Qikou Inn 碛口客站
This must be one of China’s most charismatic hotels! It may not win any prizes for luxury, but its location and ambience are unbeatable.
The Inn or hotel, reportedly built some 300 years ago, is set right on the banks of the Yellow River 黄河, just before one of the river’s huge, sweeping bends. On the other side, the dry and barren hills of Shaanxi 陕西省 province stretch as far as the eye can see.
For centuries, Qikou town 碛口古城was an isolated but significant outpost as, for kilometer after kilometer, along either bank of the Yellow River, there were no other towns in sight. In its heyday, it served as an important trading port between the provinces of Shanxi 山西省 and Shaanxi 陕西省, with hundreds of boats docking at its wharf. Today, standing on the few remaining, rickety wooden boards and overlooking the placid brown waters, all this activity is hard to imagine.
The Inn has had an equally colorful history, first as home to the various merchants who plied their wares along the Yellow River and later as a base for the Red Army during the War of Resistance against Japan.
It’s a handsome, two storey, grey-brick building with two courtyards, a small tower and a lovely, covered terrace overlooking the river. Rooms are cave- like, with huge, rounded, latticed windows and bamboo screens hanging in front of the sturdy wooden doors. The beds are Kang-style, large and comfortable.
The food served up by the restaurant is pretty decent too, especially the local noodles served in a fresh tomato sauce with coriander and chives. However, the ultimate experience is just to put your feet up and knock back a few cold beers, while contemplating the sun setting on the Yellow River.
Life really doesn’t get much better. Actually, it does: on cloudless nights you can enjoy the most amazing, star- studded skies!
You may well assume that nothing could possibly upset this idyllic scenario, but you’d be wrong! We had some persistent workmen drilling up the pavement outside the Inn until well into the night…. Needless to say, this took a slight shine off the experience. That’s China!
We paid 188 Yuan for a double with bathroom on the second floor, with its own small sitting area outside. There was no haggling. Also, unfortunately, no towels, though we managed to persuade them to give us a couple of stamp-sized ones. We turned up in August without a reservation.
Simple, but very tasty; especially the homemade noodles! Beers were very cold.
A few years ago, the Qikou Inn would have been the only hotel in town. Nowadays, there are several quite tasteful imitations lining the river. None of them, however, can match the original one for character and ambience.
The closest settlement is Lijiashan 李家山, a beautiful hamlet of ancient cave dwellings, some of which are still occupied, a few kilometers away. It’s definitely worth a visit. You can even stay there overnight, in a simple cave guesthouse.
We arrived in Qikou from Taiyuan 太原. A bus from Taiyuan’s Western Bus Station to Lishi离石, sometimes known as Lüliang Lishi 吕梁离石, cost 48 Yuan and took nearly three hours.
There are frequent buses from Lishi to Qikou, but we negotiated a taxi for 150 Yuan, hoping to save some time… The way there was a nightmare, with dozens of massive coal trucks causing huge traffic jams. It took over two hours to cover the mere 50 kilometers. However, on the return we never saw a single truck and the journey took just an hour. Bizarre!
If you are moving on to Pingyao 平遥, there is a bus from Lishi, departing at 13.40.