After finishing our DPRK tour, we decided to go on a road trip along the border. We decided to go to Huanren, Linjiang, Ji’an and then come back to Dandong for a beer festival.
We had breakfast in Dandong and sorted ourselves out with a driver. Our tour guide friend had contacts here so he was able to get a good deal for us. After breakfast, we grabbed some beers for the road and went to meet our driver. First stop: Huanren.
The drive to Huanren was uneventful. We spent this first leg of the journey on a highway so there wasn’t much to see. Especially after the sun set.
We arrived in Huanren after dark and the town was lit up like Las Vegas. We weren’t here to stay in the town though; our friend knew of a castle-like hotel. It was a little outside of town and we could stay there for a decent price. The only problem was he couldn’t remember where it is.
We made some calls to try to figure out where the place was. As we drove back and forth through Huanren our driver got more and more frustrated. In the end our combined efforts managed to figure out where we needed to drive. We got to the outskirts and spotted a lit up castle atop a dark mountain.
We made our way towards it, having to drive up a thin and twisted road to the castle. This was beginning to feel a little like a Bond movie.
We had arrived late in the evening. The lobby was empty except for the doorman and a woman at reception. Our driver left to find a cheaper hotel while we negotiated a room for the night. We managed to get a decent discount on our room. Sometimes it pays to be friends with a travel agent.
Our rooms were the finest I’ve ever seen. This was a five-star quality hotel. We were staying in luxury. My girlfriend decided to chill out in the room while Gareth and I went to explore.
We went outside for a walk. The hotel was lit up by floodlights which attracted giant moths. They were huge. Big enough to eat your face off. I might have an irrational fear of moths.
There was a fountain here that wasn’t running and an empty car park. I’m pretty sure we were the only ones staying here. Apart from that there was nothing else to see in the dark. We went back inside to find the bar.
It was around 9 in the evening. The staff had been looking at us all night, confused looks on their faces. They told us we should go back to our rooms. We asked about food and drink and they told us we should order room service.
They brought us a wine list and I spotted they had ice wine. I’d had this once before in Moldova, and fell in love with the stuff. We ordered this, a couple more wines and some food.
We headed back to our rooms and theorised on why this place was here and how it managed to fund itself. We were pretty sure it was some kind of front for a money laundering operation. Like I said, James Bond.
The next morning my girlfriend and I decided to get breakfast. We woke Gareth but he wanted to lie in for a bit longer. He warned us that the breakfast here was terrible anyway. At least there would be coffee.
I’ve seen some bad breakfasts in Chinese hotels. It’s usually bad Chinese food. If you’re lucky there’s some bad Western food. You can usually find something edible so it’s never that bad. And there’s always coffee.
This hotel had the worst bad Chinese breakfast I have ever seen. I couldn’t find anything I could stomach. There was no coffee machine so I asked one of the staff. No coffee. Not even that. I watched Yi eat some food while my stomach grumbled.
Yi asked if we could see the wine cellar. One of the staff went to fetch the key and took us to it. The cellar is built into the rock behind the hotel. The layout was perfect for hosting high-class wine tasting events. You go into a cave and see several wine barrels. A larger cave houses a huge table laid out waiting for guests. This must be the bad guy’s lair where he makes all his evil plans. I wondered where James Bond would be held prisoner.
Afterwards we went for a walk outside. We could see more in the daytime and the moths were gone so it was safe now. The fountain was running again. From the hotel’s position on top of a hill we could see the valley below us.
And there lay the truth of this place: a large vineyard and wine factory. I figured this place must be here to sell wine to distributors. Set them up in a nice hotel, give them a tasting and show them around the vineyard. The hotel itself doesn’t need to make money. The real money is made selling wine.
Gareth woke up. Our driver arrived. We checked ourselves out. On to our next stop: Linjiang.