Published: March 6th 2012December 11th 2011
Sunday 11th December – Wednesday 14th December
After another early morning start it was time to fly the 2 hours further North east to Beijing. I slept the whole duration of the flight, very unusual for me, but w had been on the move constantly for 3 weeks now and exhaustion was kicking in! We had opted to save ourselves a bit of money and fly in to Beijing Military Airport, rather than the main International. We had read that the military base was completely secluded, and although closer to the City, there was often a lack of taxis…hopefully we wouldn’t be stranded armed with our hotel name in Mandarin once again we hoped for the best with a taxi ride into the City! Thankfully there wasn’t a problem, with lots of taxis on offer and although the first driver wouldn’t even read where we wanted to go, the second one agreed to take us. Once again, we were dropped on a main road with the taxi driver pointing us down an alley. This was becoming routine…once again, laden with our luggage we were off in search of our hostel again! 10 minutes later we managed to find our accommodation,
a lovely hostel situation around a traditional Chinese courtyard. We had again booked a private room with shared bathroom, however upon check-in the guy at reception advised us to upgrade to a private bathroom, as once again the shared was outside and as he simply stated…’it is too cold for that here right now!’ After not showering for the same reason in Chengdu, we didn’t hesitate in upgrading and were thankful for the prospect of a warm shower! Again, the temperature had dropped considerably from Chengdu and it was absolutely freezing in Beijing!
We spent our first day at Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. As it was a Sunday, the square was very busy with locals and surprisingly there still weren't any Westerners in sight. There were tributes to the King everywhere! We entered the grounds of the Forbidden City and tried to find the entrance, not realising that what was signposted as the Palace Museum, was actually the Forbidden City! The Forbidden City was the permanent residence of the Emperor during the Ming dynasty. The Forbidden City is massive, it is much larger than I was expecting and consisted of courtyard after courtyard containing the palaces of
the Emperor where daily tasks would be carried out. The Palaces are lots of single floored halls, containing some of the original pieces of furniture that visitors can view from the entrances. It took a long time to walk through the Forbidden City, the courtyards that hold the palaces in themselves are of a very grand scale, but I actually felt disappointment from the famous sight. I was expecting something grander and with perhaps more to see and in my mind, cannot be sure that the Forbidden City lives up to it’s high expectations.
When leaving the Palace, we found ourselves a long walk away from the metro station. We treated ourselves to some sugar coated fruit on sticks which is on sale on the streets all over China. After initially declining the incessant offers from tuk tuk drivers, we decided that the walk really was too far and went back to arrange a price of 3 yuan (approximately 60p) for the 10 minute ride back to Tiananmen Station. We were a few minutes walk from the Square, when our tuk-tuk driver decided here was far enough! He then produced a disability card and pointed to the bottom where
The Great Wall
The start of our trek
it said 300 yuan and pointing to his legs claiming he was disabled. We got the agreed 3 yuan out of our purses and gave it to him, saying that was our agreed price – it is customary to always pre-agree prices with tuk-tuks in Asia. The driver was not amused and then pointed to his ears saying he was deaf – we know that there was nothing wrong with either his legs or his ears as we had seen his stood chatting with other drivers moments before. The driver got angry as we tried to explain that we wouldn’t and couldn’t pay 300 yuan, we did not have that much cash on us and it was an extortionate amount of money for a 10minute ride, he was trying to charge 100 times what had been agreed! Unfortunately the tuk tuks in China have doors and are not the sort that you can just jump out of. Before we knew it he was threatening us with the police and had turned around, driving us back the opposite direction. We were both getting worried, as a Westerner would never win an argument against a local with police but we also knew
they were empty threats. We took the bulk of our money out of our purses, showed the by now angry driver what we had & had to hand our money over before being able to get out the tuk tuk. We eventually ended up handing over 30 yuan, which was not far off how much a taxi had charged us from the airport, 40 minutes away, and we were nearly back at where we started. We were shaken up and annoyed at yet again being tricked in China. We walked back to Tiananmen Square and sadly this experience really damaged my opinion of the Chinese people in the big Cities. It seemed like everyone was always out to con you as a tourist, very few people were willing to help and we felt very much on our own.
We had another early start the next morning as we had organised a trip to the Great Wall of China. Ensuring we would keep warm, with thermals and 5 layers on top, plus jacket, hat, scarf and gloves we headed up to the mountains to see the Great Wall. We didn’t join the Wall at the usual tourist spot, instead joining
it at Mutianyu, high in the mountains. The Great Wall could be seen from our drive up on the coach for miles before, it was a brilliant sight. Beijing had had snow the previous wall and close up you could see that the wall was still covered in snow in patches which made it look, in my opinion, even more authentic, I had always imagined the Great Wall in the freezing cold and here it was, snow included! We had to get a cable car up the the Lookout Tower form which we would start our walk. It provided stunning views but also allowed us to appreciate the sheer size of the wall. We had been given two options for out trek, head left towards Watch Tower, or right towards Watch Tower 23. We decided to go with 23 which would take approximately 3 hours to get there and back…the exact amount of time we had been allocated on the wall. I had learnt that the Great Wall divides China and Mongolia, and all along the wall are cannons aimed at Mongolia. Off we set! The first towers were good fun, the views were spectacular and we made sure to
take it all in. It was absolutely freezing, approximately –16 degrees, however we were lucky, it was a beautifully bright day & before long we had warmed up from the walking! The Wall itself was harder to walk on than I had imagined, the watch towers were raised so we were constantly climbing up to them before climbing back down the other side. The Wall has been preserved very well, with all of the original bricks, however this makes walking along it somewhat harder! The steps are very steep and very small, never straight and often with big pieces missing. I tripped many times on route!
Our trek started getting harder around watch tower 17. We had been walking, up and down steps and slopes for over an hour and we were both so warm it was ridiculous! We were unable to take off any layers though, as the actually temperature was well below freezing and it would have resulted in us getting ill, so we continued on, slowing down at every watch tower! My legs were starting to really ache, I was wishing that I worked out at home & had muscly legs…that would definitely have made the
trek easier! We had to stop numerous times to regain our breath, at one point deciding to measure our heart rates as our laboured breathing was suggesting they would be high! Min measured at 132/197…not so good! I also started wishing I’d put some make up on that morning, as my face was steadily getting redder and redder, a combination of wind chill and being so hot due to the physical exertion! By the time we got to Tower 20, I was really struggling and completely cursing my skinny little legs! We were so thankful it was a dry and bright day, the experience would have been much less enjoyable without the sunshine! We could see Tower 23 up ahead, it had a large Chinese Flag flying from it and was the furthermost point for tourists. I was worried about me able to get back, we still had another hour and a half back, but we’d come so far, so with one last push and a good break, we decided to reach our goal. We passed Tower 22 and in front of us was the steepest, most crooked and largest set of steps so far…leading right up to Tower 23.
With determination we started our final climb. We had to stop every 50 steps to catch our breath, but we eventually made it up the 340 steps to the top! We had to physically crawl up the final 10 steps which were huge and almost vertical. It was comforting seeing the other people around us struggling as much!! Standing by the flag at the top of Tower 23, we took in the amazing 360 degree view, caught our breath and patted ourselves on the backs for making it – then it was time to start the same journey back! I was completely exhausted and dreading the walk back, but the amazing feeling of reaching that Tower made it all worth it!
Going down was a lot harder than going up! On the journey back the same way as we had come, my legs were physically shaking from over-exertion and when going down slopes I had to run as my legs didn’t have the strength to walk against the steep declines! We started singing ‘1,000 Green Bottles, Sitting on the Great Wall’ to keep ourselves going, it was amusing and definitely worked, if only for 5 minutes before running out
of breath to sing! We made it back to Tower 6 in just less time than it took us to get to Tower 23. We had taken 3 hours and 15 minutes, and I was very pleased with that! I was absolutely exhausted, burning hot and freezing cold, but feeling very proud. The climb was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I think I have ever done. It was a lot harder than I had ever expected and have a new found admiration for anyone who climbs the wall. There were many, many times throughout our trek that I sat down to catch my breath & didn’t particularly want to get back up again, but through willing each other on and sheer determination, I’m pleased that we made it. It provided an overwhelming sense of achievement and is something I will never forget.
We got a toboggan back down the mountain instead of the cable car again and met the rest of our tour group at lunch. Not everyone had made it for the full stretch, and others had completed to shorter walk to Tower 1, so I felt a real sense of accomplishment when we were able
to say that we had completed the trek. It was amazing to sit down & relax for half an hour…our legs would be hurting tomorrow!
Before leaving Beijing, we wanted to try some Peking Duck. Peking duck originated in Beijing, or Peking, as the City used to be called. It is famous throughout the world and duck pancakes at home are one of my favourite foods! We caught the metro to one of many Peking Duck restaurants scattered around the City and ordered half a duck with accompaniments and some duck spring rolls. 15 minutes later a chef arrived at or table and proceeded to chop a whole cooked duck in half, calve it and plate it up for us. We were left with3 plates of duck, one containing the meat, one containing half of the ducks head, and the other holding suspect looking meat, which I can only assume were parts of the poor duck’s innards! We were given pancakes and onions, but I was actually deeply disappointed with the meal. We ate the ‘good’ meat from the one plate with our pancakes, however the duck had a very strange taste to it and without plum sauce and
cucumber, it didn’t come close to our Western duck pancakes and the meat was very fatty! The speciality restaurants are a lot more expensive than normal restaurants in China and we were both underwhelmed with our lunch.
We visited a night food market in Beijing on our final night. It was exactly how many people probably envisage markets in China – lots of unappetising things being sold on sticks! From fruit, to un-butchered meat, to every kind of insect and bug that you can imagine…the market did not disappoint! Some of the delicacies on offer were absolutely disgusting and made s squeal with horror as we walked past! Cockroaches, lizards, scorpions, seahorses, starfish and large spiders name just a few! We weren’t brave enough to try anything sadly, but for good measure we treated ourselves to some more fruit on sticks! Watching the Chinese dig in to these ‘delicacies’ was fascinating to watch, if not slightly disturbing! This was true China, at it’s best!
From Beijing it was time for us to move on to warmer climes in Thailand. We were leaving China with a lot of experience and memories! China is a country unlike anywhere else insomuch
as their people do not need to speak English. As a Brit, we always have it easy while abroad, as most people, most places in the world have at least a basic level of English. As a tourist in China however, this luxury is taken away. It makes you realise how hard language barriers can make life, we found everyday tasks such as asking for directions or trying to eat dinner almost impossible and made our time in China quite a challenge! We also experienced some negatives from the people, we fell for 2 large cons in Shanghai and Beijing, and often felt let down by the Chinese people who came across as rude and trying to con us as multiple points throughout our stay. Thankfully we didn’t get sucked into any further tricks and became very aware of things around us after our tea show! I think the best way to see China, safely and correctly would be on a guided tour. The country itself is amazing, it has a lot of culture with so much on offer and I would love to go back one day, however many lessons have been learnt and I will be much wiser
There are more photos below