Who Hasn't Been Through The Gates Of Hell?
When I first moved to China, I was excited for the travelling opportunities. With such a vast county there come many different places encompassing cultures, terrains and more. What could be more exciting? I was nervous though, how do you handle traveling in a country that you can neither read, write nor speak the language?
My first experience with navigating my way in China came with using the subway system to get to the initial training at an Owen campus on the other side of the city. One of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to travel in Chongqing is the subway system. I was surprised because the subway signs were in both Chinese and English so finding your way to your destination is easy. The subway systems are also reliable, frequent and cover a vast majority of the city, meaning that almost wherever you want to go, the subway can take you there. Another thing that surprised me was how cheap public transport is. For comparison, taking the bus to work in the UK would cost me around £4.50 whereas taking the subway across the entire city can cost you between ¥2-¥7 which is under £1.
Since travel within China has become more feasible, I’ve been looking at places outside of the main city to travel to. One night I was looking on the map for a place to visit that could be visited in a day when I came across a place called Fengdu. It would be an hour’s train ride away. There was a place there labelled as “the city of ghosts”, I wasn’t sure what that would entail but it looked like a large location to explore and it would be a day out. I asked my friend, Steph, if she was interested in going on an adventure to Fengdu to which she replied “Sure, let’s go!”. So, we booked our train tickets there and then. Booking train tickets is extremely easy. You can use the WeChat service, no need for a separate operator or booking tickets at the station.
We woke up on Thursday morning and travelled to Chongqing North Station which took around 45 minutes. We then went through the security checkpoint and then we had the freedom to peruse the terminal which had a variety of stores and restaurants to choose from. We found a Starbucks and because coffee is the only thing worth waking up in the morning for, we went and ordered coffee. In England, when taking the train, you can just enter the train platform at any time to wait for your train. Also, you don’t have any ticket checks until you actually board the train and even then, someone coming to check your ticket is relatively infrequent. Comparatively, in China, you are not allowed to enter the platform until you are told to do so which typically happens 10-15 minutes before train departure. We lined up in the queue where our passports would be checked so we could then board the train. For a queue so long, passport/ticket checks go quickly. We found our seats and the train departed; we were on our way to Fengdu.
Speeding through Chongqing, we saw such contrasting landscapes. From Highrise buildings that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing to forests to stepped farmland greener than I’ve ever seen.
An hour passes and we arrive at our destination. We exit the train station and walk out onto a large carpark that doesn’t have much surrounding it. To get to the city of ghosts, I’d originally planned to walk. It didn’t look far. Wrong. The distance was around 5.5 miles which would be a two hour walk factoring in terrain. A couple of men approached us obviously sensing our predicament and offered to take us to our destination for a staggering ¥60. We politely declined after realizing we could just call a Didi for a third of the price. Our Didi ride offered a more in-depth look around Fengdu. Like most of Chongqing it gives you the vibe of living in the mountains without the mountain life problems. Fengdu, however, is much, much smaller. We arrive at the ghost town to find out that it is actually a mountain park with a Buddhist temple situated within. We bought tickets which costed us ¥90 each. Entering the park at the bottom of the mountain led us to the cable cars where we could take a cable car to the top. We purchased two tickets to go up to the top and we could walk back down. Cable cars always seem to be a brilliant idea until you’re actually in one and going up a steep mountain. My friend from home worked at a theme park and once described in detail how they rescue people stuck in cable cars and luckily, I can remember that in detail (I’ll spare you the details in case you have any cable car trips coming up in the near future). Once we reached the top of the mountain, we ascended a little higher to what translated to “the gates of hell”. Not what we were expecting on a quiet Thursday but in hindsight walking through the gates of hell was a rather pleasant experience and I’d do it again. After passing through the gates of hell there were many Buddhist shrines which are always beautifully decorated. We walked through the shrines until the path led us back to the descent down the mountain.
Once we’d reached the bottom, we decided to grab some lunch. Many restaurants were located at the base of the mountain. This was obviously a place accustomed to tourists because there were stalls selling souvenirs and people shouting trying to entice us to come and eat at their restaurant. We settled for a small restaurant where we could get some noodles.
After lunch, we spotted groups of people on small tour buses which looked like a good idea, so our next action was to try and ask where and how do we get on the tour buses. A man saw us and came over to see if he could help. We tried to explain that we wanted to take one of the tour buses we kept seeing however this may have been lost in translation. He says no problem and starts running away. Steph and I looked at each other, trying to understand just what was going on. He comes back 30 seconds later with his van saying he could take us to the train station. We politely declined the man’s invitation to get in the van. We continued walking along the river to see if we could find the location where all of the tour buses seemed to be coming from.
After 30 minutes we discovered that the tour buses were actually organized by a cruise and so we abandoned this idea and instead went for coffee at a small artisan coffee shop. By this point we were both pretty tired, so we headed back to the train station and caught the next train home. Fengdu is a beautiful place and I’m looking forward to returning.
If you have any questions about OWEN Education or Chongqing, feel free to contact me