Date of stay: Dec 2011
Where you stayed: Family, 365 Inn (Beijing)
Tour or pre planned: Pre Planned
China hadn’t always been on the top of my list for places to visit, but once I decided I was setting out to see a bit of the world, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see my family who live in Wuxi (pronounced Wushi).
Arriving in Shanghai, they had organised for a driver to meet me at the airport, which I am grateful for, as I don’t think I was prepared for the language barrier to be as hard it was. Wuxi is about an hour and a half northwest (driving) from Shanghai, and was quite a small town until the last 20 years. Wuxi is dubbed as the “new Shanghai”.
Some of the attractions that Wuxi has to offer are Nanag Chung Xi Temple Markets, which as the name suggests includes, a temple and markets. You can also get a canal boat ride, and cruise down the canal and see all of the houses backing on to it, with all of their red lanterns hanging about.
About half an hour out of town is the Grand Buddha at Lingshan, which is 65m tall, and is one of the tallest Buddha statues in the world at present. It is set in a park with a giant lotus fountain, which opens every half an hour and a little Buddha comes up, as well as temples and shows to the excitement of my 10yo cousin, feeding pigeons. We had organised a driver for the day, and headed to Wuxi Zoo after the Buddha, as this was not far from it. The zoo I can say is probably not worth visiting. The enclosures were dull and the animals didn’t look too happy.
One of the great things about China is their high-speed trains. I don’t know why, but when I used to think of train travel in China, I would look back to movies like Shanghai Knights. That theory got blown out the water when my Aunty and I took a day trip to Shanghai from Wuxi. The train takes around 35 minutes, and gets to speeds over 300kmph. I think the fare is about 60RMB each way. Once we arrived in Shanghai we hopped on another metro to Peoples Square and then walked down to The Bund for the token tourist shot with the Shanghai skyline. After that we walked back to Peoples Square (which also contains a park and museum etc) and jumped on another Metro to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. Not to look at the museum though, but spend hours walking around the markets haggling for lower prices over everything. We saw a lot of people on the train back to Wuxi, who had brought a suitcase while at the markets and filled them to the brim. Remember – like any Asian country, haggle for a price you’re happy with and don’t be afraid to walk away.
My next adventure was to Beijing. After comparing the overnight/high-speed trains, I decided that it was cheaper to fly. The flight was around 500RMB. I had braced myself for the cold, as I had been watching the temperature in Wuxi, Beijing was about 10 degrees below that (-8!). However, upon arriving, I found that it was a beautiful day, with crisp air, but warm winter sun to warm you up. I got a taxi from the airport to the Hostel I was staying (365 Inn, which had been recommended to me) and checked in. I had arrived a bit before the room was available, so hung out at “Helen’s” the restaurant/bar that is at the Hostel – a great way to meet people and even if you are sitting there alone, there is wifi in the main area, and writing all over the walls which can be quite entertaining to read.
I set off to find Alice’s Tea House (turn right from the Hostel, veer left when a small fork comes in the road, and there is red lanterns out the front, about 50m down the road). I had been recommended Alice by a friend if I wanted to book any tours. Alice will give you better rates, and she even offered to accompany me to the Chinese Acrobats since I wasn’t too sure where it was. Essentially – the tour that I booked through Alice was the same as the one the Hostel offered (both 250RMB, same van etc), except the Hostel included breakfast (McDonalds) and didn’t include the entrance fee (50RMB). I definitely recommend booking through Alice, and just take fruit/snacks with you. Even better, she pours you tea while she’s arranging it all for you.
Staying at 365 Inn was great, they had good food in the Helen’s, and by my last night we had made a huge table of friends to drink with. Next door there is also a restaurant that does Peking duck, which is very good. We got a bit carried away and ordered 8 dishes including the whole Pecking duck, between 4 of us.
The next day I set off to the Jingshanling part of the Great Wall. This is the less popular tour as it is around 3.5 hours drive from Beijing. We arrived at the wall and jumped out of the van, to be greeted by the icy cold air. All layers were on and I started walking up to the first tower, which is about 20 mins of hill and stairs. The local farming community subsidise their income by following and offering you souvenirs. These people do not let up. They follow you until the end. Acting as a tour guide at times, and then taking you down the shortcut on your way back down. Of course you end up feeling sorry for them, as they spent 4 hours following you up and down stairs (some extremely steep), then won’t accept a tip. Just make sure that you still haggle a price if you decide to purchase something (unless you’re happy to pay what they ask). Legend has it there is even an alcohol seller at turret 4 who will walk with you until you decide to stop.
As you can imagine, the wall is surreal. Being the only tour group there, you also get amazing photo opportunities. You trek along the wall for about an hour and a half until you reach the “flower tower”, and if you want to you can continue along to the “five window tower”. I made it a couple of towers past the “flower tower” and then sat down in the beautiful winter sun with two girls from Belgium and we shared our fruit and travel stories for an hour. We then took the short cut down the hill, which had snow all over the track where the sun had not yet reached, and made our way to the restaurant to have some lunch, which is provided.
The following day was time for me to hit Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Jingshan Hill. Luckily this was about a ten-minute walk from the Hostel. Tiananmen Square is full with tourists, as is the Forbidden City. Looking back I didn’t really explore too much of the Forbidden City, just strolled through the middle mainly. It was very cheap to get in to Jingshan Hill, and I wish that it had been a clearer day as you couldn’t really see back over to Forbidden City. It was neat walking around Jingshan Park as there were all of the local elderly Chinese, singing and dancing around in groups.
Overall in China, you need to be organized. It helps to have hotel and destinations already written in Chinese. Some restaurants don’t have any English (or pictures) in their menus, so it isn’t an easy task to even get some pork dumplings. My family have little cards they carry in their wallets with translations for food items, so you kind of know what you’re getting off the menu.
- Don’t be surprised with the smog.
- You need to obtain a visa before entering China
- In main tourist areas, there is a lot of spitting, and westerners may be stared at. Also don’t be surprised if a kid drops their pants and urinates in the street.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: Yes
Would you recommend your hotel: Yes
Overall rating destination: 4 out of 5