A Travellerspoint blog

Beijing

just 20 million people, take or minus a million

sunny 26 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

We arrived with so much excitement into Beijing. We had done the trans-mongolian train, actually done all 8115km of it! What a fantastic experience. I had an absolute ball and am so glad to have completed one of the world's greatest train journeys and the best thing of all is that I still love travelling by train and am lamenting having to take a plane soon. We met Tina our honcho at she guided us to our bus to take us to our hostel. We would of got mighty lost otherwise. On the bus ride some people were so excited by the sights and sounds all around them but for some reason I found it strangely familiar, perhaps because I've been to Kunming before or because there is such a large Asian population back home but I didn't find it shocking, or strange but weirdly comforting.
After freshening up in my own private room (score!) we met Tina and she took us to a Peking duck restaurant around the corner. We shared duck and some other vegetable and meat dishes which were nice and very cheap. Afterwards we caught the bus with Tina and went to a kungfu show. This was the weirdest thing I've ever seen. There were bus loads of white tourists everywhere and I couldn't shake the thought it was an exploitation for tourists of a great art. I think I totally had the wrong mindset about it, but it was more like a tacky, way too serious musical, with bad voiceovers and far too much choreography instead of kungfu tricks. I held it together through it until the neon lightning started and I couldn't stop giggling. Really sad as the few tricks they did were very impressive.
We caught the bus back towards our hostel and went to visit the Donghuamen night markets, the famous food markets where they sell silk worms, scorpions, spiders, starfish and other grotesque things on a stick to eat amongst noodles and dumplings and candied fruit. We walked along the street in disgusted awe at all the strange things. Then we headed into the craziness of the market stalls selling every type of souviner possible! It was an hilarious and fascinating time although I wasn't tempted by any of it! Afterwards we wandered lost for a little while trying to find our way back to the hostel.

We started very early the next morning as we were going to the Great Wall today. We boarded our bus and drove through Beijing, stopping to get some food for breakkie and then napping the rest of the way to the JinShanLing section of the wall. It is supposedly the furthest section away in the Beijing area that you can visit, Tina had been scaring us that it would take 3.5 hours to get to but really only took 2. It was an absolutely stunning day, we could not ask for more perfect weather, and so 8 of us set off on the path to the wall. It was everything I had imagined and more, the landscape was stunning, the wall was magnificant and incredibly impressive. There were other tourists around but not you could still get photos with no people in them, and what I really enjoyed was that some sections of the wall had been repaired, but lots of it was very rundown with the path and stairs being really rough, walls in varying states of collapse and in some parts not ramparts, just the path to walk on. This section of the wall is the youngest, at only 600 years old but it apparently one of the most beautiful parts. It definitely kept me in awe the whole way. I couldn't help but think about some Bogi our mongolian honcho had said. It is a great people that build the wall but it is an even greater people that was the reason for the wall. It just seemed like such a crazy decision to build this amazing structure and yet they did! 3.5 hours and over 200 photos later we came off the wall, having walked a few kilometres of it's total 7000km ish length.
We napped in the bus on the way back to Beijing, getting caught in the infamous traffic for over 3 hours. Once we got back, we went straight to an early dinner at a hotpot restaurant. Basically the concept is a boiling pot of hot water in the table and you dip raw meat and vegetable into it for a minute or so until it is cooked and then eat it with sauces. It was a very very messy but fun and highly interactive meal. We even got to make our own noodles by stretching the dough into a noodle shape and then cooking them. It was delicious and after our exhausting day we definitely needed it. At night a bunch of us headed out in search of a bar and this turned into quite an exhausting effort. We walked aimlessly towards Tiananmen Square with no luck before deciding to get a cab to the bar area. Getting a cab in Beijing is harder than it looks. There are lots of taxi's around but lots are full and then I don't know if it's because we are so obviously tourists but lots do not stop and then later on at night when trying to get home they all blatenly try and rip you off by not putting the meter on and charging an exorbarant flat rate even though this is illegal and although we know it there is nothing we can really do. Anyway so 2 cabs took us up a bar area around a lake north of the forbidden city, but the two cabs dropped us in completely different places so we spent quite a while trying to find each other while also wandering around gorgeous lake and seeing all the bars around it. We eventually ran into each other and sat down to a beer (of which Chris has managed to haggle down the price). The bad thing about beer in China is that is pretty weak and some taste like funny water. We headed back to the hostel a few hours later absolutely exhausted from our massive day!

Today was mid-autumn's festival (or something like that), which is basically a full moon festival day and the start of the national week long holidays. It is highly recommended not to travel to China during this week as there is soooo many people and getting transport tickets can be difficult and more pricey and so this was the week I was to spend in Beijing. This morning we had a Chinese brunch in an awesome underground food court area and then broke off into different groups. Vodkatrain was now over and we could do whatever we wanted. Roel, Steve and I decided to tackle the big one first, there seemed no best day to visit the Forbidden City so we thought we may as well get it over and done with. We first headed to Tiananmen square with all the millions of other people doing the square. It is absolutely huge and actually quite different from what I imagined. I didn't realise Mao's mausoleum was in the centre of the square. After ice-cream while wandering around the square we then crossed through to the Forbidden city. It is absolutely massive at approx 1km deep x 650m wide, and inside is a huge endless collection of temples and palaces, massive and small courtyards, and thousands and thousands and thousands of people. It didn't take long to get tickets but wandering through the place took quite a bit of time due to the crowds. The boys got over it pretty quickly, I sustained slightly longer but after a few hours of looking at the temples and wandering around we were absolutely exhausted and totally over it. We kept thinking, how could there be some many chinese people seeing these sites, and then reminded ourselves there is 1.2 billion of them, most of them actually haven't been here before!!!

Slowly I exhaustedly made the move to the my new hostel, a cute little courtyard hostel down a hutong (an alley) and then after that met up with everyone at our pre-arranged spot by the lake. When we met we wandered around the lake and then to one of the most famous hutong's in Beijing, Nanluogo hutong which is filled with restaurants, shops, bars and food stalls, decorated with lots of lanterns and packed with people. We had a great dinner on a roof top terrace enjoying the full moon and the last night we would all be together. We then spent the rest of the evening wandering the shops, with all the girls buying things they definitely didn't need!

October the 1st is national day. It is a massive day in China and Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are at the centre of it and so Steve, Roel and I decided to meet at the National Centre for Performing Arts, which is next to Tiananmen Square. Possibly the dumbest decision ever! We had decided to meet there as I especcially wanted to see the modern egg architecture but I really really regretted it as soon as I stepped on the metro. It took so long to get there, being stuck like a sheep in the metro tunnels and then the Tiananmen stations were closed so I had to walk a fair way with what felt like a million other people all heading to Tiananmen. Supposedly 1 million people were to be in the square that morning! I eventually made it to the egg, but the boys were also having a hard time getting through all the people and we didn't meet up for ages! We had lots of requests while admiring the egg to have our photos taken with chinese, something that is still really strange to me.
We then set off on the metro to the Olympic Park, hopefully with a few less people entow. It was quite a sight coming out of the station and straight away seeing the two showpieces - the bird's nest and the watercube, and even though I saw nothing of the Beijing Olympics I was quite excited to get to go into them, plus it was a clear sunny day and that makes all the difference in China. The Birds Nest was first and was really cool, we spent ages looking and sitting inside the stadium, all 3 of us were impressed, it felt much more intimate than Sydney Olympic Stadium but fits about as many people, while the outside nest structure is really showy and pretty magnificant, if a little dirty. Walking up and down the stairs in the "nest" allowed us great views of the watercube and the olympic park, and also the strange IBM tower just next to the site. As we were walking around though you could feel and see the famous smog descending all around us, our views became dramatically less from the time of entering the olympic park to leaving it.
After the Bird's nest we had lunch in a big temporary food tent, with endless options of cheap Chinese food to pick from which was delicious. Then it was on to the Watercube. The outside of the stadium is truely cool, and I was proud it was an aussie design! But the Bird's nest and the watercube sit opposite each other and I don't think you could put two more opposing structures facing each other! It was a strange and slightly uncomfortable siting, I think it highlighted how opposing they are. Inside the watercube looked slightly worse off. The place looked used, and for a building only 4/5 years old this is kind of sad. The Olympic pool side did look impressive but the waterpark and central space felt rundown, the plan to have shops and restaurants inside the facility hasn't worked and they sit abandoned and the clear tensile fabric walls look grubby, but to it's credit the waterpark looked like heaps of fun and the boys were sorely tempted to give it a go in there undies or come back another time!

We were exhausted and ready to go after many hours in the park and so made our way back on the metro system towards my hostel. After encouragement from Steve, Roel and I decided to go see the acrobatics show at night, and so basically criss-crossed the city via metro to get there. I have seen a lot of acrobatics and circus tricks in my time and wasn't particularly keen on paying to see some more, but Roel really wanted to go and the theatre was next to the CCTV building so we got to kill two birds with one stone.
We saw the CCTV building first and it is enormous, absolutely monolithic, what a ridiculously unneccessary but impressive structure. I was really thrilled to have seen it, after hearing lots about it during uni. It takes over an enormous block and can also be seen in the skyline from the high points of the Forbidden city! After picking up my jaw and taking some horrendous night photos (so wish I had a tripod) we then headed to the acrobatics show, which I am glad to say was no where near as cheesy as the kungfu show. A lot of tricks in the show I had seen but several were pretty cool, like the partner ballet, where the girl stood in ballet point shoes on top of the guys head, also the finale where they had a circular cage with 8 motorbikes at the same time riding around doing tricks! Some very impressive skills by the whole cast!
Afterwards Roel and I had dinner at a restaurant down the hutong from my hostel, spending a few hours sitting there eating (the Chinese really know how to make spinach mouth wateringly delicious!) and chatting, and by 11 the restaurant wanted to close and I could barely keep my eyes open. Yet another fun filled day!

Roel turned up unexpectandly and checked into my hostel the next morning and then the two of us and Manu who was also staying at the hostel made our way to the Temple of Heaven park. It is an enormous and I'm sure beautiful park but the crowds, as with the forbidden city ruined the peaceful atmosphere and lessened the impact of the temples. We wandered through the park to the main temple which was gorgeous but dulled by the smog and then proceeded along the main boulevard in the park, getting gorgeous vista's back towards the temple and then saw two other smaller temples before leaving the park, we spent approx 2 hours there but the crowd made us feel like we'd been there for 2 days!
Manu left us and Roel and I made our way via the metro (which is concidently really easy to use, efficient, clean and cheap) to the Silk markets where we met Steve. The three of us then decided to tackle bargaining in China. I bought the first thing and in hindsight I really really really could of haggled much harder, but it's all practice. The silk markets is actually quite a nice shopping area but it's all the sellers and there relentless tactics and calls that make you exhausted and desperate to leave soon after. Over the 5 levels of goods, I did manage to pick up a few things, most excitedly 2 new pairs of ski googles! fingers crossed they are ok and don't break on the first day! Roel had the most restraint and proudly bought nothing! But after 3 hours we really couldn't wait to leave; it had been yet another jam-packed Beijing day.

Roel, Manu and I had dinner at down the hutong at the restuarant next door to the other night and had a great little meal of chinese pancakes and noodles. Then it was back to the hostel where Roel forced (easily) push ups and situps upon me!

My last day seeing the last of the vodkatrainer's as we all move our separate ways. Roel and I walked back towards Nanluogo hutong were we met Chris, Renee, Steve and Emma and the 6 of us had a western breakfast together at a normal western looking cafe. It was quite a nice change to have a little bit of (skewed) normality. Then we split up again, everyone doing their separate things. Roel, Steve and I walked through some hutong's, talking a Chinese math teacher as we walked (I am seriously meeting a proportionally high amount of teachers in China so far) and through the streets to the Yonghe lama temple. This temple complex was absolutely gorgeous and although quite crowded it was far more respectful and peaceful here. There were lots of people coming to pray and give offerings and everyone was very calm around it. I was able to appreciate the stunning architecture so much more here. The temple is famous for having the world's largest buddha statue carved out of one piece of wood and it is incredibly awesome at 26m tall.

We felt quite relaxed and calm as we left and Steve and I headed by taxi to the 798 art district. We didn't quite know what to expect but this area was amazing. It is a huge dis-used factory, power plant area that over 10 years has transformed itself into a district for contemporary art, cool shops and great little restaurants and cafes. It was of course packed with people but it didn't bother us. We walked around seeing some amazing art, housed in some fantastic old factory buildings, like melted copper artworks, and some instillation artworks in and around an old power station. This area really enhanced both of our views on Beijing. It was a great city, but this gave it intelectual capacity and curosity and instead of just existing with some gorgeous building's around. What I enjoyed the most was how provoking a lot of the art was, really making us think or explore and discuss. We had lunch at a cute little cafe and spent several hours exploring not even 20% of the shops and galleries.
We knew we had to meet everyone again for the last time and so was time to head back but this turned out to be a harder task than imagined. We had easily and affordably got a cab to 798 but now it was peak hour and we could not get a cab back. Although we hoped into a couple they either claimed they could not see, definitely glad I didn't stay in that one, flately refused, which is illegal or tried to charge us off meter at exorbant prices which is also illegal. No one would be fair and give us a ride and even though we know it is illegal for them to do all of this and we are increasingly yelling at them so, they don't understand us and so we had only 2 choices - to pay the crazy price or find another way. We chose to find another way, by asking a guy at the bus station if he spoke english - yes! and then can he tell us which bus to take to get to a metro so we can get back to the hostel - yes! so we caught the long bus back into town, with the bus attendant laughing at us along the way and then the metro a few stops back to the hostel, with the whole thing taking so long, we only had time to slam down a beer before taking the metro back a few stops to meet up with everyone from breakfast again! busy busy busy!

We had dinner in a famous area of Beijing called Ghost street. It is anything buy ghostly and I still have no idea why it is called this. It is a huge street decorated with red chinese lanterns and with massive crowded restaurants. We had dinner at a huge place where there was lots of crazy things on the menu like pig's intestive and rotten garlic but we managed to find safe and normal things to feed us all, but to my disappointment we did eat like westerner's with one dish each. After a really enjoyable meal and also 3 weeks together it was time to say goodbye to Chris and Renee and Emma. It is such a strange thing that you spend all this intense time with people and then part, although with good intentions, probably never to meet again. I then had to say goodbye to Steve which was really sad, he has been such a good travel buddy, instantly clicking from day 1 back in St Petersburg. We said goodbye with both of us doing the macarena as his metro train disappeared from the station!!! I felt so much more alone again now, and something I realised I was quite apprehensive about again. I have spent all this time by myself and was nervous about travelling with people and now I am nervous about going on my own again!

I had to say goodbye again the next day with Roel leaving to set off on his trip again. It was yet another hard one and I was keenly aware of being alone again. The two boys have been such good guys to hang around with! And so by myself for the first time in weeks I set off dangerously to go do some shopping! No boys to keep me from spending my money or make me hurry up. I went to a lesser known but still massive market called Yashow, hoping I could get better deals than at the more famous and popular Silk and Pearl markets. 5 hours, and a manicure and pedicure later I got back to my hostel, ladden with stuff - mostly clothes in prepartion for canada and no idea how I would fit it all into my bag! It was crazy, the 5 stories of markets had stuff everywhere with bags, clothes, electronics, makeup, chinese souviners, beauty shops to get manicures and so and so on. It was expensively exhausting but I actually had far more fun here than at the silk markets and I think got some good deals!

At night, back at the hostel, as I contemplated packing I knew something was not right, and without all the details I basically spent the night incredibly sick in the bathroom and with a temperature, and struggling to sleep from aches and pains. No idea what happened but all I can think is maybe food poisioning! It was horrendous but thankfully in the morning I felt better, or at least able to actually pack my bags.

The first task I had to do the next morning was go the post office and post a whole heap of my souviners that I will not be needing in Canada and of which my bag now needs the space to fill with stuff I have bought to use in Canada! The post office was a funny process, but thankfully I had got the woman at the hostel to right out what I needed in Chinese otherwise I doubt I could have done it. They bubble wrapped everything and I had to insist on packing it myself which they thought was strange, and then after several forms and strange communications my stuff was off. Hopefully it all turns up back home!

I then headed off on the metro to the Summer Palace. This huge complex, of which 70% is a lake is on the outskirts of the city and was a residence of the emporers. It was very hot and once sadly once again swarming with people! I walked around the massive complex looking into a few of the temples and enjoying the pretty vista's over the lake before climbing up the most famous point, a temple overlooking the whole palace and indeed most of Beijing's skyline. If there wasn't the sheer number of people I could calmly sit here for hours taking it in, but after a few hours in the complex I was more than done and couldn't wait to get back to the hostel. It was beautiful but the chinese traditional architecture is all blending into one.

Back at the hostel, I chilled for a 2 hours, chatting with fellow travellers and saying goodbye to Manu before heading off on the metro to the Beijing West railway station. It took a bit of time to get there and it was packed with people as expected but eventually I got onto my train and comfortably set up for the night trip to Xian! Beijing had been lots of fun but I was definitely ready for the next thing and felt quite at home moving on on the train!

Finally arrived in Beijing

Finally arrived in Beijing

The great wall

The great wall

On the wall

On the wall

Cracking a beer on the great wall

Cracking a beer on the great wall

After one beer!

After one beer!

The crumbling wall

The crumbling wall

Inside the forbidden city

Inside the forbidden city

Rooftops in the forbidden city

Rooftops in the forbidden city

Doorhandles

Doorhandles

The egg - the performing arts centre

The egg - the performing arts centre

Steve, Roel and I at the Olympic park

Steve, Roel and I at the Olympic park

At the bird's nest

At the bird's nest

acrobatics

acrobatics

Temple of heaven

Temple of heaven

CCTV tower

CCTV tower

lama temple buddha

lama temple buddha

798 - melted copper art

798 - melted copper art

View from the summer palace

View from the summer palace

Posted by awowchuk 02:16 Archived in China Tagged beijing Comments (0)

Train to Beijing

yet more hours on the train

sunny 20 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

Steve and I awoke in a delirous state. We were sooooo tired and had to drag ourselves to the bus which took us to the train. Once we got on the amazing train it was straight to sleep for a few hours. This was up there as the best train we have been on as the toilets were clean, there was a shower, good hot water facilities, it was carpeted and we had window! The pretty major negative was that the pillows were made of sticks. No joke it was a bag of stick inside a pillow case and it was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever put my head on. No way could I sleep on it. When I woke up (not on the pillow) we were well and truely in the gobi desert, which was not rolling sandhills but endless non-district plains of groundcover. It was beautiful in its huge extent. We spent the day chilling out on the train, sleeping, chatting, taking pictures, reading, eating and taking in and photographing the gorgeous view and very beautiful sunset. Pretty much we have become experts at the long train travel thing. We are all very good at killing time.
The mongolian border control was boring and time consuming, hopefully eating my last meal of instant noodles ever. We were never sure exactly when we passed over the border but we did stop soon after and the chinese officals came on and collected our passports and then the long jolting process of changing the bogey's began. We moved up and back the line slowly inching towards the train sheds and then jolting back again as each carriage entered and was disconnected, although we had no idea what was going on at the time. We entered the sheds and our carriage was lined up next to other carriages on our train and thus gave us a great view of what was happening. As with the Ukrainian borders, the carriages are seperted and then jacked up into the air, the bogey's taken out and the new ones put in place. Here though they had automated the process of pulling the new bogey's into place. We took many pictures but once we got our passports back during the changing process I feel asleep absolutely exhausted and oblivious to the raucous noise that Chris and Steve were making.

I awoke at a normal time and felt as stiff as a board, they were not the most comfortable train beds I'd ever experienced. The scenery outside now was completely different to all we had seen through Russia and Mongolia, with dramatic mountains and fields of crops lining the trainline through China. At one point in the morning we excitedly saw the Great Wall of China weaving up the mountains! Definitely made the train for me! It was another glorious day and I loved being able to stare out the window at the scenery for hours! The last 2/3 hours was spent going through 60 tunnels cutting through the mountains. It looked absolutely beautiful outside, we were all quite excited to be going back to warmer weather!

Mongolia from the train

Mongolia from the train

Mongolia from the train

Mongolia from the train

Sunset from the train

Sunset from the train

Sunset from the train

Sunset from the train

Posted by awowchuk 18:14 Archived in Mongolia Tagged train Comments (0)

The Mongolian ger camp

It's snowing in September and we're standing on genghis khan's horse!

all seasons in one day 10 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

We boarded the bus early morning to head out to the Ger camp in the Terelji National Park. Bogi forced us to play some group card games while on the bus, which would have been interesting except that half the group (again) didn't want to get involved. We then stopped at a supermarket to get some water and some gifts for the nomadic family which we would be visiting. It was a little difficult to work out what to get as there were too many people making decisions and thus we ended up buying way much more than we needed to.
The bus to the ger camp was an interesting experience, looking out at harsh endless rolling hills, passing shanty looking houses and driving on atrocious roads. It was one of the bumpiest rides ever, I swear I got airtime in my seat. Once we passed through into the national park, the roads stayed as atrocious but the landscape become stunning with mountains and rocks and lots of ger camps. We saw camels, eagles, yaks, cows and horses which got us all excited.
We dropped all our stuff off inside our Ger, I was sharing with Steve, Manu and Hannah this time and we were so excited to be sleeping in a proper nomadic tent, (with electricity of course!) It was very cosy, with 4 beds lining the outside and a fire place and table in the centre. We had little time to relax in the camp then it was lunch inside the dining hall. Every day the lunch and dinner menu changed and you got to pick what you wanted. It was pretty good food, with a dumplings, soups, salads, and big meaty mains.
After lunch it was free time so Roel, Steve, Chris, Renee and I decided to hike up the rocky mountain immediately behind our ger camp. Although it was steep, it was so much fun and the view from the top was unbelievable! It only took us 15 minutes to get up there (so as you can tell it was a HUGE mountain) and we sat up there for over half an hour sitting out on different rocky points. We had such amazing weather and had a gorgeous 360 view of this part of the national park, including the golf course.
We came down and I had a delightful little nana nap before we went into the dining hall to try on the traditional mongolian clothes. The costumes are quite elaborate and very warm. We took many silly pictures looking out over the national park, which when looking back at them feels like we were infront of a blue screen. It was very surreal!
We then boarded the bus and headed a few kilometres down the atrocious roads to the traditional nomadic family. The grandmother of the family welcomed us into her ger and offered us traditional Mongolian snacks of dried curds, cheeses, little breads and cows milk. It was fascinating learning about the nomadic lifestyle through Bogi. This family moves twice a year, for winter and then summer and life is based around getting milk from the cows, preparing food, keeping the area and yurt clean and sewing clothes. What we didn't expect and was a silly assumption by us, but they were connected to the grid, with fridges and a TV inside the yurt. The woman then offered us a glass of fermented mare's milk. This alcoholic horse milk was incredibly sour and smelled potent. Not a drink I will have again. We then went out into her field of cows to watch her milk the cows for a little while before it was seriously too cold for us westerners to stay outside.
When we came back the women running the camp came around and got the ger tent fires going, it was delightful but they dumped a whole bag of coal, including the plastic bag into the fire which we were not impressed about. It's these moments that makes you realise the difference between the developed and developing nations. We had a nice dinner together again and then a bunch of us played poker into the night.

Our second day at the ger camp, we got to have a lovely big breakfast in the dining room before heading some of us headed out on a hike up one of the other hills. The hill was very deceptive, looking like you could just stroll up the green but instead was a leg burning climb! Once again we climbed all the way up to the top and hung out on the rocks with 360 degree views all around! It was so peaceful and gorgeous up there.
While coming down the hill the boys playing a game of bottle golf and then we headed over to do some archery. It was quiet a distance and only one person was able to hit the target and consequently broke the quiver. It was lots of fun though!

We had another large delicious lunch in the dining room before heading out on the main activity we did here - horse riding. Emma unfortunely was allergic to horses (as well as eggs, nuts and other animals!) and Hannah was sick but the rest of us headed out on our group of small horses. We were a formidable bunch. Unlike Steve, I wasn't nervous about riding but I am totally happy to admit I have no idea what I am doing on a horse and so felt like quite a fool for a while. We walked the horses 1hr to the famous turtle rock, a rock formation that surprise surprise looks like a turtle. On the way my horse, who I named Blacky, decided he didn't want to play anymore and just stopped and so I chose to get the upgrade package of being led by the guides to the rock. I was freezing so was quite glad to be able to put my hands in my pockets.
At the turtle rock we climbed upto the turtle neck to see the view. The rock was in a different part of the park so it was a completely new view for us. A few of us slipped through a little crevice to be able to sit out on the other side too. When we came back to the other side it was starting to snow! This was pretty amazing, we were in mongolia in september, riding horses and climbing on sacred rocks and it was snowing!
The ride back to the camp only took me 20 minutes as I got my confidence and went off with the guide trotting and galloping the whole way back. It was pretty amazing and fairly surreal for me. I really enjoyed the galloping but when I got off I still had no desire to get back on a horse anytime soon. The whole horse riding was an absolutely amazing experience!
When we came back we chilled out for a little while, getting the fire in our tent going and realising we had no electricity. We had dinner in the dining room in candlelight and i-phone flashlights as the whole area was in a blackout. It was quite nice but slowed down the dinner process substantially. Once again the same bunch of us hung around playing card games and the boys anamitely discussing the topic of infinity.
We left quiet early the next morning after breakfast and as we were driving out it started to snow, the whole drive out of the national park and to our next sight was in the midst of a proper snow storm. It was absolutely amazing and our driver did an amazing job of dealing with the snow as well as the terrible roads. We drove to the largest man on a horse statue in the world. In the midst of nowhere was an enormous new stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan on a horse. It was so strange. It was still snowing and as we walked up the stairs to go inside some people, including Steve who was experiencing his first time in snow were throwing snowballs. Inside was a great little museum about Mongolia during the bronze age and the history of Mongolia. It was wonderful collection of weapons, armour, ornaments and jewellery. We then got to climb up the inside of the horses leg and stand outside on top of the horse's head in the snow, staring back up at the giant face of Genghis Khan!

We took some nice group photos and then headed back for 2 hours on horrendous roads again, watching the snow disappear and slowly we came back into the hussle of UB. After we checked back into the hostel most of us headed out to an all you can eat mongolian barbeque restaurant. We got to select all the veggies, meat and sauces and then the guy cooked it on a giant round hotplate and performed tricks to put the cooked food on the plate. It was fantastic and we all stuffed ourselves silly so we wouldn't need to eat dinner! Emma was the little powerhouse putting away a higher food to weight ratio than anyone else! She is full of surprises.
After we were completely stuffed Bogi left us and we went souviner shopping and bought food for the train ride before going and chilling out for a little in the hotel. For once I think I was quiet restained as the idea of eating anything else was horrid!
At 7:30 Roel, Hannah, Emma, Steve and I met Bogi and she took us to a karoke pub. We were in a pimped out private room and for 2 hours we massacred many classics and a few mongolian songs too! Afterwards Roel, Emma, Steve and I headed out to go clubbing in UB. We first of all got taken by taxi to a club that wasn't even open and so had to get another taxi to another club which turned out to be fantastic. We spent the next few hours, into the early hours non-stop dancing! The fanscinating thing is that if we didn't remind ourselves that we were in UB, or notice all the mongolian's around us, we could of been in any nightclub in the world. The only main difference was that after 12 a couple of times the music stopped for 10/15 minutes. After 12 they are legally not allowed to play music but to keep it going the police need to be paid off. This happens pretty much everyday at every nightclub! We had to drag Emma out of the club while the rest of us were shattered and we headed home for 2 hours of sleep before our early morning start the next morning.
Climbing the hills around the ger camp

Climbing the hills around the ger camp

sitting up high

sitting up high

The Ger tent

The Ger tent

Mongolian outfits

Mongolian outfits

In the nomadic family tent

In the nomadic family tent

Renee, Roel and I at the top of the mountain

Renee, Roel and I at the top of the mountain

The view from the mountain

The view from the mountain

Archery at the camp

Archery at the camp

Horse riding

Horse riding

Look at my horse, my horse is amazing

Look at my horse, my horse is amazing

Gangnam style at Genghis Khan

Gangnam style at Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

Mongolian bbq

Mongolian bbq

At Karoke

At Karoke

Posted by awowchuk 18:35 Archived in Mongolia Tagged ulaanbaatar Comments (0)

Ulaan Baatar

Genghis Khan

sunny 20 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

We pulled into Ulaan Baatar at 6:15am local time (1 hour behind Irkutsk but inline with Beijing) and we were met by Bogi, our Mongolian honcho. She took us to our hotel and on the bus explained exactly what we would be doing for the next 4 days, such a nice change from Arthur. Steve and I were sharing a room at the hotel, woohoo a hotel, although it was a cheap one with many abnormalities such as reverse hot and cold water taps but it was so nice to not have to use shared bathrooms and to do some washing. Afterwards we headed out to get some breakfast, but being a sunday everything was closed, we wandered around past closed coffee shops until we finally found an open Mongolian buffet restaurant and so instead of eggs or toast we had meat and vegetable soup and meat dumplings for breakfast. It really delicious and super cheap!

We met up with Bogi later in the morning and she walked us down the haphazard, dust filled streets of Ulaan Baatar to the Gandan khiid monastary, a complex of Buddist temples and Buddist teaching facilities. It was absolutely beautiful to hear the monks chanting, to see all the colourful outfits, paintings and architecture and to see the place filled with people. We passed a giant pair of gold Buddha's feet, the statue was still being built; Much of the complex was destroyed during the Soviet occupation, on our way to a 27m high standing Buddha statue. It was jaw-droping instead this temple, the space being absolutely dominated by this statue and all around colour, scents, chanting and people praying. Lining the temple were gold barrels that you spin to worship the dead and so a few of us spent 15 minutes spinning every single one of these.

The group split after the temple with only half of us continuing on with Bogi to lunch. We walked through the streets of Ulaan Baatar which is like a wild west town meets modern asian society. It was rough, organised chaos with an omnipresent sense of the harsh landscape around, giving it a big frontier city feeling. We went to a restaurant picked by Bogi and ate what she recommended too and it was amazing! It was a huge pile of noodles with vegetables covered with pieces of cured beef, all with a sauce. Delicious. After our stuffing of lunch we continued on to the huge main square of UB outside the enormous Mongolian Parliament. Here we saw some huge Genghis Khan statues and inside the Parliament musuem was an exhibition basically about Genghis Khan. They love and respect him very deeply, he and his principles of leadership and war pushed the Mongol empire over almost the whole of Asia at one point.
Afterwards we hopped into some taxi's to take us upto the giant statue built during the communist reign and overlooking the city. UB is absolutely massive, and every direction you looked there was construction going on. Not sure why but UB is a city under massive development and change; perhaps from all the mining money. We caught our taxi's back down and once again braved the organised chaos that is the UB roadways. The oddest thing about it is that you can have your steering wheel on either side of the car, depending on what type of car you want to buy.
We met up with the others to go to a cultural performance show. This show was a stunning array of traditional dancing, singing, music and instruments and backbraking contorstionists all in elaborate and colourful traditional costumes. It was so impressive, all of us were deeply impressed and slightly speechless at the performances and the nice thing, as opposed to the Russians, was that the locals performing looked genuinly happy to be performing for us!

It was a quiet night back at the hostel for me, I was exhausted an wanted to get a good night sleep before we headed out to the ger camps.

At the monestery

At the monestery

Mongolian food

Mongolian food

Mongolian parliament

Mongolian parliament

The view of Ulaanbaatar

The view of Ulaanbaatar

Mongolian cultural show

Mongolian cultural show

Mongolian cultural show

Mongolian cultural show

Posted by awowchuk 03:28 Archived in Mongolia Tagged ulaanbaatar Comments (0)

The train to Mongolia

we can breathe!

sunny 20 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

We hung around the hostel in the morning, packing, having yet another strange breakfast and going down to the see if we wanted anymore silly souviners from the town. Then it was the hour bus back to Irkutsk, stopping on the way to get some more food for the train.

In Irkutsk Artur took us possible one of the worst tourist walks ever, we saw a statue of an old tsar, then walked along the river through a rundown amusement park and looked at an old steam train then walked for an hour through the town, seeing absolutely nothing interesting but run-down buildings and parks, progressively getting more and more annoyed and grumpy as we wanted to eat and we had not choice in what we saw or did. Boring! We had a ridiculously late lunch at a crappy food court before making our way through down town Irkutsk to some old soviet tanks. This was possibly the only interesting thing of the day, being able to climb all over tanks, rocket launching trucks and an anti-missile warhead launcher. Many photos later we walked back through the town to the ubiquituous Irish pub and had our last drink in Russia - a Irish beer. jeez.
We walked another 10 minutes to a little dissappointing restaurant and I had a crappy meal of vareniky and then we all finally got back on bus and made our way to the train station.

We were so excited when we got on the train and it seemed so much more comfortable and nice than the last one, with windows that actually open and babushka's that seemed helpful! Steve, Hannah and I ended up sharing with Anna-Rose, a dutch solo traveller also making her to Ulaan Baator. With happy faces we all got settled in and set off on the 2 night train to Ulaan Baator. Our carriage seemed to be compiled entirely of tourists doing identical tours of the the trans-mongolian. We did our exercise routine again and then settled in to watch Anchorman for our night movie session!

Day 2 and I was the first to wake in my carriage, so with minimal noise I got out and watched the scenery from the corridor. It was so much more like I imagined Siberia to be, but actually we were leaving Siberia for the plains of Mongolia. It was plains of dry grass with desolete looking towns and hills and mountains in the distance. Slowly everyone along the train woke up and all have shared the same statements about the landscape. We had breakfast and hung out, getting off at some pretty dead towns for the mandatory stops.

I made a fortunate decision of having lunch early as at some time in the early afternoon we arrived at the border town. We were stuck here for over 5 hours and once again it was a town filled with dead despair, there was pretty much nothing. After hanging for a little bit, Emma, Roel, Steve and I headed through the town and climbed a sandy hill, which was much harder than it looked and got a view over the town and the hills around. Afterwards we layed in down on the station for what felt like an eternity and the boys entertained themselves with silly i-phone games. During our hill climb the train had moved tracks and had no engine and was hiding behind another train but a few of us snuck around and sat in the cabin for the last 30 minutes and were able to eat again. The russian officals then came on and collected everyones passports, another slow process and they also came in and checked our luggage quickly which meant that Hannah and I on the top bunks had to pull it down from the top shelf. We got our passports back with a big shiny stamp on our visas and eventually moved the 10 minutes over the border, past the marker post with a russian flag on one side and a mongolian on the other. It was an incredible thought that I was actually now in Mongolia. It looked pretty much identical to the Russia we'd just been in, and was really beautiful watching the sunset as we travelled! We were then stuck at the Mongolian border town for another 2 hours, here we got some Mongolian currency, which cannot be exchanged outside of Mongolia and then we hung around on the train. The Mongolian border control seemed tougher, there were more people coming through the carriage and the passport inspection seemed a little more rigorous, with Steve in particular getting looked over quite a bit. But eventually we were on our way towards Ulaan Baatar. We did our exercises again and then for me it was time to sleep as we had a really early start the next day.
Climbing on a soviet tank

Climbing on a soviet tank

Siberia on the way to Mongolia

Siberia on the way to Mongolia

Train lines

Train lines

Hill climbing during the russian border stop

Hill climbing during the russian border stop

View from the train: Sunsetting over Mongolian plains

View from the train: Sunsetting over Mongolian plains

Posted by awowchuk 06:33 Archived in Mongolia Tagged train Comments (0)

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