We arrived in Beijing train station from Ulaanbaatar. The contrast was crazy. I hadn’t seen so many people in weeks, possibly ever. I remember feeling like we were all ants rushing about our business in different directions. Or that’s what it looked like anyway. When we came out the station it was really humid but overcast, which I later realised was smog. There were a lot of men walking or standing around with their shirts tucked above their bellies. I was told they believe the heat escapes from your belly. We went out for our last group meal before everyone went their separate ways. We had Peking Duck at a big round table and our crockery came wrapped in plastic to guarantee cleanliness. After the meal a few of us went out for cocktails, live music and dancing and I had my first experience of squat toilets… in a club!
I had a couple of days to explore Beijing with three friends from my Russian group before meeting my new group. After our big night out we started with lunch. With the language barrier and no guide it was not that easy to figure out what we were ordering or how big portions would be. We ordered egg fried rice and pork and peanuts and had over half of it left over. Walking around with a blonde, red head and tall Irishman with a beard we attracted a lot of attention from Chinese tourists. We were stopped every 5 minutes for photos. We spent the rest of the day visiting the beautiful, vast Forbidden City in the rain, and walked through the Beijing Spirit gardens and Tianmen Square.
On our last day together we caught the metro to the Temple of Heaven, ordered too much lunch again and visited the Lama temple in the afternoon. The Lama temple has a huge Buddha that you can barely see the top of. The smell of burning incense everywhere. I said my last goodbyes and headed to my hotel to meet my new group and our new Chinese tour guide Louis! We went out for a meal and Louis ordered a selection of dishes which included sweet and sour chicken and a tasty aubergine dish. We visited a bakery for some pudding milk tea.
Our first full day together started with the Great Wall. We got there early to avoid the crowds of tourists and walk around in the fresh morning before it got too hot. We were lucky the smog cleared for us so we had a beautiful clear day. The wall is unbelievable… a once in a lifetime experience. We walked along it for a couple of hours. For miles you can just see trees and the wall. Nothing else. As it started to get busy we caught the cable car back down. In the afternoon we walked around Tianmen square. It is huge, not really your standard square, and eerie when you think about what happened there. In the evening we went out for dinner and watched an acrobat show. Afterwards we just walked around past street dance classes, salsa, ballroom, breakdancing, choirs practicing. Through a food market… my first experience of a Chinese food market. I could see scorpions, snakes, lobster dumplings, worms, pigeons and cows balls! Afterwards we went to Hoi Au lake for drinks, a reggae band and dancing.
On my last day in Beijing I visited the Summer Palace. A beautiful peaceful place surrounded by lakes and trees. A lot cooler than the city. We walked for hours. In the evening we walked through another food market and went out for Beijing duck which was served on three platters. One with skin which you dip into sugar, one with plain meat and one with a mixture of meat and skin. After dinner we boarded our overnight train to Xian. I found out that Beijing means North Capital (Bei = North/ jing = capital). Xian used to be the capital of China, but it was called Xijing and renamed when Beijing became the capital. Xijing means West Capital (Xi = West/ jing = capital).
I was not brave enough to travel China on my own so I decided to do a tour called Wild China with G-Adventues. It was definitely the best option for me. I’m not sure how I would have coped with the signs, language and public transport. Or seen as much as I did or enjoyed going out dancing travelling solo.
Last Stop: Mongolia
Next Stop: Xian