31 km, 2h 20 min
We got packed up quite quickly this morning, and the front desk guy helped us to figure out the correct bus station to get to Tianjin. The staff at the New Dragon Hostel have been very helpful whenever we’ve asked them for something, even when it has been strange requests like phoning a travel agent to figure out about the Incheon ferry. We suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised, but the reviews on TripAdvisor had us expecting the worst.
We made it down to the bus terminal after a longer ride than planned, and initially we were afraid that we would not be allowed to bring bikes on the bus with us. Unlike the bus stations in Yunnan province, here we found a separate Baggage Check area, different from the waiting room for the buses. Fortunately, with the help of the baggage staff, and a friendly woman who spoke fluent English, we ended up with tickets to TangGu (the Tianjin port city) for ourselves and our bikes, and were quickly on a bus. So quickly in fact that we didn’t get a chance to get lunch. Oh well – Oreos and water it was. We had thought we would have to take a bus to Tianjin and then ride 45 km to Tanggu, so we were lucky to have found the helpful staff and friendly English translator.
The baggage check had a drive on scale so Becky tried it out while Scott was buying tickets. Becky’s loaded bike 50 kg, Scott’s unloaded bike plus panniers, 58 kg. Guess Becky isn’t carrying that much less than Scott after all! She thinks we may need to do something about that 😉 Scott thinks that since Becky’s bike was loaded, and his had the panniers scattered around the scale, they read differently. Certainly when we push them up an incline or over some steps, Scott’s feels much heavier!
After arriving in Tanggu our first stop was for lunch – we were starving. We spotted a sit down restaurant and pulled up. As Scott was preparing to bring his bike up the stairs, three staff from the restaurant came running outside to assist him. They helped both of us get our bikes up the steps and ushered us into the restaurant. Ordering food posed a challenge, but they had some samples out so we could point. After pointing and struggling a bit with the phrasebook, we discovered that one woman spoke a bit of English. We ordered what she called “Garlic chicken” which turned out to actually be curry chicken – yummy and something totally different.
The people in Tianjin are much more interested in our bikes than those in Beijing. We guess that in the smaller town, they do not see many cycle tourists.
We found the Tianjin Passenger Terminal without difficulty, and confirmed with a woman sitting outside that the Incheon ferry is scheduled to leave at 11am tomorrow. (To be completely honest, we said “Incheon”, “duchuan”, and we think she said “mingtian” and “shiyi dian”. “Incheon Ferry”? “Tomorrow 11 o’clock”. With that sorted out, we went searching for a hotel. We found the Today International Hotel, only 2 km from the port with several restaurants across the street. It is a 3-4 star property for 268 Yuan a night. One of our thoughts was that an International Hotel would be able to help us find an ATM or be able to change money.
Our initial search for cash was a complete failure. The two Bank of China branches nearest the port lacked ATMs, and the offices were closed before we arrived, so there is no place to exchange Euro or USD. There were 6 or 7 other ATMs along the street, but none of them accepted foreign bank cards. Becky checked at the desk for either currency exchange or an advance on the Visa, and the hotel could do neither. An Internet search told us that the ferry would only accept Chinese Yuan or Korean Won, so we had to get some cash or we would get very hungry on the boat!
After some more Internet research we had a potential answer. An HSBC ATM at the Marriott Renaissance hotel, only 4 km away as the crow flies. Scott left Becky at the hotel, and headed out. Looking at the map, he saw a railway line between us and the centre of town where the Renaissance was. There were a couple of ways to cross, so “no problem” he thought. He soon proved himself wrong. Shortly after turning north, the street lights vanished, and he found himself on a large dark avenue, among many partially-complete apartment buildings. The road soon filled with throngs of people, and he found himself in the middle of a night market. A few oncoming cars advanced slowly through the crowd, and even laying about with their horns they couldn’t move very fast. He was able to sneak between crowds mostly unscathed.
Once through the market, there were pockets of people everywhere around the sites. He wondered if they were construction workers and their families, living in a semi-legal slum near the construction. He travelled along the railway for a bit, then noticed people entering the road. He turned off, and found an unofficial path across the tracks. Carefully placed stones and piles of dirt made an easy pedestrian path, but he carried his bike.
When he arrived at the Renaissance, his first observation was the contrast between the port area where we are staying and the typical plush Marriott interior with more Western businesspeople than we’ve seen since Singapore. There were lots of tall modern buildings and huge sculptures in the centre of the roundabouts. It is like this was “expat” China and we are staying in “local” China.
On the way back, he decided to take a different route, again crossing the tracks at an unofficial crossing and carrying his bike. Unfortunately, he got his water hose caught in the chain again (oops). Fortunately, no apparent damage. Heading south again, he passed many more partially-complete apartment buildings, then found a lady kneeling in the middle of an intersection tending a small fire. It looked like a bunch of papers, and all the traffic drove around her without a second glance. He wonders if she was burning “ghost money” to send to a recently dead ancestor? Note to self – bring a camera when going out on little jaunts like this!
When Scott finally reappeared at the hotel, Becky was starving. We planned to go to the Seafood restaurant across the street. When we walked over, we noticed that no one was in the Seafood restaurant, but the “Little Sheep” restaurant next door was packed – always a good sign. The staff found both an English menu, and a fluent English-speaking waiter for us, but then we got concerned. Lamb, lamb and more lamb! (With a name like Little Sheep, you’d think we would have recognized the possibility, but no…) Our friendly waiter reassured us that there was no lamb in any of the broth choices, and that the beef contained no lamb, so we decided to try anyway. In the end, we had the best hot pot meal ever! Apparently, it is an international chain and we were told there is at least one branch in Canada – we’ll need to figure out where (anyone know?). The hot pot was divided into three different sections, each with a different flavoured broth. You then ordered the various items to cook in the pot. We got lots of vegetables, and some beef and mushrooms- very yummy and the price was less than a third of what we paid in Beijing!