Plan for the Day
Our original plan was to spend the day in TangKe. If we had not managed to visit the First Bend of the Yellow River Scenic Reserve the day before due to bad weather we would had another chance to visit the scenic site today. If we had completed the visit the day before then today would be a lazy day of roaming the town, eating and buying local products.
Unfortunately TangKe was in an absolute mess. So our revised plan was to get out of town as early as possible. We decided to proceed to HongYuan (红原县) a town between TangKe and HeiShui and stay a night in HongYuan
By the End of the Day
At HongYuan we checked into LiWan Spa Hotel which was situated next to HongYuan Transportation Center. It was a very luxurious hotel at a very good price for walk in customers. We also visited Moon River Scenic Site and had a wonderful time.
Transfer to HongYuan
TangKe was a small town and it did not have any taxis services. As for public buses, it did not have a transportation center so there was no way we could consult a staff on bus destinations, timings, costs or ticket procurement. Both TangKe and HongYuan were along the RuoErGai-HeiShui bus route, which meant we could flag down the bus as it drove by TangKe, boarded it and alighted at HongYuan. For such partial bus journey of 80 km we would have to pay the full bus route fee which worked out to be about RMB ¥180 for two persons.
We checked with Mr Liu the night before and was told we could hire a car and the driver could drive us to HongYuan for a fare of RMB¥200. The main advantage was we got the whole vehicle to ourselves and we could start our journey at our own selected timing. Mr Liu arranged for a driver to pick us up at 8.30 am in the morning right outside the main door of our hotel. We left TangKe as soon as we woke up because there was nothing to stay back for, there was no place to even order a breakfast!
The driver, Mr Gong, drove a van, he and Mr Liu apparently were in the same team handling tourist related matters. On our way out we went through another “rock and roll” ride through the town. Now that we were leaving this horrendous town, we could even laugh and joke about the “sorry” state condition of the roads.
Once we left TangKe the roads were back to good condition. From our driver, he said nobody knew when would TangKe’s road problems be resolved.
Mr Gong was a chatty guy, unfortunately his local accent was pretty strong and it took me a while to appreciate the “story” he was telling us. He was describing this “three steps – one bow” pilgrimage performed by some Buddhist believers to show devotions to their “gods”. It was later that we spotted an old man doing just that by the edge of the road when we found out that the old man was 78 years old, on his “three steps – one bow” way to Kwang Yin (Goddess of Mercy) Bridge some 300 hundred km from his home town. This old man had started his pilgrimage about a year ago and was still in the midst of it. The old man had became a famous fixture/character on this long road and driver like Mr. Gong who used this road would see him every day.
Another interesting event during the journey was at a police stop, that was when our driver had to leave the car to show some documents to the police while we sat in the van. We were wondering if we would need to show our passports too, but the police did not even look into the van.
After one and a half hour we reached HongYuan Town. It looked a bit like RuoErGai, with its elaborated street lamps. This town was certainly a hundred times better than TangKe!
HongYuan Transportation Center
At the center we bought our tickets to HeiShui. It would be at 12 noon the next day and the cost was RMB¥102 for two. The distance to Heishui was about 150 km and there was only one bus going directly from HongYuan to Heishui each day.
On Ctrip-bus we had found a bus service from HeiShui to HongYuan but could not find a service that start at HongYuan and end at HeiShui. I had searched through the web but nobody could tell if the HongYuan to HeiShui service existed. It was only when I was in TangKe that I got a confirmation from Mr. Liu that it existed. It was with precisely this information that helped us firmed up our decision to skip the second night at TangKe and relocated to HongYuan before proceeding to HeiShui.
China long distance bus transportation network seemed pretty complete and established. Unfortunately it did not have an equally good online presence even in the “Chinese” language sphere.
Moon River, YueLiangWan
At 3.30 pm after a good long rest at LiWan Spa Hotel (红原县郦湾温泉酒店) we left our hotel to visit Moon River Scenic Reserve (YueLiangWan 月亮湾). This scenic reserve was all about a curvy river that cut though the massive plain of HongYuan and the best time to visit this site would be near sunset. From our hotel to the scenic site was only about 3 km so we got the hotel reception to call for a taxis to transfer us to the site.
After we boarded the taxis, I tried getting the driver to turn on the taxis meter but the driver insisted on a flat fee. We finally agreed on RMB¥15 which was definitely much more than if the trip was charged by meter. It was a good thing that we were aware of the distance so the taxis driver did not dare to overcharge terribly.
At the ticket booth of Moon River Scenic Site we bought our entrance ticket which was RMB¥58 per person.
The ticketing staff expected us to drive into the scenic site using our own transportation as the park- tourist-buses were not in operation during this low-tourist season. We could see the large Tourist Buses parked near the Tourist center and there were no other tourists but us.
Since we did not have our own vehicle, the staff called up a driver who came in a small truck to provide us the transfer to and fro the scenic site viewing points. Reading the print on the tickets it said that the ticket fee include tourist bus, so it was only right that the transfer was provided.
Our truck drove about a few kilometers inland to a parking area where we saw two sets of viewing platforms, the one on the left was on a higher hill than the one of the right. Each set of viewing platform consisted of several viewing decks at different levels. Wooden stairs led up to these viewing decks. Unlike the “First Bend of the Yellow River Scenic Reserve” there was no escalator at this reserve, leg power would be needed! Anyway it was early and we had plentiful of time so we were able to slowly explore all these viewing decks
We started walking up the stairs leading up to the right platform and went up to the highest deck, it had a zipline but was closed. From the deck we had a great view of the curvy river meandering over the golden plain.
We rece all the viewing decks before deciding on one where we would station to view and photograph the sunset. The sunset did not disappoint us. When the sun set over the mountain ranges its dying rays reflected on the underside of a huge cloud, coloring it in beautiful reddish gold shades. A very lovely sight.
By the time we were done it was almost 8 pm. We quickly packed up our tripods and went down to the carpark to meet our young driver. He had been waiting in the carpark close to four hours. We did tell him earlier on that we were photographing sunset and suggested that he should leave and come back for us at about 8 pm. It was his decision to wait.
As we returned to the main entrance, we requested our driver to send us to our hotel so that we needed not call for a taxis. The young man was very helpful and refused to accept any payment!
We had dinner at a “restaurant” in LiWan Spa Resort. The restaurant was just a function room with a few tables (big and small) and chairs. A waitress came by to take our order and soon we had our meal. Basically three fried dishes and rice. The total bill came up to RMB ¥120.
Accommodation for the night
We selected LiWan Spa Hotel because of its proximity to HongYuan Transportation Center. We walked in and was quoted RMB¥320 for a twin room with breakfast. Fantastic! The room price was about half of that we saw on Booking.com the night before!
The hotel was pretty nice and grand and our room was a huge surprise. It was huge and was the most luxurious room we had so far on this trip. There a long sofa at one end of the room. It had a large toilet made up of separate cubicles for shower and water closet. It also had a huge wash basin area. Very luxurious.
The only thing we disliked about this hotel was its “non soundproof” problem. Every time a room door along the corridor closed there would be a loud “boom” sound. Similarly when people talked as they walked along the corridor their voices sounded very loud. We checked in at about 10.30 am in the morning which was the time when housekeeping was taking place. So for hours we kept hearing the loud booms of the closing door and the “yelling” voices of the housekeepers as they moved from room to room.
That night at about 1 am when a bunch of guests came back there again was a great deal of “booming” and “yelling” going on, waking us up from our sleep and this happened again at 2 am when another group came back.