Lois Andrews

Pharmacist on a career break - hoping to scratch my itchy feet
Living in: Torquay, United Kingdom
  • Day55

    Nǐ Hǎo Guangzhuo!

    May 25, 2018 in China ⋅ ⛅ 84 °F

    I am afraid to say that due to lack of energy and money, and the fact that I only had half a day anyway, the only thing I saw in Guangzhou was my hostel. To be honest i feel that i have seen enough cities in China that i don't think i missed out on much. So instead of talking about Guangzhou i will give you the ten things i have learned about China.

    1. There are A LOT of people in China, roughly 1.5 billion. This means that no matter where you go there are crowds.
    2. The Chinese LOVE a tour group. Every tourist site i went to (even night food markets) was filled with groups of Chinese tourists, sometimes with matching hats or t-shirts, following a guide with a giant flag or plastic fish on a stick.
    3. The Chinese also LOVE taking pictures with westeners, sometimes they ask, sometimes they grab you, sometimes they try to stealthily do it. Unless its a child, it is always annoying (in my opinion). If you want to feel like a celebrity though, come to China.
    4. The concept is "queueing" is foreign to the Chinese. you could be standing right behind the person at the counter and somewone will just walk right infront of you. I learnt very quickly that if you don't push you won't get served anywhere. Chivalry is dead here.
    5. Recycling is not a thing here, even though there is recuycling bins everywhere. Every recycling bin i saw, which was next to a general waste bin, was filled with general waste. Seriously what is the point of the bins??!
    6. There is no respect for nature or space in general. Even though there are bins everywhere (even on the Great Wall), there is litter everywhere, in parks, in the street. I have seen on more than one occasion people throw litter on the floor RIGHT NEXT TO THE BIN! I actually called one guy out who did it on the Great Wall. Just no respect.
    7. If you want to do anything in China you have to pay. Visit a museum, go to a park, climb a mountain, see a view! With a population of 1.5billion people though i do get it, as if they didn't these places would get destroyed in a few years (see point 6).
    8. Everyone is constantly on their phones. If you think it's bad in the UK you have no idea. If you look down the train on the metro, every single person is staring at their phones. And with that they are also constantly taking pictures of themselves. They photograph everything. And not just one picture infront of X building, they have a whole photo shoot. Oh and EVERYONE as a selfie stick...
    9. The air pollution here is seriously bad. I have never seen visible smog until here. The first time i saw blue sky was in Guilin! If i was going to be here for more than a couple weeks i would definitely start to feel the effect.
    10. And last but not least... the hands down worse thing about China... brace yourselves people... you will hear and see people hoiking and spitting every five minutes. Seriously. If i never hear that sound again it will be too soon.

    ** Bonus point - on the way to the train station in Xi-an in the morning I actually saw a man peeing on the side of a parked car! #CHINA

    So there you have the 10 things i have learnt while in China. I have had a great time here but am very ready to move on.
    Next stop is Hong Kong, I cannot wait!!

    Zài jiàn!
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  • Day54

    Nǐ hǎo Guilin!

    May 24, 2018 in China ⋅ 🌙 79 °F

    Day 1

    Unfortunately there was no overnight train from Chengdu to Guilin so I had to spend my first day mainly traveling, as even though it was a fast train (not quite as fast as the bullet trains) the journey took almost eight hours. I arrived at the station and was met by a sea of taxi drivers all shouting “taxi, taxi!” but managed to ignore them all and find the local bus which took me almost to my hostel door. It was about 5pm when I arrived and I was pretty tired after the journey so I just took advantage of their free laundry facilities (yes backpackers do actually do laundry!), had some dinner and went to bed.

    Day 2

    I booked myself into the Li River Bamboo raft tour for the day and was picked up by the tour bus down the road from my hostel. Unfortunately there was no other guests booked on it from my hostel so I would have to make some friends during the trip. To my complete surprise when I get on the bus the first face I saw was Liza, a french girl I had met at the hot pot party in the Chengdu hostel, who was also travelling alone. We had talked for ages but forgot to exchange details, so I like to think this was the universe giving us a sigh that we need to be travel friends. We also found out during the journey that we were actually planning to follow the exact same route (to the day) for the next 10 days. Spooky. The bus dropped us off at the edge of the river where we were put into groups of four and led to our bamboo rafts (or rather “bamboo” rafts as they were actually PVC piping in the style of old bamboo rafts... not quite as authentic). Our tour guide from the bus told is that we would have a 45 minute raft trip down the river where we would then take an electric buggy for 5 minutes to a photo point, we would then walk along the road cross the only bridge in the area to a small village where she would meet us with the tour bus again. She repeated this five times and gave the most detailed instructions of our route that I jokingly asked how many people had she lost on these tours to which she replied “no one mam!”. She then left us with our raft driver to enjoy the river. The journey was really nice, especially since I have mainly been in cities up til this point so any form of nature is a welcome site, although maybe a few dozen less rafts on the river would’ve made it even better. After the raft journey we followed our instructions and made it to the village and bus stop (it was literally one road, how anyone could get lost is a mystery to me... two people did though!). The tour bus then took us to Yangshuo where the tour finished. Most people were staying in the town but me and Liza wanted to sightsee and then get the bus back to Guilin. We decided to rent some bikes and do the recommended cycle route outside the city. The route took just under tour hours and took us along the Yulong river (which joins the Li river). This was probably one of the most enjoyable things I have done so far in China. It was so peaceful by the river and being in the bikes was a welcome break from all the walking I’ve done until now. After our bike ride we headed to the bus station (aka nondescript car park) and too the bus back to Guilin.

    Day 3

    Liza and I decided to book a tour to the Longji rice terraces, about a two hour car ride away, and the main reason I stopped in Guilin. Two German guys from her hostel and Danny, my Irish roller disco friend who arrived the night before joined us, making a nice group to trek the rice terraces. As the group was small we took a private car there so were able to sleep on the was. Our driver dropped us at the entrance and pointed to the car and held four fingers up, which we took to mean that we should meet him back there at four. We hoped. As with any tourist site in China that involves a slight walk there was a cable car up to the top of one side of the rice terrace. But being the adventurous (and cheap) tourists we are we decided to hike the whole way. And let me tell you, hiking up a rice terrace in the mid day heat is no easy task! We followed the route on my Maps.Me app and headed to one of the many viewing platforms. Unfortunately it was not right season in china for rice harvests so most of the terraces were dry, however the actual engineering of the terraces (which were built 600 years ago) was pretty damn impressive. After the first viewing platform we were joined by an initially scary looking white dog who we later named White Fang who literally led us through the woods for an hour to the next viewing platform. Every time we thought we might be lost White Fang would appear and lead us in the right direction. Pretty good tour guide! By the time we reached the second viewing platform we had been hiking for three hours so we decided to miss the third and final one in favour of having some much needed lunch (more like early dinner). We headed back down to the village at the base of the terraces and had a very basic dinner of, you guessed it, Rice! (And vegetables). We then trekked back to the car park to the welcome site of our car and driver where he had left us. Needless to say after all that walking we all slept most of the way back to Guilin.

    So there you have my two days in Guilin, quite a different side to the China I had seen up to this point. Next stop is Guangzhou for a day before I get the train to Hong Kong.

    Until next time!

    Zàijiàn!
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  • Day51

    Nǐ hǎo Chengdu!

    May 21, 2018 in China ⋅ 🌬 75 °F

    Thankfully my second overnight train was a more enjoyable journery, not a snorer in earshot! Other than that gift from above there isn't much else to report about the journey. So onto my stay in Chengdu.

    Day 1

    I arrived at my hostel mid afternoon and even though I was able to sleep on the train I was pretty tired from the journey so decided to just hang out in the hostel, as it propbably had the nicest common area of all the hostels i have stayed in so far (it's definitely called a "poshpaker" for a reason". I caught up with emails and planned what i would do in the city the next day. At 7pm the hostel was having a weekly "hot pot" party. This is a Sichuan (the region Chengdu is in) dish which involves guests gathering around a big pot of spicy broth and putting in an assortment of vegetables and noodles, whatever they fancy, and then dishing yourself up a bowl when the vegetables have been cooked. Kind of like a fondu party but instead of cheese a chilli broth. Now I don't do well with spicy food (Korma anyone?) and I was assured by the hostel staff that it wasn't that spicy. Considering Sichuan food is traditionally very spicy I didn't exactly believe them. But I wasn't about to turn away free food! From the first bite i could tell that there "mild" might as well be a Vindaloo for me! One of the staff said to add some vinegar to our bowls to cool it down (everyone else was strggling too). It did help. A bit. I perservered and actually ate quite a bit. I almost choked at one point though when i bit into a pice of mushroom and the water it had absorbed exploded and hid the back of my throat. Definitely and experience i don't think i will repeat. I like to enjoy my food, not feel like ive completed an iron man after it. It was quite a sociable evening though as me and the other guests chatted about our travel plans and laughed at each pthers faces every time we took a bite. After we ate I headed to bed as the next day would be a busy one for me.

    Day 2

    Now the reason I decided to stop in Chengdu was for two reasons: to see the pandas and to visit the Giant stone Bhudda in Leshan (a neighbouring city). Unfortunately I made a mistake when i booked my train tickets and only gave myself one full day in the city instead of two so I could only feesibly do one of the two. However, when i got to my hostel i saw that they ran a day tour that goes to both sites. I don't usually like to go on tours, especially not ones run by hostels as they are usually over priced and you are basically just paying for transport to the attractions. However in this instance I definitely made an acception as there was no way I could've visited the two places in one day by myself using public transport. The tour guide picked me and three other guests (a Japanese-Chinese couple with a three year old daughter) at 7:30 and we headed to the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base just outside the centre. As the name suggests this is a research centre where the focus is on breeding the pandas to maintain the species. It has been open for around 30 years and successfully breeds 10-20 panda cubs a year. They also have a few red pandas, peacocks and black swans at the centre for good measure. The first animals we saw in the centre were the red pandas, which were extremely cute. We then headed to where the main pandas where. The first one I saw was an adult and he was just lounging around eating some bamboo, as you do (apparently they spend 14 hours eating and 10 hours sleeping in a day). Even though it was early the place was packed so it was difficult to get a good view at times. After the first solitary panda our next stop was the cubs. Pandas mate around April-May and have their babies in August, so the smallest cubs in the centre were around 8 months old. There were three small cubs that we could see, and the first one in sight was sleeping, wedged, high up inn one of the trees. The other two were also chilling in the trees. They are literally the cutest things I have seen, like big teddy bears. We walked around the centre for two hours and saw quite a fiew pandas, most of them were eating (lieing on their backs), and some were hanging about in the trees. The centre definitely felt more like a zoo than I was hoping, but the animals all looked very well cared for and it is definitely positive that they are trying to do something to keep the species alive, as apparently in the wild some of them have lost interest in mating (though scientists cannot understand why). Seeing the animals with a small child was also pretty cool (although i definitely think i was more excited about the pandas than she was).
    After the panda centre we drove the three hours south to Leshan (unfortunately for our driver we slept most of the way). We had a quick lunch in a local restaurant to refuel. There were two options for seeing the bhudda, hiking to it or taking a boat trip. As we had the little one with us we decided to take the boat (plus it was really hot so I don't think any of us really fancied hiking to it anyway). The boat trip took about 30 minutes and took us right along side the Bhudda. The Bhudda is around 1300 years old and took 90 years and three generations to carve straight into the rock face. It is probably one of the most impressive things I have seen so far on the trip (thank you Lonely Planet). And the boat was definitely the right choice as we were far enough back that we could take in the full structure. If you were hiking, although you could climb right up to next to the Bhudda's head, there is no way you could stand far enough back to be able to photograph the whole thing. Plus from the boat we could aslo see two aditional carvings on the rock face which were only visible from the river. Plus the stairs which the hikers would climb at one point have been completely carved out of the rock, which in itself is pretty cool to see. On the way back from the Bhudda on the boat we paused on the other side of the river to take on the view of the mountain area itself which is actually said to look like a sleeping Bhudda (and it really does!). I'm actually really pleased that I was with the family as if i was on my own i probably would've done the hike and would've missed the benefits of the boat. After the boat trip it was time to head back to Chengdu. The family asked to be dropped in the city centre and I headed back to the hostel for dinner and an early night.

    So there you have my whistle stop tour of Chengdu. Although it was probably the shortest stay I have had in one place so far, it has definitely been my favourite.

    Next stop Guilin to see the rice terraces.

    Zài jiàn!
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  • Day49

    Nǐ hǎo Xi-an

    May 19, 2018 in China ⋅ ☁️ 66 °F

    Overnight train to Xi’an

    I would like to say that my first overnight train experience in China was an enjoyable one, but sadly I was yet again cursed with a snorer in the neighbouring bunk. I couldn’t have been more wrong to say that Russian-snorer-train-man was the worst snorer in the world. His Chinese counterpart was so so much worse. It honestly was one of the most unbearable nights sleep I’ve ever had. If I had tears to cry I would have but I think the intense heat in Shanghai had sweat out all my excess water. How I slept at all is a mystery to me. Aside from this evil man, the train itself was actually very nice. Third class or “hard sleeper” on the Chinese trains was actually much nicer than the Russian trains. It is an open compartment too and has six bunks in each section, like on the Russian trains, however on the Chinese train the six bunks are actually three pairs on top of each other. And my first journey had me on the top bunk. Surprisingly enough it was easy to climb up to the bunk and I was right next to the air-conditioning vent which was a godsend. So I would have had a very comfortable sleep had evil-snorer-man not been there. Oh well...

    Day 1

    Needless to say when I arrived in Xi’an I was pretty tired, even though it was 10am and I should have been raring to do some sightseeing. I found my hostel and gave myself an hour of downtime before I went out. From my research I found that aside from the Terracotta warriors, there wasn’t a huge amount to do in the city. As I had three days planned here I decided to have a fairly relaxed first day. My first port of call was a vegan restaurant near a Buddhist temple on the outside of the ancient city wall. I found it fairly easily using the directions from the Happy Cow website and had a very nice lunch of lotus nuts and snap peas salad and some dumplings in a sweet and sour soup. After being refuelled I headed back into the city walls and walked around a local antique market. I think “antique” might mean something different here as it was predominately a food market. Still a nice atmosphere for walking around. By this point my lack of sleep was starting to catch up to me so I decided to admit defeat and head back to the hostel and hang out (have a nap) on the rooftop terrace. I woke up a couple hours later and discovered that one of the guys I had met at my hostel in Beijing hostel was also staying in my hostel here. We caught each other up on our past week and then decided to go to the Muslim quarter to see the old Mosque and the food market. The Mosque was a nice change from all the Buddhist temples I’d seen up to this point, and was very different from any mosque I had seen before, no minaret or domes in sight. We walked around for a few minutes as it was a functioning mosque and then headed to the food market. The market was exactly what you expect of a Chinese outdoor food market. Here you could try such local delicacies as pigs feet, whole fried crabs (shell included), squid, nitrogen frozen coloured rice balls, cold chili noodles. Suffice to say 90% of the food here was definitely not vegan. Still a pretty cool place to walk around and people watch. It was definitely a feast for the senses. After the market as it was still fairly early we headed to a nearby park where by chance we stumbled across a roller disco! As if we could say no to this sign from above! Well this was probably one of the funniest experiences I have had in China. We were definitely the only tourists in sight. Let me tell you rollerblading after the age of ten is not easy! But there were definitely some pros in that venue. Now when you go ice skating in the UK (as I don’t think we have many of these roller disco venues) everyone skates in the same direction. Not here. Most people skate clockwise around the room. But the really good rollerskaters like to skate in the opposite direction, extremely fast and backwards! Pretty intimidating! Most of my time was spent squealing every time they flew past with my hands over my face. Still me and my Irish chum had a good laugh skating around and taking brakes to watch the locals. After our trip to the 80s we headed back to the hostel and chatted with some of the other travellers.

    Day 2

    I got up early today so that I could get the local bus to see the Terracotta Warriors. An Australian guy (Gene) who I had met the night before decided to join me and together we figured out which bus to get on and made the hour journey to the museum site. I had read that the warriors, which were only discovered in 1974 by accident when some local farmers were trying to dig a well, were displayed in three pits which have been covered by temperature regulated buildings. Pit 1 is the largest and has all the lower ranked soldiers, then pit 2 and then pit 3 is the smallest and has the officers of the army. I had read that it was best to see them in reverse order so that we finish with the biggest and the one with the most wow factor. Pit 3 was fairly small and only had a few soldiers in it, most of which were missing heads, something which happened during the excavation. Pit 2 was pretty big but was mainly excavated tunnels with only a few warriors in it. When we got to Pit 1, which is actually in a giant aircraft carrier, we entered from the main entrance so we could have our first view be the one that you see in pictures. The place was pretty packed with tourists, but we managed to push our way to the front barrier and were greeted by over 6000 warriors lined in 10 trenches. It is a pretty impressive sight to behold. Especially when it is said that not two soldiers is alike. All this to guard a kings tomb. We walked around the edge of the hanger taking pictures at different angles, weaving through the numerous tour groups. After an hour and a half at the site we decided we had seen enough and made our way back to the bus stop, through the weird theme-park-esque street which had been built to accommodate all the prospective tourists (Macdonalds, KFC, Subway and Haagen Dazs were all represented). Back in the city we parted ways and I headed back to the vegan restaurant for lunch, hoping to sample two new dishes. Unfortunately due to the language barrier I was brought the same two dishes I had yesterday. Slightly disappointed but fuelled nonetheless I headed back to the hostel for yet another afternoon nap (the heat is definitely starting to take its toll on me). When I woke up me and the Aussie decided to head to the food market again where I watched him eat three whole fried crabs, shell and all, and a weird green tea ice cream. I was still pretty full from my lunch so just had a sugar cane juice (very sweet, wouldn’t have again) and some nondescript dried fruit. After the market we headed back to the hostel and made plans to cycle the city wall the next day.

    Day 3

    Gene and I decided to start early as he was getting a train in the afternoon. We got to the wall at around 10am and hired our bikes from the first vendor. They gave us a three hour time slot but I had read that it takes around half the time to cycle the whole route. The wall is around 14km long and is surrounded by a moat and is one of the oldest and best preserved city walls in China. It was quite a nice way to ride a bike in the city as there was no risk of being hit by a car or moped. Although there were a few pedestrians to avoid. We did the whole route in just under an hour and a half, with a stop in each corner (on my request as even though it was flat the old bricks didn’t make it the smoothest ride). Unfortunately it wasn’t the nicest day, quite grey, so the views weren’t amazing, but it was definitely a nice way to spend a morning. After our bike ride we were pretty hungry so once again headed to the Muslim food market, where I actually braved trying a few dishes (which I was 95% sure were vegan). I had the cold chili noodles (very nice), tofu in hot sauce (bit too hot for me), a crispy fried banana (yum) and some fresh coconut milk (my favourite). Gene tried some nondescript meat on a stick and a weird waterbubble thing with flower petals in it which tuned out just to be jelly. After satisfying our bellies we headed back to the hostel where we both prepared to leave. And that’s where I am now writing this. My train to Chengdu leaves at 22:10. Fingers crossed I don’t get another snorer!

    Next stop Chengdu to see some Pandas!

    Zài jiàn!
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  • Day45

    Nǐ hǎo Shanghai

    May 15, 2018 in China ⋅ 🌙 77 °F

    Day 1
    The bullet train from Qufu to Shanghai was very quick and uncomplicated as before. I arrived in Shanghai just before 4pm and got the metro to the city centre and arriving at my hostel around 5pm. The temperature was significantly higher than in Qufu (I found out later that there was a mini heatwave) so I was a but of a hot sweaty mess when I arrived so just collapsed on y bed as soon as I saw it. After about an hour of rest I pulled myself together an headed to the Bund, the riverside in Shanghai which is its most touristic site. By this point it was dark so when I got there all the buildings were lit up. Now I definitely have enjoyed more of the nature side of things on this trip, but seeing all the skyscrapers lit up on the other side of the river was a pretty special sight. I stayed on the Bund for about half an hour just taking in the view and people watching, but after a while my journey seemed to catch up with me so I decided to head back to the hostel for an early night. When I got back my room was empty so I had a very rare undisturbed sleep.

    Day 2
    I decided to start my day in the city by visiting the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre which gives a detailed history of the cities development and the plans for the future. It also has a huge scale model of the city on the third floor, complete with city lights. Quite a unique way to see a birds eye view of the city. After the exhibition I walked to the Bund again as I wanted to see it in the daylight. Plus it was getting really hot (like unbearably hot) so I thought it would be cooler by the water. As I was standing by the water taking in the view again a German girl asked me to take a picture of her and we started talking. She was in the city visiting her brother for a few weeks but she was on her own as he was working most of the time. We decided to explore the city together, safety in numbers. We headed to a nearby sculpture park where we sat in the shade for almost an hour sharing travel stories. We were rudely interrupted by an angry security guard who was yelling at us in Chinese pointing to our bare feet on the grass. We quickly put our shoes on and ran away. Don’t put your feet on the grass in Shanghai. Lesson learnt. After our brush with the law we decided to go for some lunch in a nearby vegan restaurant (thank you HappyCow!). After our break from the heat we headed back into the furnace and made our way to the French Concession, a former French area of the city. This area was very picturesque with many tree lined streets and shopping areas. It was hard to believe that we were still in the worlds most populated city. We did a short self guided walking tour aided by Aniko’s Lonely planet (unfortunately it wasn’t the most informative guide, but still a pretty walk) and finished near one of the subway stations where we parted ways, agreeing to meet up the next day to visit the Yuyuan gardens. When I arrived back at my hostel I found I finally had room mates. One of which was a very nice Chinese-canadian girl, Cheryl, who I got chatting too and invited to join me qand Aniko the next day.

    Day 3
    Cheryl and I met Aniko at a nearby subway station early in the morning and headed to the Yuyuan gardens. The gardens is a small walled garden area of the city surrounded by a tourist market. The garden actually more like a series of courtyards with small ancient hall buildings and numerous ponds. Even though it was pretty busy inside it was a really peaceful area to walk around. We sought shade at one point and watched some turtles and fish in one of the ponds. After walking around the gardens we visited the City God Temple a small unimposing temple adjacent to the gardens. We then headed for lunch in a nearby vegetarian restraurnt where we rodered, with the help of Cheryl, four local dishes, one of which was a coconut soup in a dumpling (traditionally made with crab meat) which you drink through a straw and then eat the dumpling. Very unique but very tastey. After lunch I parted ways with my new friends as I had to head back to the hostel to get myself sorted for my first overnight train in China and they wanted to continue exploring the city.

    So there you have my whistle stop tour of Shanghai. Next stop is Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors (and hopefully less of a heatwave!).

    Zài jiàn!
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  • Day43

    Nǐ hǎo Qufu

    May 13, 2018 in China ⋅ ☀️ 88 °F

    Bullet Train to Qufu

    Well firstly train stations in China are more like airports, with ID checks and security scanners, not to mention the numerous gates for each train. After the initialy overwhelming sight i managed to find the correct gate and boarded my train. The trains are much wider than trains in the UK with five seats per row and a wide aisle, making it quite a comfortable journey. And being a bullet train, it travelled pretty fast indeed, 300km/hr to be precise (usually trains travel around 150km/hr), making the journey to Qufu in just over two hours (my fastest train journey to date). The only downside to taking high speed trains is that the station is usually quite far out of the city (for obvious reasons) and so i had to take a bus into the centre, but at 1yuan (10p) a journey you can hardley complain. I arrived at my hostel at around 5pm and found that my room had an ensuite so used the opportunity to do some much needed laundry. Thats as exciting as my first day in Qufu got.

    Day 1

    The hostel was conveniently located right next to the temple complex. The entrance ticket granted access to the Confucius temple, the Kong Mansion and the Confucius family cemetary. I started with the Kong Mansion, which was home to the first son of confucius and his decendents. It was very similar to the Forbidden city, except on a much smaller scale and the buildings were grey instead of red. I walked around the complex for an hour, trying to avoid the numerous tours and school kids trying to take pictures (seriously it's really annoying) and then headed to the Confucius temple. It is the largest and most renowned temple of Confucius, a chinese teacher and philosopher who lived wround 500BC. The temple itself was a really nice area to walk around, and was relatively quiet by Chinese standards. After the temple I walked to the north of the city to the Confucius family cemetary, where all the decendents of confucius are laid to rest. For this reason it is the largest family cemetary in the world. As it is so large and everything is really spread out it felt more like a small woodland area. Most visitors chose to take the electric cars (thing large golf buggies) on a tour of the area, however i chose this opportunity to escape the crowds and walk the route instead. In the whole two hours i spent walking around the area i probably saw ten people walking. This made the time there much more peaceful and was able to really enjoy the serenity of the place. After my peaceful break from the reality of China, i headed back into the city and to my hostel for dinner.

    So there you have my one day tour of the Confucius complex in Qufu. Next stop Shanghai, the world's most populated city (24 million people!).

    Zài jiàn!
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  • Day41

    Nǐ hǎo Beijing

    May 11, 2018 in China ⋅ 🌙 64 °F

    Train to Beijing

    The train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing was the same train as the one from Ulan-Ude. The only difference was this time I shared my cabin with three other travellers, a german couple and a Singaporean girl, all around my age. It was nice to be able to share thr journey with them and exchange travel stories, especially during the five hour stop at the border (yes i said five hours!). The border crossing takes this long as the train guages in Russia and Mongolia are actually smaller than normal so thsi means that in order for the train to continue the route to china each individual carriage has to be taken into a warehouse, lifted up and had its wheels changed, and with a 16 carriage train this process takes a long time! All passangers have to exit the train and go through customs (which was very straightforward) and then wait in an airport-style lounge for he remaining four hours. This wait was especially annoying as it was between 9pm and 2am. When we finally got back on thr train we all went straight to sleep, waking up just before we reached Beijing. We then parted ways to find our individual hostels. I arrived at my hostel around 5pm so just had a shower and found somewhere to have dinner and called it a night.

    Day 1

    My first stop in Beijing was the Summer Palace Gardens in the outskirts of the city. This is where the Chinese royal family would spend their summers during the Qing Dynasty. As it was quite far away from the city centre I decided to take the metro. This is by far the best way to travel around Beijing, and thanks to the 2008 Olympics it is probably one of the easiest Metro systems i have ever used. I arrived at the Summer Palace at around 10am and spent the next three hours walking around the giant man made lake in the centre of the park. The side nearest the main entrance was packed with tourists (mostly Chinese), all taking pictures near the lake. As you walk further away from the entrance the crowds thin and the rest of the area is really peaceful. The walk on the far side of the lake was especially nice as it involved crossing seven bridges, some stone and some with small pavillion-type buildings on them. After crossing the bridges I walked through the "long corridor" which is a 728m long covered walkway. This was probably my favourite part of the park as each beam in the roof was painted with scenes depicting local legends, landscapes, buildings and animals. After the Summer Palace I headed to the south of the city to the Temple of Heaven, an imperial complex of Taoist religious buildings surrounded by a large park. The temple buildings were very impressive as the two main ones were circular, a contrast to the temples I have seen up to now. As with the Summer palace the main areas of interest were crowded with people, so I didn't spend too long around the temples themselves. Walking in the surrounding park was actually a much more memorable and peaceful experience as there were very few people around, and the ones I did see where doing tai chi or meditation. After the walking around the park for a few hours I headed back to the hostel for a much needed rest (30,000 steps people!).

    Day 2

    Last night I got into contact with a girl I had met on the train to Ulaanbaatar (Kate from Greece) who I knew was in Beijing at the same time. We decided to meet at the metro station in Tainanmen square and spend the day together. Due to there being four exits at the metro station we almost didn't find each other, but luckily I have eagle eyes and spotted her from a distance and flagged her down. Safely together we braved the crowds of the square. The square is the main tourist hub of the city as it includes the Mao Mausoleum and The Forbidden City, and so you have to go through passport checks before you can even entre the square. We decided to join the giant queue for the Mao mausoleum to see China's counterpart to Russia's Lenin (yes another embalmbed world leader). This was a very different experience to seeing Lenin as the queue was enormous! It went very quickly though as your are herded like sheep and only have a few minutes inside. An interesting experience to say the least. After the mausoleum we both decided we'd had enough of the crowds in the square and decided to escape to the north of the city to visit the 798 Art District (or what I call Beijing Hipster District). This area is full of art galleries, murals, sculptures, artisan gift shops, and numerous coffee shops (naturally). This area quickly became my favourite (probably of the trip so far) as it had a really cool atmosphere and just getting lost down all the side streets was great. We even found a vegan restaurant (if not in hipster central then where??) and i introduced my non vegan companion to mock meats (they taste the same guys!). After we ate we decided to call it a day as Kate had to work (online english tutor) and we were both pretty tired. We decided to meet again tomorrow night to explore some more.

    Day 3

    Today was the day I had been waiting for - visiting the Great Wall! I decided to avoid the tour offered by the hostel and make the journey myself so I could enjoy the wall at my own pace. The journey was very straightforward, a short metro journey to the bust station and then a local bus (where i was definitely the only foreigner) directly to the Badaling section of the wall. I left the hostel pretty early, around 6am an got to the wall at 8. The bus drops you near the ticket office and then its a case of following the signs for "Climbing the Wall". There is a cable car which can take you to Tower 8, the highest point on this section of the wall. Most people either get the cable car up or down, but I decided to walk the whole way. When you get on the wall you can either walk north or south. North is the most touristy and is where the cable cars go, and south is slightly quieter but you have to walk back along the wall to get down. I decided to go with the masses and head north. And boy were there masses. As the Badaling section is the most easily acessible from Beijing it is also the most popular to visit. I had read though that once you pass the eighth tower the crowds thin substantially. It took me about 40 minutes to hike to Tower 8, and during that hike (which is pretty damn hard, lots of stairs, and blazing sun) I was the only foreigner among a see of Chinese tourists. There must have been over a thousand people there (at least) and i was definitley a bit of a tourist attraction for them as well as the wall, with a few locals asking for a picture (it got annoying very quickly as i was pretty much drenched in sweat). I just kept thinking to myself "get to the eighth tower!". And as I had read the crowds all but dissapeared after tower 8, as the vast majority decide to take the cable car back down. I spent the next two hours hiking to tower 12. This section was so much more enjoyable as there were only a handful of people, and I was even able to get a picture with just myslef on the wall! I have to say though that it was much easier hiking up the wall than coming down as its pretty steep and the stones have been walked on so much they are pretty slipepry (thankfully this section had handrails - historic of course). Tower 12 was almost next to the car park, so after taking a last few pictures of the nearly empty wall, I headed down to catch the bus back to the city. Although I picked the busiest section of the wall I am actually glad that I got to experience both sides, the mass crowds, and the peacufulness. Not many westerners opt for this (i saw five other non-chinese tourists in the whole three hours).
    After the wall i headed back to the city and got back around 1pm. As it was still pretty early i decided to visit the Forbidden City. This is the former imperial palace for the Ming and Qing dynasty (from 1420 to 1912) and is now home to the Palace Museum. Maybe it was because I had spent the morning on the Great Wall, but i found the museum to be slightly underwhelming. It is a huge complex of over 900 buildings, but after you have seen the first few they all start to merge into one as they are all built in the same style. It is definitely the most visited tourist site in Beijing itself, but I felt like its one of those places that you have to see because its the main tourust attraction, but wouldn't necessarily rush back to. Also it is absolutely packed with tourists! (definitely a recurring theme in China). After walking round the complex for a couple of hours i headed back to my hostel for a quick power nap before heading out again to meet Kate. We decided to visit the Olympic village that night as all the buildings are lit up and it is supposed to be a nice area to walk around. We met at the metro station (making sure to state which exit this time) and spent the hour or so walking up and down the promenade between the "Birds Nest Stadium" and the Olympic tower. The buildings themsellves were definitely impressive, illuminated in different colours, but the best sight was seeing all the different impromtu dance classes lining the promenade. It seems to be that if you can find an empty space in China you can organise your own dance class. This is mainly older ladies doing what I imagine to be a Chinese version of Zumba. However we did pass one very small group dancing to Blue's "One Love", talk about a blast from the past! After taking in all that the promenade had to offer we headed back to the metro and said our goodbyes as we had seperate plans for our last day in the city, though im sure we woudl run into each other again.

    Day 4

    I began my last day in the city by heading to the Yonghe Temple, also known as the Lama Temple. Each visitor is given a bunch of incense sticks and are encouraged to light them in the designated pits as an offering. I walked around the temple for about an hour, burning my incense and taking in the surroundings. The temple itself was very pretty, but possibly because of the crowds and the fact that i have now seen numerous Bhuddist temples i am afraid to say they are starting to lose their initial appeal. After the temple I walked around the neighbouring Hutongs (narrow streets), stopping at a canal to have lunch and watch a local woman practice balroom dancing (i think the Strictly professionals jobs are safe). I then headed to Behai park, another imperial park in the centre of the city. This one was much smaller than the Summer Palace so i only spent an hour walking around the lake. By this point I was pretty tired so headed back to the hostel for a shower and rest. I saw that they were having a dumplin making class that evening, so after i showered i headed down and got involved. Only a handful of guests turned up so we ended up making more dumplings than we could eat, but had fun doing it (i was definitely the best :P). After we had the dumplings (not bad if i do say so myself) the bar staff put on the karaoke machine and more guests turned up. Cue some very drunk American guys butchering The Beatles and Oasis to name a few. I did a rendition of Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" with the help of one drunk American as my backing singer. It was definitely a fun way to end my stay in Beijing.

    So there you have my first stop in China. Next stop Qufu for the oldest Confucius Temple in the world.

    Zài jiàn!
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