Monthly Archives: May 2012

Weeks 4, 5 & 6: Central & Southern Vietnam

As anyone with access to a calendar may have noticed, though I’ve been travelling for much longer than a month (as expected, it’s going by way too fast) I’ve only managed to write about my first three weeks of adventures. When I’m in an efficient writing mood, it takes me around two to three hours to pump one of these bad boys out, but can take as long as four or five if I’m distracted. I’ve therefore decided that the most productive way for me to get all caught up (without sacrificing two glorious days of travelling) is to write a compressed highlights post. Bear with me and enjoy weeks 4 through 6!

Ha Noi, continued

  • Visiting the Women’s Museum was a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. They have three primary exhibits; women in life (marriage and birth practices from around the country), women in history (really cool look at female soldiers) and women in fashion (AMAZING- I even learned how to style a traditional head scarf!). Lonely Planet highly recommends it, and I would definitely agree that it’s worth seeing if you’re ever in Ha Noi.
  • While walking home from the museum, I noticed a theatre with a movie poster for The Avengers and upon closer inspection realized that it was the opening day! Keep in mind this was on April 27th, a full week before it was slated to be released back home. For $3.50? We just couldn’t pass it up. Phenomenal movie; super witty with some truly great action sequences. Go see it!
  • Ninh Binh

  • Three hours south of Ha Noi, this town is known for its version of Halong Bay- picture the islands as they are, but replace the water with rice paddies. We went on an amazing river cruise for a couple of hours on the first day to see them and were very amused to see that all of the Vietnamese people were rowing the boats using their feet! They just leaned back and enjoyed the view like us.
  • We then headed to yet another hike (really just stairs… 561 of them) for an incredible view of the land. It’s true what they say, this looked exactly like Halong Bay but with rice paddies. Very cool (neat, not chilly) at the top, though we were all dying from the heat.
  • One last thing worth mentioning was that we rode motorbikes to get to both of these sights. It was my first time ever riding a bike (or even a scooter, for that matter), but luckily riding them is super straight forward in Vietnam. Felt really cool to zip along the roads, a great way to refresh after being in the sun all day.
  • Hue

  • Caught our first of many night buses from Ninh Binh to Hue and actually managed to get a decent nights sleep, though I can’t say the same for everyone on board. Arrived too early for check in at our hostel, so spent most of the morning lounging around. Following an afternoon nap we decided to take a boat cruise up the nearby river. Lonely Planet highly recommends it, and though it’s not phenomenal, it was a pleasant way to spend an hour.
  • Rented bikes the next day and scooted around to check out the Citadel, tombs and the local beach. We cheaped out and didn’t want to pay to get inside the Citadel, but it was neat to walk around the grounds outside and take a peek in the gate. Tombs were neat, but the day is kind of a haze because the thing I remember most about it is the heat. One of the hottest days I think I’ve experienced in Asia so far. The ride out to the beach was lovely (if not a little long, we were sure we were lost because we were riding so far), and it was really nice to relax for a bit in the sand and surf.
  • Overall, Hue was probably my least favourite place in Vietnam, but this may only be because so many of the other places we visited were amazing. If you have time, go check it out, but otherwise move along to one of my true fave spots, Hoi An.
  • Hoi An

  • Hoi An is supposed to be the place in Vietnam for custom made clothing, and it sure lived up to its reputation. One of the best times I’ve had so far consisted of spending a couple of hours on the computers at the hostel, looking up clothing from sites like Net-a-porter, J.Crew, Club Monaco, etc. and then taking the pictures to the nearby tailor to have it all made (we went to Kimmy’s, highly recommended). Seriously. I was like a kid in a candy shop picking out fabric, cut, style and details for my new clothes. Needless to say I ended up spending more than I had planned, but seeing as all of it is custom fit and was made exactly how I wanted it, I was happy dropping the money. Cannot wait to rock some of the pieces when I get home. Ps. We shipped all our stuff by sea (which is was cheaper than air), and takes 3-4 months.
  • In-between the numerous fittings at the tailor, I spent a couple of afternoons riding a bike ($1/day) to the local beach. After a lovely half hour ride you’re greeted with palm trees, white sand and clear, blue water. Utterly amazing. If you’re ever in Hoi An, rent a bike and go to the beach!
  • DVD’s are only a buck, so the boys and I splurged on 6 and spent a gloriously lazy day watching movies in our air conditioned hotel room. Our selection included Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2, Young Adult, The Town, and How to Train Your Dragon. We may or may not have turned watching the last movie on the list into a drinking game (drink every time someone says dragon!).
  • Don’t leave this city without trying the delightful combination of fresh beer and chicken clay pot at Kim Nungs. Though you can get it most places in Vietnam, it was the best at this little restaurant, and cheap too!
  • Nha Trang

  • Beach capital of Vietnam! Need I say more?
  • Oasis, Why Not Bar and the Red Apple are lovely spots for a bit of socializing and dancing.
  • Sorry about the last two bullets, I’m getting fatigued and needed to save some energy for this next highlight. Vinpearl is an island just off the coast (you can see it from the main beach) that has an amusement park, water park, arcade, resort and various other forms of entertainment. For $20 a cable car will transport you over the ocean to this magical place where it’s free to partake in any of the activities I mentioned above. Roller coaster? Yes please. Surprisingly scary water slide? Yes please! Horse racing arcade game where you sit on a moving robotic horse? YES PLEASE! We spent the good part of 6 hours at various points of the park, though the highlight would have to be a waterside called Tsunami that we went on with a 3 person tube and then by ourselves backwards. A pretty vertical drop made it extra exciting, if not a little unsafe (the attendant never even batted an eye when we said we wanted to go backwards). Absolutely epic day!
  • Similar to our movie day in Hoi An, Derek and I decided to splurge on a private room for a day with the express intention of watching the whole first season of Game of Thrones. Don’t judge me, I’m on vacation.
  • Mui Ne

  • Stopped in the town of Mui Ne for a day to check out their famous sand dunes. The 4 am wake up call to see the white dunes at sunrise was totally worth it, as was the following trip to the red dunes, fairy stream and fishing village. See pics below for a better understanding of how beautiful it was.
  • The dunes were breathtaking, but what ended up being the highlight of Mui Ne was getting the opportunity to go zorbing on them! Just as we were leaving the white dunes we met a Russian guy who explained that he was blowing up a zorb and wondered if we wanted to try it out. Our driver was dead set on continuing on the set schedule (and didn’t speak any English), so we finished the tour and then promptly rented a motorbike to come back out and give it a try. For those who are unfamiliar with zorbing, the basic concept is that you are strapped into an inflatable sphere (in some you’re standing/running) and then roll down hills in it. Sounds a little odd, and perhaps not the safest thing to do (especially with a Russian zorb in Vietnam), but it is seriously fun. Walked away perfectly fine (don’t worry, Mom) and zoomed back into town to catch a bus to Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)

  • The War Remnants Museum in Saigon is not to be missed. It is slightly biased (obviously), but is also filled with photos which don’t lie. There is a section on Agent Orange and it’s lingering effects on the people in Vietnam, that while rather horrifying, is not to be missed.
  • I was a little under the weather with a headache (I think it was a slight case of zorbing whiplash) and although I didn’t see that much of Saigon, I did manage to make it out to the world famous Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels are incredibly small and hot- we walked though a portion that was allegedly widened so westerners could fit, but it was tiny, sweaty, and cramped all the same. Blows my mind to think that people lived down there for months on end. Also had the opportunity to see some of the traps that the Viet Cong used in the jungles- very Saw-esque and gruesome. A very interesting and eye opening day, to say the least.
  • Well there you have it, Vietnam in all it’s glory. I really enjoyed my time there, it’s a truly beautiful and interesting country that I would definitely visit again. Official favourite places: Sapa, Hoi An and Nha Trang. Don’t miss ’em!





































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    Have _______, Will Travel

    Like most travelers, I put a lot of time and effort into deciding what to bring with me on this five month adventure. I wrote and rewrote a packing list, consulted with friends and then spent a couple of exciting hours (I love packing!) making final tweaks and officially zipping up my backpack, knowing that I would be carrying it all around for months to come. Five weeks in, I’m very happy to report that for the most part, I feel like I packed wonderfully- I’ve worn everything more than once (save one dress), used every gadget and haven’t struggled to carry my pack at all. But I digress. This post isn’t about everything I brought with me, but about a few specific items that have made my trip a lot easier. Here are eight things I would never go backpacking without again plus one thing I really wish I had brought on this trip.

    I’ve already expressed love for my Kindle on this blog, but I’d just like to reiterate how truly great it is for travelling. Growing up, it was always annoying packing books for a vacation; I never wanted to bring more than two or three because of the weight and space they would take up, but also knew that in a couple of days (certainly before I came home) I would finish reading what I brought with me. Oh how times have changed. With my beloved Kindle I now have access to new books whenever I want and can carry around a library’s worth of books without breaking my back. So far I’ve had the pleasure of reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larsson, reread The Hunger Games Trilogy by Susanne Collins, and just finished the first book (currently on the second) in the Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin (I bought the first four together for under 20 bucks). Seriously, I could go on and on about this thing.

    It was always my plan to bring along my iPad (primarily for Internet access, Skype and photo uploading), and it is one of those things I’m so happy I followed through with. I must admit, at times I was envious of my friends much smaller iPod Touch and iPhone, but for certain things I’m of the opinion that the iPad just works better. I’ve written all of my blog posts on it (some even on night buses), can access the Internet with ease (the bigger screen makes all the difference), and most importantly, I’ve been able to upload all my pictures to iCloud the almighty Facebook. Also, Ninja Fish.

    iPad Card Reader
    Going along with the last item (shocking!), I bought a two piece kit from the Apple Store before I left which would enable me to upload my camera pictures from either the memory card itself, or from the camera using its cord. The process is completely painless and utterly foolproof, you just plug it in and press upload. I’ve since downloaded an App (Photoloader) to create albums and upload them to Facebook quickly and easily. It’s really nice to have access to my pictures without needing to spend hours on a desktop at an Internet cafe or hostel, plus, I’ve set up my iPad to automatically backup my photos on iCloud. Highly, highly recommend getting the kit.

    Earplugs & Eyemask
    A definite no brainer, but so critical for me to get any sleep that I kept it on my list. I’ve learned that most walls, doors and windows in Asia have little to no soundproofing ability, so the earplugs have proved extremely important for muffling anything and everything (roosters and snoring bunk mates are common). Do what I did, and buy multiple pairs as you’re bound to lose them and/or want to throw them out periodically. Quiet, dark and cool are my ideal sleeping conditions, and being able to control at least two out of the three makes all the difference.

    Waterproof Folder
    I had originally bought a waterproof sleeve for my iPad, but realized I didn’t really need it for that the majority of the time (Songkran was the one exception). It quickly evolved into a documents folder, holding important things such as my passport, bus or train tickets, hostel reservations, and DVDs. In addition to keeping everything dry, it’s been an easy way to keep everything together and stay organized. You know what they always say, an organized traveller is a happy traveller. (They say that, right?)

    Solid Shampoo
    I picked up a solid shampoo bar from Lush after reading about it on another travel blog, and thus far it has worked great for me. Just one less bottle to carry around and worry about it exploding all over your bag. A word of advice: put a button in the tin case and leave the lid off after you use it- this will allow air to circulate and will prevent your lovely shampoo from turning into a globby mess.

    Lightweight Scarf
    When i told a friend that I was planning on bringing my favourite scarf (a cheapie from Zara in Copenhagen) along, I got a bit of an odd look. Why in the world would you need a scarf in Asia she asked? A fair question given the heat and humidity here, but I found that I’ve used it a fair bit. Starting in Beijing, I’m pretty sure I wore it everyday except when we went to the Great Wall- it was great for the chill in the air. Since moving to a much warmer climate I’ve used it many times as a blanket (night buses and air planes can get really cold!), a pillow and even a beach towel. Try to bring a soft, lightweight one that you can roll up small, but is quite large when it’s laid out.

    Lonely Planet Guidebook
    The golden standard when it comes to travel, especially in South East Asia. I’ve legitimately used it in every singe city and feel like my trip would have been very different had I left it at home. Sights, hostels, good eats and pretty much everything inbetween is covered in here, I picked up the South East Asia on a Shoestring edition and couldn’t be happier.

    And for next time:

    Waterproof Camera
    Seeing as I got my camera for free (thanks RBC!), I can’t really complain. But if I was going to do it all over again, I would have made sure that the camera I brought could withstand getting wet. There have been so many experiences already where I was afraid to take my camera for fear it would meet its demise- Songkran, various activities at Halong Bay, and the waterpark at Vinpearl (that recap coming soon!) come immediately to mind. Having been to these places with no waterproof camera, I definitely think its worth the investment to get one. However, there’s always next time!

    Do you have any travel essentials?

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    Week 3: Northern Vietnam

    While in Bangkok we were told by a fellow traveller that the Ha Noi Backpackers Hostel was the single best hostel he had ever stayed at (he had been backpacking for 5 months at this point) so we figured it was worth ditching our previously booked reservations at another hostel to check out what all the hype was about. One very important thing he failed to mention: there are actually two hostels with that name in Ha Noi, the original and a new one. Guess which one we had the pleasure of staying at?

    Despite this slight misstep, I really enjoyed our first couple days in the capital of Vietnam. We made some first-rate friends at our second-rate hostel and enjoyed many a 5,000 dong (about 25 cents) beer that first night in Ha Noi. This was followed by a less than stellar morning, but we pulled ourselves together and made it to the Temple of Literature that afternoon. I would describe this as a better version of Confucious’ Temple that we saw in Beijing: some beautiful gardens, information about Confucious and his teachings, and a temple for worship. Neat stuff for sure.

    And now for another story about eating odd things! This one is a little more aggressive than the dessert scorpions, so be forewarned. In addition to telling us about the ‘best hostel ever’, our friend from Bangkok also told us about a little place called Snake Village, and this time we were very happy for his advice. After a 15 minute drive out of the city we arrived at what looked like an outdoor restaurant, complete with bridges over water and a snake hutch. Said hutch was promptly opened and we were handed a meter long snake to play and pose with. Content with our photos, we were then asked if we would like to have a traditional snake feast, and for obvious reasons agreed. Seated comfortably around one of the tables nearby, we took a couple more pictures while two gentlemen came over with a very sharp looking knife. Though we weren’t exactly sure what was about to happen, we knew it wasn’t going to be good for our new reptilian friend. Sure enough, Derek was beckoned over, handed the knife and instructed to slit open the snake while the guys held it from each end. With great gusto he did just this and more; leaning down, ripping out the heart and eating it! Care for a delightfully squeamish fact? He says he could still feel it beating as he was chewing. Yum! What followed was actually delicious, though. A six course meal consisting of snake meatballs, snake spring rolls, fried snake skin, baked snake, breadcrumbs with snake rib bones, and fried rice. Feeling thoroughly cultured, we headed back to Ha Noi to catch our night train to Sapa.

    My first time travelling on a train went without a hitch (only one cockroach!) and we arrived in the small mountain town around 8 that morning. One quick breakfast and planning session later and we were all ready to head to Fansipan for a two day hike. Starting at 2,000 m, the game plan for the trek was hike to 2,200 m for lunch and then continue on to 2,800 m where we would stop and camp overnight. The next morning we’d head up to the peak at 3,143 m (tallest in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos!) before heading back down. Now, 800 m of vertical in a day may not seem that difficult, but I can assure you that this was most definitely not the case. After a strong start, a great lunch and some amazing views we started up the tricky bit. Of the two hours it took us to hike from the lunch point to our camp, I swear I spent a good hour scrambling up giant boulders that were pretty darn close 90 degrees. The best part about this was while I was huffing and puffing (but never stopping! One step at a time became my official mantra), our guide and porter trekked along with ease, all the while carrying huge loads and wearing flip flops! A running joke over the two days was for us to ask our guide Sal if he was tired, because every single time he would laugh and answer with a resounding no.

    After three and a half hours (but what felt like a lifetime) we finally made it to our camp, two tin shelters that we would hopefully be able to sleep in. Our porter had carried us up sleeping bags (that didn’t zip up), and there were ‘matts’, but even with these it was a very long, cold and uncomfortable night. And we saw a rat in the hut. One of the few times I’ve been stoked to get up at 6am, only because this meant that the night was over. We were moving up the mountain before 7 and made it to the peak an hour and a half later. The view from the top made every painful vertical step and every uncomfortable minute from the night before totally worth it. Managed to take some incredible pictures, but like so many things I’ve experienced on this trip so far, nothing compares to seeing it for yourself. Knowing all that it took to get there was a pretty awesome feeling as well.

    Making it down was relatively painless, only a slight slip or two to speak of, though my legs and especially my knees were killing me mere hours after our descent. Hadn’t had that much of a work out in quite some time, and I sure felt it. That night was one of the best sleeps I feel I’ve ever had, and certainly a nice change from our previous nights conditions. The next morning I woke up early yet again to check out the local Bac Ha Market and a lovely, relaxing day followed. I only got ripped off once, quickly realizing that everything for sale was worth much less than the quoted price. Walked away with a neon scarf, two silver bangles and a sick necklace. Another night train and we were back in Ha Noi, though not for long.

    A mere hour after arriving back, we grabbed our packs and jumped on a three hour bus headed to Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world. We had signed up for a three day, two night cruise, with one night on our boat and one at a resort on Monkey Island. Couldn’t have been happier with our choice. We started with lunch on the boat and got aquatinted with our new roommates (boatmates?) before heading to one of the volcanic islands to see some caves. Pretty cool, but would have been more so if there weren’t a bunch of brightly coloured lights littering it. Kayaking was the next item on the docket and was a very relaxing way of seeing some of the bay. There were a couple of fruit vendors surrounding the kayaking dock and I got introduced to a variety of exotic fruit courtesy of one of my boatmates. Custard apples, mangosteen and rambutan- odd names, odd looks, but utterly delicious. Lounged into the evening and after dinner participated in a pretty epic karaoke battle. Simon and I were the only ones to get 100%; we did an emotional cover of what else, but Oasis’ Wonderwall.

    The next day we cruised to another island and did a small hike to one of the incredible volcanic peaks. I was of the mindset that after Fansipan, anything else would be child’s play, but with the heat and humidity by the water this hike was not easy. Amazing views from the top and before we knew it we were headed down to another boat. Choppy waters made for an interesting ride, but we managed to make it to Monkey Island without any real problems. This was where the real fun started. We checked into our bungalows and then made another slight trek to go see some of the monkeys that gave the island it’s name. Rather entertaining seeing the younger ones jump around while the older (and much fatter) ones just sat there. After monkeys came an epic game of beach volleyball with three awesome people from our tour. I forgot how much I missed playing triples in the sand! We played until the sun started to set and then finished off with a swim in the ocean to cool off- truly awesome. After a great buffet dinner we settled down to play some games, and were introduced to the strategy game Mafia by three Aussies. We all got the hang of it pretty quick and played for a couple of hilarious hours. The people we met on this trip were awesome, a mix from Australia, the UK, Switzerland, and of course Canada. As a wrap up and goodbye we ended up playing Mafia for a bit in the morning and then for the whole bus ride home, or 7 hours total. I told you they were great people!

    A couple more uneventful nights in Ha Noi (at the NEW Backpackers Hostel this time), and we were on our way to the next stop: Ninh Binh.























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    Week 2: Bangkok, Thailand

    When we arrived in Bangkok late on the 11th one thing was immediately clear: this was the start of sweaty. Even though the sun had gone down hours before, the temperature still hovered around the 20 degree mark and the air was thick with humidity. After cabbing to Udee Hostel Bangkok we promptly passed out in air-conditioned heaven. We were in for a bit of a shock the next morning when we woke up to find that the AC had automatically turned off; this would be the first of many sweaty mornings.

    Our first day proved to be pretty casual, we took a long boat up the main river for a bit of sight seeing and wandered around the city during the afternoon. Unfortunately, one of the more impressive sights in Bangkok, the Grand Palace, was closed as part of a ceremony for the late Princess (who passed away last July). After tooling around for most of the day (and getting some pretty good eats along the way) , we decided to go see a movie at the suggestion of another group we met at the hostel. An interesting fact about movie theaters in Thailand is that they play the national anthem before the film and you are expected to stand for it. In case you really wanted to know, we saw The Hunger Games and it was just as awesome the second time around.

    We woke up the next morning full of grand plans to see the Grand Palace (pun intended), but these quickly dissolved when we heard about Songkran, one of the most epic festivals ever. Songkran is a celebration of the Thai new year where everyone throws water and smears chalk on everyone around them in order to rid them of everything bad and cleanse them for the coming year. Essentially, it’s a giant, city-wide water fight that lasts three days. Three whole days! We promptly bought water guns and headed down to the heart of it on Khaosan road. That afternoon was spent walking up and down Khaosan, getting absolutely drenched and dishing out some choice shots of our own. Without a doubt, one of the best days I’ve had on the trip so far. If I were to try and paint you a picture, it would go something like this: imagine walking down a street utterly jam packed with people, most of them carrying (and using!) water guns on everyone around them; imagine every fifth person or so smearing both sides of your face with a cool chalk paste to bless you; imagine music and laughter and screams of joy mixing together to create a sound all its own; imagine ice cold water being dumped on you everytime you pass a vendor selling drinks; imagine this, and you may have an inkling of what that day of Songkran was for us.

    We spent the second day of the festival doing something completely different, but just as amazing. One of the girls we met at our hostel has a certain affinity for befriending everyone within earshot and promtly made nice with a local Thai man just down our street. He proposed that we jump in the back of his pickup truck, which he had loaded with buckets and a huge barrel of water, and he would drive us around all day so we could soak people. I realize that the way I’ve set this up it sounds a little sketchy, but I assure you it was perfectly safe; Thai people are just ridiculously generous. And so, that was how we ended up driving around Bangkok in the back of a Thai man’s truck for the the day. An absolutely epic day, I may add.

    After three nights at our first hostel we decided a change of scenery (and a more central location) would be nice and so we packed our bags and moved to the D&D Hotel on Khaosan Road. A note for future travellers: if ever checking in to a hotel on Khaosan Road, don’t do it during Songkran. We felt like sitting ducks walking (read: pushing our way) through the crowded street with our huge packs and no way to defend ourselves. No one took it easy on us just because we had backpacks. That said, it was a great call to move to this hotel. At around $14 a night it was definitely pricy, but for that money we got a rooftop pool, private room with aircon and a tv with the most epic movie channel ever. This was also the place where we finally met up with a dear friend from home who we had been trying to connect with for the whole festival. Such a nice surprise to answer our door and have him standing there! Our last day of Songkran was spent in much the same manner as the first, though this time we finished with a rooftop swim and an epic night on the town.

    We woke up the next day exhaused, but happy, and if I’m being honest maybe a little relieved to have Songkran behind us. After three days of maddness on the streets of Bangkok, it was nice to just chill out for the day. Thai massages, reading by the pool and many a movie (thanks never-ending movie channel!) were the only things on our list of to-do’s for the day. Feeling somewhat recovered, it was a cruel thing that we had booked our flight to Vietnam for so early the next morning. A 7am departure time meant leaving our hostel (and air-conditioned comfort) at 2:30 that morning.

    This travelling thing is rough I tell ya.















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    Week 1: Beijing, China

    Exactly one month ago today I stepped off a plane at Beijing Capital Airport and tried to wrap my head around the fact that day one of my five month adventure had finally arrived. After months of scheming, shots and spending to prepare, it was really here.

    We breezed through customs, grabbed our packs and hopped on the Airport Express, destination Happy Dragon Hostel. An hour and a half, three metro transfers and a short walk later we reached the place that we’d call home for the next week. The staff at this hostel were amazing and after a quick check-in we set off with directions to get some good Chinese eats. Great food, great beer and a great first evening followed. Here’s what we’ve gotten up to since night one…

    A typical day in Beijing started out with breakfast at our hostel’s on-site restaurant- we quickly figured out that the Swiss breakfast (eggs, cheese, toast and muesli with fruit and yogurt) was the way to go. Energized for the day ahead, we would usually decide on an itinerary and head out to Dong Si, our local metro station. The train system in Beijing was absolutely amazing- for only 2 yuan a trip (approx. 30 cents) we were able to get to every site on our list of must-sees in air conditioned, efficient comfort.

    Speaking of sights, it goes without saying that we visited the Great Wall (more on that later) and Forbidden City, but we also managed to see the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Confucius’ Temple, Jingshan Park, Tian An Men Square, the Tower of Buddhist Incense and the Olympic Pavilion including the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest. Personal favorite was definitely the Summer Palace, where the emperor and his empress would retreat in the summer months (shocking, I know). The palace itself resides on a hill overlooking a massive lake, all of which is surrounded by gardens, paths and amazing bridges. We spent the good part of 4 hours exploring the palace and wandering around the lake and easily could have spent more time doing so had we arrived earlier in the day. The Bird’s Nest was also very cool, the architecture and design of that building is extremely impressive and seeing it in person made it all the more so. Next time I’d probably skip Confucius’ Temple and the Temple of Heaven, once you’ve seen the Summer Palace not much else comes close.

    However, if there was one thing that I enjoyed more than the SP in Beijing, it would definitely be our visit to the Great Wall of China. We chose to travel out to the Mutianyu portion, which has 3 km of both restored and unrestored portions. Towers line the wall every couple 100 meters or so and provide amazing views; looking out over the Great Wall from the top of one is an experience that words just can’t do justice. Pictures have a hard time of it too, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get snap-happy during our tour. After trekking along for around 2 hours we took a chair lift down and settled in for an epic 8-course meal before boarding the bus back to the city.

    Two more highlights that can’t go without mentioning occurred on our second last night in Beijing. We decided that we just couldn’t leave China without trying some world-famous Peking duck, so with a little help from the girls at the front desk of our hostel we managed to find a reasonably priced restaurant to do just that. It was hands down the best meal I had in Beijing- the duck meat was rich, the skin crispy and the whole experience amazing. If you’re ever in Beijing, you gotta do it. After our meal we wandered down to the night market for a dessert of fried scorpions! The market sells all kinds of odd food, from roasted pigeons and king spiders to sheep penis and centipedes. We played it rather safe in comparison to some of the other items available. Surprisingly, I actually really enjoyed the scorpion- it tasted like an extra crispy potato chip, seasoned to perfection.

    Needless to say, we left Beijing on a high note.















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