Oct 11, 2017

Beijing Travelogue: Traveling Solo And All The Adventures In Between.


One thing's for sure, traveling and exploring brings about more fulfillment and contentment than material wealth can ever bring for me. On a side note, I'd just like to add... I survived!

I wrote about my immediate afterthoughts of traveling solo and meeting new friends (must read okay!) not long back, so this travelogue is going to be a a more comprehensive version of that.

Despite not having access to Google at all (my gosh), I managed to bump my way around Beijing, pestering kind passerby's with directions and all sorts of requests. On that account, most parts of my journey went exactly as planned. Being able to speak the language (though not as fluently as I hoped) was definitely a plus.

In the short lead up to my trip, I made a couple of prior arrangements on my end.

Traveling Time
I traveled to Beijing, China on the 13th Sept - 17th Sept 2017. The best time to travel to Beijing would be in Sept/Oct and Mac/Apr. Avoid the first week of October (golden-week) at all costs.
Weather was excellent while I was there.

Flight Tickets
At 6-weeks prior to departure, I booked my air tickets via Air Asia, at RM714.00, including travel insurance, excluding luggage and meals. I picked the 10.30pm-4.30am flight time from KUL-PEK and 2.15am-8.15am flight time from PEK-KUL.

Important Note: E-boarding passes are not accepted in China. You'd have to get in line and get the traditional boarding pass printed at the check-in counter. There are no express kiosk.

China Visa Application
At 4-weeks prior to departure, I submitted my Chinese Visa Application together with my passport, 2 passport-sized picture (w. white background), photocopy of the front page of my passport and flight tickets. The standard China Visa processing time in Malaysia is 4 working days. The standard China Visa application fee was around RM110.00. I paid an additional RM50.00 for handling fees, as I got mine done through a travel agent, saving me some hassle.

At 2-weeks prior to departure, I compared a handful of hotel options through Hotels Combined, a fantastic one-stop travel website, providing some of the best hotel deals through top travel sites around. I decided with Peking Station Hostel in the end, for RM75/night, where I had a pleasant 2-night stay.

Day Tours
At just 1-week prior to departure, I booked a Summer Palace & The Great Wall Beijing day tour, through CTrip, at approximately RM110, including lunch. I paid an additional RM90 for a return cable car ride.

WiFi Devices
Staying connected at all times was an essential part of my trip. At RM19/day, I was kept connected through Travel Recommends, a reliable and affordable overseas WiFi Router and Rental service provider. I conveniently picked up my pocket WiFi device right before my departure, at Tune Store, KLIA2.

Important Note: China restricts access to Google (incl. gmail and google playstore) and all other social media platforms. I'd highly recommend downloading the VPN app, before flying into China.

Travel Bagpack
To keep things light, easy and fashionable at the same time, I only brought along a small backpack from Gaston Luga, an international brand from Stockholm Sweden, known for it's minimalist and durable travel bagpacks. This was my sole carry-all for this trip.

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*A special thanks to all the sponsors for making this trip possible.*  

Travel Backpack from Gaston Luga - Gorgeous Classic Navy & Brown Color; Strong durable canvas; Magnetic strap closure; Hidden passport compartment.
This was my sole carry-all for the trip.

My 6-hour journey to Beijing took-off at 10.30pm from KLIA2, traveling across the South China Sea, before landing safely at T2 Beijing International Airport, at slightly pass 4.30am. The first Beijing Airport Express Train into the City starts at 6.30am, leaving me with plenty of ample time to spare.

With barely any sleep on the plane and with close to no options to pick from at the airport, I spend the next-hour or so, sipping on hot coffee in McDonalds. While I was there, I met a Russian traveler, who have also just arrived in the country. We chatted and subsequently exchanged contacts before parting ways. It was really nice talking to someone after a mundane 6-hour flight.

Priced at RMB25/trip, the Beijing Airport Express Train passed through 4 major stops, within 30-minute intervals, from start to end.

It was a comfortable and quick ride into the City. I subsequently got off at Dongzhimen Station, swapped lines, before hopping off at Dongdanmen Station, the nearest train station from where I stayed.

The search for Peking Station Hostel proved somewhat challenging - it was really difficult to find. I spend the next wearisome hour trying to locate the place and when I finally spotted the entrance, I literally ran towards it.

I spend 2-nights at Peking Station Hostel.
I shared rooms and made friends with 4 other travelers: Sherry & Yuval from Isreal, Meike from South Africa, and Enca from Spain.
Considering that I had zero access to Google Maps throughout my stay, I relied partially on these simple hand-written notes given by the helpful hostel staff. It has been awhile since I've last gone back to the old school way of doing things.

Tiananmen Square 天安门广场 > Forbidden City 故宫 > Wangfujing Street 王府井 Quanjude 全聚德 > Temple Of Heaven 天坛公园 

Though I felt frazzled from all the walking and the lack of sleep, the excitement to explore got the best of me. It was a 45-minute stroll to Tiananmen Square, the first pit-stop planned for the day.

Walking pass architectures like these on my way to Tiananmen Square.

There were hordes of tourists at Tiananmen Square that afternoon, though not as bustling as I though it would be. Walking through the historical grounds of 1989 protests and massacre was definitely a monumental moment for me.

'Gate of Heavenly Peace'
The Security Checkpoint leading into Tiananmen Square.

Shortly after, I took the underpass and made my way into the Forbidden City, located right behind the walls of Gate of Heavenly Peace. I did not spend too much time here however.

I absolutely love oriental store fronts like these!
I stopped over at a Chinese convenience store along the way and bought some yogurt to sample (I love yogurt!). There were plenty of brands on display but the one I picked had a horrible pudding like texture. I left the remains uneaten.

I slowly walked to Wangfujing Street, the most commercialized and populous business district in Beijing. My mission here - to hunt for Peking Roast Duck.

I was half expecting a sandwiched-crowd that afternoon but the strip was no where as busy as I thought it would be.
Cycling is probably the most convenient way of getting around town. From most of what I have observed, the roads in Beijing have dedicated routes for bicycles and motorcycles.

I had lunch at possibly one of the most popular and famous Peking Roast Duck restaurant in Beijing, at Quanjude Peking Roast Duck Restaurant, where I had one of the most authentic roast duck experience ever!

The one thing which I thought came challenging when it comes to dining alone in a Chinese restaurant, would be not being able to try a variety of dishes. Most Chinese restaurants have a minimum order in most of their menu items. This feast was totally worth my penny.

I saw Signature Roast Duck (min. order of RMB161/half) in the menu and did not consider anything else - the roast duck was deceptively flavorsome and delicious. I did however, initially balk at the inclusion of the crispy duck skin (can't eat that) but I dipped it in sugar and had a go at it nevertheless.
It took me 2 long hours to polish everything up.

It was an 'interesting' bus ride and a rather long walk to get there, but visiting Temple Of Heaven after my hefty meal, was definitely worth the additional journey. I spend the next 2-hours exploring the place.

This world heritage, large-scaled complex, houses one of the largest Taoist Temples around. There are multiple sections to this attraction, hence I got the RMB34 all-access-pass, wanting to see it all.

Having walked non-stop since I arrived in Beijing (apart from lunch break), my feet was aching by the time I got back to my hostel that evening, plus, the lack of comfortable footwear probably made it worst. It was as though I was on a marathon that day.

Exhaustion finally kicked in at 8.30pm and I slept oh-so-soundly for the next 9-hours or so. It was certainly a fufilling first day for me.

Summer Palace 頤和園 > The Great Wall 萬里長城 

The main reason I chose to do my solo trip in Beijing instead of other parts of Asia, was because I wanted to climb The Great Wall Of China - one of my long pending bucket list items.

That morning, I was picked up from my hostel at a planned time of 6.30am. I went on a 6-person English-speaking private tour, which I booked online about a week back.

Buttered bread from Family Mart.
In accordance with the planned itinerary, the first stop was Summer Palace, the largest and most well preserved royal park in China.

The tour included admission fees into Summer Palace.
There's a story behind this Marble Boat, also popularly known as the Boat of Purity and Ease. Long story cut short, we were also told that they spend a fortune restoring this boat.  

There were two intermittent 'shopping trips' planned for this tour. The stopover lasted about an hour each.

The Jade Shopping Outlet.

We had lunch at a Chinese Restaurant, located inside of the Jade Shopping Outlet.

I was ready for a hearty lunch and it was a feast fit for a king - 10 dishes; 3 meat; 7 vegan including rice, to be shared between the 6 of us. Besides, it was really nice having some variety for a change, after overindulging in roast duck the day before. Throughout lunch, I chatted with my new travel companions and enjoyed the meal all in all.

Next on the agenda, climbing The Great Wall of China, also the most anticipated part of my trip. We were allocated 3-hours to explore the lengths of The Great Wall on our own.

Entrance to the Badaling Cable Car Ride.
The cable car ride was not included in the tour. I paid an additional RMB140 for a return trip.
The Great Wall of China stretches 21,196km long (imagine flying from Malaysia to Beijing, 5 times), though not all parts of the wall are accessible to the public. The most commercialised 'gates' are probably Badaling, followed by Mutianyu. The reason I picked Badaling instead of the rest was simply because I just wanted a taste of being at The Great Wall.
As expected, Badaling was packed with hordes of tourists while I was there, though to be very honest, I really didn't mind, I just wanted to enjoy the moment of being right there. 
The crowd expertly weaved pass each other without creating commotions of any sort.
There were a few moments where I just lean along the edges of the wall, enjoying the serene landscapes that was surrounding me. It was truly an amazing experience.
A friend once jokingly told me, "Our great-great-great grandfather probably contributed his sweat and tears into building this wall."

The final agenda of the day was to visit a Tea House, where I got to learn about the beneficial aspects of various teas, alongside the best way to drink tea. It was a really nice end to the tour, to unwind, while having hot tea.

By the time I got back to my hostel, at a little pass 6.30pm, my energy levels were dwindling. To be very honest, I was more drained than hungry, hence I didn't have much for dinner, just onigiri and bread which I bought from the nearest convenience shop.

The one thing I found out about myself that day, was that I don't quite enjoy being in a tour. The time limitations given meant that I couldn't freely roam and explore whenever I want. Plus, following the herd was not exactly my thing. I think I strayed away from the group a handful of times throughout the tour.

My strongest memory of the day would definitely be the great wall climb. It was a feat which I have been secretly wanting to do for awhile. I couldn't help but felt a little sad when I descended the great wall, though the sense of contentment was definitely fulfilling overall.

I then spend the next few hours catching up with my roommates, before calling it a day.

Beijing National Stadium 国家体育场 > Bird's Nest 鸟巢> Water Cube 水立方 > Bell and Drum Towers 鼓楼 钟楼 > Xian Lao Man Restaurant 馅老满酒家 > Lama Temple 雍和宫

It was not until the third and final day of my trip that I felt that time flew passed way too quickly, especially while traveling. It was essentially a bonus day with most of what was planned for this trip have already been done. I was determined to enjoy what was left of this trip down to the second.

I need coffee to kick-start my day! I had Illy coffee and Subway for breakfast.

While my feet was already overworked, I ventured out at slightly pass 10am, following a 30-minute train ride and 20-minutes of leisure walk to the National Olympic Stadium.

There are a few attractions in the vicinity of Beijing National Olympic Stadium, all within walking distance of each other. I passed through the National Olympic Sports Center first, then Beijing Olympic Park (Olympic Green), before hitting the much photographed Beijing National Stadium (Bird's Nest) and Beijing Aquatics Center (Water Cube).

First pit-stop, the Beijing National Olympics Stadium.
Beijing Olympic Park (Olympic Green).
Beijing National Stadium (Bird's Nest).

Beijing National Aquatic's Center (Water Cube).

Not long after that, I took the train and did a short stopover at the Bell & Drum Tower. There were nothing particularly interesting to see and do here.

While making my way to the Bell & Drum Tower, I walked through some hutongs and passed by a handful of tri-shaw riders and no - I did not get on any. 
Bell Tower, Beijing China.
Drum Tower, Beijing China.

I wandered around in search of the most famous Chinese dumpling restaurant in Beijing, at Xian Lao Man Dumpling Restaurant, situated just a stone throw away from the towers. If you're craving for traditional Chinese dumplings, this is the place to be.

Though the menu came with English translations, I really didn't know how to order. There was a min. order of 10 dumplings per order and you'd get to opt between the dry or soup version.
I settled for the Signature Specialty Dumplings (RMB24) which came with pork, leek, prawn and egg fillings. To be very honest, I think I've had better.
Though confused, I was very intrigued by the 1 dollar and cent coins (no it's not the same). The best way of going around the confusion - just lay out all coins for the cashier to choose.

As part of the last leg of my trip, I visited Lama Temple, a Tibetan Temple and Monastery, that was also known as the Palace of Peace and Harmony, where I spend the 2-hours admiring the beauty of whats held beneath.

The architecture and sculptures of the temple was quite a spectacular sight.
The one thing that intrigued me the most was the number of halls, each with it's own story to tell, all tucked within the narrow spaces of the temple. It felt as though the story was never-ending.
Soaking up the spirit of the atmosphere, I prayed for health and happiness, for my family and friends.

That evening at the airport, while waiting for the boarding time to be called, at 2am, I slowly flipped through the photographs I took throughout my trip, reminiscing on moments which brought back a sense of contentment and joy. Besides, I didn't buy anything back for myself in this trip, but what I did bring back though, was a bundle of blissful memories.

This trip was easily the most fulfilling one I've taken thus far, evident from the number of first times taken, from the people I met; the experience of exploring alone; and the feeling of independence and freedom throughout. Having said that, I think that curiosity and excitement was probably the biggest influence to me for this trip.

By then, I started to feel a surreal sense of deja vu, unwanted thoughts of my daily routine was slowly creeping back in. I had a sudden realization that my trip came way too short. Feeling shagged, I snoozed all the way back to homeland.

I think I'm ready to travel the world solo. Thanks for reading!
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