Gallery: Bustling Beijing and Hiking the Great Wall of China!

Eddie, Trevor, Lynette and I about halfway between Jinshanling and Simatai.

Eddie, Trevor, Lynette and I about halfway between Jinshanling and Simatai.08-Feb-2010 08:44, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 4.5, 28.0mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100

Beijing is the capital of the most populous country in the world and unsurprisingly it is rather busy. With only a week to explore what seemed an impossibly long list of things to do, we were all set for another crazy week with little sleep. We were also looking forward to visiting the fabled Great Wall of China; a feat of human engineering we’d been told would not disappoint! So, last stop in China – did we find our favourite bit of food? Why is it the local’s get absolutely slaughtered at dinner? And why was our train from Chengdu unexpectedly the last train in China we’d ever take?

Note: 1 GBP = ~11 Chinese RMB or 1.6 US Dollar at time of writing.

Steamed dumplings and utensils wrapped in plastic to prove their cleanliness... only in China!Steamed dumplings and utensils wrapped in plastic to prove their cleanliness… only in China!

Steamed dumplings and utensils wrapped in plastic to prove their cleanliness… only in China!06-Feb-2010 06:12, Panasonic DMC-TZ6, 3.3, 4.1mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 400

We arrived at the huge Beijing West train station at the crack of dawn, and with a quietly increasing fear of what the impending Chinese New Year may bring, attempted to book our tickets straight back out again to Guangzhou, where we had already booked our flights back to Bangkok. ‘No ticket!’ declared the linquistically challenged foreigner’s desk at the station; apparently you could only buy them from tomorrow. No problem; at least that should mean no problems trying to get one! Moving swiftly on, we jumped in a taxi to our (first) attempt at accomodation, Shanglin Hostel where we’d prebooked in advance – again concerned about the great CNY monster. Things didn’t quite fit; the wireless wasn’t working, they wanted cash up front, there was a nasty smell and the place was dead. Worried, we decided to commit to two nights only, checked in and promptly found the 24hr hot water was freezing cold! A bit put out, we headed out for dumplings and hoped the day would get better…

How to survive Silk Street Market

An imposing squad of soldiers marching across Tiananmen square.An imposing squad of soldiers marching across Tiananmen square.

An imposing squad of soldiers marching across Tiananmen square.07-Feb-2010 04:18, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 35.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200

First stop was Silk Street Market; an area famed for knock offs of jackets, shoes, clothes, souvenirs, watches, sunglasses and more. We’ve now been there twice – the first time we swore never again – and want to pass on our tips to the nervous first-timer!

  • It’s not a street – We walked out and around this place a little confused; its like a multi-storey car park that has hundreds of mini shops inside but has been freshly renovated. It is also the most constant barrage of noise and tugging we have experienced to date. They’re noit dumb either; they’ll spot fresh meat straight away so for your first hour seriously consider earplugs!
  • It is FAKE – No great surprise, and most of the fakes are pretty darn good, but remember that when bargaining, and bags especially I’d be very wary of, the straps will break off much faster than the real thing.
  • Its not the cheapest place around! – For souvenirs especially, we found that the shops around Leo’s Hostel started and finished much cheaper than at Silk Street. The main benefit of Silk Street is the range of different products and styles all available in one place.
  • How to bargain – Actually this is surprisingly easy to do. Look vaguely interested, ask them how much, and when they tell you just laugh and keep walking. They’ll continue to shout lower and lower prices at you as you walk – keep going (slowly!) until they stop going down! Don’t buy the first thing you see, check the price in at least two places. Typically you want to get to about 20% of the first price (i.e. 80% OFF) they tell you… so yes you’ve got a long way to go!

The Forbidden City & Lao She Teahouse

One of the guards under the ever present (and very near by) Chairman Mao outside The Forbidden Palace.One of the guards under the ever present (and very near by) Chairman Mao outside The Forbidden Palace.

One of the guards under the ever present (and very near by) Chairman Mao outside The Forbidden Palace.07-Feb-2010 04:28, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 70.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200

Day two of our Beijing bonanza was a trip to the fabled Forbidden city; so called because for about 500 years unauthorised entry would have involved your execution. Now, the magnificent halls and humungous courtyards are available to all, and in February also come liberally sprinkled with snow. An innocent sentence in our guidebook suggested the audio guide as a great way to learn more about the site on your way around. Perhaps, but we wanted to throttle the owner of the monotonous voice within five minutes of starting. Proud of being buttonless, the guide simply starts as it fancies based on your proximity to a interesting spot. And then goes on, and on, and on in a very monotonous voice… meaning you can’t concentrate on what you’re looking at, and when she advises you to look inside something and starts to talk you through it, she doesn’t realise you’re currently at the back of a ten man queue of people also wearing audioguides. Crazy invisible woman.

Standing just inside the walls, in the background is The Hall of Supreme Harmony.Standing just inside the walls, in the background is The Hall of Supreme Harmony.

Standing just inside the walls, in the background is The Hall of Supreme Harmony.07-Feb-2010 04:59, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 28.0mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 200

We’d been advised to allocate a whole day, perhaps two, to taking in the gems of the Forbidden City, in reality we managed just over half a day before making our excuses. Are we just too damn saturated now? Who knows… but the main highlight was the Clock Exhibition Hall – where imagination had absolutely run riot in the design of various timepieces and for once the British ruled undisputed with incredible creations such as a golden elephant, complete with a colonial platoon, that ran round in circles while its eyes and trunk gestured wildly – or a Chinese scribe carefully writing out ancient phrases in real ink on real paper in time with the clock. Very special!

The famous face changing dance at Lao She Tea House.The famous face changing dance at Lao She Tea House.

The famous face changing dance at Lao She Tea House.07-Feb-2010 09:09, Panasonic DMC-TZ6, 4.5, 32.1mm, 0.025 sec, ISO 400

Our last productive stop of the day would be Lao She Teahouse; our quick and easy way of knocking down a whole bird’s nest with one stone. For 60RMB each, we sat down for the 3pm afternoon showing, and luckily had a whole table to ourselves. We were plied with sunflower seeds and endless jasmine tea, while watching some of the finest cabaret China has to offer. It reminded us very much of Britain’s Got Talent; the highlight being the famous face changing opera, with the lowlight being two gentleman making bird noises for fifteen minutes. Somewhere in between was jug juggling, some more horrendous opera and a surprisingly excellent dance routine with teapots. Definitely all worth it!

In one of the few open exhibitions (CNY on its way) these crazy films were projected onto simple sculptures to create an incredibly odd effect!In one of the few open exhibitions (CNY on its way) these crazy films were projected onto simple sculptures to create an incredibly odd effect!

In one of the few open exhibitions (CNY on its way) these crazy films were projected onto simple sculptures to create an incredibly odd effect!10-Feb-2010 08:38, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 4.0, 35.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 1600

It was today we decided to purchase our train tickets to Guangzhou, reasoning that since it was the first day they had gone on sale, it was a good idea to get in early. We first asked Leo’s Hostel, throwing caution to the wind and accepting the 30RMB surcharge. Except… no ticket. Undeterred, we hopped back to our own hostel and tried there… no ticket! Slightly concerned, I hopped on a tube to the train station and tried to buy direct… NO TICKET! In one day every single seat on the entire train had booked out; all because of the dreaded Chinese New Year. Later I saw a photo of the queues in Shanghai; a little like the London Marathon but a lot slower. After much panic, various phone calls and attempts to translate Mandarin, we decided that flying was our only option left… still it meant one more day in Beijing!

Hiking the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall; suitably discouraging for potential invaders!The Great Wall; suitably discouraging for potential invaders!

The Great Wall; suitably discouraging for potential invaders!08-Feb-2010 07:20, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 13.0, 38.0mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 100

It is alleged that you can see the Great Wall from the moon, but unfortunately to make this true it would need to be seventy miles wide… nevertheless at 6,000km long it is still the biggest man made structure in the world and a highlight we were definitely hoping wouldn’t disappoint. We met with two newly made friends in Leo’s Hostel at 8am, to find Trevor barely up and Eddie nowhere to be seen. It was a strange feeling to be on the early side of an appointment… :)

Lynette and Trevor anayzing the route at the start of our Great Wall Hike!Lynette and Trevor anayzing the route at the start of our Great Wall Hike!

Lynette and Trevor anayzing the route at the start of our Great Wall Hike!08-Feb-2010 05:41, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 3.5, 28.0mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100

There are many different points to visit and sections to walk of the wall itself, all at least an hour from Beijing. Our plan was to hike the 10km section between Jinshanling and Simatai – and since the local tours continued to get steadily more expensive (260RMB each at Leo’s Hostel) each year it was something we were going to tackle ourselves! We set off to Dongzhimen bus station on Beijing’s amazing subway system to grab a bus to Miyun. A very innocent looking local woman asked politely if we were going to be hiking the wall, oh yes we replied – I live there and am just going home, follow me! So we did… completely oblivious to the subtle hawking that was about to begin…

The motley crew heading towards Simatai, 10km from Jinshanling.The motley crew heading towards Simatai, 10km from Jinshanling.

The motley crew heading towards Simatai, 10km from Jinshanling.08-Feb-2010 05:59, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 9.0, 30.0mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 100

Sure enough when she ushered the four of us off the bus on to the side of the road straight into the waiting arms of a taxi driver it suddenly became clear why she’d been on her mobile phone on the bus so much. We’d all jumped off one stop early, and now our options were a little limited, but nevertheless after a bit of bargaining we managed to get him down to 60RMB per person to be driven to Jinshanling, dropped off, and then picked up again at Simatai before our last stop back at Miyun bus station. A decent price, and a nice chap, he started off the trip by putting on some Venga boys to make us all feel at home, before motioning at me to switch on the in-car DVD player to find a 1980’s lap dancing competition gyrating about six inches from my face. Fifteen minutes later it switched to a wet t-shirt competition, and fifteen minutes after that we just had to switch it off. You can only take so much…

Eddie and Trevor obviously rather excited about being on The Great Wall!Eddie and Trevor obviously rather excited about being on The Great Wall!

Eddie and Trevor obviously rather excited about being on The Great Wall!08-Feb-2010 07:00, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 13.0, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 100

Great Wall construction began with Emperor Qui who unified China, developed a standard Alphabet, created currency and finally the Terracotta army to protect him in death at the age of 40 (he was a bit of a tyrant apparently). At this point, it was mostly a large ridge of mud and sticks that stretch across China but round two during the Ming Dynasty created the Masonic marvel that exists today. We were more than a bit worried that we’d built up this world icon a little bit too much; to live up to expectations it would have to be something a little special. Thankfully, it was probably one of the most magnificent spectacles of our entire trip!

Look closely and you can see how the Great Wall lines the mountain ridge as far as the eye can see!Look closely and you can see how the Great Wall lines the mountain ridge as far as the eye can see!

Look closely and you can see how the Great Wall lines the mountain ridge as far as the eye can see!08-Feb-2010 08:48, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 4.5, 28.0mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100

The thirty foot wall stretch from one horizon to the other, stuck fast to the undulating mountain ridge with impressive uniformity. Other than the carefully chiselled bricks there was no sign of man to be seen, and the awesome mountains chopped and peaked the barren landscape either side. Recent snowstorms daubed the dusty brown with pure white drifts in every direction, and the persistent smoggy weather had lifted to reveal a crystal blue sky and a beautifully warming sun. In short it was a perfect day for The Great Wall, and with Eddie and Trevor joining us on the ride it was even better. The 10km hike took longer than expected at about four hours, most of it wearing t-shirts (in February!) – but only because we kept stopping to make funny cooing noises and soak up the breath-taking view. An absolutely stunning day, finished off with a can of Tsingtao beer, and later on some celebratory Leo’s Vodka!

Only one way to celebrate, and we'd forgotten the Champagne. So time for a beer!Only one way to celebrate, and we’d forgotten the Champagne. So time for a beer!

Only one way to celebrate, and we'd forgotten the Champagne. So time for a beer!08-Feb-2010 09:32, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 11.0, 28.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 200

So, in summary for the Jinshanling to Simatai hike of the Great Wall the costs per person when sharing as a taxi of four are;
(Subway home & back/2+2RMB) + (Bus from Dongzhimen to Miyun & back again/15+15RMB) + (Lap dancing Taxi/60RMB) + (Jinshanling entry/40RMB) + (Simatai entry (exit, I know!!)/40RMB) = 174RMB. We left Beijing at 09:30, returned about 19:00, took about 4hrs to hike the 10km and had a pretty damn good day. :)

What Else we did in Beijing

Lynette making friends with the locals...Lynette making friends with the locals…

Lynette making friends with the locals…10-Feb-2010 08:31, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 3.5, 28.0mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 200

Beijing has a lot to offer in any season; in winter it probably has the least but even then we struggled to see it all!

  • The Cloud Temple - Supposedly one of the largest Daoist temples, a bit poo.
  • Mao’s Mausoleum - It’s free, it takes ten minutes, and for me it was just as intense an experience as Ho Chi Minh. To think what this man had achieved in his lifetime, for good and bad, is astonishing – and reminds you to get off the sofa occasionally! Mao himself is a fantastic example of modern day PR, being probably responsible for more deaths than any other leader in modern day history (The Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward being responsible for more than 30 million deaths) and still managing to be revered by the general populace and much of the world. The mausoleum itself is interesting with Mao having more of a varnished wood sheen then Uncle Ho (a long story involving the refusal of the Russian’s to share embalming secrets with the Chinese, but doing so with the Vietnamese, only for the Vietnamese to pass them on to China anyway. Something got lost in the process… is this where the saying Chinese Whispers comes from?).
  • 798 Art District - A largely disused chemical industrial estate has slowly become the hub of Chinese contemporary art, and is an absolutely brilliant day out. While we’d pictured endless halls of static, staid oil paintings the reality was an eclectic mix of sculpture, metalwork, movie projection and more. The industrial surroundings with billowing steam, girder walkways and accidental ice sculptures amplifies the bizarre presentation further. Our only regret was visiting so close to CNY, as virtually all of the exhibition halls were closed for the holiday period, but this is somewhere that everybody should visit!
  • Night Market - Fancying some more local street food, we walked through Beijing’s centre, surrounded by glowing tower of light, to the night market famous for tarantulas and scorpions. We’d been warned, but this tourist experience was pretty darn terrible. Twenty stalls, virtually identical, with identical McDonalds style uniforms behind all shouting for your attention and shoving various kebabs in your face. We virtually sprinted through this and kept going!
  • The Bird’s Nest - The famous Beijing Olympic Stadium has now become the setting for a Winter Wonderland, and before we arrived in China we’d been very excited by this. Life-size table football, skiing, sledging, a massive snow Santa and more; on arrival we found it was definitely orientated to the kids section of the market and a bit expensive. It was all ok, as we’d had nearly enough of bitter wind and freezing cold by now anyway!
  • The Chocolate Festival - A fascinating example of how large corporate are attempting to break into the apparently golden goose market of China, apparently this is a region of over one billion people that don’t really eat a lot of Chocolate! In response, various chocolate corporates have banded together to educate the populace on the glory and might of everything chocolate and candy orientated, and while a bit steep at 80 RMB, any true chocolate lover will fall in love the second the waft of cocoa enters their nostrils once inside. With various Chinese icons recreated entirely from chocolate, as well as cars, sculptures and even a basketball player, they’ve certainly pulled out all the stops. In fairness though, since we’re blatantly being sold to, entry should have been free. With more free chocolate. And we did go straight out and buy some, so it works… :)
  • Peking Duck - You can’t come to Beijing without going for a meal of Peking Duck, and the best way to do that is with about ten other people who also order lots of food. We were all absolutely stuffed on about 40RMB each. Interestingly, on the way out we witnessed a local absolutely hammered to high heaven, being carefully carried out of the restaurant by six waiters, while a few waitresses were splitting their sides in the background. Apparently, when out on a special occasion, it is seen as a sign of respect to the host to get drunk and have a good time. The more drunk you are, the more respect you are given. People even feign being off their faces to show just how respectful they are! They would feel exceptionally revered on Britain’s streets on a Friday night obviously…

Eddie, Trevor, me, Lynette, Sarah and Paula popping out for a bit of Peking Duck!Eddie, Trevor, me, Lynette, Sarah and Paula popping out for a bit of Peking Duck!

Eddie, Trevor, me, Lynette, Sarah and Paula popping out for a bit of Peking Duck!09-Feb-2010 13:02, Panasonic DMC-TZ6, 3.3, 4.1mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 100

Most of our time in Beijing was spent in Leo’s Hostel, a great place for socialising in that we eventually moved to completely. From here we made a bunch of friends to while away the hours with, and they even made a decent cup of tea. We’d love to have spent more time in Beijing; various parks and streets kept popping up out of the ether that surely would have been more amazing in the glorious green of summer. Eventually, we had to leave – taking a taxi to the small miliarty airport our bargain flight to Guanzhou was to fly from – and we did so with heavy hearts. China was a fantastic place, the warnings about unfriendliness or difficulty in getting around just turning out to be completely wrong! With so many places to visit, so many seasons to experience, and so many different lives and cultures to experience it is definitely somewhere we’re going to come back to. For now, bring on Thailand once more – this time with sun, sand and a chance of a tan!

Next »
Steamed dumplings and utensils wrapped in plastic to prove their cleanliness... only in China!

Steamed dumplings and utensils wrapped in plastic to prove their cleanliness… only in China!06-Feb-2010 06:12, Panasonic DMC-TZ6, 3.3, 4.1mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 400

An imposing squad of soldiers marching across Tiananmen square.

An imposing squad of soldiers marching across Tiananmen square.07-Feb-2010 04:18, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 35.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200

Lynette standing outside the entrance to The Forbidden Palace - in the old days unauthorised entry would result in your death, hence the name!

Lynette standing outside the entrance to The Forbidden Palace – in the old days unauthorised entry would result in your death, hence the name!07-Feb-2010 04:28, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 28.0mm, 0.01 sec, ISO 200

One of the guards under the ever present (and very near by) Chairman Mao outside The Forbidden Palace.

One of the guards under the ever present (and very near by) Chairman Mao outside The Forbidden Palace.07-Feb-2010 04:28, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 70.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200

Inside soldiers go through drill in front of the milling tourists.

Inside soldiers go through drill in front of the milling tourists.07-Feb-2010 04:35, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 38.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200

Standing just inside the walls, in the background is The Hall of Supreme Harmony.

Standing just inside the walls, in the background is The Hall of Supreme Harmony.07-Feb-2010 04:59, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 28.0mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 200

The importance of a building is noted by the number of animals on its roof corners, they also keep the tiles on.

The importance of a building is noted by the number of animals on its roof corners, they also keep the tiles on.07-Feb-2010 05:04, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 7.1, 65.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200

These huge copper and iron vats were used for fire fighting in the palace, and covered with quilts in winter to keep from freezing. Useful, apparently they had lots of fires...

These huge copper and iron vats were used for fire fighting in the palace, and covered with quilts in winter to keep from freezing. Useful, apparently they had lots of fires…07-Feb-2010 05:14, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 6.3, 28.0mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 1600

Inside the Hall of Union and Peace, where Emporer Kangxi wrote above his chair in a flash of honesty; 'Doing Nothing'.

Inside the Hall of Union and Peace, where Emporer Kangxi wrote above his chair in a flash of honesty; 'Doing Nothing'.07-Feb-2010 05:37, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 3.5, 28.0mm, 0.067 sec, ISO 1600

The Shaoyao peony apparently has amazingly large and beautiful flowers. However, in winter, it has bed head.

The Shaoyao peony apparently has amazingly large and beautiful flowers. However, in winter, it has bed head.07-Feb-2010 05:46, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 3.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200

So much glare, glad its made of metal...

So much glare, glad its made of metal…07-Feb-2010 05:50, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 4.0, 40.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200

The Hill of Accumulated Elegance - they really do have some crazy names here!

The Hill of Accumulated Elegance – they really do have some crazy names here!07-Feb-2010 05:52, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 3.5, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200

Why his parent's would be so keen to give him the slip we have no idea...

Why his parent's would be so keen to give him the slip we have no idea…07-Feb-2010 06:09, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 4.5, 105.0mm, ISO 1600

The exceptionally impressive Phoenix Crown worn by Emperor Wanli's Empress Xiaoduan (Wanli period, Ming Dynasty 1573-1620).

The exceptionally impressive Phoenix Crown worn by Emperor Wanli's Empress Xiaoduan (Wanli period, Ming Dynasty 1573-1620).07-Feb-2010 06:34, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 4.0, 48.0mm, 0.077 sec, ISO 1600

A rather scary model from the Clock Exhibition.

A rather scary model from the Clock Exhibition.07-Feb-2010 06:50, Panasonic DMC-TZ6, 3.4, 4.7mm, 0.25 sec, ISO 400

A clock made by Williamson, England in 1780, with a figure that automagically starts writing Chinese characters when the 'mechanism is in motion'.

A clock made by Williamson, England in 1780, with a figure that automagically starts writing Chinese characters when the 'mechanism is in motion'.07-Feb-2010 06:52, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 3.5, 28.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 1600

Another amazing English clock from the 18th century, the entire thing troops in a circle when its going...

Another amazing English clock from the 18th century, the entire thing troops in a circle when its going…07-Feb-2010 06:52, Canon Canon EOS 400D DIGIT, 3.5, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 1600

The famous face changing dance at Lao She Tea House.

The famous face changing dance at Lao She Tea House.07-Feb-2010 09:09, Panasonic DMC-TZ6, 4.5, 32.1mm, 0.025 sec, ISO 400

Related posts:

  1. Gallery: Ilgwid
  2. Gallery: Hiking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>