THE END AT LAST // Beijing, China

After two plus months of procrastination, forgetfulness, and being generally too busy, I have finally reached the end of my photos from my holiday! Whilst some days it does feel like a chore uploading photos (due to a combination of terrible internet, and having no room for photos on WordPress), I do always enjoy the process of putting them together, and I know I will look back at them one day.

These final photos are from the afternoon of my last day in Beijing. I had an early flight home the next day, so I was making the most of catching up with my friend!

The weather was surprisingly clear, so we made a mission for Jinshang Park – my third and final attempt to get a clear view of the city. Entry to the park is only 2 yuan (so, 40 cents AUD), plus it is beautiful, so returning was not an issue. It was absolutely a case of ‘third time lucky’, as we had wonderfully clear views of the Forbidden City. The sun glare didn’t help with the photos, but who could care when the view was so good.

Afterwards snapping a few photos, we headed into the modern area of Beijing and walked down a shopping mall, with the intention of visiting the famous (or infamous?) Wangfujing Snack Street.

My friend warned me of the bad smell of various fried foods before entering!

Yes, they are scorpions!

The street was pumping with tourists eager to try various foods, ranging from dumplings and tofu, to every imaginable type of meat, seafood and insect on a stick!

We tried some suscpicious looking tofu, but otherwise steered clear of eating anything else! It made for an interesting experience just wandering through the market and taking in all the sights and smells.

Eventually we made our way back out and jumped on the metro to the district my friend lives in to get dinner at one of his favourite local restaurants. The cuisine was Sichaun, which basically just means it is going to be super spicy! We shared some dumplings and a Sichuan ‘hot pot’, which you can see below. It was essentially various ‘meats’ (like, luncheon ham) in a spicy broth. I eat vegetarian about 90% of the time, so it was a bit of a struggle!

We also ordered ‘dan dan’ noodles, which are noodles covered in a chilli sauce. After a bit of negotiating we were able to ask for less chilli on my noodles, but I still sweating profusely by the time I finished eating my bowl!

After that we parted ways and I returned to my hostel for an early night of packing and working out how to get to the airport for my 7:00am flight.

This might have been my second time to China, but I feel like there is still so much to explore in the vast nation! If you ever get the chance to visit China, I would thoroughly recommend it – it is such a beautiful and diverse country, with a rich history. I only hope I can return again one day! 谢谢 !

– Reanna

PAST & PRESENT // Beijing, China

It has been a busy couple of weeks around here, with tonight being the first time that finishing off my holiday photos has even crossed my mind! I thought I only had one more post to go, but turns out I took million photos of street food… but that will come in the next post!

My last couple of days in Beijing involved a hodge podge variety of activities, influenced by both dismal air quality and wanting to spend as much time as I could catching up with my fried before I flew out. I was also admittedly running out of things to do, resulting in me deciding to check out the National Museum.

In my stupidity I thought I would be fine going to the Museum, however it turns out trying to go anywhere near Tianenman Square on a Sunday is going to result in a long wait! Entering both the Square and the Museum required security checks, so long story short, I spent a lonnnnnng time walking around and waiting in lonnnnnng security lines.

Entry to the Museum is free, and it is incredibly big, so one could easily come back over a few days and visit different exhibits. As I was meeting my friend for lunch I only wandered through the Ancient China exhibit. To keep my good luck rolling I entered at the most recent end of the exhibit, so I ended up going backwards in time. All well!

I met my friend nearby and we headed down a hutong for lunch and coffee at a super cute, totally hipster cafe. Rooftop hutong photos are always mandatory. Not featured: the neighbours chickens.

As a bit of contrast to the all the historical attractions I had been visiting, we checked out one of the ultra modern shopping centres in the CBD. It was certainly a change, and consumerism galore. Not to mention some of the high end fashion shops featured living models (like, literally some poor young girl standing in the window of a shop) and robots that greeted you as you entered.

We caught a bus and finally visited Atmosphere, a bar at the top of a hotel in the centre of the Beijing CBD. Being a Sunday we had not trouble getting a seat by the window, though apparently visiting on a Friday and Saturday window seating involves booking in advance and having a minimum spend! The cocktails were reasonably priced and the views were great, but the windows were filthy from the smog! Hence, the lack of photos. We also passed the iconic CCTV Headquarters building, seen above, on the way.

The next day I ventured off early to check out the Olympic precinct. It was a rather odd experience, with the area feeling quite deserted! A giant concrete boulevard ran what felt like several kilometres, and whilst walking the length of it I encountered few others.

As per my tourist obligations, I checked off the ‘Birds Nest’ and the ‘Water Cube’. It was absolutely freezing on this particular day, so I was quick to catch a glimpse of each location and keep moving!

I walked to end of the boulevard, and into a man made park. Again, it was also eerily quiet, especially for Beijing!

I had plans to meet my friend for lunch again near the Lama Temple, and in my typical way I arrived far too early. After a coffee stop I explored the area a little more, venturing to a nearby park.

I honestly think I am in love with Chinese gardens – they are so peaceful, yet at the same time full of life and a hub of local activity.

My friend coincidentally popped out of the metro station early as I settled down to read and wait, so we grabbed lunch down a nearby hutong (always!) and huddled in another cute cafe to keep warm for the afternoon.

More adventures were to be had on my final day, but as per usual there are too many photos! Only one post to go, and then I might finally be up to date with my life.

– Reanna

FINALLY, THE GREAT WALL // Gubei Water Town, China

During my first visit to China in 2015, I managed to travel nowhere near the Great Wall of China. When I began organising this trip to Beijing, visiting the wall (as well as my friend!) was at the top of my priority list.

There are numerous sections of the Great Wall that can be reached from Beijing, give or take a couple of hours. However, as luck would have it my friend’s university was organising a trip to Gubei Water Town, a tourist resort built at the base of the Simatai section of the Great Wall. I was able to join the trip, which worked out perfectly as we were taken directly to the town in under two hours via a private bus. So much easier than navigating public transport!

I was so excited when we got of the bus, as the town was covered in snow! It was only a small covering, but enough to have this little Aussie gal excited.

From what I could gather from the limited English information about Gubei, is that the town is actually a rebuild in the style of traditional Chinese water towns. The town is a ‘resort’, in the sense that one has to buy a ticket to enter the town. There are shops, food stalls, roaming entertainment and museums, rather than locals living in the area.

The Great Wall in the distance! I was basically crying from excitement at this point.

We left the tour group and headed straight for the wall. I am so glad we did, as by the afternoon clouds had set in around the mountains.

We decided to save our money and ‘experience’ the wall by climbing along to all ten watchtowers, rather than catching a gondola to the top of the wall. This turned out to be the best way to see the wall, but also the most exhausting hike! The wall was incredibly steep, and less well kept than other sections of the wall. As a result, the steps were crooked, narrow, and a bit all over the place! At the same time, this made the wall feel a bit more authentic, as it wasn’t crawling with tourists and rebuilt.

After the first few watchtowers we stopped for a picnic lunch. Despite being freezing cold in the water town, after hiking for half an hour we were all ripping off our layers, beanies and gloves! It certainly got the heart rate pumping.

I basically couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the whole time, even through the pain of hiking! The wall was so much more than I imagined, with such stunning views of the wall sprawling ahead for miles, the mountains, and the snow covered forests.

As I mentioned before, there weren’t many other people on the wall, which meant we were able to get some amazing uninterrupted views.

Everyone else we did see was struggling as much as us though! These photos don’t do justice to how steep this was.

Best. Day. Ever.

After spending a few hours hiking to the top, and back down again, we were in desperate need of a break. We had a coffee stop (and wifi, gotta upload all those photos!), before spending the remainder of the afternoon exploring the town.

An absolute novelty of the town to me was the purpose built design of the ‘snack street’. Numerous street vendors sold traditional snacks (pancakes, skewered meat, tofu, cakes, etc), which were only worth a few dollars each. However, the street was completely cash free – every transaction and order was placed through ‘wechat’, a kind of messengers/facebook/eftpos hybrid app that seems to do just about everything possible in China. I would have starved if my friend hadn’t been there and able to use wechat!

We made one last trek to get this stunning night time view of the water town, before heading back to the bus. Totally worth stretching our legs one more time.

Whilst Gubei Water Town is a bit difficult to get to via public transport, it is totally worth visiting to check out the Simatai section of the Great Wall, as well as exploring the town itself. So if you are ever in Beijing and considering which part of the wall to visit, consider Gubei!

– Reanna

BIKING BEIJING // Beijing, China

After being in Beijing for almost a week, my list of places to explore was beginning to run thin. Through some last minute online research, I decided to attempt to join a bike tour at Bike Beijing – a tour company based near Janjing Park that runs a variety of bike tours in Beijing and surrounding areas.

I arrived mid morning, and was able to book a bike tour for late in the afternoon. I chose the three hour tour of the local hutongs, which I organised for the early afternoon. The tour office doubles as a cafe, so I was more than happy to sit indoors and have a coffee whilst I was waiting. The staff were also incredibly helpful in recommending places to explore and eat before my tour (I ate at Little Yunnan and it was delicious)

As the bike shop was near Jingshang Park, I decided to attempt views of thew Forbidden City again. Despite every other angle of the city being clearer than when I came a few days earlier, the City was still clouded!

Being the middle of winter, I ended up having a private bike tour to myself! My tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable, and kept to bike pace slow so we could take in the sights, and safely navigate the crazy traffic!

One of our first stops was in an old area of hutongs, that my tour guide explained were actually newly rebuilt hutongs. The Chinese government rebuilt the area to keep the original charm and style of traditional hutongs. My guide also explained how hutongs, loosely translated as ‘water streets’ as the narrow streets used all lead to wells, were influenced by various leadership changes across the dynasties.

We passed the Lama Temple that I had previously visited, and my guide told me that a lot of temples and schools are housed in the former residences of the children of the Emperor. Apparently as soon as the son of an Emperor was a teenager he was sent to his own palace in order for the Emperor to ‘keep the blood pure’ at the main palace. Think of that what you will, keeping in mind the Emperor had multiple wives and concubines.

Next, it was on the Bell and Drum Towers. The building in the above photo and the photo below were situated at opposing ends of a large square, used were traditionally used as a timing system to inform local residents the time of the day, and most importantly when the city gates would open and close for the day.

Most of the tour was spent mazing through the never ending hutongs around the city centre. They are such narrow streets that seem completely illogical in their layout, hence my constant fear of getting lost in Beijing! Exploring hutongs is a great way to see local life though, as many families live in the small courtyard houses that line the streets.

The above photo shows a traditional hutong door, which my guide explained was once used as an easy means by which people could determine the status of the family residing beyond. I can’t remember exactly what this door meant, but the wooden poles protruding from the top of the door and the stone blocks at the bottom were important!

Our final stop was Houhai Lake, an area I had yet to come across in my explorations. I am not quite sure how I missed it, as it was bustling with restaurants, bars and tourists!

By the end of the tour I was absolutely freezing, as our pace was certainly not fast enough to raise my heart rate! A coffee and wifi stop at the Biking Cafe was enough to warm me up, before I wandered back to my hostel for a relatively chilled out night.

Exploring Beijing by bike was definitely a fantastic way to see the city – if you are ever visiting, I would highly recommend hiring a bike (if you are game enough to navigate the maze of hutongs) or jump on a tour!

– Reanna

“TOO MUCH IS AS BAD AS TOO LITTLE” // Beijing, China

With a metro population nearing that of the entirety of Australia, Beijing was like nothing I have ever experienced before. Looking at the metro map everyday was overwhelming, and I was always worried about getting lost! Thankfully after a few days in the city I managed to gain a bit of confidence, but I always kept screen shots on my phone of what metro lines I needed to take to get to my destination, and a screen shot of a map – I didn’t have internet on my phone!

When heading to the Lama Temple, which these photos are from, my carefully curated map directions on my phone turned out to be somewhat confusing, and I was sure I was lost when I emerged from the metro! After a few minutes of wandering around looking for a map or a sign, I saw some Western tourists heading down a street and followed them. Thankfully, they appeared to be heading in right direction and I eventually found my destination!

I would have been devastated if I didn’t find the Lama Temple, as it was one of my favourite building complexes in Beijing. It is still an active place of worship for Tibetan Buddhism, so it was quiet and full of the smell of incense. The buildings were a wonderful mix of colours, blending together across the complex.

It is recommended not to photograph inside temple buildings, so you will have to imagine the giant gold Buddha in one of the last buildings!

…Dragon turtles!?

After a quick coffee break, I ventured down the road to the Temple of Confucius.

I admittedly knew very little about Confucius before visiting the temple, and I surprised myself by spending most of my time there in a museum in one of the side buildings reading about his teachings. The title is one the many quotes of Confucius that I noted down.

There were many, many statues of Confucius dotted around the complex!

The Temple of Confucius was also connected to Guozijian, a former imperial college, being the highest form of education during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Of course, being next to the Confucius temple, you can guess what they were studying!

After a bit more exploring of the area I headed into central Beijing to wander down Emperor’s Avenue and Dashilan (or Dashilar, if you speak with a Beijing accent!) Street, the main shopping district.

I decided I was in need of a warm place to sit and do some planning with wifi, so I desperately tried to remember the location of a coffee shop my friend had taken to me earlier in the week. After unsuccessfully trying a number of small, side hutongs, I almost cried when I stumbled across the coffee shop. Once I had settled down with a coffee, I discovered my friend was also heading there to study after his classes, so we ended up spending a few hours chatting!

The coffee shop has a rooftop terrace, providing the above view over the hutong buildings, giving a different perspective to the old, winding streets.

Whilst wandering down old hutongs is certainly stressful if you don’t know where you are doing, it certainly gives a fantastic perspective to everyday life of Beijing locals who live in the old houses. I discovered a bit more about the history of hutongs in Beijing during my stay, but that day is yet to come…

– Reanna

A HIPSTER BREAK // Beijing, China

When I began putting together all my photos from this past holiday, I honestly though I would have it all done within a few weeks. Nearly two months since my return it seems I still have a fair few posts ahead of me! Oh, naive ambition…

My days in Beijing fell into a bit of a routine – breakfast at the hostel, call someone back home, research where to go to for the morning and how to get there, and eventually leave the hostel around mid morning. Considering how could it was during my trip, it was nice to warm up slowly in the morning before braving the weather outside!

On this particular day I decided to check out Jingshang Park, as recommended by my friend for the views of the Forbidden City.

It seemed a little foggy as I walked to the park, and whilst it did clear up slightly by the time I arrived, I was still unable to see the city!

Classic Beijing.

I made do by wandering around the beautiful park for an hour or so.

In the afternoon, I met up with my friend who took me to the ‘hipster’ art area of Beijing – the 798 Art Zone. It was a bit of a mission to get there – a metro, taxi, and a walk. But as always, totally worth it!

The area is full of decommissioned factories that have since been turned into galleries, shops, and cafes. We met up for coffee with another Aussie expat, and checked out a ‘3D exhibition’, which was simultaneously horribly lame, but so much fun.

That evening, my friend took me to a restaurant to try a different regional cuisine. I can’t remember the name of the region, but it specialises in delicate flavours, such as green tea. It also apparently specialises in the below mysterious cake/bread/ice cream concoction!

The food was A+ (even the above meat, cooked in green tea – I typically eat vegetarian 90% of the time!), as always. Travelling in China has certainly ruined eating Chinese food for me back in Australia!

– Reanna

THE FORBIDDEN CITY // Beijing, China

As I have mentioned a few times, I was treated to very clear and sunny (though very cold!) days for the most part whilst in Beijing. However having 10 clear days in Beijing winter would be unheard of, so when I woke up on this particular day I was hardly surprised that it was cloudy and smoggy.

The smog was not in dangerous territory, so I ventured out for the day to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Being the core of tourism in Beijing, these locations were quite busy, but being a week day I thankfully didn’t have to spend any time waiting in line for tickets and the various security checks.

Tiananmen Square is one of those places that I had seen so many pictures of, that it was quite surreal to see it in person.

The Forbidden City was far bigger than I anticipated! The former Chinese imperial palace sprawled out over what felt like hundreds of courtyards, buildings, and gardens. I was unable to find a map to take with me, so I had to make do with taking a photo of a large map on a sign and zooming in!

The buildings were all so ornately decorated, both inside and out.

Around half way through my explorations my camera ran out of battery! Thankfully I had my phone with me, but I was kicking myself for being so unaware of it having low battery. It also gave me an additional incentive to take more in with my own eyes, rather than desperately trying to capture everything through a camera lens.

Some of my favourite palaces were in the courtyards to the side of the main buildings. I didn’t even get to see all of them because there was so many!

The imperial garden was also quite beautiful, even in winter.

It was so cold that eventually I gave up on trying to see everything! Not to mention it felt like I had walked far too many kilometres trying to explore the palace.

The rest of this day was relatively uneventful, featuring cheap shopping at Silk Street, Beijing noodles, and catching up with my friend again.

– Reanna