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"La Tahzan, InnaAllaha ma'ana" (Al- Quran: Surah At- Taubah- Verse 40)
Translation: "Be not sad (or afraid), surely Allah is with us."

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." ~Edmund Burke~

'It's not what the world holds for you, but what you bring to it' ~Anne of Green Gables~

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Trip to Historical China...

really taught me to take it one step at a time... literally... no joke... stairs everywhere *panting*

This is going to be a long read... Please be patient & I hope you'll enjoy it.


My travel buddy, Ms. Z & I decided to go on 8D7N adventure in China. This is the first time I ever attempted a travel adventure of this scale, I was a bit nervous. But I figured that Ms. Z is so much more adventurous & outdoor than I am, so I guess we'll be ok :) Until I found out she was also feeling a flock (flock right?) of butterflies flying in her stomach... then I felt a little trembling on my knees... heheheee...

But still, we kept our cool... plus, we already booked all the tickets, tours and accommodations. So, there was no turning back! Chaiyo chaiyo!

Places we visited:
Historical China... means that 'The Great Wall' and 'The Terracotta Warriors are a must' :)

But we added in Datong as well... you all don't really know what is in Datong do ya? ih ih ihhhh... apa la u all ni... :P

Well, actually, me neither... until I was planning our trip that I know what are in Datong... heheheeee...

Our Historical China Travel Map

1st stop: Tianjin 
Where we landed. The weather around Tianjin was cold. Sejuk- sejuk manja... since it is still spring. The places that we went first was The Ancient Culture Street where I felt like I was in a Chinese Kung-Fu movies... heheheeee... the rows of shops there are still preserved with their old traditional Chinese architecture. The carvings, the drawings, the colours... we even got to see people playing with the Chinese shuttlecock... something like our takraw...

After that, we went to the Italian concession which was just wow! It was so beautiful there with all those Italian architecture and ambiance... and those blooming colourful flowers... I love the houses designs there. Maybe I'll design my future house based on those houses. Plus the flowers on the staircases... I'm such a minah bunga. Who would have thought right? hihihiiii...

Ancient Culture Street
The blooming flowers... I loike...

Italian Concession

2nd stop: Datong

Datong is a rich city in Shanxi provice, so I've heard. Because of the coal mines. A friend of mine sent me an email once on a wedding of a coal mine tycoon in Datong. The escorts drove 'Hummers'. That's the escorts! There were also Bentleys, Ferraris... and I can't remember and don't know what brand were the other cars.

In Datong, first we went to the Hanging Temple. It took about 1.5 hours drive to the mountain area from Datong train station. The weather in Datong was cold, like in Tianjin. During the drive, we fall asleep. Not too smart and too brave for two ladies to go sleeping during a drive that far and to a place that we have no idea where it was... but my guts said it was safe to do so... and I believe so did Ms. Z's :)

That was a good sleep... nice...

The mountain area where the Hanging Temple was, reminded me of the view of the Grand Canyon that I used to watch on National Geographic.

If you see the Hanging Temple... you'll be amazed. In fact, all the places that we visited during our trip to historical China were amazing. Just wow. That day, the weather on that mountain was chilly. Like winter... I have to put on my gloves.

The Hanging Temple was built vertically on the side of the mountain. There are pillars placed underneath the structure. The amazing thing is that those pillars are just for decoration, not for support. The supports of the structure were inserted metres into the rocky mountain. It must be a very strong foundation since this temple has been there for about more than 1500 years! OMG! They were built 1500 years ago... no modern machinery to help them. How did they do it especially on putting on the foundations?

Inside the temple there were prayer rooms for Buddhist. The rooms were small... the aisles were narrow and the stairs were steep. Climbing a steep, narrow staircases on a temple 75m off the ground on a day as cold as the winter, can make your legs tremble. If you are afraid of height, don't walk too close to the hand railing along the balcony.

There were suppose to be a river flowing along the mountain, but they are currently building a dam. It would have been more beautiful if the rivers were there.

The Hanging Temple

After the Hanging Temple, we went to the Yungang Grottoes, another temple and again... wow! Here, you'll see so many carvings of the Buddha statues in different caves, presentations, sizes, colours... my favourite would be the music cave where there were so many colourful statues and each of them holding different kind of musical instrument. Those people were too crafty and patient. Carving a mountain into a piece of art were not an easy task, I believe.

Yungang Grottoes. The caves, the carvings, the view...

3rd stop: Xi'an

We arrived at Xi'an train station and our guide already waiting for us. Xi'an is a busy city and the weather was hot! Our travel agent already arranged for an hour at the local hotel nearby for us to refresh ourselves... just a walking distance from the train station. We had a very refreshing shower!

Then it's time to visit the warriors! Yeah baby!

The Terracotta Warriors. Each of them have different faces... impressive right?

There were 3 halls at the Terracotta (local people call it 'Ping Ma Yong') sites. Hall 1 is the biggest, the other 2 are smaller ones. Excavation activities in hall 1 & 2 are still in progress, while no activities in hall 3. This is because the technology to excavate the warriors while maintaining their colours is still unavailable. Actually, when the warriors were excavated, they have colours on them but after a few minutes, the colour disappeared. So, that's why they stopped excavation activities on hall 3 until the right technology was invented. The excavation activity on the emperor's mausoleum hasn't been started at all and the location is quite a distance from the 3 halls.

We had the chance to meet and get an autograph from the man who first found the relics. He must be so happy... I bet he's rich now. If he's not then he should be... if it's not for him, we wouldn't have the chance to witness such amazing ambition. That's right... the terracotta was built because of the emperor's ambition to have the same kingdom in his after life... phewwww...

The massive collection...

After the Terracotta, we went to visit the Great Wall of Xi'an. These walls are not as great as the Great Wall of China, but it's pretty great. It's huge... Xi'an used to be the capital of China long time ago. That's why it also has a protection wall. We learned a bit of Feng Shui here. Just for fun :)

The Great Wall of Xi'an :)

Then we went off to the Muslim street... which is my favourite place in China so far.

I'm not sure why but the feeling there was so peaceful. Plus there were a lot of trees.

The Masjid in Xi'an looked and made me feel like I'm in a palace garden. It's beautiful and calming. The faces there were so friendly...  

Menyejukkan hati...

Muslim Street in Xi'an

 The calm, peaceful and beautiful masjid in Xi'an

4th stop: Beijing

The city of the Great Wall. We visited a lot of places in Beijing. Tired... tired...

On the 2nd last day, we almost had to drag our feet... pancit! On the way from the subway station, we had to stop by Starbucks for a drink first before we could continue the way back. *panting... panting...*

How much walking we did in Beijing? Too much. The climbing? Too too much... what's up with all the stairs in the historical buildings??? They were really testing my legs muscles.

Our first day in Beijing, we went to see the Pandas at Beijing Zoo... yeay!!!!! They were so fat and cute!  Lazying around all day.... so syok!


Aaaaaaa.... so cute!

2nd Day - The Great Wall... we decided to go to the Mutianyu Gate because they said it's a combination of easy and hard climb, plus the view is much nicer there. The bus ride from hostel to Mutianyu was about 1.5 hours. We were so excited... until we saw the wall. It was up there, and we were down there... the up and down looked like a one day climb... *panting panting*...

That was why we took the cable car that brought us straight to the 4th tower... to save time :P

The cable car ride was fun... and to go down, we took the luge... It was nice although mine can't go any faster even I've already pressed all the way down. I upset a few people behind me that day... oppssss... sorry guys!

Mutianyu Great Wall has 22 towers. We climbed from the 4th-3rd and from 4th-16th. Arrrghhhhh... sweating all over but don't know why, we couldn't stop and kept on climbing. The view from up there could have been more amazing and I should have been able to shoot great photos... but, too much haze... no blue sky whatsoever... all grey... *sigh*

On the wall, we climbed too many stairs but still we have the energy to climb on the towers. We were not too bad. On each tower, there are people selling snacks & drinks. The price is slightly expensive. But, come on... they have to carry that from down there remember? The lady that we bought drinks from walks daily from Mongolia... that's not near.

I think I should visit the Great Wall during winter... I bet the view is going to be amazing.

The Mutianyu Great Wall - view from & on the wall

3rd Day - Tian'anmen Square, The Forbidden City, took the rickshaw ride along Beijing Old Town, The Summer Palace & watched KungFu Show.

We exited subway station Tian'anmen East and greeted by a swarm of people. Too many... it was Saturday and the place was full of local tourist. The day was hot and dry, there were too many people, too many staircases,difficult to get a clean shot... there were always someone who will inter- frame :)

I think I drank about 5L of water that day...

The swarm of people, The Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. It is truly a city by itself. Huge area...

Then we took a rickshaw ride around Beijing's old town. We didn't plan this but the rickshaw driver was smart... I think his persuasion skill was very good. I would say that we got tricked into taking up his offer, but I didn't regret it a bit! The ride was enjoyable & not as per what I expected...

Our rickshaw driver explaining the meaning behind the structure of the door. He was funny, speak good English and very knowledgeable... He should be a tourist guide... or the tourism department should provide him with a nicer rickshaw.

The Summer Palace - we just browsed through the area because we are already so tired and had to rush back for the KungFu show. Everything at The Summer Palace was man made. Including the lake... The place is so unreal... I mean unreal to exist in old time because to me it looked modern. Overhead bridge, lakes and rows of houses by the lake, river cruise... The Summer Palace was built as a summer retreat for the royalties. From what I saw, I'm guessing that it was definitely a relaxing retreat for them.

The Summer Palace - I can imagine relaxing here... niceeee...

The KungFu show storyline was not so good... But the KungFu actions were impressive. Obviously, it is possible to do those flips and kicks and fly outside tv. However, those actions were done by professionals. Please do not repeat them at home *wink* No photo shooting allowed in the theater by the way.

Last day - Olympic's Bird Nest & The Cube - amazing architecture. But other than that... nothing. The highlight on this day was of course... shopping at the Silk Market... muahahahaaaa...

 We were there ok :)

Transportations we took:

We didn't try all public transport in China. Mostly because of language barrier. I so wanted to try riding the 3 wheels motorcycle. They look so cool. But, if we took those then we have to ride separately. So, we better don't.

However, we did ride on the train (hard + soft sleeper), took cabs, subways and also rickshaw around Beijing's Hutong (old town) It was so much fun! Better than we expected. Rickshaw ride around the old town is definitely a must do!

We took hard sleeper train from Tianjin-Datong. Thanks to the unavailability of the soft sleeper, we got to experience the hard sleeper which was so fun... heheheeee... The hard sleeper coaches don't have separate compartments. The 3 tiered beds are on open aisles. Lucky for us, we got the bottom beds. Otherwise, we have to climb up to the upper beds. Something I haven't done in a long time. We share our section with an uncle & auntie. The uncle was friendly even though he don't speak any English. It was not easy but I think we got what each of us was trying to say... hahahaaaa...

 Tianjin train station & a sample of the train ticket

At first, I thought that I would be uncomfortable lying down in open spaces, but once the light go out and the eyes so sleepy... I forgot all about that :P
Plus, the air were so soft and cool... make the eyes heavy easily...

From Datong-Xi'an we ride on a soft sleeper compartment where we share with friendly Chinese guy. At first, before the warm- up, we were all serious and not talking to each other. But, after the ice has been cracked, we couldn't stop talking... despite a communication barrier. He spoke a little bit English and we spoke a little bit Mandarin, you can imagine how crazy was our communication. After the ice was broken and with all the nut cracking jokes, I bet ours was the noisiest compartment of all. Heheheeeeee...

To Beijing from Xi'an we took a soft sleeper as well. At first, we suppose to share our compartment with 2 Chinese guys... one spoke a little English, the other one spoke a little than a little English. It was hard until of them found a compartment that we can switch to. So after that, we share a compartment with 2 Russian ladies who also spoke a little than a little English. It was very hard to communicate, so Ms. Z & I just communicate with each other.

In hard sleeper or soft sleeper trains, they provide each section or compartments with big flask where you can fill with hot water that they provided on board. So, we had our dinner & breakfast on the trains. They also go round selling foods/ fruits/ drinks... so no need to worry so much :)

Around Tianjin, Datong & Xi'an, we ride in a car since we already booked travel agents to bring us around. So, we have no public transport experience...
In Beijing, we took mostly subways to get around and taxi from/to the train station to/from hostel.

3 wheels auto, a motor-bicycle that is so quiet and a rickshaw... that visor the lady is wearing is a normal view all around Beijing :)

From Beijing to Tianjin... we took the 30 mins bullet train. RMB 88 for the hard seat which was not hard at all. The train moved at maximum speed of 327km/h... so fast!

People we met:
  • Our guides... YanYan, Mr. Wong, Fay and Monica and the drivers :)
  • The friendly uncle on the train from Tianjin to Datong
  • The nut cracking guy on the train from Datong to Xi'an. You rock!
  • The Russian ladies on the train from Xi'an to Beijing... and again at the Forbidden City.
  • The staff at Sanlitun hostel.
  • 2 American students on their holiday trip. The girl was so funny & cheerful. I can't stop laughing listening to her talking :)
  • And others like the funny sellers at Silk Market and the friendly taxi drivers...

Accommodation we stayed in:

Sanlitun Youth Hostel in Beijing, twin sharing en suite for RM37.00+ a night. Towels, kettle, tv and air-cond provided. The staff there were friendly, helpful and speak good english. The room was comfortable and the toilet was clean. There were even services everyday to tidy up the room and clean up the bathroom.

Access to the internet is also free for the first hour and the hostel was a walking distance to the subway station...
They even have cute pets! Kittens, rabbits, birds... I loved the kitten... she's so active and adorable!

Sanlitun Youth Hostel - Reception Area

I'll definitely recommend this hostel.

Our helpful travel agents:

We contacted Vivian Xie from EasyTourChina. She was very helpful and patient with me... I'm not a difficult client, but not so easy as well I would say. But, she pulled through. Unfortunately, she just resigned... because of personal reasons ok... not because of me :P

She arranged for our travel in Tianjin with Ms. Yan Yan, in Datong with Mr. Wong and in Xi'an with Ms. Fay. All three of them was very helpful, knowledgeable and fun!

Dear Vivian, thank you so much!

For the travel in Beijing, we arranged everything via our hostel once we got there. So, the visit to the Great Wall and Kung Fu show were arranged by them and not to forget, our guide Monica.

Thanks a lot you all for your help! We really appreciate it!

Finding halal foods:

Not too hard especially in Xi'an & Beijing. In Xi'an you can always go to the Muslim street... just make sure you don't miss to try the delicious plum juice. OMG! I want it... I want it...

But as always.... we brought our own ration, just in case... especially for breakfast *wink*

Our lunch/ dinner at Xi'an... yum yum... the spicy cold noodles, the soft meatball soup, the something made of potato... and the ever delicious thirst quenching plum juice! I wanttttt moree!!!!

In Beijing... not that easy but surprisingly we managed to find them... using our sense of smell of course. hahahaaa...You can easily find Muslim restaurant at Ox Street, there's one nearby the KungFu Theather, one nearby our hostel... so, not that bad.

Shopping like mad:
  1. Muslim street in Xi'an... lucky we still need to go to Beijing. So, our shopping in Xi'an were not as mad as in Beijing.
  2. Silk Market in Beijing - subway station Yong An Li. It can drive you mad. Trust me. There were so many things and I wanted to buy them all... arrggghhh.... Fortunately, I still have my self control and Ms. Z beside me. Just make sure that you bargain and that you have a rough idea what is the price range for the item.

Culture shock:
I have only two:
  1. Spitting - not an ordinary spitting. I don't want to talk about it coz it makes my stomach wants to empty itself. So, look where you're stepping on or sitting down.
  2. Public toilet - have no lock. It's a scary feeling trying to do your business and be on the look out at the same time... heheheeeee...

Weirdest question I got:
Are you chinese?
Oh yes... yes I am...
That was not the first time I received this question. That was the 5th if I counted correctly. But, when I got this question from Chinese in China... it really completed the weirdness...

Lesson learned:
  1. If you're NOT on a tight budget, I strongly advise against flying budget for a long journey... especially those that takes more than 4 hours with an economic seat that cannot recline. If you cannot imagine why I said this, I suggest that you try it once first :)
  2. For backpackers, travel light or lighter. We need our body to carry us for a time longer than 8D7N... heheheee...
  3. Same advise as always... on a short trip on tight deadline, plan well... this is the same as long trips as well. But for longer trip, you have longer time. So, I think you can afford to lose a few wrong turns, or time looking for accommodations or missed trains :)
  4. Be healthy & keep fit... especially if you're on a free & easy. I was not so fit, but fit enough to climb the Great Wall of China! Not too shabby eh?!
  5. If you're a shopping manic here... you're a shopping manic everywhere. So, make sure you bring enough $$ and a spare bag or two... or three??? too much... buy the 3rd bag there... heheheeee...
  6. Sharpen your common sense and guts... they are useful when you're not in a familiar places. My friends cautioned me so many times about how cunning people in China can be. Lucky for us, those that we met were all very, very nice people. 
  7. If you're visiting a country where neither your language nor English is the first or second language, please learn a little bit of the local language. It will help a lot. People will feel appreciated and impressed. It will make your travel easier :)
Looking back... I really truly enjoyed our trip to China with the cool Ms. Z *wink*. We've visited 2 great wonders of the world! We plan to do this again... different country of course.

Bila agaknya tu Ms. Z?!



Zubaidah said...

anom, has you watch The Karate Kid? Its truely recall my memory when we were in Beijing. But there is one amazing place we missed out, Dragon Mount! I'm not sure whether this place exist or just an ajinomoto for this film : ) let me check in internet. Next trip if we are looking for an adventure trip, i'm suggesting Muslim village in Tibet. We can take 3D horse riding to the village. It totally wink my eyes! Search detail in Mingguan Malaysia 13 June 2010. I believe you'll like this.

Zubaidah said...

Oppss, forgot to congratulate you for transferring our memories in China into thousand words. Damn you are so good my dear! I believe this translate your character and personality very well in documentation. That's why I always choose you to be my travel buddy : )

CheeJa@Nizah said...

Adhuiiii Anom...I really envy with you and your the's really a great story and I think a good tip too,tak dpt p..dpt baca pun jadilah!

The Sometimes Speechless said...

Zurie... saya pasti tergoda kalau dengar Tibet/ Bhutan/ Mongolia nih! Kena cari tahun yg sesuai sbb next 2 year travel calendar dah ada entries :)

Cikja... next time nak follow? Tapi kena tahan rindu kat anak2 & hubby... Ms. Z pun almost nak terguling2 kerinduan dah aritu... hik hik hik...

CheeJa@Nizah said...

Nom..if ada geng yg pakat rindu kat family.. no hal..sama2 rindu hahahah.. orang kata apa ..sayang anak tinggal2kan..sayang suami kasi dia tido sorang2 lar kejap..whahahah
Nak Ituttttttttt!