Category Archives: China

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Leaving China…more or less

Travel Dates: 22nd – 24th October 2013

Is going from China to Hong Kong leaving China? Hong Kong is a SAR of China (Special Administrative Region). This means that it looks after itself and is pretty much independent of China with its own laws and financial system. We don’t need a Chinese visa to go there but we did for the mainland. They operate a one country, two systems policy for Hong Kong. In short for our purposes, it felt like we were out of China, but technically we weren’t. If you ask a Hong Kong local though they will say we were most definitely out and distance themselves as much as possible from the mainland.

Before talking about Hong Kong too much though, we need to deal with leaving China. This was our first flight since leaving London and we were soon longing to be back on overnight trains direct from city to city.

Chengdu airport (where we flew from) is just outside the city and only has 2 terminals. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication with our taxi driver. When we held up one finger and said “one” he thought we meant two so took us to the wrong terminal. Perhaps this was because we both held up one finger and he did the maths? A half mile walk to the correct terminal and we found the correct check in desk. When we reached the front of a slow queue we found that we had selected the intern run desk. This explained the slow queue but didn’t explain why were left standing for several minutes as a shouted conversation between the interns and their supervisor took place. Getting a bit concerned that there was an issue with our tickets* we were eventually informed that our flight was going to be severely delayed. The shouting was apparently good though as they had moved us to an earlier flight with a different airline. In the end it turns out the taxi driver was right and we did want the other terminal. We slogged back the way we came and eventually managed to check in for our first flight of the trip without issue.

* There had already been one issue with our tickets where Rich booked a ticket for Victoria Gwilliam despite the fact we have been married for nearly two and a half years. Fortunately we noticed this before getting to the airport so managed to sort that out.

Our flight was to Shenzhen in China rather than Hong Kong as it was about half the price of going direct. Shenzhen is only a short hop across the border by bus to our intended destination. The bus ride sounded simple but was actually more complicated than you would think. Initially were were told to wait in a waiting area well inside the airport with no buses in sight. This seemed odd to us and was a little concern however we needn’t have worried as we were soon escorted over to the bus.

At the border, we were ejected from the bus with no signs or instructions on what to do next. The other people on the bus had shot off a we retrieved our luggage so we just followed the majority of the crowd into the closest building. We then had to leave China. Form filling and queuing required, although which forms and which queues could be clearer. Customs came next before crossing the border and entering Hong Kong. Further queues and form filling plus another set of customs and we were out to another bus station on the Hong Kong side. Altogether a bit of a faff and much guesswork on what to do involved, but the cost saving made it worthwhile. I always still get nervous going through customs even though I know I have nothing to hide, and the above process was a bit nerve wracking, especially when my border guard spent ages looking at my passport and visa. He even called over another guard…and then another. It turned out his scanner wasn’t working very well, but he didn’t bother to tell me that, he just let me stand there sweating!

The bus eventually dropped us right in the centre of Kowloon, down by the Harbour. This was our first taste of Hong Kong, and it was so bright with signs and adverts that it was like day light even though the sun had long since set.

We roughly knew where our hostel was but nothing could prepare us for actually trying to find it – tucked away in a dodgy tenement block. We must have been asked at least 20 times if we wanted a room, and one guy seemed quite put out when we said we had somewhere and went off on a little rant about how rude we were not coming to see his room, and just going to the one we had booked!

We booked to stay in this guest house on the internet before arriving in Hong Kong. We were meant to stay for 5 nights originally. We arranged to extend this 1 night earlier over e-mail. In the end we didn’t stay a single night in the hostel. Here is the story…(we are cheating here by inserting the review Rich added to TripAdvisor) 

First, let me give some detail about these cheaper hostels/guest houses. There are many of them in old tenement blocks. Merryland Guest House is in Mirador Mansions. Another infamous one is the neighbouring Chunking Mansions (Google the names to get an idea about what they are like for yourself). They are large blocks containing many apartments above shops on the lower floors. The ground floors are a maze of stalls with people everywhere through out the day and night. There are always people around doing business, some less legitimately than others. On your way in you will be offered rooms, watches, suits and anything else you can think of. Expect to be hassled. A lot. If you don’t like this, don’t book this hostel.

After you have made it past the crowds you have to find the correct lift (elevator). There are different ones for different floors and different section of the building so make sure you get the right one. The hostel name will be written on the wall beside the lift. This is the only place you will find the hostel name so you have to search hard for it. The queues for the lifts are generally long. The lifts are very slow and serve many floors. The longest we waited for a lift was just under 10 minutes however other lifts had much longer queues so it could be worse. You will need to cram into the lift with many other people and often food produce being delivered to kitchens above the lower restaurants.

Once on the right floor finding you hostel can be tricky. There will be signs from the lift but it is often a bit of a maze. We saw quite a few people wandering around lost looking for elusive hostels.

A note of fire safety. We try not to think about this too much though. The hostels are licensed which includes fire safety and ours has visible alarms and detectors which we hope work. The other hostels in the building may not be so safe though and you are at risk from them. Going down 15 floors in these buildings in a fire would not be quick as there are a lot of people in the building. Something to keep in mind if choosing to stay here.

The hostels themselves are flats converted to guest houses. The quality of rooms seems to differ greatly but they will all be small. Expect a bed and a few shelves with an attached wet room. The walls/floor/ceiling will most likely be tiled. Don’t expect a view but you may have a window. Most seem to have air conditioning too. The hostels we saw all had a young Indian chap who lived on site in a small storeroom (sleeping on the floor). This provides security and 24 hour assistance. We did pity their living arrangements though.

In terms of Merryland itself. We never really saw it. When we arrived we were put into the London guest house as apparently there was no room for us at Merryland even though we had booked. The London hostel was horrible. It was dirty, mouldy and nothing worked. The toilet continually ran until I manually turned off the water to it. The bathroom door handle wasn’t attached. We had to flip trip switches to get electricity to work. We didn’t dare use the shower as it looked like it would kill us. Fortunately we only stayed here one night (actually about 9 hours total, of which we would have been in the room for only 7 – that is 7 too long).

The next night Merryland still didn’t have space for us but we were moved to another guesthouse called the Shangrila. This was much better. Very clean, everything worked, everything new and well cared for. We stayed here instead of the Merryland for the remaining time.

Pros: Very cheap.

Cons: You get what you pay for. Sorry, in fact you may not get what you pay for as you could be moved anywhere in a number of different buildings.

Anyway, back to Hong Kong…

Day 1

Having survived our first night in our hostel-cum-death trap, and then moved to our new swanky (!) rooms we were ready to start the site-seeing. As we were staying over in Kowloon, we decided to check out the other main area in HK- the island itself. Knowing how much Rich likes boat trips, we took the 10 minute ferry ride across to the island rather than taking the Metro. The boats are old 1950s/1960s boats that chug away quite happily between the 2 ports every few minutes and are cheaper and much more fun than taking the metro.

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One of the things our guide book mentioned was outdoor escalators that go up through the streets. – I couldn’t believe that any city would have spent money on this, and so was intrigued to see them. I hadn’t appreciated how hilly HK was, but suddenly, standing at bottom of a street and looking up, I could entirely understand their reasoning. The area around Central is formed of layer upon layer of streets going back up the hillside, and the escalators take the pain out of getting to the top. They run down in the morning and then upwards the rest of the day, and it was a great way to see the city, just standing on an escalator!

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Having exhausted the escalator related entertainments, we then headed for another of HK’s modes of transport – the tram. These cute old fashioned double decker trams run along the base of the hill on HK island, and share the streets with a crazy mix of buses, cars and pedestrians – it is a miracle we didn’t see anyone get squashed. 

After a quick pit stop at the hotel we headed out for a quick run (quick as in short, not quick as in fast). Kowloon park was a couple of minutes from our hotel and was a great example of a Chinese park – lots going on in a very small space. We did about 5 laps of the park to make up 5km, but did manage to walk round an aviary, see a sculpture garden, run around a rose maze, check out th local outdoor pool and complete laps of a fitness trail that was basically a hill with some gym equipment on it. All of the parks we have seen have been open till at least 10pm, and we have yet to come across an empty one – maybe the UK can learn something from this?

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We had then intended to go the harbour light show, but unfortunately, had read the signs on a building incorrectly. When we had seen signs for “light show 9pm” on a building next to the harbour we had assumed that it was referring to the light show we wanted. In turns out that 9pm is just the time of that building’s light show, rather than the harbour show, which is actually at 8pm. Never mind.

We rounded the day off with some drinks back in the Central area with Sam, one of Rich’s old colleagues from Morgan Stanley, who now lives in HK. We had been in the bar about 10 minutes when we heard a yelp and a crunch as something threw itself through the door and onto the floor next to us. It was certainly quite an entrance, but luckily the only thing damaged was Sam’s pride.

Day 2

After a bit of late night the previous night, we opted for a gentle start to the day and headed off in search of some markets. which have been one of my favourite things about China. HK promised something we hadn’t seen so far – a bird market. Which is actually just what it says it is – a place for HK-ers to go and buy songbirds. There were hundreds of little (and not so little) birds at the market, complete with fancy cages (think big old fashioned domed one) with little porcelain bowls for their food. There were also plenty of (live) grass hopper sellers, as apparently the done thing is to feed the birds the grasshoppers with chopsticks through the bars of the cages. Sounds a bit of a faff to me!

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We then headed through the flower market (where we bought a bloom to liven up our room) to the Goldfish market, which again, is fairly self explanatory. It is basically a street of aquarium shops, where you can pick and mix fish to buy. They even have some hanging up in plastic bags ready to go, although being in a plastic bag in the HK heat cannot be a pleasant experience for the fish. As well as fish we did see  a couple of very contented cats – all the dead fish must go somewhere I guess!

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Rich had his heart set on Dim Sum for lunch, and more by luck than judgement we came across a Dim Sum restaurant that had been listed as one of top places to eat in the world by Time magazine – we don’t think they had faked the reviews, as it was very tasty, although the service was a little hit and miss and we eventually gave up waiting for our Pineapple buns.

As it was another warm afternoon, and we had a big run planned in the evening, we headed back to Kowloon park for a dip in their pool. For about £1.50 each we spent a very relaxed afternoon lounging about in their open air pools and reading our books.

Feeling relaxed, we headed back to the hostel to get ready for our evening adventure – running up The Peak.

Meeting Pandas, Monkeys and Yoyo in Chengdu

Travel dates: 19th – 22nd October

Arriving at a sociable hour from the overnight train (about 11am) we didn’t have the usual troubles expected when arriving in a new city. The cabin mates we had in our train were two 20-something Chinese girls each travelling alone. One was silent for the duration (to us, the other Chinese girls and train staff). The other was an English speaker though. She was an anaesthesiologist from Chengdu returning from a holiday in Xi’an. To our benefit she was more than happy to guide us to the metro and point us to our destination. This was a much appreciated start to Chengdu. We didn’t actually get her name but thank you whoever you were! We were especially grateful to be sharing with her rather than the rowdy crowd of Russian singers from down the hall.

Our accommodation here was our first real hostel experience (Beijing was more hotel than hostel even though the name said otherwise). We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the place. Although smelling a bit musty our room was spacious and clean. The hostel is very lively with a large common area with travellers of all nationality enjoying drinks and food. At £14 a night we even splashed out by keeping our room for the night we weren’t staying here for the convenience of being able to leave our stuff behind without repacking.

We headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing. As we only had a very short time in Chengdu (just 2 half days) we needed to try and pack in as much as possible. Before we could get to our first stop, the largest Mao statue in the world, we had to fight our way through the shopping district – no easy feat on a Saturday afternoon. The sheer number of people, and the noise generated was incredible!

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After a quick hello to Mao, we stopped for a bite to eat. It is a good job we are not picky about what we eat – the place we found only served one thing – variations on beef noodles. These were tasty and filling and set us up for an afternoon in Chengdu’s largest park, the People’s park.

As seems to be standard for China, the park was packed with people, doing every activity you would expect in a park, and some that you wouldn’t. These included calligraphy on the floor with giant cotton buds, a giant catwalk, manned entirely by the over 70’s and many extremely loud karaoke stands. There was also the obligatory kids funfair, complete with “hook-a-fish” for a cuddly toy with real fish. The most unusual thing in the park however, was the path lined with poles, each with several pages of writing and occasionally a photo. These were marriage adverts, set out by parents hopeful of attracting a would match for their darling son or daughter. Most were in Chinese, but we did see a couple in English. All along this path were people loitering – presumably these were the parents who had put up profiles, ready to pounce on anyone who showed an interest!

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That evening we had planned to go another night market, which was a bus ride away. We asked in the hostel and were given directions to the stop and a bus number – however, the only issue was that the bus we directed to was going the opposite direction to the one we wanted! Luckily we realised before we got on the bus, but by the time we had found the stop for the bus going to the other way, the buses had stopped running – for some reason they stopped at 8pm. A quick change of plan was called for, so we headed off to another famous area “Wide Lane Narrow Alley” which is a very posh type of night market with lots of snazzy bars and restaurant. Although we didn’t end up staying long (had to be up early the next day) it was nice to see another type of night market, to compare to the ones we had seen in Beijing.

Day 2

The next day we were up and at them by 8am, when our guide, a small hyperactive girl called Yoyo picked us up for a 2 day tour. This was a bit of luxury, as we could have probably done all of the things via public transport and without a guide, but being pushed for time, it was just easier this way!

The first stop of the day was the Panda Breeding Centre. This was kind of the reason we came to Chengdu, and it didn’t disappoint. We were there in time to see the pandas having breakfast, which is their most active time of day. We managed to see a lot of pandas, many of whom seemed to enjoy lying down to eat.

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One thing we noticed was that the pandas weren’t actually black and white (and no, for those smart-alecks, we weren’t looking at red pandas), they are mainly black and a kind of creamy coffee colour. We did however see some very young panda cubs, who were black and white, so we can only assume that the others just needed a bath.

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As we were about to leave we came across 2 pandas in a tree having a fight, well, I’m sure they were just playing, but it looked like a fight. They were both balanced on wobbly tree branches and looked as if either one could lose the battle with gravity at any moment. A few minutes later, after a bit of a tussle, they settled onto different branches, apparently contented.

Our next stop was a gigantic Buddha on a hillside, the Leshan Buddha. We arrived mid-afternoon and were astonished by the crowds – we had to queue for about 90 minutes just to get to the top of the Buddha – the idea is that everyone starts at the top and climbs down the cliffside to the Buddhas feet, and then back up the other side. This would work well if they banned people taking photos as they went down, but of course, everyone wants to take the perfect photo (and will not move until they have it, and they have to take it NOW, even if there are 10 people standing between them and where they want to take the photo from), and so it is complete chaos on a narrow staircase heading down a cliff face! At one point we got fed up with all the pushing, and just pushed ourselves through the people (well, actually Rich dragged me) and down onto the next level.

As for the buddha itself, it is really impressive – it really is gigantic. Rich didn’t even come up to its toes!

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We then headed to our hostel for the night – the oddly named Teddy Bear hostel. This was another very nice hostel, complete with a four poster bed (and canopy) and a teddy bear in a Ferrari suit on the bed. Rich was feeling a bit under the weather so after a quick dinner in the hostel we headed to the room for a quick Game of Thrones before bed.

Day 3

Our activity for today was a walk around a national park, to see Mount Emei. There are 2 options for the trip – a 2.5hr bus ride to the top (apparently, the roads are so bad most people are sick before they get to the top) where there is only a 1/10 chance of a view, as the weather is so bad at the top, followed by a combination of walking, buses and cable cars back down, or a 40 minute bus ride to the “mid-level” followed by a nice scenic walk and a trip to a monkey reserve. As Rich was still not 100% we opted for the more second gentle option (not being a fan of buses, I was particularly pleased with this outcome!).

After a quick cable car ride we set off on our walk, which after the hike on the Wall, was a nice gentle stroll. Yoyo was very chatty the whole time, particularly on the subject of weddings and relationships! The rest of the time she was content to sing to herself – she is a big fan of karaoke – although thankfully she didn’t try to make us sing.

Rich edit: So far Vicki has been a bit quiet of the topic of Yoyo. I think this is because she is trying to forget the experience. Yoyo was extremely excited (“Sooo exciting!”) to have us as clients. I think she usually works with old people and families so having people her own age was a treat. She was particularly pleased to meet Vicki who in her words is “Sooo cute!”. Frequently when taking photos I would come back to find Vicki embraced by Yoyo as she chatted away. Personally, in the words of Yoyo, I thought it was “Sooo funny!”.

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A the monkey reserve Yoyo left us to carry on – she doesn’t really like animals (or insects, she jumped a mile and screamed when she saw a worm on the path). As we were heading across a rickety wooden bridge to the reserve I couldn’t help noticing spots of blood. Rich laughed it off, but later we found that just before we went in, a man had been bitten by one of the monkeys…..

Oblivious, we headed across the bridge to see the monkeys, which were sitting calmly on fences and bridges. All around were local people armed with big sticks, and whenever the monkeys made to come towards us they would bang the sticks on the bridge (or occasionally on the monkey) to scare them off. This mainly worked although when we were on a slightly more deserted bridge, a couple of monkeys decide to come for a cuddle – firstly with Rich and then with me. Luckily they seemed to like us so there were no further biting incidents, much to the relief of Yoyo when we got back to her!

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It was then time to head back to Chengdu. Just as we were heading back into the city, the driver realised that he couldn’t drive the car we were in back to the centre – each weekday, cars with number plates ending in certain numbers are prohibited from the centre of Chengdu as a traffic calming measure (it still seemed like traffic chaos in the centre – I think they need to have a rethink on their strategy). This was all very quickly sorted out, and a new driver sent to the edge of city to pick us up. He was even willing to drop us at the night market we had been planning to visit, so it all worked out well.

The night market, on Jinli street, was Chengdu’s most famous night spot, and a great place for more street food, this time spring rolls, squid on a stick, a duck wrap and some more toffee covered fruit – all in all, a good dinner.

Day 4

As is becoming tradition, our final day in Chengdu saw us heading out for a run. We headed along the river to a bamboo park – you would be amazed what you can do with Bamboo. Foolishly we paid to go into the relics section of the park which slowed down our run somewhat as we looked around. We could have just gone straight to the other part of the park for free. On the plus side they were very interesting relics and we spent a while exploring the bamboo garden. All in all it was another nice park, full of people doing their various exercises, and this time, also full of school children who thought it was hilarious that there were these 2 westerners running around getting hot and sweaty.

After cheekily getting the bus back to the hostel rather than running, we shoved everything back in our bags and headed for the first time this trip to the airport – next stop, Hong Kong!

Xi’an

Travel dates: 17th – 18th October

We left Beijing on another overnight train. This time it was an easy trip down to Xi’an where we set off at 9pm to arrive at 8am the next morning. After our exploits on the wall we slept very well, undisturbed by the German tour group that we shared a compartment with (only 2 of them, not their whole group). In the morning we arrived refreshed and ready to visit to Terracotta army.

Leaving our bags at the station we set out in search of a bus to the warriors. After a bit of wandering we found a long queue for a bus that other westerners assured us was the correct queue for coaches to the Terracotta army. On nearing to front of the queue we saw other buses with Terracotta warriors written on the side. These were local buses and a lot less empty than the coaches so we decided to give it ago.

Although we weren’t sure where to get off the ride was comfortable and cheap. Fortunately a Chinese lady told us when to get off and we arrived at the Terracotta warriors with ease. We even got there quicker than the other westerners we had spoken to in the bus queue.

When I worked at Morgan Stanley we got free tickets to go see the Terracotta warriors exhibition in London so had an idea of what to expect. There are 3 pits of warriors at various levels of of excavation completeness. The main pit (pit 1) holds the infantry standing in rows that the warriors are best known for. It is a very impressive sight to see so many warriors however I felt it was slightly underwhelming as it is such a huge hall and the warriors are only at the front of it with excavation work going on behind. I think they could be presented better to give a more impressive view as when you come in for the first time you expect to be drawn to the large army where as I first noticed the mostly empty hall. This is mostly down to the position of the viewing area which was as usual very crowded with Chinese tourists.

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Perhaps my slight disappointment was a hangover from being told that there were no English audio guides available, only Chinese. This I believe is arranged to ensure that English toursts use the many tour guides instead who were constantly approaching us outside the pits.

Warriors done we easily hopped on the bus back into town, now being experts with local buses of course! Arriving back at the station it was less easy to locate our hotel. It had been quite a while since we had booked it and couldn’t remember exactly where it was. Although we had an address we didn’t have a map to consult. First attempt to resolve this was by buying a Chinese map from an old lady for 20p. At the same time someone pointed to where our hotel was on the map for us so we were ready to walk there. Once we had this map we were immediately offered an English map by someone else, where were they 2 minutes ago? 30p later we had an English map and discovered our hotel was not at all where we had been told it was.

By the time we had walked to our hotel we were ready for a rest. Fortunately this was one of our higher end hotels (still cheap though) so we had a very comfortable room and most importantly an amazing spa that we could go to. We spent an hour lounging in their hot tub and talking about China travel with two American optical imaging researchers who are frequently here on business.

Refreshed (although with some protest from Vicki about being removed from the comfortable room) we headed out again. Failing to get a taxi due to rush hour we were back on a bus to the Great Goose Pagoda. Traffic was terrible and due to endless roadworks we thought we might miss out on our intended activity which was a illuminated fountain show outside the pagoda. Luckily the show started later than we were told so we were in time for a front row position ahead of the jostling Chinese tourists behind us.

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The fountain show was good if a little repetitive. We think it went on for an hour but 15 minutes was more than enough for us as they only had a few effects to demonstrate. Instead we wandered the surrounding area which had a lot going on. We watched more organised dancing and found a shopping mall with a vast illuminated ceiling. Noodles in a chain restaurant recommended by Trip Advisor preceded the bus back home and bed.

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A bit of a lazy start for Xi’an day 2. We had a lie in before a gentle run around the Revolution Park. This had all the things we had grown to expect from a Chinese park with people singing, dancing and playing games. There were added extras this time though with people walking birds and a dilapidated looking funfair. On the way home we stopped of to watch some athletics as school children were doing a track competition. No chance we could have kept up with the 800m race we watched.

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After the late start we set about an afternoon of sightseeing. This started with a walk to the Muslim quarter where we enjoyed a street food lunch. Squid and lamb on sticks, lamb burger things and toffee hawthorn berries were very filling. The streets were bustling with life as tourists and locals alike enjoyed their lunch.

Xi’an has both a bell and drum tower that boast splendid views of the cities traffic filled streets. At least that is how are guidebook tried to sell them. We weren’t enthused by this but figured that drums would be interesting to see. Sadly were were too early for the drum performance and didn’t manage to spend an hour in a drum and high back seating tool (that would be chairs) museum. Not the best attraction ever so we decided to move on to the city walls.

Xi’an is unique in that it has a complete city wall running for 9 miles around the city. They have been restored so that you can easily go all the way round. Having already done our run for the day the best option here was to cycle round. It was a good cycle taking about an hour and a half with stops at views and exhibits. The views are a bit samey with Xi’an being far from scenic but riding around on bikes with many other tourists was very enjoyable.

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The cycle completed we wandered back to the hotel to pick up our bags. We navigated many shopping streets and tourists markets that promised further night markets to come later in the day. Sadly we didn’t have time to appreciate these as we were all set to move on. Fortunately there was time for a relax in the hotel hot tub again before heading to the train station for our overnight train to Chengdu.

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The wall, is it really that great?

Travel Dates: 14th – 16th October 2013

Location: The Great Wall of China

 

The Challenge

Hiking 27 km of the Great Wall of China over 3 days.

The Participants

  • Nikki and Dave (the Australian nomads) – working a 2 week on, 2 week off shift pattern, these two Australians are self confessed nomads. With nowhere to call home the newly- weds are free to roam when not on shift at their remote workplace. Currently on a 3 week journey through China they the youngest and fittest members of the group.
  • Margaret and Mary-Leigh (the sisters) – two Australian ladies who travel the world together going on ever more challenging adventures. Mary-Leigh first travelled over ground across the world in the 1970s and ended up working in a pub in Thames Ditton. As you will no doubt be aware, this is not far from the infamous Berrylands!
  • Bronwyn (the travelling kiwi) – the patches on Bronwyn’s back pack give some idea of how well travelled she is. She has been around the world several times and lived far and wide. For a spell she worked as a nurse in Dublin taking the chance to visit Europe. She is currently on her way through China and on to Cambodia. During her trip she will be volunteering with pandas in Chengdu for 2 weeks.
  • Alan (would-be tour guide) – 7 years ago Alan left Australia for a trip to Cambodia. He never went back. Having spent time as a tour guide and now running a guesthouse in Siam Reap (www.thecashewnut.com), Alan only returns home for the odd holiday. Alan joined us on a fact finding mission to prepare himself to guide a group of Australian cancer survivors on a 7 day wall hike next week.
  • Peter (the master of the wall) – Peter was our guide. When we first met him in the city he looked a bit of a duck out of water. As soon as we reached the wall we knew he had found his natural environment. Turn you back on Peter for a second and he will be 100m away leading us onwards along the wall.
  • Vicki – hardened runner turned hiker. Fear of falling off the edge of high places may be a hindrance.
  • Richard – all round superstar hiker (and co-incidentally the post author).

Day 1

Getting the subway to the meeting point was our first challenge. Finding the way on it was no issue, the problem was getting our bags in. Security is tight on the metro in Beijing and they x-ray everything. You aren’t allowed any flammable materials which apparently includes deodorant. We were stopped and told to remove them from our bags. Not wanting to give up our toiletries too easily we said we would go get a taxi. Instead we tried a different entrance and they let us through with no issue. Sorry China but I think we just found a hole in your security. Hopefully by the time you find this we will be long gone through so won’t be forcibly evicted for smuggling 2 cans of deodorant, 1 can of dry shampoo and some insect repellent through the subway.

At our meeting point we found the 6 other travellers raring to go. Before hitting the wall we had a stop at the Olympic park. As our guide told us, the Olympics did wonders for Beijing. New parks were created, the subway extended and a lot of further investment made. He told us that it moved the city onwards 20 years in its development. He is longing for another Olympics to come and give a second boost the city needs.

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Before leaving the Olympic park we had our second subway issue of the day. This time it was Subway the sandwich shop rather than subway the mode of transport. A picnic lunch was provided as part of the tour which today came from the famous sandwich franchise. Everyone queued to order sandwiches but unfortunately they ran out of bread before Alan, Peter and I got ours. A rushed bake later and we had some slightly doughy but still very tasty sandwiches.

An hours drive from Beijing we were ready to ascend to the wall. Hiking poles were given to those that needed them. Being strapping young lads, Dave and I were the only ones deemed worthy of hands free hiking and were given no poles. This was an immediate ego boost for us from Peter. Clearly he had forgiven me for my rule breaking shorts that he had already chastised me for several times (“No shorts, cold at top.”). I am always warm so was happy in shorts but he was convinced I would be cold. I showed him by wearing shorts 3 days running, only adding legs to travel through the off wall jungle section.

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Hiking on the wall always starts with a climb up to the wall and ends with a descent from it. Cleverly they built the wall on the the top of the mountains and along ridges between them to be at a strategic advantage. This offers fabulous views but means a significant climb for hikers to start the day.

We stormed up making it to the top in an hour. We decided that we held the record for fastest group of 8 up that day. Probably true as there was nobody else around. Our first touch of the wall prompted photos from Peter and then a lunch stop a top the first watch tower.

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Shortly after lunch we were given the option of two routes. A steep section of the wall with a 45 degree incline on the ascent and then 70 degree on the descent. I was keen for this and was joined by Nikki. The view from the top was well worth it if the route down was a little tricky. It was too steep to hold on just by your feet so clinging to the wall was required. I’m not sure the photos quite do it justice, it really was very steep!

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The rest of the day saw us cover about half wild wall and half restored wall. The wild wall is a lot more uneven and overgrown with minimal work having been done to preserve it. The restored wall on the other hand is pristine and more like the photos that are generally seen of the Great Wall. Each type of wall has its benefits and drawbacks. On wild wall you are sometimes scrambling around however the restored wall often has many steps as it rises and falls between watch towers. The second half of our 10k walk today involved a large number of steps down that really took their toll on our calves.

Before descending from the wall for the day we stopped for a final rest before the final steps down. Peter pulled out a bag of drinks from his Mary Poppins bag containing a very well deserved beer. I think one of the reasons I liked Peter so much is that everyday at a rest stop somewhere on the wall he would give me a beer. The man is a saint!

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Other people had clearly celebrated walking on the wall with more style…

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After leaving the wall our long first day was not yet over. We still had a significant drive to our accommodation which took around 2 hours. It was dark for most of the drive and Vicki and I took the chance to catch up on some sleep. This wasn’t really optional as we were so tired from the early start and walking that when combined with the rocking of the bus meant we couldn’t keep our eyes open.

At 7pm we arrived at the farmers guesthouse where we would spend 2 nights. This was near the section of the wall that we would hike on our second and third days. Getting out of our mini-bus we really felt the cold. Whether it was the inactivity of the previous 2 hours or the temperature difference between the bus and outside we were shivering away immediately and longing to get into our room. The room was basic but clean and comfortable. One thing it did lack though was a decent heater so it wasn’t a lot warmer than outside. A hot shower and many layers of clothing later and we began to warm up.

After a quick pit stop the group reconvened for dinner. This was in the (cold) courtyard of an adjacent farmhouse. A number of other hiking groups were also here meaning the place was quite busy. A huge meal of noodles, dumplings, vegetable and meat dishes was laid on and promptly devoured by the hungry hikers. A few beers and samples of a local rice based spirit later and we were all ready for bed. Vicki was out like a light where as I watched Ironman 3 before retiring. Sadly we didn’t bring anything wall related for me to watch.

Day 2

Today was a day that required stamina. We covered 11km of the wall. This was a simple task compared to surviving the 3 huge meals we were offered. Breakfast was a feast of noodles and vegetables, lunch a seemingly endless supply of vegetable and pork dishes with rice and then dinner equalled the banquet of the night before. These meals really tested the stomachs but thoroughly revived the weary travellers.

The days hike started early and we were on the wall by 7:30am. While preparing for the hike, Nikki was promoted from the hiking pole club thanks to her daring exploits on the steep section yesterday. Much to everyone’s amusement, when Alan tried to also move up to hands free hiking he was told by Peter in his usual direct manner that it wasn’t going to happen (“Nikki no need pole. Alan you need pole”). I guess you had to be there for that one though.

Once on the wall, we saw the section we would walk for the next two days spread out ahead of us. The day was clear so we could see for miles. Peter pointed out a tower far in the distance next to a little tree. Some of us saw this, others just pretended to to keep Peter happy (that would be me and my bad eyesight).

The middle of today’s hike saw a diversion away from the wall. Although a lot of it is accessible, the Chinese government still prevents walkers going along some parts. The section we had to avoid was the edge of an army base. We felt it was a better idea to stick to the diversion rather than risk being carted away for trespassing.

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The off wall section was not without interest. We passed through abandoned villages and farms as we followed at varying distances alongside the wall. Peter pointed out wild dates and the hawthorn fruit that we have been eating with toffee on sticks. Being away from the wall also allowed us another perspectives, being able to see its formation from a little further away.

The days hike finished at lunch time thanks to our early start. This gave us a free afternoon to explore the village that we stayed in. Vicki and I opted for a walk around sandwiched between some Game of Thrones viewing. The village isn’t huge so didn’t need a lot of exploring. We did enjoy playing on their green gym though.

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Day 3

A very early start began day 3. We were away at 5:30am to be on the wall for sunrise. When we ascended the wall it was already light enough to see the trail so was an easy climb. Peter had a favourite spot for sunrise which needed us to pass along a few watchtowers close to where we had left the wall the day before. Sunrise came and many photos were taken before it was time for breakfast. Peter did a magic trick and produced flasks of tea and coffee served with eggs and toast. As always he was extremely well prepared.

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Being up on the wall so early before anyone else was well worth the effort. Although we had seen many breath-taking views of the wall already this setting was truly special and something we won’t forget for a while. Unfortunately the moment couldn’t last forever and we were disturbed by a helicopter circling above as some tourists took the lazier way to view the wall.

Today’s hike what the shortest at around 6km. It wasn’t without obstacles though. At one point we arrived at a very steep section with another shortcut for those that wanted to avoid it. Only the sisters took the shortcut this time as everyone was now feeling quite confident about their hiking ability. Even Alan had recovered from the previous day’s shaming and been allowed to leave the hiking pole club for some hands free hiking.

The climb up some very steep steps did require some crawling from most people at some point. One of the issues was that once you used your hands to steady you it was difficult to move back to a standing position. There wasn’t much between a crawl and a stand in any case but any movement to push off from the wall made you feel like you were pushing yourself backwards over the edge. These steps were almost ladder like at times.

Once at the top we were rewarded with another fine view and a chance for some posed photos.

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From here there was a steep set of steps down before the final climb to the commonly used end point to leave the wall. At this point we were applauded in by a group of American teenagers which was a bit different. This wasn’t the end of the wall for us though as two towers further on we could see the small tree we had been chasing for two days.

On reaching this tree we all sat down for a well earned break. Peter presented us all with a certificate to acknowledge our efforts on the wall and we had a group photo. More importantly though, Peter produced a final beer for me. Although it was only 10:30am, which may be a little early for some, we had been awake for 5 hours and walking for 4 so I felt the beer was well earned.

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After our rest Peter informed us that we actually were leaving the wall at the standard exit point. This meant going back two towers. This news was not taken well by the sisters and we were anticipating some kind of revolt. We had just done a fairly significant down and up between those towers only to be told we had to do it again in reverse. After 3 days hiking their legs were not agreeable to descending and particularly didn’t enjoy the significant flight of steps down from the wall back to the coach. By taking it easy everyone made it down safe and sound and with smiles on their faces.

Leaving the wall did not end our time with the hiking group. A 2 hour drive back to Beijing was followed by a hot pot lunch. This is where you have a pot of boiling water and cook you own vegetables, noodle and meat in it. This was very tasty although I did regret the spicy option after a while as it was really pushing my limits. The only downside to lunch was the construction going on in the shop above the restaurant. To say it was loud would be an understatement and we were constantly in fear of a pneumatic drill coming though the ceiling on top of us.

The finishing touch to the tour was a trip to a massage parlour to sooth are aching muscles. Not all of the massage was that soothing though. Every time they touched my calves I had to hold back cries of pain and Vicki had bruises for days afterwards. I think it was revenge from the masseurs from having to touch our feet which were a little whiffy after three days of hiking. We weren’t the only ones suffering though as there were some cries from Nikki containing language that I won’t repeat here.

Outcome

The 3 day hike was fabulous and probably our favourite part of the trip so far. For a vast majority of the hike it felt as though we had the wall all to ourselves. The level of difficulty was just right for us giving a challenging walk to tire us out but without pushing us beyond our limits. The terrain was varied and the three sections offered a fascinating mixture of wild and restored wall plus different styles of wall building. You think you could get tired of the wall after walking on it for three days but we most certainly did not.

If you are going to visit the great wall we would recommend looking up Great Wall Hiking (http://www.greatwallhiking.com/). Gary the head of the company who we met at the end of our tour delivers an excellent service and we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the tour put on by Peter.

Going back to the original proposition: The wall, is it really that great? Yes, it really is a great wall.

Out from behind Chinese (fire)wall

We are back online! It really wasn’t just facebook that got cut out in China. The subversive ramblings of Vicki and I were also seen as too politically risky for the people of China so they censored us. Fear not now we are in Hong Kong we are free to publicly express ourselves again and will be publishing all the missed posts in the coming days.

To start with we have published a post on Beijing. We will endeavour to update a new post each day we are here in Hong Kong. This relies of us finishing writing  them though and then sorting relevant photos. This is no small task as we now have quite a backlog. It seems that the lack of published posts made us a bit slack on preparing new posts.

While we are hear, how about a quick update on things:

  • We saw panda!. They were very cute and well worth visiting.
  • We used a non-ground method of transport and flew from Chengdu to Hong Kong. What cheats we are!
  • Hong Kong is hot. No more are we being chilled by icy winds and wearing jumpers, It is shorts and t-shirts from here on in (not that I ever stopped wearing shorts).

Look out for more exciting posts in the next few days.

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Beijing, or, people, people everywhere!

Really, we have never seen so many people – everywhere. On the street, on the metro, in the temples  – it really was quite unbelievable!

Day 1

We arrived into the central Beijing train station just after lunch where we said farewell to Mike from Walthamstow and Serena from Switzerland. After the tranquillity of the train, the noise and hustle of the train station was overwhelming. Nevertheless we negotiated the metro (surprisingly easy, as the station names are written in English) and made it safely to our hostel.

After a quick pit stop, we hit the site-seeing trail and made for Tiananmen square. The sheer size of the square is breath-taking, but just as much so is the number of tourists and tour groups – I had never seen so many in one place, and this was to become a theme throughout the next few days.

The whole scene around the square is very imposing– you can’t just cross a road to get to the square, you have to go through a subway complete with bag search and metal detector before being allowed in, as well as being constantly watched by huge numbers of security personnel.

There is a rather splendid flower display in the square at the moment, as it was a Chinese National holiday last week. The bowl of fruit does look a little out of place next to all of the government buildings, but it was still a sight to behold.

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After a very expensive drink (note to anyone coming to Beijing – do not talk to anyone in Tiananmen square, they are all out to scam you– don’t worry, we are both fine, just a bit annoyed) we paid a visit to a night market, where every kind of skewered food was available, and even some things not generally considered as skewer food, such as centipedes and testicles (not sure what animal, we didn’t hang around to ask).  Any appetite that the site-seeing may have generated quickly evaporated at this point.

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It was here we ran into Mike from Walthamstow – what are the chances, eh? Somehow (and we are blaming Mike for this) we ended up with a skewer full of mini scorpions that were still wriggling up to the point we chose them, when they were then deep fried and seasoned….

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Once you get over the fact that you are eating a bug, and finish picking the bits of tail out of your teeth, they were actually not too bad. However, they are not something I would rush to eat again!

The day ended with drinks in both ours and Mikes hostels, which turned out to be round the corner from each other.

Day 2

Following a breakfast of slightly odd orange jelly bread type things, we headed back to Tiananmen square, thinking that early in the morning it would be a bit quieter – how wrong we were. If anything, there were more people – seemingly moving in packs following a person waving a stick. Funky hats were apparently obligatory (for those in Burma, that was like the hats at the Teak Bridge, just on a massive scale). We had intended to go see another dead dude (Mao) but the queue to see him (at 9am) was already about 2 hours long and as we were on a tight schedule, having only 2 days in Beijing, we gave him a miss and headed to the Forbidden city.

The complex is huge, and so you would be justified in thinking that it could handle a few tourists, but even here, it was worse than anything I have ever seen in London – Olympics included. At one point we were queuing to look in a temple and it just turned into a scrum, with little old ladies burrowing into the crowd to get to the front, and people at the back just pushing their way to the front. I have been to less rowdy gigs!

The buildings are magnificent, but the fighting with crowds and dodging people in funky hats did kind of overshadow the experience, as you couldn’t just stand and look at things, you were constantly fighting for your place.

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Again, it is the scale of the Forbidden city that gets you – after 4 hours wandering we had still not seen it all, but were feeling a bit palace-d out and so made a swift exit to the temple across the road, which handily served as a lunch stop.

Revived, we then climbed the many, many steps up to the Wanchun Ting temple, which has an impressive Buddha, and an even more impressive view across Beijing. We were lucky that the smog that had been plaguing the city had been blown away by strong winds a few days before, but we were still amazed by the haze that seemed to hang over the city. One guidebook described the air quality as “so furry you could stroke it” and this seemed to sum it up.

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After a quick pit stop back at the hostel we then headed up to the Lama temple – no furry animals here, only lots of Buddhas, and lots of people lighting incense. It smelled good, and I was tempted to buy some, but without knowing which one people were burning, it would just be my luck to end up with one that smelled like dodgy air freshener!

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We then headed to a new type of temple for us – a Confucian temple. It is a very different sight, with marble inscriptions in place of Buddha. Mercifully this temple was quiet – it was near closing time – and so it was a very peaceful way to spend an hour.

By then, our stomachs were reminding us that lunch was a while ago, and so we went in search of dinner, and stumbled on a wonderful night market, very different to the previous night, among the hutong, the little alleyway – like streets that link Beijing’s major roads. Most of the hutong are run-down alleys with rows of doors leading to people’s houses, but some are a little bigger and have stalls and shops on them. This one was packed full of people – this time though they seemed to be local rather than tour groups, which was a vast improvement! The shops and stalls were selling everything you could think of, from food to shoes, and even clip on furry ears.

Day 3

As our last day in Beijing dawned, we decided a run was in order. However, as one of the main remaining temples that we wanted to see, the temple of Heaven, was situated in a park, it seemed to make sense to combine the running and the site-seeing.

A quick metro trip brought us to the park, and yet again, it was packed with people. This time, though, it was mainly older Chinese people, all engaged in some kind of activity – cards, dancing (both with and without tennis racquets and balls), working out on the “green gym”, playing with diablos…it was like a giant social club!

The one thing that caught our eye was a game played with a small shuttlecock type thing – it had feathers on the top and weights at the bottom, and the aim is to kick it to other players. Having purchased one we were then initiated into the came by a couple of friendly Chinese players, and I think we at least provided them with some entertainment as they watched us struggle to kick the little feathery ball, when all around us, people in their 70’s and beyond were doing it with ease. Trust us, it is harder than it looks!

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Wandering around the park was one of my favourite bits of Beijing so far, as it was just ordinary people going about their lives, not really paying us any attention, which is very different to when you are in the tourist areas, where everyone is trying to sell you something.

The temple that we actually came to see was impressive, although a lack of lighting in the buildings meant that you couldn’t really see any of the decoration inside the buildings, which was a shame. Luckily it wasn’t too busy, and so it was a nice relaxing way to start the day.

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Having looked at the temple and played in the park, we couldn’t put off the run any more, and so it was off with the site-seeing clothes, superman style, transforming us into crazy-running-westerners, which was definitely the type of look we were getting!

We ran back through the park and then up towards Tiananmen square, via another hutong – this one seemed solely devoted to food and it took willpower not to stop for lunch! Running (and walking)around Beijing is tricky – it is an exercise in firstly trying to find somewhere to cross the road and  secondly, when you have found somewhere, trying not to get run over – the cars/buses/bikes/tuk-tuks pay no attention to pedestrian crossings and only limited attention to traffic lights. We found that the only way to do it was just to walk out into the road and hope they stop, and so far it seems to be working.

On the way back to the hostel we came across another park with a big lake (Bei Han), and a Dagoba on a hill, and so decided it would be rude not to pop in and have a look. A bit of hill work added to the run, and we were rewarded with some great views across Beijing.

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All in all, we ended up covering 9.5 miles – our longest run so far on the trip!

After a bit of a rest and some lunch (a much needed McDonalds) we headed back to the hutong that we had visited the previous night, in order to see it in the daylight. As our legs were complaining after the run, we decided that the best way to see it would be a tuk-tuk tour. Our tuk-tuk had a sheepskin seat and was very cosy.

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The driver took us around various streets, pointing out where famous historical people had lived, or what buildings had been used for previously – kind of like our blue plaques. We would never have found these places without the driver (all the maps we saw were in Chinese) and so it was an hour well spent – even if at times it was a bit hair raising, being driven at speed along packed  streets, with bike and people everywhere!

Then, as we were in Peking (as was), we hunted out Peking duck for dinner, back at the foodie hutong we had run through earlier in the day. This seemed to be mainly local people and not too many tourists, which was a nice change. Carving the duck was definitely an art form – a man with huge knives was outside the front of the restaurant carving up ducks for people to see. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that different to what we have at home, although the sauce was a little sharper.

On our way back to the hostel, dessert was called for, and this took the form of hawthorn fruit (berries?) covered in toffee on a stick – much nice than it sounds!

After only 2.5 days in Beijing it was time to pack up again, and get ready for the next part of the trip. Rich went to have a last beer with Mike from Walthamstow at his hostel to catch up on how we had found Beijing before we parted ways (he is off to Shanghai then Japan). Then it was time for bed ready for our 3 day hike on the great wall…

Last Trans-Siberian stop…Beijing!

It seems our blog title cuts the trip a bit short. Less than a month into our journey we are on the final Trans-Siberian leg from Ulan Bator to Beijing. Don’t worry, we will still have much more to blog about as we move into the Beyond section of our trip. Before that though, let’s find out what is going on aboard the train.

First morning

It seems we have gotten the band back together. For the Trans-Mongolian section of our journey there are fewer trains running than on other sections. This means that more tourists are crammed into a single train. In fact we haven’t really seen any locals on this train, it all seems to be tourists from all over the world.

The train has brought together many people we have seen before. To name some:

  • Mike from Walthamstow
  • Serena from Switzerland
  • Pauline the story teller
  • The 2 English and 1 Dutch couple from our last train
  • A Dutch couple (lady wears a blue jacket so very recognisable) that we have seen everywhere we went in Mongolia. They were at every sight at the same time as us (National Park included) so we think they are stalking us.
  • Loud Australian group that stayed in the same ger camp as us.
  • 2 young English couples (20ish) who we first saw in Lake Baikal but have since seen on the train and in UB tourist attractions.

We have had different levels of interaction with these people ranging from just a hello to drinks in the restaurant car. It is nice to see the familiar faces and hear many English conversations. We have caught up on what people have done on their trips and look forward to a sociable journey.

We are back on a Chinese train again. It is a big improvement on the last one though (see Russia vs China). Although not totally clean the layer of dust is gone, toilets are a lot less smelly (and thankfully further away) and the carpet is dry. There are a few odd stains here and there but we will let those pass. Our attendant also seems smartly dressed and will hopefully remain so, we don’t need any more bare chested China men.

As we left UB the train climbed into some snow covered mountains. This was very different to the scenery we have seen before and was spectacular in the early morning sun. As the train snaked along the track we took the chance to take photos of the rest of the train. Not an easy task through dirty windows.

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After the mountains we descended to the edge of the Gobi desert. The part we pass isn’t a sandy desert but instead has vast plains of grassland. We are currently trying to spot camels but seem to have only seen horses and cows so far.

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Our first stop of the day (11:30am after setting off at 7:15am) was in a very quiet town. Unfortunately the station had no shop and unlike others we weren’t brave enough to leave the station to find something to buy. This means we have no bread to go with our other provisions, luckily we still have lots of pasta sachets brought from London so we won’t be going hungry.

The first 5 hours of the trip have flown by with some blogging, chatting to our fellow travellers and reading up on what to see in Beijing. We will be back later with more updates on goings on here on the train.

Chinese Border

The day has passed and it is now nearing 10pm and we are about to cross the Chinese border. We are in the first station where we have to go through passport control and customs. This is a process we are now used to having done it on the entrance and exit to Russia and Mongolia already (Mongolia was only about an hour ago).

As we passed through the Mongolian border we stopped for a while. This allowed the Mongolian engine to leave us and for a Chinese engine to collect us. As we crossed the border a lone Mongolian soldier saluted as we passed through the darkness.

Coming into the Chinese station they played the Viennese Waltz and the station staff stood to attention. This was a fitting welcome for such refined travellers as ourselves.

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Leaving Mongolia (left) and entering China (right)

Something that is a bit different to the normal routine is that we are now in a shed. We have been shunted (rather violently) into here. What happens now is that we are about to be lifted up and have our wheels changed to fit onto Chinese gauge tracks which are narrower than those in the former Soviet union. Enough for now…I am off to enjoy the fun of getting new wheels.

Soon after…

That was great! We just got pushed into a shed with half the carriages on one side and half on the other. A bit more shunting and we were lined up with huge jacks that lifted the carriages up of the bogies (wheels). The old wheels were rolled out from under us and new ones rolled in again. We watched through the windows on the sides and ends of the carriages as we levitated and workmen scurried around. We got a good view of our own wheels changing as well as the carriage next to us. This was quite fun as we saw people we knew in carriages along side so could wave across to them.

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Now I have calmed down from the excitement, what else has been happening today? We had a nap. Read some books. Got off at a station in the sunshine for 40 minutes where we bought the bread we missed this morning. We went to the restaurant car and had a beer with a Belgian chap and Finnish girl while we watched the sunset. All in all a very relaxing day of train life. Just time for a beer before bed and then we will get some rest ready for our last day of train.

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Oh…and before I forget. We saw camels too!

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Final thoughts

It is now the morning and we are rolling through China. We just passed by a section of the great wall (no photos as they are all pretty terrible).

As we are finishing our Trans-Siberian adventure to start our China/Thailand adventure here are a few tips should you ever travel on the Trans-Siberian yourself:

1. Bring cups, plates and cutlery. We did this and they were very useful allowing us to eat food from platforms in our cabin. A sponge/tea towel to clean them would also be a useful addition, we didn’t have this.

2. Toilet roll and flip flops are essential. The toilets are not so nice. You don’t want to go in there without footwear.

3. Bring books. There is time for reading even though there is a lot to see out the window, through the train and on the platforms. We have probably read about 4 books each while on the train in addition to blogging, sorting photos and watching episodes. There is a lot of time to pass but with the right distractions it goes by very quickly.

4. Be prepared for slightly disturbed sleep. We have slept pretty well on the train however you do get woken up through the night as the train stops at various places. Nights when shunting is required (generally around borders) are the worst as the jolts really wake you. Naps during the day offset this though and we have always left the train feeling well rested and raring to go.

5. If you can, go for first class. This gives you 2 people in a cabin instead of 4. In a train, the extra space this gives you is really appreciated. If travelling alone this can be less sociable but it really depends on whether you can handle being in close proximity with 3 other people for the long journey.

6. Get the Trans-Siberian Handbook by Bryn Thomas. This is a very useful book that tells you about the trains, stops on route and has a breakdown of what you see along the way. We would have been lost without it.

No more posts for this ride. Next you will hear from us will be from Beijing. Exciting times Smile

Beijing…not just missing Facebook, also missing Berrylands2Beijing posts

We are in Beijing and have been for two days. We have been very busy here and internet connectivity isn’t great. As such it is taking a while to upload the posts and photos we sorted on the last train leg. We are off for a 3 day hiking tour on the wall tomorrow so don’t expect connectivity to improve. Fear not though, we are still alive and well and normal updates will hopefully resume soon. For now enjoy the post from the pre-Mongolia train leg and our trip to the get camp.