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China October 2005: JiXi, Huanan, Hegang

by Ameling Algra


A short report of my 17th trip to China. No new discoveries or lists of operating locos, but some practical travel information that may be useful for others planning to go there on their own. Many thanks to others for their reports that made my trip go smoothly, especially Florian Menius' and Dave Thomas' about Ji Xi.


Ji XI: excellent system with much traffic and nice, very clean SY. Very easily accessed thrgough public transport, thanks to the reports on this site.

Huanan: did not stay in Tuoyaozi but in Huanan. With a reliable taxi bringing me to Tuoyaozi and picking me up again, I don't have the impression I missed anything by not staying in Tuoyaozi; for me, the comfort of a good hotel was worth the extra money (Y100 a day for the taxi). Beautiful line, but not much traffic in daylight.

Hegang: difficult to access, and there don't seem to be any steam passengers during weekends.

Bus travel: interlocal buses are an excellent way to go around for journeys of say, up to three or four hours; comfortable, frequent and efficient; with efficient ticket sales at the efficient bus stations.There are buses every half hour from Huanan to Jiamusi for example, taking just one hour; with two trains a day taking almost two hours, there is no question who wins the competition. I am exactly the male Dutch average length of 1m82 and find bus seats much more comfortable than hard seat on the train; maybe for people who are longer than the Dutch average, this is different. Shared taxis also look like an efficient option but they can have their drawback; unexpected change of car, overpriced or asking for more money, so sometimes a lot of hassle.

Friday, October 14: flight with Air France, Amsterdam-Paris-Beijing. I had 2,5 hours to kill at CDG airport; I took an earlier flight from AMS than the ''oficcial'' one which had a connecting time of 40 minutes. A wise decision as the AMS-CDG flight left about 30 minutes late. At CDG watched an impressive though somewhat monotonous procession of double TGV sets. The food on KLM's ''mother airline'' is definitely better than on our ''royal airline''. I have no comment about the in flight service as it turned out to be virtually non-existant.

Saturday, Oct 15: arrival at BJS on time. I intended to go to Shibanxi, Haishiwan and Baiyin; recent weather reports made me change my plans at the last minute so at the airport I booked the 13.30 China Southern flight to Mudanjiang (dep 13.30) instead - flight time now rather convenient again, in April the flight left 19.00 The advantage of un-pre-organised solo travel is that such a last minute decision is possible!
On arrival in Mudanjiang I looked for the shared taxi mentioned by Florian. As it turned out, there were only two passengers opting for this service which lead to long discussions about what to pay. On the way there was a change to another car, seems to be quite regular with shared taxis: you choose a decent looking Jetta and are then transferred to a decrepit Swift. On arrival in Jixi, it turned out that the solution for the financial discussion was that I had to pay for three (300 Yuan). After some haggling I ended the discussion by paying Y250 - still too much but I saved my face…. And I wanted to go to bed. Stayed in the Long Fu hotel, recommended in other reports. From the railway station, go to the left & cross the street. Y100 for a double. The promised 8PM hot water did not materialize, instead the cold water supply ended as well. Was referred to the in house bath house, which was adequate but not what I had in mind when I payed for a room with bathroom. And the bathhouse staff did expect payment. So next day I changed into the Jixi Fandian, wich is just around the corner on the road heading away from the railway station. Y120 for a double, hot water all day, everything worked including the staff.

Sunday, Oct 16: after checking into my new hotel, I went to Chengzihe. Take local bus 1 from across the street to its terminus (Y1), then there are plenty of buses from there on the road to Chengzihe which goes away from there slightly to the left. The most convenient is probably town bus 3 which ends right at the railway triangle shown on Florian's map (Y1). At the triangle there is a church (very common in mining areas, other churches I saw in China were in Fuxin, Fushun, Yinghao) where a service was just about to end and I was invited in. After some singing, a lot of Hallelujah's and hand shaking and (probably) many invitations to come to dinner I left, because I had another duty here - I heard constant whistling. As previously reported, this area is very busy - it is easy to be at the right place at the wrong moment. Weather slightly overcast, at around two it darkened and a sand storm started, so back to my new hotel with hot water.

Monday, Oct 17 to Henggang, following Dave Thomas's detailed advice. First bus 1in the other direction, from the bus stop right in front of the Jixi Fandian (Y1), then at its terminal (JiXi University) onto a very crowded bus 27. As I could not look to the left, I missed Henggang station so I ended up riding the whole line (to Shannan mine) for the hefty amount of Y2,5. Not much to see there, apart from the prominent mining police station and a lively street market, so I started walking the line in beautiful, clear but rather cold weather to Henggang, where I found a well painted station/shed with five immaculate SY's in steam, three of which soon left to the west with empties (no banker). I walked to the level crossing shown on the maps, much traffic there including tender first uphill loaded trains from the nearby mines: very impressive, much slipping. When the wind became too strong to be comfortable, went to the hotel again with bus 27 (Y2 for this shorter leg) and bus 1.

Tuesday, Oct 18 Hegang again. Then on to the bus station, which can be reached as follows: from the railway station, go to the left and walk some 200 metres. The bus station bulding is on the right side of the road. As it is being rebuilt, I might be easy to overlook it. Bought a ticket for next day's bus to Huanan at 14.10, for Y28.

Wednesday, Oct 19 to Chengzihe again. Then in the afternoon the bus to Huanan, interesting and comfortable ride of just over two hours, without the cruising for passengers I encountered around Zhengzhou. In Huanan, went to the Huanan Binguan with excellent double for Y120, hot water from 19.00 . Probably as it is the only upmarket hotel in town, no discounts given! As I had changed my plans at the last minute, I did not have any chance to arrange accomodation in Tuoyaozi, besides, I don't like the concept of asian toilets (or French toilets, as we call them in Holland). In Florian's report, I read that taxi drivers refused to bring him to Tuoyaozi because of the road conditions. I hoped that that was an icy winter situation and that in autumn I would be able to find someone willing to bring me there (and pick me up late afternoon). Which indeed turned out to be possible: for Y100 a taxi driver was willing to pick me up at the hotel at 05.30 and then again at Tuoyaozi at 16.00. That way, I thought it unlikely I would miss any of the steam trains.

Thursday, Oct 20 my taxi driver arrived punctual at 5.30 AM so I was in Tuoyaozi before 6.30 AM. Got two accomodation offers within half an hour so no need to arrange anything before…. First downhill train around 8.30 in the sun; then an uphill train at around 12.00 while the weather turned into overcast. And no trains at all till I found that a downhill train had stopped somewhere before Tuoyaozi where they were busy repairing the engine. The combination of cold, overcast weather even changing into icy rain and the lack of activity made me decide to go on next day so…..

Friday, Oct 21 went to the bus station and asked for a bus to Hegang. The bus station in Huanan is extremely well organised. There turned out to be one at 08.05 (half an hour after my arrival at the bus station), Y21.50 for just over two hours journey time, through peaceful countryside partly on unpaved but not very poor roads. Interesting and comfortable journey again. The weather was overcast when I left but changed into beautiful sunshine soon after, so I started to regret I left Huanan. The bus went on to Hebei and did not stop at a bus station in Hegang. As the bus conductor assumed I was going to Hebei & I was waiting to get of at a , I almost 'missed' Hegang which would have led to an unplanned visit to Hebei….. As it is, I jumped off the bus at the outskirts of Hegang, and a taxi driver brought me to the four star Long Yun Hotel opposite the train station (Y 197). For years, I was planning to visit Hegang as I like industrial systems with passenger service, I don't mind overhead wires or tender first running and I like the SY. My first planned visit was in Dec 2000, when a Chinese with a knife in Shuanyashang changed my plans - and later, it always was too far out. Now I finally got there, but it turned out to be disappointing. It is not easy to find good spots to film the trains, and the electric locos are not offering the variety of Fuxin. On the plus side the weather was very clear, though the strong wind made video difficult. Saw the 13.35 passenger leave from Jipei, then filmed the two passengers around four o'clock at Naanshan station, taking bus 3 from the hotel.

Saturday, Oct 22 went out to see the 6 AM passenger and the two trains (arr and dep) around nine. Maybe I just missed the 6AM, but at 9.30 there was still no sign of a train arriving or departing. The electric dep at 6.40 did run. Are there no trains on the south line on weekends?? Luckily there were some steam movements but it was extremely cold with strong wind so I went back to the hotel and had an excellent breakfast & and then decided to give up on this system. So checked out and went looking for a taxi to take me to the bus station. The taxi turned out to be a shared taxi for Jiamusi, asked Y300 for the trip which was quiclky changed into Y30, so within ten minutes I was on my way to Jiamusi in a comfortable Jetta. Outside Hegang, we were transferred to a Suzuki Swift again, with a suidical driver. With one hand, he was onstantly phoning while adjusting the radio or the heating with his other hand. Half way he stopped for about half an hour to go to the loo (he ''borrowed'' toilet paper from one of the passengers) so in the end I don't think this was a success but I did eventually get to Jiamusi railway station. Which must be the most efficient railway station I ever saw in China. The ticket office even has a foreigners ticket window which I saw after I bought my ticket on the ''bullet train'' to Haerbin. I then went to the equally well organised waiting room, where I reconsidered my plans - go to Zhengzhou to do Xingyang, or was it better to ''do'' Huanan properly now that I was near there? I made up my mind, returned my Haerbin ticket and bought a sleeper ticket for Beijing on Thursday Oct 27. Then to the bus station in Jiamusi, looking for a bus to Huanan which was not that easy as I pointed at the Chinese characters for Huainan instead of Huanan. But after half an hour or so I was on my way to Huanan again, went to the binguan where they seemed pleased to see me again, and booked ''my'' taxi driver for next day again.

Sunday, Oct 23 till Wednesday, Oct 26 four days along the line near Tuoyaozi. For me, the motor bikes to get along the line are not an option - a short trip of about ten minutes left me totally cramped. But walking through the forests is nice, even though there are preciously few trains. On Sunday, as was to be expected, no coal trains but just one steam train (loco & caboose & one flat wagon) around 10.30 AM up and around 2 PM down. Other days, there was usually only one up train in daylight (after the down railcar, around 2 PM), and one or two down loaded trains (between 7 and 9 AM, and around 10AM). The leaves were gone, as were the tour groups; just two Swiss mini flocks herded by Sun XiaoLan. The taxi driver tel 13512613128 turned out to be very reliable. If someone was standing along the road waiting for a taxi, he asked me if it was acceptable for me to pick them up; and he then used the few Yuans they payed him to buy me some fruit! During this trip, I had some difficulty to find my favourite Chinese restaurant thamt makes you feel really welcome. But in Huanan I finally succeeded - excellent meal always under 10 Yuan, escorted to the door after the meal, and some conversation. First night: ''where do you come from?''. Second night: ''what is your name?" Third night ''what is your job?" and fourth night ''how old are you?". I don't know what the next question would have been as by then I was on my way to Beijing.

Thursday Oct 27 heavily overcast so I did not go to the line but instead had an easy start, then went to Jiamusi by bus (Y17.50, one hour) and took K340 to Beijing (soft sleeper) after a rather long wait in the very comfortable soft sleeper waiting room. There is also a waiting room for ''distinguished guests''. Had an excellent meal on the train for Y19 and then went to bed to get some sleep. But: one recent disadvantage of soft sleeper is the fact that both my fellow passengers were shouting into their mobile phones. When I complained at about 11 PM, they blamed their phones. They were not phoning but the telephones kept ringing…. I probably had my revenge during the night by snoring, as when I woke up at 6 AM both Chinese were at last trying to get some sleep…..

Friday Oct 28 punctual arrival at 12.35 in Beijing. Bought the new Oct 2005 timetable, and went off by subway to the Jian Yuan Hotel near Xidan subway station - Y200 for a room with all facilities. There is a huge book store nearby with a basement full of English language books where I stocked up on the latest John Grisham's for next trip's reading (a third of the price I would pay in Holland). The diary of Anne Frank is placed next to Bridget Jones's diary, which does make sense I presume….. Then to a hairdresser for 5 Yuan, a good last meal for Y12 and to bed for an early start on

Saturday Oct 29 airport bus leaving at 6.15; Xidan is at the end of bus line 1A, with a bus every 15 minutes from 05.45 till 19.30, very convenient. My plane to Paris left an hour late; blamed on late arrival but I think the fact that ground staff made a complete mess of the boarding procedure might have more to do with it. The late departure made my connection in Paris CDG very tight; when the plane doors opened I got 25 minutes to go through passport check, to go from terminal 1A to 2F, and through security. I just made it, and to my surprise, I found on arrival in Amsterdam that my luggage had made it too!

Ameling Algra

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© 2005, Ameling Algra, e-mail: a.algra@chello.nl