“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

TEMPLE OF HEAVEN // Beijing, China

I had around 10 days in Beijing, which afforded me the luxury of taking my time to explore the city and not desperately try to cram everything into a few days. Plus, it was so cold that I had to regularly stop for coffee to warm up, and catch up with my dear friend!

During the week I had most of the day to occupy myself, as my friend had his Chinese classes. Being so cold in Beijing, I was often pretty slow to start in the morning. Plus, I had to spend at least half an hour planning out where to go and how to get there – Beijing is big! On this particular day I was treated to more clear skies, so I set off to the Temple of Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven is not so much one temple, but rather a large imperial park full of various religious buildings and sights. The main building was the above structure, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

Some of the other buildings included animal sacrificial halls, and kitchens for preparing meals to place in the temples as offerings.

Above if the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and below is the view from the Circular Mound Altar.

After a few hours I wandered back to my hostel is the Xisi district and met my friend for a late lunch. The Xisi area has basically zero English, but thanks to my friend’s Chinese lessons we were able to enjoy the delicious spread below!

Dumplings are mandatory with every meal.

After lunch we went to Beihai Park, another former imperial area.

We wandered around the semi frozen lake (which I found amazing – I had never seen it in Australia!), before climbing up to the hill top temple for some stunning views.

Bless my luck for getting a relatively smog free Beijing!

One of the things I loved about all the park lands and gardens in Beijing was how they were used by the locals. Older locals who are retired tend to flock to the areas, for dancing, singing, card games, walking, or in the case of the man above, writing! It was great to see such areas being utilised so much.

It wasn’t until we exited Beihai Park on the opposite side to which we entered that we stumbled across the best photo angle!

The night was spent catching up over two-for-one burgers and cocktails in the Sanlitun district. Walking around an immensely modern part of Beijing after exploring imperial parks all day was certainly a contrast!

– Reanna

DUCK & DYNASTIES // Beijing, China

At last, the final leg of my recent overseas adventures – Beijing! As per my last trip to China, it was planned in order to visit a friend of mine from the UK. We met on exchange in Prague, and he is currently living in Beijing to study Chinese. Seeing as we were once again on the same side of the globe, and I was traveling in Asia anyway, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss to catch up again!

My friend had kindly offered to collect me from Beijing airport after a short three hour flight from Hong Kong. Conveniently, we were all hungry and checked off one of my first to do’s that night – Peking duck! We went to Quanjude, which is the most famous chain of duck restaurants. It was easy to visit on our way to my hostel: we caught the metro train to Sanyuanqiao, before returning to that station to catch another train line. The duck was very rich, but utterly delicious!

It was getting late by the time we had eaten, and I was ever so grateful for my friend to take me all the way to my hostel! This turned out to be a good decision, as the hostel is located down a traditional Beijing hutong (a long, narrow street, with courtyard houses lining it).

The inside of the hostel, still shaped as a traditional courtyard with the rooms coming off.

The next morning I met up with my friend again and we went to the Summer Palace! He hadn’t been here before either, and the smog that had been covering Beijing for the previous week had just lifted, so it was the perfect day to explore.

The Suzhou Market Street.

The Summer Palace is the largest royal park in China, and features numerous lakes, buildings, and temples. I think we probably saw less than half of it in our few hours there!

Perhaps the most impressive building in the park is the Tower of Buddhist Incense.

The building was so intricately painted in such a wide variety of colours, and whilst we couldn’t go inside, there were still some amazing views from the doorstep.

Bunyun Bronze Pavilion.

I am hopeless at taking photos of myself when traveling, but my friend would regularly declare a location to be perfect for an impromptu photo shoot and insist he take a quick snap of me! As reluctant as I often was, I appreciate the photos now!

After a couple of hours of exploring we realised how absolutely famished we were. Eventually we managed to find a restaurant, an expensive, touristy one, but it was totally worth it. The building itself was beautiful, and the ‘Emperor’s Lunch’ we had was divine. Look at all that food! Something that I found unusual about eating in China is that sweet and savoury dished are often served together, not one after the other as we would do at home.

The main lake in the park was partially frozen (did I mention it was the middle of winter in Beijing?), which provided me with far too much enjoyment.

After wearing ourselves out at the Summer Palace, we were in desperate need of sitting down somewhere warm. We caught the metro into the city centre to Qiamen, or Emperor’s Avenue. My friend led me down a small side street to a coffee shop called Berry Beans (good coffee and wifi if you are ever traveling in Beijing!), which filled all my hipster coffee needs, as well as providing some historical trivia – the coffee shop is housed in a former brothel.

After spending some time in the cafe, we headed to the Place, a glorified shopping mall, to watch the new Harry Potter movie. Which was totally worth it, even if it did feel like the Potter universe is being milked for all it is worth!

– Reanna

DIM SUM DAYS // Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR

Extended flight stop overs are such a fantastic way to sneak in another country or city, whilst still getting a reasonable airfare. Chris and I met up in Kuala Lumpur when I went to China in 2015 as part of our return flights from Hong Kong, and three days felt like the perfect amount of time to check out KL. When we were booking our trip to India, we decided to have a stop over at either Hong Kong or Singapore, depending on which flight would be more convenient. Our travel agent worked their computer magic (or whatever it is they do) and worked out a three day stop over in Hong Kong.

It wasn’t until we were on our way to India that we realised that our Hong Kong stopover might not be as relaxing as we anticipated. Our flight from Delhi left at 10:00pm, lasted five hours, and with a couple of hours time difference meant we arrived at 6:00am Hong Kong time. It is safe to say we were absolutely wrecked by the time we stumbled into our hotel in the early morning, and we were more than happy to upgrade our room in order to check in early. Plus, the upgraded room was on the top floor so we got to enjoy some amazing views!

After showering/eating/returning to human form we ventured out of our hotel for a stroll into Causeway Bay. Soon enough it was lunch time, and using Chris’ knowledge of Hong Kong from spending two weeks here the year before, we headed to one of the Tim Ho Wan stores, a cheap dim sum place with a Michelen Star rating. We waited about 10 minutes, before being seated and quickly served. I was still feeling a bit sick from India, but it was delicious nonetheless!

We were both exhausted by this point, so headed back to our hotel for what we though might be a quick nap. Two and a half hours later, we realised to was probably time to consider our plans for the evening!

After grabbing some egg tarts to refuel (a Hong Kong necessity) we caught the metro over to Kowloon to wander the street markets, before a quick stop for ramen. We were basically falling asleep in our noodle bowls, so we went back to our hotel for a very early night.

As we had both previously been to Hong Kong, we were happy to take our time in the city easy. However, after ten odd hours of sleep, we woke up motivated to take on hiking up to Victoria Peak. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but after an hour of walking up the steep maze of streets to the forested path near the peak, we began questioning our decision!

Once we reached the forested area the incline continued, so frequent stops to catch our breath we essential. At least there were some stellar views!

Before we knew it, the path flattened out and we found ourselves at the shopping centre at the Peak.

The views up here are 100% worth it.

We caught the tram back down the mountain, had a quick pit stop at the hotel, and went out for…. more dim sum. Isn’t that the main thing to do?!?

The afternoon was spent wandering around Kowloon, including some shopping at the Jade Market, checking out the Flower Market, and searching for the Bird Garden. The Bird Garden was a strange little strip of garden full of men sitting around chatting, whilst hanging their bird cages on purpose built poles.

That night we went out for a fancy dinner (by our standards anyway!) in Causeway Bay, to celebrate getting my thesis results back! It was also a nice way to spend our last night together, as I had a flight to Beijing the next day, whilst Chris was heading back to Melbourne.

Chris and I often discuss whether we could ever move to a certain city, and Hong Kong is definitely one of those places. Sure, it is cramped and busy, but it is so full of life and is a melting pot of culture, whilst also being close to numerous places we have yet to visit in South East Asia. Who knows, maybe one day?

– Reanna

ROUNDABOUT // Delhi, India

And now back to the feature presentation! This is my last post from our time in India, which feels so long ago now.

As previously mentioned, from Bundi we caught our final sleeper train back to Delhi for a final night in the capital. We returned to the hotel we previously stayed in, and the group began to drift different ways for sightseeing around the city. Our tour guide organised a private driver to take a small group of us to a list of recommended destinations. The first stop was Swaminarayan Akshardham, however we weren’t allowed to take cameras in! It was such a shame as the temple was absolutely beautiful (and as we later learnt, very new), but it allowed us to appreciate the beauty with our own eyes rather than a camera lens.

The next stop on our itinerary was the famed Lotus Temple. I admittedly knew nothing about the place, other than it was a tourist hot spot, and was surprised to learn about the Bahá’í religion it serves. It was absolutely pumping with tourists, but thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long before entering the silence of the temple itself. One had to remain completely silent inside, which resulted in several parents with small babies being kicked out almost immediately.

Afterwards it was on to Lodhi Gardens, but not before grabbing a quick ice cream.

The Lodhi Gardens feature a range of ancient tombs from the 15th Century. It was also wonderfully peaceful inside, a perfect break from sitting in slow, noisy Delhi traffic all day!

Evidently I took way too many photos at the gardens.

Next it was on to Satyagraha House, a museum built in the final residence of Gandhi. The museum was very information heavy on the bottom floor, whilst on the top floor featuring a range of interactive exhibits that staff were far too eager to get us to take part in!

The museum also marks out Gandhi’s final steps before his assassination.

Our last stop after 6 odd hours to adventuring (half of which was definitely spent in the car!) was India Gate, a war memorial located near the government are of town. As you can see, it was incredibly busy!

We had one last group dinner that night, before saying our goodbyes and heading off to bed.

Chris and I had another full day in Delhi, as our flight wasn’t until later that night. We intended to do some more sightseeing, but luck wasn’t in our favour. Both of us felt a bit unwell in the morning, but we pushed on to attempt to see the Red Fort. However, visiting the fort was far more expensive than advertised on their website and we didn’t have enough cash to last us the day. I began to feel progressively worse, so after some lunch we made our way back to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon resting. A bit of a sad and sorry was to end our trip in India!

Well, India – you were crazily busy, loud, and like nothing I have ever experience, but also full of insanely beautiful people and places. And the food. I am never going to be eat naan at home again after experiencing its true form abroad!

– Reanna