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

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

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

ROYALS // Bundi, India

The Bundi Palace is beautiful in a kind of untouched, slightly falling apart way. Many parts of the palace are closed off and inaccessible, and the rooms that are open often bear signs of decay. However, I found the experience to be a lot more authentic than the perfectly maintained forts seen in Agra and Jaipur. As an added bonus, we only saw two other tourists during our visit!

It felt a bit surreal being the only people in such a spectacular palace.

Out group tour guide had recruited a local tour guide from Bundi, who was incredibly informative about the history of the building.

More stunning views of the city.

One of the lesser known attractions of the palace is the untouched paintings that adorn numerous rooms. Our tour guide was obviously in the know about the palace, as he lead us up narrow staircases and around numerous twists and turns to bring us to the most amazing rooms.

Once one recovered from the dank smell of bat poo (that’s how little the palace was maintained) that was.

Our tour guide proved himself to be 100% in the know when he made a phone call and a previously locked door leading onto a terraced garden was opened for us.

The garden also featured what was possibly the most colourful and well maintained of the painted rooms. Many of the paintings depicted stories about the life of figures such as Ganesha and Krishna, as well as royal families.

As an optional activity in the afternoon, we took some jeeps from the hotel for a drive to a nearby village, where the same local guide from the morning took us around.

We were followed eagerly by a group of children who were obsessed with our cameras and asking us questions in English.

We visited a local potter, who whipped up one of these pots in about a minute. Some people in our tour group had a go, with far less success!

I asked our group tour guide about why cows wandered the streets in India, and he said that for good karma families would always feed the first chapati/bread to a cow, and the last to a dog. I suspect that is what this cow was eagerly waiting for!

On the way back into Bundi we stopped to see Kipling House, where Kipling was said to have spend his summers.

Our final stop was the 84 Pillared Cenotaph, a structure supported by, you guessed it, 84 pillars.

Back at the hotel we took part in a cooking class. The amount of spices used put every curry I have ever used to shame.

After dinner it was off to the train station to catch our last sleeper train of the trip back to Delhi! Thankfully we all had beds this time.

– Reanna