Monthly Archives: August 2017

Beijing – Hutong, Olympic Park & Acrobat Show

Monday 7th August 2017
Well it is our last day so we decided to go out with a bang.

After a slow start and late breakfast we packed up and headed out at 10.45am as after we check out we have no home and we don’t fly out until 11.45 tonight.

As we have been having difficulty getting taxis the short 3km distances to the tourist attractions we decided we would give the subway a go. This was very successful. We caught a total of 8 subways today. All only 3CNY each. So our travel on the subways cost us a total of 24CNY ($5) each today. It was great. They were very frequent and efficient. They are also clean and quiet. The process is seamless to ensure quick transport of millions of people each day. You go through security screening at every station and the ticket scanner works in a 300th of a millisecond.First stop was a walk around the hutongs. This was a walk through the old back alleys, there are a mixture of very old dilapidated housing and more modern and mansions. There is also a shopping strip for the tourists. It was an interesting walk. It ended with a stop in a park near the Bell Tower where we met a teacher and some summer camp students. The teacher used us to practice his English. He was previously an English tour guide so he spoke very well. We also spoke to a couple of the children. They were on Summer Camp from Guilin. After this we caught a couple more subways to the Olympic Park where we saw the Birds Nest and Aquatic Cube. It was very hot. Then we caught another 2 subways to our last show at the Chaoyang Theatre. It was an Acrobatic Show with some incredible talents. Then another 2 subways back to the hotel to collect our luggage and head to the airport. Our taxi was ery cheap to the airport only 100CNY ($20).

We are now at the airport waiting for our flight which was due to depart at 11.45pm. Looks like we won’t be leaving now until 1.40am. We are very weary and are looking forward to boarding as soon as possible. Time to go home for a rest.

It has been a great holiday, it was lovely to see Benny, watch him perform and show Colleen another culture. We really experienced a lot of new things and I am sure she enjoyed herself as much as me.

See you back in Australia soon. XXX.


Beijing – Forbidden City – Beihai Park – Roast Duck

Sunday 6th August 2017
Today we will do our own tour of the Forbidden City (entry 60CNY, Colleen 30CNY).

We called a taxi from the hotel to take us to the Forbidden City and the taxi driver refused to use the meter as he said their would be too much traffic. We had to pay 30CNY or he wouldn’t go there. It was a scam as it was only 2.5km and 5 mins in the taxi and with a meter this would have cost 13CNY. Very annoying but as we wanted to get there early to avid queues and ensure we got in as the ticket numbers are restricted, we had no choice but to pay. This was the first of many trips we paid too much today.

So the Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace and It served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government for almost 500 years. Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 hectares. It is a very sparse complex with wide open squares and very few trees. There were many Halls and Palaces, courtyards and corridors. After exploring the Forbidden City we then went into the Imperial Garden.The Imperial Garden is located outside of the Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility. Constructed in 1417, it is rectangular in shape and covers approximately 12,000 square metres. This was a private retreat for the imperial family and is the most typical of the Chinese imperial garden design. There are some twenty structures, each of a different style, and the ways in which they harmonise with the trees, rockeries, flower beds and sculptural objects.The shade in the garden was welcome relief from the heat.

After the garden we headed out of the Forbidden City and we walked to Beihai Park. In the park we took a ride in a boat on the lake. A restful break from the heat and walking. We then left to get a taxi back to the hotel so Helena could get ready to leave for the airport. There were no empty taxis so we were left with no alternative but to pay 100CNY (instead of 13CNY in a taxi) for an electric scooter. This was interesting and probably quicker than a taxi as he weaved in and out of the traffic in which ever lane, our way or the other way, head-on towards buses, etc. A bit of a thrilling ride but we at least got there.

After our rest, we headed out to Tianan’men Square. Unable to get a taxi we walked the 2km and stood around waiting for the change of the guard. We then headed to the Pearl Markets (another 3km and 60CNY for a electric scooter) where we all bagged a bargain.

Then we had taxi drivers fighting for us to pay 100, then 60CNY. we negotiated 20CNY in a black taxi to the Glory Mall for dinner. Then off to Peking Duck Restaurant. This was another culinary experience (275 including drinks).

We then walked back to the hotel to share a little time with Benny before he went to the airport. Well GOODBYE BENNY> Hope to see him again soon,


Beijing – Great Wall & Summer Palace

Saturday 5th August 2017
We were up early again today as our tour (420CNY each plus tip) was to commence at 8am. Destinations – Great W all then Summer Palace without tourist shopping stops. It will be a big day again.

Traffic was to be our nightmare today. First change of plan was o swap the itinerary around as the crowds at the wall are usually less in the afternoon. Being the weekend the crowds will be worse. So we headed to the Summer Palace first. We struck a little traffic on the way but it kept moving, sometimes slowly but still it was moving. The Summer Palace was the home of the Empress. We saw meeting rooms, prayer halls, statues, special rocks that took 2 dynasties to move. One of the large rocks was used to block the vision from the courtyard entrance into the meeting room. Their was a 700m long outdoor covered corridor, which had 14,000 pictures painted on its, beams and ceiling for the Empress’ entertainment. Each painting was different. The corridor went from her living quarters to the restaurant/food hall. This was because it was recommended to walk 700m after eating to aid digestion, so she could go to the eating hall by carriage but had to walk home, thus the reason for the covered corridor. In the eating hall there were 3 tables all prepared with the same food, the first table was for looking at the food, the second table was for smelling the food and the third table was for eating the food. No-one was allowed to eat the food from the 1st and 2nd table, it was thrown out. The corridor was a beautiful walk by the lake (not frozen this visit), Their were a couple of blossom trees still in flower and the lotus flower was also still in bloom. Her residence was located high on the hill. The roof was grey at this palace but at the Emperor’s residence the roof is yellow. The Empress was called the Dragon Lady. She ruled for over 40 years because her husband died young and her son was too young to rule, then something happened that prevented him from ruling and the Empress named her grandson to be Emperor but he was only 4 so she continued to rule. Very clever Dragon Lady. The grounds were huge, the lake was man made and the dirt was used to make the hill for the house to sit on. It was very beautiful.

It took us over 30mins just to exit the Summer Palace Street as cars were parked both ways and there was only room for one car to go one way as well as scooters and pedestrians. We sat still for 15mins before our driver got out and went to see what was happening. He got cars to move over and around so we could get out.

Next stop – The Jade Factory and lunch. I know I said no shops but this was added to the itinerary when the email came back after payment. What I wasn’t expecting was that the tour guide (Sue) would say we were also going to the Medicine Healers (massage) and/or Tea House if we had time. So much for ‘No Shops”. The Jade Factory was quite interesting – Jade comes in many colours not just green. It can be green of many shade, white, black, rusty brown and red. The way to check that it is real jade is that it doesn’t scratch and it it translucent. There were many pieces to purchase, small and large and elaborate with minute details. The most intriguing is a set of hollow balls within each other. Started from a large square block and carved within each other. The most elaborate a boat that took one year to carve. The carvers technique is learnt from their family. There are no schools to teach this art. Whilst in the factory we were followed by sales girls frequently asking if we wanted to try on some jewellery in the view to buy. Something Benny and I just Love. Not. We had a look around and then went to lunch in their restaurant. A Chinese meal.

On our way again, heading for Badaling Great Wall which had a cable car up and down as well as walking. Great option for us with varied ages. Or so we thought. After about 10 mins driving we came to a stop, Sue said we need to change plans and go to a different section of the wall as it was going to take 2.5 hours to get 50km to the wall. She suggested we drive for 2 hours to Mutianyu Great Wall but would only have 6 mins in cable car up a quick walk and 6 mins down. Even though this was supposed to be one of the prettiest sections, it wasn’t walking the Wall which we were very keen to do. She then suggest Juyong Great Wall, 10km closer than Badaling but on a different highway. Downside, no cable car and very very steep wall. We didn’t really have a choice in the end because on looking at road App again it was going to take 11 hours to get to the other sections. Weekend Traffic – A nightmare.

We finally reached Juyong Great Wall at 2.30pm and we had agreed to forgo the Medicine Clinic and Tea House to spend more time on the Great Wall. This was fine by us as we really didn’t want to go there anyway but a disappointment for Sue as she gets commission for taking people to each of the tourist stops. We were only to have 2 hours on the wall due to the time it took us to get there. Oh well, so off we go. Benny and Helena headed straight up and I was to stay with Colleen and go a little way up, then go back down with her to the cafe and then head up again myself and Benny would pick me up on the way back. But this was not the case, Colleen walked a little way up the wall and then she insisted I go and meet Ben, which I did. I met him up a couple of Towers and we hiked up to the 12th Tower. It was very steep, the steps varied between 40cm and others were 10cm and any in between, this made it difficult to get momentum and on the way down it was very tricky. It was very crowded to the first two towers but after that the crowds thinned out so that by the time we reached the highest tower there was only a sprinkle of walkers. It was very beautiful. Unfortunately due to time restrictions (we probably only needed an extra 30 mins) we were unable to do the loop and had to go down the same way. I was grateful for the little souvenir shop halfway down as I had an ice block from there.

The way down was a lot easier except for the occasional misjudgement of a big step, that came on you by surprise.

We got home at 6pm. 1.5 hours for 50km. Traffic seemed to flow until we got near the city.

We then had a Korean BBQ for dinner – Lettuce, carrot, cucumber for wrapping the BBQ items (which I luckily asked about just before the end of the meal). Squid, chicken wings, beef strips and cattle ligament. Potato, sweet potato, zucchini and mushroom. After choosing our meals based on pictures a waitress came and cooked for us on the circular BBQ in the middle of the table. The cattle ligament was our ‘try something new’ dish. It was chewy but tasty OK. The Korean BBQ  was another new experience and something I will look for again.

We had a lovely night with Benny and Helena.

Xi’an to Beijing

Friday 4th August 2017
Another travel day. Up early and on the train to Beijing by 9.15am. We had a 4.5 hour train ride travelling at speeds of up to 300km per hour. The scenery sped by. Farms and little villages and many apartment buildings. It was a smooth and quiet ride considering the speeds we travelled. Unfortunately the express taxi service didn’t happen when we arrived at Beijing. We had a 50min wait in the heat and sun for some of the time to get our taxi. Once in the cab it was a good tip t the hotel.

After a rest we headed out to try and get an early dinner as we were going to the Kungfu Show at The Red Theatre tonight. We managed a meal in the food hall at the Mall which was OK.

We were waiting for Ben and Helena to arrive so we could head to the show. They arrived when we needed to leave so Colleen and I headed off as we needed to be at the theatre by 7pm to collect tickets. I thought we could just flag a taxi on the way. Bad idea, we managed to flag a taxi but he refused to take us, so we ended up having to walk the 3km to the theatre. I managed to navigate us through the back alleys to the theatre and our tickets were still available even though we were about 15mins late. The back alleys were small, winding and smelly. There were public toilets every so often which you could smell from a distance, the urine smell was so strong. There were tangled electricity wires overhead, it was amazing that they didn’t have fires. Benny and Helena arrived about 5mins before the show started.

The show was a really great experience. Afterwards we tried to get a taxi directly from the theatre but the drivers were scammers. They wanted to charge us 60CNY for a 14CNY taxi ride. It is only 3km, they so try to rip off the tourists. We refused their cab and walked 100m along the road and flagged our own. It cost 14CNY.

After dropping Colleen back to the hotel, Benny Helena and I went to get their dinner. Due to the time they only managed a Mall dinner as well.

Anyway, off to bed as we have a big tour day tomorrow.


Thursday 3rd August 2017

Today we have an organised tour through Travel Guide China. We will be visiting the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, Small Wild Goose Pagoda and Xi’an Museum and City Wall – West Gate. It will be a big day and the forecast temperature is for 39°C. Ouch!!

We were collected from the hotel at 8.25am and we joined 4 Spanish, 3 Dutch Indians and 2 Canadians. A nice small group. We drove to the Terracotta Warriors which was about an hour away. Whilst driving their our guide Lily gave us a little information about the tour and also some things about modern day China. This was all very interesting.

Some interesting information about China

• Government owns all land, they can decide to demolish your apartment building and you have to move. They are replacing smaller apartment buildings with taller buildings but the average floor space is then smaller.
• 1949 – Under Chairman Mao, all land now owned by the Government, rich Chinese lost their land.
• Drivers just go where they want if there is room, to enable this speed limit in city is 40kmh. No anger as this is just the way it is.
• Children have to learn over five thousand words at school. They recite, write, recite, write. Starting from kindergarten.

Terracotta Warriors
The Terracotta Army was discovered on 29 March 1974 by farmers digging a water well approximately 1.5 km east of the Qin Emperor’s tomb mound at Mount Li. This discovery prompted Chinese archaeologists to investigate, revealing the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China.

A museum complex has since been constructed over the area, with the largest pit enclosed within with a large structure. The farmers had to move as the Government owns the land.

We visited Pits 1, 2 and 3.
Pit one, which is 230 m x 62 m, contains the main army of more than 6,000 figures. There were archaeologists working their as a display of what they do, but away from the site there is about 5000 archaeologists working to restore the warriors.
Pit two has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots and is thought to represent a military guard.
Pit three is the command post, with high-ranking officers and a war chariot.

The terracotta figures are life-sized (about 2 metres tall). They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The faces appear different for each individual figure, scholars however have identified 10 basic face shapes. The figures are of these general types: armoured warriors; unarmored infantrymen; cavalrymen who wear a pillbox hat; helmeted driver of chariots with more armour protection; spear-carrying charioteers; kneeling archers who are armoured; standing archers who are not; as well as generals and other lower-ranking officers.

It was very interesting and quite spectacular. The jigsaw puzzle task of putting the warriors together is incredible.

We then went to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, built between 707–709, during the Tang dynasty under Emperor Zhongzong of Tang. The pagoda stood 45 m, In 1556 an earthquake shook the pagoda and damaged it so that it now stands at a height of 43 m with fifteen levels of tiers. It was a Buddhist Temple. We saw the Bell Tower and Drum Tower in the precinct of the Pagoda.

We then went to the West Gate – City Wall. An amazing structure that surrounds the city. It is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved Chinese city walls. It was built as a military defense system. The wall encloses an area of about 14 square kilometres. It is a rectangle shape 5km x 3km. Guard towers every 120m with a North, South, East and West Gate.

From the City Wall, the tour was meant to go to the Drum and Bell Tower and Muslim Bazaar but as the day was so hot and we had been there yesterday, we decided to return to the hotel for a well earned rest.

It was a very big day and the extreme heat made it exhausting.

Taiyuan to Xi’an

Wednesday 2nd August 2017

An early start today after an average sleep. I think I was worried about waking early. After settling the bill which is always a little challenging without the language we caught another taxi to the station. I was very grateful to Lulu for her explanations when we caught the first train with . the company. It made this excursion very straight forward. We had plenty of time and it was very stressless.

Taiyuan to Xi’an is 598km which we travel in 3 hours. We travel at upwards of 200kmh but it feels so smooth and quiet. Also in air-conditioned comfort. We were in 2nd class this time which still had a bit more room than on the plane. The scenery is very green again, such a surprise for me as last time we were here in winter and it was very grey. We pass fields of corn, orchards of apples, and terraces of corn and rice.

We navigated the train station to the taxi rank like seasoned professionals. Our taxi to the hotel was like dodgems without the bumping. He wove in and out of the traffic at lightening pace.  He always seemed in control and seemed to focus forward and beside, never seemed to look to the rear. They don’t get angry, they just toot to communicate and then move.

After our rest we headed out for a walk at about 3pm. We went to the Daxuexixiang Mosque, where we adorned our scarves and looked at the very old buildings. They date back over 1300 years ago. We then decided to get an electric scooter ride (Conned but who cares, we got a rest for 10 mins and got ridden a couple of kms 20CNY, more than a taxi) and were delivered to the bazaar near the Drum Tower. We then walked to the Drum and Bell Towers and then hailed down a taxi to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Unfortunately Lonely planet was incorrect and it closed at 6pm, so it was too late to go into the grounds. The Pagoda is magnificent from the square. We then taxied back to the Muslim Bazaar where every food imaginable was available. I tried a potato chip on a skewer. It was one continuous coil on a stick.  Then a Crab stick which was 4 fried crabs on a stick. Then I had quail eggs on a stick with a sesame sauce. Colleen tried the yoghurt ice cream. Not a great diet today but the only thing I missed trying was octopus on a stick. The bazaar was very very busy, wall to wall people, atmosphere, bikes, scooters and little trucks, tooting and weaving their way through the tiny, narrow alleyways. We arrived back home after 8pm. I think I wore Colleen out again. Oops!!

Time for an early night as we have a big bus trip starting at 8.25am tomorrow.


Tuesday 1st August 2017

After an early morning visit to the gym and swimming pool. An adventure in itself, we had a late buffet breakfast in the hotel. We decided this was best so we only needed a lunch time snack and early dinner.

We then headed to Jinci Temple and Park via taxi. This was about a 30min taxi ride and cost 76CNY which is about $15. We arrived at the entrance and were approached by a hawker immediately trying to send us across the road to the shops. We ignored her, we are getting good at that and headed towards the entrance.

We decided on getting a wide brimmed hat for Colleen as the weather is very humid and hot and walking around all day is very draining. At the entrance we were hassled by a little old lady sitting on her haunches to buy a map. At 3CNY I bought it. We were then approached by a student asking us if we needed a guide. I had discussed this with Colleen and we had decided in advance that we would if it was an OK price and their English was good. She ensured the guide would have good English so we agreed. She then walked us quickly through the park section and explained a couple of things. Her English was OK but quite limited. We decided we would look at the park more thoroughly on our way out.

At the entrance we met our guide. She explained that Colleen’s entry was Free as she is over 60 and mine would be 80CNY. Lucky Colleen was free as we only had 500CNY between us and it would have been tight otherwise. Lesson learned. Always carry about 1000CNY as they are still a very strong cash society.

We then entered the temple grounds. Our guide explained about the many temples, dysnasties and structures within the grounds. It was very interesting, some of the buildings were made of wood with no nails over 3000 years ago. They have been restored in parts but they have tried to keep them looking original. There were also trees over 1000 years old and one that fell over in an earthquake that was 3000 years old. At the temple entrance there was a “never ageing spring” and the water temperature stays at 18° all year round. So cool in summer and warm in winter. They wash their face in it for long life. I am sure you will see our photos from here on our faces will be much more youthful. Their were many statues of guards, hand maidens, emperor and his wife. It was a very interesting morning and much more enjoyable with the guide, just giving us a little understanding of the age and life in China.

The guide left us at the exit after about 1.5 hours so we were more than happy with the money spent.  We thought we would then go out and have a walk through the park but to our disappointment we were at a different exit. It was quite desolate and felt like a back alley with a dirt car park road, although there were taxis in abundance. We were immediately asked if we wanted a taxi but decided on the one we knew from the train station as we have been told to be wary of the hawker drivers. Unfortunately we missed out on our walk through the park, but really had no idea how to get back there.

Another taxi ride back to the hotel for a rest.

After our rest we headed out again. Another taxi to the Twin Pagoda Temple. About 15 mins away at a cost of 12CNY (about $2.40). This was also a good outing with temples, gardens, trees and a timber gallery as well. As you all know, I love trees and the timber gallery was amazing. I tried to google the artist but couldn’t find out who he was.  I climbed the 180 steps to the top of one of the twin pagodas. Each landing you came to their was arch windows to look out at the city and the opposite pagoda. Each landing the window was a little smaller so by the time I reached the top I had to sit on my bottom and shuffle across through the tunnel to take a photo. The two men at the top had a little chuckle at my expense. Twin Pagodas are the tallest pagoda temples in China.

We had decided we would walk home but saw a taxi which I flagged and went home. We were glad we did as we really only had time for a little rest before we had to leave to meet Ben. Lack of time had us having the hotel buffet dinner which was really good. I experimented with a lot of food and only one had too much chilli for me. Colleen had a mixture of western food and Chinese food. The desserts looked very nice.

Off to the theatre to watch Ben’s performance. It was amazing, the control they have of their bodies is incredible. It was a most enjoyable performance and Benny was well featured. Benny had a function to go to afterwards so we just walked home via the ice cream shop. Two cornettos cost 9CNY (less than $2). We then had to pack and be ready to leave early for our next train leg at 8.25am tomorrow.

A few things of interest.

  • There seems to be works in progress everywhere, rubble in the street, shops being pulled apart and renovated, and buildings falling down, making it look really quite dirty.
  • The traffic is amazing, 5 lanes each way. Cross sections are out of control, pedestrians, bikes, scooters, cars, buses all going in every direction. They are very good drivers and manage to get in and out of trouble without batting an eyelid. We even saw a woman standing on the line of lane 2 of a 5 lane road where we were going at 100kmh. It seems like they use their horns as a form of communication, not in anger at another driver.
  • They don’t wear any helmets, some wear a visor cap which comes down to their chin. Others wear like a Doona that covers their arms and in front to protect from sun or wind, I am not quite sure.