(This is another oldie, one of my first flight reports posted in Month Four of Flight Report's existence. The standards are much higher now that FR nears its third birthday, and I completely reworded and expanded the French version to triple the original size.)
This FR starts very early on Saturday morning after a business trip to Shanghai, as I had decided to make a detour instead of flying back directly to Beijing.
Plane spotting was limited to this DL 747 that morning, but this was definitely not the plane that I was going to board.
It was no surprise to be bussed to a remote parking spot, next to the pusher. It has a green registration plate, like all vehicles operating in a closed perimeter (like an airport, a national park, a golf course…), and registered 民航 (public airport).
Other service vehicles on the other side :
Did you notice the (Taiwanese) Eva Air plane taking off in the background ? There were still very few direct flights between Mainland China and Taiwan, back in 2010.
And more unusual ones, which appear to be autonomous power supply trucks.
The daily flight from PVG was operated with a CRJ-200, a 50-seater jet which is the smallest jet that I ever boarded.
Take off; this is the limit of the airport
and some views of the plains west of Shanghai
A close up of that golf course which has more rivers than strictly needed
Shanghai Hongqiao Airport (SHA), from a distance
A power conversion plant in the countryside
Nothing special about this flight, apart from it being full. I have no recollection of the meal served on board, but it must have been quite ordinary, since most Chinese domestic flights look very much alike in this regard. I do remember that the windows were too low (see the heads on the left), a commonly reported design error of that otherwise cosy aircraft.
An interesting page in the in flight magazine : what document can replace your (Chinese) ID to board a domestic flight ?
The answer, in short, is: your residence permit, your work permit, your student or military ID. HK and Macau residents certificates, so-called Taiwan Compatriot travel permits (台胞证) (issued by Mainland China). Taiwanese passports are not mentioned; it would even be illegal by Chinese law to mention them by name, since that would imply that Taiwan is not a Chinese territory. You can read here (in French) what happens if you try to connect in Mainland China with a Taiwanese passport (thank you Olrik for posting your FR just after mine to illustrate it :)
The blond and rather untidy guy illustrates that resident foreigners whose passport is being held (for six working days) for visa renewal receive an official certificate which allows them to travel in the country, but it is public expat knowledge that you can be denied boarding with such a document, and this happened to a colleague of mine.
Landing in Xiangfan and there was no doubt that it was both remote and tiny:
- So tiny that none of my tour books mentioned that it exists - So tiny that www.elong.net, one of Mainland China's two major online travel agents, did not know that it exists - So tiny that none of my Chinese colleagues ever landed there - So tiny that all wondered why I would want to go there on a week-end -So tiny that it does not have jet bridges or a taxiway
The fuel truck was already there as the passengers disembark.
The luggage handlers of Xiangfan were not overworked either. Although the plane was full, there were really not that a lot of luggage here on the left.
Good thing, because you see here the entire luggage delivery room.
Sure, the guy who wrote about it in Wikipedia, maybe a local tourist office employee, does not hesitate to write that Xingfan is linked to major airports, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou. The expression such as means that the list is not complete, which is stricly corrrect, for this is the exhaustive list of flights that day, posted at the check-in.
Note that since I landed in the morning from PVG, and left the next day by Flight CA1386 to PEK, I took 50% ot the routes serving that airport. Xiangfan's control tower is obviously not overloaded with work, and actually has a looong lunch break, between the departure of the flight to PVG and the first evening flight.
The plane from Guangzhou was an ERJ145, also a 50 seater jet, seen here the next day in the evening.
I did not see the plane from Shenzhen; the aircraft to Beijing is that aging B737-300, here after landing in PEK.
At the terminal's landside exit, some taxi drivers rushed toward me, but they did not have a chance: the shuttle bus to the town was a few meters away, and left just after I boarded it. These taxi drivers had tried their luck and lost: this was the only flight in the morning, and the next one landed after 8pm.
Now we are getting into the tourist bonus; Xiangfan's station is vastly bigger than its airport.
Inside, the waiting room is quite different too (in Mainland China, travelers have access to the platform only fifteen minutes before the train's arrival, which always creates a mess)
It was a two hour train ride, with buy on board on a trolley like on a plane
And then a bus, reaching this so picturesque town
Wait, it is modern ! there is an internet café (网吧), where you can buy second hand computers (二手电脑) too.
And then a taxi to reach the gate of Wudangshan (武当山) National Park , which you may have never heard about, but is listed by Unesco in its World Heritage List.
… where I slept in this wonderful hotel. No, I had not made reservations, I knew that I would manage to find something
From the 15th century, the Chinese proved their mastership at hand cutting granite slabs, grating them for anti-skid purposes, and adjusting them into kilometers of stairs (on both axes). This feat is not what Wudangshan is famous for, although the ascent is not for weak of heart.
Wudangshan is primarily connected to wudang, a variant of kung fu which is performed with a weapon, but often in a slow manner much like taichihuan that you can see performed in city parks everywhere in China.
You probably got the point that Wudangshan is not very easy to reach, but I was surprised by the number of foreign visitors, mostly in their late 20's – early 30's, and obviously in excellent shape, since they had come to visit the source of their favorite martial art. One of them performed a spectacular demonstration with a wooden stick, while a monk corrected a student here on the right.
This show was for (Chinese) tourists, but its choreography was nevertheless impressively flawless.
There were enough swords in the souvenir shops to equip an army, but they probably did not have the same magic properties of Destiny, the sword of Li Mubai which is stolen by a female adventurer in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, whose final scene was shot in Wudangshan.
I did not need a sword, and I had already climbed dozens of kilometers of granite stairs in China, so my real goal was the Gold Temple, at the top of the mountain overlooking a spectacular landscape.
The weather which had been excellent the day before was unfortunately more like the misty settings of the movie.
The visibility was little more than a hundred meters,
…and I had to do with the temples located further down.
The way back to modernity was similar, only that Wudangshan's train station waiting room was much smaller. But you had to sit on the seats reserved for your train, identified by the blue signs overhead.
And of course wait until Train T6774 to Wuchang (武昌) was nearing the station to be allowed on the platform.
3+3 seating is tight, but sometimes, you can get lucky and have no neighbors. Riding a Chinese trains is really not that different from flying.
… since there was buy on board too, including miscellaneous toys and toiletry supplies.
Since I knew there would be nothing at the airport, I took dinner at this world class restaurant next to the station.
快餐厅 means fast restaurant : it was as fast as your favorite airport lounge, and with more food than in that of many major airlines.
This kind of traveling might not have been your cup of tea, but this was another great week-end !
Shanghai - PVG
Xiangfan - XFN
From Shanghai, I had the choice between - this single daily flight, with the non-discountable fare of 1080 RMB + 90 RMB web travel agency fee - or Train K149, departing from Shanghai South station at 8:49, and reaching Xiangfan station at 18:47, for a modest 106 RMB
It was ten times more expensive, but I did not regret taking the first option.
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