Friday, 17 April 2009

Beijing - The Fobidden City and the Great Wall of China

It was to be our last overnight train ride together and the group was divided. Some wanted to hunker down and get a good long sleep ready to be fresh and fit for the delights of Beijing. Others had stocked up on wine, beer and spirits and intended to mark the occasion with an almighty carriage bound piss up. No prizes for guessing which group I belonged to.

The journey started with the group in high spirits, we managed to cram almost everybody into one cabin for this shot.

As the journey continued we were literally high on spirits (Jack Daniels) and as the lights in the cabins went out we made our way to the other side of the train to continue our party and play music and cards in a nice comfy, spacious dining car.

When we arrived at the dining car I thought I’d just walked into an opium den. In fact is was dozens of Chinese locals that couldn’t afford the sleeper bunks. How dare these inconsiderate locals selfishly scupper our plans.

Thankfully a small bribe to the conductor and a skilfully negotiated connecting carriage later and we were back in business!

Beijing is a huge city. With modern infrastructure and impressive public transport system brought on by the Olympics, its much like any major western city. Except, that we are in China… ..and strange things happen in China as a trip to the local food market later will demonstrate.

First stop was Tiananmen Square the largest open square bin the world and the site of the infamous student protests which ignited worldwide condemnation of the Chinese government for the killings of over 2500 students.

It was a beautiful clear day and you could see the entrance to the Forbidden City at the far end of the square. Like most squares there isn’t actually that much to do except walk around for a bit and take a few snaps. We soaked it up for about 30 mins and then made our way to the Forbidden City.

For almost five centuries, the Forfbidden City served as the home of the Emperor and his household, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government.
Built from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 720,000 square metres (7,800,000 square feet). The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

It really is hard to put into words how incredible the Forbidden City is, from the moment I walked through the first gate, then through the many courtyards and gateways into the inner palace, I was in a constant state of awe. The city is simply enormous and you could spend days and days getting lost in both the intricate architecture and its deep history. Before coming away to China I watch the 1985 movie “The Last Emperor” which chronicled the life of Pu Yi, the last Emperor to live here. The film was actually shot inside the city and it was the 1st time a western film crew had been allowed in. As I walked in the footsteps of the emperors, concubines, unuecks and generals who had walked before me over the past <600> years I had tingles down the spine.

Here is part of the imperial garden which is where the Empress and the most senior concubines was pass time.

The Palace is surrounded by a huge moat were we all relaxed after the tour. What a fantastic place.

Later that day we watched a Kung Fu show which was really impressive. Unlike the acrobatics show, this was a big budget, professionally produced theatrical show consisting of music, singing, dancing and of course, some of the best Kung Fu performers in China who back flipped, kicked and punched their way through numerous bars, planks and random pieces of furniture. It really was good fun and I’m gutted we couldn’t take any photos inside, (as the flashes disrupt the martial artists, and there was no way I was going to piss them off).
I took this shot for my friend Paul Golding, a long time practitioner of Kung Fu. Paul this is the school where Jet Li learned Kung Fu!

There are many interesting food delicacies in China. A trip to the local food market in the evening opened the eyes, and jaws of most of the group. Earlier in the tour in Yangshuo I was introduced to the delights of deep fried Chicken’s foot and barbecued pigs cock.

Yes.. That’s a pigs cock! (and no I didn’t’ eat it).
In Beijing they have even more stomach wrenching nibbles. These scorpions’ are alive and wriggling around on their sticks, the sting in their tail is curling up and down menacingly. A quick dip into the deep fat fryer later and you can scoff 4 of the little buggers down for less than a pound.

Giant bugs, lizards, starfish and strangely.. Sea horses are also on the menu.

MMM..MMM that is a tasty bug… ?
Some of the group partook and had the scorpions. I wimped out massively and decided to avoid the embarrassment of projectile vomiting scorpions, bugs or testicles over my travel companions.

The following morning and we were on the move again. This time 90km outside Beijing to visit the Great Wall of China. Our group went to the more distant part of the wall from Beijing to avoid the mass crowds that appear at the section of wall just 5km outside the city.

There are two ways to climb up to the wall. One is by cable car, the other is about 45mins of relentless, seemingly infinite steps. The phrases “I‘m going to collapse any second in a wheezing heap” and “why didn’t you take the cable car you fat out of shape idiot” were repeated many times inside my head. I arrived at the wall panting and sweating as if I’d just ran a marathon whilst wrestling a bear.

Needless to say the wall was breathtaking and you could see it stretching out over the mountains as far as the eye could see. I walked the entire 4km stretch that you can see in this shot in the blazing sun, it really was a magical moment and I thoroughly enjoyed every step, (unlike the walk up to the wall).
I have hundreds of photos but as you can imagine, they all look pretty much the same. wall, wall and more wall, oooh look at that….. More wall.

Thankfully the journey from the wall back down to the town was more enjoyable. (is it wrong to enjoy these things at 33?)

I rewarded my hard work with a lazy afternoon chilling in the gardens of the Temple of Heaven. Espen and Sorren were only to happy to join me in sinking a few cold beers in the parks surrounding the temple. What a great day!

China has amazed and astounded me. It was an impulse buy in STA travel, I had never even thought about coming beforehand. I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life, (and believe me, I’ve had quite a few). In just a few short weeks I’ve hot air ballooned over the mountains of Yangshuo, had underground mud baths, cruised along the mighty Yangzi river, stood face to face with the terracotta warriors, explored the Forbidden City and Walked along the Great Wall of China. Its been a truly magical and unforgettable adventure and I’ve loved every single minute of it!

Next stop…. Cambodia where the journey continues alone……


  1. cant believe you managed to resist the delights of scorpions on sticks???!!! Call yourself a man...;0)And is there somebody actually hanging upside-down from the roof in that carriage?? All this amazing info you know about everywhere you visit...are you learning this as you go or did you have one hell of a read up before you left? I feel pig ignorant but at least im learning now! Good to see that despite the vast amounts of history and culture you are taking in every day you are not forgetting to keep on top of your alcohol consumption...;0)Well I have to say babe, China has astounded me too and I havent even been yet....everything about it seems breathtaking!!!!!!! Cant wait for my next geography/history subject Cambodia! mwah xxxxxx p.s like the hat....;0)

  2. Haha thanks honey.. Next post coming soon.

  3. Love the latest picture - I think I travelled on a Virgin train that was as crowded as yours at one stage.

    Have to say I am very envious - please can you try and post a few photographs that look as though you are having a miserable time, they would make me feel much better.


  4. Haha thanks Mike.. Nice to know the blog is reaching out past the 18 followers it advertises, I never know who reads it and if its worth continuing to comments are most welcome. So far not had any bad times so you'll have to live with the ones of me enjoying myself.. Phnom Penh post coming soon. Thanks