There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That’s a fact,
It’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die.
Ni hao my dear Into the wild family!
Indonesia is behind us and it’s China’s turn to explore. From the nicest place on the planet to the ugliest place… at least I thought so at the beginning. But I am already changing my mind – step by step. This weeks post will cover just two places – Hong Kong (point A) and Beijing (point B). Just two places, but we still manage to do 2500 km with train. That’s how big is the distance between these two cities. We arrived to HK from Bali, stayed there 5 days to do some sightseeing and arrange Chinese visa and then with 24 h train headed to Beijing. Have to say that it was the most comfortable journey so far for us.
Hong Kong (in Chinese – Fragrant harbor), officially known as Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, is an autonomous region on the southern coast of China, geographically enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea. HK is known for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour, and with a population of over seven million people, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Despite presence of Chinese influence, the idea of modern HK, including its name, geographical and cultural make-up, owes much to the developments during the 155-year British rule. As a result of the negotiations and the 1984 agreement between China and Britain, HK was handed over to the People’s Republic of China and became its first Special Administrative Region on 1 July 1997, under the principle of “one country, two systems. That system should last for 50 years, buy you can already see that agreement won’t stand, since China is slowly, but without any shame, taking it over.
As I said, we arrived to HK for two reasons – sightseeing and to arrange Chinese visa. Well the sightseeing was nice and it was impressive, which I can’t say for arranging the visa. 3 days of battles with Chinese authorities took 5 minutes of my life away :). We discovered that they like to play by the rules, to feel important and that they have double standards for different people. You need an entry ticket, an exit ticket, hotel reservation for the whole time of your stay in China (keep in mind we are backpackers), photo and a field form that is longer than any other visa applications so far. After arranging all the papers and few fake reservation, we managed to get it. And man it’s not cheap. Luckily I come from a small country, so mine was a bit more than 50 EUR, but Maja comes from a bigger one with, looks like, worse bilateral agreements, so it cost almost 90 EUR making it one of the most expensive visas we ever had to pay.
As far as sightseeing of HK is concerned, I can say that 4 nights – 5 days is more than enough to do all the most important things – Tsim Sha Tsui east promenade with the avenue of the stars and skyscrapers view, Victoria peak and its views, famous 10 min Star Ferry river cruise, night markets, and few not too impressive temples. Keep in mind, that it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world (we spent 600 EUR in 5 days – visa cost included) and if you are backpacker you don’t want to stay longer anyway. Specially accommodation it’s extremely expensive and the quality very poor. If I said that Singapore was the most expensive city in the world, HK for sure has the most expensive backpackers accommodation in the world – it cost us 40 EUR per night for a small room that usually costs from 5 – 15 EUR. So 200 EUR just for accommodation for 5 nights, which usually means 10 – 15 days of accommodations in our vocabulary 😦 – well we knew sooner or later we will get to this stage as well… But lets rather talk about sightseeing in HK, which is maybe not the most culturally impressive, but for sure has some of the most amazing architecture views we have seen so far.
TSIM SHA TSUI EAST PROMENADE
One of the finest city skylines in the world has to be that of HK Island, and the promenade here is one of the best ways to get an amazing view. It’s a lovely place to stroll around during the day, but it really comes into its own in the evening, during the nightly Symphony of Lights (come early, if you want a good spot, because it gets busy), a sound-and-light show involving 44 buildings on the HK Island skyline, which runs from 8pm to 8.20pm
Along the first part of the promenade is the Avenue of the Stars , which pays homage to the HK film industry and its stars, with handprints, sculptures and information boards, a brave but ultimately bad effort to celebrate Hong Kong’s film and TV industry.
You can’t say you have done HK until you have taken a ride on Star Ferry, that legendary fleet of electric – diesel vessels with names like Morning star, Twinkling star … The ride costs like 0,20 EUR and it’s just a 10 min ride, but you can admire for a short time Victoria harbor bay.
Standing at 552m, Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island. The Peak is also one of the most visited spots by tourists in Hong Kong, and it’s not hard to see why. Sweeping views of the vibrant metropolis, verdant woods and easy but spectacular walks – the thing that bothers me is the shopping center on the top, but it has a view platform, from where you can admire HK in 360 degrees. The best way to reach the Peak is by the 125-year-old gravity-defying Peak Tram, but we wouldn’t be Into the wild team, if we didn’t walk on the top. It’s a 1 hour steep walk, but nice one so if you are not too lazy – do it – and bring water with you 🙂
From ready-to-wear Chinese jackets, kitchen knives, typical Chinese crap you can find in any China town in the world to food and fruit stalls, the sheer range and variety of products on HK night markets is mind-bending. Every need and pocket is catered for in true enterprising spirit by an equally dazzling number of venues. The city has no sales tax, so prices are generally attractive to visitors. We visited quite a few of them – just to mention some: Lady’s market, Temple street night market, Wan Chai market… (all you need in reality is just to wander around and for sure sooner or later you will run into one).
In the end I would resume HK with a sentence said by Maja that actually describes it pretty well: HK is nicer to live in than to visit as a tourist. What she meant is that it doesn’t have too many touristic sites but offers a lot of soul that hides behind the tall skyscrapers and you need time to discover it.
China, officially the People’s Republic of China, is the world’s most populous country, with a population of over 1.35 billion. For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation. After World War II, the communists under Mao Zedong established an autocratic socialist system that, while ensuring China’s sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and cost the lives of tens of millions of people. After 1978, Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping and other leaders focused on market-oriented economic development and by 2000 output had quadrupled. For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically and the room for personal choice has expanded, yet political controls remain tight. Since the early 1990s, China has increased its global outreach and participation in international organizations.
Everybody calls China a world’s factory. While this was true in the early 2000, I have to say that the trend is changing – and you can notice it. China is becoming a developed country (although that goes just for the east cost) and is becoming an important international player. But on the other hand we mustn’t forget a huge violation of human rights (Tibet, ethnical minorities and lately HK), huge censorship (noticed in their news and blocked internet access) and rural area which is being neglected on a big scale and the poverty is the highest.
But we didn’t come to China to solve their problems, we came here to admire their beauties (food, architecture and culture) – and there’s plenty of them. Our plan is to explore more or less the east cost (from Beijing down to HK). We would like to do more, but the country is way too big to see everything in 4 weeks. This week it’s Beijing turn and other places will follow in next two posts.
Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China. With a population of 21.5 million people, it is the nation’s second-largest city after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural centre of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.
Few places on earth can match the extraordinary historical panorama on display in Běijīng. There are six Unesco world heritage sites in this city alone. At its heart is the magnificent Forbidden City, a royal palace on a scale like no other. Běijīng is also home to sublime temples that aspire to cosmological perfection, while the city centre is crisscrossed by enchanting hútòng: ancient alleyways that teem with life today, as they did hundreds of years ago. And, to cap it all, the awe-inspiring Great Wall snakes its way across the hills north of town. We stayed in Beijing 5 nights and we have to say that it surprised us in a positive way in all expects. We stayed in a best youth hostel so far – Beijing Downtown Backpackers. Beijing is enormous, so saying that 5 nights is enough would be a lie. Still I still think it gives you enough time to see the most important “must see” sights – Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Hutong alleys (specially Nanluougu Xian) , Temple of Heaven Park, Summer Palace, Great Wall, Olympic park and night markets.
HUTONG – NANLUOUGU XIAN
Beijing may be racing towards the future at fast speed but sneak behind one of the city’s tower blocks and you find a slice of old Beijing that seems to have been lost in time. Welcome to the hutong; centuries-old alleyways, that are the true heartbeat of this unique city.
The best way to experience hutong life is to simply wander around the alleys, either on foot or by bicycle. Good places to start include the alleys around the Drum Tower and those branching off from the newly gentrified bar street alley called Nanluogu Xiang. And if you just go off the biggest alleys and lose yourself in the small ones you’ll have a chance to witness every day life of the friendly locals.
Tiananmen Square, the heart of Beijing, is the world’s largest city center square. Tiananmen Square was the locality of numerous major political and historical events. It’s specially known for the students protest that were brutally repressed in the 1989 (between 200 – 3000 people died, depends who you ask) – was trying to find more details about it but all the web pages related to this events are blocked in China… Tiananmen Square is the Holy Land in the hearts of the Chinese people, and is the heart of China.
The Forbidden City is China’s largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings, and the largest palace complex in the world. Its called “forbidden city” because it was off-limits for 500 years. The otherworldly palace was the home to two dynasties of imperial rule until the Republic overthrew the last Qing emperor in 1911. The place itself is just too big to explain with all the buildings and halls, so you will have to visit it yourselves to find out more 🙂
Today, the Forbidden City is known as the Palace Museum. In former ages the price for uninvited admission was instant execution, these days ¥60 will do. Allow yourself the best part of a day for exploration. When you come to the end, don’t forget to climb to the top of the hill next to the palace, from where you can see more or less the whole complex in its majesty.
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN PARK
A tranquil oasis of peace and Confucian design, the 267-hectare Temple of Heaven Park is absolutely unique. Surrounded by a long wall and with a gate at each compass point, the arrangement is typical of Chinese parks. You can find some beautiful temples that are all representing something (didn’t had a chance to find out what – and we don’t pay the guides) and you can have a really nice stroll.
Summer palace – with its huge lake and hilltop views – offers an escape in a busy Beijing. It requires a day’s exploration, although a (high-paced) morning or afternoon exploring the temples, gardens, pavilions, bridges and corridors may be sufficient – but its a must in Beijing.
If you have a lot of time (as we did) you can also walk through the Beijing Olympic park. Located at north of Beijing, covers 12 square kilometers and is the biggest park in the city. During the 2008 Olympic Games, the park hosted the opening and closing ceremonies, and 15 major events. Beijing olympic stadium (bird nest) is in it among few other sport complex. Don’t bother to enter the stadium, the entrance is quite expensive and not too much to see anyway. It’s more impressive from outside.
A sight in itself, the Donghuamen night market is a food zoo: lamb, beef and chicken skewers, corn on the cob, smelly tofu, grasshoppers, kidneys, quail eggs, snake, squid, fruit, porridge, fried pancakes, strawberry kebabs, bananas, stuffed eggplants, chicken hearts, pita bread stuffed with meat, shrimps – and that’s just the start.
It’s not a very authentic Běijīng experience, but the vendors take great glee in persuading foreigners to try such delicacies as scorpion on a stick. Expect to pay ¥10 (1,2 EUR) for a lamb skewer; more than you would pay for the same snack from a hútòng vendor. More exotic skewers cost up to ¥50.
In nearby you can also walk through kind of night market, that you would find in any other “China town” in the world. A lot of bad quality souvenirs and smell of street food – but if you’re already nearby it’s definitely worth a visit.
He, who has not climb the Great Wall, is not a true man – Mao Zedong
No matter what you think how Great Wall will look like, it will still blow you away.
The star attraction of China is the Great Wall, a spectacular defensive structure built to keep intruders from entering the mainland, which stretches from Jiayuguan Pass in the west, to Shanhaiguan Pass in the east, with a total length of 8850 km that traverses 9 provinces and municipalities. The steady stone fortification is a symbol of China, which was inscribed into the list of the World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling sections within Beijing area are the most famous ones. But DO NOT visit Badaling if you don’t want to be surrounded by thousands and thousands of Chinese tourists. Luckily we got this information before 🙂 Our informer (Thank you Tatiana) told us to visit Jinshanling part – almost no tourist since its 150 km from Beijing and more authentic and untouched look than the other two sections. The problem is that it’s very complicated to reach on your own and that means you need to take an organized tour. We always try to avoid that kind of tourism, but sometimes it’s just simply impossible. Funny thing is that all 37 of us, that signed for that tour, had the same feelings about organized tour, so the first moment we got there everybody scattered around and we were alone all the time :). The visit of the Great Wall consist of 6 km of steep hike on the wall and amazing scenery to be seen. It’s simply amazing and number one highlight so far in China, I’m sure it will be very very hard to up-top it.
Ok folks, that would be it for today’s post. Hope you enjoy the reading it as much as we enjoy the experience itself 🙂 Next week we will talk about Pingyao, Xi’an and Shanghai. Until then …. love each other!!!
Maja & Andrej