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At the end of a tourist trip to the higher parts of Sichuan and Yunnan (interesting, nice climate, hordes of Chinese tourists but as they always travel in groups it is easy to avoid them) I paid a short visit to Shibanxi, accompanied by my wife and niece. I can certainly recommend including Shibanxi in a tourist trip to China: my wife and niece consider it to be one of the highlights of the trip, in spite of the high temperature (topping 44 deg Celcius on one day!).
I’ll first describe the ‘’steam scene’’ and then give practical travel information, hopefully encouraging those who might think going there is complicated.
The line was visited on Aug 5, and 8-12. On both Saturdays, the coal train did not run. On all weekdays, it ran in its usual path between the first and second passenger. Crossing was in Yueyin (first station out, where the electrics end) both ways; at least that is what I presume considering the timing.
On Aug 10, there was a catenary failure in Yueyin so the coal trains between Yueyin and Shibanxi were also steam. Four engines seen in steam that day: one on the passenger, one on the freight to the end of the line, one on an engineers train reparing the catenary, and one on the coal trains between Yueyin and Shibanxi. Sorry, no numbers!
The regular freight engine had yellow ‘’brass’’ kettle bands (paint) by the way.
I did not see many tourist groups even on both Saturdays. The road between Leshan and Qianwei was in heavy repair, necessitating a detour using a ferry, which may have discouraged the tour buses. Regular costumers were young chinese backpacker students though, interesting to talk with.
The mine at Huangcun was busy. Sadly, a manager type violently removed me when I wanted to video the operation.
So far about the railway. But how do you get there without a guide? Several reports (especially Rob Dickinson’s and Roger Blundell’s) give valuable information. I don’t pretend to mention many new things, just try to put the essentials in one report.
Qianwei is easily reached from Chengdu.
Most travelers seem to use taxis. It is quick- if the taxi driver does not get lost, and possibly the only way if you arrive in Chengdu late evening and don’t want to loose a day. Count on 400-600 Yuan, denpending on your negotiating skills.
I find it much more comfortable, more fun and cheaper to go by bus.
Buses from Chengdu leave from ShiYang Zhan (Shi Yang bus station) in the south of the city. To get to Shi yang Zhan:
From the main railway station: leaving the railway station, go right and keep right. You ‘ll arrive at the ‘’long distance bus station’’ (long distance local buses) after 100 metres or so. From that bus station, bus 28 goes to Shi Yang Zhan which is the end so you don’t have to worry where to get off with your back pack. Fare: if you are lucky enough to get onto a non-AC bus it is one Yuan, AC is a hefty 2 yuan. Pay on the bus. Travel time about half an hour. On its way the bus passes the main Xinanmen bus station and the nearby backpackers traffic Hotel.
From the airport to Shi Yang Zhan: Rob Dickinson describes a complicated way to do it on a local bus. As both are in the south of the city, a taxi should not cost more than 20 Yuan even if your negotiating skills are damaged by jet lag.
Shi Yan bus station is a classical example of the well organised but crowded Chinese bus stations. The ticket office is clearly marked and has a map inside showing (amongst other destinations) Qianwei both in Pinyin and in Chinese characters. So if your pronounciation of Tiánwei fails and you lost the chinese characters, pointing on the map might do the trick. I got my ticket without hesitation when I said Tianwei Fare Y45, travel time less than three hours, comfortable buses (if a driver watching the video does not bother you), frequent departures (every half hour or so) between 6AM and 5PM
The bus ends at the long distance bus station in Qianwei but passes the local bus station and the Tian Bo hotel on its way – so you might get off there.
The return journey of course follows the same pattern, the fare is a hefty Y46 though!
There are four options: Bagou on the line, Yueyin (locally known as Sanyin) on the line, Shibanxi at the beginning of the line and Qianwei a bit away from the line.
As described by Rob Dickinson and others, the Bagou hotel is simple and unfriendly, the Yueyin hotel is simple and friendly. I only met Japanes overnighting in Shibanxi and they were not impressed.
I personally choose to stay in Qianwei. The hotels there are much better, you have an excellent choice of restaurants, a Bank of China with an ATM taking international deit and credit cards, and taking the first bus from Qianwei to Shibanxi you won’t miss a train. If you want to get ahead of the first train, you might consider going by bus to Yueyin and hire a motorbike there. There are at least three hotels in Qianwei to choose from:
The best is the Tian Bo. Double room with breakfast (too late for the first bus though) is Y190. Hot water all day. Next to the local bus station so very convenient for Shibanxi.
Then there is the Bai he Binguan. Just behind the Tian Bo, with all the amenities as well (room with bath and AC) but no breakfast and hot water only in the evening. Y80 for a double.
Roger Blundell mentions the Feng Huang? hotel Y100. See map for locations.
Qianwei also has a railway ticket office! Not for the Shibanxi passenger but for trains from and to Chengdu. Might be handy though I did not test its efficiency.
You can go by taxi or, better, take the bus leaving every 15 minutes from the local bus station next to the Tian Bo. Don’t worry you’ll get on a wrong bus, the locals won’t expect you to go somewhere else. But if you are pessimistic about this, just show them a picture of a steam loco. The line is depicted in all tourist brochures in Leshan, so well known.
Promptly at 6.16 the driver of the minibus enters, cleans his steering wheel and then leaves at 6.20. Arrival in Shibanxi about 6.40, so enough time to watch the loco coupling on to the train, the luggage being loaded and eat some breakfast. Fare 4 Yuan, ticket on the bus. The bus goes on to Yueyin (about half the buses do), so alternatively you may go on and catch the train there. Which enables you to get an arrival shot (tender first under the wire) and to save some money: the bus ticket costs 5 Yuan but your train ticket will be 3 yuan less than from Shibanxi!
See other reports for a description and/or see for yourself. Traveling on the train is great fun though you have to pay a ‘’tourist price’’. The tourist tariff is 3 Yuan per station. So Shibanxi-Yueyin is 3 Yuan, to Mifeng is 6 Yuan, to Bagou is 15 yuan. Remember: that is still only 1,50 Euro!! They don’t count the small halts. Ticket on the train, queuing up at the ticket window is for locals (and local prices but you won’t get away with that on the train!). The timetable is easy to remember as it is based on a 3,5 hours pattern
Shibanxi dep 7.00, 10.30, 14.00, 17.30
Bagou arr 8.10 etc; Bagou dep 8.25 etc, Shibanxi arr 09.30 etcetera. See the picture on Rob’s latest report for the full timetable.
And finally: you will enjoy it, or regret forever if you did not go there!
And this is a map of Qianwei (not to scale)
1 = Tian Bo hotel
2 = local bus station
3 = Bai He hotel
4 = Feng Huang hotel
5 = Bank of China
6 = long distance bus station
7 = railway ticket office
There are many good restaurants on the road from the Tian Bo to the Bai He Binguan. I did not pay more than 10 Yuan a person (excluding drinks).
From one bus station to the other is no more than 20 minutes walk
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© 2006 Ameling Algra