Road Trip China – Beijing to Yantai, Penglai, Qingdao

Road trips have been a key fixture throughout my life. Growing up in Maryland, I remember setting out for Canada almost every summer, stopping at night to camp along the east coast. Trips would begin at 5:00 am with a bag of Cheerios, my favorite stuffed animal and a Disney tape in my walkman, and turn into a competition between siblings of who could annoy Dad or the other sibling the most. Think Dumb and Dumber, only with prepubescents. Road trips while we were living overseas followed this same general formula, with a few unexpected added variables. In South Africa, the destinations were game parks, and along the way we’d encounter wildlife that would frighten the adults and inspire the children to write songs such as “There’s a Rhino in the Road”. On Peruvian roads we’d come across fewer rhinos and more ramshackle vehicles and people ambling across highways to sell their goods at your window. Trips across Mexico also included surprisingly road-worthy vehicles and ambitious highway salesmen; the only difference was everything moved at extreme speeds.

Traffic at the tolls

This week I completed my first China road trip, traveling with six friends (two on motorcycle and the rest of us in a sedan) from Beijing down ten hours to the coastal cities Yantai, Penglai and Qingdao. (Check out our route here.) Thankfully for my fellow passengers, I’ve matured a bit since my days of Dumb and Dumber antics, allowing for more peaceful ride inside the car. However, I can’t say the same for the outside environment. While we didn’t encounter as many people or wildlife roaming the roads, the few objects that did obstruct our path appeared out of nowhere and most likely resulted in an accident later on. One such item was a two by two meter sign in a heavy metal stand that was placed parallel to the road in the middle lane of a three-lane highway. We still can’t figure out who the sign was targeting.

Had we been in a slower-moving environment, these types of encounters may not have been so startling; however, drivers in China move at absurdly fast speeds. China’s booming economy has resulted in widespread demand for luxury goods, including cars. And what better place to let out your new Mercedes than the “open” road? This is such a popular activity that drivers have even found a way to have their fun and not get a speeding ticket – the majority of fast lane drivers we saw took to hiding their license plates from speed trap cameras with camouflage-colored fabric. With no highway patrol to run them down for hiding their license plates, the Audis and VWs freely sped past us at over 200 km/h (about 124 mph).

After picture

Boasting about the trip to colleagues before our departure, everyone warned me against driving in the notorious Chinese holiday traffic. Luckily, we weren’t caught in a ten-day traffic jam; we actually didn’t hit any such traffic until the last leg of our return trip, and even those toll-booth blips only lasted a total of one and a half hours.

The most impressive part of our trip, aside from the cities and people themselves, was the cost – CNY 400 (less than $65.00) per person for gas and tolls over 1,728 km (about 1,100 miles) in five days. Well worth the experience.

Check out the motorcyclists’ take on the trip at Bucko’s blog here.

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