Earlier this year I had the opportunity to spend a month traveling around China (including Tibet) with my good friend Brian. I had a lot of stories, videos, and photos to share but I didn’t really have a good way to share them since this travel blog didn’t exist. Now that I have my new travel blog I want to go back a few months and share my experiences from traveling around the various Chinese provinces. I’m going to share uncensored stories, thoughts, and experiences (and trust me there are plenty). Most of these interesting stories happen when I leave Beijing because I had friend there that spoke Chinese and was thus able to help me out quite a bit! In fact, we had a cell phone throughout the whole trip and anytime Brian and I got in trouble, we would call Daniel and he would bail us out.
Brian and I spent the first night meeting up with our friend Daniel and just relaxing and grabbing dinner before turning in early. We stayed at the “Home Inn” which is where I recommend you stay if you are looking for a simple room with free internet. The good thing about the Home Inn is that they are a franchise spread out all around China so you can be sure to find them at various provinces. If you do chose the Home Inn make you sure you sign up for their Home Inn card which gives you special discounts on room rates. You also get breakfast included with your stay, however don’t be too thrilled because breakfast usually consisted of hard boiled eggs in vinegar, dumplings, noodles, rice porridge, bread, some liquid that they said was juice but was more like a powdered mixture, and perhaps some bread. You get used to it after a while but believe be after spending a few weeks in China an egg is the last thing you want to see! Make sure you eat up during breakfast, you’re going to need it.
Getting around Beijing is fairly easy thanks to their great train system which is designed to run around the multiple “rings” of the city. The train can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go. I highly recommend that you also pick up a copy of “Lonely Planet China” before your trip and perhaps the phrase book as well. Communicating with folks was a bit tough since you needed to be exact with the tones of the words otherwise people looked at you like you were crazy. If you really can’t pronounce the words at all you can always point to words in your book and people will usually understand what you are trying to say.
The first thing we saw in Beijing was Tienanmen Square which was immediately followed up by the Forbidden City (which are right next to each other). Tienanmen Square is interesting to look and it’s usually quite filled with people, You can find Chairman Mao’s tomb near the square but it was closed when I was there. You’ll find plenty of Chinese flags blowing in the wind which makes for quite an interesting photo opportunity. You will also see soldiers standing guard. To be honest I wasn’t as impressed with everything I had seen, well me rephrase that; I was impressed but for some reason I was expecting more. It was definitely amazing to see everything though. I’m not really a fan of big cities, I much prefer being out in nature. This doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate everything because I certainly did, I was just expecting something different (not sure what).
Right behind the Square is the Forbidden City which is absolutely massive, Brian and I spent several hours walking around the various courtyards that each have their own interesting names. After checking out a few of the courtyards and squares you start to get the point and you can just briskly walk through the rest of them. Oh, and before I forget make sure you purchase all of your tickets using a student i.d. if you have one (even if it’s expired), if not, try using your drivers license as a student i.d. it worked several times for me. Also, you might want to avoid the pesky “tour guides” that want to show you around the city, you can do just fine walking around by yourself with your Lonely Planet guide. Learn how to say “no” because you’re going to be using it quite a lot when being pestered by folks.
Behind the Forbidden City (after a tiny bit of walking) you will find two parks to visit one is Beihai Park and I can’t remember what the second one is called. Either way they are not too far from one another so it’s worth it to check out both. Don’t bother taking the rickshaws that are going to be offered to you near the parks, you get to explore far more on foot. Both parks should give you plenty of great photo opportunities so be sure to have your camera with you. Along the way you might to snack on a few things so you don’t starve. Food is very cheap in China so you don’t need to worry about spending a lot. I was eating a lot of ice cream when walking around because it was delicious and I needed the sugar and fat to keep me going; but it’s not hard to find other things either. The real food challenge comes when you leave the big cities, something I will talk about in upcoming posts.
After we spent the whole day exploring Tienamen Square, the Forbidden City, and Beihai park (and the other park), we then went out to dinner. At the very end of our China trip we returned back to Beijing where we got to ride in the Hutong Alleyways, check out all the Olympics stuff, and see the Great Wall, I’ll get to that at the end of this series so it flows in chronological order. Overall I definitely enjoyed by time in Beijing, it was relatively easy to get by and see everything I wanted to see, which is more than I can say for many of the other provinces.
Here are a few videos with Brian doing most of the narrating, also be sure to check out my Flickr photos from China:
Stay tuned my friends, we have a lot to cover!