A brief exploration
Today we had the opportunity to do a little site seeing around the main attractions in Beijing.
We went to see the Temple of Heaven which is a beautiful and enormous complex of religious buildings which are definitely worth going to see. There is so much going on such as large groups ballroom dancing; people playing some form of badminton where they kick a colourful feathery shuttlecock to each other; Tai Chi, groups of locals playing cards and dominoes as well as other games I didn’t recognise.
A visit to Beijing wouldn’t be complete without visiting Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (possibly my favourite area). Tiananmen Square was immense and crowded and not without its quirks; one of which was a Chinese mother holding her child over a bin to do her business (better than the floor though right?). My expression when I turned around to see that was probably priceless and no, on this occasion I did not take a picture.
I wish I would have had a few days to go exploring alone to see the ‘real’ China too though, rather than being in the shadow of thousands of tourists. We did however have the opportunity to visit the Silk Market alone. Flagging down our own taxi was quite interesting! The traffic as you can probably imagine is absolutely manic here and you could easily get run down without anybody noticing it happened. It was such a buzz though.
Our next challenge was navigating the enormous train station to take a sleeper train to Xi’an. The station was crowded with thousands upon thousands of passengers making their way to various destinations. A lot of people were dragging big bags of heavy crops. As we walked briskly to our carriage I looked up to the sky and noticed how heavily polluted this city was. The sky was pink and smoggy, I can understand why people cover their noses and mouths.
The cabin rooms were extremely snug and consisted of two bunk beds on either side plus a small table by the window. I think I only stayed awake for a few hours in total as I wasn’t feeling too well – the whole journey was about twelve hours long (8pm-8am) so having the opportunity to stretch out and have a nap was very welcome. I remember waking up in the middle of the night desperately needing the loo but because the train had stopped for a break I couldn’t go. The toilets don’t operate whilst the train is not in motion so that was a long hour to wait! It was interesting to see the habits of the Chinese – such as spitting on the ground (yes even on the carpets of the train, lovely). You just have to accept it or you’re really not going to enjoy the trip.
First impressions of Xi’an? Loved it! All the buildings had arched roof edges and the city had a nice feeling about it. After breakfast in a posh hotel, we went to see the Terracotta Army. It was unbelievable! I’ve seen them on TV but nothing prepares you for the scale of the area in real life. In the first pit there were approximately 6000-8000 warriors as well as horses which were rebuilt. There were still a lot of terracotta bodies which were broken and could still be seen lying around half unearthed in the pit. It’s just incredible to imagine how long it took to make each statue all with unique faces.
After having some lunch we went to visit a mosque and a traditional market place. It was brilliant! I could have spent hours going around every market stall each selling their own original goods and interesting foods.
On our final leg of the journey we had the chance to go to Chengdu and visit the Panda breeding Centre. I even had my picture taken with a baby! This was the first time I had ever seen a Panda and I was amazed by how much smaller they were in real life! They’re really amazing to watch and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to see them. I really hope that they plan to eventually find a way to release these amazing creatures back into the wild where they belong.
I definitely plan to cross paths with China again in the future. It was an incredible journey that I will remember for the rest of my life with some of the greatest people I have ever met and I recommend anyone planning a trek to book with CharityChallenge as they were brilliant!
If you have any questions that I haven’t answered in my blog, drop me a message and I will fill you in on the details.