Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.
Day 95: By the time I am getting used to the currency, learn a few basic words (which I end up butchering anyway), and get acquainted with the customs of a place it is already time to leave for the next one. Seba and I knew beforehand this fast-paced whirlwind trip is not the most ideal way of traveling when you really want to deeply indulge yourself in the culture and the destination. However, with a finite time frame and a meager bag of everchanging coins, the purpose of our trip is the get a good overall first impression of the plethora of cultures South East Asia has to offer and we have not regretted our way of traveling so far.
Some moments during this trip I can’t believe I am actually here. My head is already bursting with amazing memories and sometimes I feel like I am experiencing a human ‘memory almost full’ notification. No way I am going to erase any storage, at least not deliberately.
Right now is one of them, staring outside the window onboard the world-known Trans-Siberian train that spans over 7,621 km from Mosco, Russia to Beijing, China. We are ‘only’ doing the leg between Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and our next destination, Beijing. Morning has come and we board the train. After a couple hours, we are reliving our first week here in Mongolia while making our way through the Gobi Desert.
The night falls while we head further south towards the border between Mongolia and China. Once we arrive at the border in Dzamin Uud we wait for about an hour and a half before we enter China and get into the Erlan. The border process is very extensive here as they also need to change the bogies (wheelsets) of every carriage at the station. Here, the 5′ Russian gauge is changed to the Standard 4′ 8½ gauge that they use in China. Don’t plan on sleeping through this process. It is now well past midnight and after spending four hours at the train station in Erlan, we finally depart further southbound direction Beijing.
Day 96: We were able to catch a few hours of sleep while we traverse the desertlands of Inner Mongolia. By late morning we see part of the Great Wall of China from a far distance while we leave the steppe behind us. In the early afternoon, we arrive at the train station in Beijing and take the subway to our hostel where we will spend the next couple of days. The hostel is located in a great location close to Tiananmen Square, one of the largest city squares in the world. We find the hostel fairly easy and check-in. Unfortunately, Seba has not been feeling great since we left Mongolia and decides to rest up. I bring him some basic supplies while he rests up and I decide to explore the capital of China on my own.
Day 99: The first couple of days in China have been a bit with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I absolutely love the city vibe and the daily hustle and bustle while strolling through the hutongs. There is constantly so much going on. But on the other hand, my travel companion Seba has been in bed since we arrived here. Yesterday, we spent half the day in the hospital as he was not getting any better. They sent him home with some medication and an order to get some more rest. Although we were planning to leave Beijing this morning, we see no other option but to extend our stay here for a couple days.
I conquer the Forbidden City by myself half an hour later.
The Forbidden City, which used to be only accessible for emperors and imperial families and forbidden for anyone else during the Ming and Qing Dynasty, is a must-see during your visit. I made the mistake of visiting this popular sightseeing attraction in the late morning. After a bit of a line up at the entrance, I walked through the gates and into the outer courts together with hundreds of others. It took me a bit more than an hour to work my way through. Although you can easily spend a full day here if you want to take it all in and every room here. Apparently, they have built 9999 rooms since only the God of Heaven could be entitled to 10,000 rooms. Guess being an architect must have been a pain here back in the day. Come in the early morning or later afternoon when the herds of tourists have dwindled.
I have places to go today.
Once I exit the Forbidden City I cross the road and make my way up through Jingshan Park, a beautiful park where you can take your classic photo of the Forbidden City.
A subway ride later I find myself at another UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site, the Summer Palace, another gem to visit during your stay where you can easily spend a few hours.
Day 100: Seba is still bedbound. I plan another cultural day at the National Museum of China where I try to get a better understanding of the history of China.
Day 101: It is a sunny day. Today Seba and I plan to visit the Great Wall of China. We are getting ready but Seba calls it off last minute and decides he needs one another day to recover. I am going on a solo adventure today and try to get to Mutianyu by public transport to avoid the busy Badaling section of the Great Wall of China.
The first part is getting to the subway which is a 5-minute walk from the hostel. Easy.
From there I need to get to ‘Dongzhimen’ Transport Hub where I need to switch to a local bus. A super local bus… Level: Moderate.
The bus stop where I have to get off is somewhere in the middle of a town outside Beijing and of course, I only had a took a mental picture of how the building at the bus stop looks. I imagined more people would have taken this bus. Apparently not. Level: Hard
The time passes by and all of a sudden I believe I recognize the building. I take my chances and get off. The girl trusts my guts and gets off as well. Lucky for her I guessed right. Her name is Maggie and she is from the UK. We get to know each other and wait for the final bus that will bring us to the entrance of Mutianyu.
A short bus ride later we are admiring one of the new seven wonders of the world. We start with a steep climb and soon enough we can see miles and miles around and understand how this was a perfect set up for fortification for centuries.
Day 102: Just like a fresh loaf of bread, Seba has risen and is ready to get outside again. We decide to take it slow and visit a few of my favorite nearby places where I have spent my week. We bring a final visit to Tiananmen Square and grab some food and souvenirs.
Tomorrow we fly to Shanghai.
Day 104: Today we meet up with Richard, a friend we met during our trip to Khovsghol Lake earlier this month. He shows us the highlights in the city like visiting the Yuyuan Gardens, walk along the Bund, having some dim sum for dinner, and finishing the night with a good drink in one of the sky bars along the Bund.
Tomorrow we start making our way east towards our last country on our trip, Nepal. With the last-minute changes, we have to get a little bit creative to reach Kathmandu via two stopovers, one in Chengdu where we will spend the day watching pandas at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
The other stopover will be in Kunming where we have booked a hotel night to rest up for the night and take our flight to Kathmandu the next day.
Our China Chapter was the perfect example of how plans constantly change and your health is ever so important. Feeling sick is never great but it is horrible when you are on the road and it is interfering with your travel plans. Luckily Seba and I can continue our journey together for our trek to the Everest Base Camp, but little do we know that we are in for another change of plan with a top of the world ending.