Nothing prepared me for the feeling I got standing on the Great Wall of China. Wow. That, alongside visiting Beijing’s sights; Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, eating duck in a restaurant frequently visited by world dignitaries, acrobatic shows and crazy rickshaw rides were just some of the activities we managed to cram in to a week in Beijing.
If I’m being brutally honest, I wasn’t all that enthused about hopping over the pond from Korea for a visit to China, though I’m not exactly sure why. What I’m 100% sure about is that I’m glad we did; thanks to Ruth really. We decided that while we are in this neck of the woods it really does make sense to head over there, especially as Ruth has wanted to see the Great Wall since she was a nipper.
We flew with China Eastern which was by far the cheapest option. The website is a little clunky but if you take the time you can save yourself a handful. It was also horrendously expensive to fly into Beijing itself when we went so we flew into Qingdao, about a 4 hour bullet train ride away. The train station was quite an experience, let me tell you. I’ve seen less people queuing for tickets for an Oasis concert! Crazy.
Needless to say, we made it to our hostel in Beijing. The hostel is a beauty and came recommended by a friend; here’s a link – http://www.happydragonhostel.com/courtyard/. It was welcoming, the people we met were great (tell you more about that in a moment), the little bar was cosy and stays open quite late, and the staff were really friendly. Only downside I guess was that it was a little pricey, having said that we were in a private double room, a really great ensuite room which felt like we were staying in a hotel. The dorm rooms with shared bathroom are much more reasonable.
Right, the highlights. I’ll try to keep the words down and say it mainly in photos, so here goes:
The Summer Palace – the weather was pretty grim the day we went but it didn’t ruin what is an amazing place to visit, set high up on a hill with HUGE grounds to explore.
Tiananmen Square, ‘the square of heavenly peace’. It wasn’t so peaceful while we were there on the public holiday! We literally couldn’t move, but well worth the visit.
The Forbidden City – It’s massive so to get round the entire place you’d need the majority of a day. We were running out of time so had to make it a whistle-stop tour. Again, stay clear at public holidays if possible!
Li’Qun Duck Restaurant visited by world famous people such as Geoff Hoon, former Secretary of State for Transport from England (I know, wow!), the minister for agriculture of Bali, the prime minister of Canada Steve Harper and Jackie Chan. Not all at once I might add, that would be quite some dinner table.
To get there we took a rickshaw ride from 4 guys who then tried to tell us that the ride actually cost $300 rather than the $10 they originally told us. After a short, but heated argument, off they rode. Quick warning if you go – always agree a price first. Thankfully, we did.
Donghuamen Night Market – If you like a bit of weird food, this is the place for you. Delicacies (if you can call them that) include snake, water beetle, monkey, dog, millipede, starfish, bee cocoon and scorpion. Here’s a little vid of Ruth and a great Argentinian guy we met called Jose sampling some scorpion:
Lastly, and easily the highlight of the trip for me was The Great Wall of China. It was unbelievable. It helped that we managed to get to one of the places along the wall where there were barely any other tourists thanks to a bit of advice from a couple in our hostel. I think we saw 4 other people all day. I’ll write a more in depth post about how we went about the trip soon so I won’t go into it now.
It was HOT, incredibly humid in early August and sweaty work wandering up and down the wall. It’s pretty steep in places but battle through – the effort is more than worth it.
I haven’t stayed in a hostel since I was 18, bumbling my way around Australia and Fiji. I got into a very nice routine every day in China: Go out, see as much as we could during the day, then back to the hostel, quick shower, into the hostel bar, beer, book, chat to whoever happens to come in, then out again to wherever with whoever. Ruth and I love to meet new people and can’t wait to get travelling around, especially if we get to meet people like Sam.
Sam’s an Aussie lad on his way through Asia (I think he’s made it to Europe now last I saw). His plan was ambitious: to buy a horse in Mongolia and ride it right the way through to the other side of the country. Impressive if a little insane. We planned to track his progress but here is the Facebook status update he left: “10 hours and 60kms by horse in one day, I am finished with horses for the time being.” For this and many other reasons, this was a truly great trip.