My account on the journey to China and Tibet during the period Sep - Nov 2002. Part 7 talks about East coast China which took place betwen October 16 and November 06.Other parts: Yunnan province (China):   Tibet:     East coast China: .
I've run out of "writing" steam when I've returned from Tibet, so east coast coverage is much less detailed.
Published: Nov 2002
This travelogue was kindly typed from Stas' original notes in the notebook and slightly edited by Ada Ho.
travel, Chinese, Mandarin, hotel, hostel, hike, drive, bus, Beijing, plane, Summer Palace, Kunming Lake, Great China Wall, Peking opera, Forbidden City, Shanghai, Nanjing, Ming City Walls, Confucius Temple, Guilin, Shenzen, Yangshuo, Hong Kong, Macau, Kowloon, Canidrome.
Last Barkhor Kora and off to the bus to the Gangkor airport to go to Beijing. Goodbye Tibet, hello back China.
The plane was late by one hour, but otherwise everything was fine. We had a stopover in Chengdu, but surprisingly we were allowed to wait on the plane while they were getting ready for the flight confirmation. I've left the airport in Beijing after 10pm and at about 11pm the bus dropped me in the centre of Beijing. It took me more than an hour to find a hotel (which I booked at the airport) and I reached my room at 1am. The Far East Youth Hostel is in a really great location and the price of the bed in the 4-bed room was great too. Only 45Y, an incredible bargain for the central Beijing. The hotel is 15 minutes walk from the subway in the city centre. The room even had a sink with hot water and kitchen table, plus an air con. Just fantastic!
This day I've spent at the Summer Palace, which occupies a huge territory in the northwest of Beijing and requires almost a whole day to cover it. 3/4 of the territory is covered by the Kunming Lake. The other 1/4 is a foresty hill with many big temples. Unfortunately there were hordes of tourists there, though it was possible to find a quiet place on the banks of the lake. The place was very nice.
In the evening it was storming and raining. As it was the second half of October it was getting quite cold.
This day I went to see the Great China Wall. Or more exactly what has left of it. In order to avoid tourists, I went to the village HuangHua which was quite easy to do. From Beijing I took a minibus 916 and then changed to the minibus 961 which brought me to the point where the trek to the wall starts. The overall road cost was 12Y each way, and it takes about 2 hours to reach the place. HuangHua is located in the mountains and since it was fall, the slopes were amazingly beautiful - a mix of green, red and yellow colours. There were absolutely no tourists at that place. I've met 8 people during the whole day.
The Wall was interesting, but in a very bad shape. Since it follows the ridges, it has very steep climbs and descents. Now add to that fact that the stairs are ruined - it makes it very hard to walk on the Wall. In some places whole parts of the Wall are simply missing.
It was a nice trip but I thought it would be a more grand experience.
In the evening I was looking to go to the Peking opera, but found a Poly Theatre where a classical music concert was supposed to happen as a part of the Beijing's 5th Music Festival, by a huge ensemble. I think there were about 60 musicians.
There was a buffet sponsored by Volkswagen for invited people, but for some reason I've ended up in the queue for free food. When I was leaving with a full plate I was fished out by some lady (as I was standing out, dressed in my clothes I was conquering Everest in) who has asked me whether I was invited. I told her 'no' and that I didn't know that the food is only for special guests. So she let me go with the plate. The concert was very expensive with tickets ranging from 280-800Y. I've got the cheapest but still had a good place as the concert hall wasn't very big. The first part of the concert there was an African-American woman, who sang in a very deep baritone I think it was a mix of German and English. She was very good. I think they were playing Bruckner and Rachmaninov. The concert was exceptional.
That was a very tiring day as something happened to my stomach and the first half of the day I wasn't leaving the toilet. Luckily on the streets there is a toilet every 20 meters. Most likely because old buildings don't have toilets inside. At noon time I've visited the Temple of Heaven Park, but didn't go into the temples as I was too tired. The park around it was very nice. Originally I've planned to go to the Forbidden City as well but eventually decided to go on some other day. Instead I've had a luxurious foot massage, through which I've mostly slept.
And in the evening I've gone to the Acrobatics Show in the theatre next to the Poly Theatre and the show was really great. It was similar to the circus, but was purely Chinese acrobatics. Too bad it was only 1 hour long.
I spent a lot of time that day wandering on the streets of Beijing. I really like this city. I feel at home even though I don't speak Mandarin. Usually I don't like big cities but here I felt quite comfortable.
This day I have spent in Botanical Gardens at the base of the Fragrant Hills. It was a very beautiful garden covering a huge territory with lakes and many small gardens. At first I was carried by the river of people to the Fragrant Hills Park located on the mountain but then I realised that this is not the place I wanted to go to and went back to find the Botanical Gardens. The gardens were not crowded and it was very easy to find a tranquil place.
It gets dark very early in Beijing, around 17:30 in October (remember that all of China has the same time zone). So I left the park at 5pm, headed back to the centre, where I had the famous expensive Beijing roast duck, which had too much fat, but was good as I had the whole duck, so I still had enough meat. After the dinner I've strolled around the city.
My last day in Beijing. In the morning I did the Forbidden City, which was a massive amount of Chinese ancient buildings looking like temples from the outside. There were quite a few exhibitions inside the Palace Museum (as Chinese officials refer to the Forbidden City). The place was crowded by tourists but it wasn't that bad. It was also very cold and there was a cold wind blowing into the face. I've got tired after strolling through the Palace for several hours and headed off this place to the nearby park which had a hill from which you could see the Forbidden City's roofs but the views weren't very good as they were obstructed by trees.
Next I headed north to the Beihai Park which was falling apart but had a nice lake. My last northern destinations were the Drum and Bell towers but I've bypassed them just looking at them from afar.
Next I took the subway to the Beijing train station in whose vicinity I had a body massage which was OK, but not very professional.
After massage I really wanted to eat a good pizza with a lot of cheese (as I didn't have any cheese, and hardly any dairy for more than a month), but I couldn't find Pizza Hut and have found instead "Pizza Factory" where I had a very mediocre pizza. Later in Shanghai I did have Pizza Hut, and it wasn't any good. Chinese don't have a culture of eating dairy products, so they are very expensive and not of a very good quality.
The day wasn't over yet and I went for the Beijing opera where for 150Y we tourists were shown two short operas, one melodramatic and the other full of acrobatics. Both were nice, but I'm not sure whether that was worth 150Y. Though you can't count your visit to Beijing complete without eating the Beijing roast duck and watching Beijing Opera.
Eventually I've picked up my backpack at the hotel and headed off to the train station where at 1pm I took the train to Nanjing. In the soft sleeper coupe, which was very nice and quiet, but at 6:30am a radio went off full volume and it took me a while to get the conductor show me how to shut it off. Then with help of ear plugs I've slept till 10am. The ear plugs very indispensable on almost all days of the trip when I was sleeping in dormitories, trains and buses.
When I've arrived at Nanjing where I've planned to stay for 2 days, my first impulse was to take the train to Shanghai right away, but then I decided to stay since I've already arrived. So I've bought a train ticket for 2 days later and after checking into the student dormitory for 80Y I went to explore the city. I visited the Drum Tower, the Ming City Walls and had a short stroll through the park. I bought some fruits and headed off to the Fuzi Miao, the Confucius Temple, which was OK and had a stunning collection of beautiful stones. Around the temple there was a huge shopping area.
In the evening I had a nice dinner at the O.C.C. Cafe where jazz was playing in the background and afterwards went to the musical hall in the same building where I thought jazz would be played, but it was just a band of so-so quality, but with a good acoustic guitar leader. I had to buy an expensive drink to stay there.
Time to sleep.
I ran away from Nanjing just after half a day and took the morning express train to Shanghai.
Here my original notes end, since I was tired from writing them and I've realised that I'm wasting my time, since I won't have time to type them on computer, since they are too many of them. I was wrong, as my friend, Ada Ho, has offered me to type them for me. Boy, she had to work hard, as my writing wasn't very calligraphic and many times I was writing notes on the shaking bus or in almost complete darkness. So lots of kudos to Ada for bringing these notes to the electronic format and now I can share them with you.
Even though there are no detailed notes for the remaining days, I'll summarise the last two weeks in a few sentences.
I stayed in China till Nov 6. I've spent 5 days in Shanghai, because I couldn't get any earlier a slipper berth on the train to Guilin. I liked the city, though it was very different from Beijing. The architecture was mostly all modern, but people were less friendly I guess.
From Shanghai I took a 26 hours train to Guilin. There I immediately took a bus to Yangshuo, since I was told that Guilin is too touristy. I had to bargain with the driver in Mandarin, because he was trying to charge me twice more than the normal price (which I knew ahead).
Yangshuo started with a bit of disappointment, as it was raining there when I've arrived and I was told that it was raining for the last 3 days. I've decided that if it continues to rain for more than one day I'm going to leave soon. But the rain has stopped after 2 days and I was able to walk around the city, visit a cave and beautiful karst hills. This place is very nice, with lots of cafes and very friendly locals.
On the 4th day I took the night sleeper bus to Shenzen, which is on the border with Hong Kong. It was quite an experience. I couldn't fit my body onto the berth, since in the South China people are very short and the berths are made for their size. Nevertheless I had a good sleep.
In the morning I've crossed the border and the civilisation came back to its full extend. Hong Kong is quite similar to Singapore, and most people speak English (and Cantonese). I was expecting to hate Hong Kong, as it's touted as a shopper paradise (like Bangkok?). To my surprise I've liked Hong Kong very much. I've found the Hong Kong island to be a beautiful place, with nice downtown and gorgeous Victoria mountain. I didn't like Kowloon very much, but it was OK. The ferry between Kowloon and Hong Kong island was very nice and efficient. I've spent one more day in the Lantau Island, where I've visited a huge Buddha sat on the top of the hill and did a trek of about 15kms afterwards with two high peaks. At the end I swam in the ocean and took the ferry back to Kowloon, where I was staying.
One of the days I went to Macau, which I didn't find all that exciting. I've crossed the whole island on foot, but other than a few old buildings and ruins, the rest is just catering to tourists so it wasn't so fun. The cool thing I did, is to go to the Canidrome, where the hound dog races were held. I think I was the only westerner in the huge crowd of Chinese who were betting like there is no tomorrow.
On Nov 6 I took a plane to Bangkok and from there back to Singapore. This was the end of 2 months trip in China and Tibet.