Final stop: Beijing!

Finishing the Trans-Mongolian journey in Beijing was an exciting experience. After the spending time in the silent countryside of Mongolia, I found the capital city of China absolutely shocking! There were people and cars everywhere and the amount of pollution was scary.

Beijing (or China in general) is a destination for travelers who aren’t in a hurry, or afraid of chaos, lots of people and traffic jams. I experienced a real culture shock the very second I stepped out of the train station and knew it would take me 40minutes to even get a taxi to my hotel. Walking in the streets was hard, as there were huge crowds of people wherever I went. As a Finn used to their own space, I found it distressing.

I was also surprised how much technology and fancy buildings could fit into such a historical city. First you could see seven-star hotels and large video adverts on the walls of buildings, then walk around in the Forbidden City which is thousands of years old. Of course, the areas targeted for tourists were neat and shiny, but that is not the only side of the city.

The Great Wall of China (which is by the way 21 196,18km long) is often the reason why tourists come to the country. I only had a few days in Beijing, but simply had to take a daytrip to go and see the Great Wall. Even the foggy day would not stop me from enjoying one of the most amazing man-built attractions in the world. Climbing up and down the steep steps just to see what the wall would look like from above was hard work but worth it! The wall is amazing when you see it with your own eyes. I must say, if you want to see the Great Wall, don’t settle with Badaling (which is the part of wall closest to Beijing) as it is full of tourists and has been heavily restored.

At the very heart of Beijing lies the Forbidden City, the enormous palace compound that was the home of the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The area has over 800 beautifully decorated buildings, and it’s easy to spend hours simply wandering around. Right next to the Forbidden City you can find The Tiananmen (or Gate of Heavenly Peace) which is also a very famous historical monument in Beijing.

For people who love food I would recommend Beijing Duck – a famous dish that has been prepared since the imperial era, and is now considered a national dish of China. This specially prepared duck tasted so delicious, especially after having to queue for over two hours to even get a seat in the duck restaurant! Another place for food-lovers would be the night market where you can try just about anything, including fried spiders.

Even though I stayed in a cheap and rickety hotel, I really liked the fact that it was situated in a local hutong. Hutongs are alleys formed by lines of “siheyuan”, traditional Chinese courtyard residences. In these areas you can see how many locals have lived (and still live). Even large families might live in a very small house, and the men play chess, women cook food and children play with the animals. The small commune atmosphere felt so real and calming in the middle of the otherwise huge and busy city. I really enjoyed simply sitting there, drinking tea with a local lady, talking about the world.

I spent my last evening by the Houhai-lake, which is an area where you can find all kinds of bars and restaurants. Both locals and tourists come here to enjoy their nights out. After traveling all the way from Finland to China it felt simply amazing to be there, and to just sit in a local restaurant with candle lights listening to Chinese music. The lake beautifully reflected the lights of the restaurants and finally the whole idea of the journey was starting to come clear to me.

You can only realize how amazing a journey has been once you finally get home and rest your head on your old, familiar pillow.

(And oh yes, I returned to Finland by plane!)

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Trans-Mongolian junamatkan päättäminen Pekingiin oli hurja kokemus. Mongolian hiljaisien arojen jälkeen järkytyin aika pahasti astuessani ensimmäistä kertaa juna-aseman suojasta Kiinan pääkaupungin tyrmäävään ihmisvilinään. Ensimmäisen yskäkohtauksen saamiseen meni alle viisi minuuttia, mikä ei ole kaupungin saastetilastoja katsellessa mikään ihme.

Peking (tai Kiina ylipäätään) on matkakohde kiireettömille vierailijoille, joita eivät ruuhkat, väenpaljous ja jatkuva odottelu hetkauta. Itselläni oli kaikessa siinä kulttuurishokissa mennä hermo, kun olin varannut vain muutaman päivän nähtävyyksien kiertelyyn tietämättä etukäteen, että jopa taksiin voi joutua jonottamaan 40min. Käsittämättömältä tuntuva kaaos paljastui myöhemmin tavalliseksi Pekingin arjeksi, joka kuitenkin pistää suomalaisen pään helposti pyörälle. Jopa kaduilla kävelemeninen tuntui vaikealta, koska ihmisiä oli niin paljon, että eteenpäin kulkeminen kävi äärimmäisen hitaasti.

Yllätyin myös siitä kuinka paljon teknologiaa ja hienoja rakennuksia mahtui tuohon historialliseen kaupunkiin. Ensin sitä näki seitsemän tähden hotelleita  ja tuijotti rakennusten seiniltä valtavia videomainoksia, jonka jälkeen käveli jo tuhansia vuosia vanhassa Kielletyssä Kaupungissa. Tietysti turisteille suunnatut alueet oltiin laitettu huippukuntoon, kun taas vähänkin reitiltä poiketessa saattoi nähdä paikallisia virtsaamassa rähjäisien rakennuksien sivuun.

Peräti 21 196,18km pitkä Kiinan muuri on tietysti lähes jokaisen maahan saapuvan turistin tehtävälistalla, ja tämä kyllä näkyi paikan päällä (selvittyämme sinne ensin parin tunnin ruuhkasta). Satuimme muurille todella sumuisena päivänä, joten alkuun emme olleet nähdä mitään. Päästyämme kuitenkin jyrkkiä portaita ylös, kauniisti ja käärmemäisenä vihreillä kukkuloilla mutkitteleva muuri ilmestyi hetkeksi kunnolla näkyviin. Kiinan muuri on yksi vaikuttavimmista nähtävyyksistä, jolla olen käynyt! Jälkikäteen ajatellen suosittelisin kuitenkin matkaamaan hieman kauemmas muurin Badaling-alueelta, joka on siis Pekingiä lähimpänä ja aivan täynnä turisteja. Tämä osa muuria oli lähes kokonaan entisöity, eikä siksi ehkä tuntunut niin muinaiselta ja aidolta minusta.

Taivaallisen rauhan aukio ja Kielletty Kaupunki ovat myös pakollisia nähtävyyksiä Pekingissä. Etenkin jälkimmäinen teki minuun suuren vaikutuksen yli 800 rakennuksellaan ja upeilla koristeillaan. Kiellettyyn Kaupunkiin kannattaa varata reippaasti aikaa, sillä nähtävyys on turisteja täynnä ja laajalle alueelle levittäytynyt. Oli kiehtovaa yrittää kuvitella Kiinan keisarien elämää Kielletyn Kaupungin muurien sisälle.

Kiinassa on todella monipuolinen ruokakulttuuri. Valtavaan maahan mahtuu lukuisia alueiden mukaan jaettavia perinneruokia, joista historiallinen Pekingin Ankka on varmasti kuuluisin.  Tätä ateriaa varten sain jonottaa ”ankkaravintolaan” jopa pari tuntia, mutta kyllä oli herkullista! Eksoottisia makuelämyksiä hakevien kannattaa myös piipahtaa Pekingin yömarkkinoilla, joilla voi maistaa mm. friteerattuja hämähäkkejä!

Omaa kokemustani Pekingissä väritti se, että halpa ja ränsistynyt hotellini sijaitsi paikallisella hutongilla, eli sivukadulla, joka oli pakkautunut täyteen ihan tavallista paikallisten elämää ja isojakin perheitä asuttavia pikkutaloja. Miehet pelasivat shakkia, lapset leikkivät kotieläinten kanssa ja talojen sisältä leijaili houkuttevia ruuan tuoksuja. Mikäs siinä paikallisten kanssa teetä hörppiessä, se oli sellaista tavallista ja arkista Kiinaa, joka kiehtoo erilaisuudellaan. Suosittelen jokaista matkailijaa poikkeamaan tällaisen hutongin läpi, sillä niiden oma pieni yhteisöllinen tunnelmansa on kokemisen arvoinen asia. Itsekin yllätyin siitä kuinka paljon paikalliset puhalsivat tuolla yhteen hiileen (kaipa se on pakko kun niin suuri ihmismäärä kyseessä) ja minuakin oikein varoitettiin etukäteen jos oli muutaman minuutin sisällä tulossa rankka sadekuuro. Nämä hutongit olivat kadota Pekingistä kokonaan, mutta onneksi kehittyvästä taloudesta huolimatta hutonkeja yritetään nykyään ottaa paremmin huomioon.

Viimeisenä iltana nautin rennosta oleskelusta Pekingin Houhai-järven rannalla, joka on tunnettu illanviettopaikka paikallisten (ja nykyään myös turistien) keskuudessa. Siellä saa nauttia ajastaan rennoissa ravintoloissa ja baareissa tai käydä rauhallisella kävelyllä ravintoloiden tunnelmallisia valoja heijastavan järven rannalla.

Pitkän junamatkan jälkeen oli mieletön tunne olla Pekingissä,niin kaukana kotoa! Ei sitä edes tajua Venäjän kokoa ja todellista välimatkaa Kiinaan, ennenkuin on loikannut Trans-Siperian junaan. Ja oikeastaan koko reissun idea valkenee vasta sitten, kun pääsee takaisin kotiin ja laskee päänsä tutulle ja turvalliselle tyynylle omassa vuoteessa. Suomeen palasin lentokoneella ;)

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16 thoughts on “Final stop: Beijing!

  1. How fantastic. i would love to do this and see the city. London might prepare me somewhat for the crowds. Obviously worse there but just last night on my way to the pub I was shocked by all the people in my neighborhood last night. Took me an extra seven minutes. But I know the crowds, traffic, and everything in China will blow my mind

    • Oh yes, London is good practice for Beijing! You wouldn’t bee (too) shocked there, but it still is very hectic. In Beijing I felt very bad looking at my watch and thinking how many minutes I lost sitting in a traffic jam or having to queue to places. But you should go to see Beijing! It has everything from history and culture to interesting technology, good food, shopping… It was almost difficult to choose what to see because of all the options! :)

    • Kiinaan kannattaa kyllä mennä! Siellä on ihan kaikkea mahdollista ja mahdotontakin.Kultturin ja ruoan lisäksi on niin paljon historiallisia paikkoja! Matka oli todella silmiä avaava, nyt kun vain pääsisi takaisin Kiinaan vaikka kiertelemään vähän pidemmäksikin aikaa.. ;)

  2. Hi, Anna! How are you? Hope you are well! You experienced a very-very fascinating journey! Although we may be accustomed to the kind of stress of the major Western capitals I am sure that the lifestyle and unique cultural effervescence of a great city in the Far East is really impressive. Was pretty nice to read your own impressions about your adventure, including your tips for a Trans-Siberian traveler ;) By the way, in your personal opinion, what is the average total amount of days needed to perform a journey similar to that you did (Europe-Asia by train and Asia-Europe by plane) and how much advance planning is usually necessary/advisable to accomplish it?
    Have a great week and thank you! :)
    F.

    • Hi, how’s it going! Nice to hear you enjoyed the posts :) The Trans-Siberian journey was a travel dream come true! Beijing was fascinating and certainly has a lot of things to see, especially if you are interested in history and culture. A few days in Beijing were not enough for me and many tourists spend at least one week there. For the trans-Siberian train, I’d say the more time you have so you can get on and off to explore places, the better. It really depends on what kind of places and activities you like, but in Mongolia people can easily spend a week and nature-lovers a lot longer, for other stops (e.g. Baikal) I’d recommend a few days, in smaller Russian towns a couple of days should be enough. Moscow of course has lots to see. The train from Moscow directly to Beijing would be altogether 6 days, so on top of that it’s good to calculate how long you are willing to stay at different stops :) What requires most planning is the visas for each country! Getting a train ticket well in advance can be hard, because usually they start selling tickets only 45 days before departure! What I did was to first book my flight back home and start planning how long I can stay and where. When the tickets finally came on sale, I bought them (from Finland). If you have lots of time and no hurry during your trip, then you can even buy the tickets from the stations, but this can mean being “stuck” somewhere for longer than intended. As far as I remember it’s not possible to buy a “hop on and off” ticket which means that each train will require one ticket. I used to think it would be hard to set everything up for the trans-Siberian trip, but it’s actually quite easy once you figure what you need to do. My trip lasted around three weeks and I wish it had been more than a month. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask! :D Quite a story I have here, haha.

      • Hello, Anna! Thank you very much for your valuable answers. You are very attentive! ;) I see, to set the correct amount of time/days of permanence in each selected place is critical. And thank you for allowing me the opportunity to do more questions as well:) I am sure you have a lot of stories in your memories! I also realize the great clue is to buy all Trans-Siberian tickets in advance… In practice, were the departure date/times of trains (throughout the entire journey) always in accordance with your tickets that were purchased when you were still in Finland? Besides Baikal, for instance, what other places/cities in Russian Federation you recommend to visit, based on your impressions?
        Once again, thanks a lot and all the best! :)

      • Hello! You are welcome! It’s nice to hear that someone else is also interested in the Trans-Siberian journey. One of the wonderful things during the trip was that all the trains were on time! I have never even heard that the trains would be late. In the Baikal area there is an island called Olkhon which is supposed to be beautiful. People say 4-5 days is a good time to spend in the Baikal area. I’d also have a couple of days in Moscow as it’s such an interesting city and completely different from Siberia. Some travelers recommended me the town of Tomsk which once refused to be an area where the trans-siberian train passes from, because the people didn’t want noise or dust from the trains. But because of this the town then became economically isolated. People love going there to see old wooden Russian houses and a fun typical Siberian town. I did not have the time to go there but many people spent two days in the area. Another place where people got off the train was Ekaterinburg which is in the middle of the Ural Mountain area and it is a historical town where the famous Tsar Nicholas ll with all his family members (including Anastasia) was murdered. Apparently two days is enough there, too. The last town that travelers told me they liked was Ulan Ude, which is in the middle of the Siberian steppes and has a famous and beautiful Tibetian Buddhist monastery. People who go to Mongolia tend to skip Ulan Ude though, as there will be similar places to see in Mongolia. Hopefully this will help! :)

      • Thank you so very much, Anna! Your answers helped me for sure! I think I’ve always been fascinated by the idea to experience a Trans-Siberian journey and I am grateful to read your recommendations and personal impressions :) It’s amazing to notice the huge variety of possibilities to be explored from the Western portion of Russian Federation to China!
        Have a great weekend! :)

      • I completely understand what you mean! The train journey is interesting in many ways. I saw and learned a lot and if you ever go, hopefully you will too :)

      • Yes, I hope that will come the right opportunity to go and to experience and learn a lot as you did! I really thank you for your very positive words, Anna :)

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