After five days in Shanghai, we checked out of the Grand Hyatt, and took a 8am taxi to the train station for our next part of the trip, which is a four night cruise up the Yangtze river. After our “dry run” yesterday with our tour guide Annie, we successfully navigated the security and check-in procedures, and then waited in our assigned waiting room, number six. We arrived early, and had over an hour before our high speed 9:30am train to Yichang, which is a six hour journey, or 2 1/2 hour flight. There were only two flights a day, one at 7am and one at 7pm, and as neither one was good for us, we decided to take the 9:30am train, which was a wise and comfortable decision.
The train wasn’t the fastest of the newer trains, but still went 200 kilometers an hour, and best of all we had a sleeper cabin. Even though this was a daytime train, it was nice to have our own room (along with our luggage), as well as 2 bunk beds for a bit of a nap. The train made 3 or 4 short stops an hour or so apart, but was precisely on time. We got to Yichang around 3:50pm.
We were met upon arrival at the Yichang station by “Nancy” (American-ized Chinese name) and her driver, and we were quickly on our way to the hotel. As it was already checkin time at our hotel, we proceeded straight there, although DOS had arranged for a morning tour of Yichang the next morning before boarding our river cruise, again with Nancy and the driver.
We stayed for one night (pre-cruise) at the best of two luxury hotels in town; the Crown Plaza, the upscale brand of the IHG (Holiday Inn) chain. The hotel was beautiful and very nice, although compared to Shanghai not as luxurious, and unfortunately they allowed smoking there. We had a nice suite on a no-smoking floor, but the room and hallway still smelled a faint bit of smoke. Here are some photos of the room, which sits ideally located across the street from the Yangtee River, and just down the street from a huge indoor shopping mall.
We also had access to the Concierge Lounge, and as it was Saturday it was completely empty with no business people there over the weekend it seemed.
Nancy had told us on our ride to the hotel that it was “National Kids Day”, and we didn’t quite understand what that meant until we went out to the mall in search of dinner. Both of our previous guides in Shanghai, Lily and Annie, had told us the better restaurants in China are usually located in malls, so we again took their advice as we went in search our evening meal. Other than snacks on the train, and breakfast at the Hyatt, be had not had lunch so we were quite hungry by 6pm.
We headed over to the mall area for dinner, and the mall made Disney World look like a quiet walk in the park! The mall was packed with what seemed like every family and their child in town (and the ‘small’ town of Yichang has over a million people), out celebrating the National Kids Day! We walked around the mall dodging kids on colorful tricycles, a kids train driving thru the mall, a huge indoor playground, etc – truly a taste of local color! We were in fact the only Caucaisan’s we saw at the mall, dinner, and only a couple at the hotel. This rural area was more like middle-class China, as opposed to high-end Shanghai; not that one is good or bad; just an observation. In Shanghai for example, no one beeps their horns as it’s a $100 fine, where as in Yichang, the car horns and bus horns sounded like a trip to mid-town Manhattan! It was definitely different, and felt much busier than Shanghai, even though it was considered a small town for China.
Here are some photos taken in the mall, including this gigantic indoor playground. It was so nice seeing everyone having a fun time. I didn’t appreciate the significance of the National Kid’s Day until the next day when we spoke with our tour guide Nancy, who explained that for years China could only have one child, and parents were working some six days a week, so it is like a holiday for everyone.
Throughout the evening and even the next day, we got quite a few “Caucasian stares” from curious Chinese locals. Unlike Shanghai, this was not a big foreign tourist area, so we did seem to stick out a bit from the others. I had people come up and take their photo with me, and more than a couple curious looks from kids.
For dinner, we played musical restaurants, as we went to five different places before settling on the Chinese version of Pizza Hut! We had left the mall area around 7:30pm as it was so busy and the food areas there all had long waits, so we headed back to the hotel as they had 3 restaurants. We walked by a Burger King on the way, and while not our first choice would have worked if it hadn’t been so crowded as well.
Next we went to the hotel’s lobby restaurant which had a buffet, but looked a bit picked over by the time we got there, and also not much westernized food. Next we went to the hotel’s Chinese restaurant which was quite fancy with white table cloths and a private booth area for us. Unfortunately, they were out of barbecue pork, which is one of the few things Chinese I can eat; no beef either unfortunately.
We then went next door to the Japanese restaurant and had a peek at their menu, but it was a full buffet, which most of which we didn’t want.
So back to the mall we went. It was still quite busy, but not as busy as it was an hour earlier. We put our names in for Pizza Hut, and had about a half hour wait before being seated. Of course they called the numbers in Chinese, but fortunately when it was our turn the hostess walked up to us; probably because no one answered the numbers she called!
While waiting to order, we met the most adorable boy who was sitting at the table next to us with his parents. He approached our table, and asked us if we spoke Chinese. When we said no, he said with the most precious heart, “Welcome to China!” His parents were videotaping us, and we asked if we could take a photo of him as well.
He ended up being a huge help to us, as the tables have a bar code you scan and are supposed to order via the internet, which of course we couldn’t access. The boy went up to our waiter and called him over, and we pointed to the pizza we wanted. The boy later said “We have to go now” as the family was leaving. Simply precious, and what a wonderful cultural exchange.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel, and I stopped by the nearly empty lobby bar, as I had been given two drink tickets at check-in. The lobby bar had some smokers in it, so I finished my beer, and took the other one back to the room.
It was a long day starting with the train ride from Shanghai, and late dinner, but quite a nice start to our next adventure in Yichang, and the start of our four night Yangtze River Cruise tomorrow.