The train between Ulan-Bator in Mongolia and Beijing in China contains possibly the most scenic leg on the whole Trans-Mongolian train journey. Two hours before arriving into Beijing, the landscape changed from a flat desert into a green valley. Alongside the hill, our train was squeezing through tunnels and numerous bends. Jason, Ania (from my Gobi desert trip) and Adrien (a French bloke from the hostel in Ulan-Bator) were busy taking pictures through the windows.
Right after arriving in Beijing we were greeted by a minute of silence for the victims of the Sechuan earthquake, while getting our first money from the local ATM. Actually, the minute of silence was a very noisy one, since all the cars turned on their horns. But people were standing in silence and respect – so did we.
The hostel in Beijing is actually a party place (“Leo’s hostel” – for the interested), next to Tienanmen square. This is quite a change to all the (quiet) places which I have been to on this trip and it reminds me a bit of the hostels back in Australia.
The city of Beijing itself has changed over the past ten years – the last time I’ve been here. Back then, the people were mostly not interested in entering conversations with foreigners, the buses were shabby and queueing was an alien concept to the Chinese. Now guess what, Beijing has turned out to be a very friendly place and people everywhere try to help you, try to speak in English, are outgoing and warm – always with a smile on their face. The buses are – without exceptions – clean, and brand new. In the subway, people queue (!!!). I am amazed at the change that has happened here and I am certain that the Chinese are ready to be a great hosting nation for the upcoming Olympic games.
Yes, there is still the problem of pollution and the obviously shrinking number of bicycles in the city. But this was not really a surprise to me. Nevertheless, I set out – on the second day here – to visit the Great Wall. I went by bus to Miyun, then by Minibus to Jinshanling. From there it was a 10km hike to Simatai. About 500m of each end points of the walk are somewhat touristic sites with a lot of people and hawkers – but I’ve spent the rest of the walk on top of that stretch of the Great Wall in a breathtaking solitude.
Returning from Simatai to Beijing in the evening proved to be quite a challenge. For whatever reason, during my stay the Tienanmen square became closed – which meant that the three subway stations nearest to the hostel were closed as well. Distances in Beijing are big (ask Madame Flip Flop about her blisterful experience) and therefore it took over two hours to return back to the hostel, where I arrived at around 9pm – completely knocked out.
Jason, Ania and I spent our last day in the Summer Palace, to where we went by boat. I enjoyed this part of Beijing and being with Jason and Ania a lot. Since the ferry company had no ferry boat for the ride back, they improvised somewhat with a speedboat. That was massively awesomo… At one instance, our boat created a mini-tsunami wave behind it, which went then over the shoreline wetting most of the fishermen sitting along the canal. But who cares in fifty years, since for us this was the perfect icing on the day’s cake.
It is a bit sad to leave so fast – but I feel that I have seen many of the sights during my past trips to this city. Also, I am very eager to discover countryside China. Yet again, I have to say Goodbye to people to whom I grew accustomed. Next to Jason and Ania were a bunch of French guys at the hostel whom I’ll be certainly missing as well. All that fun at the hostel with Tourists and in the streets with the Chinese were making Beijing a very memorable stay for me.