A Travellerspoint blog

Day 129 - Beijing to Datong, what a Contrast!

Hi again!

So today was the day that my adventures in Beijing drew to a close and a new chapter in my travel story began to unfold. I began the day with a full English breakfast (well, the Chinese version anyway but it was very nice anyway!) and after picking up my roughly washed laundry (I couldn't have put more creases in my clothes if I purposefully tried to but it didn't bother me, I just wondered what they'd actually done to them to get them looking like they did) I said goodbye to Jeff and the English guys then made my way across town to the bus station.

I made it there with minutes to spare before my bus left and after boarding and finding my seat, I got chatting to the woman sat next to me who was here on holiday from Kuala Lumpur. She spoke perfect English and we chatted for a while but I was pretty tired still so I slept for a while and awoke in the middle of the desert with mountains all around me. We passed town after town of mud brick houses, fields of crops and huge wind farms and after a couple more hours we finally arrived in Datong.

Now to say that it looked a bit rough and ready was an understatement. In recent years the government has demolished all of the old town and has replaced what was there with now crumbling, soviet style high rises which don't look very inviting. In true Chinese style though they have now decided that they were wrong to get rid of the old town and are now rebuilding the whole thing from scratch. (where the logic is in that I have no idea but hey) We pulled in at what was called a bus station but which was actually a patch of dirt on the outskirts of town and I jumped into the nearest waiting taxi and asked to be taken to a hotel that I had seen recommended on another travel blog.

On arriving at the hotel it looked very rundown and after being shown a couple of rooms I decided to try somewhere else so I chose a hotel which was rated as the number one choice in my LP guidebook (Tong Tie Hotel). When we got there it looked a bit better from the outside and the first room that I was shown looked ok after a brief inspection so I paid for two nights and went up to relax for a while. On closer inspection however, everything was broken and dirty, there was a huge pile of coal outside my window which I could smell quite strongly after the door had been closed for a while and there were random stains everywhere.

I went downstairs and asked nicely if I could please look at another room but the staff didn't want to know. After they had dealt with about twenty other people who came in after I had started speaking with them, they showed me another room and my god, I wouldn't have stayed in it if they had paid me to. Picture a damp smelling, dark room with one blue/white flickering bulb hanging from the ceiling and in which pretty much everything looked dangerously broken and you should have an idea of what it was like. (you can't imagine the smell though, it was horrible)

I think they keep that room to show anyone has second thoughts about their original room being bad and after a millisecond of thinking about it, I decided to keep my original room. I did ask the lady who showed me the room if there were any more rooms free as I could see from their computer screen behind the desk that they had lots free, but she told me (in perfect English) that there weren't any and when I mentioned having noticed the free rooms on their PC, she said "No understand English, sorry"...of course not.

I gave up on the idea of getting a better room and spent the evening in bed planning the next two days so that I wouldn't have to spend any more time in my room apart from when I was asleep. I was fully clothed in bed as the AC was broken and would only blow cold which isn't very good when it's below freezing at night but after a long day of being on the go I managed to fall asleep quite quickly once I had finished my planning, ready for a 6am start and lots of exploring the next day.

Au revoir!

Posted by UKtoCA 00:32 Comments (0)

Day 128 - Markets, Ticket Bookings & More Food

Hey all!

Now I know that I haven't posted in a while. There was a distinct lack of wifi in Datong so I'll just have to catch up with all of my blogging now!

My day today started out with a trip to a local market to try and procure a mosquito net to stop me from getting malaria and a USB stick so that I could post my Canada photos home and free up some space on my camera for more photos of China. The market was absolutely huge and it sold everything from animals (turtles and terrapins, fish galore, puppies and kittens amongst others) to beer, electronics to clothes and homewares to motorbikes. After searching around for a while I managed to find both of the things that I wanted however the mosquito net was huge, way too big to fit in my pack and I couldn't get a good deal on a USB stick. I did however manage to get some blank DVDs for 20p each so I left the market happy and made my way back to the subway station.

After a long subway trip across town and a short taxi trip I arrived at Beijing bus station (one of many) where I got my money's worth of my English to Mandarin translation app when I managed to book a bus ticket for the next day to Datong with no problems at all. I was in and out in about ten minutes but had I not had the app, I think it would've taken a lot longer as there was no English writing anywhere and none of the staff there spoke any English either. (I am in China though so to expect everyone to speak English even in a big city would be a bit silly)

I made my way back across town to my Hostel and Jeff very kindly let me use his PC to transfer all of my photos across onto a DVD. (the only downside of a netbook that I've found is the lack of DVD burning capabilities, as USB sticks are pretty expensive even in China!) I then went back to the room and met a couple of other English guys who were in Beijing for two nights before heading to North Korea for a week's tour, albeit a strict guided tour by the government. We got chatting and as me, Jeff and Roy were heading out for food soon I invited them along to join us.

We went to the same restaurant that we had been to a couple of times previously and I'm glad to report that the food was brilliant once again. We had a whole host of nice things including Peking duck, chicken with vegetables and spices and other things that I can't remember but which were very tasty. Afterwards I said my goodbyes to Roy and her friend then me, Jeff and the two other guys (whose names I've forgotten, I'm terrible at the name game!) went back to the hostel bar where we sunk a couple of jars and chatted for a while before I called it a day (or night) and went to bed.

I've not uploaded any of my photos yet by the way folks as I've about seven hundred to go through and upload then add captions to so I'd check back tomorrow for them!

Bye for now!

Posted by UKtoCA 00:08 Comments (0)

Day 127 - Moving Time, Tiananmen Square & KFC, Chinese Style


So today it was time for me to move on as I had left it a little late to extend my stay and the hostel that I was in didn't have any beds left - oops! I spent the morning in my original hostel blogging and uploading photos (as I'm sure you could tell) then I packed and checked out. I made my way down the street to another hostel which is just as nice as the first one but is £3 a night cheaper, (enough to get me breakfast and dinner each day!)
and I made my way to the bar where I sat with a beer and planned how to get to the next stop on my journey; Datong.

The overnight train was my first choice as it would save me having to pay for a night's stay in a hostel but it turned out that there were only hard seats left on the overnight trains which didn't appeal to me. I eventually decided on getting the bus there as it takes two hours less and it should be more comfortable than sitting on a hard seat (or the floor) of a train carriage, packed with people smoking and spitting.

Once I had sorted out my route to Datong and read a bit about the place in my guidebook, I set out on the subway to Tiananmen Square and upon my arrival I found it to be so smoggy that I could hardly make out the buildings on the other side of the square. I spent a while walking around and twice I was nearly accosted by two girls who would have more than likely invited me to a 'tea tasting ceremony' where I'd try a nice cup of tea and be charged 2000RMB for the privilege. I just ignored them and walked on and after following me for a while shouting "Hello...hello, English?" they got bored and went to pester somebody else.

Now I got to the square just after 4pm which I didn't think was too late, however it obviously was as everything was closed for the day. (The Museum of China, Mao's mausoleum etc) I did get treated to a little drill display by a group of what looked like newly trained soldiers outside of the musuem and they even posed for a couple of photos too which was pretty cool.

Once I had seen everything that there was to see I headed back to my hostel on the very crowded subway then I went out for dinner. As I was eating by myself this evening I didn't want to go to a fancy restaurant so I eventually decided on the Chinese version of KFC. Now in China there's no fried chicken in sight, only Chinese food (which makes sense really) and there's no Colonel Sanders here either, instead there's Mr Lee. I got beef and carrots in gravy with boiled rice and some other vegetable, along with egg and vegetable soup and a coke and the food was actually really nice. (it was only £3 too!) After eating my fill I returned to the hostel and read some of my book in bed then had an early night as it's my last day in Beijing tomorrow!

My time in China is passing pretty quickly and I can't believe that I've been here a week already. I think going to Canada first and getting some travelling under my belt in a Western country helped to prepare me as I felt settled in the first day I arrived here and if the rest of my time here is as enjoyable as the past week has been (which I'm sure it will be) then I may stay on a while longer than I had intended to. Watch this space!


Posted by UKtoCA 19:22 Comments (0)

Day 126 - Bus Challenges & The Great Wall/Shopping Mall


So today I woke up very early as me and Jeff both wanted to see the Great Wall of China and we had found out which subway/bus we needed to get in order to get there. After a quick shower and breakfast we met up and got the subway across town then walked to the bus station and tried to find the 919 bus which would apparently take us to where we wanted to go. After walking around for a while and asking for directions from different people but getting different answers, we finally found the right bus. It had the 919 sticker on the side but had 879 on the front (as it would have, obviously...) and was at the stop for the 879.

We boarded and sat in the small seats which weren't designed for tall people to sit in, as I could tell by the headrest being at the bottom of my neck and the legroom being about two inches too small for my legs. (luckily I had an aisle seat!) We set off in the mighty smog of Beijing and buses seem to have the effect of making me very tired once they start going and the slight rocking motion sets in, so I spent the majority of the journey dozing and we were there in what seemed like no time at all.

When we disembarked the first thing that hit me was the sheer number of people that were there. Now I should've expected crowds really as we were at the most touristy (but most restored) section of the wall which is in Badaling, and everywhere else that I've been to over my time in Beijing has been full of tourists too but I didn't expect as many people to be there as were there. After entering the 'Great Wall Entrance' and walking through what was basically a very long alleyway full of people selling every possible souvenir, from jumpers to photo mugs and daggers to huge jade dragons, (why you'd want to carry a 10Kg jade dragon along the wall I have no idea but hey ho) we got to the actual wall.

Walking along it was difficult at times which was due in part to all of the other people that were there but which wasn't helped by the 2' steps and steep, slippery slopes that we had to navigate. It made it more of a challenge and it was funny watching other people trying to get down without falling off the edge. (the handrails and walls at some points were only about 3' high :|) After we had been walking for quite some time we managed to pass the main touristy bit and the crowds thinned out enough to get some slightly better photos and to be able to feel a cool breeze coming over the wall rather than the heat of thousands of other people surrounding you.

We continued walking for a while but with all the pressure exerted on my legs they started to feel like jelly and upon speaking with Jeff he felt the same so we decided to call it a day and head on back down to the bus stop. We stopped for lunch at a little eating area on the way down after haggling two beers down from a ridiculous ten yuan each to a more reasonable five yuan, and we had just finished eating when Jeff pointed out a woman stood about three feet away from the eating area, encouraging her child to do a poo on the floor. (yuck!)

We made our departure and got on the bus back to Beijing which was totally packed and which took twice as long as the bus there due to the heavy traffic going in to Beijing. One thing that I've noticed is that it's every person for themselves when driving over here. Indicators are hardly ever used, people swerve wildly from lane to lane honking their horn as they go and woe betide anyone who gets in the way of a public bus as they take no prisoners!

Once we got back to Beijing we had a quick subway trip back to the hostel, then I rang my Grandmas and had a good chat with each of them and then read my book for a while. When evening approached Roy went out shopping, leaving me and Jeff to fend for ourselves when ordering dinner. We decided to try a different restaurant which looked ok but when we ordered the food it came and it wasn't very good. There were luke warm pieces of pork fat with what tasted like cold chestnuts, extremely spicy green beans and a strange tasting salad arrangement however the boiled rice was quite tasty and the beer was ok too so it was all good :)

Afterwards we went to Jeff's hostel and had a beer in the bar which was pumping out euro house at an extremely loud volume, then I returned to my hostel and chatted with Roy for a bit before trying (and failing) at Skype-ing my parents again before going to bed.

Posted by UKtoCA 21:09 Comments (0)

Day 125 - The Temple of Heaven, Getting Lost & More Food


After being woken up very early by noise outside the room and being unable to get back to sleep, I decided to have a lazy morning. I spent a few hours reading a book and eating then I walked around and found Wu Mart (the Chinese version of Wall Mart) and went in to try and find a few bits that I need; namely hand sanitizer due to the lack of soap in toilets and DVDs to put photos on so that I can post them home. I failed on both counts but I did manage to get a small notepad in which to write handy Mandarin phrases and also a 6 yuan (60p) travel adapter.

I made my way back to my hostel and dropped off my purchases then I made my way to the Temple of Heaven where I spent the afternoon exploring. There were lovely gardens which contained countless ancient (7-800 year old) trees, a variety of bird life and plenty of butterflies and insects for them to feed on, so I wandered around for a while taking photos then I made my way to the actual temple. It was a very impressive structure (the largest of its kind in China) with a three tiered round roof, lots of dragons everywhere and a paintwork scheme that incorporated a whole host of bright colours. There were other smaller temples around it which looked very similar to others that I have seen but with one main difference; blue roof tiles which are meant to represent heaven.

There was a thick smog in the air today which blocked out pretty much all of the sunlight so it was quite cold but after walking around a lot of the 280 hectare temple grounds and gardens I was nice and warm. I did manage to get lost at one point as the signposts they had made little to no sense and I walked around in circles for ages as it was going dark before making my way out of the park just as the sun was setting.

I returned to the hostel then me, Jeff and Roy went out for food again. Tonight's dishes were very nice indeed and included a whole leg of lamb with herbs and spices which literally fell clean off the bone and other such delights. I ate until I was full, then waited a while and ate a bit more which had the effect of making me extremely tired (all the walking around earlier in the day probably helped too!) so after we had eaten I retired to bed feeling like a stuffed turkey then went to sleep.

Au revoir!

Posted by UKtoCA 20:25 Comments (0)

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