Tuesday, June 30: Wutai Shan, China
8:10 I venture down the street and buy a 6-pack of Nescafe iced lattes and stick them in the fridge on the truck. Hot coffee would be welcome in this chill and drizzle but iced coffee is as good as it gets until we get to a larger city.
8:30 We leave Wutai Shan for the 350 km drive to Pingyao which is billed as China’s best preserved ancient walled city. It’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 and many of the buildings date to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
9:50 At 5.7 km, we’ve now broken the record for the longest tunnel on the trip. This one will be tough to beat.
11:35 We arrive in the provincial capital of Taiyuan. Duncan and Helen are travelling on 30 day tourist visas and will soon require extensions. We stop outside a hotel and Jason runs in to register Helen and Duncan as guests. Each hotel must forward to the police the names and passport information for all guests, and this must be done before noon the day after check-in. Helen and Duncan will return to the visa office tomorrow and hopefully with their names in the system as guests at a local hotel, the local visa office will see fit to issue an extension. It’s clear they’ve done this before and they know all the tricks!
11:40 We’ve been parked on the street for five minutes and a crowd has assembled to gawk at the big orange truck with westerners. This attracts the attention of the police. An officer boards the truck to make sure we’re not in shackles and being transported against our will. Once he sees that we’re free and smiling, he leaves with a smile and a wave. We decide to drive around the block a few times until Jason is finished in the hotel.
13:00 We’ve just had lunch at McDonalds and KFC and are back on the truck. A crowd gathers to watch us leave the parking lot.
13:10 Even in a bustling city of 3.5 million we attract a lot of attention.
13:20. I’m impressed with Taiyuan. The streets are wide, boulevards nicely landscaped with hedges and flowers, there’s a lot of public art, and while the roads are busy, there’s no sign of congestion. There are a lot of BMWs, Volkswagens and Audis in this town but there might be more cranes in the sky than cars on the roads. Taiyuan is booming!
16:20 We arrive at Pingyao and check into the Harmony Guesthouse. It’s loaded with character. Pingyao is a city of a few million that includes China’s best preserved walled city. We’ve been warned that it’s a bit touristy (hundreds of cafes and gift shops on the main streets) but I’m pleasantly surprised to see the back alleys still look much like they would have in the 1300s. I’ll have a fun two days exploring Pingyao.