10.03.2013 - 22.03.2013
Return to HK
We know the routine and are soon on the A21 bus to downtown Kowloon. We are staying in THE down-at-heal Chungking Mansions, a behemouth of a block housing all manner of hotels and businesses. We enter the ground floor to be accosted by several Indian guys with offers of hotels. We brush passed and find the right elevator to take us up to the 8th floor and the Yan Yan guesthouse. A box of a room awaits us, but it's clean and we have a window!
Next morning we head up to Mong Kok and the CTS office to collect our train tickets for Beijing. We eventually find the right counter behind a locked door and get them. It's hot out at about 20degrees C, and we wander along the waterfront which is busy with tourists. Later we go for dinner at Cafe Mido before an evening stroll looking over to Hong Kong Island.
On to Beijing
Next afternoon we make our way to Hung Hom station and board the T98 train bound for Beijing. We go through immigration and find our berths. Each carriage has 11 cabins with 6 bunks. Each bunk has clean white sheets, pillow and duvet. The 2 top bunks are empty, infact the whole carriage may be only half full. We sit infront of the doorless cabin on 2 adjacent aisle seats either side of a small window table as we depart on time. Boiling water is available and our fellow passengers are soon filling tea flasks and noodle pots, and we follow suit. We also picked up a pretty good baguette from a bakery in town. Within an hour we cross seamlessly into mainland China and we hardly notice. The train is 'sealed' meaning that at the few places we stop, no further passengers get on or off, just freight. The landscape whizzes passed the window and we are treated to the industrial landscape of construction and factories and a few fields. Dozens of apartment blocks are going up, currently just empty shells surrounded by overhanging cranes.
We both sleep really well, better than on any bus or plane yet!
The view outside is pretty much the same except there are no leaves on the trees as it is now no longer Spring but Winter. It feels strange, almost like we have gone back in time. Lining the tracksides are grey housing blocks reminding us of eastern European architecture. We pull into Beijing West bang on time and go swiftly through immigration. Outside the temperature is about 10 degrees C but it is bright on the main concourse which is littered with men in blue caps and dark clothing smoking and spitting. These are the migrant workers waiting for trains. We search for an ATM before finding our bus that will take us the 1 hour journey to the centre. We muddle through with sign language and writing things on bits of paper and everyone we ask for help are exceedingly kind. The conductress on the bus yells out to us when it is our stop and we squeeze off the bus into the street. The sky is fairly blue on account of the previous day's rains. We find our hotel the Dragon King Hotel easily and soon we are ensconsed in a comfortable room and welcome beer vouchers in our hands! The staff are so super friendly and helpful.
Next morning Sarah on the front desk helps us to get a local SIM card and we head out to Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. E makes contact with Dale and arranges to meet later. Dale is E's old flat mate from Sydney and he is coincidentally living in Beijing learning Chinese. A truly serendipitous occassion as we only found this out a few days previously after a post on Facebook! Tianamen Square is closed owing to the recent government changes and meetings so we walk under the giant image of Mao and into the enormous grounds of the Forbidden City. The icy wind picks up and soon we are in hats and gloves and scarves. We wander round for 3 hours or so along some stunning alleys and courtyards full of exhibitions of art and pottery and jade items, and yes we do see a Ming Vase. We meet Dale and he shows us around Nanluogu Hutong, which is a narrow traditional street that is old Beijing. Today it has become gentrified with bars and shops but it is busy with locals as well as tourists. We have a couple of drinks in different places including the Bacon Old Fashioned, which is bacon infused bourbon with auger, bitters and an orange twist! Then we make for Da Dong restaurant. Now fortunately for us Dale is a foody and takes us to a top place for Peking Duck. We are led into the kitchens to survey the birds in the ovens and to make our selection of a nice crispy fellow. We also have squirrel fish. A delicous banquet!
Next morning we take the very efficient metro that costs 20 euro cents no matter the length of your journey, to see the Summer Palace. Ice covers the waterways surrounding the palace and we take the steep climb up to view lake Kunming. The sun is a yellow smudge in an otherwise brown soup and the haze is so heavy that it is difficult to make out the lake below us. We explore the grounds for 3 hours or so before heading back to the hutong again to meet Dale. We get a delicious snack called Jian Bing which is an egg pancake with chilly sauce and a deep fried batton inside. We also meet up with Daniel, a great friend of Dale's and whom E knows from those Sydney days. We go to a new bar which serves up different types of rum, and we try the hot buttered rum! We head back early as tomorrow we are going to see some wall or other...
We leave the hotel at 8am and board a coach of 39 other tourists and take the 1 hour 30 minute ride out to Mutianyu. We climb the steps for 25 minutes up to the wall and step up for what is one of the greatest man made structures on the planet. The wall is also known as the world's largest cemetary as some 1 million people died during construction and are burried in the wall. The views are somewhat hazy but it is mesmerising. There are parts that are busy with tourists but it is easy to get away from them. This part of the wall has been restored but it is still hard work walking along it with some sections so incredibly steep. We walk onto the sections that are also untouched ruins and it is much harder going. We pass two African guys in Tanzania football shirts and we greet them with a "Habari" and they are so amazed and so follows a lively exchange of all the greetings that we know in Kiswahilii! In the evening we join the foodies Dale and Daniel for a slap up feast on Muslim Ox street where we sample Da pan Ji (big plate of chicken) and some delicious lamb squewers. As we walk back we see one of Beijing's night time passed times where people dance en masse in the park to music from loud speakers. Different songs play and people dance a mix of salsa and gangam style!
Our hostel helps us to book tickets for a trip to Ping Yao which is an old city a few hours south of Beijing. Our final day kicks off with a top lunch of multicoloured dumplings at Bao Yuan restaurant with Dale and Daniel, then an afternoon in the art district of 798 which are a series of streets of art galeries and large outdoor sculptures on the street corners. In the evening we take the metro to see the olympic Bird's Nest stadium and Aqua Cube swimming pool - where American athlete Phelps won so many medals - all lit up.
Onto Ping Yao
Next morning we are in a cab at 6am to Beijing West station. We enter the station and bags go through the scanner and we are body scanned. The D-train, which can reach 250 K/H, is very comfy and we speed along for 3 hrs 30 mins to Tai Yuan. Here we queue and purchase tickets to Ping Yao with the written ticket order prepared by Sarah at the Dragon Hotel. we have 4 hours to kill and mime our way through putting our bags into left luggage and then wander the back streets of town and find a lovely old temple to explore. School kids on the street wave hello to us and we are stared at constantly. Not an uncommon thing in China. Our next train is a local train that is packed to the rafters with people. We squeeze aboard and find our seats, and stow the packs in the overhead racks. It is hot and stuffy and the sections between the carriages are full of smokers. 2 hours later and we reach Ping Yao and we walk the 100m from the station to the walled city. It is stunning and beautifully maintained. It is low season so there are very few tourists which means we get offers for tours left right and centre! Our hotel is called Cheng Jia Lao Yuan and is set around a lovely courtyard. We are told as it is not busy we have been upgraded. The room is full of beautiful wooden fixtures, window panes and lanterns hang from the ceiling. The bed takes up over half the room and a small table sits in the middle. We end up spending 3 nights here as it is so peaceful. We spend our days exploring the myriad streets and courtyards and eating the local dishes of delicious noodles. We begin getting better at our basic Chinese and armed with phrase book bargain in the Market stalls during the local Temple Fair. The town may be awash with shops and restaurants aimed squarely at tourists but a thriving local populace live and work here. Stepping outside the city Walls into modern Ping Yao and it is a quite different pace and volume! The streets of the old city are for pedestrians, bicycles, electric powered bikes and carts so it is like silent traffic that you just don't hear coming!
Our hotel helps us book several train tickets in advance which is worthwhile as it saves us trouble trying to buy them all at the stations or ticket offices but also because they fill up fast as there really are so many people travelling by train. We go and collect the tickets from the train station ticket office with the aid of written instruction orders! Next stop is Shanghai and we will be celebrating with C's sister Marjolein who is here this week on business!
Train from HK to Beijing, it's all anout the noodles
C checks her bearings in the hutongs
E and Dale at the bar
Dale checks the menu at Da Dong restaurant
The duck inspectors..
C and Dale prepare for the duckathon
The Summer Palace
Hearty snack called Jian Bing
The Great Wall
At 798 Art District
The Bird's Nest and Aqua Cube
Getting the train to Ping Yoa
Our room in Ping Yao
Streets of Ping Yao