Published: March 12th 2008February 15th 2008
We boarded the train in Ulaanbataar at a somewhat sensible hour for a change at 8pm. We were kindly escorted right to our beds by a very friendly guy whom we were extremely suspicious of until he just left without asking for anything! Love Mongolia! We settled in for the journey to the Chinese border, our carriage somewhat flash with a small TV. We received a vacuum packed dinner which resulted in us losing our carefully planned souvenier Mongolian togrogs to the providonista, well we think this is why she demanded money from us, even though we thought we had meal tickets already..
That night Jason managed some flu induced sleep whilst Kirstyn was kept awake by the Annual Chainsaw Snoring World Championships going on in the adjacent bunks. The guy on the top bunk was the winner by unanimous decision, the sheer irregularity, breath holding, gasping and outbursts of chatter in Chinese the decisive blow.
We arrived in the border town of Erlian around lunch time and the world champ redeemed himself by kindly helping us get to the bus station and get tickets. We were a little hesitant to agree to him purchasing our tickets for us
Sunrise over the Gobi Desert
View from our carriage approaching the Mongolia-China border.
as this would mean another night sleeping next to the chainsaw symphony but we let him go ahead as we were newly arrived in a new country with no idea. Unfortunately we had to wait until 4pm for our sleeper bus to Beijing to leave, but thanks to another very helpful Chinese girl we ended up at a great little restaurant for a delicious Chinese hot pot feast. Our first Chinese experiences leaving us very positive about the coming week.
We arrived in Beijing at the crazy time of 3am, again our helpful cabin mate sorted a taxi for us to the city and our waiting room of luxury. We shared the ride with a French couple who had nowhere booked, before guiltily leaving them on the street to go check in and be upgraded to the premium floor at the Novotel Peace Hotel - a treat we had booked long ago as a late anniversary gift!
By this stage Jason was feeling completely worse for wear so we both rested till later that day. Jason now sleeping fitfully in a pool of feverish sweat. We headed out around lunch time for our first taste of Beijing and
Kirst v excited!
were accosted twice in a row by English speaking touts trying to make some tourist cash….getting ready for the Olympic onslaught we supposed. We had always planned to buy some artwork with our own personal touch so went along with the speel and picked up a nice piece of art with our travelling motto inscribed in Chinese script.
After this we managed to actually see some sights visiting the very busy Tiananmen square and the outer part of the forbidden city including a huge picture of Mao. We decided to avoid the national museum being a little cautious of how accurate the history would be and also being a little museumed out by now. We organised to meet up with our British cabin buddies Gus and Lorna after we failed to catch them in Ulaanbaatar (we stood them up - sorry again G&L) and had a nice night wandering through the main strip before dinner at a tiny local restaurant with a lovely old lady running the place. She took much amusement from our attempts at Mandarin.
The next day was a huge one with the Forbidden city taking up a fair chunk of the day. The place
is huge with thousands of rooms and hundreds of temples. Guided by our electronic guide with LED map we probably managed to see only a third of the place if that. The electronic map driving Jason mad with the little lights showing all the places we had missed! Kirstyn was starting to come down hard now with the flu and finally managed to drag Jason away before crossing off every light.
Before our Forbidden city mission we visited the bizarre Mausoleum of Mao, the big guy looking decisively waxy, if only we had managed to see Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi we would have the trifecta of embalmed communist leaders!
Afterwards we walked down to get acrobat tickets for the following nights performance then train tickets to Xian, before heading home for a bit of pampering in our hotel. We went for a sauna and spa before a quick dinner out and a night in watching movies on our huge plasma screen! Hey, we were both sick by now and felt we deserved some recovery time.
The following day we caught the metro out to visit the (busily under construction) Olympic Park. Caught a good glimpse
South Gate of Forbidden City
Mao watching over the people....
of the ’Bird’s Nest’ and the ‘Ice Cube’ behind the many barriers in place. Not one to criticise or one of any engineering expertise, but it seems they have a fair bit of work to go and the place could do with a bit of a clean up, hope they get there by August!
On our way back we had another Chinese feast before visiting the large Lama Temple complex, the largest Tibetan Monastery outside of Tibet. Headed home after this for a rest before a night at a Chinese acrobat show. We were supposed to meet Gus and Lorna at our hotel but they hadn’t received our message until late, we ended up still catching the metro and running the few km’s to the theatre to just make it in time thinking of how we could get our money back for the extra tickets. We were so relieved to arrive to the familiar faces of Gus and Lorna who had frantically caught a last minute taxi.
After getting our breaths back we were dazzled by the show. The show was truly amazing; the children performing were so talented, the show brilliant and all this in a small
little dodgy theatre with about 15 other people there! The props they used were all home-made but that didn’t take away from the glamour and glitz of the show.
We went for dinner afterwards at the same little place and after a lovely meal and a few brews we said our final fare wells and best wishes to Gus and Lorna. Hopefully we will be able to catch up with these guys on their return to the UK as we really enjoyed their company and would love to hear about their continued adventures.
The following morning we checked out early and headed off on our day trip to the Great Wall. We had decided to do the tour which involved walking between two sections, from the least developed Jinshaling to the impressive Simatai. The Great Wall needs no explanation - spectacular and an amazing feat!
The walk proved somewhat difficult for the now very sick Kirstyn, but in true trooper style she managed the steep gradients over the 4hr walk….needing frequent rests to catch her breath and settle a now rampaging cough. We had a nice meal at Simatai before the couple of hour drive back. Had
an early dinner in Beijing before catching the overnight train to Xian.
We had decided to take the cheaper hard sleeper option which proved to be a good move considering the two upper bunks were empty. We arrived in the morning and were happy to be picked up by our hostel along with loads of other backpackers. Kirstyn had a bit of a rest once checked in while Jason tried to sort out tickets back to Beijing. He was a bit stressed to find that the train we wanted was totally booked as was the next days! We ended up having to go through the hostel who after keeping us worried for a couple of days with their assurances, somehow managed to miraculously produce the tickets we needed the day before!
Whilst in Xian we ventured out to see the main reason for detouring down this way - The Terracotta Warriors. Whilst very touristy, the warriors were still very impressive, built thousands of years ago and buried unknown of until the 70’s is hard to believe. We ended up seeing them on a tour which was very convenient although it did include a few obligatory shopping stops -
View from our window to the Forbidden city
one at a replica warriors factory the other a silk factory. Needless to say we bought nothing at the overpriced stores aimed at sucking in the tourists. We had an enormous buffet meal after seeing the famous site and afterwards the tour also included a stop at the ???Bopar village, an ancient village unearthed and now preserved in huge shelters. The village dated back to ???? With ancient pottery, kilns, graves and skeletons unearthed. The museum turned out to be quite interesting.
We also managed to venture out to the Big Goose Pagoda on our first night and see the impressive although somewhat tacky/cheesy water fountain, light and music show! We managed to cycle around the city walls on a tandem bike, explore the Muslim quarter trying a few of the street eats along the way, enjoying the middle eastern tastes that predominated. It was also the lantern festival which happens right at the end of the New Years celebration, so on this night the city was packed with people, there was non-stop fireworks going off until midnight and the wall was all lit up with lights and various lanterns.
After two nights/three days it was time to
head back for our flight home. Again we caught an overnight train. Even after our relatively short stay in China we have come to realise that crowds are all part of the experience but the entrance to the Xian station was something else. We now know what sheep and cattle must feel like. To get into the station was a huge mass of people surging towards one small fenced entrance which then drafted us into two channels before spilling into a small area before the xray machines. Jason was amused and trying to get a photo whilst Kirstyn clutched the back of his backpack imagining a crushing end to rival football fans in a poorly planned stadium! Not an experience we’d like to repeat in a hurry.
Obviously we survived and made it to our train, although not with out running frantically back and forth the train trying to find our carriage in time, the ticket somewhat confusingly having the carriage as 1 although the carriage was really 13?? Finally found the correct carriage and settled in this time on the top bunk of three, feeling a little claustrophobic but both still fatigued enough due to the flu to
We were picked up again in Beijing by our new hostel which was another blessing. Our health matters taking another turn for the worse with Jason now developing a raging middle ear infection. By the afternoon the pain was too much so we went to an international medical clinic, saw a Doctor, got loads of drugs and parted with a small fortune (not a concern thanks to travel insurance!). We now had the hard decision of whether Jason could fly or not, we decided the morning of our flight to go ahead given Jason could now equalise his ear and we were both keen to get home! Kirstyn was now also starting to come down with a sinus infection so we risked further delay if we waited further. As it turned out Jason’s ear was already perforated so flying wasn’t a problem and we made it back to the sunny (read dismal) UK, arrived back late that night to Caerphilly, the end of a huge and epic journey - now time to recuperate, recover, pack up, find jobs, move etc etc……..
There are more photos below