Every time we visit China we find more and more places and breathtaking hotels we couldn’t have imagined. On a recent trip which included lots of railway hours we were looking for a place to break up the long distance between Xi’an and Beijing. This city of 10 million people is little known in the West and its infrastructure is impressive as it is blossoming with malls, parks, historic sites and brand new luxury hotels which come at surprisingly good prices.
Sitting at the halfway point of the ten hour train journey between Beijing and Xi’an the city gets overlooked by many. However there are many bullet trains and regular trains connecting to it from all around the country. It embodies the central reaches of the Hebei province which include fantastic mountain parks, ancient temples, lovely villages and ancient pagodas. Any extended stay here will have you desirous to branch out into the lovely natural settings of nearby National Parks.
The luxury hotels such as the Intercontinental, the new Hilton and the Wanda complex in the heart of town is a prime example of over 24 major apartment high rises integrated into a modern shopping center, and manicured gardens. The area covered by the city is flat, which reflects China’s North central plains that it occupies. The city modernized as a railroad center and industry leader which is much of what attracts its business guests from outside today, yet it is certainly a place where a tourist can enjoy a slice of largely undisturbed local life in a major Chinese city.
As for attractions the city’s expanse of over 20 parks is impressive. A great place to begin a walking tour that includes the most scenic park (Chang’an) is adjacent to the panoramic People’s Square. Here one can admire impressive scenery and pass the time in urban tranquility. Just nearby are various malls containing myriads of local and foreign brands of every product imaginable. Buses are well marked on city maps and can be easily used. Taxi’s are incredibly inexpensive too and having your address written down in Chinese is essential. The most historically significant site is China’s oldest stone-arch bridge, Zhaozhou Bridge, which one can get to by taking a bus from the southern Bus station.
Further afield lie many villages steeped in local traditions and mysteries. They can be easily reached by pubic buses and one can reach some of the more famed attractions of this ancient province. For instance one of China’s three hanging temples, called Qiaoloudian Hall can be found in the city’s further reaches. Around 100km away is a great daytrip to the impressive Mt. Cangyan Scenic area where jagged cliffs and characteristic monasteries form an impressive array.