Saturday, 3 March 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 6 - Chairman Mao and Yonghegong Lama Temple

We got up pretty early on our last day in Beijing to try to fit as much as we could in before our evening flight. We started off the day with a long subway ride to the far flung reaches of outer Beijing as I wanted to do a little camera lens shopping. Electronic goods are seriously overpriced in Korea due to the extortionate import tax they slap on everything non Korean and even domestic goods are more expensive than they would be in the UK or America as there isn't so much competition due to the import tax. So buying camera equipment can be pricey here (unless you buy "grey market" goods) and prices in China looked pretty tempting. 

We travelled out to the outer ring of Beijing city to go to an electronics market there. I was still feeling rather sick from my food poisoning but that didn't manage to dampen my zeal or buying camera stuff. I ended up with a new macro lens at a much cheaper price than I could have got it for in South Korea so I was pretty pleased. One of the weird things we noticed in this part of Beijing well away from the tourist areas was the throat tickling smog. The pollution really was noticeably worse and we were very glad when we got back on the subway and escaped to the more tourist friendly cleaner air of the old city. 

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 5 - The Great Wall of China

We woke up pretty early on our third full day in Beijing ready for our tour to the Great Wall of China. We had heard that is was possible to visit the Wall yourself by taking public transport or by hiring a drive but that could be fiddly and confusing. As we only had a short amount of time in Beijing we opted for the tour so we could make the most of our 5 days. 

There are several different parts of the Walk that are accessible from Beijing. The most well visited part is Badaling, 50 miles northwest of Beijing City. We decided not to go there though as we had heard that it was a total tourist trap that would be heaving with tourists and people trying to sell tacky souvenirs and that the Wall there was so heavily restored it looked virtually brand new. Instead we went to the Wall at Mutianyu, 70km northeast of Beijing. This part of the Wall was older than the Badaling section and not s heavily visited for some reason.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu (care of Wikipedia - it was really misty when we went so none of my pictures were this clear!)

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 4 - Summer Palace and Tea House Performance

We awoke to very misty weather on our second full day in Beijing. Despite the mist, we decided that we would head to the UNESCO listed Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was first built in 1750 and is a collection of halls, pavilions and temples gathered around a large man-made lake called Kunming Lake. The ground are dominated by Longevity Hill, which is more than 60 metres high and which was made from all the earth that was excavated to make the lake. The palace is popular with tourists but is also a public recreational park so there were plenty of ordinary Beijing citizens there enjoying the sights. 

Decorative gate (known as a 'paifang') at the entrance to the main Summer Palace grounds.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 3 - Forbidden City and Exotic Food Market

After a morning of trekking around the Panjiayuan Antiques Market and a brief visit to Tianamen Square we found ourselves in front of the Forbidden City and decided that we should go in and see what all the fuss was about. 

The Forbidden City, viewed from Jingshan Hill to the north. (photo care of Wikipedia)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 2 - Panjiayuan Antiques Market and Tiananmen Square

We made an early start on our first full day in Beijing. The weather was vastly improved, warm and sunny an our plan was to do some serious sightseeing! We jumped on the subway and travelled to East Beijing for our first stop of the day, Panjiayuan Antiques Market. This popular flea market, also known as 'Dirt Market' apparently, has been going strong since 1992 and receives thousands of visitors every day, both locals and tourists. It's the place to go if you're looking for souvenirs and there are even some genuine antiques mixed in with the fakes and reproductions too! 

Panjiayuan Antiques Market on a busy Sunday morning.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Five Days in Beijing: Part 1 - Hutongs and decadent beer

So way back in the first half of September 2011, we were packing our bags once again to go on another quick overseas jaunt. It was the Chuseok vacation, Korea's Thanksgiving/Harvest festival style holiday and we had Monday - Wednesday off work. Koreans usually visit their relatives in their home-towns during this or ancestors nearby to visit we decided to take our 5 days of freedom and go explore another country. Last year we visited Japan for Chuseok, this year we decided it was time to go check out China, specifically Beijing. 

As usual, all the prices for travel were hiked up for the festive season and plane and train tickets were sold out way in advance. Travelling during Chuseok is like travelling during Christmas back home and can be a real nightmare if you don't plan it well. But as this was our second year of Chuseok madness we knew what to expect. 

The two faces of the Korean Chuseok holiday - 1. Songpyeon. They are rice cake dumplings filled with honey or beans and steamed with pine needles to add a nice scent that are traditionally eaten during Chuseok. (photo from

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Japan! Take Two: Kyoto - Trains and bamboo groves

On our third day in Kyoto we got a bit tired of the heat of the city so we decided to head out to Arashiyama, a small town just outside of Kyoto. To get there we caught a train from the impressive central Kyoto train station. It was a lot more peaceful and relaxed out in Arashiyama than in the manic central Kyoto sights. After strolling through the main tower areas we headed out to one of the most famous sights in Arashiyama, the bamboo grove at Tenryu-ji temple. The temple was really nice, beautiful gardens and ponds. The bamboo groves themselves were a little disappointing as they didn't quite live up to the lonely planet hype. the grove was very pleasant but it wasn't as big as we expected and it also had a track running through it with cars driving through! In the temple grounds itself we saw some lovely dragonflies and a water snake slithering through a stream.

The impressive main hall of Kyoto central train station showing the overhead walk way in the center of the picture at the top. 

Definitely a bit more peaceful and relaxed out here!

The train bridge from Kyoto crossing the river with mountains in the background.