Freely Frolicking On A Formidable Former Foe

Some years ago a Chinese company located in Shenzhen purchased  the former USSR aircraft carrier “Minsk”.  The company set up a theme park with the Minsk as a central attraction.

The “Minsk” was decommissioned from the Russian Navy in 1993 after it suffered some major damage in a dockyard accident.  It was subsequently sold to a Korean businessman (I guess the Russians were a little cash strapped in those days) and he on sold the ship to a Chinese company here in southern China.

Today, we decided to pay a visit to the Minsk – now a part of “Minsk World” and check out this former formidable ship.  Of course being an ex-military man and an aviator, I was keen to get up close and personal with some of the hardware on display.

After researching transport options we decided to take a taxi to Yantian – the area where the Minsk is moored.  The hotel staff were very helpful in arranging a taxi and it wasn’t long before we were sliding around the backseat (sans seat belts) of the “standard” Shenzhen taxi on our way to Yantian.

One of the things we both commented on during the trip to Yantian was how well laid out the road system is in Shenzhen.  The taxi driver drove to Yantian via the Eastern Coast Expressway and he enjoyed being able to drive fast!  We never felt unsafe but it would have been nice to have had a seat belt (or two).

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After leaving the expressway we descended down into Yantian via some spectacular winding roads.  Looking back up to the expressway provided us with an impressive sight.  They certainly know how to build roads here in China.

The trip from Lo Wu to Yantian was quite quick (around 15 minutes) and surprisingly cheap (about 40RMB with tips).  Our driver delivered us to the shorefront where the Minsk is located so we didn’t have to walk too far to the entrance of Minsk World.

Despite signs of a lack of repair, the Minsk still look imposing sitting alongside the wharf.  The sheer size of the vessel and the array of weapons systems and radar heads gives the immediate impression of a ship that needed to be shown respect – at least in its day.

We paid for our tickets (130RMB) and crossed the gangway onto the ship.  I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t piped onboard however I did take time to “throw a goffa” (salute) in the direction of the quarterdeck.  Ah….. my 15 years in the navy taught me a few things.

Despite the theme park style entrance (located inside the below deck hangar space) we were glad to be aboard and keen to take a long look around the ship.

Vistors are able to access a lot of the ship’s spaces (below and above deck) and the walkways and displays are designed to allow you to learn more about different parts of the ship and its weapons systems.  We enjoyed reading the “Chinglish” descriptions – a great chuckle indeed.  

After some time below decks we made our way onto the flight deck and got up close and personal with some of the aircraft that were on display.  Unfortunately the ship and the display aircraft haven’t been given a lot of attention in the past few years so they look a little “worse for wear”.  In fact I would not be surprised if they haven’t been touched since they were decommissioned by the Russians back in the mid-1990′s.  They are certainly authentic.

After rubbing the rusting metal and tired paintwork of the jets and helicopters we made our way to the fo’c's’le (there’s the navy in me again) area – the location of some of the ship’s weapons systems – surface to air and surface to surface missiles.  Many of the missiles (inert we assume) are still located in the magazines or on the rails of their launchers.  They are certainly not going anywhere fast but they still look very imposing.  The Minsk was designed to be a self protected vessel and, despite having a support fleet supporting her (in her operational days) she would have been able to launch a sizeable attack on anything that came close (including ships, aircraft and submarines).  Impressive indeed.

From the flight deck we made our way topside for a look around the bridge and the aviation control room.  The now archaic navigation, communication and control systems look like something from the 50′s and in their day they would have required a lot of manpower to operate them effectively.  Indeed, up to 1600 crew were embarked on the ship when it was fully operational.  Not as many of the huge US carriers but still a lot of people.

We took quite a few photographs from the higher vantage points before descending below decks into the op’s room and onto the hangar deck – both of which were “disappointing”.  The displays on the hangar deck were geared to theme style tourists and most of them were not operational. Indeed, whilst the concept of a “theme park” probably sounded good, the operator has not really supported the whole business and the whole operation is look a little sad and sorry.  An unfortunate end for this old lady of the sea.

We “stepped ashore” after about two hours (still not piped ashore) and viewed some of the aircraft located on waterfront area before setting off on a walk along the nicely designed waterfront and back into Yantian town centre.

Our walk took us along clean and tidy pathways and past some of the newer apartment developments that are sprouting up in the area.  We were very impressed by the cleanliness of Yantian.  We were also impressed by how quite the area was.

One of the things we liked was the proliferation of bike stations located around the city.  We gathered that the city is modeling the bike hire system on some of the European cities.  What a forward thinking way of designing your city.  We only wish that Hong Kong could do the same!  People complain about the pollution from China but we saw some great examples (bikes, solar heating and recycling systems) of how Shenzhen is doing what it can to reduce the pollution output.  Well done!

We made our way into the small city centre and looked around for a place to have a coffee.  Whilst there were no Starbucks (yet) in Yantian we did find a place called Montreal Coffee.  This lovely quiet restaurant was located off the main street area and we enjoyed sitting in the swing seats and drinking a very nice coffee.  I was expecting some average tasting beverage but I was eating my words after sipping on the wonderful Viennese coffee that was placed before me.  A great way to finish off our time in Yantian.

We asked (in our best Chinese) the waitress for a taxi back to Lo Wu and she kindly walked us out onto the street and flagged down a taxi for us.  The friendly driver took us back along a slightly different route to Lo Wu but it took us the same time and cost the same amount as the trip down.

We would certainly recommend a tour of the Minsk and some time in and around Yantian.  Despite the “dog eared” state of the Minsk and the average state of the displays, the ship, its weapons systems and aircraft are still an impressive reminder of the halcyon days of the Russian navy.

After visiting the ship make sure you spend some time in and around Yantian.  Take a walk around the streets and have a coffee at Montreal Coffee – you won’t be disappointed!

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