The season for daytripping is opened today with a mini invasion of the town of Yangzhou by a Malaysian and an Oz in tow. Town by chinese standards. Yangzhou probably has a population of ONLY a couple of million souls. Small city maybe.
I confess... The reason its Yangzhou this time has to do with the idea of spending up to 8 hours in a crickety bus to be able to say I have had fried rice in Yangzhou. But like the mythical Singaporean fried bee hoon, or vermicilli for you nonm asians, what makes a town famous may not be its core competency, to paraphrase boring powerpoint space fillers. How to know for sure? Yup. 8 hours of bus ride would settle it. Though to be sure I might a few of those.
Transportation. I was toying with the idea of trains going to Nanjing from Shanghai and then switching to a 'local train'. But google the oracle tells me that the trip will probably take up to 5 hours. Knowing how difficult it is to score a bullet train ticket, its time for the bus. All websites state 3 hoursish. Add 33% more for exuberance in web writing, 4 hours will be my guide. The ticket cost 85 rmb one way departing from north of Shanghai Railway Station at Zhongshan Bei lu station. If i get there i might have time to look for the equally mythical 'stolen bicycle' market. Ok, minimal distraction for this trip.
Ah, gadgets. This time its the usual bunch... Garmin GPS, Nokia E61 blog machine and cameras. Was thinking of replacing the old Garmin eTrex Vista with a Nokia N82 which I don't have yet. Todays SLR combo is the usual Nikon D2H with CV 40mm f2 ULTRON and rangefinding with a classic duo, Leica M3 and 50mm f1.5 Summmarit for the classical Leica look. No guide books, they're all photocopied for lightweight mobility.
First thing first. The station at 1015 Zhongshan Bei lu is not next to the metro station with the same name.
1210 hrs: Reached Yangzhou after 4 hours in the bus. I think we got dropped off at the East Bus Station. Last bus to Shanghai is at 1810 hrs tonight. Nothing anymore after that. And the ticket cost 98 yuan with insurance. Don't know what to make of it... Insurance: that many accidents here? Now at Ye Chun tea house in the middle of town. Ordered dumplings, meat ball and of course the famous fried rice.
Now for the food review-let. Firstly the fried rice tastes like fried rice. At least now I can brag that they do Yangzhou fried rice as well as Yangzhou. Either that or since most foreigners will most likely not make a stop here, I could bullshit a little about how good it is. A learned man needs to brag sometimes. Now otherwise, the Lion Head Meatball (Shizi Tou) is actually quite good. Fatty meat all over in clear tasty soup. Actually thinking about it, the meat ball may actually be a fatball. Good. Need to order more and think about detox later, thats how good it was. The dumplings were good too. When you bite into it, instead of soup like the xiaoloongbao in Shanghai, you get oil. Still tastes good. Very very happy with the lunch.
1406hrs: Ge Garden. And so, this one looks good on the map and the entrance is quite impressive, but inside is just a tightly compact park with loads of tourists. Seems that every tour bus to Yangzhou probably stops here. And to say the least, this is a waste of the 40rmb ticket. There are some interesting sights like the man made stone forest but nothing you haven't seen in Suzhou or Ningbo or one of the cities near Shanghai. If i could have received a refund for spending minimum time in that place I would have. The highlight is following a chinese photographer with an interesting stance when composing his shots.
1556hrs: At the entrance to the thin Xi Hu. This is outrageous. Entrance fee is 90 rmb per person. Even the original Xi Hu in Hangzhou is free of charge. Rubbish. The park is nice but still simmering over the entrance fee. Its like a river with a park around it. The usual boat ride is available, along with the paddle boats, but nah, not for us. Too old for all these. So its a stroll around and looking at features and areas with fantabulous names like 5 pavillion bridge, 24 bridges, etc. I don't remember any one of them, a search on wikipedia will get you those names, and I'm not particularly bothered to remember them as I'm only interested in the scenery. Walk, walk, walk.
1715hrs: Just exited the slim Xi Hu. The exit is surrounded by soft toy shops and a familiar fast food restaurant with the golden arches. Maybe its time to get a hit of sugar. We ended up sitting at the bar next to the main entrance looking outwards, looking for the different types of motorcycles and electric cycles. Small cute ones, motorcycle looking ones. Even saw a lady wondering how to send her 2 friends back somewhere. Eventually she took a taxi and forced the bicycle at the back in the boot.
1754hrs: Yangzhou East bus station. Done with the visiting. The last bus back to Shanghai is at 1810 hrs. This bus station is rather deserted. the x-ray machine is not working, so my films are happy about this. There the usual government run tidbits stores here. Water cost 2 rmb here, a little more than the other places in town. For the last few frames on the M3, decided to look for a 3 wheeled tractor which is usually common in the chinese countryside.
On the way back to Shanghai, there are a couple of places where the bus crosses the Yangtze river. Ok, I'm lying, theres no way I can see it in the evening bus back, but on the way here its possible to see it. Theres a large bridge where it is possible to see a large shipyard on the river where they're building a couple of large ships, not in a dry dock, but on land. Seems that once they finished the ship, they just knock some stopper and the ship hull slides into the river.
and now for the obligatory end of trip summary. How do I like Yangzhou? The food is nice so far, I'm sure that with a single trip it could be a large hit or miss, but i think I have a good impression on the Huaiying cuisine (Do a little google, I'm quite sure my facts are a little out here, and unlike most travel writers, I'm too lazy to cross check, but the name is at least 90% right) found in Yangzhou. The city itself is smallish and easily walkable. Buildings in the city centre have the old chinese architecture, so its a refreshing look compared to Shanghai. It's like a city that looks like Yu Yuan garden in Shanghai. The weather today was sunny but typical smoggy day in China. Bad day for landscape photography, but so is any other day here.
Is there another trip back here in the future? I don't really know. I'm not too sure there is still a lot to see in this town. If I do coma back maybe it would be for the food. Or do a little survey on whether it would be quicker to go thru Nanjing with the bullet train. Would say it is above average here in Yangzhou. Probably nothing you cannot get elsewhere in this province or a daytripping from Shanghai but worth a visit if you have plenty of time. Two days maximum.