The Long Journey Home Part 2 – China
Tuesday 14th May 2019 (Arriving into Nanning and then heading overnight towards Beijing)
Despite being told the first border check at Dong Dang would be at 2am, the knock on the compartment door came at 0050. Lots of people on board seemed to be prepared when the train rolled into Dong Dang and some even ran from the train doors to the entrance to immigration and there were no prisoners spared when luggage was loaded onto the conveyor through the x-ray machine. It was as though people thought they would miss the train if they weren’t first through. I did manage to get myself bollocked as well, when I clambered over the rollers at the end of the x-ray machine; not realising that there was a way around the back of the wall, which others used after me!
People were lined up in two lines once their baggage had gone through the machines, and two windows then processed people out of Vietnam. The guy at the window my line led to didn’t want to deal with me, waved me away and asked the next person to step forward. Thankfully, the same didn’t then happen when I approached the other window, where my passport was stamped with a Vietnam exit stamp and we were officially in limbo until we reached China.
There were toilets on the platforms at Dong Dang and during our processing out of Vietnam, DSVN’s D14E-2011 had come off our train ad ran back through the station to work back to Gia Lam with the opposing working of MR2; which was sat in the adjacent platform and must have arrived some time earlier judging by the fact everyone was on board, ready to go. Chinese Railways (CR) diesel DF4D-0577 must have worked into Dong Dang with MR2 and was waiting to shunt out when we got back onto the platforms, eventually dropping onto our stock to work back into China. Back on board MR1 there wasn’t much time to get dossed back out, so everyone just dozed with the compo door open until the attendant came around to tell everyone to get back off again at Pingxiang, which is 19km by rail from Dong Dang, over the Friendship Pass.
Being processed into China was a lot different than being processed out of Vietnam. First all foreigners had to scan their passport and have all their fingerprints taken, from both hands. This is probably why its now mandatory for all foreigners applying for a Chinese visa to visit in person. If successful the machine spits out a piece of paper with the word OK printed on it, then we were ushered into the channels to queue at the desks to eb processed in. At which point none of the Chinese border staff told any foreigners that they needed to fill out an arrival card; and it wasn’t until I got to the desk and the lady there shouted to someone on the radio, that everyone was then invited to fill them out, before being processed! Talk about chaos.
When I got back into the queue, which is always the wrong one, the guy in front of me didn’t seem to be having much luck getting into China. Firstly, he couldn’t get his fingerprints to work on the scanner at the desk, and when the guy scanned his passport, I could tell straight away he wasn’t happy with something. After a chat on the radio a few of the border police turned up and invited him to stand back to allow others to be processed instead. His wife was already on the other side and was keen to understand what was going on, naturally, but was ushered away by the police. Thankfully, I was quite quick with the fingerprint machine and was acknowledged for it by the guy at the desk. I was grateful that the stamp was in his hand so quickly after I’d stepped up to the desk and I was on my way after only a minute, or so. Unfortunately, I’d not realised that the toilets at Pingxiang were on the “limbo” side and the border staff wouldn’t let me back into the processing area to use them. Our coach attendant was kind enough to unlock one on board for me to use though, after he’d used Google Translate to confirm that I only wanted a piss; his phone screen merely said “Urine” on it when he showed it to me.
Now officially into China and 1912km into the journey home, sleep came much easier without the unwanted interruption of having to get off the train again. It wasn’t until 0930, when the attendant came around to say we would soon be at Nanning, that everyone came around and got prepared to get off. It was during a conversation with the Polish coupe at this point, that we ended up with some food for thought, which needed acting on later. We were only discussing how we were all getting back to our home countries when they mentioned that they’d been planning to go through Belarus from Russia but couldn’t do so now due to changes in the immigration process between the two countries. Something along those lines had been brought to my attention before this trip had commenced but both me and the person I’d been discussing it with had dismissed the quote on the FCO website as being related to the Visa free period for the World Cup the previous summer. Either way, more investigation was needed but we’d need to get some data connection first.
CR’s DF4D-0577 was still heading our train when T8702 0615 Pingxiang – Nanning terminated at Nanning. A load more coaches had been added behind our soft-sleepers, and I vaguely remember a jolt when laying in my berth at Pingxiang waiting for departure, where they must have been shunted to the rear before departure. We had no problem getting some photos before leaving the station, although one guy did try telling us to go the opposite way to exit the station but was fine when he realised what we were doing. Exiting the station was via an underpass that then leads towards the front of the station building, where we then had to negotiate our way back into to collect all our required Chinese train tickets.
I’d like to say it was a simple affair to get into Nanning station but after the first checkpoint there was a second checkpoint with security staff and x-ray machines. We both had to open our bags and had no clue what the staff were looking for due to the lack of English being spoken. Flossy had thought his multi-tool had been stolen during the flight from the UK to Saigon but it was pulled out of his bag and confiscated on the spot due to the large blade it had on it. While we stood there two other locals had small pen-knife types confiscated as well. They also wanted to see our aerosol cans but were instantly happy that we only had deodorant and shaving gel and let us put our bas back together before heading towards the station building.
All the signage at Nanning station was in English, as well as Chinese and the ticket office was easily located. Thanks to www.travelchineguide.com I had printed details for some of the stations we’d be visiting in China and the gen for Nanning said that ticket windows 14 & 15 were for collecting online tickets. The gen wasn’t wrong and as I held my bunch of reservation vouchers in my hand one of the girls behind the counter beckoned for me to go to counter 15; where all 22 of our pre-booked tickets were issued in a matter of minutes and very efficiently processed by the girl serving us. There’d only been one person in front of us at the ticket window and I was surprised at the lack of queues at any of the 16 ticket windows, it was all very civilized and calm; completely the opposite to what I’d expected.
While waiting for the tickets to be issued I’d translated “luggage storage” through Google Translate and had it poised on my phone screen in Chinese. While the girl was happy to point us in the right direction, she did tell us to go outside and turn left, while she was beckoning right with the arm. It was right and we found it easily. The two women that dealt with us were happy lasses and were withered that my name was Lee, just like theirs! I had to type my name into the system on her English keyboard as she couldn’t translate my name into Chinese script, which then had me doing it through Google Translate anyway; just to see what it looked like. It cost CY 20 each for our bags to be stored and we had to show both or passports and train tickets to be allowed to leave them. We were all sorted by 1045, only 38 minutes after arriving into Nanning and 15 minutes before Z6 would depart for Beijing at 1100. The cost of through tickets from Gia Lam to Beijing is phenomenal (over $300) if you book the through ticket. Booking a ticket to Nanning and then a separate ticket from Nanning to Beijing saves a hell of a lot of money but this option doesn’t guarantee you making the connection from T8702 to Z6 as you’ll have to exchange your ticket voucher for a proper ticket first. Cost was the sole reason we’d not decided to not do the through journey in one go and we now had 7 hours to kill in Nanning as a result.
Walking down the main road away from Nanning station gave us the first taste of China, and I can honestly say I’ve never been anywhere else like it in the world. Despite not being able to read anything, anywhere, everything was on such a grand scale, its hard for us Brits to understand without seeing it first-hand. There were flashing neon lights everywhere, scooters no matter which direction you looked, and nobody obeyed the road rules, with scooters using pedestrian crossings and footpaths wherever their owners saw fit. One thing I did notice very quickly though was how clean the atmosphere was and the fact that 99.99% of the scooters plying the city were indeed electric powered. Everywhere was clean and despite there not being any visible dustbins there was no litter anywhere, and people were going about their business in a civilized manner, at a civilized pace; and everyone looked presentable, despite the masses wearing facemasks and having their jackets on back to front while riding their scooters. To say I was in awe of the place would be a true statement.
Awe or not, we needed to figure out what we were doing, where we were going and what our end game was in Nanning. To do that we needed data and a conveniently located, rather empty, Starbucks café provided WiFi, charging facilities and a place to sit to figure all the aforementioned out, while benefitting from the delights of an iced coffee of a morning too. We’d purchased a Chinese SIM card from Amazon through Lyv.com, which provides SIM cards to foreigners on the Chinaunicom network. Its worth doing your homework on which service provider to use in China as some sim cards don’t work with foreign phone handsets. Once my SIM was in my Samsung Galaxy S8 it was straight onto a 4G network and once I turned my VPN on, I was able to use it as though I was anywhere else in the world, with access to Facebook, WhatsApp and the like being no issue. Flossy was having a spot of trouble accessing things on his “other” phone as he’d not set it up properly before leaving the UK and didn’t know what all his passwords were to be able to set it up either; it took him about 24 hours to get sorted!
A walk down the main drag to the Yongjiang River and over the Yongjiang Bridge to the other side led us to Nanning Bingjiang Park, a nice secluded place slightly elevated from the river and shaded by trees. This sufficed for somewhere to plonk ourselves down, before heading back towards the station. There wasn’t much noise in the vicinity of the bridge and that which there was, was from locals swimming in the river beneath the bridge. It was a 2km walk back and it was a hot afternoon, so on the way back we called in at one of the shopping malls for a bit of respite from the heat and stumbled into “KungFu”, or at least that’s the name we think the place had. Google Translate did a good number on their clearly printed menu. After which, we were able to confidently order what we wanted from it and the guy serving us looked impressed with our conduct. Our meals were fresh with a nice chicken & mushroom dish being accompanied by a vat of steam rice, some warm lettuce in soy sauce, which was surprisingly tasty, some kind of pork soup, which was a large piece of meat in hot water and got left untouched, and what Google Translate said were curried fish balls. Now I’m not a fish person at all, but the curried fish balls tasted nothing like fish and went down a treat with the tasty sauce. All in all, it had been a successful first meal in China and we headed back to the station stuffed.
It was easier getting through the security checks at Nanning station without our big bags and we sat in the shade at a café near the left luggage place, to wait it out; pondering the Russia/Belarus immigration system while we had time to do so. By the time we’d drank our cold coke, collected our big bags, figured out which waiting room our train would board from and then queued to get onto the platforms, Flossy had read lots of articles about the Russia/Belarus situation and was basically none the wiser! Now I might be completely wrong, but the situation seems to have arisen from Belarus allowing visa free entry into their country recently, which changed nothing in regard to how border crossings are conducted between Russia and Belarus, I might add. But it seems that Russia now has the hump and as there is literally no immigration anywhere along the Belarus/Russia border then anyone can enter either country from the opposite side without the proper documentation to do so, which has always been the case though! So, what has changed, other than the fact Russia seems to now acknowledge the fact they have no border control between themselves and Belarus? The big issue I can now see is that while we could get from Russia into Belarus with relative ease, once we’ve left Russia there is no entry in a Russia system to say that we’ve done so; so technically, Russia could say we’d overstayed on our visa. Again, this is something that has “always been the case” but if the Russians now acknowledge the issue they could well police it, and it seems their answer to the problem is to say its illegal for foreigners to cross the Russia/Belarus border; despite both countries having issued us with visas, which were processed off an application form that listed our exact entry and exit strategies for both countries. What needs to happen is the two countries need to get together and sort the issue out once and for all, and create a union allowing one visa to cover both Russia and Belarus and take away the issue they’ve created but never seemed to acknowledge, or manage. That said, we didn’t want o fall flat on or faces at the Belarus border, so would be looking at a plan once on board Z286 1735 Nanning – Beijing West.
People were queuing at the automatic ticket barriers 30 minutes before departure, but it was all very civilized, and once the access doors to the platforms were opened the barriers were turned on and tickets started to be put through. It was just like accessing the Underground back home, back in the days of tickets, and once through every waiting room leads to a set of stairs onto the station’s over-bridge. From where all platforms are accessible. Our train was being advertised as departing from platform 10, in the waiting area, and the electronic screens on the footbridge confirmed it. The train was formed of 19 coaches and we were in coach 10, berths 029 & 030. 2014 built electric HXD3D-0499 was at the head of Z286 1735 Nanning – Beijing West and there was already a guy in our compartment when we boarded our coach.
The stock looked newer than that we’d spent the previous night in, but the compartment interiors were very similar, although each berth on Z286 had its own TV screen and controls. Just like the previous night’s train though, this one was full of mosquitoes and both me and the bert opposite spent a long time swatting them and splatting them on the compo window. There was a restaurant car two coaches ahead of us and the boiler at the end of the coach provided endless cups of tea before bed: as well as filling many a noodle pot for the locals on board. After our Guilin North stop at 2130, where the last member of our compartment joined, the lights went out, the curtains were drawn, and the compartment door was closed and locked, which thankfully now seemed to be mosquito free!
Gen for Tuesday 14th May 2019
DF4D-0577 MR1 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang (from Dong Dang)
HXD3D-0499 Z286 1735 Nanning – Beijing West (to Zhengzhou)
HXD3C-0292 5539 1300 Zhanjiang – Jinchengjiang (at Liuzhou)
Moves for Tuesday 14th May 2019
|DF4D-0577||Dong Dang||Pingxiang||2120 (13/05) Gia Lam – Pingxiang||MR1|
|DF4D-0577||Pingxiang||Nanning||0615 Pingxiang – Nanning||T8702|
|HXD3D-0499||Nanning||Zhengzhou||1735 Nanning – Beijing Xi||Z286|
Photos for Tuesday 14th May 2019
Wednesday 15th May 2019 (Arrival into Beijing)
After a very good night’s sleep, I didn’t surface until gone 9am and flossy was still in his upper pit at 1030! The scenery had changed since the previous night with vast swathes of flatness having replaced the nice atmospheric mountains but every now and again there were still concrete monstrosities rising directly upwards from the floor, standing like chess pieces on a board. There was no warning before the high-rises commenced, they literally where what cities were made of, there was nothing on the outskirts, other than other high-rises and even in areas that new high-rises were being built they were being done so on a massive scale; with about 15 being erected at a time. As I’ve said, you have to see it to comprehend the scale of things with your own eyes!
The day flew by with there only being the two stops between me waking and us arriving into Beijing West. The first at Zhengzhou revealed HXD3D-0499 being replaced by HXD3C-0331 during the booked 12-minute station stop. While we were there HXD3C-0407 arrived into the adjacent platform and terminated with K7959 Shanghai – Zhengzhou and the electronic screen was changed after its arrival to show the return service of K7960 1220 Zhengzhou – Shanghai. Shortly beforehand, DF7-5589 brought a set of stock into one of the other platforms. It was a very efficient stop and yet nobody had been allowed onto the platform until the train was already in; it was like turning a tap of people on when they emerged from the top of the steps leading down o the platform.
Dinner on board was provided from a trolley, being wheeled along the train by one of the buffet coach attendants. The plastic cartons of food were CY35 each and consisted of rice, sliced pork, cabbage, a warm carrot and ham mixture, some battered fish and a fried egg. The majority of it went down the hatch, apart from the fish bones. Randomly, the fish tasted nothing like fish again and had it not been for the bones, I’d have passed it on as chicken! It had a very similar consistency. We enjoyed it though and the locals in the corridor enjoyed us trying to figure out what it was when buying it. Unfortunately, Google Translate didn’t translate what the girl selling it said very well, so she just took a lid off and let us have a look instead.
At the last stop, Shijiazhuang, we departed 20’ late, where on our original plan we’d have been getting off and stepping up on trains towards Beijing and arriving there just before midnight. Thanks to Trip.com not being able to secure our tickets on Z286 from Beijing to Shijiazhuang though, we’d had to cancel everything beyond Shijiazhuang to allow China Highlights to get the job done and book us direct tickets from Nanning to Beijing West on Z286 instead. This did pose another problem though, in that we needed to get from Beijing West to Beijing, by train, to keep the dream alive. In a similar fashion to having to get from Hanoi main station to Gia Lam, just to bridge the gap. Thankfully though, China highlights had been able to solve that issue and booked us tickets on a local train from Beijing West to Beijing, even though the trains couldn’t be selected on their website yet could be on Trip.com’s but not booked!
We didn’t pick up any time to Beijing Xi (West) and arrived into the very posh station 25’ late at 1728. Getting out of the station commanded a master’s in geography, or being able to read Chinese; ad even then I’m not sure it was as simple as following a sign for an exit as everything pointed towards areas of the station and there was nothing to indicate an actual exit. When we took a stab at a set of stairs, they randomly brought us up to the front of the station building, right where our suburban EMU service to Beijing was being advertised! The nice lady at the adjacent entry barrier confirmed that we should just wait where we were, which we understood by gesture of course, and waited patiently by the entrance until the gates were opened and we were allowed into the station building. Tickets were checked against our passport before we had to put our bags through the x-ray machines and then we had to head down a level, before queuing at the entrance to the platform, where our tickets were checked again before we were allowed onto the platform; only 5 minutes before the train was due.
S107 1828 Beijing Xi – Tongzhou suburban service was formed of a fresh out of the box “high-speed” EMU, set number CRH6A-0438. It was absolutely spotless inside and out and had a cleaner on board who began mopping he floors throughout the train before it had even departed Beijing Xi. It was that clean you could have licked the windows and made the train dirty; I was ashamed to use the bog but needs must. While the English announcement on board said it was a high-speed train, the 9km journey from Beijing Xi to Beijing, which was almost completely in a tunnel under the city, was far from high-speed; but it did the job.
Thankfully, exit from Beijing station was a simple affair and there seems to be only one exit, which brings every arriving passenger to the front of the very impressive station building. Our hotel for the next three nights, the Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel, towered above us directly opposite the station and all we had to do was use one of the handy over bridges, situated at each end of the station forefront, to get over the main road and we were there; even if we did end up going to the wrong side of the building first!
The Paragon Hotel’s first impression was one of luxury, yet it had only cost around £180 for the three nights. It certainly wasn’t your everyday crank’s hotel, but the bit of luxury was probably going to be the last we had for a while, so we reveled in it. The lobby was massive and when we got to our 7th floor room, we found the AC to be already on and the view from the window was straight over the station building opposite. It was quite possibly one of the best hotel views I’ve ever had, and when the station building was lit up that night it was a cracking sight. Just watching the little humans running around like ants was calming enough when staring down from a high. The room itself wasn’t massive but the AC worked well, the fridge didn’t but there was a kettle for tea/coffee, free water daily and the shower turned out to be a good powerful one, with free toiletries provided each day.
After our discovery, or more like our acknowledgement of the Russia/Belarus border situation, the first hour at the hotel was spent fuckin about online trying to come up with a plan to circumvent the issue. There were three options, one being to stay on plan until departing Moscow on our booked train, get off at Briansk and then head over the Ukraine border on the next train to Konotop. Unfortunately, the only train over the Ukraine/Belarus border to Gomel that day was then train 100, 6 hours later, and there wasn’t even a train towards Kharkiv to head it off at the pass, or a move available in the Konotop area t save on the lengthy fester. So, plan B came into action, which was to cancel our booked train from Moscow to Gomel and book onto train 073 1500 Moskva Kurskaja – Kharkiv, which arrived there at 0423 and then book train 100 from Kharkiv straight through to Minsk, departing at 0617. Both tickets were booked on the respective websites of UZ & RZD, using Flossy’s china SIM as a means of connection as the hotel WiFi was a no-no. I had to put my UK sim back into my phone to allow my bank to sms me when making the final transaction; which was a little more of a faff that I needed but with the amount of fraud on my cards recently, I couldn’t complain.
With both tickets booked, and that hassle now out of the way, we headed out to find somewhere to eat, locally. There were plenty of fast-food joints available and a KFC immediately below the hotel if we needed. The first place we ended up in didn’t really suit us and when we realised why everything on the menu seemed to be raw meat, we made our excuses and left. The woman attempting to serve us couldn’t apologise enough, which was strange as it wasn’t her fault, we didn’t want to order raw meat and cook it ourselves at the table, which we eventually realised everyone else seemed to be doing. We got sorted next door though and while we were trying to use Google Translate to figure out what we wanted the lady at the counter handed us a menu that was hand-written with the English translations on it!
Back at the hotel it was clothes washing time and the poor bath didn’t know what had hit it, the tide mark around the edge was interesting, and the colour of the water was worrying. Still, they smelled fresh once cleaned and strung up to dry on the rail in the bathroom. It was nice to relax with a few beers of an evening and sleep in a comfy, non-moving, bed was going to be a luxury. Thankfully, the earplugs cut out all the road noise from outside, as the windows didn’t keep the outside out at all.
Gen for Wednesday 15th May 2019
HXD3D-0331 Z286 1735 (P) Nanning – Beijing West (from Zhengzhou)
HXD3C-0407 K7959 0843 Anyang – Zhengzhou
DF7C-5589 shunt stock at Zhengzhou
CRH6A-0438 (EMU) S107 1828 Beijing Xi – Tongzhou
Moves for Wednesday 15th May 2019
|HXD3D-0331||Zhengzhou||Beijing Xi||1735 (14/05) Nanning – Beijing Xi||Z286|
|CRH6A-0438||Beijing Xi||Beijing||1828 Beijing Xi – Tongzhou||S107|
Photos for Wednesday 15th May 2019
Thursday 16th May 2019 (Day 1 of 3 in Beijing – nedding about on DF4’s)
At 0559, according to my phone, I was frantically trying to turn my alarm off, thinking I’d overslept. When I realised it was the chiming of the clock outside in the street somewhere, I was somewhat relieved but equally confused as to what I’d been trying to do. At 0659 I was already awake and considering getting up, so the chiming came as no surprise and I turned my alarm off before it went off, so as not to wake the sleeping Flossy, who was completely oblivious to anything! My clothes were dry in the bathroom and I managed a shower, sorted my bag and went out, all without waking the dosser.
I was grateful that Beijing station was a simple station to navigate. I was also grateful, having looked in on the ticket office, that I didn’t need to use it at all during our visit. With only one way into Beijing station everyone passes through security, with most locals using the electronic barriers to put their ID cards on, while looking at a camera; very similar to using e-gates at airports. Those without ID cards can only use gate 15, where your tickets and passport are manually checked, and your ticket stamped before you’re allowed through to the security check area. Bags are x-rayed first, then you’re body-checked by a line of staff, before finally walking trough the plastic meat-locker style entrance flaps.
Once into the station area it might look daunting but its actually quite simple. The big departure screens show train number, followed by waiting room level and then the waiting room number; and every waiting room is very clearly signposted, so you don’t even need to be concerned about the waiting room level. There are fooderies and shops all around the place, including a McDonalds and KFC, with a load more outside the station front for good measure. McD’s provided me with an industry standard Sausage & Egg McMuffin for breakfast, wit hash-brown and coffee. I didn’t need to translate the menu as everything was written in English beneath the Chinese.
My K7711 0756 Beijing – Chengde was being boarded from waiting room 4, which was already full when I go there, so I joined the few already queuing at the barriers rather than standing elsewhere. When the staff come out to prepare for boarding everyone soon cottons on and the queues steadily grow, right until the last minute then it becomes a bit of a free-for-all towards the back of the queue as people just join where they feel like! Despite the platform number being displayed in the waiting area, its easy to find your train once your ticket has been stamped again, while going through the last barrier of the debacle. If you end up accessing the platforms via an upper waiting room some end up leading you directly down to the relevant platform, mostly from waiting room 8, others lead onto an over-bridge with screens at the top of every step. Usually, only your train will be displayed on the relevant screen, so there’s no ending up in the wrong place, either by mistake, or intentionally I might add!
K7711 0756 Beijing – Chengde was in one of the low numbered bay platforms at Beijing and while I was asked what I was doing when walking beyond the entry point to the leading coach, I had no problems walking to the loco, or taking photos of it; once the platform staff knew I had a ticket for that train. DF4D-4211 was chugging away nicely at the head of K7711 with DF4D-5295 sat at the head of another train in a nearby platform. While I’d not hear the loco at the head of my train working in anger, I did later head Df4D-5295 hammer through Tongzhou Xi at full throttle and it was a very pleasing 16-cylinder chug that it was emitting. I wasn’t expecting double-deck stock on any train in China either, which gave me something else to understand on my day’s tickets; whether I was in the upper or lower section as the upper & lower sections were numbered the same. Symbols on the ticket do show which section your ticket is in though and all mine had the same, indicating the lower section unfortunately.
It was a pleasant journey, 18km out to Tongzhou Xi, where I was able to watch DF4D-4211 depart with K7711 before being shown the station exit. With nearly 2 hours to kill, I walked down the road outside the station and came across a small park, which was right by the line, with a main road running under it at that point, and the metro running over it. It wasn’t an ideal place for photographing but it was shaded from the sun and I could see things coming for quite a distance in one direction. The result of my 90-minutes there was worth the walk, especially when DF4D-4250 hammered by with a heavy freight. Most trains that passed were heading west, away from me, but two came from the west and made for excellent shots as the passed by. I was also treated to two HXN class diesels hammering by on loaded freights, which didn’t sound quite as good as the DF4D’s but more like a muffled GE Gevo. They were still loud though and of the 8 trains that passed, only one was electric hauled.
Back at Tongzhou Xi station, the staff were quite taken aback when I went back through security and the guy on the platform looked positively flabbergasted when he checked my ticket to let me onto the platform. DF4D-4142 made for a nice photo as it ran in with 2258 1302 (P) Dandong – Beijing. On board which I now had two tickets, with Flossy choosing to be normal for the day, one of which was standing ticket in coach 8 and Flossy’s was a seated ticket in coach 13; which randomly only had about 10 people in the whole coach; so my own standing ticket seemed a bit strange! It was a relaxing run back to Beijing though and little did I, or the staff, realise that we’d be seeing each other again soon; once I negotiated my way out of Beijing station and then straight back in to do the return working of 2257 1220 Beijing – Dandong back out.
By the time I’d walked back to the station front, got through gate 15 and the security checks and walked upstairs to the relevant waiting room for train 2257, it was just being boarded and in the time it had taken me to go from coach 13 of 2258 to coach 13 of 2257, DF4D-4140 had dropped onto the opposite end of the stock and DF4D-4142 had been detached at the buffer stops end and was shut down on the stops. Again, one of the station staff queried what I was doing when taking photos, but she was more than happy to leave me be once she’d seen my ticket. It was a long walk back to coach 13 in the afternoon heat though; where the air-con was a welcome respite for the journey back to Tongzhou Xi, where the station staff really were withered when I turned up again!
So as not to look like a crazy foreigner or draw more attention to myself than I already seemed to be doing, I checked straight back in for my onward train to Miyun Bei after a quick visit to the booking office and the shop outside the station. A pre-written message on Google Translate asking for a ticket on S106 1848 from Beijing Dong to Beijing was all it took to get me a ticket and the guy understood it perfectly, only requiring me to hand over my passport to allow him to issue the CY3 ticket; which would save me the hassle of walking from Beijing Dong to the nearest metro station, 700m away, later that evening.
When the station staff realised I was heading on to pastures new shortly, they seemed content and allowed everyone onto the platform before DF4D-4136 arrived with Y513 0612 Handan – Chengde; again, with double-deck stock in its consist. Despite my lower-deck ticket, there was plenty of room on both decks in my coach and I was able to sit and have a bay to myself for the journey to Miyun Bei. Where, on arrival I thought I’d come across part of the Great Wall of China but it wasn’t, or at least I don’t think it was, and Google didn’t give me any ideas that it actually was either. Still, the turret sections looked like those I’d seen of it in pictures. Over the way though there clearly was some sort of tourist attraction located atop of a hill, with cable cars leading up to it; which might be what the taxi drivers outside the station were asking me about as I headed down the rather strange narrow alleyway from the station to the main road.
With time to kill for the second time during the day I headed down to a level crossing that I’d spotted on the way into Miyun Bei but as the shots from it didn’t look like they’d be that great I walked further down the road in an attempt to find another spot, which proved fruitless and I ended up back there soon enough. Initially I was a little skeptical about hanging around by the crossing, that was until the crossing keeper acknowledged me and even told me which was the two trains that went by were coming from. It’s a single-line section from Miyun Bei over a large bridge about 2km from the station so there was a 20-minute gap after blue liveried DF4C-0012 headed towards Beijing with a lengthy freight and DF4D-4250 trundled by with a short trip-freight, into the yard at Miyun Bei station.
I was pleased with the two shorts and hastily walked back to the station to be there in time for 6420 1043 Chengde – Tongzhou Xi arriving. When DF4D-4141 arrived promptly, I wasn’t quite with it in understanding what was going on behind me and it wasn’t until I’d boarded, to find coaches with opening windows, that DF4-0019/0015 shunted out from the yard and dropped on top on DF4D-4141. By which time I wasn’t allowed to walk towards the front of the train, or get back off to get towards the front; in fact I was only assuming at this point that it was in fact DF4-0019/0015 as I’d seen them on arrival earlier. While the windows opened in the coaches, they didn’t come down, or up in some cases, enough to allow me to get my fat head out but I could still hear the DF4s at the head of the train well enough and it was a very pleasant, if not sweltering, afternoon jaunt as far as Huariou. Where I had to get off to do Y514 back to Beijing behind. I wasn’t allowed to the front of the train at Huariou but all wasn’t lost and at least I could watch the train pull away before exiting the station, at which pint it didn’t seem like the front two were powering on departure; but that was soon rectified. Thankfully, Y514 1313 Chengde – Handan was booked to overtake 6420 before Tongzhou Xi and when DF4D-4204 trundled by the DF4 triplet, I was able to spot the number on DF4-0019 at least, which was enough for the mind to be at ease, and when I got back to Beijing Dong just after 1800, I was quite pleased with how the day had turned out.
There was no wondering down to find out the number of the electric waiting to take over from DF4D-4204 at Beijing Dong, everyone was immediately directed to head under the underpass and exit the station. Outside which people were queuing to get onto the station to board Y514 and weren’t allowed to do so until after the loco change had taken place. Quite a few people off Y514 waited around, like me, to do S106 1848 suburban towards Beijing & Beijing Xi; which at the same price as the metro was a better option and save a lengthy walk to the metro, although there were a load of taxi drivers hanging about waiting for their next fare.
Once Y514 had been sent on its way passengers for S106 were allowed through security and onto the platform, which there are only three of at Beijing Dong. Standing over the back of the station with an empty set was DF4D-5295 and when the driver noticed me with my camera out, he turned the lights on, on the front of the loco, which was appreciated in the fading light. S106 was formed of a different EMU to the one we’d had from Beijing Xi the previous night but it wasn’t any less clean, but it did have the same cleaning lady on board, who clearly recognized me from the previous night.
Flossy was waiting for me on the footbridge outside Beijing station when I got back, having been to Tiananmen Square, and we were soon stumbling across a common food chain in China, Mr Lee’s, just down from our hotel; where it would have been very rude not to partake. Mr Lee had a very good spicy beef noodle at Mr Lee’s, washed down with a cold beer to boot, and I had to get a couple of cups to take back home as souvenirs as well.
A visit to the supermarket on the way back to the hotel netted a few Weiss beers to take back to the room, where we plotted the following day’s proceedings. Strangely, the station wasn’t lit up like it had been the previous night; maybe someone hadn’t fed the meter?!
Gen for Thursday 16th May 2019
DF4D-4211 K7711 0756 Beijing – Chengde
DF4D-5295 ???? 0810ish ex Beijing (light back through Beijing Dong at 1030) ECS???
DF4D-4214 K1458 1900 (P) Tongliao – Shijiazhuang (to Beijing Dong)
DF4D-4142 2258 1302 (P) Dandong – Beijing
HXD3D-0239 T298 1613 (P) Mudanjiang – Beijing
HXD3D-0238 T297 1200 Beijing – Mudanjiang
DF4D-4140 2257 1220 Beijing – Dandong
SS9-0149 stabled at Tongzhou Xi with a Beijing Dong – Yanjiao set
DF4D-4136 Y513 0612 Handan – Chengde (from Beijing Dong)
DF4D-4204 6420 1043 Chengde – Tongzhou Xi
DF4-0019/DF4-0015 top 6420 from Miyun Bei
DF4D-4141 Y514 1313 Chengde – Handan (to Beijing Dong)
Moves for Thursday 16th May 2019
|DF4D-4211||Beijing||Tongzhou Xi||0756 Beijing – Chengde||K7711|
|DF4D-4142||Tongzhou Xi||Beijing||1302 (15/05) Dandong – Beijing||2258|
|DF4D-4140||Beijing||Tongzhou Xi||1220 Beijing – Dandong||2257|
|DF4D-4136||Tongzhou Xi||Miyun Bei||0612 Handan – Chengde||Y513|
|DF4-0019||Miyun Bei||Huariou||1043 Chengde – Tongzhou Xi||6420|
|DF4D-4141||Huariou||Beijing Dong||1313 Chengde – Handan||Y514|
|CRH6A-0623||Beijing Dong||Beijing||1834 Tongzhou – Beijing Xi||S106|
Photos for Thursday 16th May 2019
Friday 17th May 2019 (Day 2 of 3 in Beijing – Pre-trip briefing with Koryo Tours & Tiananmen Square)
With an 0930-meeting planned at Koryo’s office, a way from Beijing station, we were up by 8am and heading down to the Beijing metro station right outside the hotel by 0830. With it being a midweek and during the rush hour, I was a little apprehensive about the metro; and expected it to be wedged to the gunnels with people ramming themselves on at the last minute as the doors closed. Entering the metro has security checks and x-ray machines for bags too but it wasn’t anywhere near as busy as I expected it to be, or as complicated to navigate either. In fact, the whole experience was quite pleasant. Ticket machines are easy to use and in multiple languages. As long as you know which line the station you’re going to is on, you just select the line, then the station from the map and insert money into the machine; its that simple. The tickets are then scanned to access the station and put through the machine to exit at your destination. Tickets are priced on distance. Directions at the stations are signed in Chinese and English and everything is very clear. Every station I used had island platforms with trains for that line only running in either direction. Display screens on the platforms show when trains are due and electronic mapping displays on board show where the train you’re travelling is at, and announcements on board are in English as well as Chinese. There was plenty of room on board and the air-con worked a treat.
As we were at Dongsishitiao with plenty of time to spare we had time for breakfast at KFC along the way. Attempts to use the rather handy electronic display screens to order fell at the last hurdle as in China you can only pay using WeChat. The result of that being that I had to take a photo of the screen to show to the girls at the counter to get what we wanted; and even then, my order was wrong and had to be redone.
Koryo’s office is in a residential area but their directions clearly get you to their front door, although both ME Maps and Google Maps did us proud. Just as we pressed the buzzer to get in, one of Koryo’s employees turned up and let us in. I got the impression they weren’t expecting us but 5 minutes later we were handing over nearly €1300 to pay the balance of our trip and 5 minutes after that, the same guy that had let us in, Marcus, took us into the briefing room and proceeded to run through what we needed to know, the do’s and don’ts and the essential things we needed to understand before we headed into the DPRK. It was a thorough briefing and lasted about an hour, during which all of our questions were answered and some of the logistics surrounding the trip started to make sense.
We learnt that our tickets from Beijing to Dandong were in hard-sleeper and not soft-sleeper as we’d requested. A simple mistake, which Simon immediately owned up to, which was unfortunately not a mistake that could be rectified as soft sleeper on K27 to Dandong the following was full. Our additional costs for the soft sleeper were refunded on the spot though and we were given contact details for Mr Jacky Zhang, who would meet us in the square outside Dandong station and sort us out for our onward train into the DPRK. All our tickets for travel in DPRK would be sorted by our guides and our DPRK visas were handed over before we departed Koryo’s offices, after a few paperwork formalities. It was all straightforward, and things started to make sense at this point. We both left Koryo’s office pretty excited about our trip into DPRK, although I was a little apprehensive at the same time as I always am when going somewhere new.
As Flossy had decided to head to the Forbidden City of an afternoon, he guided me to Tiananmen Square beforehand, which is easily accessed via two different metro stops: Tiananmen East & West, both on the same line. After another nice metro journey, I wasn’t quite prepared for how big the square is when we emerged from underground, as television doesn’t do it any justice; it’s huge! Walking completely around it takes ages and then when heading towards the entrance to the Forbidden City things started to get busier and I ended up getting caught up in the one-way heard of people moving from the square towards the Forbidden City, via the underground channels of the monumental entrance to the Forbidden City. Once in the tunnels there is no way back, even though the Tiananmen metro stations are close-by. By the time I figured this out, I had a 1.9km walk to get back to Tiananmen West station; and didn’t thank myself for it in the afternoon heat either. I’d have probably been better off heading into the Forbidden City with Flossy, than skirting around its extremities to get back to a main road that led back towards Tiananmen Square. The air-con on the metro was welcome when I got down to the depths, as was a shower at the hotel when I got back!
After a recharge of both my own and my phone’s batteries, I headed back out for the afternoon bash. To try and fit the touristy bits in around meeting Koryo and planning some sort of move each day, I think I did quite well with this particular day’s and once I got myself onto the platform at Beijing, I was quite pleased to come across nice blue liveried DF4-0003 heading K1189 1603 Beijing – Wulanhaote but was equally displeased with the attitude of the young lad on the platform who told me I wasn’t taking photos of anything. Despite me telling him I’d done so on every other visit to the station and that the rest of his colleagues had been fine about it, and pleasant, he wasn’t having any of it; and that became the one and only time I wasn’t allowed to take photos while on any station in China.
Attitude or not, my denial at Beijing didn’t spoil the afternoon and after listening to DF4-0003 depart Tongzhou Xi, I went through the barriers, out of the station and then straight back in through the entrance security to wait for Y514 1313 Chengde – Handan, which arrived promptly with DF4D-4122 and I was dropped at the gestapo shack that is Beijing Dong and ushered straight out of the station; without being able to spot the electric that would re-engine Y514 again. With just over an hour to kill, I had a wander towards the nearest metro station to Beijing Dong, Dawanglu, and then wandered straight back to wait outside the station entrance for the gates to be opened up to passengers for K7787 1922 Beijing Dong – ??????, which was sat in the platform waiting for its load, with electric SS9-0148 at the helm. I was only on board to Yanjiao, where I had no time to wait at all for twin-unit DF11Z-0004B/0004A to chug in with a 20-coach rake forming T5688 1628 Qinhuangdao – Beijing; which only seemed to have the rear 4 coaches in use! All were hard-seat coaches and the rest of the train was both hard & soft sleeper coaches, with nobody in them. The rake must be used during the day for T5687/T5688 to get it out of Beijing for the day, before being put back into its link that night? The stickers on the side were for Zxxx/Zxxx with T5687/T5688 being in smaller writing underneath the main train’s details. Being in coach 1, had in me in the 20th and rear most coach back to Beijing but I was hoping that it would mean completely the opposite for the following morning,
Mr Lee’s beckoned for a second night in a row, where a decent beef curry and rice was served up, once I’d managed to get the fat off the beef using my chopsticks, which was easier said than done! Back at the hotel another bout of washing got done before an earlier night than the previous one occurred. The lights over at Beijing station had been on when I’d returned from my jaunt but were off when we went to bed, whether the hammering rain had anything to do with it, we couldn’t figure out but just as we clambered in to bed a loud siren started going off; eventually prompting both of us to query what was happening, just in case it was the hotel fire alarm. Thankfully, it wasn’t and said noise eventually moved away from the hotel, leaving the earplugs to block out the rest and sleep to come along soon after.
Gen for Friday 17th May 2019
HXD3C-0489 K7715 1044 Shijiazhuang – Qinhuangdao (from Beijing)
DF4-0003 K1189 1603 Beijing – Wulanhaote (Tongzhou Xi)
DF4D-4122 Y514 1313 Chengde – Handan (to Beijing Dong)
SS9-0148 K7787 1922 Beijing Dong – ???? (Yanjiao)
DF11Z-0004B/0004A T5688 1628 Qinhuangdao – Beijing
Moves for Friday 17th May 2019
|DF4-0003||Beijing||Tongzhou Xi||1603 Beijing – Wulanhaote||K1189|
|DF4D-4122||Tongzhou Xi||Beijing Dong||1313 Chengde – Handan||Y514|
|SS9-0148||Beijing Dong||Yanjiao||1922 Beijing Dong – ?????||K7787|
|DF11Z-0004B||Yanjiao||Beijing||1628 Qinhuangdao – Beijing||T5688|
Photos for Friday 17th May 2019
Saturday 18th May 2019 (Day 3 of 3 in Beijing before heading towards Dandong and the DPRK border)
It wasn’t such an early start for me, and I was out on my own again, mostly because Flossy couldn’t deal with the queuing and fucking about at stations to get onto platforms. Unfortunately, my washing hadn’t dried so alternative socks & boxers had to be sought, while I ended up wearing my shorts in a bid to dry them off outside. The pockets were too damp to put my money, passport, wallet and moves book in though, so I was all over the place for the first part of the bash; while things weren’t where they were supposed to be!
After a sit-in McDonald’s breakfast, I was down on the platform quite early for T5688 0936 Beijing – Qinhuagngtao, even if the engines weren’t on the train early. I thought I was going to be told to stop photographing again but my ticket for the train I was stood by soon ended any potential issues; and a Chinese guy came along shortly afterwards with his kid and proceeded to photograph everything that moved, all over the station, including me photographing DF4D’s!
While waiting for something to back ono my train, which I was going to be right behind on departure from Beijing, DF11-0417 departed with K7729 0913 Beijing – Dezhou and twinset DF11G-0001/0002 arrived with Z205 1832 (P) Changsha – Tianjin. No sooner had they arrived, did DF11G-0029/0030 drop onto the other end to work Z205 forward. DF4-5012 looked to be one of the Beijing empties engines and electric HXD3C-0944 was being attached to K5223 0946 Beijing – Hengshui before DF11G-0012/0011 graced our platform with their presence. As it was quite late on and departure time was imminent, I had to board the train while the locos were attached. We were still away right time though and thanks to me being in coach 1, I was able to pretend to be a smoker and stand in the vestibule right behind the locos as they got to grips with the 20-coach train again, of which only 4 were in use at the front. To say I was suitably impressed was an understatement and they hammered their way the 36km out to Yanjiao. They were very loud and very meaty, and it was a shame I was getting off when I was, having finally managed to hear something flat out and being able to get close to it.
For a Saturday it was quite busy, and people seemed to be moving all around the Beijing suburbs by train. I had a walk to the main road at Yanjiao which reminded me of a wet day during my childhood, when walking down a deserted high street in Erdington, Birmingham, there was nobody about at all, with shops closed down, boarded up and generally looking a bit worse for wear. There was a nice park close to Yanjiao station though, with what could have been a nice water feature, had it not been empty and full of ponds and weeds! Still, there were quite a lot of kids playing in and around the place and quite a few passing by with buckets and spades!
Once back on the station, it was a bit of a come-down when electric HXD3D-8001 rolled into Yanjiao with 2550 2258 (P) Anshan – Beijing but I couldn’t complain about what I’d had, especially as I had no gen at all before I planned the trip and everything I did plan was gleaned from someone else’s hard work; which saved me a massive amount of time and probably had me doing something worthwhile, instead of attempting to take a stab at things; and I can’t thank that person enough.
Agreeing a 1400 checkout with the Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel was a nice bonus freebie and allowed for a bit of relaxing time before we had to head out and brave the world wit our big bags again. I was back before Flossy, who’d been to find himself at a Buddhist temple while I’d been out on the bash. Once we’d drained the hotel of power one more time, we trudged down to check-out, which was a simple affair but our attempts to change some GBP to RMB were denied. Initially we thought it was due to the fact they though the £20 notes were old, as they weren’t shiny, however, attempts to get money changed at the Beijing Bank around the corner proved just as fruitless. They weren’t allowed to exchange GBP, only Euro & US$. So, after a walk to find the China Bank, we came across a HSBC and managed to get them to spit some money out of an ATM for us. That was us sorted until we got back to civilization in Russia, just in case and all that.
There was never going to be anywhere else that we’d visit for a last meal in Beijing, and Mr Lee’s provided us with somewhere to veg for a while too, while waiting for the departure of our train to head further east. We spent 30-minutes outside Beijing station entrance, watching the rat race and slating people who were stupidly dressed; the pair of women that we are. Our wives would no doubt have had a field day doing exactly the same. One thing I will say though is that nobody looked out of place, maybe a little too smart for the occasion but everyone seemed to have made an attempt to look smart at least, and there was us, stood berating people for looking smart, while dressed in shorts and a shirt, looking like a proper pair of train spotters!
Eventually we braved the masses and entered Beijing station through entrance No.15, before going through security and the body checks one last time. Our train, Z27 1727 Beijing – Dandong, had changed waiting rooms since my visit earlier in the day, and was now being boarded from waiting room No.1 on the ground floor, which leads straight out onto platform 1 bay platform. With the waiting area full we paid almost a fiver for a coffee, which at least allowed us to sit down while we waited for our train. Queues had already started to form when the staff put out the train’s number and departure time and by the time they started to board people from the “Special waiting area” the queues were a free-for-all, with no coordination about them at all. I left Flossy to it and queued with the masses, only to watch him sneak through the “special” boarding area and get waved straight onto the platform; the cheek of some people, eh? Although I reckon it was his grey hair that fooled the staff into thinking he was “old”.
Our hard-sleeper coach, No.4, was towards the front so at least we didn’t have far to walk to collect the engine number of electric HDX3D-0650. As we had two lower berths in our hard-sleeper coach, we were pretty much sorted from the moment we got on and all the side-seat along the coach were already occupied by those having upper berths, which is somewhere to sit until the lights go out. There weren’t any charging sockets in the berths but there was the odd one in the corridor. Thankfully, the hot water boilers were working ok, and we managed to break into our stash of pot noodles, rice, or whatever else was lurking in the depths of our bags, for tea; the first of many to come.
Despite having requested soft-sleeper through Koryo, the hard-sleepers weren’t really an issue, although if they’d been anything but lower berths it would have been a bit of a farce. It was a relaxing journey east and one that would be the last that we’d be able to communicate with our loved ones bac in the UK, before heading into the DPRK the following morning; so we both made the most of it, despite my VPN thinking otherwise regularly! By 2130 we were both read for bed and the lights were turned out in the coach at around 2230 anyway; when all the mice on the mice organ were told it was bedtime!
Gen for Saturday 18th May 2019
DF11G-0001/0002 Z205 1832 (P) Changsha – Tianjin (to Beijing)
DF11G-0029/0030 Z205 1832 (P) Changsha – Tianjin (from Beijing)
DF11-0417 K7729 0913 Beijing – Dezhou
HXD3C-0944 K5223 0946 Beijing – Hengshui
DF11G-0012/0011 T5687 0936 Beijing – Qinhuangdao
DF4-5012 Beijing ECS loco
HXD3D-8001 2550 2258 (P) Anshan – Beijing
DF4D-4140 2257 1220 Beijing – Dandong
HXD3D-0650 T27 1727 Beijing – Dandong (to Shenyang)
Moves for Saturday 18th May 2019
|DF11G-0012||Beijing||Yanjiao||0936 Beijing – Qinhuangdao||T5687|
|HXD3D-8001||Yanjiao||Beijing||2258 (17/05) Anshan – Beijing||2550|
|HXD3D-0650||Beijing||Shenyang||1727 Beijing – Dandong||K27|
Photos for Saturday 18th May 2019