Travelling, Exploring and Learning about Historical Places.
First off, I was not prepared for the minus 14 degree weather that was awaiting me. Even though I had just spent the last 3 weeks or so in freezing cold temperatures. This cold shot through me like a bunch of needles. I had long pants, jackets and thermals but it still was not enough. I had to cover myself in layers and layers of clothing, stuffing each bit of material into each other so no part of me could the feel the cold. By the time is was done I felt like I was wearing a sumo suit ready to start a wrestling match. The first impression of Beijing is how massive and colorful the city is. With its string of lanterns, street lights and out their decorations all in preparation for the Chinese New Year.
Tips and Tricks
The first thing you need to know before leaving the Airport is have your directions for your accommodation ready for your driver as no one will speak a word of English. (the only people who spoke English the whole time I was in china were the people at the hostel). As soon as I arrived at the Beijing Saga Youth Hostel I felt instant comfort. This was because it was a beautiful 25 degrees inside. However as soon as you walk out the door, it slaps you in the face with a whopping -14 degrees. This was very difficult for me and for the first couple of days I never left the premises. I could only walk as far as the end of the street before turning back around.
After a few days, I decided to get off my bottom and attack the cold head on. I put layer after layer and tucked everything in to each other before I set out to explore. The city itself is beautiful and very easy to get around the train system is so advanced it was like travelling into the future. Even though the signs where in Chinese the direction given from the receptionist back at the hostel was very informative, which gave me the chance to explore the markets, temples and try some local cuisine. My first restaurant experiences were impressive. The chefs had my order cooked and served in matter of 5 mins and that’s no exaggeration. (I ordered, lit a cigarette when I used to smoke and half-way done my food was ready).
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall is exactly that! Great. Hiking up from the bottom was very steep but well worth it the view up there was amazing. I couldn’t help but wonder exactly how these people managed to build such an impressive structure with their nothing but their bare hands. As I walked along it, I glance along the horizon, as far as the eye could see the was no end in sight for this amazing structure. I think I must have walked about 2 klms taking in the amazing view of the landscapes. On the way,down there was a sled track that you could ride on the way down and at the bottom. there you are greeted by men dressed up in old warrior costumes asking for money for pictures with them.
That evening I was off to try some local cuisine as I was told there was a tourist market where they sell exotic foods. When I mean exotic, I’m talking deep fried scorpion, snake, beetles and all sorts of bugs big and small. They even had sea horses, star fish, dog, cat and the list goes on. I know a bit full on, I told the guys behind the counter that seahorse is an endangered species. The man continued to tell me it was a sea dragon and it was different. Come on!! Sea dragon, I wasn’t born yesterday.
As I walked alongside the market I decided to test my taste buds with a serving of scorpion. Could have been a little bit risky I thought but none the less down the hatch.Tasted like crunchy potatoes smoldered in spices, it tasted good I must admit. Snake on the other hand tasted like off calamari. It was very chewy and hard to swallow but that’s all I could stomach after looking at trays and trays of all creepy crawlies.
After a few days, I decided I needed to get out of the cold so decide to travel all way south to the city of Kunming. Realizing there are only 3 recommended hostels I didn’t really had much choice. So, I stayed at the Kunming Cloudland International Youth Hostel, it was a great place to socialize and meet a lot of new people. Funnily I spotted a few familiar faces from Beijing as it seems this is a popular tourist spot.
The city itself is beautiful very green and clean, it is famous for its temple on the top of the mountain called Xi-Shan. The hike up the mountain was steep but well worth it as the views of the city were amazing. The temples were like something out of a movie and seemed so surreal. The traditions and culture that this place this carries out even today is so fascinating and well preserved. People come up to the temple regularly for prays and services and to present their gods with gifts of respect. It is definitely worth visiting.
The next day I asked the lady at reception where I could go to buy a train ticket as I was limited on time. She was kind enough to draw me a map which was good as the place seemed like it was close. As I left the hostel I began to follow the directions she had given me. To my surprise I was having a little bit of trouble, so after a while I decided I would have a go at asking for help.
To say that these people are friendly is an understatement: They went above and beyond trying to help me. Here I was making ¨toot toot¨ noises in the shop trying to get them to understand me. I even had someone say ¨I call my friend, she learn English¨. The girl on the phone was very polite and all she could tell me was ¨I’m sorry but I do not understand you¨. When I look back now it was a pretty hilarious situation I bet the people helping me would be laughing about it too. Needless to say, the place I was looking for was literally right around the corner.
It is only about 7 hours by train to get to Dali, which Is such a hip little boutique town. The people are dressed in traditional dresses and outfits trying to sell things to the tourists. Again, I was running into familiar faces, coming to the realization I may not see these people again. We all decide to go on a boat tour out on the lake visiting all the popular monuments and tourist markets. That night we went out to local bar and decide to try some of the recommended beverages. These were a combination of shots with exotic flavors from chocolate, chili, cinnamon, garlic, peppers, berry, etc. We also started playing some traditional Chinese drinking games. Probably not the best idea but I’m sure you can figure out what happened there.
My last few days in china was spent in Hong Kong which is in fact its own country. They have their own currency, flag and they even drive on the opposite side of the road. This was very strange to me especially when you’re travelling by bus to get there. I arrived at the immigration building on the right side of the road. Was told to gather all my belongings and check in through immigration. Once all the fun was over I then received a stamp and left the building through the other end. Before I knew it I was off on the left side of the road on the way to Hong Kong.
To my surprise, English was the most spoken language (I didn’t realize that Hong Kong was colonized by the English) there were also a lot of Indian immigrants, hustling on the streets. I found Hong Kong to be very touristic and a destination for a specific type of traveler. (not for the budget travelers) It is home to the island of Macau which known as the Vegas of China, a lot of people from all over the world transit through Hong Kong and therefore have easy access to Macau.