A year ago, Dory and I were fortunate enough to visit China together, and although this was before we were an item, I’m so glad we got to share this amazing experience with each other! There was a group of 6 of us altogether, and in fact Dory travelled out there a week before, over the Chinese New Year….something she was later to regret. We stayed in the Taiyue suites, Beijing, a perfect central location. http://www.taiyuesuites.com/ If you’re thinking of planning a trip to China during this period then she would highly recommend avoiding the week that follows directly on from the New Year as everything was shut, seriously there was nothing to do as the population of China go into some sort of hibernation mode for the duration of the celebrations. To be honest I sometimes think us Brits should take a leaf out of their book, I mean what a lovely thought to have complete shut down over the Christmas period, so there is no other alternative but to stay at home with family, put your feet up and actually relax, and not feel the need to hit the sales, just to purchase the tat that you didn’t buy before Christmas because it was crap, and that’s still crap but now has 75p off!!! Anyway unless you want to just sit in your hotel for a week, or walk the derelict streets of China then take our advice and choose an alternative week.Before we went to China we did our research, luckily! One important thing to remember is you must apply for your visa in plenty of time, I can’t emphasise this enough! We did have a slight issue and at one point thought we were going to have to drive up to the Chinese Embassy in London to submit our applications, that would then take 4 days to complete and couldn’t be sent in the post so would mean 2 weekday trips to London….we were at panic stations!! But then we found ‘5 Star Travel’ online, a company that specialises in online group visas (we were able to use this for 2 or more travelling) and I highly recommend. It saved us money (as visas are expensive!!!) and was very straightforward. http://www.5starchinatravel.com/Another useful tip is that you may need to order your money (yuan) in advance, and don’t do what Dory did and just ask for ‘yuan’ or you might end up with Japanese yuan instead of Chinese!!! She ended up losing money when she had to exchange this at the hotel in China!The currency was pretty easy to get our heads around, it worked out that our £ was approximately 1/10th of their ¥ (so 100¥ was about £10) it is also very cheap when you’re there!As we only had 1 week while we were all together we decided to book a 3 day tour to guarantee seeing all of the major sights, and to take the hassle out of arranging this ourselves. We went through Beijing Landscapes and couldn’t have asked for a better 3 days. We packed in so much, it was very well organised. Our tour included Ming Tomb, Underground Palace, Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Hutong, Lama Temple, Panda Zoo, Jingshan Park, Silk Factory, Jade Factory, Pearl Factory, a traditional tea making ceremony and the exterior of the Olympic Stadium. All of this included food and transport to and from our hotel, and only cost us about £50 each total! Such a bargain, we couldn’t have planned a better tour ourselves! http://www.beijinglandscapes.com/China is well known for it’s smog, and although we did experience this at times, we were lucky enough on our tour days to have pure blue skies and the sun always shining, perfect crisp days. And although everywhere we visited was simply beautiful, so colourful and vibrant, the highlight for all of us had to be the Great Wall. Words just can’t describe this beauty, it is breathtaking. Obviously it is huge and so unless we were visiting for Months, we were never going to see it all, however the section of the wall we did see ‘mutianyu’ was absolutely gorgeous. We took a cable car to the top, Dory and our other friend walked up (this took about half an hour) and the view was stunning. Pictures really don’t do it justice, but if this is not already on your bucket list, we urge you to put it on there. Everyone should experience this view at least once in their lifetime!https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g294212-d325811-Reviews-Great_Wall_at_Mutianyu-Beijing.html
We also visited lots of temples, and although we started to feel a bit like once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all, you can’t help but be blown away by their vibrance and beauty, and every one has a different story! We couldn’t fault our tour, we got taken to some amazing sights and learned a lot about Chinese culture. We also realised how much we should appreciate certain things we take for granted back here in the U.K. For instance one day our mini bus kept over heating, so the driver had to keep topping up the radiator with water from several drinking bottles. Except one time when he went to do this, the radiator had become so hot that the water exploded back in his face, alongside what looked like oil and other muck, and then the whole bus started smoking while we were all sat there in shock just inhaling the fumes! It didn’t take me long to think ‘sod that’ and hurl myself off that bus as quickly as I could, swiftly followed by the rest of the crowd! Now you’d never see that happening on a national express!China Provided is with some absolutely hilarious memories. The culture and way of life is so different from our own, that at times it was hard not to fall into fits of hysterics, especially being 6 girls together. Every time we went to the loo we even got the giggles, and after a whole week of being there we still hadn’t got used to squatting into a hole whenever we needed to go. I know us girls should be pros at this, especially after being caught short many a time while out on a night on the town, but that’s easier said than done! You’re completely layered up as it’s so darn cold outside, then you have to pull your skinny jeans down as far as they can go, pull your coat and scarf up and as far away from your arse as possible, all whilst trying to squat further than you’ve ever squatted before so you can actually pee in the hole rather than on your new converse you bought especially for the trip!!!! You’ll be pleased to know that almost all public toilets have at least one standard (for us) toilet…but surprise surprise, there’s usually a queue!! One funny time was when Dory and I were sat on a rickshaw going through the Hutong (old narrow streets and alleyways of Chinese neighbourhoods) when we passed a Chinese lady on a a bicycle selling 10 sets of chopsticks, with gorgeous coloured Chinese fabric cases for only £2! Well, I’m never one to pass up a bargain, and 10 souvenirs to take back home, costing only 2 quid for the lot was not one I was going to miss. So I flagged her down and held out my money. I needed change as only had a large note, so she handed me the chopsticks while she stopped to get change out of her bag. So here I was, sat in a rickshaw with 10 chopsticks in one hand, 100¥ note in the other and we were hurtling through the narrow streets further and further away from the lady! Well that was it, I couldn’t stop giggling, the whole thing was like a scene from a comedy! Luckily we eventually stopped and she caught up with me so I could make an honest purchase, but the funniest thing in all of this was the fact we later found out you could buy these chopsticks practically everywhere for only £1!!! Seriously cheap!The shopping is great fun, lots of places have fixed prices on items, but you can get an awful lot for your money. And then there’s the pearl market. Now this is where you can haggle to your hearts content, and the place is bloody amazing, I think there were at least 5 floors and you could literally spend hours here. You can find everything… Uggs, Go Pro’s, Designer Handbags (Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Mulberry etc…) Converse, Superdry hoodies, perfumes, make-up, souvenirs (magnets, key rings, bookmarks etc…) and phonecases and other gadgets to name just a few. And please believe me when I say the quality is just outstanding. I bought myself Uggs, a Michael Kors handbag, and 3 Superdry t-shirts (as well as lots of other tat) and I can honestly say that you can’t spot that they are fake. In fact I’d go as far to say that they probably aren’t fake (as most things are made in China anyway) and the labels and quality of materials is second to none. This is coming from someone that’s bought a fair few dodgy fakes in her time when shopping abroad. So if you’re in to serious shopping, you must make the time to visit here, and allow yourself plenty of time…you’ll seriously need it! http://www.shoppinginbeijing.com/hongqiao-pearl-market
One thing I must mention is theres a lot of animal cruelty out there, but thankfully we didn’t come across too much ourselves! Although we did question what we were eating on more than one occasion, so if in doubt just order plain noodles!I actually really enjoyed the food out there. I knew not to expect our westernised Chinese dishes, and am also lucky that I’m not fussy and am willing to try anything once. Dory was not so sure! One day on the tour we were invited to lunch in someone’s home, so this meant being served very traditional food. Needless to say Dory went a bit hungry that lunchtime after only managing to stomach the plain rice and toasted peanuts!We ate lots of noodles and rice, and we did have lots of sweet and sour style chicken, vegetables, Chinese dumplings and soup. There are, however the usual restaurant chains out there if you fancy a change from Chinese food, and to be honest this was welcomed by us, as you pretty much have the same food for breakfast (yes really! I ate noodles, rice and chicken with spring rolls every morning at our hotel! Although you were also able to get fried eggs on toast, but as I was there I was determined to embrace it all!) lunch and dinner. So go with an open mind, try lots of new things and just hope for the best that you’re not chowing down on the cat that you saw hanging outside the restaurant the day before!!In our own time we explored Beijing, we went shopping, visited other markets and Hutongs, and sometimes even stumbled, just by chance onto the lively bustling streets of China, full of gorgeous smells, street food and bargains, and just the most amazing atmosphere you could ever wish to soak up. So go on, take the Subway which is very easy to use, ride in a tuk tuk, hail down a rickshaw and then simply take it all in, you won’t regret it!
Oh and one last thing, the people of China aren’t used to us westerners, so be prepared for lots of staring, pointing, and having your photograph taken a lot (seriously, we felt like celebrities surrounded by paparazzi!) it’s bizarre, but really quite funny.
“Pearls don’t lie on the seashore, if you want one you must dive for it” ~ Chinese Proverb
2 Birds, 1 Love xxx