Day1: We finally stepped off the plane in the Northern Hemisphere around 6pm Sat 20th Oct. As we'd arrived after sunset we could see all the skyscrapers and the multitude of lights the whole bus trip to our hostel. We were staying in the Wan Chai / Cauaeway Bay area on the island in a place called YesInn which was pretty nice with triple decker bunk beds :D Was a long day ( we'd got up at 2am for our flight from Cairns) so after a quick stint in the massage chair (brilliant addition for a hostel, must say) I went to bed while Mike stayed up learning Mandarin.
Hong Kong we found was a great intro to Asia as they all speak English which is great, so we managed to buy our train tickets to Beijing with ease. After a wander around Kowloon ( along the Promenade past all the posh hotels and Hong Kong's own Walk of Fame featuring Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and a giant gold Pig... :S) and a trip on the famous (tbh never heard of it before) Star Ferry back to Wan Chai, we met up with Thomo (now living it up in HK) Was really nice seeing him again. He's been busy since he left 93 to go off travelling last year. He took us around Causeway Bay and to a cheap little eatery (2 courses and a drink for like £5 each after Australia was amazing) The streets and shops were so busy even at 9pm they were still going which was crazy. Was cool seeing all the neon lights and finally tasting some lush Cantonese food.
Day 3: Monday we decided to get back on our sightseeing, and for this we needed a bus. Not any bus, but a Big Bus of the open top variety. Was great. We went all around Hong Kong Island and Kowloon listening to a very British man talking about Hong Kong's history and developing skyline as well as taking a Night Tour through town which actually was pointless and we were in traffic for ages. The day finished off in a Cantonese restaurant - was ok except the English translations on the menu weren't clear and the waiters couldn't work out what we wanted so we just had to hope for the best. Which turned out into a lush meal though so was worth it.
Day 4: Our train to Beijing wasn't until the afternoon so we got out early, jumped back on our Big Bus and took the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak- views were great but the smog meant you couldn't really see over the water much. We braved the metro with all our stuff and made it to the train on time. As it was a 24hour train we got soft sleeper tickets - 4 bunk cabins- which we lucked out on as we got it to ourselves (think the fact it was a bank holiday in Hong Kong had something to do with it). The train was brilliant- £70 and we got to sleep most of the way so felt much nicer than our other long haul flights. Although we had prepared by buying our instant noodles for the train before hand, when the train attendant came round with menus for the evening meal, we decided to order stuff. Mike went for something potatoey and mine was 'vegetable noodles'. Safest on the menu I thought. Mike's came out as potatoes and pork with rice. Looked great. Mine was just disgusting. I had pak choi with what looked like fish innards and rice. All I ate was rice that night. Welcome to Chinese cuisine. Yay :S To make matters worse the food was making me gag so I decided to take all the dishes to the bin, stacked on top of each other. Once near the bin I hastily threw them all over the floor. Mike heard my screams of "Oh no!" from down the corridor and came to help. It was a right mess. So I went back to the room to get tissues, but couldn't find them. So Mike was left clearing up fish innards off the floor whilst the locals stared on tutting at him The attendant had arrived to clear it up before I got back. What a palava.
(Mike: from what it looked like at the time. Alicia chucked this disgusting food on the floor and when I came to help had legged it back to the room. Brilliant. The Chinese did love a good tut though. It got old, fast.)
Day 5: We arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, and after 2hours looking for and waiting for a taxi, we made it to our hostel - Happy Dragon Courtyard. Was lovely with a courtyard and a bar in the middle. We decided to brave it and get food straight away, quickly using the 'point at what you want' technique at the pictures on the wall. Was a lush spicy beef noodle soup so turned out well :) We had been looking for dumplings but couldn't match the Chinese name symbols to the neon lit restaurants for toffee.
Day 6: Thursday we headed to the Lama Temple - based on the Tibet Buddhist Temples. Was lovely and nice to finally see something traditionally Chinese instead of high rises and generally Western looking buildings and hotels everywhere. The Lama Temple was beautiful with huge peaceful gardens walled off - it didn't feel like you were I'm a city at all. After, we headed towards the Drum and Bell Towers of the city. On the way we spotted a lovely little tea shop where we had some lunch and some tea -Mike had the Chocolate Pearl Tea, and I had the Strawberry version. More milkshake than tea but was nice. We then headed onwards but once in the Drum tower realised my watch was wrong, and we'd missed the Drum performance which was a shame. The views from both towers were rather smoggy so couldn't make out the landmarks we wanted to. Made me realise though how big Beijing is. On the way back to the hostel we noticed a cool looking street called Nanluogu Xiang which turns out was a place to see in our Lonely Planet too. The street was strung up with Chinese lanterns, lots of little shops, restaurants, street food and drinks, including take away Mojitos which was great :D I also found the perfect thing to make me more 'Asian' - a Hello Kitty bag. Ever since then i've got a little more respect (or maybe the glares are because they think i'm even more of a weirdo than before lol) We had dinner in a lovely courtyard restaurant, decked with lanterns and huge goldfish ponds, then headed back for a few drinks at the hostel.
Day 7: An early start in Friday morning saw us head to the Forbidden City - the home of the Imperial court for centuries before Communism took over and the People's Republic was formed. We decided to walk as, to be honest, didn't want to go through the hassle of buying metro tickets. On the way there was an 'art student' called 'Billy'. He said he wanted to practice his English and that he was heading near the Forbidden City as his art school was nearby. We'd heard about some scams of students taking tourists to over priced tea houses so were a little wary. Once we got near he said we had to come with him to his art exhibit in a dilapidated 'university' building. No chance. At this point we decided to get away ASAP. Knew it couldn't be totally legit do we headed off in the general direction of the Forbidden City, and bumped into a nice English couple who were also looking for the palaces too. Could tell we were getting closer just by the immense crowds gathering. To the left (south) was Tiananmen Square and the right was the entrance to the Forbidden City with a massive Chairman Mao portrait on the outer walls. You had to cross a bridge over a dry moat and through a gate before reaching another square to buy tickets and audio guides. The place was literally heaving through the gates and the palaces, temples and halls were incredible. We headed through the middle as there was lots to see - many halls with elaborate furniture and thrones, fancy gold pillars, amazing ceilings and roofs - each roof was tiled with the same green glazed tiles with little stone creatures placed on top to protect the buildings and show how important the building was. At the end of the central walkway was a garden with little pagodas, a pond and lots of rock sculptures including a huge rock mound with a golden pagoda on top that the king would go to. As we'd heard about a fancy clock exhibition at 2, we headed back through the Eastern palaces which were mainly just used to house jade and porcelain exhibits now, but we're where the royal court would live. The clock exhibit had some fancy clocks, gifts from around the world, but we only managed to catch the end on the 'show' where two clocks went off with a cheeky nightingale flying out :S not the most impressive must say. We then meandered through the eastern and western palaces trying to turn off as many lights as possible off our LED map. Unfortunately the map and audio guide could really register which buildings we'd gone to either do we eventually gave up. After the Forbidden City we walked around Tiananmen but decided to skip Mao's mausoleum. Was quite surreal seeing all the crowds and soldiers marching through after it's history. We made it back to the hotel after a long walk to find there was a party being held at its sister hostel to celebrate its birthday. We jumped in the minibus as soon as we heard 'free food' and 'party games' despite being shattered. The party turned out to be lots of fun- Mike got free drinks from the owner, we both got huge slabs of iced cake with a Dragon on top ( Mike was well jealous that I got a piece of the Dragons ass and he didn't :P). One game we played was to throw a basketball through a hoop which I won! I got a free tickets to see Chinese Acrobats, which was bad timing as We'd just paid for them. Instead they said we could see a Peking Opera show as well which turned out well. I also got to try my new favourite cocktail 'Pink Lady' which is lush and tastes of Love Heart sweets. Mmm :)
Day 8: The next day, after our first full week in China, we set out for the Great Wall. Seeing as this was the main reason we'd come to China we were pretty excited, though still a little hungover from the party we slept most of the bus journey to it. Our portion of The Wall was at Mutianyu. We were told that this portion had been rebuilt partially, but you could see some of the original parts too and it didn't disappoint. We woke up in the countryside and could just make out The Wall on the tops of mountains, undulating in the distance. Once there we left our group and headed up to the top. Now, one way to get up was a 45 minute climb up ricketty steps. Another way was to hitch a ride on the ski lift. We took the ski lift which meant we had a lot more time on the wall. The wall really was - magnificent. The sheer size of it was amazing thinking of how it was built, as well as the hues of red, green and yellow of the forests surrounding it all as its autumn here. It really looked spectacular. On the wall itself there were LOTS of steps, most uneven and quite steep. We walked along one stretch of The Wall to the unrestored are, through various look out posts, which was pretty cool to see. The unrestored part had bushes and trees growing on it and through the cracks in the floor, as well as parts of the outer walls worn away do had to be careful. We headed back on ourselves then to the other end, but it wasn't too long before we had to go and meet our group in the restaurant in the village. Now after our lazy journey ONTO The Wall, we probably should have walked down. Instead we just had to try the Toboggan Ride down. Who ever came up with this idea to stick a toboggan ride on the side of one of the Wonders of the World I have no idea. After 45 minutes of queuing for it though and sliding down a tin can shute on a plastic tray, was a pretty fun way to come down. We met with the rest of the group and has some excellent lunch of rice and various dishes of sweet and sour chicken, stir fried beef, pork, tofu and all sorts. Was lush. If all of China turns out like this I'll be very happy. We headed back to Beijing then out for our first of many dumplings. We'd been told about a great place for dumplings on our first night but could not find it by matching the written name in Chinese characters to the neon signs. Eventually we asked a few people and found it. Was pretty great - Mike had pork with pickled cabbage and I had pork with sweet corn. Both were great (Mike munched through 14 and I had 10). Yum!
Day 9: Sunday truly was lazy - we set our alarm to get up early enough to got to the Summer Palace, but instead got up around midday and decided to check out the Olympic Park, some lakes and feast upon some curry at a restaurant we'd heard of in the Lonely Planet. We got to the Olympic Park alright after braving the tube stations and finding it pretty easy to get tickets (¥2 or 20p to go anywhere, no time limit, in Beijing. Bargain) We got to see the Birds Nest Stadium and the Water Cube (from the outside) (Mike: The highlight for me were the toilets which had 2 signs, "sitting" - for western toilets. The Chinese style squat toilets however were labelled "Spuat". It's the Olympic Park and they didn't check whether the thing their sticking everywhere was actually a word. I like the word though, I will adopt it for my Asia travels) then got the metro to the lakes. As we had to change a few times, this took an hour so we couldn't really do it. So we headed to where the restaurant was. Once there again we couldn't find it, and as we had tickets for the Acrobats that evening, wouldn't be able to do that too. In all a lot of wasted time in the train. Once back at the hostel I treated myself to a Pink Lady and Mike a Tsingtao, then we were whisked away to the Acrobats in a taxi. The show was in a theatre and was packed with heaps of Chinese people pushing you through the doors and down the hall way despite there being heaps of seats and the show not starting for another hour or so. Was ridiculous. The show was brilliant however. There were people climbing free standing ladders with other people on their backs, rope climbers, plate twirlers, guys jumping through hoops and even a huge metal cage with 5 guys circling around and upside down on motor bikes like Homer J in the Simpson movie. Awesome. Never seen anything like it before. Was excellent and well worth the visit. Pretty good start to our Chinese Adventure :)