China. It's big. It's mysterious. It's very old-fashioned, but modern. It's both urban and rural. It's full of rapidly developing cities. It's... something you have to explore!
I will start telling our adventures in China and this will be the first part. Trust me, I have a lot stories to tell! ;)
My first trip to China was in summer 2012. We spent 2,5 weeks exploring China and saw only a tiny piece of that huge country. Early, my thoughts about China were a little bit skeptic. I dreamed about walking in the Great wall and wanted the see the busy hours in Shanghai. But more curious I was about the "real china" that struggles between rapid development and poverty. So I wanted to see not only the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors and the Bund but also the local markets, the life of local people and get to know a little bit about life in China.
Well, I got hooked! I have no words how much I enjoyed our trip. Of course it wasn't the easiest backpacking trip, because of long hours in train, language barrier, hot weather and culture shocks. When it was tough, it was also the best part of traveling in China. Every move and thing you see teaches more about the culture. One thing you need is a very good guidebook, for example Lonelyplanet China is helpful. Our Lonelyplanet was a bit old and you can notice that when comparing book and the current metro map in the metro station.
We decided to travel in China on our summer vacation in July when it is very hot and rainy season there. When adding the polution in big cities the air was very stifling. We were spending our holiday at same time with chinese people so every tourist spot was crowded and the trains were full (there's unforgettable story about that coming up later). It didn't bother us much. In China you have get used to crowds.
We didn't have accurate traveling plan for China before we went there. We decided the next place in Beijing and ended up to Xian. Altogether we visited Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and Suzhou. And it was a great plan for 2,5 weeks.
We had return flights to Beijing via Moscow. Because we took the cheapest possible flights to Beijing we had 15 hour layover in
Sheremetyevo International aiport. That was the first challenging thing on our trip. How to survive 15 hours in the airport without dying to boredom. After all, it was very easy part. We slept about 7 hours on the floor.
When we finally got to Beijing it was 2 am in the middle of the night. Got a taxi and we had our hotel's location printed in chinese so the taxi driver took us quite quickly to the hotel in Andingmen. Basic 2-star hotel was near the metro station (you have to get a hotel near the metro station!!).
At first, we spent 4 days exploring Beijing, walking around the city, visiting Olympic park, doing the basic sightseeing and once in a while just sat in the park admiring the nature. For me walking around (without) direction is the best way to get know the city.
Thank god, my boyfriend has excellent sense of direction so we didn't get lost.
I enjoyed walking in the streets where the locals live and just wander around. Hutong area was very nice, unfortunately the area is getting smaller and smaller every year.
Traveling in metro is an experience. It's crazy how many people can fit in one metro. Using metro is cheap and handy. It was only 2 yuans per drive. But remember that the metro stops running around 10 - 11pm.
The most "exciting" thing (and where a western girl turned up her nose a bit) was the public toilets in Beijing (also in other cities). Others were clean and there were walls, but some extremely dirty and there wasn't any privacy. Please remember to carry some tissues and disinfectant with you, you need them.
Beijing is full of beautiful parks and for example Ritan Park is excellent place to excape from the hectis city centre. It was pretty park.
Of course we visited the Forbidden city which is impressive. It's a must-do in Beijing. It wasn't that crowded that we expected .
We also went to Summer Palace that is the largest royal park in China. You can easily reach the place by metro. It's beautiful and peaceful place to spend a day. Unfortunately the day was very cloudy (polluted) day and the pictures are a bit grey.
Beijing Olympic park (built for the Summer Olympics 2008) is worth of visiting. Take a metro and see the wonderful area with modern buildings like the famous Bird's Nest and the Water Cube.
The National Aquatics Center
The place I waited the most was The Great Wall. The only manmade place you can see from the Space. We took a local bus from
Deshengmen bus station to Badaling Great Wall (check more information here). Local bus is a cheap option. We didn't have a common language with the tour guide but we did get to Badaling and back so the trip was successful. Go as early as possible to Badaling because already at 9am the place is quite crowded!
Great Wall is breath-taking and after you get over the crowds from the start you can walk almost on your own and just enjoy the views.
Take a good shoes with you! Great wall is not a place for flip flops or ballet flats. We used merrels and were satisfied!
After exploring Beijing and the Great Wall it was time to leave the city and take a train to Xi'an. But it wasn't that easy, because we didn't know it was the peak-season for chinese people having a holiday. In next blog post I will tell you how does it feel to stand 14-15 hours in the train. Yep, we got "standing room" tickes to the train Beijing - Xi'an.
Have you visited Badaling or some other location in the Great Wall?