Friday, July 26, 2013

Enter the Dragon...Our trip to China (part 1 of 6)

For our summer vacation we had a magnificent 2 weeks in China thanks to the organization and guidance of our friend Zheya Sheng. This first post covers only a small part of the vacation, namely the part in Beijing. However, to sketch the background and create anticipation for the rest of the upcoming posts, I will give a general outline of the tour here. We left Sweden July 5th and returned the 20th after one of the most memorable tours/vacations we had thus far. The party consisted of the two of us (Carina and Ronnie), Zheya (a former colleague and friend of Ronnie), another of Ronnie’s colleagues, Mats, and his wife Olga. During these two weeks the 5 of us saw many exiting sights in both northern and southern China (see map below).

We landed in Beijing on 6 July and stayed for 1 night, the next day we flew to the southern Guangxi province in China and arrived at Guilin airport. We visited several places around Guilin for 4 days after which we flew north to Taiyuan in the Shanxi province (west of Beijing). Here we also visited a number of places and then took a road trip north, through the Wutai Mountains, to Datong city from where we finally took an overnight train back to Beijing. Back in Beijing we spend another 3 days before we flew back to Sweden. This post will focus on our experiences in Beijing, which encompass both our first and last days in China.

Our first impressions of Beijing… VERY hot and humid in July and millions of people (20 million actually). Despite sweating out liters of water, we really enjoyed the northern capital (the words Bei – jing actually means Northern - capital). After settling in and organizing ourselves, our first Chinese meal was at a restaurant close to Zheya’s university and consisted of porridge – a quite popular Chinese meal.

After our first meal we visited the Summer Palace ( in Beijing, a former imperial residence and currently a park and a World Heritage site. The bay scene at the summer palace, with the small tourist boats and Pagoda in the background was so emblematic of the “China landscape” that I had in my mind's eye, that it was actually amusing.

After the Summer Palace visit we went to a restaurant and had the signature dish of Beijing – Peking duck (see video below). It was absolutely delicious and Zheya taught us how to eat it in the right way with pancakes, spring onions, cucumber and soy sauce. We also had very delicious duck liver, interesting vegetables and nice canned coconut milk drink.

The next day we were up early and back to the airport again, where we had a small Chinese breakfast (in the final China vacation post we will discuss the Chinese concept of “small meals”). This consisted of amongst other things pasta and dumplings followed by an in-flight meal on our flight to the southern Guangxi Province.

(Our ensuing adventures in and around Guilin, Taiyuan, and Datong will be covered in four posts to follow. The rest of this post will then cover our last few days in China, which we again spend in Beijing.)

We arrived back in Beijing 4 am in the morning of 18 July on the overnight train from Datong. We had a cabin (very nice and clean), and fortunately had a few hours of sleep before tackling Beijing again. After we dropped our luggage at our hotel we took the bus to the Forbidden City. Since we arrived so early in Beijing we had a couple of hours to kill before the Forbidden City Gates opened, and we spend it wandering around in a park where Beijing citizens do their daily exercise before going to work. We encountered many interesting exercises such as the usual jogging and walking to the more unusual walking while boxing, Chinese dancing, dancing with swords, voice exercises (screaming and singing), beautiful flute playing, and taking birds in their cages to the park for fresh air. 

Thereafter we had a “typical” Beijing breakfast of porridge with peanut sauce, deep fried bread (like Afrikaanse “vetkoek”) and soft tofu. The porridge is a bit of an acquired taste but I was hungry and did not dislike it that much (almost like very runny mieliepap with too little salt… and salty peanut sauce). I therefore finished my bowl.

After this we crossed the infamous Tiananmen square ( towards the Forbidden City ( The Forbidden City was the main imperial palace for the last two Chinese empires, namely the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was built in the 1400’s and now is a major tourist attraction and World Heritage site. Despite its size it was filled with tourists and school groups visiting the many palaces and museums inside. This is probably the place where we saw the most non-Asian tourists; still it was a very small amount of foreign tourists compared to the vastly outnumbering Chinese tourists. Even here we were “unique” enough to be asked by several Chinese people (mostly children) to pose with them for photographs (more about this in the 6th post).
Tiananmen Square
Forbidden City

The next day we went to visit the most iconic Chinese tourist site, namely the Great Wall of China ( Even though the Forbidden City was very impressive, it was quite as expected and a rather standard tourist attraction (for me at least). The Great Wall, however, exceeded my expectations by quite a bit. This is really an awesome and awe-inspiring feat that one should not miss when visiting Beijing. It truly deserves its World Heritage status. It was built from east to west on the northern borders of ancient China to protect the empire from the northern nomadic tribes. The first parts of the walls and its fortifications were already built as early as 700 BC. Since then the wall was rebuilt, maintained and enhanced continually, especially during the Ming dynasty. We obviously only visited a small part (since the wall is over 6 000km long), nonetheless walking on the small part we visited was not a simple task at all. I don’t know why, but I always imagined the wall to be even or flat once you are on top of it. This is not the case at all. Since the wall meanders through the mountains following the top of reasonably steep hills and peaks – walking on the wall consists of climbing endless staircases and very steep inclines. The inclines are very exhausting to climb up and quite scary to climb down. We did not encounter any fences/boundaries on top of the wall – so I imagine you can walk as far as you want before turning back to your starting point. We did however notice the number of co-climbers/walkers diminishing quite quickly as we pushed on passing 3-4 gaurdposts, before we too decided it’s time to go back to the start point.

Our last day in the big northern capital was spent shopping! We went to a huge department store where you can find almost everything under the sun at ridiculously cheap prices (after bargaining of course – luckily we had Zheya), we bought the last of our loot here to commemorate our trip to China.

We also visited quite a few memorable restaurants during our final Beijing days. Notably an extremely nice dumpling restaurant…
Steamed dumplings and chicken feet
a restaurant where we had a delicious noodle dish made out of one continuous long noodle…

a number of snack stalls and shops where we had multiple edible things during the course of one evening, including fried chicken, stinky tofu, coconut milk directly from the coconut
Stinky tofu (fermented tofu) 

and a very nice restaurant where we had “the last supper” before heading home
Green orange juice
Extremely very very hot fish soup (Zheya finished it all!!)
Various other dishes (wasabi beef, mushrooms, green-beans, fried prawns etc.)
In the next post we will discuss the amazing rice terraces of Longji ( in the south of China.



  1. Great post, guys! :) Thank you for putting our story "on paper".
    Hugs from both of us,
    Olga & Mats

  2. excellent sib & skoonsib !! skoon jaloers oor julle adventure.