Train #24 ulaanbaator to beijing we were ...

Trip Start Apr 01, 2001
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Trip End Ongoing


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Friday, August 31, 2001

TRAIN #24 ULAANBAATOR TO BEIJING

We were all well behaved on this train - no one dared drink too much beer for fear of being locked out of the toilets.... even unlocking them with our Leathermnan wasn't an option because, at the first station in China the train was driven into a 1/2 mile long shed and lifted, carriage by carriage, off of its wheels and onto new wheels. (We believe they call them "bogeys"?). We weren't allowed to get off the train, so we were lifted up inside it. Good job they didn't drop us! This whole exercise was necessary because the rail tracks in China are a different gauge from the rest of the world - something about a fear of being invaded by train-loads of Mongolians!

Today we wave "Goodbye" to the Trains Siberian Railway... with mixed feelings:-

* Bas never wants to "be couped up on a train, or in a prison cell ever again in his life"
* Funky has slept the entire 6000 mile journey, and would happily sleep through it all again.
*Bubbles and Paul have drunk enough vodka on these trains that another 6000 miles would be guaranteed to pickle thier livers.
* Lucy hasn't dared eat any "loacal food" since she got sick in Listvyanka, so she needs to go back to London for some "edible" food before she disappears into thin air.
* Henry has taken evey photograph possible on the Tran Siberian route and is looking forward to getting the best ones blown up and framed - the fact that he left 3 films in the Hotel at UlaanBaator, could mean he'll have to do the trip again!
* Bubbles didn't get any of his "flags" - his term for "bedding a local", so will have to return at some date to try again.
* Paul didn't get any of his "flags" either - the ones he sews on his backpack, but expects they will be on sale at Camden Market in London!
* Tonya is pleased to arrive in Beijing where Paul will not be lead astray by drunk Australaisians - but she'd happily do the trip again - perhaps in winter when there are less tourists on the train, and go straight through from Moscow to UlaanBaator, spend a few weeks in Mongolia, then head onward to Beijing.

We all agree that it wouldn't be that difficult to organise the trip independently. Yes, getting visas and tickets woiuld require some patience... but we met so many independent travellers who were doing the same trip at a fraction of the price we had paid, and they all survived.


BEIJING

Arriving in Beijing, we thought we were an hour late... The staion clock read 15:55 - while or watches said 16:55. This is very strange - we are travelling Eastwards, but arriving in Beijing from UlaanBaator we had to put our watches BACK one hour. We have put them forward 8 hours between London and UlaanBaator, but Beijing doesn't recognise British Summer Time; so it it GMT+8, or, at the moment BST+7... so back we go... Weird!

Our hotel looked "fairly normal" from reception (other than having the obligatory policeman in the lobby. In Beijing all shops, restuarants, hotels have police/soldiers on duty). We were given a piece of cardboard with our room number written on it - instead of a key. There was a chinese woman on each floor with a huge key ring with every room key on it. Each time we wanted to get into our room we had to get the woman to open up for us. This way she got to check that we weren't bringing any "friends" back with us.

Breakfast was included at our hotel, and was quite the experience. Steamed dumpling with chopped up green stuff inside - We don't know what it was, but it tasted as if it might be pickled grass - it was edible... just! This was seved with green beans and a pickled egg. Tonya also had pickled eggs with her dinner last night - and couldn't eat either of them. They look harmless enough, just like a hardboiled egg, but the shell is always broken and stained brown / green. The egg tastes exactly like salted tinned anchovies (which Tonya likes) but something in our brains screams that "Eggs should not taste of anchovy" and we couldn't face eating them.

Beijing's attractions:-

* Silk Market
This is where our friends Mike & Lia had bought CDs for $1 each, so when we didn't see any CD's for sale Tonya was a bit disappointed. As we walked home in the dark a man on the street shouted "Hello, CD, DVD" - We looked up and he said "come" - we follwed him through a subway and into a building site to a derelict building with broken windows. There were about 7 young guys all telling us to sit down on a box in the corner of the "room" - it was more like a stairwell. Paul didn't feel safe enough to sit down and insisted on looking at their CDs standing up. Tonya sat down and the guys kept handing us bundles of CDs - 75 at a time. We selected 20 CDs between us. The guys quoted 15 yuan each ($2). We didn't bother to haggle. Paul had wandered into their "living room" and felt sorry for the awful conditions they were living in, plus we wanted to get out of there, and the CDs were damn cheap anyway.

* Hutongs
We spent half a day wandering around the old alleyways and courtyards of old Beijing. Life here is so different from "New Beijing" and it seems that the Chinese are somewhat embarrassed by these traditional narrow streets, where people while away the days sitting on the road playing Chinese Chess and eating from street vendors. Beijing is committed to demolishing all these remaining hutongs before the 2008 Olympics. It seems there is a great community spirit in these neighbourhoods and we wonder how the people will adapt to being moved into modern towerblocks.

* Tianamen Square
We couldn't face the mile long queues to visit Chaiman Mao's mausoleum, but we did do the tour of the Great Hall of the People. Although only a few rooms are open to the public, it was worthwhile for the sheer opulence of it. We also saw the lowering of the flag in Tianament Square. People crowd around the flad pole and wait 2 hours for the ceremony to begin, then someone lowers the flag, and everyone goes home... no pomp and cermony, no music, nothing!

* Tiantan - Temple of Heaven Park
Like many sights in Beijing you buy an entrance ticket to the grounds, and a "through ticket" for the different temples within the grounds. Being cheapskates, we only bought one through ticket and shared it, taking turns to visit a temple each. This was a good idea, since it doesn't take us long to get "all-templed-out". The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was incredible. This temple is 38 metres high and 30 metres wide and is built from wood without any nails, cement, or beams!

* Quianmen - Quanjude Roast Duck
This is Beijing's most famous Duck restaurant, where the walls are lined with photographs of visiting dignatories eating there. We ate in the "cheap seats" with paper plates and disposable chopsticks, but the food was still good, and we had more duck pancakes than we knew what to do with.

* Forbidden City
This place is huge! We got the excellent Roger Moore audio cassette guide and followed the standard route, but if you are particularly interested in Chinese History and architecture you could spend a week in this place.

* Jingshan Park and Beihai Park
Both good places to get away from chaos and stress of this big city. At Beihai Park we rented a pedalo and spent an hour on the lake which was very relaxing.

* Yong he Gong - Lama Temple
This is a Tibetan Lamasery with a Buddha (carved from a single sandal wood tree) which stands 18 meters high and has a certificate signed by Norris McWerter from the Guinness Book of Records. We sat around watching people burning incense sticks by the box-full and kowtowing infront of the Buddhas.
While we were sitting on a bench in the gardens, we noticed a Chinese tourist (presumably from some town that doesn't get Western visitors) sneaking photographs of us. Do we really look that strange?

*Summer Palace
It is a bit of a trek to get out here, you take the metro to Xizhmen station and then sit on bus 375 to the end of the line (about 1.5 hours). We didn't allow ourselves enough time and wished we had got up early, brought some food, and had the entire day here. The grounds are huge and contain several hundred temples and palaces all spread around a big lake.

* Lao She Tea House
We bought two 60 yuan tickets to the 7.30pm "Tea House Show" and had a table in the midde of the room. We were served Jasmin tea all evening and fed plates of "nibbles", some of which were a bit strange to say the least. There were a lot of fairly tame biscuity things and lots of dried fruits (although it wasn't possible to identify what fruits they were). We ate everything and almost broke our teeth shelling rock-hard roasted sunflower seeds. The Show was fascinating. The place wsa full of Chinese people, not Western tourists as we had imagined, and the show included Peking Opera... with meaningless Englist subtitles, lots of traditional Chinese dancing, girls balancing spinning plates on wire rods, and the strangest double act we have ever seen. It was all in Chinese, but it was quite visual, so we had a good idea hat it was all about.

* Great Wall at Huanghua
This is THE PLACE to visit the Great Wall. We went by minibus from the Beijing International Youth Hostel with 6 other people, and we were the ONLY people on this section of the wall. We did a hike along the wall that took lamost 3 hours... it was slow going because the wall is all up and down... Damn strenuous! At one point the wall just disappeared and we had to scramble down a cliff of loose earth. Is this hiking, or climbing, or falling?

* Qian Yi Internet Cafe and Shaolin Monk Show
We found this good internet cafe in the Old Railway Station Mall just Southeast from Tianamen Square and noticed that they had a demonstration of Shaolin Kung Fu. We bought the cheapest tickets at 100 yuan and ended up sitting in the front row. The show was amazing... guys breaking bricks with their hands, bending metal rods by banging them on their heads, having sears poked into their bodies etc. Paul volunteeded to pull a bowl off of one monk's stomach... it was suctioned onto his stomach muscles. The bowl broke and Paul cut his hand... The only injury of the entire evening!

* O'Malleys Irish Pub
This place was unbelievable... Chinese watiers wearing Scottish Tartan kilts... serving pints of Guinness to Western tourists and ex-pats.


Onwards to Xi'an
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