Tag Archives: Urumqi

Urumqi to LiuYuan to Dunhuang, China

2/27 – Back to the Urumqi train station we go! Our train to LiuYuan departs at 9:27am so we left the hotel before 8 to make sure we got a taxi and got through the security check points at the station. Once again, we were asked to step aside for a thorough search after our packs went through the scanner. Profiling! Again, they were interested in our canteens, but rather than confiscating the water bottles like in the US, they just make you take a drink. If you don’t die immediately, they let you pass.

We entered a huge waiting area totally packed with people – think Grand Central Station, and then some. I watched the board that included our train, and assumed that all these people were waiting for different trains. When our train was announced, EVERYBODY started moving – all these people were getting on the same train!image

We found car 14, which was an open sleeper with 6 berths per compartment, but the compartments had no doors. We were the only ones in our section,N which was good, because I didn’t know how I would climb into an upper berth with my arm in a sling.

Lots of brown desert, and brown mountains. All day. Once we far enough from the city, the sky actually turned blue!image


The conductor stopped by with his camera and a friend who wanted his picture taken with us. The novelty of being a westerner! We were happy to oblige. The nice conductor let us know when we were approaching our stop, and we were ready to get off by 6pm. LiuYuan is a one road town that depends on the train station for its livelihood. It has no hotels, so even though it was late in the day, we had to press on to Dunhuang. As we had read, there were taxis and a minibus waiting outside the train station. We jumped onto the minibus for the 128km /80 mile ride to Dunhuang.

Sharing the ride with us were three young Chinese women on holiday. One had a bit of English, and asked if we were going to see the sights of Dunhuang tomorrow. When we replied yes, she suggested that we go together and share the taxi fare. Deal!

Here’s a funny thing. The minibus had to stop for gas. As soon as the bus stopped, everybody got off, and walked briskly to the edge of the road, as far from the natural gas pumps as possible. There we stood, shivering in sub-zero temperatures, as the attendant filled the tank. Do buses explode often here?

The road to Dunhuang is an absolutely straight two lanes, rutted and potholed, through absolutely flat, featureless desert. The most interesting thing was watching for the kilometer markers as we bounced along (my arm aching with every bounce). After the sun set, the ride became more interesting, as our driver expertly maneuvered around bicycles, pedestrians, and three wheeled carts with no lights at all. By 8:30pm we were in Dunhuang, a brightly lit, friendly looking town. The bus driver took us right to our hotel, and the three young women decided to stay at the same hotel too.

Dunhuang was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. Tomorrow, the sights!

Thursday in Urumqi – the Bone Hospital And the Museum

2/26 – When we woke up this morning, Jim said we’d waited long enough for my arm to feel better.  Time to take action!  We looked at our map and saw a hospital within walking distance.  Jim copied out the Chinese words for ‘shoulder’ and ‘X-Ray’, and we set off down the road.  We walked into the hospital, teeming with parents and children.  The nurse at the front desk let us know this was a children’s hospital, and she went and got a lady who spoke enough English to tell us we needed the Bone Hospital.  She wrote out the words in Chinese so we could show the taxi driver.

15 minutes later, we walked into another hospital.  There were lots of people limping and in casts and crutches, so we figured we were in the right place.  The nurse checked us in using my passport as ID, and issued us a plastic card that would be swiped for each transaction.

We waited in a hallway until we were called in to see a doctor, who concurred that I needed an X-ray.  He called over a young resident who spoke some English, who took us upstairs and instructed us to wait until we were called.  He asked if he could take our picture, as we were his first foreign patients!image

Within an hour, my X-rays were done, and we waited until they were developed, then brought them back to the doctor on the first floor.  He showed me where my upper arm bone (humerus) was fractured right below the shoulder.  He called the young resident back, and he said it didn’t need an operation or a cast, just don’t move it for three weeks.  Jim asked if we could purchase a sling, and the young doctor took us up to the tenth floor to be fitted for one.  Here’s the happy result!


From start to finish, we were there less than three hours.  Total cost:  less than $50.00!

We went to lunch, and I discovered that chopsticks are even more challenging left-handed.  I ended up using a spoon…

After lunch we took a taxi to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum, to learn more about Uyghur culture.  Here are some pix.

Wednesday in Urumqi, China 

2/25 – Woke up this morning to the conductor pounding on our door.  Urumqi!  (pronounced Ur UM chee).  We scrambled to dress and get our packs together, and looked out the window.  Snow on the ground, and smog in the air.  A big city.  In my mind, Urumqi, on China’s western frontier, was not so big and crowded, or so smoggy.  Oh well.

We got off the train, looking for an ATM to get some Chinese money.  The Yuan is equal to about 16 cents US, or 6 yuan to the dollar.  There was an ATM in the train station, but it rejected our card.  Since we left Türkiye, it takes us an average of 5 ATMs before we find one that will give us money.  We hoped to have better luck here…  We walk next door to the huge and crowded ticket hall, going through a metal detector, a pat-down and a hat removal, to find no ATM there.  We need cash to buy train tickets, and to get a taxi to our hotel.  Back out on the street, it is SO crowded!  Thousands of people with places to go.  We try a bank, no luck at their ATM, and they can’t give us a cash advance from our credit card, nor change our remaining Kazakh money.  The cleaning lady has some English, and tells us to try China Bank, by getting on Bus 52.  We explain that we can’t take a bus, as we have no Chinese money.  She reaches into her pocket and produces two bills, presumably enough for bus fare.  First Nice Person of China!

We try a nearby hotel, where we hope to find someone with advice in English.  No luck.  We walk down the very crowded street, past markets and mobile phone shops.  I spy a sign that says ATM.  Success!  

Now we return to the ticket hall, through the metal detector and the pat-down.  This time they are interested in the water bottle in Jim’s pack, which they weren’t interested in before.  My hiking poles are a red flag, and I have to open my pack and pantomime that they are used as walking sticks.  We get on one of the lines to purchase our tickets to our next destination, Dunhuang.  When we show the word, written in Chinese, to the clerk, he says something in Chinese that we can’t understand.  He leaves his station, and comes back with a young woman who speaks English.  She explains that there is no train to the town we wish to go to – we can get tickets for a 9 hour ride to LiuYuan, then take a two hour bus from there.  Sounds like a plan, and we get our tickets.

Jim dickers with an unlicensed taxi driver for a ride to our hotel.  He’s sure we are paying too much, but it’s not a lot by American standards.  Jim shows the man his hand drawn map (my phone plan works here, but Google Maps does not, thanks to the Great Firewall of China blocking all Google products and social media) and the guy takes off in the opposite direction.  After a while, he rolls down  his window and asks directions of passersby.  Deja vu!  Drivers are alike in every country!  He finally turns down the right street, and I yell for him to stop as he passes our hotel.  Sheesh!  We have arrived, safe and sound, to our lovely upscale hotel with western toilet and wifi.

For supper we walk down the street where there are a number of restaurants, and choose one that displays pictures of the dishes.  We select beef and noodles with celery and greens.  Eating soup with chopsticks is challenging, and my arm still hurts whenever I try to raise it, but the food was delicious!

Almaty, Kazakhstan to Urumqi, China

2/23 – We hung around our hotel today, listening to the construction above our heads as they rebuild the hotel after a fire. The goal was to give my arm a day of rest before subjecting it to another bumpy train ride. My throat is full of construction dust and my eyes are scratchy. I’ve had enough of Kazakhstan, thank you!

We used the one finger method to catch a ride to the railway station. Best system ever!

2/24 – Midnight train to Urumqi, China. This little cutie was very interested in my iPad.image

Had to cross over three sets of tracks and vault up onto the train. The conductor tried to help me up by grabbing my arm – ouch! Re-injured my shoulder. We have a four berth compartment to ourselves. image

In the morning, lots of cold desert. Discovered there was no dining car, as we had been led to believe by the Man in Seat 61. Hope we have enough snacks!image

The path we are following is part of the ancient Silk Road trade route through the east.

At 5pm our conductor indicated that we would be stopping for one hour, and could get something to eat in the station. We understand that this break is to enable them to change the wheels on the train, as the track gauge is different in China (Lionel vs. H.O.?).
The menu was only in Russian, so we walked around the cafe, saw a tasty Asian stir-fry with rice at another table, and pointed to it. That’s how we get fed!

By 7pm our room had been inspected by Kazakh customs. This was the first time our bags had been searched – we had to dump out the contents of our backpacks for inspection.

By 9pm we repeated the process for Chinese customs. Bags searched again. They turned on my phone and were interested in the picture I had saved of the Istanbul metro – I wonder what they were looking for? The train started moving again at 11:30pm, and we adjusted our watches for China time, so it is 1:30am. Welcome to China! Not sure if we’ll be able to blog reliably from here due to censorship, or the Great Firewall of China, so please be patient. We’ll do our best!