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The train ride from Hangzhou to Beijing was the worst to date. Due to seat ticket prices being vastly cheaper than sleeper prices we opted for these but we were warned by the ticket seller that they were standing tickets and finding it hard to believe that they would make someone stand for 16 hours we purchased the ticket of doom! We left Hangzhou around 6pm when we managed to squeeze through with the crowds that were fighting to get through the barriers. You would think they were rushing to get on the train to get a good seat but in fact everyone was allocated seats on ticket purchase. When we boarded it came to our horrific surprise that we actually had no seats, like many others, and had to stand in the train carriage connections! If we had previously thought the train from Surrathani to Bangkok was bad, boy were we wrong. At least it was quite and warm but we honestly didn’t think we would be able to handle so many hours of sitting on a newspaper on hard floor for the entire length. We met two young Chinese guys who had obviously been prepared for this as one of them brought a small stool and both seemed used to it. They were from a place about three hours South of Beijing and were amused at our company, taking selfies and trying to have the best conversation possible which wasn’t the best due to the language barrier. They were amazed at how we could travel for so long when they had never left china themselves and even though working would not be able to afford it.
Looks comfy ay?
Trying to make the journey as bearable as possible we wrapped ourselves in warm clothing, cushioned our little area of space and tried to sleep, sitting up, lying in each other, lying down, nothing was comfortable as such but we miraculously managed to have some shut eye. Then, the best thing anybody could have asked for in that situation happened, a bulk of more passengers squeezed into the train but to our luck a lady was carrying a big plastic bag full of blankets which she asked if we could sit on it to avoid having to carry it! The heavens opened! We spent the next 8 hours more comfortable than if sat on a seat so thankfully the journey didn’t turn out to be as bad as it could have been.
Arriving at Beijing station was not the most welcoming, people rushing and barging, and we took a bit of time to figure out how to move onwards to the centre via metro. We witnessed a man experiencing a fit, eyes rolled back, friends panicking and giving him CPR when he stopped breathing! The reason for his collapse was unknown but they managed to get him breathing again and wake him up. All in all this shook us up a bit.
Feel Inn was the most reasonable accommodation we had found when pre-booking online and it was walking distance to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the main street, Wangfujing Street. Beijing was just as cold as Hangzhou but the presence of sun and absence of rain made it much more pleasant to walk around at, saying this we were still wrapped up with scarves, gloves and fur hats!
On a street off Wangfujing Street you could find food stalls selling dumplings, meat skewers, fried banana and many more, including star fish, scorpions and grass hoppers which were fried on order. There were also many souvenir stalls in this area
A man with a bucket of scorpions piercing them alive on to skewers
Our first day we attempted visiting The Forbidden City but were unlucky as they closed the ticket office at 3:30pm so we walked around the …Park instead which reminded me a lot like the Forbidden City but in a smaller scale, same architecture, cobbled paths and white stone bridges. It had snowed a few days before and we could see the last snow melting around trees and under roofs. I can’t imagine how beautiful it must have been covered in a thick blanket of snow.
One thing China is best at is producing quality counterfeit products at a dirt cheap price. Visiting the Silk Market and … was a daily occurrence for us. We spent the morning and early afternoon visiting attractions and finished the day at one of these malls.
The Silk Market was great for counterfeit clothing, bags, shoes, watches and toys. Each floor was allocated to a specific product so it was very easy to look around and haggle. Hongqiao Pearl Market had similar products but haggling was much easier here and cheaper prices were possible especially for bags, wallets and watches, saying this there was a wider selection of watches at the Silk Market.
On our second day we visited the Summer Palace.
the great wall
It was an early start for us on the third day as we set off to see the Great Wall which was around an hour and a half out of the cute centre. We decided to go ourselves instead of a tour as it would be cheaper and with the help of google it was pretty straight forward. We got the metro at 8am to Dongzhimen Bus station to get the number 936 Bus to …” Once there there were taxis waiting by the bus stop. We met a guy, Fon, from Guangzhou, China, who was making his way to the wall also and told us that the best place to see it was at …. We had originally decided to visit Mutianyu And we stupidly changed our plans and shared a taxi with him. It was an hours drive, passing deserted hotels and restaurants which were closed due to the cold weather. It was slightly spooky, kind of like a ghost town. When we arrived we learnt that we had to trek for about an hour to get to the wall and it wasn’t even a proper entrance. It was not open to the public. Clearly Fon was looking for a proper experience and forgot to mention this to us, unlike us who just wanted to see the wall where there was an official entrance and didn’t have to walk in the freezing cold weather. Yes we do admit that it would have been cool to have visited an area of the wall that not many do but we did not have the time nor was it the right climate. At least he was kind enough to pay for the taxi there himself and we convinced the taxi driver not to charge us to go back to where we started as he would have had to do so anyways with it without us. After much convincing he agreed to take us to Mutianyu for the price we would have originally paid so in the end we only wasted two hours of our time and not money.
The entrance fee, 58 CNY (£6) per person, was cheap considering we were about to see one of the wonders of the world. A shuttle, included in the price, drove us to the top and then we climbed hundreds of steps to get to the wall but it was well worth every step. The wall was kept in a very good condition.
During the hour and a half we spent there we merely came across twenty tourists which made the experience even better as we had the stunning wall all to ourselves the majority of the time. The wall extended for miles and miles and you could see branches of the wall continuing in all directions. As it was the winter period trees were bare and it was very cold being so high up, but it added a nice touch to it. Remnants of snow were found in shaded areas around the centre look out points.
Our taxi driver waited for out return to drive us back to the bus stop to get back to the city centre. We were done by around 4pm which got us back to the centre around 5:30pm.
The Forbidden City
On our last day of visiting attractions we visited the Forbidden City.