A Travellerspoint blog

Beijing

sunny 27 °C

Well I'm currently(well I was when I started writing this entry) in Beijing Capital Airport on my way to Seoul in South Korea. I've spent the last 3 days in Beijing and the city just amazes me! The sheer size of the place is baffling, everything seems to be super sized (especially the map scales where what looks like a ten minute walk ends up being about 40 minutes). What can you expect of a city with 18 million people? The whole country is just amazing from a size point of view. Brace yourself fact fans as you are in for a few gems.

Did you know that China consumes ½ of the word's concrete and 1/3 of the worlds steel every year. Most mind boggling of all is the fact that the Chinese people consume 45 BILLION pairs of disposable chop sticks every year! That is 25 million trees cut down every year just for chop sticks! And I thought Russia was big!

Anyway I've spent the last few days getting acquainted with some of the sites in Beijing. I've been to the Temple of Heaven in the south of the city. This impressive Taoist site is where the Emperors used to go to perform ceremonies to ensure good harvests. I've just had a look at wikipedia and it has some great panoramic pictures which put my photos to shame so I'm not even going to post any from there.

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I also dropped into Tienanmen Square
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( I don't know what you've heard but if you do a google search or wikipedia search on Tienanmen Square in China you do get to read about the massacre of the protesters (youtube is blocked in China though:( )). There are some resemblances to Red Square in Moscow. There are lots of communist style buildings and monuments to the “workers” and of course where Red Square has the Lenin Mausoleum, Tienanmen Square has the Mao Mausoleum. Of course I had to call into see the infamous/famous (depends on who you talk to here in China) man. The queues were simply astonishing, much larger and longer than the queue for Lenin, and there were lots of Chinese buying flowers to lay infront of his body. It was all a bit surreal again, much like visiting Lenin. The guards were equally efficient in ensuring that you didn't even slow down as you walked passed his body. If I view Ho Chi Min in Hoh Chi Min city do I get a prize for doing the triple crown of embalmed dictators!

I also called into to Beijing Zoo to see the Pandas but I'll get to see Pandas in a more natural environment when I visit Chengdu on my travels around China.
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To be honest the Zoo is a disappointment. All the money obviously is spent on the panda enclosure. The rest of the animals are enclosed in some pretty appalling conditions, the Lions are basically in a small concrete enclosure which had no enhancements as were many of the other large animals. One of the reasons I went to the zoo is the fact that I could get a boat from there all the way out of the city to the Summer Temple of the emperors. This impressive area was the retreat of the Chinese Emperors during Beijing's hot and humid summer period. It was simply a spectacular spot. It was so serene and peaceful, a really beautiful spot to spend an afternoon. Once again my photographs fail dismally in their attempt to convey the beauty of the spot.

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Beijing seems to have a rather vibrant nightlife with some areas being designated as the bar/club/restaurant zone. On the first night out we definitely hit on what I think is the best part of town for nightlife. It is a large lake surrounded on all sides with bars and restaurants. There are lots of people out playing games, eating dinner and drinking. There is a great buzz about the place and everyone seems to be in a great mood (have I mentioned how friendly the Chinese are?), within minutes of arriving I was playing a badminton type game with some Chinese people. The night seemed go on and on without stop – I'm not sure they have a closing time in Beijing.

Before I headed out on the second night a few of us headed up to visit the Olympic park which was very impressive (makes the Australian park which I saw last year look very drab - I'm not going to bother visiting the Seoul Olympic park at all). The water cube is very impressive when it is lit up and the Birds nest stadium is simply an astonishing feat of engineering.

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Well that's Beijing for now, I head off to Seoul next for a week before returning to Beijing for a few days to catch the sites I missed e.g. Great Wall, the Forbidden city etc. and then continuing my trek around China and Tibet.

Posted by ronanm32 18:21 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Hello China

End of Trans-Siberian Trip

sunny 30 °C
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Well goodbye Mongolia

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hello China

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Well I'm now in the People's Republic of China! I'm currently in Beijing after spending a day in the city of Hohhot on the way. The border crossing was relatively painless, it was about the shortest border crossing of the lot, about 5 1/2 hours in total. The changing of the train bogeys lost the novelty effect after about 5 minutes, it's still a pretty cool operation though.

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There was one slightly surreal moment when officers from the department of health came on and made us fill out forms. Nothing too strange in that, it was the the fact that they took everyone's temperature! Would I be turned away at the border for having a temperature too high (I was 37.1 for those of ye that are interested :) ). The also took an infra red temperature in case the old fashioned mercury thermometers were incorrect. Ah well at least it wasn't taken rectally as one of my fellow travellers sagely noted!

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Hohhot was a bit of a nothing town, nothing too good or bad about it. I was only there about 23 hours, it just served to break the train trip. Some parts of the old town were quite pretty though.

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So that's it folks I've completed on the world's most famous and potentially the most enjoyable of the world's train journey. I've rolled out of Europe and into Asia, I've crossed 8 time zones, travelled over 8000kms of taiga, steppe and desert and travelled through three huge countries(if you have any questions about the trip so far, please refer to Julie, she's heard about it enough that it could recite my itinerary in her sleep :) ). And yet there is still more to come!

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Stay tuned for more....................

Posted by ronanm32 17:38 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Engrish

Ah the nuances of the English language

sunny 24 °C
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When the thirst hits me when I'm travelling I always reach for a bottle of “Most Freshest Deep”, nothing quenches thirst better :-)

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When on the go I enjoy eating peanuts as they are a "convenient touring food" and can also double as a gift or I could even entertain guests with it!!

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Posted by ronanm32 16:52 Archived in Mongolia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Camping on the Mongolian Steppe

Living like a nomad

sunny 25 °C
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I had an early start on Wednesday which didn't sit well with the fact that you can buy 1 litre beers in the pubs of Ulaanbaatar for about 2euro ( still doesn't beat the 1.75EUR bottles of vodka I was buying in Russia – it was cheaper than water for feck's sake). The reason for the early start was a six hour bus journey into the heartland of the Mongolian steppe as I was going to be staying in traditional Mongolian Ger camps over the next few days.

I wasn't the healthiest I've ever been after the night before and the road quality did not make for an easy journey. The bus driver was swerving all over the place to avoid various potholes, craters and possible holes to the centre of the earth. I thought this was bad until about 20 minutes outside the city the driver randomly pulled off the road and started driving into the great beyond. It was a bit all over the place and the bus didn't really have the suspension system to make it a pleasant journey. What did make the journey enjoyable was the spectacular scenery.

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What few photos I've posted here are a very poor representation of the scenery and don't do the landscape any just. I'm afraid it's one of those places you really have to see in person to truly enjoy (on a completely unrelated note I hope the weather in Ireland is pleasant (I know Shannon always is) and that everyone is getting on well at work ;-) ),It was something special to be able to look 360 degrees and not see any sign of human intervention. All you could see was the vast and desolate steepe stretching as far as the eye could see before some majestic mountain range would rise out of the ground at the horizon. The landscape was then complemented by the odd herd of galloping wild horses or herds of grazing sheep and goats. I also saw large hawks gliding over the blue skies and a even a few vultures feasting on some carrion. The landscape really was breath taking and every now and again some sop to human existence was shown by the appearance of some family's yurt. About one third of the population still follow the truly nomadic way of live and move four or five times a year to find new grazing grounds for their animals.

It was to be in this type of tent that I would be spending the next few nights. They are surprising warm once you get the fire going in them especially considering how cold it was out at night time. During my time in the countryside I visited Kharkoran which was where Chinggis Khan built his capital. Nothing really remains of it now apart from the odd stone statue and pillar as the Manchu emperor had it razed to the ground once the Mongolian empire began to decline.

I also went out horse riding on the steppe which was fantastic. It was really liberating and exhilarating to be cantering along with the wind in your face in such spectacular isolation on the plains where the Mongolian Golden Horde once roamed.

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In the Ger camps at night I learnt some Mongolian games. My favourite where the games using Sheep's ankle bones! Who knew a sheep's ankle could prove to be so useful (to humans obviously, it was pretty damn important to the sheep I'd imagine!). I have made it my mission to pick up a few in the markets back in Ulaanbaatar so I can bring these games back home(UPDATE, sourced the bones and bargained myself a good price)! I taught a few people the age old card game of 45. It was a bit tricky explaining the rules but I think they picked them and we had some good games, even had a game with 8 people which was the most I've ever played with. I've learnt lots of card games on the trip (No doubt I won't remember any of them whensand become reacquainted with others such as spit (Jean I think I might have met a more competitive spit player than you, she actually growled at one point during the frenzy that entails when playing that game!!!).

I also tried my hand at Mongolian wrestling. You basically try grapple with your opponent until either their elbow or knee hits the ground. It can go on for quite a while as my match with one of the workers at the camp did. I was doing quite well until he pulled some secret technique out of the bag and before I knew it I was looking at the sky from the flat of my back. It was great fun though and the two of us shared a good drink afterwards as we were both shattered.

Posted by ronanm32 16:48 Archived in Mongolia Comments (1)

Welcome to Mongolia

The wild wild east (or west, depends which way you look ;-) )

sunny 24 °C
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I arrived in Ulaanbaatar in the morning and once I had found my accommodation and gotten some food I set about exploring the capital. All in all I am impressed with the place, I heard it was meant to be quite bleak but I liked the place (well the centre at least, the outskirts are a bit harsh alright). There is a real hustle and bustle about the place and you feel it is a city (indeed the whole country too) on the up. There are lots of impressive high rise office blocks being built among the more antiquated and dilapidated streets. The centre square of the city holds the most impressive buildings (parliament, stock exchange, post office and governor's residence etc.). The parliament buildings are particularly striking especially with the dominating statue of Chinngis Khan in the centre of the building.

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The city holds about 1 third of the entire 2.9 million inhabitants of this vast country (it's one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world) so it is has the same population as Dublin (That's where the similarities begin and end). Even at the city centre you can still see all the surrounding mountains which make a very picturesque back drop to the city buildings. I actually did a small hike up of those hills to a monument built in honour of the Russian army (they helped Mongolia repel both the Chinese and Japanese at various stages (we're forgetting about the forcing of communism on the country obviously)). At this monument I had a great vantage point to view the entire city, which still looked small. It was quite different to see the edges of the city not covered in bungalows and estates like at home, instead Ger camps and yurts existed on the fringes of the city.

In the afternoon I visited the National History Museum of Mongolia which gave a fascinating account of Mongolia's past. It took the history of Mongolia from the early stone age right up to its overthrow of communist rule in the early 1990's. It also obviously covered Mongolia's golden age where it was the heart of the largest land empire ever know on this planet stretching from Eastern Europe to Pacific ocean.

That night we managed to get tickets to a concert of Mongolian dance and music at the National Cultural Hall. The start of the concert was much what I expected with traditional music, dance and song. While not spectacular it was interesting (although I know realise what we put all those Americans through at the Bunratty folk nights. However the concert took an odd turn when we veered drastically into interpretative dance with a hard house beat (not sure how traditional that is in Mongolia). Some of the acrobatic moves the dancers (the ballet sections especially) pulled off were simply spectacular though. The show then moved into what can only be described as Mongolian Riverdance. It was quite the spectacle and I enjoyed it on the whole.

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The most surreal part of the entire night was at the end when the MC brought on one of the dancers (she came on now and again and basically tipped toed around the stage a few times) and she got cheers and a standing ovation. I was a bit lost and could not figure out why she was getting all the adulation when some of the other dancers were amazing. As is custom all over the world as she was giving her speech someone came on stage and presented her with a bouquet of flowers........then another bouquet, and another and another. The woman could barely carry them all and hold the mic at one point (still didn't stop her giving an interminably long speech, she was determined to say her piece). Finally, somebody took them all off her but yet more flowers were presented to the woman. At the end of it all she had been presented with 17 bouquets and 2 baskets of flowers (yes I was counting, when you can't understand the language you make diversions for yourself!). I later learnt she was the director and choreographer and not some hyped up diva with an inflated opinion of herself who was being fawned over as I had earlier thought – still though that many flowers is still a bit excessive!

Posted by ronanm32 15:42 Archived in Mongolia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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