A Travellerspoint blog

Beijing, China - Temple of Heaven & Acrobatics (Day 5 & 6)


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12.11.11 – Today, we took the opportunity to sleep in, after our big days at the Summer Palace and Great Wall. We woke late and headed to get our train tickets to Taiyuan/Pingyao. Unfortunately the guy decided he wasn’t going to be helpful this morning, and flat out refused to serve us. Despite having the towns in Chinese, and the dates and train we wanted – he just wouldn’t talk to us. Frustrating! Determined he wouldn't get the better of us, we asked the hotel he was selling in to call the hostel and got one of the staff there to talk to him in Chinese, and all of a sudden, with a grumpy face, he decided he would sell us tickets after all. Talk about a pain in the ass! Seriously, what’s wrong with dealing with westerners? If you don’t want to sell train tickets, don’t work at a ticket booth!!!

Frustration over and tickets in hand, we had some breakfast at Wangfujing before heading back to the Silk Street Market to try our hand at a bit more haggling. Slightly more educated than last time, we knew what we wanted, and how much we were willing to pay for it, and got some great stuff! Hannah and I hit the handbags and purses (again!), while Chris headed for clothes. Unlike Thailand, the stuff being sold here could honestly pass for originals, and the quality is amazing. If only I had more space in my backpack! Chris and I also picked up some new waterproof North Face jackets for a little over £12, as we head south the weather is getting warmer and the big coats we had for Russia and Mongolia are starting to become redundant.

I had booked tickets to the Chaoyang Theatre to see the Acrobatics show tonight, so we went straight from the markets to the Theatre and picked up our tickets (bought online for a fraction of the ticket office cost!) and grabbed our great seats in row 15, along with some popcorn and sat back to enjoy the show – a bit like the movies really.

To say the show was amazing doesn’t really cover it. It was unbelievable – contortion, acrobatics, 10 girls on a single bicycle, umbrella feet dancing (yes….really – they dance the umbrellas on their feet while twirling and passing them about), a girl balancing on 10 chairs (upside down with 1 hand), and even some motorcycles doing loops in a cage. The show was great – and we would really recommend it if you are in Beijing. We got our tickets for 110 Yuan each buying online from www.beijing-tickets.com

We took a taxi back to the hostel and after another look at my fabulous purchases from the markets, headed off to bed.

13.11.11 – Sunday in Beijing, a busy day and everyone is out and about. We decided to head down to the Temple of Heaven Park, south of Tiananmen Square and take a look. We wandered through some markets and hutongs to get there, and then bought a through ticket to enter. There’s also an entrance ticket only, but the temples you really want to see (the postcard shots!) are all behind high walls, so if you don’t buy the through ticket, you will miss seeing them.

We grabbed some drinks on the way to the park, so when we first entered, we found a nice square to go sit in and have a snack. Turns out, we were an attraction in our own right, as we had apparently sat in a locals square. Everyone just kept staring at us, and as we’ve learnt about Chinese, not discreetly! We didn’t let them scare us away though, and enjoyed our biccies and drinks before heading off to see the temples.

The Temple of Heaven is really beautiful, and we spent quite a bit of time trying to get the right photos – without any tourists in them! Then we went on to the Echo Wall and the Round Altar before heading to the West Gate to catch the No. 2 bus back to the Hostel.

We had decided after our last Peking Duck disaster, that we needed to try again, so met Hannah and went out to another place closer to the hostel that had been recommended to us and this time we went early! Despite some initial horror when they said they were out of the duck (not again!!) they informed us they had the ‘Royal Duck’ instead of the basic duck – so we quickly chose that, determined not to miss out on our last night in Beijing.

Out it came, already shredded, on lovely little duck platters – complete with pancakes, sauces, side garnishes – the works. This was what we wanted!! So we began to tuck in, rolling pancake after pancake till the platters were bare – mmm, delish! We settled up in the restaurant, grabbed a fruit kebab stick from the night markets for dessert, and traipsed back to the hostel – full and happy – finding it hard to believe that our week in Beijing was over.

Posted by Long way home 18:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing, China - Summer Palace & the Great Wall (Day 3 & 4)


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10.11.11 - This morning we took the metro out to visit the Summer Palace, a visit as mandatory as the Great Wall and Forbidden City apparently. The palace grounds house temples, gardens, pavilions, bridges, towers all surrounding a huge lake. Bliss after the past few days of smog and city Beijing.

As soon as we arrived, we felt like we were much further away from Beijing than the 15 metro stops we'd travelled. The Summer Palace is a little oasis within Beijing, and perfect after you've had a few hectic days exploring the city. They say you can spend a whole day here, but if you don't have a day spare, a full morning or afternoon is also enough. When we entered, we bought the basic ticket, not the through ticket - which allowed us to walk the entire grounds, but not enter the main temples. That was okay with us, we were happy to admire from afar.

We headed left after we entered at the East gate to get away from the crowds and began our walk around the lake area. We took photos of the 17 arch bridge and Jade Belt Bridge and made our way around the lake side, eventually around to the main temple area. There was some sort of corporate fun run on on the northern lake area, and all these Chinese business men and women were running around the lake - but amongst the worst running attire I've seen - heels, suits, business shirts and ties, skirts and dresses! Didn't anyone tell these people they were running today? Pretty funny anyway - we did a bit of a jog past the checkpoint and included ourselves in the race - much to the amusement of the officials :o)

Eventually hunger got the best of us, and we finished up at about 2pm and made our way back towards the metro station and some late lunch.

On our way back to the hostel, Hannah and I got another burst of energy and decided we should hit the Silk St Markets. Hannah hadn't been yet, and I was keen to check it out again.....of course, Chris was totally disinterested in handbags and purses, and decided to head home, leaving us girls free to spend hours checking out the goods on offer! After a disastrous start where we were screamed at and called stupid and crazy (all within minutes of entering....) we regained our composure and hit the luxury aisle. High grade goods on offer, bearing stitching, lining, zip logos and even shop tags - for a mere fraction of their normal pricing. We joined forces and bartered on some Marc Jacobs and although you never know if you've paid too much - we were happy with our purchases. Sore legs started to kick in - and after several failed attempts to get a taxi - we caught the metro back to the hostel and rested our weary feet.

11.11.11 – This morning we woke excited – as today we are off to the Great Wall! We decided to visit the Mutianyu section, as part of the Jinshang section is currently closed for restoration work. Mutianyu is the next best option as the section at Badaling is too close to Beijing and full of tourists.

We caught a bus with our Hostel out to the Mutianyu section. When we got there, it seems it’s also a popular section, as the carpark was full of buses! We took the cable car up to the top of the wall and soon found out why. There were about 1500 – 2000 people preparing for a prayer/ceremony to celebrate 11/11/11 – at 11:11. Talk about crazy, as far as you could see for 3 or 4 sections of the wall, it was filled with rows and rows of flag waving people. We quickly shuffled our way past them, determined to get to a less busy part of the wall, but it seems it wasn’t really necessary as by about 11:20, they had all but disappeared. The wall was back to normal again.…phew.

The Mutianyu section has 23 watch towers, and is a tough section to climb. Lots of stairs, but mainly even surfaces. We started at tower 6 and made our way all the way to tower 23. By the time we got there, we had the wall completely to ourselves, with only a few people passing by every now and again. Such a wonderful place to sit and enjoy the morning. We took loads of photos, and enjoyed every moment of finally making it to the top before heading back to tower 6, and taking the toboggan slide down to the bottom (great fun!).

We had lunch included with our booking, and afterwards took the bus back to Beijing, ticking another ‘Wonder of the World’ completed off our list.

Tonight despite being tired from walking the wall, we thought it would be a good idea to try out some Peking Duck. A restaurant had been recommended to us, that was quite a way from our hostel, but apparently worth it, so we wandered about 30-40 minutes down to 'De Yuan Roast Duck' south of Tiananmen Square, in a nice hutong district. Arriving at about 8pm, we were devastated to find out that they had run out of roast duck! We were in a duck restaurant, on a Friday night at 8pm - how could they be out of duck!! Apparently the Chinese eat early - to say we were unhappy puts it mildly.

Despite trying several other restaurants in the area, by about 8:30pm, it was clear if we didn't find somewhere soon, we'd be eating McDonalds, as restaurant after restaurant told us they had stopped serving food. Eventually we found somewhere that was willing to let us sit down, and we managed to salvage the night slightly with sizzling steak (ignoring Chris's disastrous chicken dish - served cold, chopped with the bone still through the chicken....blech!)

Tired and weary, repeated attempts to catch a cab were pointless, as they continuously drove past and ignored us. Forced to walk the 30+ minute walk back to the hostel as well, we put aside the failed duck attempt and instead remembered the good times on the Great Wall instead.

Posted by Long way home 17:27 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing, China -Tiananmen, Forbidden City & more (Day 1 & 2)


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8.11.11 - This morning we headed straight down to Tiananmen Square - and after several security checks found ourselves standing within the square. Several monuments were crowded by hundreds of tourists - many of them Chinese tour groups being shuffled around by flag waving leaders....often blowing whistles. We wandered through the square to Tiananmen Gate, taking some photos and passing the long queue waiting to see Mao's Memorial (which we skipped, as we were told it's very similar to Lenin's Mausoleum, which we saw in Moscow). Eventually we moved across the street to the Forbidden City.

Walking through the entrance, you can be surprised to see stall holders selling all sorts of chinese crap within the main walkway. Here I was thinking we were here to see temples - apparently what I really need is a fluffy Panda hat, or a spinning top which plays terrible music. After ignoring them all, we made our way through to the ticket booth, and after going through to the 'paid' section, there is significantly less people and a lot less hassle. There were still quite a few tourists though, I would hate to see what this place is like in high season!

We spent most of the afternoon wandering through the various sites of the Forbidden City. So much to see, you could honestly spend all day here, but we were 'templed out' by the afternoon so we headed off to Jinshan Park, a little oasis just behind the Forbidden City that gives amazing views. It was apparently created after they dug the moat for the Forbidden City. They never cleared away the dirt, it was simply left there and they decided to create Jinshan Park. Fortunately for us, that means great views over everything we had just spent the day seeing. We finished up at the park and wandered down a side street to find dumplings. For 19 yuan (£1.90) we got 2 drinks and 20 dumplings - I think we are going to love China!

We wandered back down to Wanfujing Market and I showed Chris the area I had explored the previous night. He was pretty impressed with the scorpions! We had some tea at a place called 'Happy Lemon' a tea bar - a bit like Boost Smoothies, but for tea. Chris had one that was Tea, frothy warm milk and puffed rice, and I had one that was Tea, cold milk, oreo cookies and ice. Random - but tasty! Never thought to put oreos in cold tea before....but it was good! Still full from dumplings, we headed back to the hostel and called an end to a long, tiring day.

9.11.11 - This morning we headed straight to the Drum and Bell towers. Hannah, who we met on the train from Mongolia, transferred to our hotel so we went together. We watched a fantastic drum performance at 10:30 before heading across to the Bell tower. Both towers provided great views over Beijing and the hutong areas and gave a much better perspective than the ground. The smog was much lighter today so we got some good photos from the top before wandering towards the hutongs.

I managed to download an App for my Iphone before we came to Beijing, called Beijing on a Budget. It's proved invaluable in helping us get around and especially in communicating with taxi drivers as it gives you the addresses in Chinese. We've tried many places we would otherwise have walked past simply because they were recommended by the app, and came with a Menu Decoder - very helpful if you can't speak or read chinese! If you're coming to Beijing, I highly recommend you buy this app!!

Back in the hutongs, one of our first stops was a tea shop, where the owner gave us a quick lesson in all things 'tea related' and let us taste a handful of teas - fruit, jazmine, rose flower tea and several more. We bought some, and despite thinking it all could have been a bit of a scam, it was well priced and he was a nice guy, and there were no other western tourists in sight, so perhaps we just found ourselves a little gem! Chris also bought a tea set for us to take home.

We continued down the hutong streets and bought a few more goodies before trying some Yunnan noodles at 'Cross the Bridge Noodles'. Apparently the story goes that a farmer's wife was trying to work out how to keep his lunch warm when he went to work each day, so she developed the clay pot way of cooking noodles. The broth is brought to your table boiling - and all the raw ingredients are added to it, cooking almost instantly as they are so thinly sliced. A quick stir, and it's good to eat. Only 20Y - bargain.

Full from lunch we wandered back along the streets and found a big Chinese style department store selling 5 levels of everything you can think of. I grabbed a new backpack, and we got some great Iphone cases for between £1-£3. Cath Kidson, Paul Frank, you name it, it can be bought here, and most of it looks as genuine as you buy in the UK. Chris eyed up an Iphone 4 for £50, but we saved our money. It would probably only last a week anyway! We walked back through the western hutongs looking to find Courtyard 7 - a courtyard cafe we'd heard about in the Lonely Planet, and wandered through a great area filled with shops, restaurants and cafes. We found it, but decided some of the other places had a bit more character.

Refreshed from coffee and cakes, we took a taxi out to the Olympic Stadium to see the Bird's nest and Water Cube. We wandered around the Olympic site, and found the FINA World Swimming was on in the Watercube. We managed to get 3 tickets from a scalper outside - for £3 each, and headed inside to cheer on some Aussie swimmers. Most of the action was almost over, but we still caught a few races, and most of the presentation ceremonies. It was just good to get inside and check it out! A taxi back to the hostel and we called it a day.

Posted by Long way home 04:38 Archived in China Comments (0)

Trans Mongolian - Ulaanbaatar to Beijing


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5.11.11 - Hard to believe, but the journey is almost over! We have spent a few relaxing days in Ulaanbaatar, catching up on some rest, shopping and planning for China. We said farewell to the others as they headed off to Beijing ahead of us and despite issues booking our tickets to Beijing, have managed to get seats for Sunday's train.

Unfortunately, Mongolia has proved much more difficult than Russia to get tickets for the train, and when we first went to the station, we were told: 'No Tickets to Beijing'. We were like - what?! After walking outside and speaking with an agency, it was discovered there are in fact plenty of tickets - at a price - approximately 50% more than face value. Surprise Surprise! So either the agencies buy up all the tickets, or the station just refuses to sell to Westerners, we couldn't quite work out which....either way, we were forced to buy the more expensive ticket in order to complete the Trans Mongolian journey.

6.11.11 - Early Sunday morning, we head down to the station and are sharing a cabin with Hannah from New Zealand and Gregor from Germany. We enjoyed a few games of cards and took a trip down to the very well decorated dining carriage and watched as we travelled through the Gobi Desert. Later that evening we crossed the border from Mongolia into China, and watched as they changed the bogies (wheels) of the train to fit the Chinese tracks. Basically they lift the train, carriage by carriage and change the bogies before re-lowering the trains and rejoining them back together. We had the chance to get off the train, or stay on, but the weather was pretty chilly so we stayed on. We still got a great view of the other carriages throughout the 3 hour process.

7.11.11 - We slept through the night after the border formalities were finalised and woke up well into China. The mountains and landscape was already very different and we were keen to keep an eye out for a glimpse of the Great Wall - but no luck. Eventually, we arrived into Beijing station, and completed our Trans Monglian adventure. Almost 40 days from St Petersburg to Beijing, and it was over before we knew it. Some things were better than expected, some things weren't quite up to the hype - but all in all, what an amazing experience. We took some happy snaps on the platform, before heading out to the mayhem that meets Beijing travellers! Eventually, we worked out where the ATM's where, where the taxi rank was, and with lots of pointing at a map - and we got pretty close to the hostel. We are staying at Sunrise Hostel which is located between Wangfujing and Forbidden City, an excellent location for tourists, and the staff and rooms here are pretty good too.

Chris went for an afternoon sleep, and I went for a wander around Wangfujing night markets, famous for their deep fried insects on sticks (starfish, seahorses, or maybe scorpions anyone?!) I then wandered through the main shopping street up to the Dong Hua Men night markets, a long stretch of market stalls selling all sorts of Chinese food (largely geared towards the tourist market - more insects, octopus sticks, noodles and dumplings of all sorts and flavours). With dinner sorted, I made my way back to the hostel (where Chris was still sleeping soundly) and we called it a day.

Posted by Long way home 05:16 Archived in China Comments (0)

South Gobi Desert Trip, Mongolia

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27.10.11 – This morning we set off on our trip with Joris and Bart (2 Belgian guys) and Lisa and Bernie (English and Irish girls backpacking their way to Australia). Our guide is Monkh (pronounced Mogi), a central Mongolian local who has studied in Mongolia and is now guiding to try and improve her English (which is already pretty good!).

We head off and after driving for a little while had a picnic lunch beside the Holy Mountains. Late afternoon we arrived at our nomadic family ger camp. We are staying with local families for this trip, so the ger camps are simple, but comfortable, with tonight’s ger even sporting mirrors and a small basin, but most importantly a very warm fire.

Monkh cooked a great dinner and then introduced us to the Mongolian game of Knuckles, which are made out of sheep ankle bones. Each knuckle bone has the same edges, which are renamed as Horses, Goats, Sheep and Camels. The aim of the game is to race your horse to the end of the finish line by rolling horses, or 4 different knuckles, something that sounds simple, but after round after round of goats, sheep and camels, is actually pretty hard! We played some cards, drank some vodka, then retired to our sleeping bags and went to bed.

28.10.11 – We awoke, freezing! The fire was well and truly out, and it was well below zero. We all had under estimated the temperatures dropping that much as it was toasty when we went to bed. We shivered our way through breakfast and then the owner told us he wanted us to help milk the goats, and the cold weather was quickly forgotten. Firstly we had to herd the goats and tie them together, and then we were taught how to milk the goats. While I’m sure some of the goats wish we hadn’t touched them, we at least managed to get a good amount of milk in the bucket for the farmer.

We said goodbye and headed off to travel through the central middle Gobi (Mandal Gobi) crossing quite a bit of distance. We stopped for a quick shop and our driver Tuco dropped in to see his daughter, who is only 2 years old, but lives with her grandparents. Monkh explained it was so that both Tuco and his wife can work as a guide and driver and earn more money in the summer months to survive the winter months when there is less work.

We travelled through the central middle Gobi to the south Gobi, and stopped at the White Cliffs (also known as White Stupor Mountains), an incredible natural phenomenon of mountains and sand dunes. Apparently the entire region was once underwater, and the mountains were moulded as the water receded. We took a group climb over the mountains and had a photo shoot while jumping against the backdrop. A short drive later and we ended up with our next nomadic family, a camel herder called Zorigoo.

Today instead of goats, we had camels to help with. We had to help herd the camels to the family ger, and the owner then milked the camels before reuniting them with their babies. It’s very authentic travelling and staying with the nomadic families, something I think we were all looking for when travelling Mongolia.

29.10.11 – Today we drove to the central south Gobi (Dalanzadgad) and visited Vulture Valley (Joliin Am), part of the Three Beauty Mountains, a set of valleys from the Altai Mountains that form a National Park. We walked through the icy frozen valley as far as we could, there has been some snowfall recently which has partly melted and partly turned to black ice, making for an interesting walk. At one point we were shuffling along a rock edge to try and make it to the next point, but eventually had to turn back just shy of 5km.

Afterwards we made our way to our next ger, which was decked out with fantastic wooden beds. Tonight we stayed with a mountain family called Boli. We had another fantastic dinner thanks to Monkh, who we have all decided is an amazing cook, before retiring under the stars – but not before the boys enjoyed a few shots of vodka of course!

30.10.11 – This morning we made our way to the amazing sand dunes of the South Gobi. This nomadic camp belonged to the Aunt of Golden Gobi, Jogaa, so we were in safe hands. Different to the Morrocan dunes we visited earlier this year which were much redder, these were golden and very much untouched. We took a walk in the afternoon and Chris and I climbed high into the dunes and got some great snaps.

There were two American’s staying at the camp – who were filming a video for the London Olympics. They are filming different people throughout their journey running with the Olympic flag, and hope to put a clip together to promote the Olympics. They approached Lisa and asked if she would run with the flag through the sand dunes. Sounding much easier than it was, after many cuts, they had some great footage of her running through, up, down and off the dunes which they hope to put together early next year. I wonder if we’ll ever see it on TV.

That evening, we shared our ger for a while with the two Americans who were staying in tents (crazy!). We also ran into two more Swiss girls who we’d met in Irkutsk – very random how we keep bumping into people.

31.10.11 – This morning we woke early and took a camel ride across the dunes. The camels are Mongolian camels with 2 humps and actually pretty comfortable to ride. Mine was called ‘Hortemee’ or ‘Blue Camel’. The naming was pretty consistent and we set off with the Red, Brown and Blue camels, with the boys on 3 slightly naughty camels who wouldn’t walk fast enough and kept stopping to eat.

We arrived at the dunes after about an hour and took ourselves for another climb. We had some great group shots on the dunes. This morning there was a blue sky, and some great wind patterns on the sand which made for nice photos. We spent about an hour on the dunes before heading back to the camels and trekking back to the ger.

We drove until lunch, before continuing on to the Flaming Cliffs. This area was one of the major prehistoric finds for dinosaurs and dinosaur eggs. We climbed the cliffs before taking a rather windy 6km walk to our next ger. Tonight we are staying with the Ganba family, and the weather is much colder, I hope winter isn’t starting to finally come along. We’ve been pretty lucky up until now with blue skies, and still reasonable day temperatures. Fingers crossed it holds out another 2 days! Chris is stoking our fire, apparently maintaining the fire is a job for Aussies because of our famous BBQ skills.

1.11.11 – Today is a day of long driving, almost 400km on the Mongolian roads, which are not known to be well maintained! We need to start heading back to Ulaan Baatar as our trip ends tomorrow – time flies. We spend most of the day driving and late afternoon arrive at the winter ger of a nomadic mountain family. The most authentic yet, this is in fact their own personal ger for the winter that they are about to move into, already stocked with rations for winter and extra fuel for the fire. The family are still staying in their summer ger, closer to their animals at the moment, so are happy to allow us to stay in the winter ger overnight.

It’s exceptionally warm, as it’s double lined – something most of the other ger’s haven’t been as they were largely summer ger’s. The downside is that it’s much smaller than our previous nights, and Monkh is sleeping with us tonight as their isn’t a 2nd ger for her. A tight squeeze with 7 of us, but after 6 days with nature toilets and no showers, we’re all getting along pretty well anyway!

Another fantastic dinner, some games of Uno and the final bottle of Vodka and we’re off to bed.

2.11.11 – Our final day in the Gobi, we wake early to Tuco starting the fire for breakfast. Monkh often cooks lunch in the morning for us to eat along the way later, so soon the aromas start flowing through the tent – enough to wake even the sleepiest heads. We do our final packup before saying goodbye to the family and heading back towards Ulaanbaatar. 130km later and we are back at the Golden Gobi guesthouse – seems only a few days ago that we left.

Chris and I headed back to Zaya Hostel, as we really liked it there. We’ve both just had lovely long hot showers and washed away the sand and dirt of the Gobi desert. Tonight we’re heading out to dinner to Verandah, a restaurant recommended by Bernie and Lisa as great for steaks – something we’re all looking forward to!

We are going to book train tickets to Beijing tomorrow and it looks like we will be on a train on Sunday at this stage as the trains only run twice a week. We might do a few short day trips to keep us occupied until then, as well as some washing and relaxing.

Hope you’re enjoying the blog!

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Posted by Long way home 02:26 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

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