We arrived in Beijing! The capital of China and home to one of the Wonders of the World – The Great Wall. The city is the third largest in the world and has so much history dating back over three millennia!
We got the train here and had ‘hard sleeper’ tickets which were actually perfect! This is basically a small cabin with two bunk beds in – both with three story bunks each. We lucked out and got the middle bunks which are the best. We took a valium each and slept like logs haha! It was so comfortable compared with the last bus we got on, and it made us wish we had travelled by train the whole way! Oh well this was the last long journey we would be taking in China.
All we had was our hostel leaflet which told us to get a certain bus number from the train station. Turns out this bus didn’t exist so we spent half an hour walking up and down the bus stops trying to ask anyone in a uniform to help us! One lady shoved us on bus 3 so we just went with it and hoped for the best.
Our first impressions of Beijing were that it was definitely not what we expected! We thought it would be all high rise buildings, modern and quite a bit like Hong Kong or London. But its not really like that – apparently Shanghai is more like that, but Beijing is kind of more traditional and old fashioned. There is still a lot of construction going on but it isn’t quite there yet. However we have only seen a tiny portion so can’t speak for the whole city. It is so different from all the other cities in China too. The pollution levels were quite bad when we arrived and you could really feel it in the air. The sky was very overcast but it was still 27 degrees and quite humid, so it was quite weird! After trying to find the right bus for about half an hour, we finally jumped on one we ‘thought’ was right, and luckily it took us to the right place thank god and we checked into our hostel, ’Sanlitun Hostel’.
It was the same chain as the one in Chengdu and Xi’an so we knew it would be nice, which it was! The alcohol wasn’t too expensive and as soon as we put our bags in the room, we decided we needed a 3 litre tower of beer to settle us into Beijing. I don’t even drink beer but in China there isn’t much alternative because wine is outrageously expensive and all the cocktails taste like watered down cordial so I just braved it and joined Matt with the beer!
We met loads of people in the hostel from all over the world and some were telling us all about Vietnam and making us really excited as we arrive there at the end of the week! I was chatting to a guy for a while that was from Israel but I had had quite a few drinks and was finding it hard to take in everything he was saying so when I introduced him to the rest of our table, I got his name wrong and said he was from Iraq…Very very awkward and reminded me I have a big mouth which I like to stick a foot in…and some people don’t really like that haha!! Oh well I think he is over it now which is good.
A banging hangover unwelcomely greeted us the next morning…just what you need when you are going on a hardcore hike along the worlds most famous wall. Anyway we had to man it, get up and find this bus! It was the same case as with the Terracotta Army where the hostel put on tours there but it works out double the price than if you go at it alone, so thats exactly what we did. There are loads of places to visit the Great Wall, as it is soo big, each one caters to what the tourist wants to get out of their trip. For example, we heard Mutianyu is the quietest area, with the least restoration and no tours really go there, making it best for a long hike and perfect photos…but it is also really far from Beijing and you have to get a number of different busses there. We settled on visiting Badaling, which is the closest and easiest to get to from Beijing. With that though, comes swarms of tourists and tour groups, however we were really lucky for some reason and there wasn’t too many people there.
You just need to catch one bus 877 and it takes you straight there. It’s really funny though because loads of the locals have printed off fake bus number signs and try and take you in their little mini buses…a bit like the terracotta army again, but fair play for using their initiatives and a lot of people definitely fall for it!
The Great Wall is 21,196 km long!! That is a very long wall. It began as independent walls in three states; Yan, Zhao and Qin and didn’t become joined until Emperor Qin Shihuang ordered it to fend off Mongolian invasions. It is crazy to think they were able to construct this so long ago (About 476 BC – 221 BC then again 1368- 1644) and there are still some sections that haven’t even needed to be restored! It is really only about 30% of the wall that remains in good condition, however this is mainly due to tourism and the forces of nature over time taking their toll.
The scenery surrounding it is absolutely beautiful, as it runs through mountains, grasslands and deserts. We had no idea it would be so steep in some areas, and was probably about a 50 degree angle or maybe even steeper in some parts! Other parts felt as though we were rock-climbing haha. I thought I would have to be the English girl that was sick on and over the Great Wall…hangovers and hiking will never mix. I had to get my act together when a 70 year old Chinese woman over took me and smiled sympathetically at my panting!! Matt and I had stopped on some steps for a quick break, when a chinese lady hurled her child at us for a photo shoot haha. The child was soooo cute and was already doing the classic ‘peace and pout’ so Matt and I got involved in the spirit and pouted and peaced, much to the mothers delight as she started clapping!
It was crazy to be here after seeing so many images of this exact place since we were at school! The weather was perfect too…the sky was so clear we could see for miles, just rolling hills and mountainous regions, and the only sign of civilisation being this 2,000 year old wall extending as far as we could see.
Definitely a Great (ha) one to tick off the bucket list for us both!
From there we headed back into Beijing to visit the Forbidden City. Unfortunately we were forbidden from the forbidden city as it was actually closing and we were too late.
We did have a look around the gardens alongside it but we were both too hungry so we went to go get some food and ended up with some dumplings. They were weird things. Really rubbery and filled with some kind of squashed together meat. I didn’t particularly want to inspect the meat too closely so once we had a couple and drowned them in vinegar and chilli, they were quite nice. Plus I really did want to try some Chinese dumplings and kept telling Matt..however when they did come I realised it wasn’t dumplings I wanted it was actually wantongs (I think thats right?) or potentially even dim sum?? I don’t know I get confused!! At least I’m trying to be authentic I guess.
At the hostel that night we had free hotpot! This is one of China’s most famous dishes and is very different to a Northern Hotpot in England! Its basically a huge broth with chilli and spices in (and probably parts of an animal that I don’t want to think about), and you add loads of different ingredients like veg, tofu, these weird puffy battered round balls, pork and fish balls. It was quite nice actually…Matt didn’t like it because there wasn’t enough meat in it, plus he ate a whole chilli by accident and began getting the sweats, runny nose and teary eyes…but he ploughed through like a trooper. Probably because I had made him have weird street food all day with me and he was too hungry to go without haha.
On our final day in Beijing we went to Nanluogu Xiang. This is a really cool street known for its amazing food, cheap alcohol and authentic architecture. It felt properly authentic and all the little shops were quite alternative with handmade jewellery, bags and souvenirs. We got some iced lime tea thing (we didn’t actually know what it was because we just pointed at a picture), and strolled along wishing we had come the night before to all the bars with happy hour notices outside!
We can’t believe our time in China is now over! We have bloody loved it…so many ups and a couple of downs (like for example the traumatic journey to Chengdu!) but just such a brilliant place to backpack around and we decided we would both go back there, potentially to teach English at some point in the future!
Now it’s time for Vietnam babbyyyyyyy!!