Changzi Accident Town 2016: It was one of those moments you will never forget. Our bus entered a tunnel close to the Shanxi city of Changzhi. In front of us was a small van, swerving slightly from side to side. Something was wrong. Was the driver drunk? Did they have a puncture? The traffic coming towards us on the other lane was relentless: lots of those enormous Shanxi coal trucks, fully laden and seemingly heading straight for our bus.
A quick decision
The van in front suddenly stopped dead in its tracks. We were in seats 1 and 2, right at the front. The bus driver had a split second to make a decision. Swerve and risk hitting the oncoming traffic head on, or let the inevitable rear- end collision happen. Luckily, he chose the latter and I am here to tell the story.
As we smashed into the back of the van, the front windows of the bus shattered and my hands, braced for impact, were twisted backwards and I felt a sharp pain. On the oncoming lane, the stream of coal trucks kept passsing us one after the other, their drivers oblivious to what had just happened.
We came to a grinding halt; the van was catapulted several meters in front of our bus by the impact, but fortunately not into the on- coming lane. There was a brief silence and then everyone laughed, relieved. My hands hurt but we were basically okay. We just had to flag down another bus.
After our own experience, I should not have been that surprised to read about another traffic accident in the vicinity of the city of Changzhi; the very same city where we had been involved in that near fatal accident.However, the crash I read about in the international press was truly astonishing.
This time, what happened was far more incredible. Apparently, a heavy goods lorry driver had been misled by his GPS / Satnav and had been directed on to an incredibly torturous and precipitous mountain road, instead of a more accessible and suitable one.
Shenlongwan village 神龙湾
This particular road in the vicinity of the city of Changzhi was built by hand by the villagers from Shenlongwan village 神龙湾 in the 1980s, keen to link their village with the outside world. It is exceedingly narrow, traverses numerous low tunnels and has huge drops into an abyss at every corner. In short, it’s totally unsuited to a huge, articulated lorry.
hammers and chisels
Hewn from the mountainside using hammers and chisels, the road took the villagers 15 years to construct between 1985 and 2000. Their endeavors have been rewarded by a surge in domestic tourists coming to visit the now accessible scenic area. Previously, the only access was via an ancient path of broken steps with vertical drops.
Amazingly, nobody was injured or killed in the incident and the lorry was retrieved and the road cleared again after 3 days of resue efforts. When you see the video footage (see video above), it seems inconceivable that the lorry didn’t plunge down the cliff.
off the beaten track
The dramatic scenery in the video inspired me to investigate a little more and find out about things to see and do around Changzhi. When we passed through, it appeared to be a reasonably ordered and tidy town, but without much charm.
However, digging a little deeper I found some surprises. Changzhi is way off the beaten track, but it makes a good base for some interesting excursions. Apart from the Shenlongwan village 神龙湾 scenic area, there are plenty of other areas worth exploring. The most notable ones are the Taihang Shan mountains 太行山大峡谷 and the Tongtianxia Gorge 通天峡, the Ice Frozen Cave and the Taohuadong. Interesting villages include Hongni Cun and Monkey Village 猕猴寨. We’ll just have to save them for next time!
Why were we passing by Changzhi?
Our bus that crashed had originated in Pingyao. Our destination was Jincheng 晋城 , the closest town to Mr Chen’s Castle and the ancient city of Guoyu 郭峪古城. Changzhi was where we had to change buses to get to Jincheng.