus transfer to the terminal, then we proceed through passport control and retrieve the luggage.

The Hong Kong SIM card I had bought in Amazon works immediately I switch on the mobile phone, which means I can pay with the smartphone and book a Didi car to the hotel.

We spend some time buying some food and drinks at the airport (impressive that before 6am so many places in the airport are already open - probably they operate 24/7). The girls are thrilled that you can use the smartphone to pay for things at the vending machines.

By the way, very modern and clean airport. This time I manage to withdraw cash (2000 RMB) from the first ATM I run into (last November it took a full day to find a functional ATM in Nanjing).

A Didi car (premier, 6 seater) to the hotel costs 278 RMB. Nice elegant car, cruising on the motorway at night towards the hotel (and also the motorway is new and clean). My daughter says that China is "affengeil" (German expression for awesome, very impressive).

We are in the hotel around 6am, two hours after the plane landed, sleep after 7am until about 11:30am, then get up and leave the hotel after 1pm.

We first walk to a China Telecom shop and buy three SIM cards (20GB of data, 200 minutes of calls) for 100 RMB each, but only valid until the end of the month. The guy says, usually China Telecom doesn't cut the line in the first week of the new month, and because we leave China on April 7th, the cards might be enough. In the worst case we have to buy new SIM cards (update: indeed we can use the cards until the last day, i.e. April 7th).

So we walk out and take a Didi car to the Ping An International finance centre, the tallest building in Shenzhen, arriving there at 3:15pm. The idea would be to get on top of this building, but we cancel the plan when we hear that a ticket costs 200 RMB per person, i.e. four people 800 RMB.

Instead we walk around the area and quickly run into a big mall, the Coco Park, a pretty impressive mall with countless shops, cafes and restaurants. You could spend half a day here, walking and shopping from one place to the next. Prices of many things are much lower than in Germany and you find lots of stuff which is not available in Germany.

We spend over two hours in this place and could have easily stayed much longer. But it's getting dark in about an hour and I would like to see another place today. So we take a Didi car to Shun Hing square, arriving there at 5:45pm.

While I'm out taking some pictures, the ladies check out the mall where the Didi driver dropped us off. Half an hour later I'll rejoin the ladies and have some food in a Burger King restaurant.

After 7pm we walk to the Dongmen square, where apparently there are some shops selling Chinese dresses we need for a dance performance.

It's an 800m walk, doable in 10-15 minutes if you walk fast, but we end up doing several stops, checking out places. The entire area is full of interesting shops.

Dongmen square turns out to be an activity hotspot with countless people, shops and restaurants. We spend some time checking out this place (lots of cheap imitation goods), then discover a nearby night market, where they send all kinds of street food. Most of it interesting, but perhaps not very healthy.

Again we get stuck here, as there are too many interesting things to eat or drink. I'm guessing that these shops and restaurants are catering to visitors coming from nearby Hong Kong. Really impressive what variety of food is offered here. Can't remember having seen anything as big as this until now.

Around 9pm we walk back to the hotel.



26.3: Shenzhen -> Xiamen
Jinjiang Inn hotel, Xiamen. 27 Euro for a nice double room with soft beds, furniture, attached bathroom, fast Internet, breakfast included, good shower with plenty of hot water, adjustable A/C, big LCD TV, good furniture etc.
Weather: hot and steamy in Shenzhen, top temperatures above 30°C. Some layer of fog in the morning, gets less after noon. Milky blue sky, quite hazy. Fresh at night in Xiamen.

We get up at 9am after a night with not so much sleep due to the jet lag, then check out at 10:30am, leaving the bags in the reception. Then we take a Didi car to the 海上世界 shopping mall in the Nanshan area of Shenzhen, arriving there at 11:20am.

I look for a mall, but can't find one. It seems that this is sort of an open air mall, which probably gets very lively after dark. Lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, many of them not open yet (I guess they open later in the day). Probably this is a place where to come in the evening.

We spend some time here and the girls have something in a cafe.

Shortly before 12pm we take a Didi car to the Huaqiangbei electronics market. This is a place full of small electronics stores selling all kinds of stuff, from cables, to adapters, power supplies, smartwatches, notebook PCs, PC parts, household appliances etc. Kind of interesting to see what they have. We buy some small articles (colourful USB cables, a USB-C to jack adapter etc), then leave this place at 2pm.

After that we take another Didi car to the Coco Park mall, where we were yesterday. There we have some late lunch and do some shopping.

Around 4:15pm we take a Didi car back to the hotel, arriving there at 4:40pm. Then we take a taxi to the Shenzhen north railway station. It's a taxi, because we noticed that the Shenzhen taxis have a lot of boot space, probably big enough for all our luggage.

The taxi trip is quite speedy (we arrive at the railway station by 5:20pm) and surprisingly inexpensive (59 RMB for about 20km - was thinking it would be more).

At the train station we lose a few minutes of time looking for the entrance to the railway station. Then we go in, proceed through security, and then to the gates waiting area.

There is still some time, so we order something to eat in a KFC restaurant.

At 5:52pm we walk to the platform and board the train. It's a high speed train (top speed is 250 km/h).

We arrive in Xiamen North train station at 9:10pm. There I realise that I booked the wrong hotel (there are two Jinjiang Inn hotels, one very close to the train station, one 7km away). We take a Didi car and a taxi to the hotel (20 RMB each; because we have too much luggage for one car).

We reach the hotel around 9:45pm, then check in.



27.3: Xiamen -> Nanjing -> Fujian tulou -> Xiamen
Jinjiang Inn hotel, Xiamen.
Weather: more cold than yesterday, top temperatures of 24°C (less in the mountains), overcast the whole day, but no rain. Light jacket needed outdoors.

We get up and take a Didi car to the railway station. Once there we check if there is a left luggage. There is - it's a complex of containers in different sizes, payable with the smartphone. Then we proceed to the platform and take the 10:19am train to Nanjing, arriving at 10:55am.

At the train station there are people shouting "tulou, tulou". Basically drivers trying to fill there minivans and cars.

I order a Didi car to the Tiánluókēng tǔlóu cluster (田螺坑土楼群) for 135 RMB (which later will become 153 RMB). Once in the car we ask the driver if he would be willing to be our driver for the day and what he would charge. We end up with an additional 400 RMB (500 if we also want to visit the Hóngkēng tǔlóu cluster, 洪坑土楼群), i.e. total of either 553 RMB or 653 RMB.

Shortly after 12pm we reach the ticket counter of the Tiánluókēng cluster and buy four tickets. From this counter the car drives into a compound (checkpoint at the entrance), then drives several km to the first tulou complex, the one with the group of four tulous. We are there at 12:25pm. Beautiful village with very photogenic setting in the forested mountains and 800m of altitude and interesting architecture.

We spend some time here and have some lunch. Then we'll visit two more places in this compound, both included in the ticket price. At 2:45pm we'll be in a place with one tulou and a small village around it, at 3:25pm in a picturesque village without tulou structures. There my girls befriend a group of Chinese university students studying arts (and who came here to draw paintings of the village).

At 3:50pm, because it is still early, we drive to the Hóngkēng tǔlóu cluster. There an old lady harasses us, insisting to be our guide, and we only manage to get rid of her after we give her 50 RMB (well, she does actually show where the main tulou structure is, so does provide some limited service).

In Hóngkēng we only find one tulou structure, but this is a very photogenic one (inside the tulou there is another circular structure.

At 5:45pm we are back at the car and drive to the Nanjing train station, arriving at 6:45pm. At 7:45pm we take the train back to Xiamen, and reach Xiamen at 8:20pm.

 

28.3: Xiamen -> Quanzhou -> Wuyishan
Wuyishan Ancient Street Nr 3 Tea hotel, Wuyishan. Around 30 Euro per night for a nice double room with bathroom with shower, LCD TV, tables + chairs. Elegant look, but the room doesn't have everything (no cupboard for clothes for instance).
Weather: quite hot today with top temperatures of 30°C. Thin clouds layer, milky blue sky. No rain, 23°C in the morning. Fresh in the evening in Wuyishan, we have to dress up (15°C at night).

We get up at 8am, get ready and check out at 9:10am. Then we take two taxis to the railway station.

At the railway station we discover that the left luggage containers we found yesterday are only available for Chinese nationals. That is, the online system won't allow us to proceed with the booking (it doesn't accept our names - very strange).

So we are stuck there at the train station with all the luggage at 9:45am, train to Quanzhou leaving at 10:06am. We decide to bring the luggage to Quanzhou, hoping to find a usable left luggage there.

Once in Quanzhou we discover that there is no left luggage service at all. Some discussion, then I book a cheap hotel in Quanzhou for 8 Euro, thinking that we can leave the luggage there for the day while sightseeing.

We abandon this idea when we see the prices of 6-seater cars to Quanzhou city (we are about 20-30km from the city centre). So we walk to the departures hall, talk with a shop owner and leave the luggage next to her shop.

Then we take a taxi to Quanzhou, Kaiyuan temple. The trip ends up costing 111 RMB, because the driver takes the longer motorway route (we thought it would be faster, but actually it's not and there are 11 RMB of toll fees).

While in the taxi I realise that the return train to Xiamen departs from another train station in Quanzhou (we arrived at Quanzhou south and depart from Quanzhou). But because the luggage is in Quanzhou south, I book a new train ticket from Quanzhou south to Xiamen (4:02pm train).

It's 11:48am when we finally start the sightseeing of Quanzhou. This city is on the UNESCO world heritage list, but actually there are very few historical sights. There is the area around the Kaiyuan temple which is quite cute and touristy, the Guandi temple and the Qingjing mosque, but besides that not much else.

We'll spend the next few hours exploring the city, then at 2:55pm get in a taxi back to the railway station. We reach Quanzhou south at 3:40pm, chill a bit, then take the 4:02pm train to Xiamen.

In Xiamen theoretically there is an hour of time in between trains, and I was thinking we could use this time to eat something in a restaurant (we've had no lunch). In practice it takes a while to walk with the luggage from the platform to the central area and we have to enter again the railway station.

Then, there are almost no restaurants in this train station. I see a KFC outlet, walk there, then lose about 10-15 minutes waiting in the queue. In the end, I'll only be able to place an order using the smartphone (and getting the app up and running takes effort - at the first few tries, I can't manage to install the app).

We have experienced this situation also in other places in Quanzhou today. In a bubble tea shop for instance the staff were prioritising online and smartphone orders. Because I couldn't manage to get their app to run, in the end I was unable to place an order, and after about 10 minutes of waiting simply gave up and placed no order.

By the way, there are also few rubbish bins in the Xiamen railway station. I can't find a place where to throw the plastic glass of my coke drink.

In any case, we board the 17:18 train to Wuyishan around 5:15pm, then the train departs on time.

The trip is smooth and we arrive in the Nanpingshi train station at 7:32pm. Then I check the location of the hotel - 23km from the train station. We take Didi cars to the hotel (55 and 74 RMB), arriving there around 8:15pm.

In the evening we walk a bit around in Wuyishan and have a late dinner. It's a quite pretty and clean city, focused on tourists. Tea plays an important part of the local culture, as Wuyishan is a tea growing area.



29.3: Wuyishan
Wuyishan Ancient Street Nr 3 Tea hotel, Wuyishan.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some thin clouds the whole day. Top temperatures around 28-30°C.

We get up at 9am, then take a Didi car to the Wuyishan tourist centre after 10am, arriving at 10:35am. Some checking and discussion with the local staff. In the end we buy tickets for two days of activity for 215 RMB per person. These include the boat trip and the internal bus transfers.

The tourist centre by the way is a quite a big structure, with several shops, cafes, eateries, facilities and other stuff. Not exactly a small thing in the middle of nowhere - this is some serious tourist infrastructure. Also very well organised, capable to handle large numbers of visitors.

After some ice-cream we walk to the bus stop where we fetch a first bus to a place called Yixiantian, arriving there at 11:34am. There it's a short walk to a cave in the mountain. Nice spring scenery, easy walk on a paved path with staircase steps.

Shortly after 12pm we fetch a second bus to the jetty where the bamboo rafts are. Some waiting time which we spend buying plastic bags for the shoes (because the raft gets occasionally flooded with water), some food and drinks and sun hats, because the sun is strong and it's impractical to use parasols on the bamboo raft.

Around 12:45pm we are on the bamboo raft and start the boat trip. It's a raft with 8 chairs and two boatsmen, who for the next hour and a half will guide the boat downstream the shallow river.

The scenery is really pretty, forests everywhere and rocky mountain peaks on both sides of the river. Lots of boats on the river today. Probably on a peak travel day this place is really full of boats and it's tough to get a seat on a boat.

While on the boat the tourists behind us throw fish food they bought at a shop in the facility to the fish. The fish seem to be used to this, because they actively follow the boat and jump at the food (a bit like dolphins following a boat).

The trip is really cool at the beginning, but after an hour or so it starts getting boring. So we are somehow relieved when we finally can get out of the boat around 2:20pm.

The place where we arrive has a large number of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops. We walk through the area, stopping for some drinks and food.

Around 3:15pm we take another bus to the DaHongPao tea trail. This is a one way trail across a tea plantation. If you walk it to the end it's a 4.5km walk to the Water Curtain cave (9km in total going and coming back).

The ladies today are not in the mood to walk a lot, so we only manage to walk to the DaHongPao station, where there is some kind of restaurant/cafe. From there we walk back to the bus stop and take a bus back to the tourist centre of the Wuyishan national park. We are there at 5pm.

The question is what to do with the rest of the day. There isn't a shopping mall where to bring the ladies, so we just take a Didi car back to the hotel. Then we'll have an early dinner at 6pm (we have skipped lunch), then spend some more time walking around, buying more food and drinks before retreating to the hotel.



30.3: Wuyishan
Wuyishan Ancient Street Nr 3 Tea hotel, Wuyishan.
Weather: cold and rainy in the morning until noon, then the sun comes out and the sky turns mostly blue. Much warmer after that.

I take a taxi around 10:30am to the Wuyishan tourist centre, alone as the ladies don't want to climb the Tianyou peak. They will join me later today in the Wuyishan area.

It's cold and raining, so there are fewer people in the national park at the moment. People are wearing raincoats or carrying umbrellas. Surprisingly, boat trips are still taking place (with people wearing rain gear).

At first I take a bus to the starting point of the Tianyou peak trail. Then I start walking along this trail. Initially it's a wide trail in the river valley, paved and in very good condition. As soon as it starts climbing however the trail quickly becomes very narrow. It consists of staircase steps, most of them cut into the rock.

The scenery and the views are really very nice. You can see the river below bending, and above there is a waterfall and the rock wall.

I reach the Tianyou peak top at 12:26pm, which surprises me a bit, because I was told that up and down you need three hours and I probably haven't walked for more than half an hour (the rest are stops in the various places along the trail - there are temples, pavilions, view points etc.)

Turns out that the Tianyou peak is only 402m high and the river valley is at 200m.

Short break on the top, then I start walking down along the other route. At one point, in the Humajian valley, there is a bifurcation, with one trail leading to the base of Tianyou peak and the other one, the Tao trail (3.4km) to DaHongPao. After some pondering I choose the DaHongPao trail.

This Tao trail section is simply beautiful. It crosses through the tea plantations in the narrow valleys between the rock boulders. The scenery consists of rock walls, peaks, forests and tea plantations.

Around 1:30pm the ladies call me to tell me that they arrived in Wuyishan NP. I tell them that I will need at least one more hour. So they decide to go to Wuyigong, the place with many shops and restaurants which we visited yesterday.

I continue walking quickly, but do countless stops to take pictures, because the scenery is simply gorgeous and the light is good.

At 2:22pm I'm in the bus, by 2:30pm I reach Wuyigong and reunite with the ladies. We discuss what to do and discover a trail to a Dawang peak. So we attempt to climb it.

Turns out it's 530m high and the staircase is quite steep. One after the other all three ladies give up (also because the forest is full of mosquitoes). I'll continue until about 430m of altitude, then give up because the last part of the trail is a very narrow trail through a cave. Really not very welcoming, and not worth doing the last 100m for the views.

So I walk down to the ladies. We'll spend the rest of the day chilling in Wuyigong and having a look at the Yunu viewpoint. It's possible to rent Chinese classical clothes with make-up and wig for 230 RMB. The girls suggest to do that to take some pictures.

After 5pm we take a Didi car back to the hotel and will have some dinner around 7pm in a KFC restaurant, then in the evening shop a bit in the stalls area near the hotel.

We try to buy some DaHongPao tea, but somehow can't find tea with the same flavour as the one we tasted the other day.



31.3: Wuyishan -> Wuhan
Hotel Kailaixi, Wuhan. 44 Euro for a big double room, a bit old, but nicely furnished. Bathroom with shower, A/C, fast Internet. Located near the yellow crane pagoda.
Weather: rain in Wuyishan in the morning when we leave, but not cold, probably above 20°C. Sunny, blue sky and hot in Wuhan (I guess top temperatures around 28°C).

We leave the hotel after 9am and take Didi cars to the Wuyishan North railway station (two cars, as we are four people and there isn't enough space in the boot for all our luggage). We reach the railway station by 9:40am. Small railway station with big waiting hall for the trains.

The train arrives on time and we get in. It's a four hours trip, from 10:08am to 2:11pm. The train is almost completely full. It travels at up to 300km/h and arrives on time in Wuhan.

We get into Didi cars and drive to the hotel. There we check in and get settled. As one of my daughters doesn't feel well and my wife is a bit tired, I walk with the other daughter to the Yellow Crane pagoda.

But first we have some food in a small stall (inexpensive 10 RMB bowl of dumplings). Then a bubble tea for 6 RMB - cheapest bubble tea I have ever had.

It's a short walk to the entrance of the Yellow Crane pagoda compound. The area is full of shops, cafes, eateries and restaurants. Very nice.

To get into the Yellow Crane pagoda compound you need to buy a ticket. Quite expensive at 70 RMB for an adult (reduced price for minors of 35 RMB). I wonder why it is so expensive, given that this Yellow Crane pagoda is actually not so famous.

Well, inside it's actually very nice. Beautiful park, nice buildings, many things to see, nice views of Wuhan. Perhaps the Yellow Crane pagoda is an important structure in China.

We are in the compound between 4:42pm and 6pm (when the day time visit time ends), then walk to a Watsons pharmacy about 1.5km away. Along the way we get to see the city. It's quite modern and clean.

Shortly after 7pm, when walking back towards the hotel, I spot the illuminated tower of the Yellow Crane pagoda. Looks beautiful during the blue hour. So I do a short detour and try to get closer to take a picture.

Well now, to get into the compound you need to buy a new ticket. The one I have for 70 RMB is a day time visit ticket. The night ticket I need now costs 120 RMB. Probably these guys know how scenic the Yellow Crane pagoda is after dark, and charge people for that. Here "communist" China is actually a very "capitalist" country, carefully balancing demand and pricing...

I walk to a bit further away and still manage to get some nice shots of the Yellow Crane pagoda in the blue hour. After that I get back to the hotel.

We'll get out again at 8pm, taking a taxi to the Dream Plaza mall (Meng Shidai mall). This is a very upscale and elegant mall, focusing on international brands. It takes a while to figure out where the food court is (on the 7th floor it's all expensive restaurants).

You have to go down to the B1 level (one level below the ground floor. There is a food court with several restaurants. We have a dinner after 9pm, then take a Didi car back to the hotel.



1.4: Wuhan -> Zhengzhou
Boxin Zhixuan Hotel, Zhengzhou. 37 Euro for a "business" room, not very big, but well furnished and with soft beds. Fast enough Internet access, A/C (but the A/C in the room of the kids has problems). Attached bathroom with shower. 1.6km from the Zhengzhou East railway station. The hotel is in a business area. To find some shops and restaurants you have to walk a few hundred metres.
Weather: overcast in the morning, then sunny and some blue sky, probably top temperature around 25-26°C. The rain starts slowly around 1:50pm and is quite strong until 4pm, then gradually stops. The temperatures drop to around 20-21°C. Colder at night in Zhengzhou and windy.

We get up around 8:30am, have some breakfast, then around 10am check out one room and put all luggage into the other room which we have extended until 6pm for a fee of 98 RMB.

My big daughter is still recovering, so is not ready to do sightseeing. My wife is not terribly interested in visiting a temple, so will stay with the big daughter and perhaps walk out a bit later. I take a taxi with my younger daughter to the Changchun temple (10 RMB ticket). We are there at 10:47am.

This temple, well, at first sight doesn't look terribly impressive. It looks like one of those countless Chinese temples I have already seen. But later, when I go through the pictures I have taken, it turns out that this temple is very photogenic, because in the pictures it looks great.

And actually, all pictures of Wuhan I took so far are nice. Wuhan is very photogenic.

We are in this temple until 11:20am, then take a Didi car to the Kaide 1818 shopping mall ("Capitaland"?), arriving there at 11:46am. In the mall we reunite with my wife and the big daughter.

This mall is elegant, but sells more in the medium price range (fewer luxury goods). Because it's already noon we have lunch in the food court in the basement, then take a taxi to the Hubei provincial museum, arriving at 1:50pm.

There are very few people in this museum, too few actually for an average day. Turns out that today it's Monday and the museum is closed. So we call another Didi car and go to the Guiyuan temple (ticket is 10 RMB).

When we arrive at 2:43pm it's raining heavily. The temple actually is very nice, with many structures, pavilions, a pond, a large square with a statue and a tower in the background. Despite the bad weather, it looks really good. We are there until about 3:40pm, then take a Didi car back to the hotel.

In the hotel we dry the clothes, then get out again for some strolling and shopping. The rain has now almost finished

At 5:20pm we are back in the hotel room and check out at 5:30pm. We take Didi cars to the train station, arriving at 6:22pm (37 minutes trip, but I had to wait 10 minutes for my Didi car).

Since there are only 19 minutes until our train to Zhengzhou departs, we rush like hell through security and the train station to reach the train platform. The train leaves on time at 6:41pm (it's the high speed train to Beijing). It's moderately full.

We arrive on time at 8:35pm in Zhengzhou. We proceed to the exit and lose some time finding the place where to get into a Didi car (taxis won't do such a short 1.6km trip). Finally we manage to secure two Didi cars and drive to the hotel. Later in the evening I'll bring the girls to a convenience store, where they buy some food (all restaurants close by 10pm).




2.4: Zhengzhou -> Shaolin monastery
Boxin Zhixuan Hotel, Zhengzhou. The breakfast is only Chinese - no international breakfast.
Weather: overcast the whole day, but no rain. Some wind every now and then and cold, so cold that I have to wear a sweater and a light jacket.

We leave the hotel after 10:15am and call a Didi car to the Shaolin temple (about 100 km drive). The first Didi driver asks for some money, because he says he has to drive back with no customers. The second driver which we get agrees to do the trip, but complains a bit that he has to drive back with no customers.

Chit-chat with the driver about a number of topics. The conversation proceeds more or less smoothly, the only problem is his heavy Henan accent/dialect and my not so perfect Chinese.

The trip ends up costing 187 RMB + 29 RMB of motorway tolls, which is a low price given the distance of 100 km. It takes about one hour and a half and we arrive at 12:10pm.

With the driver we agree that he will drive us back at 6pm for RMB 200 + motorway toll, which is reasonable for him and us, because this way he doesn't have to drive back with no customers (and I guess he is ok with the daily income of almost RMB 400).

So we start our visit of the Shaolin temple. This is a quite big, actually very big tourist complex. It starts with a cafeteria / restaurant / shop area outside the compound. The entry tickets for the four of us cost 327 RMB (I guess that my younger daughter pays less).

After the ticket check it's a long walk along a pedestrian area, where there are some minor places to see before reaching the actual Shaolin temple. It's nicely set up and would look much better with sunshine and a blue sky.

This is the famous Shaolin temple, but actually it's not that terribly impressive in my opinion, because the actual temple looks like any other (larger) Chinese temple. What makes this place special is the Shaolin martial arts.

Lots of visitors today, even if it's a weekday and not peak travel period. Most are Chinese (we only see a handful of non-Chinese people here).

At 2:06pm we get almost by coincidence into the 2pm kung fu show of the Shaolin monks (there is one at 3pm, but it might get cancelled). 120 RMB for the four of us to get in (30 RMB per person). Nice show of martial arts, like those videos you see on Youtube.

After the show we continue walking and run into the cable cars to the Song mountain (Songshan). It's not so clear if you could also walk up the mountain on a trail, but we don't have so much time, so decide to take the cable car. There are two, one costing 60 RMB (30 for students), the other one 100 RMB.

Some discussion about the student status being applicable for Chinese students only and whether a student card is needed, but in the end they allow the girls in on a student price (and today very few people are taking the cable car anyway).

This cable car brings you up to about 920m of altitude (from the 500 something metres of the Shaolin temple). From there it's a short walk to the Erzu temple and to some peak, where there are some nice views. We spend in total around 1:40-1:50 hours on the Songshan mountain.

We are back down shortly before 5pm and start walking back to the entrance. In the meantime the driver calls and asks when we are ready. With several stops here and there, we are at the exit around 5:50pm and drive back to Zhengzhou.

We tell the driver to drop us off at some nice shopping mall in Zhengzhou, and the driver brings us to the David Plaza (Dawei Cheng), about 10km west of the hotel. We are there at 8pm.

This mall is very high end (luxury brands), but in the B1 level there are a food court and countless less expensive shops. We should have dinner but all food there is not what I'd like to eat (would like to have rice with meat and vegetables, not too spicy).

We split temporarily, with the girls going shopping, and I and my wife buying some food in a supermarket and looking for a suitable restaurant.

In the end my wife and I will have some food in a chicken fast food, while the girls will have some food here and later in a KFC restaurant.

We take a Didi car back to the hotel. The payment with one of my cards is blocked by my German bank (suspicion of fraud). I use another card to pay, and call later the bank to get the card unblocked.




3.4: Zhengzhou -> Luoyang -> Zhengzhou
Boxin Zhixuan Hotel, Zhengzhou.
Weather: overcast and cold the whole day. It starts raining in Luoyang around 12:15pm and continues until about 5pm. We have to use an umbrella for most of the time we are out sightseeing. It's dry in Zhengzhou in the evening around 8-9pm.

After breakfast we take a Didi car to the railway station around 9:30am. Tomorrow is the Qingming national holiday (extended weekend from 4.4 to 6.4) with lots of people expected to travel, but in reality already today the railway station is quite busy. It's not that you can't get into the train station, but there are lots of people.

Later in the evening I hear from a Didi driver that actually today was the busiest day (one day before the Qingming festival).

In any case we get on the 10:12am train to Luoyang and arrive on time at 10:48am. Then we take a Didi car to the Longmen caves, arriving at 11:22am (we lost some time in the train station looking for the place where to board the Didi cars and then had to wait 10 minutes for the Didi car; might have been a better idea to take a taxi, because the distance was not so big).

It's a big distance from the place where we are dropped off until the actual entrance to the Longmen grottos area. Buying the ticket is fast (no passport needed), but then it takes for ever to walk through the maze of shops and restaurants. It takes half an hour to reach the entrance to the Longmen grottos area (we are there at 10:52am).

We are on the west side of the river, where almost all caves are (I understand that only one or two caves are on the east side). You basically walk along the river towards south and every now and then there are staircases on the right side which lead up the cliff wall to the various caves.

Many/most Buddha statues don't have the face or the face is not recognisable. Only a few statues have intact faces. There is one big cave, probably the highlight of this place, where there are bigger statues, many with intact faces.

At the end of the caves area on the west side you cross a bridge to the east side. From there there are panoramic views of the west side. Probably you get good pictures if you arrive on a sunny day in the morning.

After the bridge you continue walking on the east side (option to visit another cave) until you reach the end of the Longmen tourist area.

Around 2pm we have a lunch in a restaurant on the east side of the Longmen tourist area (very cheap - bowls of noodles, four people for a total of 50 RMB).

Then we try to book a Didi car to the White Horse temple (by the way, lots of people in the area offering overpriced car trips to the White Horse temple).

In the end we get into the Didi car, but the driver needs a long time to arrive, because the access to the Longmen area is restricted.

It's a long drive (around 30-40 minutes if I remember correctly) from Longmen to the White Horse temple (cost is 60 RMB). We arrive at 3:25pm.

The temple is surrounded by the usual "belt" of souvenir shops and food stalls and restaurants. After crossing this belt we reach the ticket checkpoint.

The ticket is to be bought by scanning the QR code with the Wechat app. But in our case something doesn't work (the app does not accept my passport number as a valid passport number).

In the end we solve the problem by buying four tickets from somebody at the ticket checkpoint paying with Alipay (not sure who exactly this guy is, but we pay 140 RMB for four tickets to him).

So we get into this temple. It looks like many other temples I have seen already in China, but this one has some (fake) additional temples on the compound: a Thai one, a Burmese one and an Indian one. Many, really many women in Chinese Hanfu clothes and make-up coming here for photo shoots. Still, it's a nice scenic temple.

After 4:30pm we start walking towards the exit. Now we still have some time to kill (our train to Zhengzhou leaves Luoyang at 7:19pm), but it's cold and not really nice to be outdoors right now, so we call a Didi car to the train station. This needs a long time to arrive because of the traffic jam.

At the train station we have some dinner in a KFC restaurant. Around 6:50pm we proceed towards the gate, then get on the train to Zhengzhou at 7:15pm.

The train reaches Zhengzhou on time at 8:04pm, but then we lose time at the train station (shopping stop in a 7-eleven, then it takes for ever to reach the ride hailing area, and more time to get into the Didi car).

The problem is that this car doesn't drive to our exact position, so we have to walk around and find the car using the GPS navigator, which in this below ground level is not very accurate.




4.4: Zhengzhou -> Kaifeng -> Zhengzhou
Boxin Zhixuan Hotel, Zhengzhou.
Weather: overcast the whole day, less cold than yesterday, no rain, every now and then some wind. After 12pm the sky brightens up a bit, it gets sort of sunny, but the sky stays white.

We get into a taxi at 7:45am and drive to the Zhengzhou East railway station. Lots of traffic today, because it's the start of the 3-day Qingming public holiday. More people than usual at the railway station, but we still get through the security check quite fast, with little waiting time (the security staff work faster today). The kids find the time to go to the KFC and McDonalds restaurant and have breakfast.

Around 8:30am the gate to the platform opens and we proceed to the train. We have no seats and in fact the entire train is very full (mostly it's young people who travel).

We reach the Songchenglu station of Kaifeng (7km west of Kaifeng) and take a taxi to the Temple of the Chief Minister in the historic centre of Kaifeng (40 RMB ticket).

This is a temple extending on a compound from north to south for about 100m, containing several buildings, altars and the usual stuff found in a Chinese temple. These Chinese temples look all very similar.

While in the temple I'm approached twice by people who want to take a picture with me. The second time it's a group of four students from Anhui who suggest we spend the rest of the day together (they are also travelling). Not a bad idea, the problem is that we have different plans for today.

Around 11am we take a taxi to the Shanshangan Guild hall, about 1 km away from this temple. This hall is another walled compound containing buildings and other structures in Chinese style. But this somehow looks more original and interesting than the other temple we have just seen. It's smaller however.

We spend about 25 minutes in this place, then around 11:40am stop in a nearby cake shop for a small snack. We are a bit hungry, but it's cold outside and we would like to rest a bit.

At 12:20pm we take a taxi to the Kaifeng Fu area, sort of a rebuilt Song era Chinese city (60 RMB ticket). It's not original, but is actually picturesque and photogenic, sort of a small scale forbidden city. The place is full of tourists today.

At 1:45pm we stop in a noodle restaurant for some food. Then, at 2:50pm we take a taxi to the iron pagoda park in the northeast of the historic area. Some traffic jam, we arrive at 3:10pm.

This park is free, i.e. no entry ticket, and is very nice. You can rent bicycle cars or electric cars to drive through the park. By now there is some sunshine and the park looks very nice.

I take some pictures, then receive a call from my elder daughter. She wants to do a photo shoot with Chinese style dress (hanfu) and make-up. So I finish taking my images and wait for my daughter to get ready.

Getting dressed is quite fast, but the make-up and hairstyling take forever. The photo shoot will start after 4:25pm. Over the next 40 minutes I will take over 200 photos of my daughter in the park (different places, poses, angles etc.).

After that we return the clothes (a bit a pity, the whole setup took an hour and we only "used" it for 40 minutes) and walk to the exit of the park.

There we take a taxi to the Kaifeng north railway station and at 6:51pm board the train to Zhengzhou, arriving at 7:12pm.

Because the girls still want to go shopping we take a taxi to the Dawei mall (the same mall we visited two days ago). We'll be in the mall until almost 10pm, then will return by taxi to the hotel.




5.4: Zhengzhou -> Beijjing
Grand Skylight Hotel Royal Beijing, Beijing. 393 RMB for a double room with everything, a bit old furniture, but ok. Soft beds. Located in Chaoyang (northeast of the centre).
Weather: sunny, but mostly white/ milky blue sky. No rain, much warmer than yesterday (no sweater, a thin, light jacket is enough). Mild in the evening in Beijing.

We get up late and check out well after 10am, leaving the bags in the hotel. At 11:05am we take a Didi car to the Henan museum, arriving at 11:25am.

Very, very long queue to get in. In the end, at 11:45am we are told that we should have booked tickets online to get in. But all tickets for today sold out two days ago, because today there are so many visitors. So the question now is what to do.

I suggest to go to the Corn tower (Yumilou). Mutiny of the girls, who say they want to go shopping. Long discussion, then the younger one will go with me to the Corn tower, while the bigger one will follow my wife (and do some shopping).

While in the Didi car with my younger daughter, I search what there is to do in Zhengzhou. I discover Erqi square, which looks interesting (seems to be a hotspot of activity and shopping). I inform my wife about it, and she goes there with my older daughter.

I arrive at 12:50pm at the Corn tower. The initial impression is that this is an aseptic business area with trade fair facilities. Probably this place looks cool at night. Quickly we discover that behind the tower there is a large pond and shops, eateries, bars etc.

We have some drinks, then I buy a ticket (68 RMB) for the viewing platform on the 68th floor. The views from the top are quite poor. There is some grid outside partially obstructing the view but the bigger problem is the haze which limits the far away views.

I probably spend about 10 minutes on top, then go down again. There I join my younger daughter, who has just walked once around the pond. We  walk to the other side of the pond, taking some pictures (nice park with blooming trees by the way, it's a pity that there is no blue sky today - the haze really messes up the views).

At 2:25pm we get into a Didi car to the Erqi square, arriving there at 3pm (some traffic jam on the way).

Erqi square right now is full of people, lots of activity, people quickly walking from one place to the next. Many shops, even some (small?) mall, the usual set of eateries, snack shops, bubble tea places etc. There is even some kind of white pagoda tower.

I meet my wife and together we'll go to a suitcase shop, while the smaller daughter joins the elder one and goes shopping. In the suitcase shop we buy a suitcase for 170 RMB (to replace one which broke).

We'll be on Erqi square until about 4:40pm, then take a Didi car back to the hotel, arriving at 5:07pm (our driver must be a former Formula 1 fan...).

In the hotel we move the stuff from the old, broken suitcase to the new one. Then we take Didi cars to the train station, arriving at 5:30pm.

Surprise, surprise at the security check. They can only find two of the four tickets we booked on the 7:09pm G54 train to Beijing. Long discussion, they check and check again our passports, our booking in the Trip.com app. In the end around 6pm they send us to the service counter (and it takes a few minutes to find it, because you have to walk to the end of the train station, then take the escalator to two levels below, i.e. first floor).

We queue up at the service counter and when it's our turn we explain the matter to the lady. She checks in her computer and finally finds our tickets, then gives us prints of them.

With that we rush back to the security check, and this time manage to get into the train station. Because it's already 6:30pm we have some food in a McDonald's restaurant, then proceed to the gate.

At the gate checking point we have to use the paper tickets, more precisely the QR codes printed on them, to get in (because probably something is wrong in their system and our passport numbers are not in for this train).

Later on the train the train staff and will ask to see one more time all our passports. The train is not even as full as I thought it would be. About a third of the seats are empty.

We arrive in Beijing West train station on time at 9:44pm and walk to the Didi cars area (P15). But then the problem is that the Didi app locates us incorrectly with the result that the drivers cannot find us. After two cancelled cars I walk to the surface and there am able to book a Didi car. We reach the hotel shortly after 11pm.



6.4: Beijing -> Mutianyu great wall ->  Bejing
Grand Skylight Hotel Royal Beijing, Beijing.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds every now and then. Temperatures up to 27°C.

We get up late, then extend one of the rooms for another day, in order to have a room where to stay until midnight and take a shower before the flight back to Europe.

After 11am we take a Didi car to the great wall in Mutianyu. Trip cost is 179 RMB, it takes about 1:10 hours and the roads are mostly free (little traffic).

The car drops us off in the underground parking of the Mutianyu great wall tourist complex at 12:45pm. There we get out and have a look at the place.

It's quite clean and neat and modern. Nice tourist facilities with restaurants, eateries, shops, stalls etc. We have some lunch, then buy tickets to the great wall (60 RMB adults, 40 RMB for the kids).

The tickets include the bus trip to the starting point of the trail to the great wall and the cable car station.

A two-way cable car trip (up and down) costs 140 RMB. It's not really worth spending so much money on the cable car, because walking up the trail to the great wall (until tower 11) takes only half an hour (good trail with staircases). From there it's another 10 minutes to tower 14 next to the mountain station of the cable car.

The ladies decide to take the cable car, while I walk up the trail. Nice views of the scenery and the blooming trees. Many nice pictures.

We are down at the bus station around 3:50pm. Then we take the bus back to the tourist compound entrance and try to call a Didi car.

No Didi driver right now, so we end up booking a taxi via Didi (cost to Beijing Sanlitun will be 264 RMB).

Getting back to Beijing this time takes two hours and a half, because there is a lot of traffic and some traffic jams along the way. My guess is that this is due to the Qingming weekend (perhaps tomorrow the traffic will be even worse?).

Anyway, the driver drops us off in Beijing Sanlitun around 6:35pm. This is an area with stylish shops and restaurants/ cafes. But it turns out that it's not the kind of shopping the girls want to do (cheap, but cute articles). We walk around a bit, then go to a Miniso store for some shopping and then have dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant.

We are back in the hotel after 9:30pm. Everybody has a shower and gets ready for the trip back to Germany.



7.4: Beijing -> Brussels -> Munich
Home, sweet home.
Weather: mild at night in Beijing, sunny and mostly blue sky in Brussels until about 3-4pm, top temperatures of 20°C. Some rain in the evening in Brussels. Dry and around 20°C in Munich at 10-11pm.

Around 10pm (on 6.4) while double-checking the flight booking I realise that the flight from Brussels to Munich around 1pm CET (the one with Brussels Airlines) has been cancelled. I had received an email with a notification of changed schedule, but until now was unable to open the link.

We call the German travel operator who arranged the ticket for us with Hainan Airlines. They tell us to call a German 00800 number of Hainan Airlines). But this number can only be called from within Germany. Then we spend about 20-30 minutes checking what other options there are to reach Munich from Brussels.

Bus is not possible due to the schedules, there is a train at 10:30am arriving at 5:30pm but costing 200 Euro per person, and there are flights. In the end we decide to just go to the airport and settle the matter there.

We take Didi cars to the PEK airport around 11:30pm, arriving shortly before midnight at terminal 3. Turns out that we should have gone to terminal 2, so we take the free shuttle bus to terminal 2.

There we walk to the check-in of Hainan Airlines and discuss the ticket problem with the staff. Long discussion, waiting, then finally they rebook us on a flight with Brussels airlines at 7pm. The whole process takes a long time (around 40 minutes). Not a problem, because our flight is delayed from 2:40am to 3:10am.

As soon as we have all boarding passes we proceed through passport control and security (the security people make me open 2-3 times the camera bag - very suspicious). I also have to open the suitcase at the check-in.

We reach the gate in time and board the plane. This (a B787) takes off after 3am and lands in Brussels at 7:40am local time.

Once in Brussels my wife needs one hour to get through the passport check. After that we spend quite a long time discussing what to do. One option on the table is to book a hotel for day time use, but all not too expensive hotels we contact only allow check-in after 3pm. In the end we decide to just leave our backpacks at the left luggage storage (12 Euro for a large container box) and get into Brussels city.

We spend 75 Euro for return tickets to Brussels for four people. Ridiculously expensive, because there are only 14km between the airport and the city, and in Munich, where the airport is much further away, you can get a day pass covering all transportation in the Munich area including the airport for 24 hours for up to five people for 29 Euro.

In fact Brussels is a very expensive city, where one scoop of ice cream costs 3 Euro for instance.

Anyway, at 10:44am we are finally in the Brussels Centraal train station. From there we slowly walk to Grote Plats, the main square of Brussels. Today is a nice sunny day, and the town is full of people. Many tourists from China.

We'll be in town until 3:25pm, walking around, sightseeing, stopping here and there for some food and drinks. Then we take the 3:44pm train to the airport, arriving around 4pm.

While waiting for the flight I go through the photos of the day. The 7pm flight takes off more or less on time and lands 10 minutes early at 8:10pm. Then it takes time to retrieve the luggage and finally we are home by 11pm.



Copyright 2024 Alfred Molon