Hassle-free travel during “Wu-Yi”? – Simply impossible

There are three holidays in China when basically the whole country is hitting the road. For Chinese New Year, Labor Day (May 1st) and National Day (October 1st) people get a few days off and usually go traveling, either to go home, to visit friends or to see tourist spots.

So this week trains were packed, tickets were hard to obtain and the roads were filled with travelers. Usually it is not too big of a problem to buy train tickets. Although they can only be bought three to five days in advance there usually are some left. But around “Wu-Yi” (五一 “Five-One”) the tickets are quickly sold and you need to be lucky to get some. We were lucky to get train tickets back from Datong to Beijing, but in the end we did not use them.
If you are not traveling by train, there are still a lot of buses, but it’s a little annoying to find out at what time and to what destinations the buses are going. And compared to the trains that have a fixed schedule, the buses tend to be late.

Bus from Datong to Wutaishan
Bus ride from Datong to Wutaishan.

Last Monday, when we planned to travel from Datong to Wutaishan there was no bus leaving in the afternoon. There were still some tickets to Shahe, which is on the way to Wutaishan, but we were not sure whether we could stay there for the night. After we had found out that it should be no problem to find a sleeping place there for the night, we got back to the counter but the tickets to Shahe were already sold out.
So we stayed in Datong for another night which was all right since that way we had a fantastic view the next morning during the ride.

I don’t even know whether the bus we ended up taking was an “official” one or not. We had bought he tickets at the official counter but instead of having to wait for one hour (as indicated on the tickets) we were guided to a bus leaving outside the bus station. We were happy that we did not have to wait and that the bus would only take four instead of five hours to Wutaishan. Why was the one hour time difference? I think it was our driver who made up the difference: He even managed to scare the Chinese by his driving style, especially in the mountains.

One problem about the buses is that they usually wait until all seats are taken. So sometimes you are lucky and you are one of the last ones to get a seat and the bus will thus leave shortly after you got on. But sometimes the waiting for the last three or four passengers can be quite annoying. The busses also don’t really have bus stops on the way. They simply stop when someone is waiving at them or when someone wants to get off. So sometimes the ticket seller does not even have a seat – although I think by law he is required to have one because once we drove by a police car, he quickly ran to the back of out bus taking a seat for one minute.

Once we arrived at Wutaishan, we found out that there is a direct bus connection from there to Beijing taking about six hours, so we decided to not take the train from Datong but rather to got directly. Since we had already bought train tickets we sold them to one of the taxi drivers who was offering trips to Datong. We were pretty late selling the tickets so we only got a few yuan – but it was still a better result than not using them at all. The taxi driver went right off heading to Datong, only with the three tickets as “passenger” – if he made it on time, he was probable able to sell them for a price well over the the amount we paid for the tickets since the train was most likely sold out.

Traffic jam at Taihuai village
Traffic jam at Taihuai village.

There also seem to be more and more private cars joining the trucks and buses on the road. Only in Beijing every day about 1500 new cars are registered, let alone the rest of the country. The increasing number of private drivers is not only an environmental problem, but it also causes an increasing number of traffic jams. In the small village of Taihuai, located between the summits of Wutaishan, the “Wu Yi “crowd caused a single long traffic jam trough the whole village.


One Response to “Hassle-free travel during “Wu-Yi”? – Simply impossible”

  1. Wutaishan « Beijing 2007 Says:

    […] Beijing 2007 « Hassle-free travel during “Wu-Yi”? – Simply impossible […]

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