Beijing has proven to be a worthy finishing point for our 7000 kilometer long train ride, much so because it has been so different than any of the other stops along the way. The first thing we did when getting off was to go out and literally get a taste of what the city had to offer with Peking duck at a Chinese restaurant first, and then a trip to the Dong Hua Menh night market for after meal snacks and desserts. A long street with plenty of food stalls offered all imaginable insects on sticks like spiders, snakes, worms and scorpions (the small ones were really good, tasting like popcorn) and good desserts like caramelized fruits and deep fried ice-cream.
On our second day we got to do the two things I would most reccomend when visiting Beijing which is to get the compulsory photo on the Great Wall and try haggle like a local on the Silk Market. For the wall we let our Honcho organize transport from our hotel (150CNY pp) for the two hours drive to MuTianYu part of the wall which cost 40 Yuan (/20 for students) to get into. The wall was pretty well filled up by tourists and had a chairlift and a tobogan at one end and a gondola on the other, with about two kilometres between the two. There was even a Subway restaurant at the bottom of the wall, with the worst subs everyone at the group had tasted. Once being in the critical mode I would also say that even though it was really interesting having been there, the Tianmen Square had way too long waiting time to be worth the trip to it and I also wish there was some kind of warning before going into the Forbidden City saying that it would require hours of walking. Once you entered on the south side, you would would not be let out anywhere else than the exit on the north side, having to walk through the whole Forbidden City, which is huge!
The best part of Beijing I think was renting a bike for our last day and then just bicycling around to join in on the tae chi or other excercises with the locals at the parks, and going through narrow streets to see how people live in the city of nearly 20 million. The locals were also easy to get in contact with at the restaurants right before closing time, as even though they could not speak a single work of English, they would all know the universal meaning of clinching our beers together with a smilinging , laughing or shouting Gambaii! /Cheers! China is also dirt cheap and will for sure leave some cultural impressions on you, or teach you new things like using a squatter with no toilet paper, using sign language for every little thing you want to say or haggling down prices to a tenth of the initial asking prices.
If I would have had more time I would have wanted to spend another two nights in the shopping district or around Tianamen Square in addition to the two nights we had in the Xicheng District where our hotel Beijing Huguosi Hotel was located. The street that it was on was full of great restaurants, good sights around the neaby lake and best of all there were no other foreigners to see. Beijing is a great mix of both ancient cultural sights and fancy new skyscrapers and it can be worth trying to experience a good amount of both.
|Our fantastic group on the Vodkatrain tour Ruski Huski|
Getting up at 5 AM, just two hours after we came home from the clubs was tough. The minibus that was going to take us to the train station was waiting at the agreed time and the people already awake had to run around knocking on the other peoples doors to get them up in time for our train departure. Once on the train, everyone were knocked out for most of the first day, half the time it would take us to reach Beijing from the Mongolian capital.
Once again the trains and the landscape outside had changed. The Chinese trains had blue carpets throughout the whole train, switches for fans in the compartment instead of switches for music and the landscape at first was the boring Gobi desert and then it changed into the most impressing landscape we had seen on the trip with beutiful mountain valleys and big Chinese cities. The dining cart and its menues was different, people smoked in compartments and hallways and the toilets were much less looked after (no toilet paper). Except for that it was the old familiar trans Mongolian train that we were already used to.
The border crossing between Mongolia and China took much shorter time than the one between Russia and Mongolia, with a total of five hours for the crossing: about an hour and a half on the Mongolian side and about three hours and a half on the Chinese side. The Mongolian- Chinese border was also the place where the train bogies were changed, as the tracks in China are different than the ones in Russia and Mongolia. Being lifted up to watch it all happen underneath us was an interesting experience, with the only downside being that we had five hours straight with no chance of getting to a bathroom.
Looking out the windows from our compartment it looks like China is going to be very different to Mongolia, just like Mongolia was very different to Russia. It will be nice getting off to experience it all from the ground, but I must say that it is also sad leaving the Trans Mongolian trains for good.
First off was a walk through the city center, which probably took us around half an hour, as the city (even though it has around 1,5 million inhabitants) seemed pretty small for such a big country. The citys main square, even though really small fitted skyscrapers, fashonable clothing stores, government buildings and statues (of a fat sitting Genghis Khan and others) with cars driving right next on the streets. It must have required some great city planning, which should have gathered more tourists there, but there were actually noone but us around! That, together with the Mongolians being the most friendly people I have ever met has given us a impression of Mongolia as a genuinely awesome country.
Our local honcho also rented us a minivan to see a kashmere factory, the famous city viewpoint and the so called “black market”/ local market where we were told that prices would be much cheaper that what we would find in China, as the Chinese will at all times try to rip you of, whereas you in Mongolia always will be given standard price, that also the locals would pay.
After having spent some days on the countryside we also got to spend out last day in Mongolia in its capital city, where we went straight to the ski resort, located between ten to fifteen minutes outside the city center. Prices were even cheaper than in Russia, with skipass, skirental, locker and taxi to and from the ski resort costing around 100 Norwegian Krones. We were pretty much the only ones there, and with the sunny weather it was a quality experience that I would reccomend anyone going to the Mongolian capital. The evening was spent watching a show with traditional dancing, contortionist performance and throatsinging and then going out for karaoke and disco the last night before leaving Mongolia to travel through the Gobi desert and into China.