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Steam in China, December 2015, February   2016

by Ameling Algra

Sandaoling

This winter, I went to Sandaoling twice. Enjoying the steam scene while it lasts. I doubted whether a report would be useful as there are lots of groups going there these days so I don’t have much news to report. But then I realized a report might be useful to those considering going on their own. My journey on both trips was identical: Flying Amsterdam-Chengdu by KLM, then straight on to Lanzhou by plane booked through ctrip, and overnight Lanzhou then high speed train to Hami (also booked through ctrip); overnight Hami And then local bus to Sandaoling. Return the same way, with more time in Chengdu (pandas).

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Initially, the route through Lanzhou was chosen as I wanted to visit Baiyin as well. When Baiyin came to an end, I considered rerouting (e.g. directly Chengdu-Urumqi). But in the end I decided even without Baiyin this route is not a bad option. The trip on the high speed train is nice and comfortable, and it has the advantage of flying in and out of Chengdu (cheaper tickets and a much more relaxed airport than Beijing) and of avoiding foggy Urumqi airport with its tight security. In Sandaoling, I stayed at the San He Binguan where groups usually stay. Friendly, adequate rooms, RMB 100 for a nice double room. I found a taxi driver by just walking onto the street and waving. After some haggling with mobile phones as translator, the taxi driver became my driver for every day at RMB 300 a day. Not many kilometres but full days, of course. On the second trip, I had her phone number and had her called by the hotel.

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Every day started with a visit to Dongbolizhan, and from there I decided on the spot what to do next. Without translator, it was difficult to find out about trains to and from the deep mines, but the open cast mine and two unloading points kept me busy all day, for eight days in a row. It is surprising how many new photo options can be found when you are not in a hurry and think you have seen it all!

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The visit during the last two weeks of December was extremely successful and relaxing. December/January are definitely the best months in my opinion. Cold enough to have visible steam all day, and the ‘’blue hour’’ while all locos are stabled in Dongbolizhan. Plus there was snow on the ground (just lucky). I only saw one Chinese gricer on one day, all other days I had it all to myself.

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I enjoyed the second trip as well though there was no snow on the ground, the temperature was a little too high for steam effects in the afternoon, and there were many gricers around. Not all Chinese gricers know how to avoid to get into someone other’s picture. Or maybe they think they own the place (and then of course, they have some right to think that). Some bits of steam news: In the open cast mine, three to four sets were used. Plus on some days the steam crane. On several days the regular service was disrupted by locos hauling dumped dump cars out of the mine for scrap. On the lines to the deep mines and shunt in Nanzhan, two locos were seen in use – also in February, despite rumours that that part would not restart after Chinese New Year. Sorry, no numbers.

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Going on your own? I did it often to China but not often to Sandaoling. Previously, I hesitated to recommend it for Sandaoling, because of the sometimes complicated security situation which might force you to hire a guide anyway. But things seemed extremely relaxed on these two trips. All railway staff and police were friendly, and the hotel made no attempt to hook me up with a guide.

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Whether one wants to go to China on his own is personal, of course. But in case of Sandaoling, it is certainly not impossible and not a lot of hassle. PRO: not restricted to group dates, and you may save some money. A trip Hami-Sandaoling and back to Hami with five full days in Sandaoling (as advertised by a tour organizer) would have cost me RMB 1800 (taxi) plus 600 (hotel single occupancy) plus a generous 600 (food) plus some 20 for bus from and to Hami. If you arrive at Hami airport (no buses) you may have to spend 60 yuan on a taxi to Hami bus station or 200 yuan going straight to Sandaoling and back. Even then the total is less than RMB 3400. And cost would be much reduced if there are two or three of you (on taxi cost). CON: if you want to go to other places as well in a strictly limited number of days, then an organized tour is probably less hassle. You have a Chinese speaking guide if there is any trouble. And of course you get to meet other enthusiasts. It’s up to you whether that is a PRO or CON. I personally like to talk to people sharing the same interest, but don’t mind spending part of the trip on my own. I hope the show will continue till next winter!

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© 2016 Ameling Algra