Sunday, July 19, 2009

Beijing and Xi'an

After MUCH planning on my part I'm glad to say that the Beijing/Xi'an trip was mostly successful!

The flying part was the easiest part. I have to say that China is pretty organized when it comes to the airlines. Checking in, security and all flights were quick and on time. We were even fed a full meal which is much more than Canada can offer these days without paying huge prices for a coke.

I had plans to book the hotel at Novotel which is the chain that we stay at while in Hong Kong but Nicola said to find something cheaper, so I did. I told him that I was looking in the border price range between clean and reputable hotel and hostel/2 star. Can't say that I didn't warn him and I left the decision up to him when we arrived and found the hotel filthy dirty and an entire assortment of condoms and lube in the bathroom for purchase!
So we left! Checked out and phoned our friend who recommeded a place called the Jade Hotel, which we were happy with.
Honestly, I don't care where we stay as long as it's clean. I stayed in a dorm in Ft Lauderdale last year and yea it was cheap and I slept on an air mattress but at least it was clean!
I'm an avid tripadvisor user so if you want to check out my reviews, my username is TorontoTara.

First impression of Beijing was that it was a very large city. Not large in the sense like it's a big place and easy to get lost.. large like the intersections are 6 lanes across. It takes a full 3 minutes to cross the road! Ti'ananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Beihai Park.. all gigantic! To walk a few city blocks takes almost an hour.
The rickshaws on the street are all extremely pushy, which got irritating after the 10th guy following us and grabbing our arms for a ride.
The police were everywhere. Parts of the city seemed to close down to darkness at 10pm.
I liked Beijing but I wouldn't go back. Glad I visited and saw what I saw but no plans to ever go back.

Xi'an on the other hand was fantastic.
This city is under heavy construction so on the ride from the airport to the hotel we noticed how.. unfinished it all looked. And under a cloudy day, well, let's just say that we were hoping to be impressed later.
We were.
Xi'an is a city with life. The streets were flooded with locals. Stalls selling everything, tables set up with rows of lotto tickets, water for sale, handicrafts, newspapers, food, clothing off the back of the truck. The Muslim district was a maze of alleys behind the main street selling food food food. All sorts of street food, kebobs, rice dishes, squid on a stick, I can't name it all!
The shopping was incredible. I finally gave in and bought myself an outfit. Since I'm not working I haven't bought myself a single article of clothing but I figured I would be pissed at myself if I didn't buy something at those prices. All the hip clothes that Toronto sells for outrageous prices plus tax I can buy in China for Y50 which = $7. So I did. I bought an outfit that is clearly Chinese :D

Handicrafts sold on the street

We went to the Big Goose Pagoda since there is a bi-hourly fountain show. So we went for the final show of the night at 9pm. Little did we know that half of China would also be there. Arriving 15 minutes before the show did not give enough time to secure a spot within view of the show.
My book read that it is the biggest and most elaborate fountain show in all of Asia..and it was! We ended up catching the final 5 minutes after climbing a huge lightpole structure thing and shared with all the little kids who also climbed up.
My photos revealed that all the people were playing and laughing in the water as it spurt out of the ground as the show was playing! What fun!

We went on a sidetrip to see the Terra Cotta Army which estimates over 8000 soldiers once they are all excavated. I think we saw 2000 of them at the site. Named one of the 8th wonders of the world and a world heritage site, it was quite a sight.

I'll finish this blog entry with a little about the Great Wall hike.

Not knowing which Great Wall site to visit, I left a post in the tripadvisor forum for advice and names of trusted tour guides/drivers who could take us for the day trip.
We ended up meeting two early 20's girls who were traveling as well and wanted to visit Simatai which is the most natural and unrestored part of the wall. The trip was longer and more expensive but apparently worth it in the end to see the real thing and not the restored bricks that the Chinese have been replacing the real thing with.

You can clearly see the difference between the restored part and the natural part of the wall.
Click pic for a closer look.

After a 2.5 hr drive to Jinshaling we were dropped off and the driver would meet us at the other side, Simatai. The hike was 10.6 km.. not that I knew how far that really was....
One girl in our group was sick from heat/sun stroke (could have been either) and so we took the walk slow and leisurely.. 5 hours! Great views, tons of crumbling stairs, 37 watchtowers and about 15 bottles of water later we arrived at the end.. only to find another 15 minute walk back to the parking area. So we ziplined down! Glad the option was there cause we were sooo tired and sunburned and hungry.
Looking back, I'm glad I did it. Good thing I have been going to the gym.

Allll those stairs.. What you can see of the wall in this pic, we hiked. Pat on the back ;) Good work.
Click to enlarge for a closer look.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Still here

It's true that my posts are becoming less frequent but hell, I can't get on this site easily.

So what's new new new...

Just spent a week in Vietnam with Linh! Stayed at her lovely apartment and traveled the city and beyond to see some war tunnels and rice fields.

I'm not sure how to pinpoint Saigon since I was only there a few days but my first impressions were positive. Everyone seemed to know their place except me with my nose in the guide book or my eye peering through the lens of my camera.
Everyone remains outdoors all day and all night. It seems that there is no place indoors or in front of the computer or tele. Women carry heavy loads of fruit to sell, sit behind their stand under their hat protected from the sun and when night falls, lay back on their chair and rest until morning comes and a new day begins.

I discovered a cold coffee beverage that the locals were making on the street. They would bring a bucket of ice, sweetened condensed milk and a thermos full of Vietnamese Moka blend already brewed. For about $.50 you would sit on a plastic stool near to the ground on the sidewalk and sip iced coffee watching all the people pass. Just as the locals do as they duck out of work for a coffee break.

I don't want to mention that we almost got killed while driving to the My Tho Islands.. no, I didn't mention it to my mom, but i suppose i am now ;) The lady who drove was was *too cautious and in that city the importance lies in "going with the flow." It wasn't my day to go, don't worry Ma!

All in all a great trip. I could write for hours but i'll cut it here to spare the boredom and just post photos... on facebook!

As for next week - we have booked a week holiday in Beijing and Xi'an. Plans are to see The Great Wall and other Beijing things.. and the Terracotta Army.
My camera is in for repair so that pics won't be as fun to take.. or as nice quality. If anyone has Beijing suggestions on where to go .. places to eat.. let me know!