The Great Call of China
Trip Start Jul 02, 2010
17Trip End Aug 02, 2010
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Where I stayed
Xinhai Jinjiang Hotel Beijing
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Read my review - 5/5 stars
We woke early (7am) on the train this morning as we'd read that the train runs parallel to the Great Wall of China. Well maybe it did, but the haze was so thick, we weren't successful in seeing anything. The scenery as we approached Beijing was amazing - really high cliffs and deep canyons with rivers. The only downside was, whenever you would line up the camera for a postcard worthy shot, the train would always enter a tunnel.
I traded emails with the people we have met as I knew Beijing train station would be a centre of chaos and disorder. Our train pulled in just after 2pm and, true to instinct, it was a fast lesson in China's extensive population.
It's hard decide what was the bigger shock when we disembarked the train - the heat or the smog
We firstly wandered around trying to find an ATM that would dispense money (most were only for money transfers) and then considered whether to walk or take a taxi to the hotel. Unfortunately the directions we got from people were so vague we settled on the latter option. A taxi driver took us there for 50yuan which we knew was a rip-off (it should have been about 10). But at the end of the day, the huge "rip-off" was, erm $4AUD.
This hotel is spectacular! We looked like commoners when we entered the foyer in our shorts and T-Shirts. The staff even press the elevator buttons for you. I think the only thing it's missing is a drive-in movie theatre. Ted and I are both really surprised with Beijing - Ted states how much more modern it is than he expected. I was here almost 20 years ago and it looks like all the bicycles I remember have made way for the automobile.
We decided to go and check out the Olympic Station so we caught the subway (cheap, easy and air conditioned) there. Again, the smog was a shock. Even up close it wasn't easy to see anything. We were hoping to eat here as we hadn't had lunch, but the only food we could find was kiosks selling the same things we'd just eaten during our time on the train (i.e pot noodles). There was a sign saying KFC but, despite searching for half an hour, there wasn't one there. So we decided to head back to the Beijing station area.
On the way, Ted reasoned that we should disembark at the Lama Temple as, being a tourist attraction, it should have food there. Erm, not quite. After realising our mistake and almost eating our own hand, we went back to the subway.
When we arrived at the Beijing station area, we were keen to try a local Chinese meal. We went into a restaurant called Yoshinoya (http://www.yoshinoya.com.au/Home.html), only realising later that it was actually Japanese food. Whoops.
We bought some supplies for our sightseeing tour tomorrow before heading to our hotel. We're definitely in a ritzy area here
Our tour guide Jennifer came to pick us up at 7.30am for our all day tour. Since the breakfast at this hotel costs a ludicrous US$19, we downed a yoghurt and were on our way. There were only 5 of us on our tour including 2 Canadians and an Irishman. All males.
Our wish for a cooler day wasn't granted but again the smog shielded us from the blazing sun. The humidity was crazy. Our first stop was to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was enormous. Just after you entered one doorway, you found another huge courtyard with another doorway and so on. The crowds there were massive! There was even a punch-up between two of the Chinese tour guides. Strangely, they didn't use their brightly coloured umbrellas as weapons.
After finishing here, Jennifer advised that we were going to a jade factory but added the line everyone wanted to hear - "There is no pressure to buy!" That was a relief as the jade there was ridiculously expensive
Jennifer called ahead to her fellow tour guides who advised that the traffic to the Great Wall was bottle-necked, so we went to lunch first. It was a wonderful Chinese buffet that we were hanging for as we were still just running on a 7.15am yoghurt.
We headed towards the Great Wall and it was true - the traffic was horrendous! Our driver however took a side road and we missed it altogether. I asked Jennifer why the Great Wall was built. She told me it was built by the great emperor Nasi Goreng to keep out the rabbits (Australians will remember this one). When I looked at her blankly she said that previous Aussies she had on tours told her to say this. So clearly the Chinese have a much better sense of humour than the Russians.
When I came to the Great Wall 20 years ago there was only one coffee shop and everyone spat. Well now they have about 30 different shops and everyone smiles. We had people come up to us and ask where we were from (we immediately put up our defenses in case we were asked to buy a T-Shirt or sell Amway or something) but people were genuinely curious, even saying "Welcome to China"
We had 2.5 hours to spend at the Great Wall so we started walking. Unfortunately so did half of Beijing so it was like being a salmon swimming upstream. It was an awesome workout and the surrounding scenery was beautiful. Also it was about 5 degrees cooler than the city, and the skies were clear.
We left about 3.45pm exhausted and ready to head back. Then Jennifer excited us all by yelling "Now we're going to a silk factory"! You could almost hear the collective silent groan. The drive alone back to the city took 1.5 hours. The silk factory was actually quite interesting but again we couldn't justify buying anything there.
We asked Jennifer to drop us back at a tourist street near our hotel so we could have dinner there. It was really cool. There were stalls for a few blocks on the side of the road selling barbecued delights. Some of the items you could buy included fried silk work, sea snake and sheep penis. We settled on McDonalds (taro pie was the most exotic thing I bought there).
We really like Beijing. I'm amazed how far ahead this city has gone. All the people we've encountered have been great and I have little doubt we will be back (preferably in Autumn). Tomorrow we fly back home (staff travel - fingers crossed) to return back to normal life. Well, as normal as our lives are anyway.
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