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The Great Wall of China and Staci Turns 26

On Stac’s birthday, we had arranged for a driver to take us to the Great Wall Mutianyu section to save taking the multiple buses that are needed in the off-season. It’s a 1.5 hour drive direct so it was definitely a good choice and worth the money. We set off about 6.30am so we were there for 8am and were just about the first people to that section that day. Most people do the cable car up and down to the wall from the base where the bus drops you as it is easier. But we had been suggested on Facebook to look out for the toboggan that can be done down the mountain from the wall.

I’d looked in to this before Stac’s birthday so hadn’t told her about it, but this was why we went to this section of the wall. I didn’t know how to get up to the top but knew the slide back down would be a great experience. So we arrived, I went and bought the tickets, found out it was an open ski-lift style rope-way up to the top and knew immediately Stac was going to want to kill me for doing this.

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Guangzhou, Yangshuo and Guilin

From Beijing, it was time to fly south to Guangzhou for some (hopefully) warmer weather. We flew in the morning so landed in Guangzhou before 1pm, it was just about the scariest landing we have ever had, windy and very foggy so you couldn’t see the ground until seconds before touching the runway, but we survived, and Guangzhou was warmer, if a little rainy.

We had three days here in Guangzhou in a decent hostel, but didn’t do too much other than eat the local food (Dim Sum) and walk around the city. The Dim Sum we had was amazing, and quite similar to what can be found in Dim Sum restaurants at home, although here you have to wait for a table for a while along with hundreds of other people waiting for the best restaurants. These places are usually huge, on multiple floors with 100 or more tables, they must get through so many dumplings each day.

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Beijing and Chinese New Year

We flew Harbin-Beijing on the 23rd to settle in Beijing for a few days, spend Staci’s 26th birthday there and also Chinese New Year. After the eventful journey from Harbin to the Airport, it was a welcome relief to arrive in Beijing where immediately everything just seemed to work more smoothly. The city was quiet as half of the population go home for the Spring Festival, this meant that lots of shops and restaurants were closed, but there was not much traffic, pollution wasn’t as bad, and public transport was quiet. All in all, a great experience in Beijing, and one of our favourite places in China.

The hostel was OK, central location in the Hutongs (small alleyways) and sold cheap beer, we had some great food, including the local unbelievably spicy lobsters and some really good dumplings. We also had the famous Beijing Duck, served a little bit different to how we know it back home, but really tasty. You order the Duck (whole or half) and condiments and pancakes, then the chef comes to your table with the roasted duck and carves it for you, the meat is delicious and the rest of the dishes we had were also amazing.

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Harbin and The Snow and Ice Festival

We arrived in Harbin mid-afternoon to temperatures around -20, cold but bearable for now. We had arranged to stay with a local girl called Alicia in Harbin, through CouchSurfing, she’d invited us along to a ‘Festival’ that she was part of that night, so we got a taxi from the train station straight to the hotel where it would be, with our backpacks, having no idea what to expect.

It transpired that Alicia was part of a women’s E-MBA community who had organised their big end of year festival on this day and she had invited us along. We were obviously the only non-locals there, but with about 100 women and a couple of men, some who spoke at least a couple of words of English, we had a great night, somehow ended up reciting a poem on stage in front of everybody, were given as many free gifts as they could fit in our bags, had our first chinese banquet and were part of something we never expected we would see.

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Shanghai and Shenyang

Shanghai

On to China it was, first stop; Shanghai. We didn’t really know what to expect from Shanghai, we hadn’t done much research about it and was really only using it as a route to get from Japan through to Harbin. We had booked to stay in a traveller’s hostel there so we were hoping to meet up with some other travellers and get some ideas of what to do around the city and around China in general.

After everything taking way too long to get anywhere, we got the maglev train to the city and we finally arrived at the hostel around 7pm, got our room and went straight out for some food. It immediately became apparent that not many foreigners travel to China in January around spring festival, transport and services were already crazily busy and people looked at us as if we were from another planet to travel there at such a busy time.

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